Review Summary: A worrying sign regarding the band's creativity, Game of Sins tries to hide behind a curtain of accessible structures.
A new album by Axel Rudi Pell's homonymous band is really not a surprise, considering only full length releases the act have now spawned the seventeenth since its debut in 1989. An album by Axel Rudi Pell is not a surprise, in general. Especially since American singer Johnny Gioeli took the place of Jeff Scott Soto on the German guitarist's ship for 1998's Oceans of Time
, the formula have been the same one: mostly riff driven heavy metal accompanied by soaring vocals, without the disdain for some healthy self indulgence and elongated compositions. Give or take the inclination towards hard rock here and power metal there, the formula never broke. Pell never cared about breaking boundaries, and he surely hasn't started now.
A few things will strike the listener right off the bat. Production has deteriorated again; it's very loud and the brick walling can get very unpleasant to the ears. Besides, Pell is now in complete auto pilot mode. Fans have been living with that for a long while, but now it's more evident than ever. Everything is clear when the intro "Lenta Fortuna" is followed by "Fire", the classic Axel Rudi Pell opener. The clamant riff of "Fire" comes in with its annoyingly familiar beauty paving the way for an equally familiar chorus, and highlighting the abrupt shift from the intro's clear sound to the song's rowdy one. All of the loudness unfolds while the bass rumbles in the depths alongside the occasional keyboard layer, leaving the overall sound with a feeling of suffocation.
Songwriting-wise Game of Sins
is the band's most derivative album yet. Its forms don't only remind of previous works, there are cases where a song reminds of a previous one in the album too. The most apparent case being the couple "Game of Sins"-"Till the World Says Goodbye", featuring strikingly similar riffing and mood. This however doesn't completely ruin the two powerful tracks, but it's a shame to see the Blackmore alumnus missing the target with the lengthy affairs that he loves so much, especially considering that his soloing is much more restrained and characterless than before. Feelings coming full circle when listening to the closing "Forever Free" which, in its 8 and a half minutes, lacks real twists. Actually, the album is so straightforward that it's hard to believe it lasts for almost a hour! The most unique track is possibly the digipak bonus cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower".
After all the beating, credit has to be given where it's due. As safe as the album is, the pace is consistently kept. Even if musicians like Pell or drummer Bobby Rondinelli -who replaced Mike Terrana since the last album- sound wasted for the material, one can't help but fall for some hooks. The band described the album as devoid of filler and, in a sense, it's true. Every song delivers gritty instrumentation and endearing vocal melodies, without the exception of the two ballads which are the album's lows but still charming enough. Heavy metal aficionados should enjoy riff powerhouses like "Sons in the Night" (based on TV series Sons of Anarchy), infectious chorus driven songs like "Falling Star" or slower, burning rides like the title track in due time. Johnny Gioeli's impressive voice sounds at times too overproduced, but his integrity after 17 years of career with the band is at least commendable.
Game of Sins
is not the album that will reunite the divided fanbase of the band. The engaging epic tracks working as its banner are nowhere to be found in the 2016's release. An album that lacks dynamic in sound and writing, farther demonstrated by the little importance given to the keyboardist. It's an absolutely enjoyable metal album, but it hardly sounds as something coming from a band operating under the name of a guitarist. Axel Rudi Pell should make sure to craft something different (in the band's metric) next time, because Game of Sins
will better be remembered as 'that time ARP took a barebones approach' rather than 'that time we knew the band was stylistically done for'.