Sound — 8
Axel Rudi Pell broke through into the spotlight of the guitar community as a member of the German heavy metal group Steeler back in the mid 1980s, and while those four studio albums remain worthwhile listens and vivid examples of Pell's abilities both on lead guitar and as a vital part of a band, his abilities on the guitar were arguably most formidable, expansive, and memorable as a standalone artist. Pell has worked on a gradually increasing body of work as a solo musician, which have demonstrated proud collaborations with drummers Jorg Michael (Stratovarius) and Mike Terrana (Yngwie Malmsteen), and powerhouse lead vocalists Johnny Gioeli (Hardline), Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman, Yngwie), and Rob Rock (Avantasia). Certainly there are a wealth of highlights to be found over the course of (the now total of) seventeen studio albums, however Axel Rudi Pell continues to press forward with his long standing supporting lineup of Gioeli, keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg (Helloween), bassist Volker Krawczak and drummer Bobby Rondinelli (Blue Öyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Quiet Riot) on the bold presentation that is "Game of Sins."
Granted, this album isn't one to immediately grab you by the throat; the themes of what could only be described as a German carnival of death span the course of over a minute on the opening instrumental "Lenta Fortuna," however from there it's fairly smooth sailing as the full band kicks into well crafted AOR with "Fire." Piercing lead vocals, concrete rhythm guitar, soaring harmonic synthesizers and a fierce backbone of percussion and bass lines make for a mid tempo rocker full of melodic hooks and fierce instrumentation that dedicated listeners have come to welcome from Pell at this stage in his career. "Sons of the Night" doesn't deviate from the winning chemistry; the rhythm guitar isn't groundbreaking but the delivery and tone is identifiable, offering a near flawless position for Gioeli to nail his razor-esque lyrical delivery. The epic eight minute title track "Game of Sins" does incorporate a choice instrumental introduction before hitting the gas, pairing brooding group choir vocals with articulated picking and protruding bass notes to eventually propel the listener into a gravitating composition highlighted by Pell's varietal and broadened abilities on the six strings.
Great production and musical execution save songs such as "Falling Star" and "Breaking the Rules" from sounding like slightly different takes on "Sons of the Night"; clearly there was a chemistry that the band set upon during the writing of this album, so although there may not be an entirely different approach on every track the cohesion actually plays to the benefit of "Game of Sins." It also allows such latter moments as "Till the World Says Goodbye" and the lighthearted power ballad "Lost in Love" to stand out more so from their predecessors. There isn't a skippable selection on the album as we reach the closing anthem "Forever Free," which does particularly what "Lenta Fortuna" failed to do by grabbing onto the reins of what advocates of arena rock always keep an ear out for from a new release by employing adrenalized, distorted guitar with blissfully melodic vocal refrains and an intense backbone of bass and drums that leaves you reaching back towards the sleeve for a future listen. Simply stated, "Game of Sins" is an album that sounds as though it could have followed either Hardline's "Double Eclipse" or Pell's "Black Moon Pyramid," and the similarities between the three installments especially allows this release to maintain the nostalgia factor that Pell listeners continue to gravitate towards.
Lyrics — 8
Any dedicated hard rock and power metal listener has a mental list of those pivotal lead vocalists who fronted stellar units back during the 1980s and 1990s scenes and have since lost their way in regard to their range and vocal abilities. Johnny Gioeli doesn't fall into either category, instead standing as one of those frontmen who have maintained a seemingly identical character as their earlier studio recordings. From the first notes of "Fire" and "Sons of the Night," this is readily apparent and strengthfully plays to the benefit of Pell's "Game of Sins." Although a solo album by the decorated guitarist, this is clearly a collaborative effort and Gioeli is one of the propelling forces behind the warm end result found here.
Overall Impression — 8
Axel Rudi Pell and company deliver a monumental performance on the guitarist's seventeenth overall studio achievement "Game of Sins." Building upon the weight of the chemistry featured on 2014's "Into the Storm," this effort is a frequently rewarding installment centered around dynamic lead vocals, expressive guitar playing, solid bass lines and whirlwind percussion that are among the best found on a Pell solo release to date. For familiar Pell followers and AOR fanatics alike, "Game of Sins" is a worthwhile grab.