Axel Rudi Pell
Shadow Zone

Track Listing
1. The Curse of the Chains
2. Edge of the World
3. Coming Home
4. Live for the King
5. All the Rest of My Life
6. Follow the Sign
7. Time of the Truth
8. Heartbreaker
9. Saint of Fools
10. Under the Gun

SPV 2002

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More Releases by Axel Rudi Pell:
ARP - The Masquerade Ball (2000)
ARP - Oceans of Time (1998)
ARP - Black Moon Pyramid (1996)
ARP - Wild Obsession (1989)
Related Releases (in members):
Steeler - Undercover Animal (1988)[Pell]
Steeler - Strike Back (1986) [Pell]
Hardline - Double Eclipse (1991) [Gioeli]
Hardline - II (2002) [Gioeli]


Not much has changed with Axel Rudi Pell's albums in the past few years. There is the darkened fantasy inspired purple hued cover artwork (no dragons I regretfully add), the obligatory Rainbow influenced eight minute epic off the same page as classics "Stargazer" or "Gates of Babylon" (pick one, any one) depending on ARP's mood at the time, and of course frontman Gioeli who seems to be a mainstay now, as this is his third go round with the band. But since "Magic" or "Black Moon Pyramid" for that matter, the music has changed very little. Pell has musically stepped up to the plate to deliver where Yngwie left off before his decline into mediocrity or living metal legend Ritchie Blackmore wandered into a Renassiance Faire, never to return, before him. Its difficult to follow in such elite footsteps of celebrated axeslinging individuals such as these two but he has managed to fill in the empty spots and give us an amazing amount of music that borders on the superbly excellent with frequency. . Something is offered up to the block every year or so like a sacrifice to the gods.... of metal that is. We keep buying it, he keeps cranking it on and so forth, a vicious circle that will likely not end anytime soon as long as the music is still what we want to hear, with riffs that continue to smoke and melodies that catch the ear.

"Shadow Zone" is basically "Oceans of Time" regurgitated or revisited if you prefer. A guitar sorcerer conjuring up fretburning spells of considerable power like phantoms dancing in the fire is nothing to take lightly, especially if you are a neoclassical loving shredhead starving for Yngwie circa 1985 instead of the arrogant Malmsteen from 2000 with his definitely regurgitated (nasty imagery, but appropriate here, yes) tuneage that settles like a queasy block of lead in the stomach and a pain to the eardrums. But each album has their standouts and "Shadow Zone" has its share despite the recurring theme of deja vu.

Johnny Gioeli is blessed with a glowing warmth to his voice, he floats with a sunbeam of subtlety and rises to the intensity to that of the hot desert sun, sucking the life from the land and sweeping the dust to harshly irritating grains of sand. An oddly elegant skill that transforms power tripping epics into glorious exotic anthems, thumping with heat and ferocity. But his warm sunshine glow is the favorite, a shower of goldenrod shaded glory that alights the fluttery sorrowful ballads into something more...a celebration of carefully gentle emotion as introduced to us with "Oceans of Time" and continued here with "All the Rest of My Life". He is splendid as proved with hard rock one-offers Hardline before even stepping into ARP's camp, and that is certainly high praise considering the fact he had to step in right after Jeff Scott Soto left off, a formidable and distinctive vocalist in his own right.

With fanfare and never lacking pizzazz, Axel himself rarely changes but does definitely have a unique sound and not just the bluesy nuances of Blackmore and the shreddy arpeggio laden blurfests of Mr. Malmsteen, although these are both incorporated to the overall feel in abundance. He has his own charms, more than a little magical in nature that cast a web of delight across each long winded solo making them seem extravagant of course, but lovely and bareable in their own special way. Ablaze with inner fire, solid like an unbreakable sheet of ice, or quivering with an earthquake of passion or more often a hopeless cry of the forgotten heart but either way with an overpowering magnitude of emotion, he leaves no doubt that he definitely has earned his deserved place among the greats and did the obligatory stint in purgatory known as Steeler to get there.


01.] "The Curse of the Chains"
Soulful guitar that lifts the sorrow from the soul and spirits it to a far away dreamland. Burden and crying from the heart, the electric drips tears from the pain of the curse laid upon its tender strings. A wonderous start to the album, and although very short, is also incredibly sweet and one of the most beautiful instrumentals that Axel has ever done. The gateway to the otherworlds is open...

