Wednesday 29 April 2020

Axel Rudi Pell - Sign of the Times (2020)

Country: Germany
Style: Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Apr 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website | Wikipedia

Axel Rudi Pell has been a busy man since he left Steeler back in, holy crap, 1989. If I'm counting right, this is his nineteenth studio album since then, over thirty years into a career as a solo artist. I'm way out of touch but, from what I can tell, he's remained pretty consistent in quality all the way through, even though his line-up has shifted a little here and there, Johnny Gioeli being his fifth lead singer.

As this as is heavy metal with a commercial edge, I should highlight that he does the job very well indeed, as he has since 1998, when he took over from Jeff Scott Soto. His biggest problem is that his voice is so close to being the archetypal commercial heavy metal voice that he has to struggle to find his own identity. But hey, quite frankly, I have the same problem with Axel Rudi Pell himself, who is just as close to the archetypal commercial heavy metal guitarist.

In other words, if you're into this style of music, you're almost guaranteed to enjoy what these guys do, both because they're so good at it and because they're so good at it together. However, in a few days you may find that you start to remember this as a worthy commercial heavy metal album rather than a worthy Axel Rudi Pell album with Johnny Gioeli singing. It's going to blur far more than it deserves to.

There are a few moments where the band does something a little different but they tend to come late in the album. Living in a Dream starts out all reggae before rocking out with a Uriah Heep style organ. Into the Fire wraps up the album with Led Zeppelin style with a stalking guitar from Pell and a patient beat from Bobby Rondinelli, the band's drummer since 2013, who elevates this album in the same the way that he's elevated albums by an apparently endless string of legends, from Black Sabbath to Blue Öyster Cult via Quiet Riot and Doro.

Mostly, though, they stick to the tried and tested formula of slick melodies and riffs that have served them so well for so long, starting with the solid opener that is Gunfire with Rondinelli energetic and Pell firmly in Ritchie Blackmore territory for his solo. Bad Reputation keeps up the quality and so does Sign of the Times and on we go for most of an hour without ever dipping to something less worthy. Most of the songs here could be singles, though some would need to be cropped down for radio play.

I can't quite decide whether my favourite song here is Waiting for Your Call or The End of the Line. With everything so consistent and nothing that lets the side down, even on the inevitable power ballad, As Blind as a Fool Can Be, these are the special songs that up the game for me. They have melodies that are even catchier, riffs that are even crisper, grooves that are even better. Close behind those two is album closer Into the Fire.

If you've heard Axel Rudi Pell before, this is another great example of what he and his band do, so you'll want to pick it up to add to your collection. He's nothing if not reliable. If you haven't heard him before, check out the highlights I mentioned and, if they're your sort of thing, welcome to a new cycle where you'll be buying another one every two years. He's getting to be as regular as clockwork.

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