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For all the modern albums that do nothing original and just rehash the formula that made the Scorpions, Dio and Judas Priest successful with a more polished production...this is one of them. And a damned good one, at that. Mystica was released in 2006 by Axel Rudi Pell, culminating their nth release (I'm not about to check and see what number this is...) in a career chock full of them. It's really not much better or worse than anything else he has ever released - well, except for that awful 2008 album he put out, Tales of the Crown - but what matters is that it's a ton of fun for all. So let's go ahead and see why.
Axel Rudi Pell's basic sound is big, creamy, rocking riffs and melodious leads fronted by the man with the golden voice, Johnny Gioeli, with his attitude-smeared sneer, soaring on the high notes and bellowing out the mid-ranged ones with conviction to spare. The drumming is confident and alert and the bass carries the songs with a ton of class and style. Everything is done very acceptably, and in the case of the vocals and guitars, excellently. You would think a band named after the guitarist would have mostly all of the focus on the guitars, but Axel has always been smart enough to put the focus on writing great songs rather than showing off his chops. The chops are definitely there, as he does rip into solos with ease and smash out heavy, lead-iron riffs without blinking an eye, but it's all downplayed in favor of songs that will remain lodged in your head for weeks. The hook-craft on here is mesmerizingly good. Every song is packed with swagger and bravado, careening through the speakers with attitude and memorability to topple a giant. The songs are all well-crafted, never sounding too long or too loose or anything like that. They start and end perfectly where they have to. And the production is fabulous, too. Clear as a brand new whistle, and heavy as a brick to boot.
The best song on here is pretty obviously the title track. I have loved this fucking song ever since I first heard it many years ago before I really knew this band well, and why shouldn't I? It's fucking awesome. In fact, I would award full, perfect points to this song alone if I could. Listen to that domineering riff, listen to the mystical bassline it rides on, listen to Gioeli's piercing croon wailing out the opaque lyrics: "Mysterious journey on our way through the gates black moon on the horizon sailing on through the oceans of time will we ever arrive?" I just love stuff like that. It's visual word candy. Just sounds good. But other tracks deliver, too, like the careening, soaring opener "Fly to the Moon" and the hard-hitting "Living a Lie." The epic Sabbath-romp "Valley of Sin" is cool, and "Losing the Game" just flat out rocks. "Curse of the Damned," running on for a good 10 minutes, is a more ambitious piece, but it still has enough mystic fantasy flavored lyrics and heavy riffing to keep people happy. Or it does for me, anyway.
Axel Rudi Pell might never be a real A-class act, but they do know what works for them and they stick to it like glue. Mystica is one of the best I've heard from this group of metal maestros simply for its superior hook-writing and the way the songs are put together being good enough so that I never get bored. Everything is placed just right. Nothing ever feels stagnant or like the band could have shortened its length. The title track is the most inspired song on here, and the only one to really reach above what the band is capable of, but the fact that every other song is of such a consistently high quality anyway says something. A good effort from a good band. Go get it if you like this kind of music.