02.] "Edge of the World"
Shaking free of the plunging void into utmost depression, this one explodes into a sleek hard rocker hauling a fanastically slick chorus along with it. Mike Terrana blew the roof off with Yngwie Malmsteen and here he's back with a vengeance. The drums are one of the most unique aspects of this tune, doing double duty without intruding upon the carefully laid proceedings. Of note is the way Terrana backs up the middle solo, going toe to toe with the axe slinging and then fading for structural support. Killer! Pell's guitar strikes out repeatedly like a viper hidden in the darkness, leaving its venomous mark on both verses and chorus alike. They go all out with the chorus, bringing it back repeatedly, but Gioeli injects his two cents after each go 'round, making it easier to swallow, even on the twentieth time it comes up. Popped out of the same mold as the equally repetitive "Carousel" and "Fool Fool" from past efforts, this thunderous rocker is the perfect way to open up an album.

03.] "Coming Home"
Seven minutes of pure melodic bliss, that's what is in store here for guitar freaks and hard rock fans alike. A slower pacing, seemingly watching with one eye to not disturb the otherworldly beast that is "coming home" in this mid-tempo burner. The verses are distinguished by their natural sounding smoothness but its when the bridge kicks in that euphoria is achieved. This one slaps you right in the kisser with an Arabic flair that combines a bit of early Def Leppard in Gioeli's rough vocal dives at this crossroad. Slithering with vigilant precision, the electric slides through the underbelly of the spectrum, creeping ever-so-slowly until the time to strike, all claws unsheathed, slicing bloody rings from the heart of the song. A breakdown at the end is a deft nod to Dio, who often kept on wailing away with quickly diminishing volume during fade.

04.] "Live For the King"
Pale ivory of the synthesizer and stark grey to black hues representing the lead voice are woven into a soft tapestry that hangs with a sense of pride at this track's atmospheric opening. Embellishing the monochrome is Axel's guitar, weaves contrast into the proceedings with a brilliant pigment of navy blue, the colour of night skies and deep sea depths. Its presence momentarily hushes the blacks and whites, before their return further down this artistic selection. Complexities dare not cease to end there as the tapestry is ripped down by a hurricane of expanding ferocity. But the melodies are strong, and the threads manage to keep in contact, the hanging remainder thrust into the forefront for the shimmering chorus, backed thickly by the insistant rhythm section threatening to tear the shreds into a wisp of oblivion. Lyrically it conjures the magnificence of past Pell releases, fictious tales of pure fantasy that whisk one away on a fantastic ride through the imagination. Clashing contrasts of the tender balladesque, the melodic overdosed and mind splitting metal are woven with such mastery that the end result is an Axel Rudi Pell "new" classic.

05.] "All the Rest of My Life"
Another carressing beginning that is imbued with the essence of a barely beating heart's pain. All is based around sweet simplicity, Gioeli outlining the death of a love. Then drums and bass kick in, a bridge that combines the softness of the verses with the thicker density of the chorus, which of course, stirs buried emotion with its sense of loss and interwoven spark of hope. As classic as his magnum opus of the ballads, "Oceans of Time"? Not a chance, but with its lovely melodies and desperate romance it goes down as quite a beauty that will earn its wings through repeated listens, if only for that - delicate as crystal dragonfly wings - emotional electric expression brought to tragic life by the pick of Pell.

06.] "Follow the Sign"
Straight up riffing assaults from the get-go! This is a stripped back, bristling heavy rocker that shakes free of the flavour from most of Pell's compositions, which are mostly tied together with similiar 'dark Malmsteen' neo-classical themes. This one screams down the road, leaving the signature sound at the curb. Now don't get me wrong - Axel is here in force, flinging fire with multi dimensional solo that blazes new trails. Gioeli is positively perfect, he wastes not a moment in flaunting the very best side of his vocals with a take charge attitude. Not as biting as past Pell power packed performances such as "Earls of Black", one must applaud its approach. Tackled with a no frills policy intact, its one of my very favorites from the album, most likely for the catchy simplicity. All proving that once again, without a doubt, that Axel has the uncanny ability to write a solid metal tune without falling back on all the intricate trappings. Just because you can clutter a song with embellishments, doesn't mean you should, for including such would have just served to get in the way.

