The new Michael Schenker album 'A Decade Of The Mad Axeman', released in January 2018 on the Inakustik label, is a thirty one track 2 CD retrospective collection that documents his studio and live output between 2007 and 2016, covering his return to the roots of the Michael Schenker Group (MSG) through to Temple of Rock and the current Michael Schenker Fest. The last ten years has seen Schenker's creativity continue to escalate exponentially and his performance strengthen. This collection exemplifies and solidifies his reputation as a great band leader and guitarist of exceptional note, it also goes a long way to cementing his legendary status. CD 1 contains sixteen studio tracks and CD 2 contains fifteen live recordings.
Schenker started his career with the Scorpions in 1972 appearing with them on their debut album, ‘Lonesome Crow’ and then again on the ‘Lovedrive’ album in 1979. He went on to cement his reputation as an exceptional guitarist when he joined UFO in 1973, appearing on nine albums including all their classic 1970’s era releases, re-joined them on three further occasions, 1995, 2000 and 2002. After leaving UFO in 1979 Schenker went on to found the Michael Schenker Group (MSG) which existed in various incarnations for the next thirty years, including a spell as the McAuley Schenker Group in the late 1980’s. In 2007 Schenker reunited with original MSG vocalist Gary Barden and returned to his musical roots on the album ‘In The Midst Of Beauty’, from which four tracks are presented here on CD 1, including ‘I Want You’, ‘Night To Remember’, ‘Cross Of Crosses’ and ‘Ride On My Way’. The band consisted of singer Gary Barden, ex-Whitesnake bassist Neil Murray, Toto drummer Simon Phillips and ex-Rainbow/current Deep Purple keyboardist Don Airey. A good solid return to form with Deep Purple and Rainbow influences much in evidence.
In 2011 Schenker put together a new group called Temple Of Rock. A strong line-up of musician’s added refreshed creativity, renewed inspiration, dynamic power and high energy. He released three studio albums and two live albums under the Temple Of Rock banner. The band consisted of two former members of the Scorpions from the ‘Lovedrive’ era: Francis Buchholz on bass and Herman Rarebell on drums, Wayne Findlay on keyboards, as well as the phenomenal vocalist and charismatic front man, Doogie White. He was one of the five great vocalist to have graced Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. His tenure being from 1994-1997 and featured on their highly under rated 1995 album ‘Stranger In Us All’, and subsequent live album 'Black Masquerade – Rockpalast '95'.
The first Temple Of Rock album released in 2011, and simply titled 'Temple Of Rock', is represented by four tracks on CD 1, including ‘Miss Claustrophobia’, ‘Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead’, co-written with Doogie White - a thunderous heavy track and definitely a highlight of the album. ‘Storming In’ and ‘How Long’ complete the selection. A strong, hard driving and powerful album that sets the scene for what Temple Of Rock are all about. As well as the core band members, this album features a wide array of guest musicians including Pete Way, Robin McAuley, Rudolf Schenker, Leslie West, Paul Raymond, Don Airey, Chris Glen, Neil Murray, Simon Philips and Carmine Appice.
The second Temple Of Rock album ‘Bridge The Gap’ was released in 2012. Tracks from this album represented in this retrospective include ‘Lord Of The Lost And Lonely’, ‘To Live For The King’, ‘Land Of Thunder’ and ‘Black Moon Rising’. The production is crisper and is definitely a step up from the previous album. Schenker takes it up a gear on this release, with exceptionally muscular and expressive vocal delivery from Doogie White. Doogie’s growing confidence as the front man is very much in evidence here, also contributing most of the lyrics for the album. Robust and tight playing from the band, creative song writing and strong arrangements make this album an interesting listen and worthy release.
The 2014 album ‘Spirit On A Mission’ takes everything up another notch. A well-balanced and slightly more polished production with wider depth to the overall sound and more top and bottom end. Strong soaring vocals from Doogie, inventive riffs and sublime lead guitar lines from Schenker. The four tracks included on this CD include ‘Live And Let Live’, ‘Rock City’, ‘Saviour Machine’ and ‘Bulletproof’. A high quality release with some top-notch tracks.
