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Originally published at http://suite101.com
Some will always know Michael Kiske as an anti-metal curmudgeon, but he’s gradually been working his way back into the heavier end of the musical spectrum for some time now. Unisonic is the latest in a long line of projects and could be regarded as his first true band effort since he left Helloween in the early 90s. The inclusion of Helloween/Gamma Ray guitarist Kai Hansen alongside members of Krokus and Pink Cream 69 also helps to get this point across.
Seeing as how this is the first album in decades to feature a full collaboration between Kiske and Hansen, it isn’t completely unrealistic to hope for a return to the Keeper Of The Seven Keys sound. There are some moments where the classic duo is recalled, “Souls Alive” reminds me of a more modern version of “A Little Time” and “Never Too Late” recalls “I Want Out,” but there seems to be as much influence from hard rock and pop as there is power metal.
Fortunately, the band members work well together and keep the songs strong with their energy. Even if Hansen was a last minute addition to this point, he never sounds out of place and provides great guitar work alongside Krokus/Asia gunslinger Mandy Meyer. And even if the rhythm section isn’t as unrestrained as it was on classic Helloween, drummer Kosta Zafirou provides some steady patterns while bassist Dennis Ward has a consistent presence.
As expected by the band’s context, Kiske’s vocals are easily the album’s biggest focal point. Fortunately, his performance exceeds expectations as his Dickinson-meets-Tate wail shows few signs of strain and fits in with every style on display. He may not be shrieking his balls off anymore but his extensive range keeps him from having to do so.
Going along with that, the songs on here are evenly split between faster paces and those of a more mid-tempo persuasion. Every track is packed with memorable hooks but the faster songs are definitely the easiest to get into. The band’s self-titled anthem starts things off with a bang and is the closest thing on here to speed metal with its blazing Judas Priest leads, double bass drums, and vocal lines that will be stuck in your head for days on end. “Never Too Late,” “Never Change Me,” and “My Sanctuary” also make for great speed runs though there is pretty much nothing heavy about them…
Fortunately, the mid-tempo songs are also well written and never sound too monotonous. “I’ve Tried” and “Star Rider” are the best tracks of the lot as the desperate vocals and building structure on the former channel classic Queensryche while the latter kinda sounds like something Tobias Sammet would come up with. “No One Ever Sees Me” is also worth noting as it closes things out in a power ballad fashion. It might not be the most tear-jerking thing out there but it does make me realize how rare it is for an album to end with a ballad…
Unisonic might not have put out an epic display of ass-ripping power metal, but their debut is a solid effort that offers some great genre blending and energetic performances. Fans of Kiske, Hansen, and Helloween should definitely give this one a listen. Helloween’s most recent albums have been too damn good to dispute the rights to the name but Unisonic’s debut does make one wonder what their response will be like…
“Never Too Late”
When news broke of a reunion between Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske, the metal community took a breath, held it, and dug out their old Keepers records to remind themselves of what Unisonic had in store. Upon purchase, most probably listened to the first five tracks and tried to get their money back, unable to comprehend that after twenty five years the music these guys decided to make didn't sound at all like what they made when they were young men. I mean, just imagine it. The horror! But naturally, this wasn't going to be packed full of songs like "March Of Time", and if you're a fan of recent Kiske material you will understand that and take the record for what it is. Hell, you might even enjoy it.
This is exactly what fans of Gamma Ray and Place Vendome will expect from a modern Kiske and Hansen collaboration. It's certainly the liveliest artifact Kiske has lent his voice to in recent years, and he shines here in a way he hasn't since his heyday. You can hear Hansen's song writing contributions a mile off, but mostly these tracks revolved around Kiske with particular emphasis on the vocal lines. The only real clunker is "No One Ever Sees Me", the album's parting ballad. Beyond that, Unisonic deliver hit after hit. The silly "Never Too Late" recalls an old Gamma Ray tune, "Time To Break Free", while "Never Change Me" is a radio-friendly AOR attempt that gets the foot tapping from the get-go. "Renegade" is the most metal thing here, with a chorus that grasps at power metal and almost reaches it, and the now infamous opener "Unisonic" throttles at full speed, a triumphant anthem that will slay the live stage.
There are a couple of questionable moments that take us from familiar territory. "Star Rider" requires a number of listens before developing a taste for it. Similarly "I've Tried" isn't all that engaging, but a strong chorus makes it an unexpected curiosity. At times, this album does stray towards hard rock, but it never sounds out of place amongst the heavier segments. This is certainly not half as bad as some reviewers claim; in fact, if you've followed the careers of Kiske and Hansen over the years, you'll probably love every moment. It's a very pleasant album, perfect for the casual mood. Just don't expect Keepers Part IV. Please, guys. I'm begging you.
