Album Review – Axel Rudi Pell / Knights Call (2018)

And Mr. Axel Rudi Pell strikes once again, delivering another entertaining collection of rock and metal tunes supported by his loyal army of skillful musicians.

If there’s a musician that truly loves what he does, that person has to be the iconic German Heavy Metal/Hard Rock guitarist Axel Rudi Pell. It’s incredible how consistent this accomplished guitar virtuoso is with his amazing solo band, not only by delivering top-tier music since the band’s inception in the far, far away year of 1989, but also by not taking too many years to record a new album. As a matter of fact, if you take a detailed look at the band’s complete discography, you’ll notice that every two years there’s a brand new Axel Rudi Pell full-length album released for our total delight. Furthermore, his creativity and ability to compose high-end music have been flourishing in the past decade, with the releases of the extremely well-crafted albums The Crest (2010),  Circle of the Oath (2012), Into the Storm (2014), Game of Sins (2016), and now in 2018 the excellent Knights Call, the 18th studio album in his undisputed career.

Featuring a traditional artwork by British illustrator Martin McKenna, who by the way has been working with the band since 2010 with the release of the aforementioned The Crest, the secret in Knights Call is not a secret at all, but the result of a lot of hard work, perfect synchronicity among all band members, and above all that, a solid and consistent lineup that has been accompanying Mr. Axel Rudi Pell for a while, comprised of the underrated Johnny Gioeli on vocals, Volker Krawczak on bass, Ferdy Doernberg on keyboards and Bobby Rondinelli on drums. Apart from Mr. Rondinelli, who joined the band in 2013, all others have been with Axel for a very long time, with Volker being a member of the band since the beginning in 1989 (and even before that if you consider his time with Steeler), while Johnny and Ferdy since 1998’s Oceans of Time. Actually, when you hit play and start listening to the flammable rock music blasted by those veterans in Knights Call, you can kind of feel how they know each other extremely well.

The Medieval Overture is  a classic medieval-inspired Axel Rudi Pell intro to the Rock N’ Roll feast titled The Wild And The Young, a song about getting old in style and having good memories of a time that’s never coming back (“Sometimes I’m dreaming of the past / Making love in the summer while it lasts / But life ain’t easy as it seemed / Much tougher and louder than I dreamed / I thought I was living in paradise / And those were the days of my life”), led by the unparalleled riffs by Mr. Axel Rudi Pell and the always flammable vocals by Johnny. Following such strong start we have Wildest Dreams, a keyboard-driven Hard Rock tune where Volker extracts rumbling sounds from his bass while the competent Bobby keeps the music at a very pleasant pace, bringing that characteristic sound from the band’s old releases; and Long Live Rock, their musical representation of our passion for Rock N’ Roll, or in other words, a tribute not only to themselves but to all rock and metal heroes of our lives, showcasing a thunderous kitchen by Volker and Bobby , with Ferdy complementing Axel’s metallic riffs and solos flawlessly.

Then it’s time for The Crusaders Of Doom, one of those imposing, epic creations by Axel and his henchmen, a mid-tempo song full of atmospheric keyboards and classy guitar lines, all embraced by a passionate vocal performance by the talented Johnny. Truth And Lies is another upbeat composition by the band, a 70’s-80’s-inspired instrumental party for lovers of Progressive Rock and Metal presenting gripping keys and the always mesmerizing riffs and solos by Axel, while in Beyond The Light Mr. Gioeli returns after a “break” with what’s most probably his strongest vocal performance of the album, powerfully declaiming the song’s lyrics (“Is there life beyond the light / In the valley of the souls we’d lost long ago / Is there life beyond the light / Only in our dreams or in reality”). Those guys definitely know how to craft beautiful and touching ballads, and this one is no exception to that.

Knights Call Limited Edition Boxset

Getting back to their 80’s Hard Rock sonority, Slaves On The Run is a straightforward tune presenting all elements we love in the music by Axel Rudi Pell, being a more than excellent option for their live concerts. Furthermore, Axel and Ferdy are once again in total sync, while Volker keeps pounding his bass in a very melodious way. The second to last song in Knights Call, Follow The Sun, brings more old school Rock N’ Roll and Heavy Metal for our avid ears, with the album’s crisp production allowing us to feel the beats by Bobby inside our heads while Johnny keeps firing his potent vocal lines, also bringing a chorus tailored for singing along with the band. And closing this very entertaining album we have a 9-minute aria of classic rock and metal with hints of Arabian music titled Tower Of Babylon, something we’ve seen the band doing before. You’ll find yourself wandering through the realms of epicness and intricacy forged by Axel and crew, with his guitar solos sounding absolutely hypnotizing.

