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 – 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.

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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

Album Review – Axel Rudi Pell / Into the Storm (2014)

A fantastic “storm” of heavy riffs and solos by one of the best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal guitar players from Germany.

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CoverAs I mentioned here, 2014 is becoming an excellent year for Heavy Metal. The 53-year old German guitar player Axel Rudi Pell, who has been on the road since 1981, has just released his sixteenth studio album, Into the Storm, and the final result is so pleasant that it will be hard for any headbanger not to enjoy it.

The only change in the band from the previous albums, since 1998, is Bobby Rondinelli on drums replacing the beast Mike Terrana, but that didn’t affect the quality of the music negatively: Mr. Axel Rudi Pell is one of those guys that really masters the art of shredding and playing amazing solos without sounding stupid or arrogant, and that also uses his gift to leverage the whole band’s potential instead of only showing off himself, making the final result always above average.

After the nice intro The Inquisitorial Procedure, the band already provides us one of the top moments of the album with the song Tower of Lies, which sounds like a Heavy Metal tune from the 80’s with  excellent riffs and Johnny Gioeli doing a superb job on vocals, and of course a unique solo from Pell. The energy level remains high with Long Way To Go, a pure Hard Rock composition which reminds me of some old Axel Rudi Pell songs, and it’s also a highly recommended track for a road trip or for a sports TV commercial. Then comes Burning Chains, another one of my favorites with its awesome intro and constant duo between Mr. Pell on the guitar and Ferdy Doernberg on the keyboards. This song will become a fan favorite for sure, especially for the band’s live performances.

The amazing ballad When Truth Hurts has beautiful lyrics and shows another great performance by Johnny on vocals, and easily explains why Mr. Pell already has four ballad albums in his career. The guy is a “ballad genius”! Things speed up with Changing Times and its cool keyboards, dirty riffs and another classic solo, while Touching Heaven, despite being a good quality Hard Rock song, doesn’t add much to the album. The same happens with High Above: the rest of the album is so awesome that this song sounds weak compared to the others, although it’s pretty good too. The way, this song is probably what Bon Jovi could have been doing if he had a heavier approach or a guitar player like Mr. Pell by his side.

Axel Rudi Pell 2014Hey Hey My My is an outstanding version for one of Neil Young’s greatest hits, with Johnny doing a brilliant job one more time. That’s one of those songs that confirms why this excellent American singer has been with the band for such a long time, since the album Oceans Of Time. The last song of the album is the title-track, Into the Storm, an epic song with a great atmosphere in its more than 10 minutes of duration and another good example of how to compose long songs without sounding boring after a while. Furthermore, the digipak edition brings two very interesting bonus tracks: the instrumental White Cats (Opus #6 Scivolare), and a cover version for Ritchie Blackmore’s Way to Mandalay, most probably as a tribute to one of Mr. Pell’s biggest influences.

And last but not least, I was going to give Into the Storm a 3.5, but I couldn’t find a reason not to give it a 4.0 after listening to it for a couple of times. Besides, the album art is so marvelous that it helped raise the album’s rating a little. As previously mentioned, it’s hard to find an album in the career of this great German guitar player that doesn’t make you start playing air guitar, bang your head or simply sing along with his beautiful ballads. I don’t know if Into the Storm is going to be one of the best albums of 2014, but I know that it will be hard for most of the other bands to beat it in terms of quality, musicality and feeling.

Best moments of the album: Tower of Lies, Burning Chains, When Truth Hurts and Hey Hey My My.

Worst moments of the album: Touching Heaven and High Above.

Released in 2014 SPV/Steamhammer

Track listing
1. The Inquisitorial Procedure (intro) 1:48
2. Tower of Lies 4:26
3. Long Way To Go 5:32
4. Burning Chains 5:23
5. When Truth Hurts 6:46
6. Changing Times 6:05
7. Touching Heaven 7:02
8. High Above 4:49
9. Hey Hey My My (Neil young cover) 5:02
10. Into the Storm 10:35

Digipak edition bonus tracks
11. White Cats (Opus #6 Scivolare) 4:54
12. Way to Mandalay (Blackmore’s Night cover) 7:52

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