Review: Axel Rudi Pell – Lost XXIII
Steamhammer / SPV (April 15th, 2022)
Reviewer: Jason Hopper
After a solo career spanning over 30 years, Axel Rudi Pell returns with his latest opus ‘Lost XXIII‘ (for those wondering, “W” is the 23rd letter in the alphabet. It’s a fancy way of calling the album ‘Lost World’). It can be easy to criticize an ARP album as he has a winning formula that works for him and he sticks closely to it, even keeping consistency with the ordering of songs on his albums. With most albums, you get the opening prelude, then a fast and heavy opening track, followed by a harder rockin’, groove-oriented song. You get about three epic songs that are over 7 minutes long. Some will be ballads and one of them will close the album. Like I stated, formulaic.
I’ve been following his career since 1997 and there have been subtle changes to his albums that a casual listener may not pick up on. Those changes tended to revolve around singers and drummers. In the early part of his career, the singers he hired had a hand in the writing of songs. With the hiring of vocalist extraordinaire Johnny Gioeli in 1998, most of the songs going forward would be written and constructed solely by ARP. Shortly after Johnny came on board, drummer Mike Terrana was hired. He added a considerable amount of speed and double bass to the overall sound. The band and style remained unchanged until 2014, when drummer Bobby Rondinelli came on board. ARP returned to more of a hard rock, traditional metal sound that continues to the new album.
With that short history out of the way, let’s discuss ‘Lost XXIII‘. Opening track ‘Survive’ kicks off the album in typical strong fashion. Comparing this to other opening tracks, I found this song to be a little disappointing due to the chorus. I fully expected Johnny to rise up an octave to sing the chorus, but he actually drops down instead. Certainly different from other opening tracks on ARP albums but it reduces the impact. Second track ‘No Compromise’ is my favorite track. A song about standing your ground, it’s a great heavy groove from ARP with tremendous sounding drums from Mr. Rondinelli. This is one of ARP’s best songs amongst a legacy of great songs. The more I listened to it, the more I loved it. That ride cymbal in the chorus takes a beating!
Melody and intricacies have been added to the last few ARP albums and is a welcome return. In the past, ARP relied on two much simplistic power chord strumming, letting the rest of the band do the heavy work and pouring all of his energy into the solos. Here he constructs songs with some great grooves. ‘Down On the Streets’, ‘Freight Train’, and instrumental ‘The Rise of Ankhoor’ are three completely different sounding songs but all have great melodies that remind me of earlier works by ARP. I do wish ‘The Rise of Ankhoor’ had lyrics though. It’s always disappointing when you get invested in a song with a great riff only to find out there’s no lyrics. I hate when that happens.
For those who like early to mid-2000s ARP, there’s ‘Follow the Beast’ which is the most generic ARP sounding song on the album. This track returns to some of that power chord stumming I mentioned earlier. I did enjoy this song but for the wrong reason. It made me laugh as Johnny’s enunciations on this track make it sound like he’s screaming, “Follow the bitch”!
Finally, there’s the epics. Of the two ballads, I give ‘Gone with the Wind’ a slight edge over ‘Fly With Me’. It simply has a more powerful performance from Mr. Gioeli and I dig his timbre in the chorus. The album closes with the title track. As with many of ARP’s slower but heavier tracks, less would have been more. It’s a great song but overstays it’s welcome by about three minutes.
I’m aware of critics who cynically review ARP albums and harp on him releasing the same sounding album over the course of 20 years. As a longtime fan, I hear just enough difference in each album to keep me engaged and make me want to pump my fist in the air. I know exactly what I’m getting when I buy an ARP album and I am okay with that. AC/DC (who sound nothing like ARP) have also been accused of refusing to break a mold. There is comfort in expectations and ARP is like a warm blanket. You know what you’re getting and sometimes a warm blanket is just what you need.