The German Ritchie Blackmore is back with another album, his 18th studio effort since his debut 1989. Add five ballad compilations, two regular compilations and four live albums to that and you get quite a voluminous collection of his solo work. Then you can also add the four albums he made with Steeler (not the Ron Keel/Yngwie Malmsteen band with the same name) between 1984 – 1988. Pell has also managed to bring some really interesting singers into his camp such as Rob Rock (M.A.R.S., Vicious Rumours) and Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman, Yngwie Malmsteen, Journey, Sons Of Apollo) and his latest one, Johnny Gioeli (Hardline) who has been with him since 1997 and he also brought in drummer Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow, Black Sabbath) for his last three albums, this one included.
I became a fan when I heard the tune “The Masquerade Ball” many, many years ago and I still enjoy his earlier albums, mostly the first couple of Gioeli fronted ones, but my interest in Pell have faded more and more for the last ten years or so. Not that I think that he and his entourage makes crappy records but they have a tendency to sound the same and the same and the same. Play a random ARP tune and I couldn’t point out which album it belongs to to save my life. Hell, even the running order is the same. Intro, fast song, mid-paced song, ballad, heavy, epic number and so on. To be honest it sometimes feels like the tunes are more or less the same with only different titles and lyrics. Still, if say The Crest (2010) had been my first acquaintance with Pell, would I have loved it then? Maybe so, because as I said, Pell really doesn’t make bad albums, he just puts himself on repeat too much. And I have no suspicions what so ever that this album will be any different.
So in a true ARP tradition the album opens with an intro, this time called “The Medieval Overture” and yes, it’s got a medieval vibe to it. As a huge Blackmore fan, could Blackmore’s medieval Blackmore’s Night be an inspiration for this? Who knows. It leads us into “The Wild And The Young”, a title that brings my mind to Arena Rock so maybe ARP have stretched out and gone for a more Melodic Hard Rock feel here? Well, we all know the answer to that – of course, he hasn’t. The tune is an uptempo rocker that sports a big early 80’s Rainbow vibe and as Blackmore around that time usually did, Pell puts a big Pop feel into the chorus to make it catchy. I do like the track even though it feels like I’ve heard it before. “Wildest Dreams” is a Classic Rock stomper that sports a Dio fronted Rainbow meets old Deep Purple influence – in their more commercial times, that is. I really like the tune, much because of the infectious groove and the spot-on refrain.
“Long Live Rock” (I’m thankful that he didn’t add “‘n’ Roll” to it…) is a really punchy hard rocker in true ARP style, very energetic that brings on an early 80’s sound. I get a feel of both Rainbow and the Scorpions here and I quite like it but the lyrics are way to cheesy and clichéd – to the point that I have a problem keeping a straight face listening to it. So here we go into the fifth song and you know what? It’s a seven minute long, epic track – dark, heavy and atmospheric where 70’s Rainbow meets Tony Martin era Black Sabbath! Who would have thought? Yes, I couldn’t help myself getting ironic here. Sorry. The tune is called “The Crusaders Of Doom” (Manowar and Yngwie Malmsteen is probably pissed off that they didn’t think of that title first) and if you like ARP’s earlier tunes in that direction, you’ll probably like this one as well. “Truth And Lies” is an instrumental rocker with a galloping rhythm where his Blackmore influence really shines through. I also hear Wolf Hoffmann (Accept) here, a guy who is also Blackmore influenced and a Ken Hensley like organ which brings on a Uriah Heep feel. I find myself thinking it’s the best tune so far.
Then it’s time for the ballad. You couldn’t see that one coming, right? Yes, irony again. Sorry. Big and epic, slow and dark with a beautiful piano arrangement that brings the tune up several notches. I really like ARP’s ballads. There’s something with them that reaches out to me and this one’s no different. It’s called “Beyond The Light” by the way. The tempo speeds up again with “Slaves On The Run”, another pretty heavy rocker and a kind of song that we have heard plenty of times on ARP’s records. The tune do sport a lot of hooks and it is pretty memorable but again I can’t shake the feeling that I have heard this song lots of times before. The faster pace continues with “Follow The Sun” and even though it contains a memorable main melody, the song comes across as somewhat forgettable and it passes by quite unnoticed. ARP closes the album on an epic note with the almost 10-minute long heavy rocker “Tower Of Babylon”. It’s pretty slow, dark, heavy and holds an Eastern touch and it really could have been awesome if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s such an obvious “Stargazer” rip-off. I know Pell loves Rainbow’s Rising (1976) but that’s no reason to try to re-write its songs. To borrow here and there, sure, but this is way too obvious for comfort.
So there you have it. I’m sure I would have loved this album if it was the first ARP record I had ever heard because it really is a good one but again, it’s another ARP album on repeat and he keeps himself and his band so tight inside his comfort zone it’s impossible to stretch out just a little. Hell, even Yngwie Malmsteen wrote a reggae song once for good measure. I’m trying real hard to find a reason to listen to this instead of his older albums, to motivate why anyone should buy this album when, as a fan, you probably already own this record with another title. I’m all for staying with your style and the whole “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” thing, but I really can’t find any growth or progression in ARP’s music at all. Or maybe it’s just me, maybe ARP’s hardcore fans wants it this way, maybe they want to hear the same album all over again. Maybe they think I’m an idiot for writing this. I don’t however, so I’ll just go back and listen to Oceans Of Time (1998) or The Masquerade Ball (2000) instead.
Other Axel Rudi Pell reviews:
1. The Medieval Overture
2. The Wild And The Young
3. Wildest Dreams
4. Long Live Rock
5. The Crusaders Of Doom
6. Truth And Lies
7. Beyond The Light
8. Slaves On The Run
9. Follow The Sun
10. Tower Of Babylon