Axel Rudi Pell - Kings And Queens
The final tones of Sea of Evil are fading out and ends the tenth listening session of this highly anticipated studio album. Guitar virtuoso and genre icon Axel Rudi Pell and his metal companions now return with their latest output Kings and Queens, produced by Axel and co-produced, mixed and engineered by legendary Charlie Bauerfeind (producer for Helloween, Blind Guardian, Halford and many more). Exactly as before the band's previous effort, Shadowzone, Axel also this time claimed that he'd written some of his best material ever.
Since both Oceans of Time and Masquerade Ball are Axel's absolute best albums to date (with perhaps Oceans of Time as the sole winner) and the somewhat too mellow and uninspired Shadowzone couldn't really climb as high I was a bit sceptic to that statement from Axel this time. But with Kings and Queens, those words had more truth in them than expected and I can honestly and gladly report that skipper Axel Rudi Pell definitely has set the ship back on course towards the golden shores again.
But that doesn't mean that this album sounds completely different from his latest three previous outputs. Actually it sonically hasn't happened much, or should I say, virtually nothing. Axel's predictable song writing approach is far from innovating and as it has turned out you don't expect anything out of the ordinary of that kind either considering how the latest records have sounded. Basically the only new thing you get is new songs but delivered in an already used package. And the vast majority of the songs also have their doubles or even triples (at least) when you start tracking down the band back catalogue.
These following are the clearest examples of that: Flying High= Pay the Price/Earls of Black, Cold Heaven= Carousel/Vodoo Nights/Edge of the World, Legions of Hell= The Gates of the Seven Seals/The Masquerade Ball/Live for the King and Sea of Evil= Oceans of Time. And even the order of how these doubles/triples are placed on each album is the same so even though this is a freshly pressed disc initiated Axel Rudi Pell followers will instantly recognize their favourite axeman's sound and compositions. So yes- Axel Rudi Pell indulges in very mimicry musical exercises, yes- Axel Rudi Pell revisits previous musical territory, yes- Axel Rudi Pell got his sonical signature and he seems to be holding on to it for dear life, and yes- it's simply Axel Rudi Pell and I just love it!
But I just can't say that Kings and Queens is a general faster and heavier album than it's prequel Shadowzone and I can't really inform you that the production is a fuller and better one (but still top class of course) without lying my backer side off but I can definitely state that Axel has really nailed the compositions on this outing regardless of that that he's made practically zero attempts to incorporate fresh elements. But I don't mind the slightest that Axel stays 100% truly devoted to his style, but there are still areas where I think there's room for improvment.
Although Johnny Gioeli as usual delivers an elite class performance and continues to remain one of the absolute best metal vocalists out there, it still quite doesn't match his efforts on Masquerade Ball where he really used his entire register. On Kings and Queens he mostly applies his mid-range capacities and doesn't really take out the turns much from this which I feel is a little waste of his immense abilities. They're still good enough to produce several enjoyable moments but he's still got more to give.
Furthermore there's also a void for Axel to fill in the guitar solo section. He's such an impressive axeman but it feels like he's chosen to hold back on the more swirling string bending ones a little and instead seems to focus more on the emotional and solemn solo segments. These are of course absolutely top notch and follow the general slow down in pace over the years but a little more elaboration of this topic might be a good decision.
Another thing that's been out of the loop for a while is the atmospheric sprinkles of keyboards that's added that little extra in so many choruses on especially the more Rainbow "Stargazer-opus" inspired ones like Magic, The Gates of the Seven Seals and The Masquerade Ball. The version of that kind of track on this disc, Legions of Hell, lacks that special touch and even though that would be yet another nail in the recycle coffin, I would still very much have appretiated such a notion.
Nevertheless, this album is full of brilliant numbers that of course consist of the usual blend of faster double bass driven tunes, more mid tempo metal rockers, longer epic opuses and real atmospheric and solemn ballads where each and everyone prove that Axel Rudi Pell is the uncrowned king of melodic metal. Kings and Queens is more or less a deck virtually filled with nothing but aces and it's very hard to determine which ones that pack the most punch since I more or less love them all.
Axel Rudi Pell has intrigued and enchanted for almost two decades now and he definitely continues to do so with this latest instalment. A recording that when placed in comparison to previous achievements is better, yet not infinitely superior, to Shadowzone and ends up one chalice down in grade from Oceans of Time and Masquerade Ball. So Kings and Queens is virtually an affair that will most certainly please the eagerly awaiting scores of fans. With yet a bit to go before being back in an equally grand form of old, justice should still prevail and give this output a commercial success that matches the talent displayed by Axel and the rest of his impressive line-up. The album will be on the counters the first of March so do your best to prove me right and pray we're soon there!