Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Michael Schenker Group - Immortal (2021)

Country: Germany
Style: Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 Jan 2021
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This seems like a really good moment to confess that I've never really delved into Michael Schenker's solo career, even though he's had forty years of it now. I've enjoyed everything I've heard and more of that material keeps creeping out to tap me on the shoulder and make me feel guilty, but when I found MSG at some point in the mid eighties, they just didn't connect with me and I haven't ever gone back to truly revisit. So I still think of Schenker as the guitarist in UFO who blistered on Lights Out, Force It and Strangers in the Night, even though I've also heard his work for the Scorpions, Contraband and others.

This isn't just a 40th anniversary of his solo career, with the self-titled Michael Schenker Group album released in 1980, it's also a 50th anniversary because the album wraps with a new take on In Search of the Peace of Mind, the first song he ever wrote, in the family kitchen fifty years ago at the tender age of fifteen. It first saw the light on Lonesome Crow, the debut album by the Scorpions in 1972, when he had turned sixteen, but he had technically debuted with them on stage five years earlier still, so he's been playing music in front of people for quite a bit longer than I've been alive. Immortal indeed.

It isn't surprising therefore that he felt the need to revisit his roots with a new studio album by MSG, technically the first since In the Midst of Beauty in 2008, as everything he's released in between had a different band name: either Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock or Michael Schenker Fest. And talking about roots, it isn't just that closer that goes way back; there are new songs here that could have been taken from various different stages of his career here, not least because there are plenty of singers on here like Gary Barden, Rob McAuley and Doogie White, who each sang in a different Schenker era.

For instance, the album blisters out of the gate with the glorious assault that is Drilled to Kill, which is half UFO but half Judas Priest, fast and heavy. It keeps one foot firmly in the hard rock genre, even if the other is happily heavy metal. Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear sings this one and Devil's Daughter and I'm eager to hear more songs from this pairing! However, The Queen of Thorns and Roses feels as if it could have been on a Scorpions album than the song that actually was, which I should mention is a particular success in this version, with Barden opening up the vocals and Ronnie Romero taking the helm, with White and McAuley joining in too before it wraps.

It's getting to the point where Romero is on everything. He's already replaced Joe Lynn Turner in two bands—Rainbow and Sunstorm—and now he's on the same album, if not the same song, because Don't Die on Me features a Turner lead. It would feel tame after Drilled to Kill, but it finds its own prowling vibe and even an epic singalong chorus, during which I found myself swaying in my chair. With an odd sense of irony, Romero sings the song immediately after Turner's, Knight of the Dead, but he returns for the Dio-esque Sail the Darkness and Come On Over, though Turner manages to get the final word with Sangria Morte, at least as far as lead vocals go.

Schenker shines throughout, as you might expect him to do. All the guitars here are his, which means that when he's soloing, it's the bass of Barry Sparks riffing away rather than a rhythm guitarist. He's the only other consistent band member, though Steve Mann handles the keyboards on every song but the opener. The drumming is divvied up between Brian Tichy, Bodo Schopf and Simon Phillips. You've heard all of these before on albums by many bands, often MSG but also Whitesnake, Eloy, Lynch Mob, Toto and Dream Theater, which is a varied bunch indeed. They're in that many bands because they're that in demand, utterly reliable and talented musicians one and all.

There are no poor songs here, but some are clearly more notable than others, the bookends being the most obvious, even though they were written half a century apart. They're very different songs, with Drilled to Kill a fast, heavy and in our face nod to power metal but In Search of the Peace of Mind an epic born of the early seventies and rooted in its prog rock. It's the sort of song that "magnum opus" describes perfectly and Schenker says of it that, "This is the most important song of the last 50 years for me." Now, I really need to go back and visit more of those five decades than I have thus far.

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