You can knock the German Heimindustrie that is Axel Rudi Pell all you like. In the real world, the world where people actually shell out hard cash to buy new albums, an average of ninety thousand plus individuals have bought every one of the man’s sixteen solo albums to date. That’s over a million people who really don’t care what casual critics like you or I think of Herr Pell and his Blackmore obsession…
As it goes, Knights Call is one of the strongest Axel Rudi Pell albums to have emerged in recent memory. The format may be stale – a generally tepid reworking of basic, Dio-era Rainbow and early Purple (the start of Wildest Dreams is a bare-faced steal from Black Night) – but, strangely, Pell and his band sound energised and playful throughout the album.
Drummer Bobby Rondinelli (he used to be in Rainbow!) pounds away manfully in the background, giving everything a masculine oomph, whilst keyboardsman Ferdy Doernberg plays a superb Aireyesque foil to the main man. Vocalist Johnny Gioeli, now a veteran of over twenty years in the pay of Pell, whilst not being perhaps of the same calibre as some of the men who came before is now such a part of the overall sound of an ARP album as to have rendered himself virtually indispensable, especially on the big ballads such as Beyond the Light, where both the singer and guitarist shine brightly.
Together this band of brothers (augmented by bassist Volker Krawczak who barely gets a look in in the mix, unfortunately, save for his work on the instrumental Truth and Lies) galumph through such doubtless crowd pleasers as Long Live Rock with a pleasing lack of side and little or no irony. This is the music they love, and they want us to love it too, and sometimes unalloyed enthusiasm is enough to cut through even the hardest of hearts. The Crusaders of Doom sounds exactly as you’d imagine, an originality-free melange of Saxon and HammerFall, and closing track Tower of Babel would have been something of a genre-defining epic had Rainbow not written Stargazer over forty years ago and rather beaten Axel Rudi to the punch.
For all that, heavy rock fans of a certain age will derive an awful lot of enjoyment out of Knights Call. This is music played to be experienced and enjoyed, not dissected, songs of brotherhood and glory that welcome all and turn away none. And on that level, this, like every other one of Axel Rudi Pell’s solo albums, is an unqualified success.
Knight’s Call is out on March 23rd through Steamhammer/SPV.