Michael Schenker Group – Universal (Album Review)

One of the important guitarists of the Rock world since the 1970s, Michael Schenker (formerly of Scorpions and U.F.O.), was born on January 10, 1955, in Sarstedt, West Germany. With the band that he first led in 1979–Michael Schenker Group (aka MSG)–he has come up with twelve studio albums, from 1980’s self-titled to the latest, Universal.

Released on Friday, May 27, 2022, via Atomic Fire Records, Universal has all the ingredients that make up a trademark MSG record–well-woven songs with “anthemic melodies, catchy guitar riffs, and inspiring solos.”

A Quick follow up to 2021’s Immortal, Universal opens aptly with the driving force of “Emergency,” whose sense of urgency sets the listener’s disposition to high gear. The ensuing “Under Attack” then relaxes the mood for a bit–melodic, catchy, and memorable. After the interlude “Calling Baal,” the pace picks up again with “A King Has Gone,” which features Helloween’s Frontman Michael Kiske on vocals.

A foray in Glam Metal balladry, the title-track is steeped with impassioned guitar ad-lib; and this is followed by “Long, Long Road,” exuding Bon Jovi sensibilities. “Wrecking Ball” and “Yesterday Is Dead” then throw the listener back to the glorious days of Power Metal, conjuring the well-loved sonics and theatrics of the likes of Judas Priest, Def Leppard, and HammerFall.

“London Calling” and “Sad Is the Song” are both a change of style–exploring the realms of Hard Rock, with a melodic glaze of Alternative Rock and fuzz of Post-Grunge. MSG then steps onto the accelerator, as it launches to “Au Revoir”–reminiscent of the tuneful speed of Mr. Big (“Addicted to That Rush”), Extreme (“Rest in Peace”), and Stryper (“The Way”).

Near the end of the set, MSG aptly switches to Glam Metal mode again, with the sentimental and soaring “Turn Off the World.” Finally, Schenker with his troop wraps up Universal with the easy-going rhythm of “Fighter”–another seeming homage to the heartwarming Power balladry of the not-so-distant past…18 and life, you know.

The Rock world is teeming with so many great guitar players, from Alex Lifeson to Zakk Wylde. A Top 100 list is not enough to accommodate all those virtuosos. Nevertheless, Michael Schenker has a special place on it. And his body of works with MSG- with Ronnie Romero (vocals), Bodo Schopf (drums), Steve Mann (keyboards, guitars), Barend Courbois (bass), and a number of guest artists whom included Barry Sparks (Yngwie Malmsteen, Dokken), Tony Carey (Rainbow), Bob Daisley (Black Sabbath), Michael Voss, and Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear)- is his badge for that. Universal is yet another addition to Schenker’s corpus operibus and that is why Cryptic Rock gives it 4 out of 5 stars.

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