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In the year 1996 metal had pretty much been rendered an underground scene, although some darker and heavier groups kept the scene going. Axel Rudi Pell represents a hold out from older and better days for music. They have always drawn from a rather narrow set of influences that include Rainbow, Deep Purple, Dio, Black Sabbath, and a small collection of traditional metal outfits. The result is a very otherworldly, yet finely tuned and specialized sound. From it’s inception in 1989 it has kept these influences obvious, although there are some rather interesting exceptions to that rule that are present on this release.
“Black Moon Pyramid” is the greatest ARP album with famed Malmsteen vocalist Jeff Scott Soto at the helm, providing an evenly paced set of metal classics. It literally aches with creative power from its somber and keyboard-laden atmospheric intro in “Return of the Pharaoh” all the way to the instrumental guitar emphasized version of the album’s love ballad “Silent Angel”. All instrumentalists present here are on point and prepared to assault your ears with a straight-forward approach to the 80s traditional metal genre, containing all the mystical and romantic trappings both in its simple game of notes and lyrical metaphors.
Like all the ARP classic albums of the mid to late 90s, “Black Moon Pyramid” has its share of fast paced power metal tracks, featuring metrically perfect and precision based drummer Jorg Michaels “Getting Dangerous” rivals all the faster tracks ever put out on the band, and also some of the classic Judas Priest cookers that appeared on their early 80s releases. “Hole in the Sky” has its share of speed as well, but proves to be more of a guitar driven cooker and ranks in my top 5 most aggressive sounding ARP guitar lines. “Sphinx’ Revenge” is a head banging good instrumental with plenty of melodic devices and fret-board shredding, not to mention a rather impressive, though very structured bass solo by Volker Krawczak, who usually tends to play support and doesn’t stand out much.
“Fool Fool” and “Touch the Rainbow” are classic mid-tempo anthems that will instantly stick in your head, particularly the former for its signature main riff and the lyrics of the chorus, which are a decent homage to Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell. “You and I” is a more up tempo rocker that also has some Ronnie Dio lyrical quotes, and plenty of classic 80s lead guitar work. “Serenade in Darkness” is a rather haunting yet beautiful instrumental featuring plenty of catchy melodic hooks and some occasional harpsichord sounds. This album’s signature ballad “Silent Angel” is a charming piano driven song, and one of the highlights of Julie Greaux’s brief tenure with the band. Although not quite the technical impresario that Ferdy Doernberg is, her contributions to the band’s sound as it transitioned into the musically bankrupt mid-1990s are clearly noteworthy.
We also have some rather experimental work on here that I have not encountered on any of my other ARP purchases. The slightly less than a minute ditty “Aqua Solution” is a bit reminiscent of Tony Iommi’s odd experimental instrumentals during the high period of Ozzy Osbourne era Black Sabbath, sounding pretty much like a guitar being played underwater. “Aquarius Dance” doesn’t really qualify as a metal track, and would possibly be more comparable to a 70s progressive rock track, featuring some rather groove-oriented guitar riffs and some bongos in the background. It’s not ARP’s most metal moment, but it is fun and catchy.
In usual form, however, the greatest track on here is the title track. Drawing primarily from amazing Rainbow and Black Sabbath epics such as “Stargazer” and “Heaven and Hell”, Axel has crafted an amazing epic that almost breaks the 10 minute mark. The primary riff is killer, reminding a bit of later 80s Sabbath material with Tony Martin such as “Ancient Warrior” or “A Kill in the Spirit World”. There are lots of treats in this one for fans of shred guitar playing, and also some nice keyboard ambiences for people who like dense atmospheric moments in their metal.
In conclusion, this album will definitely please fans of the current incarnation of ARP. If you like your metal straight-up, full of magic and wonder, check this one out. Fans of early Rising Force material will appreciate the power of Mr. Soto’s voice, which has not wavered at all on this release. As always, this band has been committed to keeping the history of metal alive, and reminding us that what we have today was built by innovative bands in the 1970s and early 80s who toiled to create something amazing, something that was not of this world. Like all of ARP’s releases, this one stays true to that original vision, and if there is any flaw in it, it is that it refuses to change at all.