Axel Rudi Pell – Circle of the Oath (SPV Records)

Sunday, 24th March 2013
Rating: 8/10

While trends fluctuate in North America, some styles remain constant in other parts of the world. Grunge may have slowed down the guitar heroes of the 70’s and 80’s during the alternative-minded 90’s movement, but Germany never relinquished their love for axe heroes and their soaring singer counterparts. Guitarist Axel Rudi Pell continues his love for all things Ritchie Blackmore-related (during his electric years) on Circle of the Oath (his 14th album) intertwining straight-ahead hook-laden power-influenced hard rock with the occasional ballad and epic arrangement that brings out the air guitarist in most who enjoy this genre.

One thing to note about Axel Rudi Pell – his mode of album operation rarely varies from recording to recording. You get a short, serene introduction like “The Guillotine Suite” which segues into two mid-tempo, higher energy numbers tailor-made for live audience involvement, like “Ghost in the Black” and “Run With the Wind” which feature vocalist Johnny Gioeli’s strong, bluesy enhanced range befitting the classic mold of Dio, Bonnet, and Gillian. Throw in the tender, heartfelt ballad where Pell’s clean skills come into focus on “Lived Our Lives Before” and the closing epic number with the 9:43 “World pf Confusion” where the pacing mirrors Rainbow or solo Dio efforts and the ardent supporters feel comfort in their hero not straying from the path.

The standout cut for me is the title track, another sprawling 9:35 song with distinct ambiance and a deeper feel than most of Pell’s epics. The opening third of the song has some acoustic parts that blend classic Zebra with a deeper southern rock charm- Gioeli gaining the chance to flex a lot of his lower and mid-range with thick harmonies, before the heavier electric parts and darker Ferdy Doernberg keyboard segments hit a home run in the chorus.

Axel isn’t going to bowl you over with neo-classical Yngwie arpeggios- his style of soloing is more from the Schenker, Blackmore, and Moore mold where pieces build from sparse note bends to faster runs. Which probably explains his struggle to attain more than a cult following stateside, a shame really as he definitely possesses the necessary songwriting skills and charm to stand out amongst all the shredders who are all flash with no retainable value.

In the end, Circle of the Oath is one of Axel’s better efforts in recent years, and should be a part of your collection if you love Dio-era Rainbow and Deep Purple.

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