07.] "Time of the Truth"
"I was born in the cave of a mountain..." The "ching ching" of the timekeeper percussion is all you hear until Terrana slams down those sticks into a clash that would shake that mountain right off its rocky hinges. Johnny belts right from the gut, roaring out his lines then falling silent awaiting the guitar to take over. And it does, plodding with a heavy burdened feel for the rhythm, the lead darting in with satisfying sizzling appearances. Its the lead vocals that carry the majority of this epic however, and this singer is definitely up to the task, laying down his lines with a haunting vibrancy and the power of ages. The slower pacing is reminiscent of other estactically over indulgent Pell penned pieces, those slow epic burners like "Ashes From the Oath" and the lavish ten minute opus from "Nasty Reputation", the much loved "Land of the Giants".

08.] "Heartbreaker"
Another emotional wringer that squeezes every last ounce of grief to the surface. Plunging into sorrow, the chorus is softened bombast, the emphasis on the word "heartbreaker" afflicting the soul with the torrenting torment of sadness, and a delicate afterthought of the breathless "lost in the shadow of love". Clashing guitars and thundergod drums dramatically pound out the intro to the solo which arrives with glowing heavenly loveliness, expressing the touching image of a weeping angel who's lost her wings and in turn, her love for the now lost (after)life. A second helping of the chorus ups the ante, pursuing that one step higher that causes the melodic frosting to just melt. The guitar finishes off the song by sinking lower in spirits, fading so thin that its nearly luminiscent. Each note struck from this point til end, has the consistancy of a moonbeam, illuminating the last frail fragment of vocals, the cautiously yearning "...don't leave me alone."

09.] "Saint of Fools"
A second helping of catchy as hell hard rock is always welcome, and the band sends this one up with dynamite energy, exploding in the style of "Voodoo Nights" and the simplistic slayer from the earlier "Follow the Sign." The thunder and lightning trade between Johnny's full throated vocals and Axel's distinct full throttle guitar snaps the attention instantly. Terrana's skin pounding works its powerful magic in strengthening the steadfast structures while the guitar wizard is busy conjuring one superb spell after another.

10.] "Under the Gun"
Warbling synthesizer effects from the progressive artists of the psychedelic 70s warp the soundscape with their unexpected inclusion. Electric chords so amazingly round and three dimensional, create the illusion that one could simply reach out and touch them. They keep the mid tempo pace with the somewhere in outerspace synth vibrating in the backdrop. This is the 'theme' of the song and are threaded throughout for gelling purposes. A romanticized storyline dealing with the dramatic fantastic suits the track's dreamy essence. An instrumental tangent in the song's misty middle fits in snugly and does not detract from the elegant choruses and flowing verses. Its closure is a world's away departure from the rest of the composition's dreamlike state. Regimented drums sounding so tight and brittle march with timed precision while Axel's guitar breaks free from its soulful chains, resonating with a wild and loose approach to the playing. Naked and raw, rough around the edges and startlingly primal, this guitar squealing is the uttermost contrast from the boxed in drums with their pounding uniform order. Strange, but fascinating in a extraordinary way.


While nothing on "Shadow Zone" is not as wonderful as say "Night and Rain", it being one of my all time favorite songs and shows my true colours of being quite biased, but this album is an enjoyable disc in its own right. Fans of ARP already know what to expect, and newbies to Pell's blend of Rainbow hued shred happy epic metallic rock would do better to discover him in "Oceans of Time" or "The Masquerade Ball" as a first introduction, "SZ" still deserves a spot in your collection if simply because its yet another piece of continuing quality from this guitarist and another prime example of the perfect showcase for fulfilling our need for this scarce type of hard rock, so rare in this age and promising to become even more extinct in the future to come. For without our fix, many of us would truly be lost in the "Shadow Zone".

Ratings and Wrap Up:
Songs - 8.5
Performance - 9.5
Production - 8.5
Lyrics - 8.5

Hot Spots: "Heartbreaker", "The Rest of My Life", "Follow the Sign"
Bottom Line: Another superb slice of dependable ARP.  Guitar fans rejoice! 

Review by Alanna Evans -

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