Reviews Round-Up May 2020
• Axel Rudi Pell – ‘Sign Of The Times’
• Satan’s Empire – ‘Hail The Empire’
• Horisont – ‘Sudden Death’
• Pattern-Seeking Animals – ‘Prehensile Tales’
• Louise Patricia Crane – ‘Deep Blue’
• Snatch-Back – ‘Ride Hard Run Free’
I often wonder if AXEL RUDI PELL lies awake at night trying to remember how many albums he’s released. The prolific German guitarist and his band – Johnny Gioeli, Ferdy Doernberg, Volker Krawzcak and Bobby Rondinelli – are back with ‘Sign Of The Times’ (SPV, 8 May), another slice of Rainbow-tinged classic hard rock and by my reckoning his nineteenth studio album since 1989’s ‘Wild Obsession’ (multitudinous live albums, compilations and the ‘Ballads’ outings notwithstanding). As with all of Pell’s albums ‘Sign Of The Times’ is crafted with the eye of an artist and a heart full of soul and features not only some truly exquisite guitar work but also Gioeli’s fabulous vocals. The band developed their own instantly identifiable sound many years back, and although ‘Gunfire’ may stray a tad too close to ‘Kill The King’ at times the majestic ‘Wings Of The Storm’, the fervent ‘Living In A Dream’ with its reggae-tinged opening and driving keyboards and the epic title track certainly make up for any stylistic slips.
Since they reformed for Brofest in 2016, SATAN’S EMPIRE have kept pretty busy, first of all recording a clutch of old songs for ‘Rising’ in 2018, and now following it up with ‘Hail the Empire’ (Dissonance, 20 March). “It’s heavy, but, maybe, a bit more commercial,” is how Sandy McRitchie describes it; “Not overtly, but it’s got catchier melodies in it, parts for people to sing along to, but it’s still got all the Empire time changes. There’s still that Empire sound to it.” And he’s not wrong. Coming on with some prime-time Saxon swagger ‘Hail The Empire’ is a comprehensive set of ten newly-written anjd drop-dead metal songs. There’s much to commend and little not to like – the storming ‘Empire Rising’ and the abrasive ‘Black’ (with its almost Sepultura-style roots) are just two of the many highlights the band (vocalist Derek ‘Dek’ Lyon, guitarists Sandy McRitchie and Paul Lewis, bassist Wayne Hudson and drummer Garry ‘Magpie’ Bowler) serve up. The title track is a slow-burner but just wait till it gears up: if they play that live and stretch out the solo there’ll be some very tired metalheads out there in the crowd. Oh, and I’m a sucker for the singalong ‘whoa-oo-oo’ of the catchy ‘Rivers Of Gehenna’ too.
One band who are pretty difficult to categorise are HORISONT. Like The Night Flight Orchestra, Horisont seem to go out of their way to be fashionably unfashionable – or is that unfashionably fashionable? – and once again the Swedes have come up with an album which can be easily put on the shelf marked ‘progressive’ but which in reality covers bases seemingly as diverse as Mott The Hoople and Kansas, with bits of Queen and Thin Lizzy lobbed in for good measure. Perhaps the most interesting thing though is that, for all this mélange of influences, their sixth release ‘Sudden Death’ (Century Media, 15 May) is an incredibly easy album to assimilate. Despite their world-renowned musicianship, the quintet of Axel (vocals), Charles and David (guitars), Magnus (bass) and Pontus (drums) haven’t gone out of their way to over-complicate matters for the listener but instead serve up a summer’s day of tasty licks and memorable songs – check out the overtly poppy ‘Into The Night’ as the ultimate fun-fest. Probably out in front for me is the short ‘n’ sweet ‘Pushin’ The Line’ but, if you prefer things to clock in at more than three minutes, the instrumental album closer ‘Archaeopteryx In Flight’ with its trippy refrain is an eight-minute dream.
In a world where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to come up with a name that stands out from the rest, you can always rely on the progressive genre to push the envelope. And you’re unlikely to confuse PATTERN-SEEKING ANIMALS with anyone else. The band features a few familiar faces in Ted Leonard (lead vocals and guitars), Dave Meros (bass) and Jimmy Keegan (drums and vocals) – all of whom will be known to Spock’s Beard fans (amongst others) and who also play together with singer/guitarist Denise Leonard in Sacramento covers band Rolling Heads – together with songwriter, film score composer and keyboard player John Boegehold. On their second album ‘Prehensile Tales’ (InsideOut Music, 15 May) the quartet take you through a leisurely, laid-back journey through some of the most luscious progressive music you’re like to hear. Beautifully played, and augmented by the occasional refrain from strings, woodwind and brass, ‘Prehensile Tales’ unveils its six tracks unhurriedly over just shy of an hour. And while I’m guessing most people will zero in on the seventeen-minute tour-de-force ‘Lifeboat’ the shorter ‘Soon But Not Today’ crams a number of twists and turns into its twelve-minute frame without either losing the thread or its audience.
Ex-Eden House singer LOUISE PATRICIA CRANE might not be a name on everyone’s lips at the moment, but that should change with the release of her debut solo album ‘Deep Blue’ (Peculiar Doll Records, 15 May). On the surface it comes across as a nice, poppy little outing at first, but dig deeper and you’ll discover a profound, brooding album, with gothic undertones and a fairytale-like dreamscape where nothing is quite what it seems – as perhaps best personified by the closing trio of ‘Ophelia’, ‘Isolde’ and ‘The Eve Of The Hunter’. It’s an exquisite album with massive crossover appeal which distils all it has to say in a breathless at thirty-eight minutes, thereby neither overstaying its welcome nor running out of steam. Instead, eight entrancing, beguiling, and beautiful songs project Ms Crane’s vision, and although guest appearances from King Crimson’s Jakko Jakszyk on rhythm guitar (pretty much across the album), Ian Anderson (providing flute, naturally), and Kyuss/The Obsessed/Fireball Ministry bassist Scott Reeder on ‘Snake Oil’ add to ‘Deep Blue’s’ credentials, even without such luminaries this is an album is worthy of great attention. Adoration, even.
Finally, there’s just space to mention that SNATCH-BACK’s album ‘Ride Hard Run Free’, reviewed back in November 2019 (“...sits at the heavier end of the NWOBHM spectrum and is a bruising pugilist of an album...”) is now available on vinyl. Check it out at www.snatch-back.co.uk
© John Tucker May 2020