Trying something new or playing it safe?
The guitar god from the coal scuttle did it again and released is 15th record, including the cover album ‘Diamonds Unlocked’. Concerning the last two records, ‘Tales of the Crown’ and ‘The Crest’, one could accuse Pell of a certain lack of ideas which is the first worry coming up right now – or did everything change this time?
The Guillotine Suite
A typical Pell-intro beginning with keys and choral singing before Axel joins in with his guitar. Compared to intros from previous records, this one contains drums towards the end which remind one of the famous Bolero-rhythm.
Ghost in the Black
The album’s Wake-Up-Song. Beyond all doubt, the riff could be found on a Led Zeppelin record as well. A real surprise coming in like “Ha, you didn’t expect that, did you?”. During the verses and the choruses Johnny convinces the listener with his “god given voice” as the booklet already says. The solo part is a musical duelling between Ferdy on the keys and Axel on the guitar just like Jon Lord and Richie Blackmore did.
Run with the Wind
Talking about the musical execution it’s a song typical for Pell, with a riff that can only come from the master himself. Here, at the latest, one can hear a crucial improvement compared with the last records: the drums can be heard loud and clear and the energy with which Mike Terrana plays is conveyed wonderfully. The solo part belongs to Axel with a fresh and not too stretched out solo.
Before I Die
Clearly one of the best Pell-tracks in awhile, if not the best. No matter how much it bears the hallmarks of Axel Rudi Pell, this track develops its own charm. This is due to two things:
1. Johnny’s way of singing is atypical for a Pell-song which shows during the verses and the chorus.
2. The passion with which Johnny is singing helps the refrain to create its own attraction.
This way the song stays in one’s ears long after hearing.
Circle of the Oath
With its acoustic beginning the title track shows a strong resemblance to the new Bon-Jovi-ballads becoming a rock song with oriental influences later on. Because of theses influences the song reminds one of Casbah from the album ‘Between the Walls’. With 9.20 minutes Circle of the Oath is the second longest track of the record.
Fortunes of War
The riff of this song is quite similar to the one ofGhost in the Black, changed a bit and played significantly slower. It’s the same with the keys which could be heard before in the aforementioned song as well as in Before I Die. Otherwise, the song presents nothing new and is one of Axel Rudi Pell’s well-know mid-tempo songs.
Bridges to Nowhere
A quiet intro becomes a heavy rock song. Devil Zone? No, Bridges to nowhere. After some 30 seconds the song gets heavy. Maybe this is the weakest song of the record because one gets the feel that, due to the moderate tempo, the singing is unnecessarily drawn out which causes it losing its effect. Therefore, it would have been better to make it a fast and powerful song an not stretch it out to over seven minutes of running time.
Lived our Lives Before
A ballad à la Axel Rudi Pell that begins smoothly and gains power in the chorus. Unfortunately, one begins to associate this song with previous Pell-ballads so getting the feeling of “having heard this one before” is unavoidable. This impression is strengthen in the refrain where it says “We don’t know” which strongly resembles the way of singing “They don’t know” in the chorus of Legions of Hell.
Hold on to your Dreams
A solid track by Axel Rudi Pell which could have been released on any of the newer records. Unfortunately, no one’s playing with fire here, as it says in the chorus, and the track becomes predictable. After the solo and Johnny singing the bridge the riff can be heard alone and one knows, after listening to some newer records, that Mike Terrana is going to kick his bass drum and, with a snare fill, leads over to the chorus again.
World of Confusion (The Masquerade Ball Pt. II)
Again a sequel to an existing song and with 9.30 minutes of running time the longest song on the record. On the previous album ‘The Crest’ Dark Waves of the Sea was the second part of Oceans of Time and now here comes part two of The Masquerade Ball. What’s immediately striking are the intertextual references for which Pell’s lyrics are known. In this case Pell alludes to “the wizards chosen few”, his first best of-record that included The Masquerade Ball. The line “we played some Voodoo” probably being an allusion to Voodoo Nights from the ‘Masquerade Ball’ record is not a far-fetched thought. Comparing both songs, one can notice the similarities: Both songs start smoothly before Axel’s first solo part which, in both cases, starts a few seconds after the beginning and not long after that the songs get heavier. The Masquerade Ball as well as World of Confusion include many solo parts by Pell like they occured on ‘Mystica’.
Searching for real innovation on ‘Circle of the Oath’ is in vain. Although, the album begins promising and fresh with the track Ghost in the Black it becomes a typical Pell-record as time goes by. Alterations may be found in the details, e.g. the improved audibility of the drums. Imposing on the listener is the thought “haven’t I heard this on a previous Axel record?”. Lyrically Axel, more or less, left the “wizards” and “rainbows” and his texts have become sociocritical, treating the topics of life. As measured by Pell standards ‘Circle of the Oath’ is clearly a solid record. However, if one hopes for something new from the master one still has to be patient.