CD Reviews

Axel Rudi Pell - 'The Ballads IV' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     November 18, 2011    
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A splendid album for ARP completists.

ARP’s Ballads series always yields significant sales and I have no reason to doubt that ‘Ballads IV’ will fare any less well than their three illustrious predecessors, released in 1993, 1999 and 2004 respectively. Thus it’s a slightly longer gap this time around.

Three new tracks open proceedings, the ten other tracks having formerly appeared on ‘Mystica’ (3), ‘Diamonds Unlocked’ (3), ‘Tales Of The Crown’ (2) and ‘The Crest’ (2). First of the new tracks is ‘Where The Wild Waters Grow’, a majestic, slow-burning number with the usual band dynamics and an emotive guitar solo or two and the ever excellent vocals courtesy of Johnny Gioeli. Mention of the band dynamics: it’s now been eleven years since the current line-up of the quintet first assembled, making them one of the most enduring in the melodic metal genre. Little wonder, therefore, that they are such a well-oiled machine delivering just what they know their fans seek. They have a clear template to work within, so for me the next two new recordings – both covers – would appear to have presented a challenge.

First one is RJD’s ‘Holy Diver’ (unfortunately rendered as ‘Holy Driver’ in the accompanying booklet, and such an unforgivable error!) Intended as a tribute to the late singer, the song gains an entirely new feel at the hands of ARP, and while I don’t completely dislike his version, it’s become a complete plodder in fitting it to the template. However, the version of ‘Hallelujah’ (the Leonard Cohen song) that follows is a complete triumph, I feel. Never have the vocals of JG sounded quite so spectacularly expressive as they do here, and the inclusion of a children’s choir adds warmth and colour that make this the finest version of the song I have ever encountered.

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Two majestic instrumentals are included: ‘Noblesse Oblige (Opus #5 Adagio Cantabile)’ and ‘Haunted Castle Serenade (Opus #4 Grazioso E Agresso)’ and both admirably demonstrate Pell’s ability to emulate classical greats in a melodic metal context. Three further songs are also included from an album that was full of covers – ‘Diamonds Unlocked’ – and the only Pell album not to feature in my collection, and thus I had not previously heard them: ‘Love Gun’ (Kiss), ‘In The Air Tonight’ (Phil Collins) and ‘Like A Child Again’ (The Mission). I am completely unfamiliar with the last of these but it fits the template. JG’s voice however, sounds rather gruff here! I am not a Phil Collins detractor, and ‘In The Air…’ is a favourite of mine, and the ARP version (all 8:37 of it) is a wonderful rendition as is his version of ‘Love Gun’ (apologies to the neighbours for my singing!!)

‘Ballads IV’ is a splendid album for ARP completists of course, but I’m not quite certain who else amongst the Fireworks & Rocktopia readership might want it. Hopefully my comments will help you to decide…

Paul Jerome Smith

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