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Ride with the light of dawn. - 87%

hells_unicorn, September 25th, 2014
Written based on this version: 2014, CD, earMUSIC (Digisleeve (deluxe edition))

Bucking expectations is not necessarily a bad thing, provided that the result surpasses them. One can obviously recount a number of truly horrendous changes in direction such as the one that Avantasia took in 2007 with The Scarecrow, or the one that Montany took just last year by morphing from a respectable power metal band to something so steeped in limp-wrist, alternative metal garbage that even In Flames wouldn't touch it. In the case of Unisonic, the band that ushered in Michael Kiske's return to the helm of a metal project after just under 2 decades of toiling behind the scenes, something a bit more incremental but definitely welcome has taken place on their sophomore LP Light Of Dawn. If the campy visuals on the album art, in all their "Adventures Of Baron Munchhausen" glory, don't suggest a return to the good old days of power metal, the music contained within will smack everybody right upside the head while shouting it to the 4 winds.

It should be noted for the record that while this is much more of a power metal album than its predecessor, being more along the lines of a hard rocking album, this does retain some of the stylistic attributes of the self-titled debut. The riff work is a good bit more nimble, stopping maybe at tad bit shy of the overt speed metal character of Helloween's 80s offerings, but resembling it at times, particularly on the faster works. It would definitely appear that Kai Hansen had a good deal more input into the songwriting on this album compared to the predecessor, because the cumulative results here, song for song, manages to find itself midway between Pink Bubbles Go Ape (had said album been a bit less schizophrenic) and Gamma Ray's Heading For Tomorrow. It's heavily chorus oriented and features Kiske at his best since his riveting performances on the first 2 Avantasia albums, but it also has a good deal of flashy guitar work, a solid battery out of the rhythm section, and even some nice occasional keyboard additives for extra flavoring.

Things kick off in territory that might lead one to assume this to be Kai Hansen's long awaited take on a sequel to the "Keepers" albums, first with a charming symphonic intro that's a tad bit flashier than what adorned said albums at their start, followed by an up tempo cooker in "Your Time Has Come" which listens like a variation on Gamma Ray's "Lust For Life" with Kiske replacing Ralf Scheepers. Similar fits of fun, riff happy power metal with a helping of speed can be heard on the album's singe "For The Kingdom" and "Find Shelter", each of which would have fit in well with recent Gamma Ray output. It's a tad bit ironic that the front man of this outfit was quoted in interviews a couple years back that he wasn't big on the idea of going back and doing just metal music, because this album does come off as one, and a lot of the music on here is at least as metallic as what Edguy was doing prior to Rocket Ride.

Having noted all of this, there are definitely some clear cases of moving a bit more in a hard rock direction at times, though interestingly enough, a lot of it ventures a bit closer to a late 80s heavy metal take on it after the mode of Twisted Sister and Tygers Of Pan Tang. "Exceptional" is pure arena fodder that just about any fan of mid-80s Accept could love, though obviously the vocal work tends to the smoother side of things. More glam-tinged, sleazy 80s goodness can also be heard in "Night Of The Long Knives" and "When The Deed Is Done", so much so that one might be tempted to muse over whether Kiske and company broke out some old Dokken and Dio albums when writing these songs. The hooks get overt almost to the point of being cliche, but are carried extremely well and are a lot of fun. It gets maybe a bit comical with a song like "Manhunter" which lyrically marries something that Hall and Oates might have written with that signature "Out In The Fields" mode of upper mid-tempo rocking, but otherwise the slower material on here doesn't drag down the outstanding power metal moments.

While it's a stretch to label this the greatest power metal album of 2014 the way some have, this is far from a boring listen, and definitely should be checked out. Those who have followed Gamma Ray will find something along the lines of the stronger moments of the early albums with Ralf Scheepers, whereas Helloween fans will find an album that embodies what Pink Bubbles Go Ape could have been had a few things been done better. For a more contemporary example, the output of former Helloween tribute band turned respectable force in the Italian power metal scene Trick Or Treat is pretty close to being synonymous to this stylistically. This is a fun, uplifting album for power metal fanatics that aren't afraid to crack a smile and enjoy life once in a while, come what may.