AXEL RUDI PELL
"Into the Storm"

(SPV/Steamhammer)

01. The Inquisitorial Procedure
02. Tower of Lies
03. Long Way to Go
04. Burning Chains
05. When Truth Hurts
06. Changing Times
07. Touching Heaven
08. High Above
09. Hey Hey My My
10. Into the Storm

RATING: 8/10

Never let it be said Axel Rudi Pell isn't made of strong stock. It's prerequisite in this market, especially when you've hit the quarter century mark as Pell has. Having played in STEELER eons ago, Axel Rudi Pell proves time and again he's got the alloy of iron and carbon coursing through his veins. The celebrated guitarist never sits on his laurels for too long before recording new material, which makes him one of the most prolific artists the genre's ever seen. On his sixteenth solo album, "Into the Storm", Axel Rudi Pell continues to march with no deviation from his archetypal power metal path, save for maybe a bit more melody and hard tempos to these numbers.

"Into the Storm" might be one of the most accessible albums in Pell's catalog since everything is tailored toward finesse and harmony within the time-honored constructs of pure heavy metal. Whether it's hard driving numbers like "Tower of Lies", "Burning Chains" and "Changing Times", the lethal power pop sways of "Long Way to Go", or ballads like "When Truth Hurts" and a cover of Neil Young's "Hey Hey My My", the focus is on delivering straightforward songs. These are, of course, largely bred from the successful molds of DEEP PURPLE, DIO, SCORPIONS, RAINBOW and ACCEPT. In other words, status quo, except it sounds like Pell's band wants to throw him an on-album party in the process.

Continuing as Pell's right hand man since 1989 is bassist Volker Krawczak, while vocalist Johnny Gioeli and keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg continue as Pell's mainstays since 1997. Joining the flock this round is veteran drummer Bobby Rondinelli, who has done tours of duty with hard rock and metal royalty such as RAINBOW, BLACK SABBATH, BLUE ÖYSTER CULT, DORO, Leslie West and QUIET RIOT. Mike Terrana always did a solid job for Axel, but Rondinelli ends up becoming a difference maker with his flexible, rhythmic pounding, upon which Pell and his posse jump aboard and take a hard, fun ride.

Though "Touching Heaven" treads dubiously close to BON JOVI territory at first, it quickly veers into a marching power jam in the vein of DIO and RAINBOW, which is about all of the experimentalism to be found on "Into the Storm" outside of the DIO-driven 10-minute title track. In the middle of these bare extremes is "When Truth Hurts", one the sweetest and most affective ballads Axel Rudi Pell's put his name to.

If anything, Pell's playing is reliably tight on the riffs and chords, yet his solos are a bit more laidback and submissive to the album's grooves. It's a dignified, if moderate scale back on Pell's part, because "Into the Storm" gains the benefit of muscular musicality as a result. The album is decidedly front loaded, as "High Above" is a peppy little number with a hefty sing-along chorus, but it's not quite up to the entertaining precision of the earlier tracks.

The Neil Young cover is decent and you understand where the Axel Rudi Pell band is coming from by taking on "Hey Hey My My"'s rock 'n roll will never die ethos, but on the heels of such strong material preceding it, a cover tune is a small cheat despite Pell belting out one of his most emotive solos on the album. "Into the Storm" is designed to churn along as a pirate epic and is guided by Pell and Krawczak's tireless riffs. Johnny Gioeli sells the plodding passage with some terrific choruses, but there are traces of silliness in spots for the composition to stick as timeless.

Nonetheless, Axel Rudi Pell and company have themselves a modest winner with "Into the Storm" and power metal enthusiasts have plenty to look forward to here. With his 25th anniversary at-hand, it's been announced Pell will be commemorating it with a special three-hour concert at this year's Bang Your Head!!! festival in Germany and the rumor mill is hinting at a STEELER reunion in the set. Hoo, mama.

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