Originally scribbled at www.metalcrypt.com
After the highly promising and short appetizer in form of the well entitled “Ignition” EP, the new German Power Metal supergroup with ex-Helloween singer Michael Kiske, ex-Helloween and Gamma Ray mastermind Kai Hansen on the guitars and some background vocals, ex-Krokus guitar player Mandy Meyers, Pink Cream 69 bass player Dennis Ward and finally ex-Pink Cream 69 drummer Kosta Zafiriou put out a self-titled full length record. I was a little bit sceptical that this record could sound too much like a routine job in order to grab some fast cash and many critics cited that the heaviest tracks had already been used for the EP while the rest of the record would mostly contain average hard rock tracks and metal ballads. That’s why I hesitated a lot to purchase this record but I finally got the chance to get the European special edition for a good price and started the album with mixed feelings.
First of all, I don’t think that the critics are right. It’s sure that the EP only contained three killers tracks plus an excellent live song from the old Helloween classic “I Want Out” but the full length record is nearly as strong and contains a lot of catchy, energizing and fresh tracks that sound very ambitious, coherent and hungry. As the last records from bands such as Edguy, Gamma Ray, HammerFall, Helloween, Saidian and all the other European power metal bands came as truly negative surprises, Unisonic’s first strike is clearly one of the best European power metal album of the last couple of years without sounding excellent. It’s a load of fun to listen through the eleven tracks and the two bonus tracks that are each included on the European and the Japanese edition of the record. The melodic guitar riffs somewhere between passionate Hard Rock, fist rasining Heavy Metal and crystal clear Power Metal sound fresh and are well produced, the rhythm section with bass guitar and drums is inoffensive but never too boring and Michael Kiske’s vocals sound as motivated and unique as they did when he still was in Helloween twenty years ago. His voice has even matured and sounds more diversified and professional at many moments. Those who only think about high pitched screams when they hear his name, might even be positively surprised and the man that found his path back to metal music doesn’t give much reason to criticize him on this album.
The music really sounds as if the musicians had a lot of fun doing this project. Of course, the songs sound what you might expect them to sound like because of all these famous acts associated to the five experienced and extremely skilled musicians but this album never sounds like a routine job. The good thing is that every musician was almost equally involved in the songwriting process apart of drummer Kosta Zafiriou. Each song has its catchy moments and might even grow during the band’s live performances. I would even go as far and say that the musicians should put on hold their other bands, do a world tour in this line up and work on a second record as they easily conquered the European power metal throne with this album.
Apart of the tracks from the EP, the melodic and very positive “Never too late” that sounds a little bit like Styx, the slow “Star Rider” with its atmospheric eighties’ pop influences reminding me of John Farnham featuring an unforgettable chorus and an epic middle part reminding me slightly of progressive Queen elements, the Foreigner influenced and rather commercial hard anthem “King For A Day” featuring an epic chorus and a pretty solid guitar solo and the chilling closing ballad with acoustic guitars and truly decent string passages called “No One Ever Sees Me” that focuses a lot on the vocal skills can be cited as highlights. On the other side, almost every track has its damn catchy parts.
In the end, Unisonic certainly don’t reinvent a genre and turn back the clock. Even though the record is quite diversified and therefor entertaining, I somewhat miss the courage for at least one new experiment. On the other side, they still manage to sound fresh and hungry and easily beat the concurrence on this one. This album is clearly the European Power Metal highlight of the year. It’s not an exceptional record but it’s very solid and contains no filler material. If you like the bands mentioned in this review, this album is a definite must have for you.
Michael Kiske is one of metal’s most polarizing figures, isn’t he? He sang on some really well-acclaimed albums back in the day with Helloween, but then proceeded to act like a huge douche for the next 20 years and proclaim that metal is below him and that it isn’t true art, among other nonsensical rambling. And yet he still sings and makes guest appearances on metal albums anyway…what a ridiculous character! But his voice is so good that somehow, albums like Unisonic remain fun anyway. It’s nothing great, but it is catchy!
