|Gamma Ray - 'To The Metal' (Ear Music)|
|Written by Matt Phelps|
|Thursday, 18 February 2010 11:19|
'To The Metal' is the latest in the long line of power metal masterpieces to be delivered from German power masters Gamma Ray. With their classic debut 'Heading For Tomorrow' celebrating its twentieth birthday this year what better time is there than now to say Hail....To The Metal.
There was a time, boys and girls, when guitar heroes were made of flesh, blood, sweat, long hair and leather. A time when hero worshipping a CGI Tom Morello twiddling along to some crappy Foghat tune would have been laughed at. A time when there was more blu-tac on my bedroom wall than plaster, turning my teenage dwellings into a shrine dedicated to the six string Gods of spandex and bullet belts of the day. Chris Holmes, Adrian Smith, Jeff Waters, they were all there and so too was the single greatest explosive power metal titan to come out Germany since the V2 rocket; KAI HANSEN.
When Kai quit Helloween at the tail end of the Eighties my little metal heart lay broken and I wept a "Lake Of Tears" deep enough to lose any number of keys in. But when my fluff covered needle hit the grooves of the Gamma Ray debut 'Heading For Tomorrow' in 1990 I knew I was listening to something I was gonna love for a very long time. Twenty years on (and with my love undiminished) the ninth studio album to stampede out of the Gamma Ray stable is 'To The Metal', recorded and produced by Hansen and Dirk Schlächter (bass) at High Gain Recording Studios in Hamburg (part owned by Hansen and Schlächter themselves). Production and performance wise you know what to expect and you get it. Clinical precision and clarity that has become synonymous with Gamma Ray. If it ain't broke don't fix it, hey?
I'll start with the title track itself; there's nothing that stirs the soul more than a choir of metallic German voices singing 'HAIL HEAVY METAL'. To put the emotions one feels when faced with such an orgasmic audible experience into words is simply impossible. If the Cybermen had a marching anthem then this would be it. Militaristic in essence it also has a ring of familiarity to it in the form of Judas Priest's 'Metal Gods'. It's by no means a carbon copy but a mid tempoed distant relative all the same. And it's only the undeniablely recognisable Gamma Ray styled chorus of the Dirk Schlächter penned 'Shine Forever' that stops that one sounding nothing more than a lost track from Priest's classic 'Painkiller' album. Schlächter is also responsible for writing the only ballad on the album, 'No Need To Cry', in which he deals which the death of his father. Hansen though is the sole writer on the majority of the new material thus giving tracks such as 'Deadlands', 'Mother Angel' and album opener 'Empathy' a big riffed midas touch compared to the relatively bland metal by numbers approach of Dan Zimmerman's 'Rise' for instance. Don't let the drummer write the songs is the lesson we get there, I suppose.
The highlight of the album by far though is 'All You Need To Know'. Hansen taking the lead vocals through the main verses with gatling gun drums providing covering fire leading up to a chorus sang by the one, the only, the magical, Michael Kiske. It's been 15 years since he last leant his voice to one of his old band mate's tunes ('Time To Break Free' which appears on the album 'Land Of The Free' if you're interested) but the old magic from the Helloween days comes flooding back through your stereo like it's 1988 all over again. What we want, what we need, is a full on album from Hansen and Kiske. Rumours the two were working on such a project with fellow ex-Helloween man Roland Grapow a few years back have seemingly come to nothing. Sadly it looks as if Michael's reluctance to ever return fully to the world of metal will always be the sticking point. Until he comes to his senses 'All You Need To Know' is as good as it's gonna get.
Is 'To The Metal' the best album Gamma Ray have done so far though? In short no, but when you've pretty much single handedly created an entire sub genre of rock and put the power metal bar at the vertigo inducing heights set by 95's 'Land Of The Free' and 2001's 'No World Order' it would be near impossible for any band to keep churning out albums of those standards. That being said there's still plenty of diamond tunes here to add to an already glittering back catalogue.
Hail To The Metal \m/
The Deluxe Edition comes in a stunning digipack (album artwork of the year, I think) with a bonus DVD; 80 minutes of interviews, making of the album, live music and a look behind the scenes.