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Monday, May 6, 2013

Axel Rudi Pell (ARP) – ‘Live on Fire’ album review

Axel Rudi Pell (ARP) – ‘Live on Fire’ album reviewReleased through: SPV/Steamhammer. Release date: Available now
The man that clearly, not enough people know of, but he deserves to be heard!

Axel Rudi Pell decided to go solo after the split of German rockers Steeler around 1988 / 89.
His solo band released their first album way back in 1989 and in total to date he has released fifteen – Yes, really! Where have you been people?! – A.R.P. studio releases, not to mention a few live albums along the way.


Clearly his popularity has its strongest foothold in his native Germany and perhaps here’s a little known fact that is why I am amazed that he has not had more success …
Across those fifteen studio releases, he has had some amazing singers in his band, something that even I was guilty of not knowing!

Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie J. Malmsteen, Journey, Talisman, Soul SirkUS) sung on four of them, Charlie Huhn (Ted Nugent, Gary Moore, Foghat) sung on the first one, Rob Rock (Impellitteri, M.A.R.S., Avantasia, Warrior) sung on one and the excellent Johnny Gioeli (Hardline, Crush 40) has sung on the past eight studio releases and also features here.

Other band members have generally come and gone, with the exception of bassist Volker Krawczak who has been present on every A.R.P. release, also current drummer Mike Terrana has featured on the past seven releases and keyboard whizz, Ferdy Doernberg on the past eight studio albums.

Axel Rudi Pell's sound – IMHO – kind of fluctuates, taking in influences such as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, Yngwie J. Malmsteen, The Scorpions, Dio / Black Sabbath featuring Ronnie James Dio, M.S.G. and at times, there’s without doubt some (Jimi) Hendrix appeal in there.
Heck, it’s even similar to some of Europe’s early material too, but then Axel has been doing this for a while, so hardly surprising that listeners will pick up on other similarities too.
Mr. Pell, I will add though, does like to go off on some lengthy diversions on some tracks, but the wonderful thing about his playing, is that he is clearly a lover of hearing keys alongside guitar on a pretty even balance, sometimes a rare thing, but it does help you understand why the Blackmore / Malmsteen comparisons.

So, if you’re a classic / hard rock fan and aficionado of those acts, I have a feeling, you should be checking this guy’s material out!   

I really am a newer fan of the guy, having heard the name for a number of years, but never – Foolishly! – having taken the time out myself to check him out until about three years back, having heard material from ‘The Crest’ and then the most recent studio album, ‘Circle of the Oath’ released in 2011 and reviewed on this site.

I think Jeff Scott Soto previous involvement is seriously, a little known fact, as whenever press releases for his material come out or any cross reference to his past works, sadly A.R.P. is rarely if ever mentioned and I am going to make it a priority to track copies of those releases down for sure!

 This is a really enjoyable live album, that I can play again and again, a great two disc set!
Events start with the intro and opening song from the last A.R.P. release ‘Circle of the Oath’ in the form of ‘The Guillotine Suite / Ghost in the Black’ and ‘Ghost in the Black’ is a great opening song, hard, heavy strong musically and vocally, love it!

Johnny Gioeli's vocals kind of come across a little differently throughout his performance here, at times pushing himself close to Ronnie James Dio, but he’s really not quite there, but simply put it's strong and also he seems to work hard at pleasing the German crowd with much interaction, even confessing later during the set that his grasp of the German language is crap, but at least he tries here and there with a few words.

‘Strong as a Rock’ from the ‘King’s and Queens’ album is great next number once more nicely blending the keyboards of Ferdy Doernberg and rocking guitar work of Axel Rudi Pell. During the song, Johnny urges the crowd to join in on the chorus and the participation seems a little restrained here, but it gets better as the performance goes on.
To those not familiar with the guitarist’s style, again I hear a lot of Blackmore influence in his playing on this track, but also where he hits the wah wah, certainly some Hendrix.
It’s all good to me!
Back to the ‘… Oath’ release for ‘Before I Die’ starting with some rabid guitar work and into the up tempo groove of the song and once more it’s a strong chorus. Hard rocking catchy stuff!
Next up is a medley capturing ‘The Masquerade Ball / Casbah / Dreaming Dead / Whole Lotta Love / Dreaming Dead (Reprise)’ that lasts just under eighteen minutes, with ‘The Masquerade Ball’ capturing a sound not unlike say M.S.G. or The Scorpions and no, there’s no Klaus Meine about it at all, so don’t expect it!

