Damon Johnson & The Get Ready, Images of Eden
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MSG is a legendary name. After two phenomenal records under the guise of Michael Schenker Fest, a true guitar hero is returning to his roots. By forming Michael Schenker Group (MSG) back in 1979, Michael Schenker laid the foundations for one of hard rock’s most glorious solo careers of all times. And while nobody expected anything less from a former guitarist for Scorpions and UFO, it’s close to impossible mentioning everything Michael has built over the past 50 years, or the countless people he influenced or played with. This, truly, is the stuff that hard rocking myths are made of.
I never looked back, is how Michael dryly sums up an extraordinary career. Due to this mindset, he only realised much later what a huge impact his playing had made on the world of metal and hard rock. Very few guitarists can be cited as a primary influence for the likes of James Hetfield, Kirk Hammett, Dave Mustaine, Dimebag Darrell, Slash or Kerry King. However, to understand Michael Schenker means to understand one primary thing: he’s not here to be worshipped or adored, he’s not here to get rich, he’s here to play. And at 65, he’s doing it with the same swagger, verve and dizzying artistry as always. “I’m still 16 in my head,” he laughs.
I never wanted fame or success. I was always happiest when I was left in the sand box with what I liked the most. Without rivalry, without competition, only focussing on pure, unfiltered creativity. And at that, nothing tops a guitar. It’s the best instrument to truly express something. There isn’t a sound out there that’s more complete.
Right in time for his 40th anniversary as a solo artist and his 50th birthday as a musician, he resurrects the immortal Michael Schenker Group. “Immortal” is also the name of his new album, recorded by likely the strongest in his long history. Its a lightning bolt of an album that sounds fresh, bloodthirsty and agile. “Immortal” showcases the gargantuan vocal talents of Chilean hard rock prodigy Ronnie Romero (Rainbow), backed by singers Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), Joe Lynn Turner (ex-Deep Purple) as well as Schenker’s brother in arms, Michael Voss (Mad Max) who again produced the record alongside Michael Schenker flawlessly, punchy and at full steam as if their very lives depended on it.
Next to Michael Schenker caressing his iconic black and white Dean Flying V, we hear bass player Barry Sparks (Dokken), keyboard player Steve Mann as well as the three drummers Bodo Schopf, Simon Phillips (ex-Toto) and Brian Tichy (ex-Whitesnake) pumping gallons of fresh blood through the tracks. And that’s not all, keyboard wizard extraordinaire Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Black Country Communion) gives the listener a baptism of fire in the blistering, heavy hitting opener “Drilled to Kill”, powered by Ralf Scheepers” unbelievable vocal tornado. “These are all very skilled people with their own studios,” Schenker says in his typical dry down-to-earth manner.
That’s what makes it easy. I was the only one who had to take four eight-hour boat trips from England to Holland, and from there I drove to Germany to reach the recording studio during lockdown. I did it even though it meant going into quarantine for two weeks every single time. Nothing I can recommend, he explains, “but it was absolutely essential and unavoidable so we could finish the album.”
Michael Schenker doesn’t live to play, he plays to live, and there’s no better way of summing up his relationship to his music than this now for half a century and counting. The most emblematic representation of this relationship is the monumental closing track “In Search Of The Peace Of Mind”, a new recording of the very first song he ever wrote. “I composed this track in my mother’s kitchen back when I was 15,” he looks back half a century and smiles broadly: “The solo is just so perfect, I wouldn’t change a single note even today. This is the most important song of the last 50 years for me. It’s what started it all.”
When it finally got released in 1972 on the Scorpions” debut “Lonesome Crow” Schenker had already moved on to UFO. What followed were several decades of pure hard rock ecstasy on and off stage, featuring a rotating cast of stellar players, always pressing the pedal to the metal. Now, in 2020, he reaps what he sowed. Alongside many of his peers, friends and contemporaries, he is celebrating 50 years of hard rock fittingly with an album that is something like a zeitgeisty reminiscence of everything he’s ever done. The massive midtempo smasher “Don’t Die On Me Now” sees Joe Lynn Turner going all in, Ronnie Romero works his magic in “Knight Of The Dead” while Michael Voss cuts a grand figure before the microphone as well as behind the mixing desk on the furious second single “After The Rain”.
Towering above them all, Michael Schenker and his guitar prove they’re truly and utterly invincible. The celebrated icon pulls out all the stops including his legendary “howler”, the fabled magnet he’s used on his fingerboard for a while now. And here’s yet another thing that’s just so archetypically Schenker, when bringing up his fiery and dedicated performance on “Immortal” he nonchalantly shrugs it off: “I simply played from the heart, as always.” This, dear Michael, is the understatement of the year all the more so for a record that is already one of the top contenders for hard rock/metal album of the year.