AXEL RUDI PELL – THE BALLADS V (SPV/Steamhammer)

Review by Stefan: I’m into Axel Rudi Pell’s way of shred guitar tactics ever since he teamed up with German Heavy Metal band Steeler. Between 1984 and ’88, they’ve recorded four albums and I can proudly mention that these are in my music collection. It still gives me a pleasant feel to dive, on a regular basis, into my own music archives. Back in 1989, ARP came on strong with his own band and launched its debut “Wild Obsessions” followed by a huge list of other new efforts, also a few “Best Of”, “Live” and DVD releases the man brought out.

Hell no, I won’t forget to mention the great “The Ballads” series, the first emerged entitled as “Ballads” in  1993 and due to the great response of Mr. Pell’s fans, there were more albums well underway fulfilled with only ‘easy on the ear’ compositions, “Ballads IV” was released in 2011. I can speak of a real success that still continues to grow so I wasn’t surprised when I heard the news of “The Ballad V” was in the making. Meanwhile released through, equally legendary, SPV/Steamhammer Records. Remarkable fact, each and every Axel Rudi Pell album/DVD has been released through this professional label, deep respect is on at my hand !

Available as CD digipak (incl. nice poster), there is also a 2 LP + CD version in stores (packaging: gatefold, printed inner sleeves, purple-vinyl,180 g, CD in paper sleeve). Finally, you can go for something special as well, more specifically a Boxset (Europe only) including  Powerbank 5.000 mAh (black with high quality ARP branding) incl. Micro USB cable
CD Digipack + 4c double-sided color poster, CD single “Love’s Holding On” (incl. radio edit) in Slim Case, 4c Photocard, 4c Sticker, 3 D hologram cover picture on box front
Size of the box: 14,5 x 23 cm, metal box with top ! This edition is limited up to 1.000 copies worldwide. Don’t hesitate to order at free will and preference, take it from me…. You won’t be indignant !

“The Ballads V” has been produced/arranged by the master himself, besides his own band members, you will hear a few guest musicians like Mike Terrana (drums) on ‘Lived Our Lives Before’, Doogie White (vocals) and Tony Carey (keyboards) are present on the mighty live version of Deep Purple’s ‘Mistreated’. With A LOT of respect and dignity for all of them, there is someone else I would like to introduce to you with great pride, Mrs. Bonnie Tyler (real name Gaynor Hopkins) , one of the greatest songstresses I the history of Rock music. Born back in June 1951, along with her VERY unique, raspy way of singing she ruled the world with most famous songs like ‘Lost In France’, ‘It’s A Heartache’, ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ and ‘Sitting On The Edge Of The Ocean’ with which she won the 1979 edition of the World Song Festival in Tokyo. She has always looked up to greats like Janis Joplin and Tina Turner and this UK based leading lady in Rock was, and still is a unique and an example for many, many others !

All honor for both ARP and Bonnie, as a great collaboration between two legends, first song on “The Ballads V” entitled ‘Love’s Holding On’ reached for my eardrums as a wonderful duet with Axel Rudi Pell’s original singer Johnny Gioeli, been released as the first single of the album. The end result is over-the-edge, it feels real good and there is no better way to open up the album like this.

Former ARP frontmen Charlie Huhn, Rob Rock and Jeff Scott Soto (who left right after the release of “Magic” (1997) called it quits and don’t you dare to spread one negative word about these ones. In my opinion world class vocalists still able to conquer my heart nowadays, when they left the ARP ranks, the time was come to present the new singer listened to the name of Johnny Gioelli. Previously active in bands like Hardline and Crush 40 but what he did so far for Pell speaks to my imagination. What a great singer having a unique voice timbre I’d like to describe as ‘One Of A Kind’ – he’s a singing God to me, really  !

