Axel Rudi Pell – Diamonds Unlocked II (Steamhammer/SPV)Friday, 9th July 2021
Consciously deciding to record this second volume of special covers Diamonds Unlocked II, Axel Rudi Pell has been a steady part of the melodic hard rock and heavy/power metal scene for over thirty-two years as a solo artist. His current lineup contains members that have been there from the start (bassist Volker Krawczak), the late 90’s (keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg and vocalist Johnny Gioeli) plus veteran drummer Bobby Rondinelli who came to the group in 2013. When looking at this album, it’s all about the selection of songs and performances – which vary from straightforward interpretations to subtle shifts or different spins on familiar tracks.
You can expect Axel to place his bluesy shredding licks and speedy mechanics to appear in specific contexts – right away on the Sammy Hagar cut “There’s Only One Way to Rock” as well as the Rainbow follow-up “Lady of the Lake”. Where Axel may differ from other guitar heroes though is his ability to allow other members to take ahold of the spotlight – Ferdy delivering for instance some sinister organ chops during The Rolling Stones’ cover “Paint It Black”, and the gritty delivery of Johnny showing quaint charm during the “Rock ‘N’ Roll Queen” – a more recent hit from the mid-2000’s from British indie rock band The Subways. The easy path would be for Axel to pull from conventional sources to pay tribute to his influences – instead you get surprises like “She’s a Lady” by Paul Anka given a semi-ballad start ramped up into power spirits halfway through, as well as “I Put a Spell on You” the standard from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins that digs deep into the blues. The only subtle disappointment lies in the main drum tone choices for Bobby – the snare sound in particular throughout has more of a wet, sprinkler feel that won’t appease most looking for a natural feel that he can deliver on standard kits.
Many will consider this a stop gap or filler outing and pass on this until the next Axel studio album appears (in the cards for early 2022). You can’t deny the talent and work put into reinterpreting these songs for a heavy music fan base, and thus the pros outweigh any cons here.