CD Review: Michael Shenker "Temple of Rock"

CD Review: Michael Shenker "Temple of Rock"
All Access Review: A-

A shrine built of molten, rampaging riffs and burning solos – all infused with subtle melodic touches and flourishes – Temple of Rock is an all-out shred-a-thon from one of metal’s most enduring and admired guitar slingers. Pulling out all the stops, Michael Schenker unleashes a fast and furious sonic bombardment that sweetly and majestically explodes on impact in tracks like the “How Long,” “Storming In,” “The End of an Era” and “Fallen Angel,” and if this Temple of Rock is, indeed, a place of worship, perhaps it could also serve as a sanctuary for a man beset by turmoil in both his personal and public life.

A cult hero to serious fans of metal, Schenker is also a cautionary tale, an extraordinary talent whose alcoholism and health issues, not to mention his onstage blowups with UFO and revolving-door personnel changes in the Michael Schenker Group, almost completely derailed his career. There almost at the beginning with The Scorpions, founded by his older brother Rudolf in 1965, Schenker lent his burgeoning axe work to the band’s 1972 debut Lonesome Crow. While on tour with The Scorpions in support of Lonesome Crow, headliners UFO witnessed Schenker’s six-string sorcery. Under his spell, the British hard-rock survivors beamed him aboard as a replacement for Bernie Marsden, himself a temporary fill-in for departed original member Mike Bolton.

Schenker’s tenure with UFO was tumultuous, to say the least, spanning the years between 1974’s Phenomenon and 1979’s classic steamroller of a live LP Strangers in the Night. All the while, critics, blown away by Schenker’s blazing fretwork, lined up around the block to hail this guitar phenomenon, with the rest of UFO becoming engulfed by the large shadow he cast. Tensions ran high, and there were nights when it all came to a head. On a few occasions, Schenker was reported to have walked off the stage in the middle of a show. By 1978, he’d had enough, and for a brief period, Schenker rejoined The Scorpions, injecting Lovedrive’s “Another Piece of Meat,” “Coast to Coast” and the title track with a potent shot of lead guitar Viagra.

In the years since, Schenker has fronted his own project, the Michael Schenker Group, which for a time became the McAuley-Schenker Group. But, when UFO set about making the comeback record Walk on Water in 1995, Schenker couldn’t resist re-upping for another tour of duty. Eventually, though, Schenker would return to MSG, which has had its ups and downs, as has Schenker. Personnel shuffling and Schenker’s continued battles with the bottle led to inconsistent recordings and live performances, but through it all – including a bizarre episode where his wife divorced him and disappeared with his kids, and his manager’s alleged embezzlement of Schenker’s savings – the guitarist has persevered, despite a troubled 2007 tour, riddled with cancellations, that would have killed the careers of lesser artists.

Schenker, though, has apparently come out the other side a better man, and a more focused musician, as Temple of Rock bears out. Despite his problems, Schenker doesn’t seem to lack for friends. The band he assembled for Temple of Rock includes ex-Scorpion Herman Rarebell on drums, Schenker’s old UFO mate Pete Way on bass, Wayne Findlay on keyboards and Michael Voss on vocals. And that’s not all. Among the cast of thousands appearing as guest stars are keyboardist Don Airey, legendary Mountain guitarist Leslie West (who participates in a three-man guitar battle with Schenker and Michael Amott on “How Long (3 Generations Guitar Battle Version), and drum gods Carmine Appice and Brian Tichy – not to mention Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner.

But, go ahead and throw the liner notes away, because a cleaned-up, motivated Schenker was all that was needed to make guitar nerds wet their pants over this release. His solos, so fluid and smoothly executed, are sublime, and those heavy riffs of his have all the powerful thrust of booster rockets, propelling each track into the stratosphere. On the aforementioned “Fallen Angel,” Schenker assembles what seems to be a jigsaw puzzle of neon-lit guitar parts, piecing together surging, shape-shifting riffs and high-flying leads until they form a dazzling picture of an artist who isn’t afraid of complexity. Drag racing ahead is the “The End of an Era,” which showcases Schenker’s ability to combine speed, an impeccable feel for the urgency of the moment and barely harnessed energy, while he punishes “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” with power chords and shrouds it in a bluesy darkness that knocks at your backdoor like Perfect Strangers’-era Deep Purple did in the ‘80s.

In the quiet moments of the epic “Storming In,” Schenker adroitly navigates a tricky acoustic prelude, before a deluge of riffs comes pouring down and floods the scene. His solos here bloom like a bush of roses turned black by some demonic hand, setting the stage for the progressive-metal oddity “Scene of Crime,” a track that’s full of sonic menace and muscular rhythms that occasionally detours into Asian gardens of sound that an early Genesis might have planted.

The full breadth of Schenker’s talent and experience are on display in Temple of Rock, as the fist-pumping party anthem “Saturday Night” sits comfortably alongside the red-hot, muscle-car growl and grind of “Speed.” And if you like guitar solos the triple-threat guitar orgy of the freedom-fighting “How Long,” (3 Generations Guitar Battle Version)” featuring West and Amott, is not to be missed. This Temple of Rock is built on a bedrock foundation of classic musicianship and strong songwriting, and it houses one of the finest guitarists metal has ever known.

-Peter Lindblad

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