The rest of the current line-up looks like keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg (Rough Silk, ex-Eden Curse), along with Axel Rudi Pell, he created 12 albums, several DVDs and shared with the most biggest names out of the Rock and Metal scene. As if that is not enough yet, he released five solo efforts as singer/songwriter as well ! Next current member in line is bassist Volker Krawczak who played in Steeler also back in the 80s for the records of two albums “Steeler” and “Rulin’ The Earth”. He became a full ARP member right from the start and as always, he delivered the goods ! The man behind the drums is Bobby Rondinelli who teamed up with the Rudi Pell crew ever since July 2013. What he did before makes me totally speechless, check it out: born July 1955, this legendary drum-king played in historical bands like Rainbow, Blue Öyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Quiet Riot, Rondinelli, Doro and a handful of other very interesting acts. For musicians like him, the pleasure is completely mine to bow down my head as a sign of deep respect for these guys’ ongoing, precious efforts! There is no doubt, Axel Rudi Pell’s group occupation is nothing else than an All-Star band, a world class Hard Rock formation which always brings the best forward !

I told you about the opener earlier this review but what about the remaining ones? Next to the Bonnie Tyler duet we get ‘I See Fire’ (known from the motion picture blockbuster ‘The Hobbit’ dished, a Rock version of Ed Sheeran’s hit. Every album Axel give birth too, he goes after a new challenge and with this one he scores something beautiful. The original songs is has been loaded with acoustic passages, ARP’s version comes with a breathtaking piano performance, toward the end of the song the Guitar Maestro turns another magic solo out of his guitar. The wonderful vocals of JG sound like stars in the sky during a dark night. ‘The Edge Of Our Time’ is a brand new one which lasts for nearly eight minutes and it’s been recorded in the best possible way, typical Axel Rudi Pell tuned. The typical atmospheric/mysterious guitar sound, the overwhelming singing parts and the quite dark character of the song writing to let glow my inner spirit and soul to the full. Fans of Ritchie Blackmore/Uli Jon Roth/Tonny Iommi guitar tactics better be on their guard !

‘Hey Hey, My My is a new take on legendary Neil Young’s classic track (from the album “Crazy Horse” – 1988). Everybody knows it and everyone knows it from his mind so no problem to sing along while playing it over and over again. It’s one of those songs that’ll never fade away and many times been covered by other acts, in different styles. One of the most ordinary versions I remember from this song comes from an old school Thrash Metal band named A.R.G., great band to me not afraid to handle this Neil Young classic either. They were (just like me those days) young and restless… in the end we experienced a great era to never forget again. Fans of the popular biker series ‘Sons Of Anarchy’ will recognize this song as it was performed by Battleme at the end of the third season. A well done piece as well !

A number of songs make me recognizable from previous studio albums, ‘Lived Our Lives Before’ from the album “Circle Of The Oath”, released 2012. Taken from the effort “Into The Storm” (2014), the song ‘When The Truth Hurts’ will be served – ‘Forever Free’ and ‘Lost In Love’ are both taken from “Games Of Sin“, released in 2016. I have no objection ARP took the decision to add some old songs to the setlist, heard them before but can’t deprave my appreciation for this fifth ballad album at all, the more I heard these godlike one, the more I like them !

The last two tracks from Axel Rudi Pell’s “The Ballads V” are live recordings and previously unreleased. First we have his own composition called ‘The Line’ performed during the last year’s edition of Rock Of Ages Festival where the band co-headlined this great event. Finally the album will end with a SUPERB cover from one of my favourite Hard Rock band ever, Deep Purple. ‘Mistreated’ was recorded during PELL’s monumental 25-year anniversary show in Balingen in July 2014 with Doogie White (ex-Rainbow, MSG) on vocals and erstwhile Rainbow keyboard legend Tony Carey. “It was a 14-minute emotional ride for everybody involved on that stage that night,” says PELL.

Well, well… during the whole nine yards, it was a real pleasure listen to all of the songs with such a top notch sound quality. A rollercoaster of all kinds of emotions descended over my soul and like to recommend Axel Rudi Pell’s newest cut to those having a close and strong connection with excellent Hard Rock. Even the pace has been kept low and tender, still I’m overwhelmed, no shame to admit from my side!

The latest news on the band’s activities reads as follows: Pell is already busy writing songs for a brand new album about to record in autumn 2017, the planned release date is foreseen early 2018. Meanwhile I will enjoy “The Ballads V” with all of my heart, a masterful album with only highlights and no in-betweens. Order on the double via: http://www.axel-rudi-pell.de/

My rating: 89/100  (Good in its own genre, recommended for those hooked on it)

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