After listening to Knights Call (and I’m sure that’s something I’ll be doing for a long time), I’m more than certain it’s quite impossible for Axel Rudi Pell to release a bad album. There are several versions of Knights Call available for purchase HERE, but if I were you I would go for the deluxe boxset which includes a red/black LP in gatefold cover and with printed innersleeve, a digipak CD + poster, a patch, a sticker, a photo card, a doople sided A1 poster, and a skull tin-cup with an engraving of the band logo. And after all is said and done, we can all rest assured that in less than two years we’ll be treated one more time to the captivating rock and metal music crafted by one of the best guitarists hailing from the beautiful Germany.

Best moments of the album: The Wild And The Young, Long Live Rock, Slaves On The Run and Follow The Sun.

Worst moments of the album: Truth And Lies.

Released in 2018 SPV/Steamhammer

Track listing  
1. The Medieval Overture (Intro) 1:43
2. The Wild And The Young 4:20
3. Wildest Dreams 5:43
4. Long Live Rock 5:34
5. The Crusaders Of Doom 8:01
6. Truth And Lies 4:48
7. Beyond The Light 7:45
8. Slaves On The Run 5:13
9. Follow The Sun 5:12
10. Tower Of Babylon 9:50

Band members
Johnny Gioeli – vocals
Axel Rudi Pell – guitar
Volker Krawczak – bass
Ferdy Doernberg – keyboards
Bobby Rondinelli – drums

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The Year In Review – Top 10 Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Albums of 2016

“I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.” – David Bowie

The unexpected death of the most badass musician in history, Motörhead’s heart and soul Lemmy Kilmister, on December 28, 2015 was a harbinger of all the bad, shocking and revolting things that would turn the year of 2016 a true nightmare for mankind. That dark prophecy was confirmed less than two weeks later, more specifically on January 10 when we lost another true star in rock music to cancer, the unparalleled chameleon David Bowie, just two days after the release of his final masterpiece Blackstar. If that was not enough to make 2016 a miserable year, we also had to endure the passing of other icons who, despite not being metal, have always inspired countless bands and artists in heavy music. We lost Prince, Leonard Cohen and Keith Emerson (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), to name a few, all irreplaceable losses to music in general. In addition, important names in the history of Heavy Metal also left us in 2016, such as Nick Menza (Megadeth) and Jimmy Bain (Rainbow, Dio), not to mention the disbandment of amazing groups like Eths (who are by the way part of our top 10 this year), Crucified Barbara and Bolt Thrower. And I’m not even going to talk about all other types of disasters and tragedies that happened all over the world, as the list is too macabre and grievous to be remembered in full.

Fortunately, 2016 was considerably generous for us headbangers in terms of the quantity and quality of albums released throughout the entire year, especially for diehard fans of old school Thrash Metal. Except for Slayer and Exodus, all other prominent names in Thrash Metal blasted the world with their high-speed, thrilling music, led by another superb album by Testament. Even Metallica released a decent album this year, just to give you an idea of how fruitful 2016 was for this rebellious type of music. Having said that, it’s time for The Headbanging Moose’s Top 10 Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Albums of 2016, excluding EP’s, best of’s and live albums. And even if 2017 is as hideous as 2016, let’s never forget the wise words by Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan. Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes!

testament_brotherhood-of-the-snake1. Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake (REVIEW)
Join the Brotherhood of Thrash Metal spearheaded by one of the heaviest, most technical and most electrifying bands on the entire planet.
Best song of the album: The Number Game

cover2. Charred Walls Of The Damned – Creatures Watching Over the Dead (REVIEW)
A magnificent lecture in Heavy Metal by four electrified beasts.
Best song of the album: As I Catch My Breath

Cover3. Eths – Ankaa (REVIEW)
One of the most prominent and innovative French bands of all time returns with a true masterpiece of complexity, darkness and heaviness.
Best song of the album: Nefas

cover4. Primal Fear – Rulebreaker (REVIEW)
Who said rules must be broken for a metallic eagle to spread its wings and soar high in the skies of heavy music?
Best song of the album: Rulebreaker

megadeth_dystopia5. Megadeth – Dystopia (REVIEW)
And the dystopian world portrayed in the brand new album by the iconic Dave Mustaine and his Thrash Metal army is beyond awesome.
Best song of the album: Lying In State

abbathsoloface_6386. Abbath – Abbath (REVIEW)
The one and only Abbath takes a new step in his career with a brand new band an album.
Best song of the album: Fenrir Hunts

death angel_the evil divide7. Death Angel – The Evil Divide (REVIEW)
Fast and furious anthems, dark mid-tempo songs, austere lyrics and endless stamina. This is how Thrash Metal should always be done.
Best song of the album: Hell To Pay

anthrax_for all kings8. Anthrax – For All Kings (REVIEW)
A classy and electrifying Thrash Metal album especially crafted for all of us, the real kings of heavy music.
Best song of the album: Breathing Lightning

front9. Axel Rudi Pell – Game of Sins (REVIEW)
You might be a sinner, but don’t be a fool and go relish another magnificent album by Mr. Axel Rudi Pell and his loyal henchmen.
Best song of the album: Falling Star

nervosa-agony-201610. Nervosa – Agony (REVIEW)
Brazil’s meanest power trio returns with another marvelous blast of their kick-ass high-octane Thrash Metal.
Best song of the album: Theory of Conspiracy

