THE UNITY – The Hellish Joyride (2023)
Presenting more energy and diversity than ever before, THE UNITY are releasing their fifth album, ”The Hellish Joyride”, due out August 25th. The album follows up their four successful efforts – The Unity (2017), Rise (2018), Pride (2020) and The Devil You Know – Live (2021) – as well as European tours both headlining and alongside luminaries such as Sinner, Edguy, Axel Rudi Pell or Rhapsody Of Fire. The band has also had renowned performances at Masters Of Rock, the Knockout Festival, Metal-Fest and Bang Your Head.
”The Hellish Joyride” delivers twelve diverse songs, which range from neck-breakingly fast-paced to groovingly cool to balladesque. It’s the most complete THE UNITY album to day without a doubt.
On top of that, the band’s latest addition, bassist Tobias “Eggi” Exxel (Edguy), has brought fresh energy to the fold and unquestionably supports the sworn circle of Gamma Ray members Henjo Richter (guitar) and Michael Ehré (drums), vocalist Gianba Manenti, guitarist Stef and keyboardist Sascha Onnen.
After a brief intro, the album opens with the aptly titled ‘Masterpiece’, a song that immediately put a big ol’ smile on my face and immediately got my head banging. The way lead singer Gianba Manenti’s palpable anger spews forth in the verses is perfect. Power metal done right with the verses building to an intense chorus that I had to replay several times before moving on.
When I did move on, I was met with my favorite song on the album. The title track struck me not just because of its melodic soaring chorus but because of its lyrics. The narrative of overcoming adversity with lyrics like “This is your life/your heavenly free flight/or your hellish joyride/what will you choose” stir my soul in a way that’s personal. I love songs that mix power with ambitious messages. One of my favorite songs of this year.
Admittedly, it took me a few times to warm up to Track 3’s ‘Only the Good Die Young’. While it’s a good track, it followed two killer songs and its mid-tempo hard rock approach along with a chorus that isn’t as soaring as what came before made it a slight let down. That really isn’t fair to the song. After walking away for a bit, returning to the album, and starting with this track, I appreciated it more. Gianba utilizes his voice well here, lowering and raising his register at all the right times.
The album stumbles a bit with ‘Saints and Sinners’. Starting with a sped-up version of the theme from The Exorcist, the song then follows the vocal melody line from Rainbow’s ‘Gates of Babylon’ briefly, but then switches to a very generic bridge and chorus. Typical power metal double bass and rapid g-string riffing take up most of the song. It’s done well and I’m sure there’s fans out there who can never get enough of this, but I find it too typical and predictable.
Thankfully, The Unity follows up that track with the excellent semi-ballad ‘Something Good’. The opening of the song goes on for a minute and a half before the full band kicks in. Until that point, there’s just a steady yet halting drumbeat, a single guitar note extended like a depressed keyboard key, and Gianba’s perfect vocals conveying his struggles with losing someone close. Had the song started with the full band, I don’t believe it would have had the same impact. Something different that I have never heard from the band before. The chorus of vocables at the end is a great addition and a nice way to segue back to the beat that opened the song.
Surprisingly, they selected one of the weakest tracks on the album to be their first single. ‘Always Two Ways to Play’ is not a bad song, but nearly every song that precedes it is stronger and would have better represented what the album had to offer. To be honest, I almost decided to pass on this review based on this single, thinking that if this is their “best foot forward” then I would not care much for the album. A standard hard rock track with nothing special going for it.
Up next is ‘Golden Sun’, and it has a fabulously heavy, mid-tempo feel for it, with the keyboards and the guitar performing the same melody line, adding for a thick sound. However, the chorus is a bit of a let-down. It sounds like they had a song in place but no chorus, so they took a chorus from another song and tacked it on. I get what the band was going for. The hopeful chorus is a juxtaposition on the content of the foreboding lyrics. Certainly not a bad song, but a bridge would have made it less jarring.
The last song I will spotlight will be the song that closes the album. ‘You’re Not Forced to Stay’ is a melancholic ballad about an ultimatum given to a partner, with lyrics conveying a “take it or leave it’ approach. While it doesn’t reach the highs of the similarly themed ‘Something Good’, it is still poignant and heartfelt in all the ways power ballads should be. While filled with sorrow, it’s a wonderful way to conclude what I would regard as The Unity’s best album.
While I pointed out critiques about various songs, I will say that there are no bad songs on the album, just individual preferences that fans will enjoy more or less than I did. I found this album to be their most consistent. The 60/40 ratio does not exist here.
This is an album that I can put on and play straight through. The more is listened, the more I enjoyed it and wanted to hear again, even the songs that I critiqued. It has staying power and will prove to be an album I will return to for years to come, more so than their other releases.
If you’ve never heard anything from this band, this is the album to start with. Long-time fans will surely regard it as an album that future releases will be compared to. A well-crafted, diverse, and exciting release.
1 One World
3 The Hellish Joyride
4 Only the Good Die Young
5 Saints and Sinners
6 Something Good
7 Always Two Ways to Play
9 Golden Sun
10 Stay the Fool
11 Never Surrender
12 You’re Not Forced to Stay
Henjo Richter (guitar)
Michael Ehré (drums)
Gianba Manenti (vocals)
Sascha Onnen (keyboards)
Tobias Exxel (bass)