The list of acts who can be linked to Metal legends Helloween through their band members is really quite an impressive one. Masterplan, Running Wild, U.D.O., Krokus, Accept, Iron Savior, Savage Circus, and Freedom Call have all featured one or more of the German pumpkin botherers at one time or another, not to mention obscure side projects like Shockmachine and Palast, and a frankly ridiculous amount of collaborations and guest appearances.
Another familiar name to add to that illustrious list is that of Gamma Ray, a band with ties to many other well-known acts themselves, as well as having spawned the likes of Primal Fear, Neopera, and now more recently, The Unity.
Formed by drummer Michael Ehré and guitarist Henjo Richter in 2016, the pair recruited guitarist Stefan Ellerhorst, keyboard player Sascha Onnen, bassist Jogi Sweers, and Italian singer Gianba Manenti from Ehré’s former band Love. Might. Kill. for their self-titled début (Steamhammer/SPV).
Playfully, yet completely unsurprisingly, taking its title from a Helloween song, ‘Rise and Fall’ is a sturdy opener which only loses points due to the absence of silly lyrics like its utterly bonkers namesake. Not one single mention of teddy bears, little dragons, or queens doing it with chairs? Tut, and indeed, tut.
‘No More Lies’ may share its title with an Iron Maiden song but it owes more to ‘I Could Have Been a Dreamer’ by Dio, and those Dream Evil (Vertigo) similarities are soon repeated in the slower ‘God of Temptation’, the verses ever so lightly pick-pocketed from ‘Night People’.
‘Firesign’, ‘Always Just You,’ and ‘Edens Fall’ are strong numbers with suitably infectious choruses, ‘Close to Crazy’ could have been written by Edguy, ‘The Wishing Well’ is full of late ’80s swagger, and ‘Redeemer’, with its quite magnificent guitar solo, is more Rainbow than you can shake a stick at. Penultimate track ‘Killer Instinct’ might be fairly unmemorable, but album closer ‘Never Forget’ makes up for that.
Despite the undeniably strong sense of familiarity throughout, at no point does the record stop being anything other than stupidly enjoyable. The riffs, hooks, and sweeping choruses keep on coming, the solos are superb, the orchestral sections are never intrusive, and Manenti’s vocals are accomplished, emotive and powerful. Simply put, The Unity (SPV) is an unashamedly European Heavy Metal album for unashamed fans of European Heavy Metal.