There’s no stopping Metal Mickey. The Mad Axeman, Michael Schenker, who came to prominence as a teenager with Scorpions and then UFO in the 1970s, continues to craft albums which are pleasing on the ear.
Michael Schenker Group – Universal (Atomic Fire)
Release Date: 27 May 2022
Words: Paul Hutchings
Schenker continues to create his music through numerous vehicles that bear his name, from Michael Schenker Fest and his Temple Of Rock, and more recently back with MSG. These initials rose again with last year’s excellent Immortal.
Universal sees 13 tracks and over 50 minutes of highly crafted melodic rock, featuring Schenker’s fluid and unique guitar playing, alongside a host of special guests who add their talents to the album. Ronnie Romero, who played such a stellar part of Immortal, returns, taking the post of the main vocalist once more.
After the opening salvo of Emergency and Under Attack, it’s the track Calling Baal/A King Has Gone that really catches the attention, firstly with Tony Carey’s Moog intro and then the Rainbow stomp that runs through the song. Michael Kiske from Helloween adds the quality with a lovely, smooth vocal performance on a song that stands as a tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio. Schenker’s guitar work is superb, channelling a little bit of his inner Blackmore whilst adding his own stamp on it as usual.
The Universe sees former MSG vocalist Gary Barden return for a duet with Romero, the latter demonstrating a far superior quality to the man whose time was back in those halcyon days of the mid-’80s and Live At Budokan. Still, it’s a decent track, a bit of a lumbering beast rescued by some assured guitar work from the Germanic maestro. It’s Schenker’s guitar work that always makes his albums so enjoyable to listen to and see live.
Elsewhere, there are plenty of other guests who have joined the German on this album. The drumming is solid throughout, unsurprising when you see that Simon Phillips, Bobby Rondinelli and Bodo Schopf are all on board.
As well as Romero and Kiske, Primal Fear’s Ralf Scheepers makes an appearance, whilst the legends that are Bob Daisley, Barend Courbis and Barry Sparks ensure the low end is cared for correctly. They do it with style and ease.
Song wise, there is plenty to enjoy. Long Long Road is a feel-good singalong with a typical Schenker hook, whilst the history of rock and Metal is covered in London Calling, a typical anthemic track that trots along nicely, albeit with some rather cringy lyrics.
Wrecking Ball sits towards the heavier side of MSG with a driving pace, and despite the repetitive chorus, it’s another that lingers for ages, as does the racing pace of Au Revoir.
Schenker has co-produced the album with Michael Voss, who was also involved with Immortal and Schenker’s previous releases, Resurrection and Revelation with the Michael Schenker Fest. As on those albums, Voss’s Kidroom Studio has once again worked its magic, with the partnership producing some memorable songs.
He may be well into veteran status, but Michael Schenker continues to deliver. For those who appreciate well-crafted songs with great musicianship and some sweet guitar work, then Universal is an album to enjoy.
“Basically, I am like a kid in a sandbox,” Schenker told MetalTalk in an interview last year (Part One , Part Two) “just play and discover, having fun. I do not compete, I do not compare, I do not look for money, I do not look for success or fame. Everything that happened to me in my whole 50-year career just happened simply because I wanted to be Michael Schenker. I get my musical inspiration from the infinite spring of creativity, the inner world.”