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Axel Rudi Pell is a well known virtuoso, alumni of Ritchie Blackmore's style. He started to make solo albums and only after a long time he managed to get an image of his own. Of course, his influences are clearly traceable. A bit of Sabbath, a lot of Purple and Rainbow, some bits of Dio and Judas Priest. But here after some goods (Nasty Reputation, Between the Walls) and not-so-goods (Wild Obsession, Eternal Prisoner) he actually became "Axel Rudi Pell" and not just another Blackmore-esque virtuoso shredding just for the sake of self-appraisal. A great thing in this album is precisely that it finally gave an identity to ARP.
Another high point for this release is the exact amount of "power" within the metal. This album has that precise and magic touch. When we listen to other more successful bands in the mainstream metal world, like Sonata Arctica or even late Stratovarius and their fully-made-of-synthesizers-and-keyboards tracks (with no riffs at all in some points) we understand how the heavy metal can be shattered and get lost. Axel Rudi Pell shows us the other face of the power metal genre: the one with the riffs. The guitar's essence and brutality, mixed with talent and melodic behavior.
Solid from the beginning to the end, the opener "Return of the Pharaoh" leads us slowly into the realms of "Getting Dangerous". Power chords from the very beginning, with a frenzied tone and rhythm, tasty licks of speedy power with a classic touch. Here we get one of the most devilish solos by Axel. Some wah-wah pedals can be found and the drum-beat grows in power. Yeah, perhaps it can be kinda monolithic, but completes its work correctly.
A bonus in ARP is his ability to do some music which tends to be more heartfelt than other virtuosos. "Fool Fool" is one of those songs, with tones of magic and lots of feeling. The riff is simple, but strong and well driven. The lyrics, as well, make a good piece of a work. Get this moment:
"Fool, fool. Don't wait for an answer. Fool, fool. The devil is a dancer".
Add to that metaphor a respectable singer, like Scott Soto and the thing will surely grow on anyone's ears. The solo here, slow and atmospheric, suddenly takes a toll and delights with its multichromatic features. A classic by Axel, more hard rock than metal, but totally enjoyable. Only an objection to the drumming, which sounds tame and distant at times.
"Sphynx Revenge" is a masterpiece. From beginning to end, with the speedy riff and the eclectic solos, you get the sensation of a powerful lighting storm and a vortex coming out from the eyes of a Sphynx -if you think about the thematics, of course-. The bass gets some prominence here and keeps the rhythm with naturality, giving much texture and solidity to the rhythmic section. And there's even a little bass solo moment here, something to be tasted with grace.
After this instrumental, "You and I" sounds weak and squared. More easy-going like, almost emotionless, nothing more to say, the weakest track of the album. "Silent Angel" is slightly better, a nice ballad with piano moments. Much alike of ballads written by other German-rooted bands, like Scorpions or even Steeler, to some extent. The choruses are lively and ethereal, like a dream land of angels. But it just seems to be out of place among such monsters of metal badasses, like "Sphynx Revenge". Despite this, in its attitude of being a ballad, does what it takes, puts us in the mood.
An ode to early days of Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow is "Black Moon Pyramid". Resembles a lot to Stargazer, of course, without Blackmore's fire-fretting and DIo's majestic vocals, but with enough personality and punch. It comes as a slash, vivid and furious. The solo, though, is not that great and in the final moments, well, ARP just don't even try to hide his influence. Comes straight to your eyes. But regardless of this, the song plain works, rocks you to the bottom.
"Serenade of Darkness", slow, easy going, tender, touching, mixes in the spotlight the piano, the organ and Axel's guitar with style and tenderness. It reminds us of some harp works by Johann Sebastian Bach, in the very beginning... Just until the explosion comes. And there is Blackmore, there is Jon Lord in the beginning of Deep Purple's heavy time. It has something of "When a Blind Man Cries" but with almost 20 years of evolution. A great track. And if this wasn't just enough, we get just next to this "Visions in the Night", a return to the power metal chords, with virtuoso singing and plenty of fireworks in the drums. The finale gets mixed with "Aqua Solution" and then, well, not a very keen way to finish this gigantic album: "Aquarius Dance". This thing is completely out of place here. It contains a funky riff, with a funky touch. Scott's voice drives it correctly, but you just can't feel nothing but a "what tha' heck" in your head while listening to it. Axel got it wrong here, despite it is a funny song and grows eventually, in rock'n'roll feeling. This song is a miss.
The riff is the essence, Axel Rudi Pell knows that, and with riffs he takes his victory at the end of this album, the finest he ever made. In "Black Moon Pyramid" ARP starts a legendary couple of follow-ups (Magic and Oceans of Time) which remains his magnum opus period. This album is highly recommended for the people who wants to know how power metal should be made. If you want to survive in this business of metal you must have some talent and you need to know how to reflect yourself in an original way, respecting your own influence. Axel Rudi Pell figured this out and made a high shot. If Blackmore was his teacher, well, Axel learnt all the lessons. Masterfully.
Highlights: Gettin Dangerous, Fool Fool, Hole in the Sky, Touch the Rainbow, Sphynx's Revenge, Serenade of Darkness, Visions in the Night.