The basic formula is something like early 80s Scorpions, with shiny hard rock guitars and catchy, poppy choruses. The best songs on here are the most unabashedly poppy ones, just for how smooth and relatable the melodies are – songs like the soaring “Never Too Late” and the wonderful “My Sanctuary” are easily some of the most enjoyable I have heard all year. “Star Rider” has a huge power metal chorus and some spacey futuristic sounds, and I like it. “We Rise” is one of the more atmospheric songs on display, too, with some aching, mournful vocal lines from Kiske. “Never Change Me” is the most straightforward track, and it’s perfect for a work out session or driving on a bright sunny morning with your spirits high – it’s not metal at all, and is pretty much a pop song with distortion, but for what it is, it’s spectacular, and a really honest, fun little tune, even despite its brainlessness.
Although really, I can’t score this too high – there are too many songs I don’t care for, like the tepid “I’ve Tried” and the awkward “King for a Day” with its groovy “darker” tone that just doesn’t gel with the rest of the album. If there were more songs like it, maybe, but it’s the only one, and as such, just doesn’t fit in. “Renegade” is an epic power metal stomp and while I like it, it just feels out of place on here. “Souls Alive” has some of the best verses on the album, but the chorus is pretty wimpy, I have to admit. And the ballad “No One Ever Sees Me” goes on a minute or two too long.
And while these songs are all appealing to the ear and fun to sing along with…I don’t know, I’d feel kind of weird giving this a high rating. It’s just pure ear candy, nothing else. While these songs are great for driving to or working out to, as art and entertainment, it’s pretty much shallow, and although I do like it, I feel like I’d be dishonest in giving it a score above 60%. It’s not exactly on the same level as Blackout or Balls to the Wall for pop metal, after all. If you really want Kiske and Hansen, this is a good place to find them, as long as you’re not expecting anything too substantial. Unisonic is the musical equivalent of a bag of miniature Snickers and Butterfinger bars – sweet and fattening but not exactly healthy.
Unisonic's self titled debut album is certainly a quality release. The album is filled with musical variety, excellent vocals, solid guitar work and several unforgettable songs. It is not an epic magnum opus, but a fresh hard rock release that just hits the mark.
Unisonic is comprised of vocalist Michael Kiske (ex-Helloween, Place Vendome), guitarist Kai Hansen (ex-Helloween, Gamma Ray), guitarist Mandy Meyer (ex-Krokus, ex-Gotthard) and bassist Dennis Ward together with drummer Kosta Zafiriou (Pink Cream 69, Place Vendome).
By looking at the names of Hansen and Kiske (who are collaborating on a full album after 24 years), one could mistakenly expect a power metal release, but Unisonic is not a metal album. There are some heavy songs on offer, but the overall sound is based on melodic hard rock with metal and AOR influences. Additionally most songs are kept rather simple with weight on the choruses, guitar solos and vocals.
The album starts with the self-titled song, which is surely the perfect opener. "Unisonic" is an up-tempo power metal number with a dose of hard rock. Heavy riffing, an addictive groove, several guitar leads and a twin guitar solo, a good chorus backed by double bass, a confident vocal performance and you have the first Unisonic classic. This is the fastest and probably the heaviest song on offer, so don't expect the rest of the album to follow this path.
"Souls Alive" sounds like a cross between hard rock and melodic metal. The song is rather mid-paced but still faster compared to other tracks. Things start with a bombastic intro backed by power metal like guitar leads and keys. The verses and chorus are owned by Kiske's melodic singing and some solid riffs. The song also contains a great guitar solo and a slow atmospheric part, with some emotional lower range vocals.
My personal favorite song is the epic "King For A Day". A slower paced hard rock track, with some heavy riffing and Kiske's flawless higher singing in the verse. The chorus is epic and sang in lower vocals by both Kiske and Hansen in the background. After the second chorus the pace becomes faster for the impressive guitar solo and slows down again for the excellent ending.
"We Rise" is another highlight and a future live classic. Heavy riffing, a crushing solo battle and a beautifully sang as well as addictive chorus provide the recipe for another Unisonic classic. We Rise can also be considered a faster song, although the tempo varies. In summary this is pure gold and reminds of Helloween's uplifting spirit, while the chorus carries a hint of Gamma Ray's Heaven Can Wait.
"My Sanctuary" is a mid-paced melodic hard rocker. The verses are filled with guitar leads and the chorus is catchy as hell and a vocal highlight, with some classic high notes by Kiske. The song also features a very fitting solo section and a slower bridge with lower vocals that will work wonders in a live setting.
"Renegade" is another stand out. It starts with a pretty heavy riff which is repeated after the choruses, the verses are much softer and the memorable chorus follows the melodic rock line. Another outstanding vocal performance and an excellent guitar solo round off the song perfectly. If you want to label it, the sound resembles a heavier Place Vendome.