‘Casbah’ next has that haunting mystical Rainbow like underlying Hammond sound as the song kicks in, then before too long Johnny gets the crowd involved singing the chorus, it’s getting there!
Elements of ‘Dreaming Dead’ with some beautiful guitar work throughout here too. Almost (Tony) Iommi like at times and Blackmore at others, wonderful and then this merges into a little snippet of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ before finishing ‘Dreaming Dead’ with a touch of Black Sabbath’s ‘Heaven and Hell.’ Nice touch guys!


Mike Terrana then gets his solo spot and proves he’s no slouch, introduced by Johnny as ‘The animal, the beast … Mike Terrana!’This lasts for just over four minutes before Ferdi jumps in on keys, initially playing  Offenback’s ‘The Can, Can!’ Funny!

 Johnny Gioeli then talks about, ‘why can’t we do this while having some f**king fun!’
He does like to swear a bit, so if you’re easily offended, maybe you won’t appreciate that?

Next he introduces ‘Mystica’ which is very much in the groove of Rainbow / early Europe’s material too, of course this is all through Axel’s playing styles.

Johnny really has a Ronnie James Dio approach here, without a shadow of a doubt before the band take another diversion through Deep Purple’s ‘Mistreated,’ ironically a song Ritchie Blackmore carried over into his Rainbow band and this takes the song overall to just under the twelve minute mark, with some lengthy guitar interludes.

Now remember, this is just the CD version of this release, so now we’re onto CD disc two, as the band goes back in time to the ‘Oceans of Time’ release from 1998, for the title track itself.

The CD set captures thirteen tracks in total, including the various tracks that capture some great medleys.
If you track yourself down the DVD, it’s a two DVD set, encompassing a massive twenty four tracks, an interview with Axel, the story of A.R.P. and bonus video clip of the song, ‘Hallelujah’ which I’m guessing is a new track, but the press release and even his website do not elude to this ..?

Anyway on with the details of CD two and before they get into the track Johnny talks to the crowd a little and this is where when he’s explaining that this band has been going on almost fourteen years together, he says, ‘Don‘t let me have to say that in German! My Deutsch is Schei├če!‘ Which raises some laughter from the crowd ... Going on to add‚ ‘Fourteen years and I can say, Hallo! Sorry!‘
Anyway, on with the music ...

‘Oceans of Time’ is a generally easy going rock ballad, that picks up some towards the end, with Johnny Gioeli giving the song plenty of emotion with his vocal performance.
The title track of the latest studio release next, ‘Circle of the Oath,’ which is quite the monster track at just over nine minutes long.
From the slow building start Johnny gives an almost Robert Plant like vocal, but then the song does have a kind of Zeppelin feel to it, with Axel playing some deep stuff here and even some mystical strings added by Ferdy to good effect.
Back to the ‘Black Moon Pyramid’ album for ‘Fool Fool’ next which has a kind of Rainbow like feel to it and Johnny with his almost Ronnie James Dio style vocal. Good one!
We get a keyboard solo from Ferdy Doernberg next, who toys with the crowd a little before they then play ‘Carousel’ from ‘Oceans of Time,’ which completely rocks out and is hugely catchy, very much to like Europe’s ‘Storm Wind …’ Sorry, but it is, still an immensely enjoyable track, that takes a diversion with Johnny introducing the band, while the band jams some, before coming back on track again to wrap up ‘Carousel.’
‘Tear Down The Walls’ then blends into ‘Nasty Reputation’ to rock out at the end of the CD album version of this release.

Two very strong tracks with great hooks, although it’s kind of funny as one of the lines in ‘Nasty Reputation’ sings ‘Rock the Nation,’ so when they go off and the audience claps and cheers to bring them back, it’s interesting that they close with the encore ‘Rock the Nation.’

I do like this album, there’s indeed very much talent in this band, many great songs and if you’ve never checked out Axel Rudi Pell and you’re one of those rock fans that often picks up9albums to see how much material they like by a band, then get this ...
It really is a great collection of the bands past history blended with sprinkling of newer tracks.
‘Live On Fire’ rocks and now I want to track down the DVD!

Rating: 4 out of 5
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