I've been back and forth when it comes to my opinion of "To The Metal!". At first I actually thought that this album was even worse than "Majestic" with tracks like "All You Need To Know", "Mother Angel" and especially "To The Metal" seem to bring up all of the least interesting/enjoyable qualities in Gamma Ray music for me. Luckily the album began to steadily grow on me and after 20+ spins I can honestly say that "To The Metal!" is one of the band's best records in quite some time.
Unlike most of the previous efforts, this record is composed of a mixed set of tracks that don't actually have much in common with one another, except maybe for the fact that the majority of them are composed by Kai Hansen. Actually, come to think of it, not even this 'so called' fact is a given anymore since both Henjo Richter and Dan Zimmermann have been steadily contributing to the songwriting over the years. This time only half of the tracks have been penned by Hansen and the godfather of Power Metal still has a strong grip on his title with tracks like "All You Need To Know" and "Deadlands" clearly having a punch to them. The problem is that Hansen hasn't exactly been challenging himself as a writer, hence most of his works sound exactly like you would expect them to. Personally that never really bothered me since Hansen's work has a distinct sound to them which is a nice thing and I'll keep it at that.
The thing that does kind of ring a warning bell is the fact that these five compositions aren't anywhere near some of his best work, especially the album's title track which is a blatant Judas Priest rip-off and is easily this album's single worst moment. Luckily, Richter and Zimmermann are once again here to back up Hansen and deliver some of this album's strongest moments like "Time To Live", "Rise" and "Chasing Shadows". All of these tracks are fast-paced, melodic and feature powerful head-banging moments in them that are well worth experiencing!
The album closes on a somewhat unexpected note with the "No Need To Cry". Composed and sung by Dirk Schlächter, this track is clearly meant to be this album's "Lake Of Tears" but the melody and lyrics really make this track one of Gamma Ray's most pretentious pieces. I'm not even gonna talk about the eclectic middle section that completely sounds out of place with the rest of the composition.
Overall, "To The Metal!" is not a perfect record but it does feature enough memorable moments to make me feel nostalgic for the band's classic years (in mid '90s). As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, this is easily the best Gamma Ray record in years and it really brings me a shred of hope that the band will be able to continue making solid Power Metal records even into their 50's!
***** star songs: Rise (5:06) Chasing Shadows (4:23)
**** star songs: Empathy (5:03) All You Need To Know (4:00) Time To Live (4:46) Mother Angel (5:20) Shine Forever (3:53) Deadlands (4:23)
*** star songs: To The Metal (5:30) No Need To Cry (5:52)