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A slightly uneven sequel - 74%

GOOFAM, September 23rd, 2017

Axxis may not always come up with the most creative album titles, but at least they let you know what you’re in for. II is indeed their second album, and it stays very much in keeping with their 1989 debut Kingdom of the Night in a number of respects. It’s fairly hard to imagine anyone loving one of the two albums but disliking the other.

Much like Kingdom of the Night, II is a product of its time, being a largely commercially-aimed pop-metal album that arrived in the waning years of the pre-grunge era. Axxis still have what basically amounts to a more frenzied take on the Scorpions sound, and II, like Kingdom of the Night, gains much of its strength from the consistently high energy level here. Also like its predecessor, it contains one excellent power ballad that tops everything else on the album and a second one that is less effective.

But there are additional positives here. As Axxis had found some commercial success with their debut, they were able to secure much better production for the sequel, so II boasts a far superior mix. It’s still very 1990, so if you don’t like the trademarks of that production era, it might sound dated, but the snare drum is dialed back to a more appropriate level here and Bernhard Weiß’ vocals are balanced properly. Further, whether due to production or his own improvement, Weiß is far more consistent here, staying in tune even with fairly difficult melody lines and really helping brings these songs to life. Walter Pietsch’s solos also take a bit of a step forward, delivering the goods in a fitting manner for the style and showing improved command of lead phrasing and arrangement.

These positives make II perhaps an easier record to get into than the debut, but there are some new problems here. The biggest of these is that about half of these tracks feature obnoxiously sugary choruses. Understand, I’m saying this as someone who loves a good uplifting power metal chorus or even many an ‘80s power ballad, so I don’t go running for the hills just because a band dares to write a hook in a major key. But even by the standards of outright hair metal, the choruses on songs like “Gimme Back the Paradise” and “Touch the Rainbow” are trite and silly; The verse sections on this album work pretty consistently, but the choruses tend to sound grafted on from an outright pop song.

II is also a slightly more diverse album than Kingdom of the Night, as the band steps away from the Scorpions template occasionally. “Save Me” in particular is a departure for something more in line with power metal, as drummer Richard Michalski seems to fit in more fills on the song than on everything else on the album (and perhaps the debut) combined. Weiß has toughened up his vocal approach a bit, so when he’s not in flowery chorus mode, there is a power metal current running through the songs, occasionally augmented by Harry Öllers’ atmospheric keyboards. There’s even some slight prog tinges in ballad “Face to Face,” though it ends up being one of the weakest songs here.

Since the band’s ingredients improved, when they all work together, the results are more impressive. If you’re into uplifting metal ballads, “Hold You” is one of the most effective takes on the style you’ll find. “Get Down” has great vocal melodies in an uptempo template. “Ships Are Sailing” is a midtempo stomper that flirts with the silly edge on the chorus hook, but Weiß unleashes a hell of a vocal performance that transcends it, and Pietsch adds a good solo. “The World Is Looking In Their Eyes” and “Rolling Like Thunder” also work fairly well on the back of Weiß’ vocals. His Klaus Meine-meets-John Arch delivery has a real urgency to it, which lends a lot of energy to the music and makes it sound more down to earth than most material in the late-‘80s hard rock vein. His voice also refuses to let this music sit in a coasting AOR realm, even as tracks like "Little Look Back" seem threaten to veer in that direction.

Even Weiß can’t really dilute the chorus sugar on the other half of these songs, though, so II’s biggest failing is that it’s not the no-skip sort of listen that the debut was. Half of what’s here is a legitimate and solid step forward for the band, but the other half seems too caught up in aiming for pop-metal hits. It’s important to remember that this thing came out less than a year and a half after the debut, which even in 1990 was a pretty quick turnaround, so it may just be that the quality control wasn’t as present. In any case, if you’re not into Scorpions, avoid this, if you like ‘80s rock and power metal and love big happy singalongs, you’ll like this, and if you, like me, enjoy these styles but have only a certain cheese tolerance, then you’ll probably find a few worthwhile cuts here.

A little look back - 80%

Crossover, December 14th, 2016

Axxis originally were cut form the inauspicious realm of mid-era Priest and Scorpions clones. They bring a bit of a Heavens Gate-esque melodic power metal vibe at times. They always provide catchy choruses no matter the cheese level they reach. They would soon enough abandon this sound for more of an AOR song.

For starters, despite it's terrible drum sound, The World Is Looking in Their Eyes blasts away as a great melodic power metal track. Everything you would expect for the era. Good choir vocals, fast melodic guitars, happy keyboards; A classic. In fact it looks like they were able to churn out five separate singles from this album with major-label backing from EMI.

If you just want to hear more power metal on this release your only real avenue is the second track Save Me. The rest of this album bounces around from AOR to Scorpions and Turbo-era Preist rockers. It finishes with an emotional but ultimately weak single-track ballad. As far as the rest of the singles go, Touch the Rainbow is a stereotypical melodic-keyed Scorpions tribute which is a hallmark of early Axxis. It is by no means a bad song, it just can reach levels of cheese too rich for some palates. The lyrics would fit fine on a Hammerfall album for sure:

Touch the rainbow
And all dreams come true
Spread your wings and
Feel the breath of the wind
Touch the rainbow
And all dreams come true
Fly high - To breath the air of the sky

Throughout the album the guitars deliver some pretty tasteful solos, including the aforementioned track. Unfortunately save for the first couple of tracks the riffage can be quite uninspired and cliche. Ships are Sailing is a more pompous and grandiose tune. It is very positive and encouraging and I can see why it was chosen as a single even if it is not the strongest of the bunch. Little Look Back is probably the catchiest single. It is a staple in the Axxis live set, a synth-driven hard-rockin' Europe ode. The chorus is absolutely infectious. Everything else sounds like Turbo-era Priest and is well-played if not as memorable.

Overall it is a really nice release that shuffles around a few styles landing its anchor definitely in the melodic rock/metal realm.

Recommended tracks: The World Is Looking in Their Eyes, Save Me, Touch the Rainbow, Ships are Sailing, Little Look Back.