Simply brilliant

Michael Schenker is not just a widely celebrated and highly influential guitarist, he is also a musician’s musician. Take a random list of successful guitarists over the last few decades and his name is virtually guaranteed to pop up on list of the greatest or most influential. Michael Schenker Group started in 1979, after Schenker moved on from Scorpions and UFO fame, arguably at the height of the latter band’s success.

Since then, he has flirted with his previous bands, and others, but ultimately established himself as a solo artist, despite various monikers. The last two albums prior to this release were put out under the Michael Schenker Fest title but for this latest release, Immortal, the return to the MSG name confirms a celebration of both forty years as a solo artist and fifty years since the start of his career.

The pandemic scuttled many recording artists’ plans and that included Schenker. The album had initially been planned to feature Ronnie Romero on all vocal duties, working with a core band, but as the virus forced many countries into lockdown, other options were explored which actually made for a better album.

Enter first readily available and highly competent Ralf Scheepers, from Primal Fear. As expected, he added vocal power and range to the barrelling rocker of an opening track, Drilled to Kill and the entertaining blues rock of Devil’s Daughter. The first track also features a world first for Schenker with an excellent, 70 era, keyboard and guitar trade-off between Derek Sherinian and Schenker, which ends in a harmonised line, plus some hammering drumming from Brian Tichy throughout.

By comparison, Devil’s Daughter is straight ahead blues shuffle in a hard rock guise but Schenker adds in some almost country based blues guitar stylings. It works nicely with the main band rhythm section of Bodo Schopf and Barry Sparks, who both contribute great performances.

The variety continues with veteran vocalist Joe Lynn Turner and powerhouse drummer Simon Phillips teaming up with Schenker on second track, Don´t Die on Me Now. It’s a slow burner with Schenker’s melodic guitar solo exuding tone and musicality. Album producer and contributing singer, Michael Voss, also adds some decent backing vocals.

Third track Knight of the Dead sees Ronnie Romero, of reformed Rainbow fame, adding his Dio-like vocal power and offers up a great track as Schenker’s energy unleashes in an extended guitar solo with fluid dexterity, expressive bends, that signature, half-cocked wah pedal tone and some tasteful harmony lines.

The following track is a poetic balled titled After the Rain and allows Voss to sing lead vocals, as Schenker weaves a gentle, arpeggiated guitar rhythms followed by some melodic harmonising of the vocal line in the outro. His guitar tone sings alongside the vocals beautifully.

Into the second half of the album, Romero and Schenker both work together in unison to make the driving, mid pace rock of Sail the Darkness bring up those iconic late 70s sounds but with a fresh feel as keyboardist Steve Mann adds some sonic textures. It’s one of the better guitar solos on the album too with a slow, climbing feel, some bass notes and higher register notes to complete the track.

The Queen of Thorns and Roses has a quicker pace with various guitar embellishments as Voss sings some melodic vocal lines. Again, Schenker’s tone is superb and some neo-classical aspects mixed with blues offer that unique, sometimes muted but always clear guitar style.

Schenker’s unmistakable touch, feel and approach to guitar playing really makes Come On Over shine, again with Romero on lead vocals. The solo is an album highlight with all the hallmarks of his playing plus a dash of flanger effects for added spice. The level of musical creativity is again great with pre-bent notes, scalar runs and that slightly aggressive attack.

For Sangria Morte, Joe Lynn Turner returns, delivering Western folklore inspired lyrics that suit the galloping drumming from Tichy and the accented, groove of Schenker’s rhythm playing. His guitar soloing tone is again, impeccable and notes ring out with utmost conviction, following a similar style in the outro guitar parts.

The absolute album highlight is the last track, a re-recording of a classic early song. Schenker states that the first real song he wrote is the remarkable In Search of the Peace of Mind, composed at the age of 15 years of age. It was originally recorded for the Scorpions debut Lonesome Crow released in 1972. By that time, Schenker was now part of the UFO line-up but the song is of both sentimental value and a perfect representation of his burgeoning guitar skills, already intact from a young age. Here, it is re-recorded but the instrumentation, arrangements and overall rendition is largely faithful to the original track.

Lead vocalists from Schenker’s glory days share duties, sort of reprising the approach to Michael Schenker Fest with Robin McAuley, Gary Barden, Romero and Doogie White contributing appropriately. Schenker’s guitar soloing howls during this superb six and a half minute track and is a perfect way to close out an album that showcases his incredible musical legacy.

The pandemic couldn’t stop this album from happening and ironically enough, it probably made it even more interesting, based on the varying availability of those involved. It is something special and returning to the MSG name respects the impact of Schenker’s music over the years. No one else can play like Michael Schenker. He is unique and a master at his craft. Heaps of fun and simply brilliant.

1. Drilled to Kill
2. Don´t Die on Me Now
3. Knight of the Dead
4. After the Rain
5. Devil’s Daughter
6. Sail the Darkness
7. The Queen of Thorns and Roses
8. Come On Over
9. Sangria Morte
10. In Search of the Peace of Mind