Unisonic’s major talking point is that it’s a collaboration between former Helloween bandmates Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske – this marks the first time they’ve worked together on a full album since Keeper Of The Seven Keys, Part 2 back in 1988. Kiske founded Unisonic a few years back with bassist Dennis Ward and drummer Kosta Zafiriou of Pink Cream 69 and former Krokus / Gotthard guitarist Mandy Meyer. Hansen was a late addition, but according to interviews with Kiske, he brought with him both songs and a certain spark that brought Unisonic to the next level.
And not to be unduly negative, but if that is, in fact, true, then that’s a bit of a bummer, because Unisonic is only about half good. The problem is, of course, that Unisonic will forever be compared to Helloween, and it isn’t on that level; it isn’t exactly the same type of pumpkin, nor was it likely really designed to be. Kiske’s distaste for most of the metal scene has been well publicized, and Hansen stated in recent interviews that he was happy with Unisonic because it allowed him to write outside the metal box, in a more rock-based manner than his work with Gamma Ray. He even stated that one of these songs could’ve been a Miley Cyrus song, perhaps inspired by his daughter’s interest in Hannah Montana…
So remember what I said about Unisonic being only about half good?
The parts that work sound good, and they do possess a certain amount of that Helloween charm – Kiske still sounds great, exactly as he did back then, and Hansen can craft some great melodic leads and a memorable power metal chorus like few others. The remainder of the band performs admirably, though with little to comment upon in either direction – this one’s more about the songs than the instrumentation, and in that respect, it is very much a pop-rock record, to further corroborate Hansen’s statements. The title track is a great opener, an eponymous-song-from-an-eponymous-album statement of intent that would work better as such if the album upheld its promise; “Souls Alive” and “Star Rider” re-capture some of the magic of the less-speedy and less-epic side of Helloween.
But then, there’s more… The track that Hansen was referencing in that interview is “Never Too Late,” which is the third track, and his description wasn’t far off. This sounds like Helloween c. 1988 covering some pop-punk radio fodder like Bowling For Soup or Avril Lavigne. (Avrilloween? Hellavigne? You make the call.) The similarly titled “Never Change Me” falters equally, another that sounds like Kiske fronting American Hi-Fi in 2001, all instant-hook harmony guitar intro, moody verses and melodic alt-rock / power-pop chorus; shake and rinse and repeat, bring it down a second in the bridge, and then explode back for the finale… The power ballad “Nobody Ever Sees Me” closes the album proper on a semi-symphonic moment, and it’s every bit as agonizing as its lyrics about young girls searching for true love in an unfair world would indicate. “No one ever sees me / no one ever hears me / no one knows me / no one feels my pain…” It’s probably heartfelt to some degree, true, but unfortunately, it’s also only about a half-step removed from movie-of-the-week sentimentality filtered through Taylor Swift.
The remainder of the record falls in the middle ground — neither as solid as the best three, nor as execrable as the worst. There are a couple of mid-tempo tracks that tread the line in “Renegade” and “We Rise,” some electronic elements that introduce the decent-but-not-brilliant “I’ve Tried”… Nothing is particularly bad, and nor is it particularly good; enjoyable in the moment, pending one’s ability to digest the inherent goofiness, and then it’s gone again.
In some fashion, it’s a bit unfair that Unisonic is mostly a rock record that will forever live in the shadow of the two metal classics that its singer and guitarist brought about a quarter century ago, but then again, such comparison is inevitable. (And no one’s avoiding it — there’s even a bonus live version of Helloween’s “I Want Out.”) Unisonic certainly falls short of even recent Helloween, since 7 Sinners was one of that band’s strongest post-Kiske / Hansen efforts. Still, parts of Unisonic show promise, and assuming the band can either overcome or better integrate or execute its poppier tendencies, perhaps something could come of this reunion. Until then, this is a few decent tunes embedded in a sugary-sweet guilty pleasure in its best minutes, and a groan-inducing rock record in its worst. We know these guys can do better than recycled pop tropes from a half-decade back, even if they’re willfully avoiding recycling the power metal tropes they themselves invented two decades before that.
Also, on a more-than-slight tangent, I’d be very interested to know what band names were rejected before they settled upon Pink Cream 69. Seriously. Dennis, Kosta, enlighten us…