July 29, 2022

OK, let’s start with a couple of simple facts in that Michael Schenker is an indisputable rock legend and one of the greatest ever guitarists with a career which could literally make your head spin such is its depth and complexity. It is also true that Michael speaks his mind and doesn’t care if he ruffles a few feathers along the way so the music business is split into two groups, those that love Michael Schenker and those that really should know better! Michael chooses to use several vehicles to pursue his musical goals with the Michael Schenker Group being a unit he keeps returning to with the music mainly following pretty much the same pattern with the old adage being that if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it. If you are not a fan then it is fair to say that there is nothing new on Universal that is likely to ever change your opinion and that’s fine as there are plenty of other bands for you to engage with but for Schenker fans it is a continuation of the thrilling hard rock and heavy metal that we have come to expect whenever we see his name.

Universal follows on relatively quickly from the last MSG album Immortal which leads you to conclude that he had such a ball that he just had to do it again which is a fine decision as both albums are thrill a minute heavy metal delights. The album is full of typically fluid and silky Schenker riffs and exciting lead guitar breaks with everything coming in at the short and sweet 4-minute mark so no major excesses to worry those with short attention spans!

As usual Michael has brought in a wealth of guests to give the project real gravitas with a number of names from Immortal returning so we have vocalists Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, Vandenberg), Michael Kiske (Helloween) and Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), drummers Simon Phillips (Toto, The Who), Brian Tichy (Whitesnake, Foreigner), Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow) and Bodo Schopf (Eloy). The star names just keep coming too with bassists Bob Daisley (Black Sabbath), Barry Sparks (Malmsteen, Dokken) and Barend Courbois (Blind Guardian, Zakk Wylde) and even Tony Carey on keyboards. As you can see, there is quite a large Rainbow connection’ with this album and everything comes together with their tribute to the late, great Ronnie James Dio with the short keyboard intro Calling Baal which is played by Tony Carey and this then leads into the appropriately titled A King Has Gone which is sung by Michael Kiske with the former Rainbow trio of Bobby Rondinelli, Bob Daisley and Tony Carey all contributing on this fine testimony to the man forever now on his Silver Mountain! The Rainbow ‘feel’ continues with Ronnie Romero featuring heavily on the album and he joined Michael Schenker on his recent European tour too. So, you can expect a touch of the classic Rainbow sound and even a little UFO as well but the overall output is MSG and you can never tire of hearing the full majesty and force of Mr. Schenker and his flying V in full-on rock mode form. The different vocalists all bring their own magic to the proceedings and combining them all together on the individual tracks is a master stoke and it’s brilliant to hear just how they sound together. Ralf Scheepers is quite magnificent on the appropriately titled monster that is Wrecking Ball and Michael Voss and Ronnie Romero give it everything that they have on the UFO influenced London Calling. The music is soaring and anthemic with Michael Schenker again showing that he is a class of his own when he lets fly on yet another stunning solo of which there are many on Universal. However, it is not just the Schenker show as this is the Michael Schenker Group and each incredible musician contributes to make this the stunning album that it is.

Schenker is a true icon of rock and always, and I mean always, delivers the goods when it comes to hard rock. The guy has been recording for 50-years and a simple glance at his discography is enough to make you draw your breath and realise that we are in the presence of a giant of a man. Come on, this is Michael Schenker and you know you want the album!

Universal

  1. Emergency (feat Ronnie Romero, Barry Sparks & Simon Phillips) (3:49)
  2. Under Attack (feat Ronnie Romero) (4:39)
  3. Calling Baal (feat Tony Carey) (0.39)
  4. A King Has Gone (feat Michael Kiske, Bobby Rondinelli, Bob Daisley & Tony Carey) (4:54)
  5. The Universe (feat Gary Barden & Barry Sparks) (4:21)
  6. Long Long Road (feat Michael Voss & Ronnie Romero) (4:18)
  7. Wrecking Ball (feat Ralf Scheepers) (4:09)
  8. Yesterday Is Dead (feat Ronnie Romero, Brian Tichy & Barry Sparks) (4:02)
  9. London Calling (feat Michael Voss & Ronnie Romero) (4:31)
  10. Sad Is The Song (feat Ronnie Romero, Barry Sparks & Simon Phillips) (4:37)
  11. Au Revoir (feat Ronnie Romero, Barry Sparks & Simon Phillips) (3:30)
  12. Turn Off The World (feat Brian Tichy & Ronnie Romero) (bonus track) (4:45)
  13. Fighter (feat Ronnie Romero, Brian Tichy & Barry Sparks) (bonus track) (4:11)