"Star Rider" is another winner. It follows an atmospheric arena-rock path and harkens back to Queen. A simple and softer song, with emphasis on a bombastic chorus and Kiske's outstanding vocal performance. On the second verse and elsewhere there are choirs that will certainly remind one of Queen.
The 'Limited Edition' includes a brilliant bonus track well worth having. "Over The Rainbow" is a captivating power ballad with a truly stunning vocal performance (including some high screams). The epic ballad contains emotional guitar work, some heavier outbursts, an 80's feel and a wink to early Rainbow.
Overall, Unisonic offers a fresh sounding debut album with several noteworthy songs. Excellent instrumentation by the various veterans on board and one of Michael Kiske's most impressive vocal performances ever. The album's musical variety covering hard rock, heavy metal, AOR and ballads is another strong point. As for the bad, a few average songs and the fact that the songwriting is generally kept to the basics.
If listened as a rock album, Unisonic totally delivers. If listened as a power metal release, then it doesn't. Personally, I can't wait for a follow up.
(originally written for www.amazon.co.uk)
When Kiske and Kai got together to get this through and with the rather speedy title of the piece itself, I was expecting something quite unlike this. But it seems both the hangover of Kiske's solo efforts and the presence of not one, but two Pink Cream 69 members here persists. Of course, there's one outta Krokus, too. But enough of that. This is straight up hard rock with some definite power influences creeping in, mostly in the choruses, but for the most part this one stays well and comfortably mid-paced.
The title track is disposable entertainment and cheesy to the point of being absolutely clunky. Granted, its purpose seems to be not to turn off Helloween and Gamma Ray fans altogether completely on first go, and of course the obligatory 'WE'RE UNISONIC!' would provide for a pretty good singalong experience live. The band itself seems utterly unaware how terribly trite the name is. Ah well. While it is the fastest track on here and therein a bit of a misnomer, it's also one of the weakest, and for good measure.
The strength of any good hard rock, of course, rests in hooks and choruses, and the rest of the tracks deliver in plenty. The standard template seems to be to focus on the choruses, and you'd have all of them down on first listen with some of them being truly momentous. There's the odd surprise thrown in through the album's length, like the very nicely done ballad that bookends the album and also happens to be the longest track on here. There's also a bit of a dabble in pop rock in Never Change Me, and a strange power metal mid-crisis encapsulates Never Too Late. All quite well executed too, I might add. Nothing here ever comes off as forced, and all of it is memorable enough for mandatory repeat listens.
So while this might be more of a step down on the brakes than you'd actually have believed from the first single and video, it really doesn't disappoint. This comes highly recommended to both Helloween and Gamma Ray fans and any fans of melodic hard rock.
Many could rightly assert that the exploits of Michael Kiske as a full-time vocal guest has been both brilliant and frustrating. The former tends to be the stronger yet more fleeting assessment, as his powerful tenor has lent additional luster and splendor to recent offerings out of Gamma Ray, Trick Or Treat and Timo Tolkki’s recently scuttled project Revolution Renaissance. The latter, however, tends to be the more stubborn and enduring impression as these brief moments of rapture while remembering the glory of late 80s Helloween is coupled with the truth that Michael Kiske isn’t doing this sort of thing with a greater sense of permanence and regularity. This trend started to show signs of finally ending with the release of the Kiske/Somerville album, and has now brought about a full blown return to form for the former German power metal titan.
Unisonic, despite being comprised of the 2 strongest parts of what made the “Keepers” albums timeless templates that continue to churn out amazing European melodic opuses galore, is not a band of the same stylistic mold. The contents here can be best described as a artful yet obvious compromise between an 80s heavy metal sound and the more modern trend of German power metal of late that has been spearheaded by Masterplan (yet another band that Kiske has worked with in the past). It doesn’t turn on the afterburners the way a “Time Marches On” or a “Halloween” would, nor does it really even attempt to exhibit any of the speed metal mannerisms that are generally on display in Gamma Ray’s work. The songs tend to be a bit more mid-tempo and rock infused, but do often touch upon elements of Helloween’s past, though they tend to be the more radio-friendly and toned down parts.
