It staggers me that in the UK, Axel Rudi Pell remains criminally underground.

“Risen Symbol” is his 22nd record (and at least his 5th since I’ve been doing MV) and it—like all the others—is from the very top drawer.

His music does a few things in turn. It slashes and rages like the heaviest of metal (“Forever Strong,” the opener here, is a lesson in power metal), then, when it wants to, it does melodic metal better than anyone else, like on “Guardian Angel”—which adds a level of bombast that only Euro metal can—but crucially, and in particular on “…..”Symbol,” pays homage to his heroes without being beholden to them.

You can hear exactly that when the band covers “Immigrant Song” here. It might come from the land of ice and snow, and it might wield its hammer of the gods, but it’s not the same one as Zeppelin.

Everyone here is too savvy for that, too skilled, and that’s where the mention of “the band” above was important.

You see, as much as it might have the name Axel Rudi Pell on the sleeve, the four men with him have been with him for ages.

What that means is a real gang feel to the Saxon flavors of “Darkest Hour,” and although I’ve gone on record as saying that Johnny Gioeli has the best voice in rock, then it doesn’t hurt to say it again.

Right in the middle of this is the absolute centrepiece of it, “Ankhaia.” It is more than a ten-minute epic. ARP reckons himself that’s a song “Zeppelin didn’t write,” and you can surely spot the … well … symbolism … but my goodness, it’s good. The solo Pell rips out is as good as anyone will hear this year.

It’s not just that one, though; it’s all a cut above the norm. “Hell’s On Fire” is as contemporary as you like but still channels some Dio-like vibes. And if Ferdy Doernberg’s keyboards give “Crying In Pain” a bit of an 80s feel, then it’s anything but dated.

That one is an outlier too, given that it’s a ballad. Elsewhere, the energy is cranked up, like on “Right On Track.”

The last one, “Taken By Storm,” is—in many ways—a handy little reprise of the album as a whole. With epic flavors, it soars. Ready for … arenas. Expertly played and brilliantly conceived (right down to the fact that Pell’s artwork follows on from an earlier album), it’s yet another reminder to some of us of the genius at work here.

“Risen Symbol” is a copper-bottomed classic from start to finish, and the name Axel Rudi Pell is essentially a byword for some of the best melodic metal you will ever hear.

Rating: 9.5/10

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