Axel Rudi Pell - Game Of SInsWith every new release from an artist or a band you expect different things depending on which artist / band it is. For example, when AC/DC releases a new album, you know what to expect and we don’t want it any other way. We want AC/DC to sound like AC/DC have always sounded – they develop their sound by not developing at all. No keyboards, no pop songs, no “Livin’ On A Prayer”, no thrash metal, no “Raining Blood”. We want the groove, the hard rhythm n’ blues rock ‘n’ roll – everything else is unthinkable. Same with Iron Maiden – they have to sound like Iron Maiden. But with most artists, at least a slight sign of development and change is necessary. A complete change of style and sound is, of course, out of the question, but to just record the same album over and over again is a sign of stagnation and, the way I see it, laziness. I think of Yngwie Malmsteen here. For many years, Malmsteen was saved by his constant line-up changes. See, much of a band’s identity lies within the singer and as in Malmsteen’s case, when the singer is replaced, at least something have changed. Now, for the last few records, not even that worked, unfortunately. I think you know where I’m going with this by now. When I discovered Axel Rudi Pell many, damn years ago – I heard his song “The Masquerade Ball” on the radio – I really loved what I heard and I bought the compilation album The Wizard’s Chosen Few (2000) and that record made me a fan, which led me to buying a whole lot of his back catalogue. Black Moon Pyramid (1996), Magic (1997), Oceans Of Time (1998), The Masquerade Ball (2000), Shadow Zone (2002) and Kings And Queens (2004) are all albums I hold very dear to this day, despite the fact that they sound pretty much the same. But the songs are so damn good and for some reason it feels like he was moving forward any way. The albums that came before them aren’t all that, though. But things started to change with 2006’s Mystica, a good album by any means, but that record marked a time where I felt I had heard everything before and I wanted something more than the same old structure, arrangements, melodies and since then the records have kept coming, but none of them have moved me particularly. Hell, you can even before hearing one single note figure out how each song will sound – intro, fast song, poppy song, heavy song, ballad and so on. Some albums have been better than others, but for most of time it have felt like there’s no reason to bother with a new record when they just sound like the old ones any way. However, quality wise, his last album Into The Storm (2014) was a step forward even though everything were its usual self, predictable that is. But it gained some hope for the future. If he just would think a bit outside his box and comfort zone for this one.

The album starts with – drum roll –  an intro. Who could have guessed?  I usually think that intros are overrated as songs in their own right and they are often better off as just a part of a song. But this intro is actually very good, it has a cool melody and some kind of groove, which gives it the right to be a song of its own. The “real” opener is called “Fire” and is an uptempo hard rocker, in other words, this album starts off just like every Axel Rudi Pell record does. But the song is really damn good and it has a really catchy melody, so I’m fine with it. The quality of the songs is the most important thing and the quality on this one is high.”Sons In The Night” sounds like a heavier Joe Lynn Turner fronted Rainbow. It’s an ok song, not bad at all, but it goes into the “heard it a million times before” category. The title track, however, is a real killer. It sounds like a meeting between early Rainbow and Tony Martin – era Black Sabbath – heavy, dark, but groovy, with an Eastern influenced vibe in some of the melodies – it have to be one of Pell’s better songs, without a doubt. “Falling Star” puts Pell back on repeat again – it could be any old Pell tune. Good, but easily forgotten, I’m afraid. “Lost In Love” is another one of Pell’s grand ballads. The thing is, he has a million of them, but in the ballad department, Pell and his boys always deliver and this one is no exception – this is brilliant stuff. “The King Of Fools” is another typical Axel Rudi Pell rocker – I can hear Jeff Scott Soto singing this one – that have both its feet in the mid 70’s, but there is a distinct pop feel over the melodies and the chorus is really catchy – a very good song. The greatness continues with “Till The World Says Goodbye”, a heavy and slow, but groovy rocker that gives a good nod to stuff like “The Masquerade Ball”, but this time without stealing from himself – easily one of the best songs on this album. “Breaking The Rules” have a title that is a warning sign itself – I mean, it really don’t get more cliché than that title – and sure enough, the song isn’t one of this album’s best moments. The verses are pretty good, but the chorus goes nowhere and the lyrics, well, I just used the word cliché, didn’t I? But they get back up with “Forever Free” a dark and heavy ballad the really gets under my skin – love it. As a bonus track for the de luxe edition we get a cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”, a song that was made immortal by Jimi Hendrix. It’s really a tough song to cover, but I really believe that Axel and his boys managed to give it some new life. They have kept enough of the original to not make a completely new song out of it, but they have also put their identity on it. If it’s good enough to spend some extra green on the de luxe edition is up to you to decide, but I think I’d like to have the song on my CD.

So what’s new then? Well, not much to tell you the truth. Musically, you know what you’re getting and all the songs sound pretty much what I had expected, so no surprises there. The line-up is intact since the last album as well with Pell, Hardline singer Johnny Gioeli – superb as always -Volker Krawczak on bass, Bobby Rondinelli (Ex- Rainbow, Black Sabbath) on drums and Freddy Doernberg on keyboards all delivering the goods. But what differs here is the quality of the songs. Where his last album Into The Storm sure was his best in many a year, I today find it easily forgotten, I can’t remember when I last heard it. With this one, however, I get the feeling of some kind of longevity. No, this one will not go down in history as Pell’s best effort ever, but it sure beats every album he have released since Kings And Queens – it might just be as strong as that record. Would I recommend this album to a fan of 70’s hard rock / classic rock who has never heard of Pell before? You bet. Pell and his gang sound like they are on their way up, but I still would want to hear Pell reach outside of his box and surprise us a little.


Related reviews:

The Crest (2010)
Circle Of The Oath (2012)
Into The Storm (2014)


1. Lenta Fortuna (Intro)
2. Fire
3. Sons In The Night
4. Game Of Sins
5. Falling Star
6. Lost In Love
7. The King Of Fools
8. Till The World Says Goodbye
9. Breaking The Rules
10. Forever Free
11. All Along The Watchtower (Bonus)