First of all, I don't like ballads. Secondly, I don't like albums that only contain cover versions. A fair portion of 'The Ballads IV' by Axel Rudi Pell is an album of cover songs, balladed up. And I really like it...
Now bearing in mind what this album is, let's throw a curveball in there with a selection of the tracklisting. 'Holy Diver' by Dio, 'Love Gun' by Kiss, Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah' and Genesis' 'In The Air Tonight', intermingled with some of Axel's original compositions.
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This is Axel's fourth collection of emotional classic rock ballads, as the album title indicates and nine of the thirteen tracks have appeared on previous albums.
So how does 'Holy Diver' work in this format? Surprisingly well actually. It's dramatically slowed down from the original and has a melancholy air about it but you can feeeeel the emotion as the vocal delivery by Johnny Gioeli more than does this classic track justice.
The acousticified 'Love Gun' also works surprisingly well. This version is played in a minor key and is, like 'Holy Diver', dramatically slowed down. Enjoyable.
'In The Air Tonight' fails for me as if you can't improve on the drum driven tempo change in the middle of the song, then you should leave this one well alone.
'Hallelujah' just doesn't belong in this collection on paper but when you listen to it, it's a shock that it blends in so well. Johnny gets the chance to showcase his full emotive, soulful range and he grabs it with both hands. A fabulous performance.
I hope that the originals on this album do not get overshadowed by the cleverly worked covers as there are definitely standout numbers here if you are into big, overblown, celebratory choruses, most noteable among them being 'Glory Night'. It's got one of those massive singalong choruses that are usually reserved for the last song of the night. Lighters in the air - loads of them! Glorious.
Album opener 'Where The Wild Waters Flow' is described by Axel as "one of the strongest ballads I have ever written with a hookline that will stick to everyone's ears." No need for me to add to that.
'Northern Lights' is another tear jerking big, big number and 'No Chance To Live' takes us into the final part of the album with some superb atmospherics and Def Leppard-esque harmony laden chorus. Axel plays some rousing melancholic six string on this number.
'Haunted Castle Serenade' is a fine instrumental that didn't remind me of haunted castles at all but still contained enough atmosphere to keep you enthralled until the end.
The best (and longest) is saved to last though. 'The Curse Of The Damned' clocks in at two seconds less than ten minutes and is easily the best piece of Metal on the album. The pained, tortured intro dramatically shifts into some very serious riffeage halfway through. Think an Iron Maiden epic sprinkled with Deep Purple's Jon Lord adding some keyboard and you're there. Superb stuff.
This is a fine, fine collection and well worthy of more than just a passing listen. Highly recommended.