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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Album Review – Anvil / Anvil Is Anvil (2016)

Against all odds, Anvil are still the same Anvil from their beginnings, but that doesn’t seem to be translating into thrilling heavy music in the end.

frontSomeone definitely needs to write a dissertation or a graduate thesis on how Canadian Heavy/Speed Metal power trio Anvil has managed to survive for such a long time (the band was formed back in 1978) without releasing anything truly remarkable in their career except for their 1982 classic album Metal On Metal. Well, I guess we all know that the main reason for the band to still be alive was the 2008 highly acclaimed documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil (if you haven’t watched it yet, please do it as soon as possible), but in terms of the quality of their music, let’s say nothing has really changed or evolved through the years.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on those Canadian metallers, but the music found in their sixteenth studio album, “cryptically” entitled Anvil Is Anvil, doesn’t really allow me to say anything newsworthy about them after so many years on the road. The only difference from all of their previous albums (and I dare you to name two or three of those, excluding Metal On Metal) is that this is their first release to feature bassist Chris Robertson. Apart from that, everything that the iconic lead singer and guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb “Robbo” Reiner have to offer us is an uninspired and wearisome cover version of themselves during the entire album.

Why Anvil decided to “think outside the box” and go with a pirate song called Daggers and Rum to open the album is beyond my comprehension, but that’s fine, at least they tried something different.  What we have here is extremely basic and relatively fun Heavy Metal that should work well when played live, but somebody please ask Lips not to pretend to be a pirate again in his life. Up, Down, Sideways is much better in terms of speed and sound quality, with Chris Robertson doing a decent job on bass while Robb keeps delivering his classic beats. However, in Gun Control, an 80’s metal tune with some Sludge Metal elements added to it, its irritating and banal  lyrics (“Do you defend your family? / Or go and rob a bank? / Do you defend your country? / For that who do we thank? / Do we need some? / Gun control / Gun control”) make me think only diehard fans of the band are capable of enjoying this song.

Die for a Lie is a song with a religious connotation (against radical Islamism) that doesn’t actually make too much sense, not to mention its completely bland instrumental, with only some decent guitar solos saving it from being a total disaster; while Runaway Train puts the band back on track with its very direct and effective approach and great performances by Lips and Robb. This is in my opinion what Anvil should be doing nowadays, kind of a mix of their classic sounding with Motörhead’s high-speed Rock N’ Roll. On the other hand, they should stay away from the ridiculousness of Zombie Apocalypse, with its cliché lyrics (“Death and destruction becoming a routine / Only just a thought in reality obscene / Virus and bacteria, the biochemical host / Extinction of humanity, nothing but a ghost”) and a Hard Rock/Stoner Metal vibe that doesn’t work really well.

anvilAnd this roller-coaster of quality doesn’t seem to have an end, as once again they are the Anvil we enjoy and not an amateur garage band, delivering the fast and metallic It’s Your Move. It might not be brilliant, but at least it has a lot more electricity than most songs in the album. The same can be said about Ambushed, another good song that keeps the energy flowing at a decent level due to its nice chorus and what’s probably the best vocals delivered by Lips in the entire album. I also liked the drumming and the vibe in Fire on the Highway, despite the vocal lines sounding a bit disconnected from the music. Yet again, there’s absolutely nothing new presented in this tune, but that’s doesn’t mean it’s bad or tasteless.

Run Like Hell, a lot more complex and electric than all other songs, showcases a perfect synchronicity between Lips and Robb, nicely complemented by Chris’ bass lines and, therefore, resulting in the best song of Anvil Is Anvil by far.  Its kick-ass riffs and nonstop beats sound like an ode to their own legacy, with even Lips’ guitar solos sounding much better than usual. Regrettably, Forgive Don’t Forget was the worst possible way they could have chosen to close the album. Nothing in this tune works, from its mediocre rhythm to its even worse lyrics and backing vocals. I’m pretty sure I will forget this song exists really soon. And if you get the digipak version of the album you can consider yourself relatively lucky, because both bonus tracks Never Going to Stop and You Don’t Know What It’s Like are above average songs that should have been part of the regular version instead of all those weak tracks.

In summary, unless you’re completely mental for this Canadian band, don’t invest too much of your time on Anvil Is Anvil. I suggest you stick to their 1982 classic album and also to their 2008 documentary, because these are what the legacy of Anvil is all about. I still respect them for always keep trying no matter what, for always being the same Anvil from their beginnings and going against all odds, but that doesn’t seem to be translating into thrilling heavy music in the end. They’re still having fun being Anvil and that looks like everything they need to keep moving forward, so who am I to tell them their music today is not as exciting as they think? We should simply let those guys keep on rocking until their very last breath, because Anvil will always be Anvil, there’s no way to change that.

Best moments of the album: Runaway Train and Run Like Hell.

Worst moments of the album: Gun Control, Die for a Lie and Forgive Don’t Forget.

Released in 2016 Steamhammer/SPV

Track listing
1. Daggers and Rum 5:26
2. Up, Down, Sideways 3:19
3. Gun Control 4:22
4. Die for a Lie 3:17
5. Runaway Train 3:40
6. Zombie Apocalypse 4:22
7. It’s Your Move 3:30
8. Ambushed 3:22
9. Fire on the Highway 4:35
10. Run Like Hell 3:07
11. Forgive Don’t Forget 2:40

Digipak bonus tracks
12. Never Going to Stop 4:09
13. You Don’t Know What It’s Like 3:31

Band members
Steve “Lips” Kudlow – lead vocals, lead & rhythm guitars
Chris Robertson – bass guitar
Robb “Robbo” Reiner – drums

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