Album Review: Michael Schenker's Temple Of Rock - 'Spirit On A Mission'.
There are few guitarists with a reputation as formidable as former guitar ‘wonder kid’ Michael Schenker. A truly prodigious talent during his early career as a member of both the Scorpions and of course UFO, his work with both those bands was somewhat overshadowed in later years, as tales of erratic behaviour and excess intensified. It was with his past firmly behind him however, that Schenker launched his latest project ‘Temple Of Rock’ in 2011. With a credible line up behind him, the album was a conscious attempt to return the guitarist to previous glories, and went some way to restoring his reputation. With an extra sting in the tail then, the outfit returns for this, their second release, ‘Spirit On A Mission’.
Michael Schenker is a remarkable talent, and is rightfully the star of the album, and although dependable frontman for hire Doogie White is back on vocals, it’s the return of ex-Scorpions drummer Herman Rarebell, and the addition of his former colleague - bassist Francis Buchholz - that makes this release an interesting proposition from the off. Reuniting half the band that recorded the classic 1979 Scorpions release ‘Lovedrive’, there are amazingly, as many Scorpions from that period on this album as there are in the current band. As such ‘Spirit On A Mission’ is classic rock in the purest sense, and although the mission itself isn’t clear, it’s hard to imagine it being anything other than to rock the listener senseless.
With twelve slabs of hard driving, rock music, there are no subtleties on this release. With double-kick drumming, anthemic vocals, attitudinal riffing and some truly inspired soloing the order of the day, it is for the most part, music to break the speed limit to. Musically raising the pulse, this plainly evident right from opener ‘Live And Let Live’, and continues with little deviation until the penultimate ‘Restless Heart’. It isn’t all one dimensional however, as the early pairing of ‘Communion’ and ‘Vigilante Man’ demonstrate. Much more measured than some of the other material on offer, the former’s slower rock steady groove driven by Buchholz’s rumbling basslines works brilliantly.
As a guitarist, Schenker of course rightfully shines throughout, and such are his abilities that at times, otherwise unremarkable material is enlivened by his unique touch. Thankfully, it isn’t always needed to lift a song, such as with the rock steady ‘Saviour Machine’ and in particular the frankly fantastical ‘Something Of The Night’. The former may be a rhythmical colossus, however it’s on the later that the guitarist really gets to flex his musical muscle and remind the listener just why he is so highly revered. The Blackmore-esque scales that open the frenetic track give way to some exceptional and at times, mesmerising soloing that is seemingly effortless to the German. It’s a track that really spotlights just what Schenker is capable of, as is ‘All Our Yesterdays’, which is another slice of Purple-esque mysticality.
Following that more experimental run, the latter half of the album is comprised almost exclusively of de-tuned riffage, such as on the thunderous ‘Bulletproof’ and the Ozzy Osbourne-esque ‘Let the Devil Scream’. The band handle this sort of broody material well, adding a little melody to the formula on the closing ‘Wicked’ and the expansive ‘Good Times’, which are among the album’s highlights. It’s on these darker tracks that the rhythm section really stands out, and the importance of Buchholz and Rarebell to the line-up becomes apparent.
‘Spirits On A Mission’ is a real grower of an album, and over time it gets under the skin. There are some spectacular moments on it, however there are also those that are less so, and as such, it’s an extremely solid, rather than explosive affair. There may be a stellar cast present who add more than just their names to the mix, however with his name above the door, and his playing a rare marvel and a joy to listen to, the star of Temple Of Rock is undoubtedly Michael Schenker. What other way would anyone want it? Mission accomplished.
First published on uberrock.co.uk, 12 June 2015.