By Carl Begai
When Unisonic surfaced in 2012 it was something of a milestone in that former Helloween bandmates Michael Kiske (vocals) and Kai Hansen (guitars) were officially working together again. They crossed paths several times following Kiske’s departure from Helloween in 1993 – Hansen having jumped ship four years earlier – beginning with Kiske’s guest appearance on Gamma Ray’s Land Of The Free album in 1995, but it wasn’t until Avantasia’s European tour in 2010 where they shared the stage for a few songs each night that the prospect of collaborating on bigger and better things became serious. Kiske already had Unisonic on the go with former Gotthard guitarist Mandy Meyer, Pink Cream 69 bassist/producer Dennis Ward and drummer Kosta Zafiriou, and the decision was made to bring Hansen on board. Interest in the band spiked once the news went public, but the self-titled debut received a mixed bag of reactions. It wasn’t the Helloween Mark II people had expected beyond the ‘Unisonic’ single that kicked things off, yet the band was able to tour extensively and successfully on the strength of the album. Light Of Dawn is Unisonic’s second shot in the arm, and the band remains unapologetic for doing things their own way rather than according to other people’s designs.
“We came from our Place Vendome roots – me, Kosta and Michael – doing AOR stuff, and we knew we wanted to make melodic guitar-oriented music,” says Ward of Unisonic’s focus from the get-go. “I don’t want to insult anybody, and I sure don’t want to be rude, but we said from the beginning in a million different interviews that we’re not going to try and do anything remotely similar to Helloween. That was well stated so many times in advance, but we brought the record out and people were complaining that it wasn’t as heavy as they thought it would be. It was like, ‘Fucking hell, don’t you read? Don’t you care about what we said?’ I don’t want to be insulting, and with all due respect, we don’t give a shit about those complaints because we did what we wanted to do.”
“You have to look at the roots of the people in this band other than Michael, who has his metal roots way in the past. Kai came very late to the band, and the rest of us make hard rock music, not metal. It’s like Paul McCartney making a record that sounds like The Beatles; is he supposed to apologize for that? I don’t think so (laughs). No matter what we do we’re going to disappoint somebody, so we just stay true to ourselves. Slowly but surely we’re finding our way. On this album we tried some new stuff, we ventured farther into the dangerous metal realm (laughs). We left the dragons out but we tried to give the fans a little more of what they want to hear.”
For all the talk of Unisonic being more rock than metal, which they are, Light Of Dawn is considerably heavier in places compared to the debut and very Helloween-ish at times. Odd considering Hansen played a huge part in kicking the songs into shape for the first outing, yet he did no writing for the new record.
“Funny, isn’t it?” Ward laughs. “It’s true that Kai didn’t write anything for this record but we did have a few pre-production sessions where we met. He was involved in getting some arrangements finalized and coming up with some idea here and there, but the actual songwriting was myself, one from Mandy, and a couple from Michael. Kai didn’t have the time because of his Gamma Ray commitments and it was a shame. That being said, going back to the development of a new band, we started off as a one guitar band and all of a sudden Kai came in and my head wasn’t really wrapped around that. After making the first record I realized I should take advantage of the fact I have two great guitar players in this band. I said that I wanted more guitars and more riffs for Light Of Dawn – this is the musician and the producer talking – and I wanted more melodies for Michael to sound epic. I wanted it to be more of a guitar album than the last one.”
Musically speaking, it’s hard to imagine anyone telling someone like Hansen – with a 30 year career and a huge catalogue of material under his belt – how and what to play on an album even if he didn’t do any songwriting.
“Kai is very spontaneous,” says Ward. “He comes up with ideas on the fly and it’s great because it gives the music a real identity. I offer ideas, I don’t insist on anything and I believe everything can be improved. As a musician I say ‘Here’s my music, if you’ve got something better let me know.’ As a producer I’m saying ‘Is your idea better than mine?’ because if it’s not I’ll argue against it (laughs). I don’t have to do that very often because most of the time their ideas are better than what I propose. On the song ‘For The Kingdom’, for example, it was Kai’s idea to start it with that staccato riff and I’m grateful stuff like that happened when we were writing. That’s a band in action.”
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For information and updates on Unisonic check out their official Facebook page here.