AXEL RUDI PELL – Risen Symbol (Album Review)

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A new symbol adorns a familiar palace.

For 35 years the name Axel Rudi Pell has become all but synonymous with consistency and tradition. Originally cutting his teeth in the mid-80s as a virtuoso guitarist under the banner of the German melodic heavy metal outfit Steeler, ironically enough the same namesake as shred icon Yngwie Malmsteen’s first major project, this Teutonic mainstay has since carved out a highly methodical yet prolific niche for himself as a solo artist that has remained intact ever since.

Though sporting a similarly complex and flamboyant approach to the instrument as the aforementioned Swedish neo-classical guru, Pell has continually opted to stick closer to the blues base and rock-oriented approach first spearheaded by the likes of Ritchie Blackmore and Uli Jon Roth. Now 20 studio albums deep into his career (22 if counting the two “Diamonds Unlocked” cover albums), his latest studio foray “Risen Symbol” proves yet another brilliant exercise in sticking to what works and employing evolutionary twists sparingly.

To the uninitiated, experiencing Axel at his sonic craft bears a strong resemblance to a liturgical affair, marked by a keen sense of traditionalism and reliance upon the familiar. Taken as a whole, his discography almost seems a repetitive affair that could be likened to the career of AC/DC, though with an aura of 80s mystique and atmospheric charm that comes off as otherworldly.

Since the acquisition of keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg and Hardline vocalist Johnny Gioeli in 1998 and the subsequent classic LP “Oceans Of Time,” the codified hybrid of archaic heavy metal tropes and 90s power metal flash has endured, spearheaded by the Dio-like rasp and grandeur of Gioeli’s highly distinctive roar. The kinetic character that Jorg Michael initially brought to the equation in the 90s has since given way to a heavier and less speed-obsessed input from the rhythm section, as well as a looser jam-like feel with the introduction of former ex-Quiet Riot and ex-Warlock drummer Bobby Rondinelli, but to most ears, the change in Axel Rudi Pell’s craftsmanship has been barely noticeable since the turn of the millennium.

Relative to the past couple of studio LPs put out by this fold, “Risen Symbol” is an album that presents a band more focused on building banger anthems and employing more exotic and drawn-out formulas sparingly. Nowhere is this more the case than in Pell’s guitar work, which errs on the side of driving riffs, compact and moderately indulgent solo work, and a stylistic bent that often resembles the olden character of Deep Purple and Uriah Heep.

“Risen Symbol” Album Artwork

The opening prelude “The Resurrection” recalls the Eastern musical fancies exhibited by Blackmore all but to a fault, sounding like a lost variant of the intro of “Gates Of Babylon” and painting an elaborate picture not all that dissimilar to the great flaming pyramid adorning the album cover. What follows in “Forever Strong” can be best described as a maddeningly heavy speed metal anthem rivaling the most blistering displays from Axel’s 90s period, complete with a biting guitar tone and a matching vocal display out of Gioeli. Much of what follows leans a bit more into the 80s mid-paced rocker anthem mold, but crunchy entries like “Guardian Angel” and “Darkest Hour” spare no expense in the infectious hook department, while quicker odes like “Hell’s On Fire” and “Right On Track” feature swift riffs and pummeling drum fills that flirt with the apex achieved on “Forever Strong” while not quite going as off the hook.

Not one to be boxed into a one-dimensional mode of metallic expression, Axel does take ample opportunities to mix things up a bit, though in a far more measured fashion than what has often come to pass in his lengthy back catalog. The lone ballad “Crying In Pain” presents one of the most somber entries in his arsenal, not quite to the point of the ultra-poignant “The Clown Is Dead”, but coming pretty close between Ferdy’s droning piano work and Gioeli’s melancholy semi-roar.

The Eastern mystique factor is amped up another notch via the towering 10-minute epic “Ankhaia”, which runs along similar lines to several past forays into elongated homage works to Rainbow’s “Stargazer”, but also seems to channel elements of Hans Zimmer’s film score work on the recent Dune films. On the other side of the epic coin is the more conventional 7-and-a-half-minute opus “Taken By Storm”, which starts on a serene, quasi-bluesy ballad note before launching into a down-tempo, Black Sabbath-inspired march.

Yet ironically enough, the coup de grace of this album that truly draws things together and stands as one of Axel’s most captivating accomplishments is the cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”. It just brilliantly walks a fine line between the song’s original 70s rock context and this band’s heavier metallic sound, with a more atmospheric presentation to accent the song’s exotic character and an utterly spellbinding vocal interpretation out of Gioeli to boot.

Though this album faces some truly stiff competition from prior entries in Axel Rudi Pell’s catalog and obviously comes in a little behind undeniable classics like “Between The Walls,” “Black Moon Pyramid,” “Oceans Of Time” and “Mystica;” “Risen Symbol” holds its own and will undoubtedly prove a welcome addition to the collection of any long time fan of this outfit. It could also function well as an introduction to newcomers who might already be predisposed to enjoying the rock and metal titans of the 70s and 80s that influenced Pell’s signature sound, given its generally compact and straightforward presentation.

For an artist who has stuck to his guns with zero compromises through the fads of grunge, nu-metal, and various crazes that have come and gone in the years since Axel continues to stand as a tall oak in a forest that continues to be populated with younger maples. Whether one prefers vintage spirits straight from the mid-80s or the NWOTHM of the present day, this is an album that could fit in with just about any fully stocked traditional metal bar.

Released By: Steamhammer/SPV
Release Date: June 14th, 2024
Genre: Heavy Metal

Musicians:

  • Axel Rudi Pell / Guitar
  • Johnny Gioeli / Vocals
  • Volker Krawczak / Bass
  • Ferdy Doernberg / Keyboards
  • Bobby Rondinelli / Drums

Risen Symbol” Track List:

  1. The Resurrection (Intro)
  2. Forever Strong
  3. Guardian Angel
  4. Immigrant Song (Led Zeppelin‘s cover)
  5. Darkest Hour
  6. Ankhaia
  7. Hell`s On Fire
  8. Crying In Pain
  9. Right On Track
  10. Taken By Storm

Order Risen SymbolHERE

8.8 Excellent

Proving yet again to be the most consistent and the most dependable old school metal outlet in the business, virtuoso guitarist Axel Rudi Pell and his entourage unleash another opus that merges the stylistic trappings of the 70s and 80s with a booming, jagged-edged 2024 sound

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 8.5
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