The ultimate way to experience the work of Michael Schenker is in the live setting, for this is where he excels. The second disc of this retrospective contains essential live tracks from pivotal points over the last ten years of his career. The first four tracks presented here are taken from the 'Thirtieth Anniversary concert – Live From Tokyo' album recorded at the Nakano Sun Palace on January 2010, including the opening instrumental ‘Welcome Howl’, ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie’, a high-octane track originally featured on the second MSG album from 1981, simply titled 'MSG', ‘Rock My Nights Away’, originally from the 1983 album 'Built To Destroy', and lastly the phenomenal ‘Attack Of The Mad Axeman’, also from the second MSG album. All tracks feature the blistering vocals of the original MSG singer Gary Barden.
The next three tracks were recorded at the High Voltage Festival, Victoria Park London in 2011, and are taken from the 2012 ‘Live In Europe’ album. The first track is the Scorpions classic ‘Rock You Like A Hurricane’, an electrifying anthemic song and a great crowd pleaser. The second track is ‘Hanging On’, originally from the 2011 'Temple Of Rock' album, with lyrics by the featured vocalist, Michael Voss and finally the UFO classic ‘Doctor Doctor’, originally from the 1974 'Phenomenon' album, and featuring guest appearances by Pete Way and Rudolph Schenker, concludes the selections from the High Voltage Festival. A totally thrilling and intoxicating aural experience! A further two tracks have been lifted from ‘Live In Europe’, these tracks were recorded in Tilburg, Netherlands on May 2012 and feature the magnificent vocals of Doogie White. The first of these is the superb ‘Armed And Ready’, originally from the first MSG album entitled 'The Michael Schenker Group', released in 1980 and the second track is the UFO epic, ‘Rock Bottom’, originally from the 1974 album ‘Phenomenon’. Schenker gets to stretch out on this one and really show what he can do with a guitar, a potent reminder of his natural gift and is a real joy to the ears.
Following on from ‘Live In Europe’ comes the second Temple Of Rock live album ‘On A Mission – Live in Madrid’ recorded at the Joy Eslava theatre in Madrid 2015. This album truly showcases the chemistry and camaraderie between the musicians. It is clear to see that they are reveling in the performance, executing each song with determined focus. The set is well crafted and the musicians gel tight. You can definitely sense that something special is happening here. The first track ‘Horizons’, originally from the 2012 ‘Bridge The Gap’ album, is a hard hitting track that exhilarates the senses. The second track is another UFO classic, ‘Lights Out’, from the 1977 album of the same name - a fantastic song and great performance. Last, but not least, is the soaring ‘Vigilante Man’, originally from the 2014 ‘Spirit On A Mission’ album.
The final three songs are taken from the ‘Michael Schenker Fest’ live album recorded at the Tokyo International Forum Hall Japan on August 2016. This special reunion show includes former MSG singers Robin McAuley, Graham Bonnet and Gary Barden, plus former band members Chris Glen (bass), Steve Mann (guitar, keyboards) and Ted McKenna (drums). A rare treat for MSG fans and classic Rock appreciators everywhere! Represented on this collection are the blinding ‘Desert Song’, originally from the 1982 ‘Assault Attack’ album and featuring the songs original vocalist, the power house that is Graham Bonnet. Another top class vocalist to have graced Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, appearing on their 1979 hit album ‘Down To Earth’. A commanding and rousing performance from Bonnet, who still has the ability to hit all the high notes with verve. A force to be reckoned with! Next up is ‘Love Is Not A Game’, from the 1987 McAuley Schenker Group album ‘Perfect Timing’. The song’s original vocalist, Robin McAuley, reprises his role on this recording and gives a sterling performance. A sensational uplifting and catchy melodic rock song. The final track is another version of the UFO classic tour-de-force ‘Doctor Doctor’, featuring all three vocalist taking turns at belting out the lyrics.
The reunion proved to be such a huge success that all the band members agreed to get back together and take the show on the road, finally bringing it to the UK in November 2017. The stimulating camaraderie that was very much apparent during the reunion shows must have sparked a renewed creativity as they have all contributed to the recording of a brand new Michael Schenker Fest album! Entitled 'Resurrection', the album will be released on Friday 2nd March 2018 on the Nuclear Blast label!
Steven C. Gilbert