And here we have the runner-ups, completing the top 20 for the year:

11. Blaze Bayley – Infinite Entanglement (REVIEW)
12. The Silent Rage – The Deadliest Scourge (REVIEW)
13. Neverworld – Dremasnatcher (REVIEW)
14. Ancesttral – Web Of Lies (REVIEW)
15. Front – Iron Overkill (REVIEW)
16. Dö – Tuho (REVIEW)
17. Be Under Arms – Doomed To Life (REVIEW)
18. SystemHouse33 – Regression (REVIEW)
19. Gojira – Magma (REVIEW)
20. False Coda – Secrets and Sins (REVIEW)

As in Heavy Metal the artwork is just as important as the music itself, like what always happens with bands such as Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Metallica, KISS and tons of other metallic titans, we decided to list the Top 10 Cover Artworks of 2016. There are several reasons for an album art to be considered outstanding, such as its strong connection with the music like Iron Maiden’s Powerslave, its visual impact (usually associated with its controversial content) like Slayer’s God Hates Us All, or its perfect minimalism and finesse like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon. Do you agree with our list?

1. Anthrax – For All Kings [by Alex Ross]
2. Primeval Mass – To Empyrean Thrones [by Karmazid]
3. Witches Of Doom – Deadlights [by Carlo Muselli]
4. Ragehammer – The Hammer Doctrine [by Robert A. von Ritter]
5. Howls Of Ebb – Cursus Impasse: The Pendlomic Vows [by Agostino Arrivabene]
6. Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake [by Eliran Kantor]
7. Henriette B – Tales of Reality (EP) [by Pierre-Alain D.]
8. Skáphe – Skáphe² [by H.V. Lyngdal]
9. Diabolizer – Apokalypse (MCD) [by Robert A. von Ritter]
10. Hostis – Hostis [by Zvonimir Grabić & Milena Nićić]

Rest assured in 2017 we at The Headbanging Moose will keep providing you the best of the underworld of Death, Thrash, Black, Symphonic, Epic, Power Metal and all other genres and subgenres of heavy music, as well as our view of the biggest names worldwide. There are already brand new albums confirmed for 2017 by Kreator, Sepultura, Grave Digger, Battle Beast and more, which means at least musically the new year promises to be really good. Thank you very much for your precious time, and keep on rockin’! Au revoir!

Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year! See you in 2017!

Well, before we go, here’s a special gift from Iron Maiden to all metalheads all over the world… A nice festive yule log fireplace to keep our hearts warm during the entire season!

Album Review – Axel Rudi Pell / Game of Sins (2016)

You might be a sinner, but don’t be a fool and go relish another magnificent album by the one and only Mr. Axel Rudi Pell and his loyal henchmen.

Rating3

frontWe’re not even a full month into 2016, and here come the unstoppable guitarist Axel Rudi Pell and his crew of accomplished musicians to provide us an album that will most probably feature among our top releases of 2016 when the year is over, and I’m not fooling around when I say that. Game of Sins, the seventeenth studio album by this iconic Heavy Metal/Hard Rock guitar virtuoso from Germany, is not only a full-bodied album full of catchy and thrilling chants, but the outstanding performances by Axel Rudi Pell, by keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg and especially by frontman Johnny Gioeli (owner of one of the sharpest voices in heavy music) make this a must-have album for admirers of classy heavy and rock music.

To be fair, Game of Sins is not very different from what Mr. Axel Rudi Pell and his loyal henchmen did in the excellent Into the Storm, in 2014, but that doesn’t mean you’ll experience that awkward feeling of “been there, done that” while listening to it. Quite the contrary, it’s truly amazing how this incredible band is capable of always renovating themselves without losing their essence, just like what the biggest rock and metal icons such as AC/DC, Motörhead and Judas Priest do. That’s what keeps the band alive and on fire, and their music flowing smoothly and magnificently through the years.

