Neon lights strobe across the glossy tour bus as it prowls through the city on a rain-soaked evening. The overlong vehicle comes to a rest at its destination, a gaudy venue awaiting the arrival of some very special guests. The bus doors open and onto the red-carpet step music royalty: Ozzy Osbourne, Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillan, an unending stream of celebrities that beggars belief. They wave to the throng of fans rubber-necking for a glimpse of their idols, and from there the super group and their entourage march into the concert hall, ready to put on a show ripped from the pages of history. The Unity know a thing or two about history, two of its members having kicked tires in Gamma Ray for a spell, but the trip down memory that is their self-titled debut goes further than their own stomping grounds and offers an experience akin to a boisterous evening catching up with those legendary veterans. Will this get-together be a jovial back-slapper, or like so many reunions will it boil down to an awkward circle of past acquaintances wondering how everybody got so fat?
Opening cut “Rise and Fall” immediately radiates strong Masterplan vibes, vocalist Gianba Manenti adding a heady dose of Jørn to proceedings, while the big, made-for-the-spotlight riffs from guitarists Hanjo Richter and Stef E echo those of Roland Grapow. But this isn’t Just Another German Power Metal Band (JÄGPMB), as beneath the glossy Teutonic shell twitches layers of classic acts such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and – perhaps unsurprisingly – Helloween. Like a mug of hot chocolate on a bitter winter’s night, the music satisfyingly nestles into your comfort zone, a welcome familiarity that whispers that there’ll be no nasty surprises. “No More Lies” goes even further, its leather ‘n’ motorbike riffs straight out of mid-period Ozzy Osbourne, so much so that “no more tears” is even belted out in the chorus.
“Close to Crazy” starts with the clinking of a wind-up music box before plowing into classic power metal bombastica, the harmonic riffs and high-energy caterwauling resembling something that might’ve fallen off the back of Accident of Birth by Bruce Dickinson. No surprises indeed, but that doesn’t mean The Unity is unrelentingly monolithic as we do get just enough variety to keep listener attention engaged. “Always Just You” is a mawkish power-ballad, breathlessly shifting into a soppy, mellifluous tone befitting a HIM number. There’ also influences from Ian Gillan but it’s not Deep Purple that dominates (although their inspiration does surface on a couple of tracks). Instead, an odd collaboration between Gillan and Nobuo Uematsu from the Blue Dragon videogame soundtrack is what kept springing to mind while listening to the album. That’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d write in a review.
With so much talent on display, there’s always a danger that the music will devolve into brinkmanship, each band member jostling to outdo the other in a garish peacock dance. It’s a point of admiration then that The Unity have opted to sublimate their egos to produce a record where the overall experience is more important than individual glory. A rare sight considering the bloviating wank the genre is often saddled with. Rarer still, and possibly the most impressive aspect of this debut, is that The Unity have managed to eke out a sound that is still identifiably theirs despite the many nods, winks and outright homages to classic bands found on the album. Nostalgia baiting usually leaves the listener preferring to spend time with the original but The Unity deflects such desires and admirably stands on its own two feet.
With all the effusive praise bubbling within this review you may be wondering why the final score – although positive – isn’t higher on the scale. The answer to this dissonance is that power and symphonic metal generally sets my teeth on edge. It’s a minor miracle that I had a jolly good time listening to this album but much like playing with a cherub-cheeked toddler for a spell, I’m happy to be able to hand the child back to the parent. Those of you who find music of this ilk palatable should waste no time in seeking The Unity out because if it is capable of twisting a smile from my cold, expressionless face then no doubt will you be left deeply and satisfyingly sated.