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I'm going to come clean right off the bat. I've been wanting to review this album for roughly five years now purely so I could make that pun in the title. I'm tempted to just end the review here because that really sums up everything you need to know about this album. You already know how it sounds. I mean really, look at that cover. Look at it. You know the album you're imagining in your head right now? Yup, that's exactly what this is. Review over. I'm going on break.
Okay fine, I'll humor my self indulgence for a few hundred more words and really dig in to Unicorn's only release, 2005's The 13th Sign. I hate to play the regional discrimination card, but raise your hand if the fact that a melodic flower metal band named motherfucking Unicorn hails from Italy surprises you. Luckily, despite the vibes I'm surely giving off, this ranked as a positive sign for me. The Italian metal scene basically excels at two things, ridiculously over-the-top tech death and ridiculously over-the-top symphonic power metal (unless you do both, then you're mediocre at them (looking at you, Agony!)). Now of course, metal is at its best as a genre when it's being pushed to an extreme, regardless of innovation. So if The 13th Sign didn't have a single original idea, I wouldn't mind too much as long as it was exceedingly ridiculous or melodic or catchy or fast or fun in any conceivable way.
Unfortunately, Unicorn nails the hat trick of being boring, cliche, and weak. I mean, you don't need deductive skills on par with Sherlock Holmes to guess this probably isn't a very heavy album, nor was that the band's intention so it's kind of hard to hold such a criticism against them, but this is thin to the point of distraction. Axa's vocals are spread thinner than a soap bubble, the guitar tone is plasticky and I'm convinced the keyboards are actually played by a children's toy, and the drums sound like somebody just hitting the box the keyboards came in. If you could personify the tone here, the resulting human would look like Jack Skellington; hauntingly pale and thin but at the same time completely non-threatening. Again, I realize it wasn't the band's intention to come roaring out of the gate, fueled by the blood of their enemies, but damn nearly half of the album is essentially soft rock, and really fucking dull soft rock at that. It's not soothing, it's not pleasant, it's just a by-the-numbers flower metal album with half of the tracks being painfully uninteresting ballads and the other half being shameless Helloween and Gamma Ray knockoffs.
And this isn't knocking off good Helloween albums either, this takes inspiration from the bewilderingly popular Keeper of the Seven Keys saga. Those weak, syrupy packets of shite will have their day eventually, but that is neither here nor there right now. The 13th Sign has moments of fun sprinkled here and there, with "Avylonia" being damn near uncomfortably infectious and "Vampyrial" being a shining example of how to write a great power metal song without adding anything new to the genre. Those two songs are excellent showcases of the songwriting prowess the band can shit out when they put their minds to it, so it's unfortunate that they end up being the only two songs that really nail "it". Whatever "it" is for the band, "Avylonia" and "Vampyrial" are the two songs that embody "it". They're fun, bouncy tracks with catchy choruses, choral backings, dual melodies, lighthearted solos, everything that makes light power metal worthwhile as a genre is jam packed into both of those tracks, and I can't recommend them enough. The reason the album falls flat on the whole is because nothing else strikes the gold those two do. "One in a Million" is the most shameless copy of Gamma Ray's timeless anthem, "Beyond the Black Hole" I've ever heard, and it manages to lack the magic that makes the original so marvelous (mainly the urgency and greatly open to interpretation lyrics), and "The Book of Drake" is Unicorn's attempt at a more folksy, medieval romp that Rhapsody likes to deliver at least once an album ("The March of the Swordmaster" and "Village of Dwarves" are great examples of the style of song done right (aka: when Rhapsody is doing it)).
But apart from those? Ballads and ballads and more ballads. I'm not opposed to ballads on principle, obviously, that'd be stupid, but this album is just loaded with them, and none of them are any good. "Fight for the Wings" and "Waiting For..." just happen with no consequence, while "Elysian Fields" drags and drags for over eight minutes without so much as one passage that feels heartfelt or genuine or touching or smooth or emotional or anything that makes a good ballad. The best one is "Dance of Passion" because it's a relatively short instrumental along the lines of something Joe Satriani would write (with far less technical skill, obviously). But when they're all so boring, it's pretty disappointing that roughly 22 minutes of the album are occupied by the four ballads, while the four flower metal songs get closer to 20. This is of course not counting the (good) cover of "Eagle Fly Free", which doesn't count in my eyes since it isn't an original song, however well done it may be.
Sadly, that's all there is to offer here: weak production and mostly dull songs. I hate to sound stereotypical, but when Unicorn writes higher tempo, more melodic, fun flower metal tracks, they're pretty good. Nothing groundbreaking or exceptionally great, but they're good. So it's unfortunate that a majority of the album is spent not doing that. This is metal for Air Supply fans (and I'd like to point out that Air Supply is trumped only by Hollywood Undead as the worst band ever), and I can't really recommend anything past the two great songs in "Avylonia" and "Vampyrial", though the other metallic songs are decent in their own right, just not as good. You could do worse for light, flowery power metal, but this ain't got shit on Athena or Timeless Miracle.
Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/