Actually, if an analogy were made to past Helloween works, “Unisonic” could be referred to as the album that “Pink Bubbles Go Ape” could have been with a more consistent stylistic approach and a less tongue-in-cheek lyrical one. Upbeat anthems that almost reminisce of 80s Queen and occasionally even Styx such as “Star Rider”, “Never Change Me” and “Never Too Late” are more rock than metal, but also remind pretty heavily of a few choice songs off of earlier Gamma Ray efforts, particularly the simpler works heard on “Heading For Tomorrow”. This sort of music isn’t entirely unexpected in light of the massive body of rock oriented songs that Kiske and Hansen have done together in the past; particularly the slight Hendrix meets 80s metal inspired “Time To Break Free” off Gamma Ray’s “Land Of The Free”. Kiske’s massive pipes generally carry these songs along as the guitar work is fairly straightforward, but credit should definitely be given to Kai Hansen and former Krokus shredder Mandy Meyer for their impressive lead guitar work.
Ironically enough, the “Ignition” EP that preceded this album proved to be a bit deceptive in some respects, as the bulk of the material that was not released is the least metallic of the lot. The lead off title song is probably the closest to an all out power metal anthem, conjuring up images of both “I Want Out” and “Kids Of The Century” as it soars along on a might set of melodic lines and crushing power chords. Likewise, “Souls Alive” and “My Sanctuary” tend more towards the metallic roots of the membership of this outfit than most of the other songs. However, there’s a slight hint towards a more straight-lined heavy metal approach in “King For A Day” that is somewhat reminiscent of Dio at times, and apart from the happy as pie sounding chorus of “We Rise” (it almost sounds like it was lifted off the last Avantasia album and given a much better production), it has a good number of hard edged riffs.
It’s a sure bet that anyone who has been anxiously follow Kiske’s career since leaving Helloween will instantly fall in love with this album, but anyone who hasn’t heard any of his work since the 2nd “Keepers” album will find something a good bit different from albums like “Escape From Twilight” (Emerald Sun) or “New Born Day” (Montany) which come pretty close to cloning said sound. There are no long-winded epics or a deluge of double bass drum insanity, and there really doesn’t need to be; it’s just go old fashioned heavy metal with an upbeat sound and a rock solid delivery.
The formation of the band Unisonic marks Michael Kiske's full-time return to the land of rock and metal since his formative Helloween years. And this time, he's also brought along good friend, former Helloween bandmate, and Gamma Ray frontman Kai Hansen along for the ride. The two are no strangers to collaboration, as Kiske appeared on both Land of the Free and To the Metal!, but this is the first time the two have been featured on an album entirely since Keeper of the Seven Keys Pt. II. While this quasi-Helloween reunion has a few familiar flares of speed/power metal, this is by and large a more hard rock/heavy metal outing. But that's no reason for hardcore Helloween and Gamma Ray fans to fret, as this band delivers an album that is fun, fast, and full of good times.
After only a few sporadic appearances with Avantasia and Gamma Ray, it is a great feeling to once again hear Michael Kiske's voice with a rock/metal sound again. Twenty-some years removed from his Keeper of Seven Keys glory days, Michael's voice understandably is not hitting the same kind of high notes he once was. But by no means has his voice lost any of the command, power, or familiarity from singing in Helloween, and his tenor is still strong and his lower octave is actually more befitting of a hard rock feel than frantic power metal. He also exhibits an excellent vibrato on songs such as My Sanctuary. Kai Hansen takes the duty of lead guitar, and while he's not shredding like fans are used to on Gamma Ray releases, he still provides strong hard rock riffs and the occasional awesome solo. The instrumentation as a whole is extremely solid and complements Kiske's voice well.
As I mentioned before, the songs are more of a hard rock/heavy metal nature rather than speed or power metal, but they are still fast-paced, melodic and catchy. The two most noteworthy tracks are the title track Unisonic and My Sanctuary, which are easily the most anthemic and memorable songs on the album. King for a Day has a slower, more grinding feel to it, Never Change Me has a slight pop-rock/pop-metal sound, and Star Rider is both hard and emotional. Even the obligatory power ballad No One Ever Sees Me is solid. Though power ballads are always risky to do, as they are seemingly done just for the sake of having one and very rarely stray from a "soft-yet-heavy-as-it-picks-up-but-still-soft" sound, it's still an enjoyable listen and has a meaningful message of the oppression of women in the Middle East.
Unisonic is an enjoyable for listen for anyone who is either a die-hard Helloween and Gamma Ray fan or those who simply like entertaining, fast-paced rock songs. The band has a very promising future and I am interested to see how far they go from here and how they will carry on. This is one of the most solid rock/metal albums I've heard in a long time and while it will not go down as a classic, it will most likely be extremely underrated as well. Very strong performances around, but with guys like Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen, that is to be expected.