Axel Rudi Pell (heretofore abbreviated as ARP) and his gang of Westphalian rockers are a one-trick pony, and the whole world of hard rock and heavy metal well knows this. However, the eponymous band has maintained a solid reputation for consistency and quality amongst those who enjoy the stuff, and Axel himself is an old-fashioned fella whose 80’s mindset frequently comes across in more than just his music. I confess that this is the first time that I’ve actually reviewed an ARP release, but given my general obsession with traditional warfare, honor, and all that is shiny and well-forged, the band’s albums have attracted my attention on more than one occasion. Longtime fans may be well within their rights to decry my opinions here as ignorant, but the virtual hand which holds the pen is not (at present) theirs.
For those underinformed, ARP has constructed a formidable legacy as a “working man’s” AOR/heavy metal outfit built primarily on the shoulders of ex-Steeler guitarist Axel Rudi Pell and (since Oceans of Time) vocalist Johnny Gioeli, who has one of those quintessentially AOR voices. While the band has always been higher-brow and boasted better guitar work than a good deal of hair metal and AOR, it’s really never been identifiable as power metal, though the group does often juxtapose rather vacuous lyricism from both realms. This is absolutely true in the case of latest offering, Knight’s Call.
ARP’s imagery and inspiration has frequently drawn from medieval martial and fantasy themes, but the music does precious little to educe that influence. That’s a pretty cool piece of cover art, if you ask me, so it’s sad that the contents of Knight’s Call do not measure up to my moderately positive recollections of tunes from Circle of the Oath, The Crest, and others. Knight’s Call is comparatively a universal, slow-paced drudge through utterly trite hard rock compositions. Sure, one could argue it’s “more of the same,” but even in comparison to ARP’s previous self-derivative works, this one’s both particularly down-tempo and sorely lacking in Axel’s energetic guitar presence. This last point is especially painful, as previous ARP albums have been rescued from the pitfall of holistic boredom by the main man’s solid chops. I assume Axel must be exhausted at this point, because he barely steps into the limelight at all this time around.
AOR acquaintances will know precisely what is coming from titles like “The Wild and the Young” and “Love Live Rock,” and while I admit that the former has a pretty hooky chorus, neither receive any treatment from Axel and company to distinguish them from hundreds of other similar songs by artists competing for your time and money. “Crusaders of Doom” seemed like it had some promise, but the same repetitious and inane nature from across the rest of the album is as strong here as elsewhere. Come to think of it, the only song that even attempts to break the mold is the refreshingly pleasant instrumental “Truth and Lies” – and even that track falls into the same behavior of mostly repeating a pair of eight-bar motives.
Look Axel, you’re a great guy, and I love that you love what you’re doing, but there’s seriously four solid minutes of the exact SAME LICK IN A ROW on “Tower of Babylon,” and I’m not sure there’s a market for that anywhere outside of drone these days. Even you yourself must be bored to tears playing this. This is a level of artistic laziness typically reserved for the radio pop and country western genres, into which even the likes of Sabaton, infamous for its unvarying approach, has not descended. Axel Rudi Pell really feels to me like its going through the motions at this point, and the songs on Knight’s Call are like the dying reverberations in a once jam-packed echo chamber. Needless to say, here’s one knight that won’t be heeding the call.1