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Album Review : Michael Schenker Group – ‘Universal’*

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Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM

Always one of the biggest names in rock, Michael Schenker has always led the pack when it comes to guitar playing, his work over the years inspiring legions of others.

From the Scorpions, UFO and onto his solo output, the quicksilver fretwork and inventive style has left everyone scrabbling to catch up.

Quite what he’d have done if he’d accepted the invite to join The Rolling Stones is anyone’s guess, but all that is fantasy now and with a new album out from MSG, it’s better to celebrate what is, rather than what may have been.

‘Universal’ continues the maestro’s purple patch and this iteration of the Michael Schenker Group is firing on all cylinders, the vocals of Ronnie Romero, Steve Mann’s keys and guitar, the bass of Barend Courbois and Bodo Schopf’s drums coming together in one mighty punch.

Front and centre is rightly the man himself but there’s still plenty of room for the rest of the band, this a cohesive unit rather than backing players for Schenker.

Kicking off with a blast, ‘Emergency’ has the sweeping sound of UFO at their best, the playing beautifully nuanced and fluid, the classically influenced solo as outrageously good as expected.

The meaty and melodic ‘Under Attack’ brings the hammer down harder and its their ability to balance power with subtlety, the structure at the core of the music, that has always put MSG streets ahead of a lot of their peers.

Universal’ is scattered with such pearls and the band know when to fly and when to back
down a little. Age hasn’t mellowed Schenker and the recruitment of Romero has brought him a singer with the experience, lungpower and relative youth to really make these beasts roar.

‘The Universe’ brings together new and old foils with Romero duetting with long time MSG vocalist Gary Barden, the whole achingly epic and again, the solo nothing short of heroic. Elsewhere, there can be no doubt that the high speed, frantic boogie of the magnificent ‘Long Long Road’ is an adrenaline rush but even that takes second place to the sheer ferocity of the relentless ‘Wrecking Ball’, the title saying all you need to know.

Heads down rocker ‘Yesterday is Dead’ features some great interplay between Schenker and Mann and you can’t help but smile at the loving tribute to the 80’s rock and metal scene that took the capital by storm on ‘London Calling’, namechecking the Marquee, Maiden and Priest.

‘Sad is the Song’ swirls and sweeps mixes old school attitude with a modern sheen, the combination intoxicating and the vocals outstanding, leading as it does to closer ‘Au Revoir’, its swooping and soaring riffs and high-speed drums and bass providing the light and shade that captivates.

Whilst these are all undoubtedly great, it’s going to be ‘Calling Baal’ and ‘A King Has Gone’ that will potentially draw the most interest. Featuring Tony Carey on the former, it’s a short Sci-Fi themed instrumental, the former Rainbow keys player obviously having great fun.

Two other members of Ritchie Blackmore’s outfit make their rhythm section presence known in fine style during the latter as Bobby Rondinelli and Bob Daisley power things along in this Ronnie James Dio tribute, the vocals handled by Helloween’s Michael Kiske, the whole something that would have made the late, great man himself raise the horns and smile.

With two bonus tracks in the form of ‘Turn Off the World’ and ‘Fighter’ thrown in as an extra draw, this new release is both a cause for celebration and a solid reminder of why so many hold the German legend in such high regard.

Always imitated, never bettered, Michael Schenker is the real deal and ‘Universal’ is another slab of solid rock in that sky high monument to genuine talent and commitment to his craft. The return of the King.

Universal’ will be released on May 27th, 2022, via Atomic Fire Records and is available as Digipak CD (incl. 2 bonus tracks), colored vinyl, Earbook (CD incl. 2 bonus tracks) and digital album, featuring the following tracks.

CD + LP + Digital

  1. Emergency VIDEO | LISTEN
  2. Under Attack
  3. Calling Baal
  4. A King Has Gone
  5. The Universe
  6. Long Long Road
  7. Wrecking Ball
  8. Yesterday Is Dead
  9. London Calling
  10. Sad Is The Song
  11. Au Revoir

CD + Earbook bonus tracks:

  1. Turn Off The World
  2. Fighter

The pre-order has started and is available here: https://msg.afr.link/UniversalPR

Taken off the album “Universal” (May 27th, 2022) 🎧 Stream, get it here: https://msg.afr.link/universalYT

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Twitter: https://twitter.com/MWSchenker

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