I was dreading this review; it is hard to write an interesting piece about a boring album while staying objective and not bashing too hard. Axel Rudi Pell, guitarist of his eponymous band most notably featuring singer extraordinaire Johnny Gioeli and keyboard player Ferdy Doernberg, clearly is a legend. His time with Steeler and groundbreaking releases under his own name such as The Masquerade Ball (2000) or Black Moon Pyramid (1996) are testament to his status. Alas, being a legend is no prevention from releasing bad albums. Even bigger greats like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and the likes are no strangers to this.
Anyone who knows ARP knows the band’s characterizing trait: no change, ever. So let me start this off with a funny one. You might have the feeling Mr. Pell’s music sounds the same every time, but it goes deeper than that. Let me get my tinfoil hat. Consistently since 1998, the band has been putting out studio albums with new material exactly every two years. 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018. That is a… feat? Moreover, all of those albums have exactly 10 songs. Is this a joke? Moreover, all 11 of those albums except one (Tales Of The Crown) start with an instrumental intro track between 1 and 2 minutes long. This convinces me that Axel Rudi Pell is playing some kind of long time practical joke on us. I don’t know the exact outcome of this, but it surely manifests the evident stubborness of releasing the same album every two years.
ARP history can be divided in three ages. The glorious early years, the downfall and the end. The glory years ended with Kings And Queens, maybe including it, maybe not, continuing with the downfall until 2014’s Into The Storm (already part of the end times), followed by the end. The end not as end to the band who are clearly still eagerly releasing albums, but an end to musical quality. Yes, you can listen to The Masquerade Ball (2000) and then this new Knights Call and you will know it is the same band. The music still sounds the same. It just has been getting more and more stale. That is not because of repetition (even though that is not exactly great either); I’d be more than happy if Mr. Pell was releasing Masquerade Ball after Masquerade Ball, but the great compositions and energy of such records are fading with each subsequent release. Which leads us to 2018’s Knights Call (who are they calling? It is not Knight’s Call!) which is the bottom end of ARP routine (until the next one comes along).
“The Medieval Overture” is the obligatory instrumental introduction featuring midi sounds stolen from Summoning mid 90s. What follows is a mediocre hard rock track with “The Wild And The Young”. Johnny Gioeli’s first line is “Sometimes I am dreaming of the past”. I understand. Accordingly, the track addresses the energy and carelessness of youth. Very meta of Mr. Pell who seems to be aware he is lacking this energy. Even Gioeli, one of my favorite singers, is lacking in his performance. Compare his singing even to recent examples like 2012’s album opener “Ghost In The Black”. Wow, the screaming, the ass kicking! Nothing of this to be found here. The riff is forgettable and the rhythm as thrilling as the glass of coke sitting on your desk from the other day. Stale, let’s pour it away.
This might come as no great surprise, but the other tracks on the album sound the same. Uninspired hard rock songs, not even edging on power metal anymore, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. There is an inexplicable almost-5-minute instrumental called “Truth And Lies” which you could delete right off the album (except it would break the holy sanctity of 10-track albums) and two songs longer than 8 minutes. This was great when those songs were called “The Masquerade Ball” but these days it is an experience as captivating as ironing.
I found myself having some of the choruses stuck in my head, being able to sing along, but that is more the type of begrudgingly stuck song similar to a famous pop song you’ve heard too many times on the radio or in public. The songs are as unremarkable as can be and since they, musically, sound just the same as earlier efforts of ARP you might as well ignore this new album and enjoy old masterpieces or visit a Pell show, the latter probably being great fun since Mr. Pell and his companions still seem to have the will and energy to play, but this does not translate to the once dashing power of his songwriting anymore. I feel Axel Rudi Pell enjoy playing live and just press out something every two years so the label doesn’t complain. So, get merch or go to shows, but definitely keep away from this album unless you like to self-castigate.