Michael Schenker Group – Universal (Atomic Fire Records)

Wednesday, 1st June 2022
Rating: 8.5 / 10

Productive with continuous recording output much like a man half his age, guitarist Michael Schenker is a legend not content to rest on his classic discography. After three Temple of Rock albums and two Michael Schenker Fest outings during the 2010’s, the man returns to his Michael Schenker Group incarnation for Universal. Continuing his relationship with Michael Voss as co-producer and songwriting partner, we get another solid assembly of strong singers, bassists, keyboardists and drummers to flesh out these eleven main cuts (plus two bonus tracks).

The who’s who of marque musicians includes Ralf Scheepers, Michael Kiske, and Ronnie Romero on the vocal front, drummers Simon Phillips, Bobby Rondinelli, and Brian Tichy, bassists Bob Daisley and Barry Sparks, keyboardist Steve Mann, special guest Tony Carey, and others all delivering their best to these compositions. Notable tracks out of the gate include “A King Has Gone”, where Michael pays tribute to Ronnie James Dio in his Rainbow years – Michael Kiske and an original Rainbow rhythm section Rainbow Rising keyboardist Tony Carey channeling much of that atmosphere in this impressive mid-tempo anthem template. When wishing to crank up the energy and tempo into textbook heavy metal, it’s easy to hear why Ralf Scheepers gets the vocal call for “Wrecking Ball” – Schenker laying down fleet licks plus a seriously addictive main riff. Most of the material sits in that melodic metal/ hard rock wheelhouse the veteran has been a part of since the 70’s-era of Scorpions and UFO – favorites including “Yesterday Is Dead” and flashy “Au Revoir”. Handling the majority of singing Ronnie Romero possesses the right grit along with a powerhouse range, especially graceful in a moodier, evolving effort like “Sad Is the Song” that tempo-wise switches from a doom-like epic crawl to a peppy, uplifting bridge to chorus passage.

What makes Michael Schenker so special is his ability to captivate through strong main hooks, catchy refrains, and an intelligent, thoughtful approach to every solo or passage pouring forth from his guitar – yet never forgetting to position the other musicians in the best light to service the needs of each song. The collective overrides the individual – although standout moments do occur in that regard. Universal keeps Michael Schenker Group top of mind for another tremendous effort, leaving us more quality efforts in his twilight years.

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