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Michael Schenker Group: Arachnaphobiac
(Shrapnel - 2003)
Category : none
4 stars

Anyone calling himself a Metalhead or a Hard Rocker knows German guitar wonder Michael Schenker. If you don't, you're not for real. As guitarist of the Scorpions and as the replacement of Mike Bolton in UFO he already earned his marks in the seventies. Enough to be concidered a great if it had stopped there!

But it didn't. He formed his own band and gained conciderable succes in the early eighties, especially in Europe. His first two albums are true classics in the Hard Rock genre and they showed amazing guitar playing, surpassed only by nothing less than brilliant song writing abilities. To me this still is the pinnacle of the man's artistic carreer.

Unfortunately, even though he continued to release material, Schenker started to gradually slip into relative obscurity for several reasons. His brand of Hard Rock was losing fans in favor of more aggressive forms of Metal and his music started shifting more and more towards generic hair metal, which meant that even some of his most loyal fans, the ones that stayed on board for the personality of the songs, started losing interest. He also jumped bands quite often, appearing or re-appearing in the Mc-Auley Schenker Band, Contraband, UFO and even Ratt (barf!) for short periods of time. And within his own band personnel came and went with lightning speed.

Under the Michael Schenker Band moniker, in the period 1984 to 2002, the quality of his musical output varied (from a song writing point of view) from good to mediocre. Each release of that period had at least a few good songs on it. If you boiled them down you'd have enough to fill two, maybe three, very good albums that might have rivalled his early work. Mind you, the average filler MSG-song still was at the same level of quality as any Ratt or Poison tune. No MSG-album would therefore be a complete disappointment to a classic Metal fan. But I, the harsh judge, expect nothing less than a perfect combination of guitar playing and song writing when it comes to Michael Schenker. I admit that's not really fair, since it means I'm not treating an MSG release the same way I would many others.

The most recent MSG-release I heard prior to this one was 2002's 'Be aware of Scorpions'. Again a decent but indistinguishable affair. When 'Arachnaphobiac' reached me, I expected to hear more of the same. But to my delight the average song quality is higher. This may be because the emphasis seems to have shifted more clearly from guitar technique to song writing. There's even another guitarist (Jeff Watson of Night Ranger) helping out in the soloing department.

There are only 3 or so tracks which I would dare label as fillers (on a total of 11 songs that's not much) while at least 5 songs meet the high standards of Schenker's early eighties work: 'Illusion' is a sturdy up tempo rocker. The titlesong features some of the best vocal melodies on the CD and funny lyrics to boot. 'Alive' is nothing less than classic Metal. It has an approach not unlike the uptempo Hard Rocker 'Armed and Ready' (released in 1980), but more energetic even. The two best tracks are 'Sands of Time', a rather laid back song with a great melodic chorus, and 'Weathervane', another slow rocker with a groovy bluesy feel and again great vocal melodies.


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