Album Review: Michael Schenker Group – Immortal

michael schenker

Album Review: Michael Schenker Group - Immortal
Reviewed by Paul Hutchings

Few guitarists are as revered as Metal Mickey. The Mad Axeman has been making music since 1970 when as a 15-year-old he wrote and recorded with older brother Rudolph in the Scorpions, possibly the biggest German metal band of all time. That early album ‘Lonesome Crow’ saw Michael subsequently leave to join UK hard rockers UFO and although he’s been in and out of the UFO and Scorpions line-up several times, he’s always followed his own path.

As a young teenager, MSG were an important band in my hard rock development. The Michael Schenker Group, MSG and Built to Destroy all featured in my vinyl collection and it was a dream come true to see him play at St David’s Hall in Cardiff in 1982. Since then, he’s had his fair share of ups and downs, with a period away from the limelight in the 1990s. His most recent work has been with The Michael Schenker Fest, and now he returns with the first MSG album since 2008’s ‘In the Midst of Beauty’.

‘Immortal’ may be a bit of a tongue in cheek album title but at 65 years of age, Michael shows no sign of slowing down and has once again crafted a selection of melodic hard rock songs which blend neatly to form a cohesive and enjoyable record. His ability to draw together musicians from the very top drawer are impressive and Immortal is no exception. This may be more a collection of musicians rather than a band per se, but there isn’t much to disappoint.

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The powerful thumping opener ‘Drilled to Kill’ sees Primal Fear’s Ralf Scheepers give a sterling performance, his strong vocals matching Schenker’s instantly recognisable guitar playing as he duels with Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian on a track that is speed metal in all but name. It’s a fiery opening. Scheepers performance is rewarded with another fine turn on ‘Devil’s Daughter’ midway through the album.

Alongside Scheepers we find Joe Lynn Turner and Ronnie Romero, at opposite ends of the career spectrum and both give excellent performances, with Lynn Turner rolling back time on ‘Don’t Die on Me Now’. Romero, singer with the recently resurrected Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow as well as Lords of the Black demonstrates exactly why he’s one of the best rock vocalists on the circuit today on the second fast tempo track ‘Knight of the Dead’.

It’s not just the vocalists that shine on ‘Immortal’. The drumming is tighter than the proverbial gnat’s chuff. Unsurprising when you see that occupying the drum stool is not just returning MSG drummer Simon Phillips but Brian Tichy and Bodo Schopf who are joined in the engine room by bassist Barry Sparkes and rhythm guitarist/keyboard player Steve Mann. Producer Michael Voss (Mad Max) takes a turn on the mic on the ballad After the Rain, not my favourite track but in keeping with the overall feel of the record.

But for all the excellent support on this album, it’s the flying V wielding Schenker that stars with some beautiful playing. Schenker has often stated that he’s not in music to get rich but because he loves making music. “I never wanted fame or success. I was always happiest when I was left in the sand box with what I liked the most. Without rivalry, without competition, only focussing on pure, unfiltered creativity. And at that, nothing tops a guitar. It’s the best instrument to truly express something. There isn’t a sound out there that’s more complete.” This is evident on ‘Sail The Darkness’, a classic Schenker track which features some stunning guitar work alongside Romero’s powerful delivery.

It’s not all brilliant stuff with ‘The Queen of Thornes and Roses’ a bit of a throw away, but the pomp and strut of ‘Come Over’ with its 80s trash metal feel does allows Romero to show his stuff once more. ‘Sangria Morte’ with its western feel trots along, which leads to a revised and trippy version of the Scorpions classic ‘In Search of Peace of Mind’, the final track on ‘Lonesome Crow’, which employs multiple voices (none of which can reach the deliciously high pitch of Klaus Meine on the original by the way), has some delightful tinkling ivories but in all essence is there to allow Schenker to remind us, as if we needed it, that at the end of the day this is all about that sonic symbiosis that he has with that Gibson Flying V.

He’s been through good times; he’s been through bad times, but Michael Schenker continues to produce music that he wants to. At times it’s been a bit bland, but Immortal is a reminder that with the right wind, few guitarists can match one of the most respected and influential guitarists we have ever seen.

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