The jester-ish intro Lenta Fortuna invites the listener to play the so-called “game of sins” with Axel Rudi Pell, and what a fun game that’s going to be starting with the high-octane Fire, a perfect opening for their live performances with its incandescent rhythm and Mr. Pell delivering his trademark riffs and solos. It takes less than five seconds for Lucifer to rise when the music starts, and I dare you not to sing the chorus along with Mr. Gioeli so catchy it is. And the masters of Hard Rock and Rock N’ Roll strike again with yet another “road hymn” entitled Sons in the Night, highly recommmended for riding your badass Harley-Davidson with your girl. Furthermore, although Bobby Rondinelli might not be an unstoppable stone crusher behind his drums, he’s surely a high-skilled drummer that adds a lot of groove to the music with his spot-on beats.

ARPOne constant element found throughout the entire album is the ominous ambience crafted by Ferdy with his awesome keyboard notes, and the title-track Game of Sins is an excellent example of that. This is a heavy semi-ballad that lives up to Mr. Pell’s legacy, with highlights to its fun lyrics about how our lives are an endless gambling game; before “Two Minutes to Midnight”-ish riffs kick off the best track of the album, the exhilarating Falling Star, another classic tune to sing along with the band (in special its beautiful chorus). Moreover, it doesn’t matter if you’re driving down the Sunset Strip on a hot summer day or facing a hideous snow storm at the peak of the winter, this electrifying song will definitely cheer you up.

I always say Axel Rudi Pell is a Hard Rock ballad deity, obviously taking into account the fact that he got even better after Johnny joined the band years ago. With every single album released we get at least one heartwarming tune to soothe our souls and make the toughest days a little easier to face, which in Game of Sins comes in the form of the powerful Lost in Love. How can someone not feel relaxed listening to such a good song? Anyway, the following track, The King of Fools, is a bit generic for what the band is capable of doing, albeit far from being a bad song. It contains those cliché lyrics we tend to disdain at first, but that end up working relatively well due to the way Johnny declaims them (“He was the toughest guy on our street / Always ready to fight / His girl’s a hooker on her knees / Making money all night”).

In Till the World Says Goodbye, Ferdy and Johnny steal the spotlight with their piercing keyboards and passionate vocals, respectively. Heavy and rhythmic, it’s another excellent choice for singing along with Johnny or simply enjoying his brilliant voice, followed by Breaking the Rules, a pure Axel Rudi Pell song that will put you to jump up and down during the band’s live performances thanks to the amazing job done by Volker Krawczak, rumbling his bass guitar in total sync with Bobby’s beats while Axel keeps firing his upscale guitar lines.

ARP_Game of Sins_Special Edition

Game Of Sins Limited Edition Boxset

Finally, he last two songs of the album are an ode to first-class rock music. Forever Free offers us all one of the most emotional vocal performances I can think of, which combined with Axel’s guitar solos, the song’s melodious atmosphere and its stunning lyrics turn it into one of the best songs of the band’s latest albums without a shadow of a doubt. Not only I love the feeling this song brings forth, but can I personally dedicate it to the chameleon David Bowie (R.I.P.)? And what to say about All Along the Watchtower, a magnificent tribute to Mr. Bob Dylan (check out the original version HERE)? Its intro gives me goosebumps, as well as the dynamism that Axel added to his version of this classic, proving why he’s also considered by many an undisputed lord of cover songs.

In summary, Game of Sins, another solid stone added to Axel Rudi Pell’s fortress of Rock N’ Roll, is one of those albums you’ll feel happy anywhere and anytime you listen to it, no matter what you are doing. You might be a sinner, but don’t be a fool and go grab your copy of this soulful album (take a listen at snippets of it HERE) as soon as possible, especially if it’s the jaw-dropping Game Of Sins Limited Edition Boxset (limited to 1000 copies worldwide), featuring the album in a special digipak format and as a two-LP gatefold sleeve, a beautiful miniature replica Fender Stratocaster guitar (scale 1:4) including a guitar giftbox case, a poster, a sticker and a card. It can’t get any better than this, thanks once again to the one and only Mr. Axel Rudi Pell.

Best moments of the album: Fire, Falling Star, Forever Free and All Along the Watchtower.

Worst moments of the album: The King of Fools.

Released in 2016 SPV/Steamhammer

Track listing
1. Lenta Fortuna (Intro) 1:24
2. Fire 5:34
3. Sons in the Night 5:07
4. Game of Sins 8:43
5. Falling Star 5:14
6. Lost in Love 6:07
7. The King of Fools 4:58
8. Till the World Says Goodbye 7:40
9. Breaking the Rules 5:07
10. Forever Free 8:29

Limited Edition bonus track
11. All Along the Watchtower (Bob Dylan cover) 6:03

Band members
Johnny Gioeli – vocals
Axel Rudi Pell – guitar
Volker Krawczak – bass
Ferdy Doernberg – keyboards
Bobby Rondinelli – drums