Sunday, 22 December 2013

Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock's 'Bridge the Gap' - Album Review

Briefly, before starting this review, I would like to do a little bit of blog housekeeping. For anyone who regularly reads my blog (if there are any) and wondering when my Top 10 albums of 2013 list will be written I have decided that, like last year's list, it will be published on 1st January 2014. I know that this is later than most lists, but I wanted to get this review done first and give plenty of time to a couple of December releases incase they made late bids to be part of the list. Also, on the final day of 2013, I will write a post that will: sum up 2013 as a musical year from my perspective; give me a chance to talk about a few albums I did not get chance to review; and outline a few musical hopes for 2014. I hope that people have enjoyed reading my reviews over the past year, and this will be the final one of 2013!

Michael Schenker is one of rock's original guitar heroes. From his early days in the Scorpions, to finding huge success as a member of UFO, and to braching out on his own with the Michael Schenker Group (MSG); he has always been praised and held in high regard for his playing and songwriting abilities. Life has not always been easy for Schenker however, and long battles with both alcohol and drugs has led to some mediocre mid-career albums and sloppy live performances. Over the last few years though, he has cleaned up his act and is back to his best. The most recent MSG album, In the Midst of Beauty released in 2008, attracted mostly positive reviews and his solo album Temple of Rock from 2011 also was well received. The Temple of Rock tour has probably been his most successful in a long time. Rather than going out as MSG and being restricted to material from those albums, he decided to go out under his own name and play an anthology set covering his whole career. The band he established to play on that tour appear on his new album Bridge the Gap which is released under the name Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock - so this could be seen as the debut album of a whole new band rather than a continuation of MSG or his solo work. Handling the vocals and lyrics we have Doogie White (Rainbow; Cornerstone; Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force; Tank) who does a really solid job. I have always been a fan of his voice, and in my opinion he is one of the most underrated vocalists in rock. The rhythm section is made up of members from the classic Scorpions line-up and sees bassist Francis Buchholz and drummer Herman Rarebell play on their first album together since the Scorpions 1990 release Crazy World. Rounding out the band is Schenker's faithful rhythm guitarist and keyboard player Wayne Findlay who's 7 string guitar work helps to bulk out some of the album's more metal moments. The album has been produced by Michael Voss who actually handled most of the lead vocals on Temple of Rock and has done a good job with the production here. The mix is very balanced, giving equal attention to all of the instruments when necessary. I would have liked to have heard a bit more keyboard in the mix but when it is used it is used effectively.

After the short instrumental introduction Neptune Rising, the album proper gets underway with Where the Wild Winds Blow. It is clear that in White, Schenker has found another good songwriting partner. While some of the lyrics and melodies are a little too close to Ronnie James Dio's style to be called original, it fits in with the overall mood of the album. The crunching verses and epic pre-choruses are the perfect set up for an extremely melodic chorus that sees White make good use of his powerful voice. Towards the middle of the song there is a short acoustic guitar solo that is unexpected but works well before a more traditional Schenker-style solo takes over and shows us that the great man can still play after all his problems! Horizons was debuted on the Temple of Rock tour and went down well with the crowds. It is a much faster pace than the previous song and is more reminiscent of Schenker's work with the Scorpions. White's vocals in the chorus are, once again, very powerful and Rarebell's traditional double bass drumming gives it quite a NWOBHM feel in places. Lord of the Lost and Lonely is not quite as good as the previous two songs but still has it's moments. The tasteful guitar intro is catchy and memorable and the verses have a really good vocal melody that is backed up by some great organ work from Findlay. The chorus is a bit of a let down however and seems a little forced. The melody White sings works for the guitars but does not really suit his voice in my opinion. The next highlight is To Live for the King. There is a massive Rainbow vibe here with a very Ritche Blackmore-esque guitar line driving the verses and lots of vintage keyboard sounds to fill out the song. Those who are fans of Rainbow's final album, 1995's Stranger in Us All, which featured White on vocals will love this song. It is moody and powerful, and is probably my favourite on the album. The only thing that gives it away is the song's solo is definitely in Schenker's signature style as opposed to Blackmore's! Land of Thunder is another faster tune with a tasty main riff and tight drumming from Rarebell. In an album that is largely a mid-paced affair, it is nice to have the odd fast song to vary the pace a bit. It is always good to hear Schenker tackle a nice, fast riff which, after all, is what his career was built on!

Temple of the Holy has another great riff that seems to have some slightly Eastern influences in it's melody and phrasing. This is furthered by the swirling keyboards that back up the chugging verse and big chorus. It is songs like this that make me wish that the keyboards were slightly more prominent in the band's sound as they can really create a great atmosphere. The solo on this song might be one of Schenker's best on the album too. The Eastern melodies continue on into it and it just fits the mood of the song perfectly. The next highlight is Bridges We Have Burnt (which seems to be in direct contradiction with the album's title, intentional?) with it's chugging verse. Chugging verses seem to be a trend here, but White's vocals sound so good over them that I am not surprised Schenker included so many here. The chorus is also good and the short, occational breaks for clean guitar work help to make the song interesting. After the rather average Because You Lied, the album comes to a close with two really stellar tunes. The first of these, Black Moon Rising, is another that has a Rainbow feel about it. The verses definitely could have been sung by Dio as Buchholz's big bass and the organ create an eerie atmosphere before an epic chorus takes off. Schenker gives himself an extended solo section here too to show off his impressive skills. He is not considered a guitar hero for no reason after all! It all comes to an end with the upbeat Dance for the Piper that makes sure the album ends on a melodic note. The melodies in the chorus have an almost folky feel, you could almost jig to them! I really like the subtle change of pace that heralds the guitar solo and the song's last chorus seems to round out the album nicely. Overall, Bridge the Gap is an album that fans of Schenker's playing and songwriting will enjoy. It may not be a classic in the vein of UFO at their peak or those early MSG albums but it shows that Schenker is still a force to be reckoned with in the hard rock world. Anyone who enjoys good old traditional hard rock and metal should definitely give this a go as there is a lot to like here.

The album was released on 2nd December 2013 via In-Akustik. Below is the band's promotional trailer for the album Bridge the Gap.

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