Album of the Week 19-2015: Michael Schenker Group – The Michael Schenker Group

Say what you want about his alcohol problems, crippling stage fright or tendency to walk out on bands unexpectedly, but Michael Schenker is an extraordinary talent when it comes to playing the guitar. And while he is most certainly a virtuoso on his instrument, he never forgets that playing well serves a good song first and foremost, despite occasional flashes of indulgence on his instrumental tracks. The untitled debut of his own band is quite likely the most consistent set of songs the German six string legend has released to date. It’s a bona fide classic that balances on the edge of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal.

It’s not entirely Schenker’s fault that the album is so good though. Singer Gary Barden, virtually unknown prior to joining the Michael Schenker Group, leaves an indispensible mark on the album. While he’s not necessarily a terribly gifted singer, he sounds convincing and has no doubt had his share of influence on the songwriting. That’s where this album shines anyway: the songs aren’t just collections of riffs and solos, but there’s always a recognizable chorus and a logical structure and tension build-up, even in the instrumental ‘Into The Arena’. Especially that one actually.

The basic style on ‘The Michael Schenker Group’ isn’t miles away from what Schenker did during his tenure with UFO, although there does seem to be a slight nod to the anthemic quality of Judas Priest era Heavy Metal. ‘Cry For The Nations’, for instance, turns into an exciting blend of powerful riffing, fiery lead guitar work and a chorus that blows the roof off. Once you get past the weird intro, but it’s definitely worth waiting for. Opening track ‘Armed And Ready’ is another fine stomper that serves as the perfect opener for the album, both musically and lyrically. ‘Victim Of Illusion’ and ‘Looking Out From Nowhere’ – the latter Barden’s best performance here – are stylistically similar.

As for the rest, the album shows a few experiments in style. ‘Bijou Pleasurette’ combines an acoustic basis with neoclassically inspired lead work that doesn’t forsake Schenker’s typically Bluesy soul, whereas ‘Tales Of Mystery’ is a surprisingly good ballad. Closing track ‘Lost Horizons’ is easily the best of the experiments, with its slow, heavy riffing, mystical atmosphere and amazing extended solo near the end. Roger Glover’s treble heavy production doesn’t suit the song too well, as gives more space to Simon Phillips’ drums than it neets, but it’s still a fantastic song.

Michael Schenker would continue to release fine Hard Rock and Heavy Metal records for years to come, although aforementioned problems would sometimes cause long breaks between them. But even artists who consistently release good material have their moments when everything just seems to be just right. ‘The Michael Schenker Group’ is this moment for both Schenker and Barden. More than half of the material still is on heavy rotation on Schenker’s set lists and it’s not hard to understand why when you listen to the record. It’s a brilliant example of how good heavy music was back in the early eighties.

Recommended tracks: ‘Cry For The Nations’, ‘Lost Horizons’, ‘Into The Arena’

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