Michael Schenker Group / New boxset is an embarrassment of riches

There was never going to be a band big enough to truly hold and control the talent of Michael Schenker, the German axe hero, a master of his craft and chooser of his own destiny. Not since Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck had any guitarist arguably created such a seismic impact on the music world. Stints with both Scorpions and UFO turned both from well-respected and successful acts into global titans.

Following a deterioration of relationships between the latter’s Phil Mogg and Schenker, the six-stringer left UFO to forge his own solo career, the creation of the Michael Schenker Group opening up a whole new world.

The Michael Schenker Group – Is It Loud Enough? (Chrysalis Records)

Michael Schenker: 1980 – 1983

Release Date: 29 March 2024

Words: Paul Monkhouse

Celebrating this nascent period for the outfit, Is It Loud Enough? brings together the first four seminal albums by MSG and adds two extra discs of demos, alternative versions and unreleased tracks into one vital box set.

Newly remastered, the groundbreaking releases sound better than ever, and the wealth of material on display here is an embarrassment of riches that dips into stone-cold classics and some deeper cuts that shine just as brightly.

The Michael Schenker Group – Is It Loud Enough? (Chrysalis Records)
The Michael Schenker Group – Is It Loud Enough? (Chrysalis Records)

Surrounding himself with a stellar collection of musicians, Schenker is free to let fly and the material written here still forms a vital part of his set list now, some four and a half decades later.

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Produced by Roger Glover, the band’s eponymous debut bristles with irresistible tunes and some gold standard playing by the guitarist, his own seal very much stamped on barnstormers like Armed And Ready, Cry For The Nations and Into The Arena.

With singer Gary Barden at his side, the pair were joined by Mo Foster on bass, Simon Phillips on drums and Don Airey on keys, all three legends in their own right, and whilst this line-up was studio-based only, the immediate impact was seismic. Still one of the best debuts in hard rock history, the album has stood the test of time and is as jaw-dropping as it ever was.

When the follow-up, MSG, arrived a year later, the three session men were replaced by permanent touring members Chris Glenn from SAHB, Cozy Powell and Schenker’s former UFO bandmate Paul Raymond. There’s a real sense here that this was a band, not just what could have been perceived as a project. Attack Of The Mad Axeman, On And On, and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie poured out of the speakers, the sense of barely controlled power and perfectly constructed melodies proving that, far from being a lucky strike with the first album, this was a band who were destined to get bigger and bigger.

Deserving to be cranked up loud, there’s an adrenaline rush that speaks to the primal and will doubtless see many dusting off the air guitar they have kept in the corner for all these years.

Nothing if not fertile, album number three was released in 1982, and Assault Attack sees another change of personnel with the appearance of Ted McKenna on drums, Tommy Eyre on keys, and former Rainbow frontman Graham Bonnett taking over from Barden.

While management wanted to install David Coverdale as the new vocalist, there was only one person Schenker had in mind, and although the blend of Cov and the guitarist would have been an interesting one, Bonnett fits in perfectly.

Given he was riding a crest of a wave with Whitesnake, whether DC could have been in an amicable working relationship as part of MSG and not in a war of egos is moot, but certainly, Schenker’s determination is admirable.

Featuring some of his best playing to date and the powerful yet soulful pipes of Bonnett, Assault Attack is packed with great material and Dancer, Samurai and Desert Song exude a quality that few, if any, bands around at the time could match.

Another year, another change in bandmates as Built To Destroy saw the return of Barden and Andy Nye joining on the keyboards. The band took up production duties for the first time, along with Louis Austin. This album was the last before the outfit split, and Schenker formed the McAuley Schenker Group with Robin McAuley.

If there was any internal turmoil, it certainly didn’t show, and the album is yet again filled with very strong material, played brilliantly. The CD here features both the original mix and the reordered US version. The differences are slight but fascinating, and it’s down to debate as to which one works best. Certainly, Rock My Nights Away, Captain Nemo and The Dogs Of War all sparkle with the usual magic, ending this particular iteration of the band on a high.

The two bonus discs stand well on their own, acting as both insights into the writing and recording process and different light through some well-known windows.

With almost seventy tracks and a fascinating booklet scribed by Classic Rock/Prog Magazine’s Jerry Ewing, this is a treasure trove that will continue to reward the listener as they head down the rabbit hole into the world of one of the finest artists ever to pick up a six-string.

By anyone’s standards, this is a superb box set. All killer, no filler.

Michael Schenker: 1980 – 1983 – can be pre-ordered from michaelschenker.lnk.to/ITLE/PR

Sleeve Notes

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