REVIEW: AXEL RUDI PELL – “Game Of Sins”
There aren’t many acts out there that managed to build a sound so characteristic you can pick them out from the rest by a simple chord. It is the case with some of the heavy metal greats such as Running Wild, Iron Maiden, Motörhead and such, so to achieve a status like that is no easy feat, and Axel Rudi Pell’s unique style of playing puts him in this category. Sounding the same is a blessing and a curse, though, as I will explain below. It’s been a while since the German guitar master and former axeman of Steeler began his activities with a solo project that takes his name, and slowly, this self-titled act began to lose the “solo project” moniker and started to walk in its own legs to be known as a respected, full-time band. By the time Jeff Scott Soto left the mic duties and powerhouse vocalist Johnny Gioeli (of Hardline fame) took the spotlight, Axel and his pupils had already made a name for themselves as a solid and reliable heavy/power metal band.
Only 2 years after an average effort in ‘Into the Storm’, Axel Rudi Pell (guitars), Johnny Gioeli (vocals), Volker Krawczak (bass), Ferdy Doernberg (keyboards) and Bobby Rondinelli (drums) will release ‘Game of Sins’ on January 15th, 15th studio album by the band. Following the traditional sound solidified through the years, the album stands as another classic Axel Rudi Pell work, with the powerful opener, the ballad, the long epic tune, the rock ‘n’ roll song…It’s all here. Which brings me to what I’ve addressed above, the characteristic sound: the main problem with this type of approach is that it becomes really hard to differentiate the songs from one album in particular; they all sound practically the same. The powerful opener mentioned above this time is “Fire”, which in turn could easily be mistaken with “Too late” or “Tower of Lies” from The Crest and Into the Storm respectively. Another good example is follow-up “Sons in the Night”, taking the rebel attitude seen in songs like “Rock the Nation”, not to mention the start to “The King of Fools” being a complete rip-off from “Carousel”. Don’t get me wrong, though, as none of these songs are bad; they just lack creativity and seem to have been played on automatic. “Falling Star”, “Till the World Says Goodbye” and the title-track are also quality efforts, with the latter being the longest at 08:43 minutes and offering the most diversified experience in the album. “Lost in Love” is the obligatory ballad and is probably the most forgettable song of the bunch, with “Breaking the Rules” and “Forever Free” closing the game in a decent manner, as they are neither horrible nor magnificent.
The production is crystal clear, as always, and the musicians all play their part well, with Johnny Gioeli once again stealing the spotlight with powerful and emotional vocals and a unique charisma. Ferdy’s keyboards provide a cool atmosphere and Volker and Axel work flawlessly together (which is no shocker, as they have been together since day one). The only thing that bugs me, and always has, is the fact that the drumming parts are bland and uninspired. This is not Bobby’s fault in any way, as this problem is recurrent in every Axel Rudi Pell album in the last 10 years, when Mike Terrana was in charge. I get the feeling that Axel holds his drummers back in order to sound a bit more like the late 70’s bands that didn’t used double pedals or some sort of fancy technique. If this is really the case, a computer programmed drum would do the job just fine, but this makes Bobby (and Terrana before him) look bad, and they are two legends on their instruments, to say the least.
All rants aside, there is an undeniable charm in what Axel Rudi Pell does. Being a long-time listener of the band, I recognize the importance of continuity and sticking to a winning formula, but I’m also a reviewer, and it actually bothers me that the band’s been releasing the same album for 8 years now. Analysing this as a single output, it’s a decent, if not solid release, but it’s not their first album nor it’ll be the last, and this will just end up being forgotten in the band’s vast discography. If you manage to get past the lack of inspiration and the fact that the formulaic sound will always be here, you will get a few spins out of this. I would recommend it only for hardcore fans of the band who don’t care about the same melodies over and over or the casual listener who doesn’t know enough of the band to care about those melodies all sounding alike. A good effort, well executed, but lacklustre in creativity.