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United in hard rocking sonic grandeur. - 81%

hells_unicorn, April 6th, 2012

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.