Axel Rudi Pell – “Sign Of The Times” (Steamhammer / SPV)
‘…I’m just a guitar player…nothing more, nothing less…’ – modest words indeed from a man who’s sold 1.7 million albums worldwide, returning after his triple live album last year to his 18th studio album now in “Sign Of The Times”! Proving that despite approaching 60 years of age, there is little holding back both his physical and technical capability, Axel Rudi Pell is a legend in Germany and renowned internationally, needing little in the way of introduction or pretense for his melodic hard rock based on down to earth, wholesome musicianship with the single, dedicated purpose of rocking you out from start to finish. Beginning in 1984 with Steeler before going solo, Pell’s reputation has attracted top of the line musicians like Jeff Scott Soto, Charlie Huhn and Rob Rock to play in his band, as well as guests like Graham Bonnett, Doogie White and Vinny Appice. Indeed, it would be reasonable to state that the current line up featuring Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Quiet Riot) and Johnny Gioeli (Hardline, Crush 40) is the strongest ever, with these two musicians pulling out their best ever studio performances as a result of being molten hot after extensive touring. Captured in a live sound thanks to Pell switching production from his long time co-producer and engineer Charlie Bauerfeind to the engineer of his live albums (“Magic Moments“ and “XXX Anniversary Live“), Tommy Geiger, “Sign Of The Times” is also very song orientated, with the solos being less lengthy, although certainly not lacking in their quality. Likewise, the lyrical topics of the 10 songs has shifted away from the traditional fantasy theme to being one more rooted in the reality of today’s world, as indicated by the title. That said, the lifelong inspiration of Ritchie Blackmore is not only still evident, but actually more prominent that before! Opening with the pumping hard rock groove of ‘Gunfire’, you could almost be listening to classic 70s Rainbow as Ferdy Doernberg’s organ goes into overdrive as it superbly complements Pell’s hard riffing, alternating crucially with its power melodies, while Gioeli sings his heart out – and all to the double bass drumming and snare cracking of Rondinelli! Pistoning in on ‘Bad Reputation’, the deep riffs, wailing lead and soulful singing from Gioeli do the melodic magic on this catchy, 80s AOR sounding number that while being straightforward, is both passionate and staying long in the mind. With even heavier power drumming on ‘The End Of The Line’, the contrast to the stirring melodies of Pell’s guitar and Gioeli’s moving vocals is jaw dropping in itself, but when coming together to produce an incredible energy that lights up the song, you get to see the hard rock fire driving his band. Indeed, the cohesive tightness between all musicians is undeniable on this stupendous release and no better captured than on ‘Waiting For Your Call’ with its titanic riff that just hooks you in while Gioeli’s stirring vocals grab your heart and loins simultaneously, rocking you again and again before the immense 80s chorus simply blows you away. Take a few days off to recover from this one…..and notch up another absolute winner for Axel Rudi Pell, the man and his band.