Thursday 14 July 2022

Michael Schenker Group - Universal (2022)

Country: Germany
Style: Hard and Heavy
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 27 May 2022
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I don't want to harp on about his age, because it's far from unusual nowadays that rockers in their fifties, sixties, seventies or even beyond are still doing the business, often just as well as ever, but I have to compliment Michael Schenker for his continued work ethic. He's released more product in this millennium than he did in the last and he's still as busy ever, with this being the third album in four years that I've reviewed here at Apocalypse Later, after last year's Immortal and the Michael Schenker Fest album in 2019 called Revelation.

This continues in the vein of Immortal, which was a line in the sand for him as both a 40th and 50th anniversary, of the start of his solo career and his first song he ever wrote respectively, that being for the Scorpions. What this means is that there's a core band recording most of the material but a string of guests to either bolster or replace that band as needed. The quintessential example of the latter is A King Has Gone, a tribute to Ronnie James Dio performed by Schenker with Michael Kiske of Helloween on vocals and a backing band of former Rainbow musicians, Bob Daisley, Bobby Rondinelli and Tony Carey, who also contributes the keyboard intro, Calling Baal.

A King Has Gone is one of the highlights here, even though the lyrics aren't exactly deep, but that sentiment pervades other songs too. There's a real Rainbow vibe to Sad is the Song and again on one of two bonus tracks, Fighter, which echoes Dio's One Night in the City in its early phrasing. Of course, it shouldn't be particularly surprising to find Rainbow vibes here, given that Blackmore's current Rainbow vocalist, Ronnie Romero, is the primary singer here. I'm a big fan of Romero but his smooth voice feels a bit too soft here, especially on some of the earlier songs.

To my ears, this album truly gets moving when both the vocals and guitar step up in vehemence, a decision that happens more often on the songs Romero doesn't sing than the ones he does. A King Has Gone is one, of course, because that's Michael Kiske at the mike, but I dug Wrecking Ball a lot too and that's Ralf Scheepers from Primal Fear. The most vehement song with Ronnie on it may be The Universe, where he's dueting with Gary Barden, the only former MSG singer to guest this time out. Oddly, it starts out as a ballad with some neatly raw guitar from Schenker, but it builds nicely and that's much to do with both voices as the guitar.

As for Schenker, he doesn't show off much here but he shines when he does. My favourite solo has to be the one that wraps up The Universe, but the one on Fighter is excellent too. There are tracks where he intends to be prominent throughout too, like Au Revoir, which doesn't mess around. It's sassy and lively and Romero picks up a little off that, but he doesn't compete. He does that more on Yesterday is Dead, which goes for a slower but heavier Accept vibe, and the other bonus track, Turn off the World, which also goes for a slower and heavier vibe but one that's more melodic and commercial.

All in all, this is another decent album from Schenker and friends, one that may not be quite up to its anniversary predecessor but which comes close. As with Immortal, there are no bad songs here but some are definitely better than others. Put the best of the two together and you have an 8/10 with a whole slew of worthy B-sides, but they're 7/10s on their own.

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