Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock - Bridge The Gap - The Best of the Old and the New

Bridge The Gap will do just what it says - it's the record that will find Michael Schenker returning to the major leagues in the very near future. It's filled with great riffs, compelling melodies, the best set of songs on a Schenker project in ages, and it finally sounds like Mr. Schenker is back in a band.

Michael Schenker is at the top of his game - riding higher in the saddle than he has in decades, rifling off riffs that make you ask, "How does he do that?," soloing with smoldering intensity and his trademark melodicism, and writing tunes you want to hear again and again. Whist the mad axeman's guitar playing is why we attend, this record finds him partnered with veteran shouter Doogie White - the singing Scotsman has written the best melodies and lyrics to be heard on a Schenker project in a great many years, and there is something magical that happens when Michael is matched up with his Scorpions brothers, Herman Rarebell and Francis Buccholz.

The last five years have seen Michael steadily climbing, and gaining confidence along the way - once hindered by the anxieties of stage fright, and all-to-many incidents of infamy, it would appear that the guitar master has settled into a place in which he finds peace, and full command of his considerable creativity. I don't know of a hard rock guitarist who doesn't hold the man in high esteem, and now they'll be back to chasing his lead.

Photo by Tallee Savage
The album kicks off with the brief instrumental, Neptune Rising, and Schenker catapults out of the gates with ricocheting shards of molten metal over the top of Wayne Findlay's heavier than heavy seven string rhythm - no wonder the Neptune is set to become the next guitar out of the Dean factory. This is a brief proclamation, and I hear a bit of Celtic melody which may, or may not be a nod off the hat to frontman Doogie White, who rides in on a sea of Schenker guitars to belt out Where The Wild Winds Blow - I suspected that after the success of Before The Devil Knows You're Dead off the last MS Temple of Rock album, that White may have found himself a job, and I'm glad he got the nod. When you hear the chorus, you'll know why, as well - it's the most compelling song to lead off a Schenker album in eons. This will be a barnburner onstage. I love that Schenker gives us eight bars of acoustic soloing before he breaks out the big guns, and when he does, it's like going back home again.

Where The Wild Winds Blow - Soundcloud

Herman Rarebell is in rare form on this album, and his exceptional drumming features large on every cut - he leads the charge into Horizons, a tune the band had been playing on their last tour - it might be the weakest track on the album, but it's still a winner - that's how good this album really is. The double timed bass drums and Buccholz's pumping bassline set the tone, and Schenker is flying on this solo - it's straight balls out, and White's upper range is the most impressive it's ever been.

Lord Of The Lost And Lonely is another Schenker riff that has that type of timing he always breaks out that has listeners wondering how he always finds the one, and back again - White and Schenker agree magnificently on the sing-song chorus, and Michael's riffing through the verses bring back a thousand great guitar memories of his storied past. His solos sound more composed on this album than they have in ages, but I'm guessing that he's just found his personal zone - he knows where he wants to go, and he goes there. Dare I say that this band could go out and play this album stem to stern and not piss off a single fan? Yeah, it's that strong.

One thing I love about this record is that the band sounds German. Schenker going toe to toe with Rarebell and Buccholz has a power and lockstep precision that rings of fine German engineering. Rock 'n Roll Symphony is another raging rocker that steamrolls across the tundra with a swagger that Doogie White rides like a Panzer across the desert. White brought his A-game to these sessions - you can hear that he took this gig very seriously, and put his heart and soul into every moment. Another memorable riff by the master.

To Live For The King is the tune that closest echoes White's performance on the last album, but this is a definite step ahead, and it sounds to me like the ex-Rainbow singer may have listened to some early eighties classics before he sat down to put pen to paper - this sounds like what might have come of a meeting between Schenker and Ronnie Dio. However, White is his own guy here, and I throw that out just as a reference to you readers - a little road map to get you to the store and plonking down your hard earned for this well deserving piece of art. Schenker's solo is as sizzling as any he has ever laid down, and this track is guitar nirvana.

Schenker and his anthropod brothers sound like they haven't missed a day since they recorded Lovedrive, and never more so than on The Land Of Thunder - Rarebell has never gotten his due as a drummer, and by God, now he must. He drives this tune, and you go, "Yeah, The Scorpions sound had all to do with his syncopated genius." I'll be damned if I'm not sitting here wondering if White hasn't written the best hard rock set of melodies in ages. I can't think of a single disc that has hit with more regularity in way too long. Brilliant.

Temple Of The Holy is another staggering riff that is tremendously heavy, but it's not weighed down due to the melody and Rarebell's accents. Wayne Findlay throws in some lovely Middle Eastern infused synth pads, and Schenker sounds absolutely inspired. Buccholz tosses down a massively distorted bass pad which Michael skates across with passion, melody, and six string fury. If I have a complaint, it may be in the tones on Schenker's rhythm pickup when he solos in certain spots - why doesn't this guy have a signature model amplifier yet? His playing is near perfect, but I admit to some niggling niggling over certain guitar tones. A small gripe, but this solo could have sounded even yet better, methinks. Still, it's a marvelous solo, and you can certainly not be blamed for giving me grief for nitpicking a small point.

The rage continues with Shine On - another great Desert Song kind of offset rhythm that is set straight by White's tremendous vocal melody. Buccholz's bass is huge again, and it sets nicely in the mix next to Schenker's layers of guitars. Michael is finally breaking free of some molds he's been in for the last few years, and he's back to creating single note patterns and leads that we simply haven't heard before - he's once again the creator, and not just going over places he may have been in the past - the whole beauty of this record is that it sounds like exactly where we had hoped he would be later in his career - taking chances and doing what he does best, and that is composing great rock 'n' roll.

Bridges We Have Burned starts off with some patented Schenker balladisms, but then a sizzlingly flanged cymbal pattern thrusts the tune into another mid-tempo stomper, and once again, hats off to Herman. The is classic melodic metal, and I can't imagine any heavy rock fan not adoring this number. It kind of reminds me of the McAuley/Schenker Group's chestnut, Shadows Of The Night.

Michael Schenker has been climbing steadily for the last few years, and I've been waiting for him to return to his legendary riff writing, and he finally has with Bridge The Gap - Because You Lied is another one, and his soloing over the odd changes is inspired. White's vocal is wildly echoed across the track, and when he and the boss go jousting on the outro, it's Zeppelin-esque in the best sense.

This is a very heavy album, make no bones about it - it's very contemporary in its sheer breadth, but it's always so compellingly melodic that the heavy never sounds weighty. It's like a 300 pound prizefighter without an ounce of fat - there's no flab, it's as taut and tight as anything. Black Moon Rising is another anthemic chorus that should see fists pumping across the globe in 2014. Schenker sounds like he's having a blast soloing over a slightly industrial backing before the band returns into a huge bit of chorusing to put the tune to bed.

Dance For The Piper sums up the case nicely - heavy, hummable guitars, an irresistible beat, and again White seems to have reached much deeper than he has on any project in his past - he's never been bad, it's just that on this album he has achieved a certain greatness - not many have an album this good in them on their best day, and as he should. Doogie is getting better all the time, and that's maybe the message of this entire record. Everyone here is playing at their apex, and they're reaching deeper and mining pure gold. A happy day for rock 'n' roll.

Thanks to Michael Schenker, Peter Noble, and Felicitas Siegel at In-Akustik Records. 

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