Saturday, September 25, 2010

Michael Schenker Group- Assault Attack

I often call this album Michael Schenker's Rainbow because I think this might have been close to what Rainbow's Down to Earth would have sounded like if Martin Birch had been in the producer's seat. Birch's production here is fantastic: Bonnet and Schenker sound better than ever before. Bassist Chris Glenn's highly contrapuntal playing is mixed perfectly, and even the relatively obscure drummer Ted McKenna comes across CRUSHING on a Cozy/Bonham level.

Opener "Assault Attack" is a perfectly paced Rocket-launcher of a track; the Beethoven-esque beginning gives way to a fast but spine tingling verse riff. Graham Bonnet propels the track with a personality and power the likes of which hadn't been seen since Dio or a classic Ian Gillan. The solo is a lesson in Heavy Metal Chamber Music, restrained yet contrapuntally outstanding for the genre. Listen to the bass guitar during the harmonised leads, it's more "neo-classical" from a counterpoint and harmonic perspective than Yngwie Malmsteen ever dreamed of being. Schenker's sparse lead melody here shows an astounding amount of maturity, poise, and taste that puts the final cast of cement on his statue in the Metal Guitar God Pantheon.

The next track, "Rock You To the Ground", is very much blues-based, but we're talking more like a defining, Blues-Metal style. The outrageous, belting vocals of Bonnet, as well as the perfectly fitting rhythm parts, launch this track into an instant, unforgettable Classic. During Schenker's parting lead, the various changes in the backing track drive him toward a jaw-dropping performance. Each change in the backing makes the sections play out like a chapter in a book: driving home various, highly memorable perspectives. This different-chapters-in-a-book approach to lead guitar has appeared in previously classic solos by other people (Jimi Hendrix's leads on "All Along the Watchtower"are a good example). But the solo on Rock You To the Ground is even more tasty and melodic. Overall, this song, and solo, have to be heard to be believed.

"Dancer" is the single/"All Night Long" of the album, and not without its charm. Though a bit long and awkward at times, it's hard to fault Bonnet and Schenker at this point in their careers, as they are truly firing on all cylinders. Great vocals and Michael is a peak of tastiness.

"Samurai" is considered by many people to be the song of the album. Again we have involved harmonies, this time in Bonnet's verse delivery. The chorus is extremely aggressive, and the ending where Bonnet holds the last note over the word "Samurai" whilst Schenker melodies on is absolutely spine-chilling.

For most others, "Desert Song" is the best song on the album, and there is good reason. "Desert Song" is easily up there with best "slow songs" of Classic Heavy Metal: "Stargazer", "We'll Burn the Sky", "Heaven and Hell", "Hallowed Be Thy Name", "Beyond the Realms of Death", "Fade to Black", "Love to Love", etc. The main riff, in thirds, is a classic of classics, impossible to forget. Bonnet hits a note right before the solo ("cooling the man") that is quite literally beautiful and moving. And again we have taste, restraint, and class during the middle lead break, whilst the passion springs forth after the last, emotionally delivered verse.

After this we have a couple of more meat-and-potatoes tracks, "Broken Promises" and "Searching For A Reason". The former is notable not only for the powerful high notes of Bonnet, but a musically very interesting bass guitar-to-drum syncopated beat, and an overall quirky atmosphere.

The last song is by far one of the greatest solo showcases in Rock/Metal history (and the foundation of Joe Satriani's entire career), "Ulcer". Although Schenker admitted later that this song was heavily overdubbed, there's no denying the exhiliration experienced when listening to this track. The middle, super fast lead break is both awe-inspiring and strangely catchy. Due to the latter aspect, it's difficult even referring to the solos on this track as "shred", there's too much personality and memorability to them.

In my humble opinion, this album is even better than the magnificent, Resoundingly Classic MSG albums that preceeded it. For me, that's saying alot, as I find the second MSG studio album in particular to be completely outstanding, despite the not-quite-so-great production.

For guitar players I assert that, in terms of overall guitar performance, there was never, and I mean NEVER a Shrapnel album that even comes close to this. Get this before you buy ANYthing produced by that massively overrated label. And if you've never heard Yngwie or his followers, get this before you buy ANYthing by him or his ilk, this way you'll learn more about how to play with feeling and melodicism, rather than masturbate the Harmonic Minor, Phrygian, and Aeolian scales ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

If there is a fault to this album (besides the doesn't-seem-quite-finished "Searching For A Reason") it's that a few of the songs repeat the chorus twice at the end. This might seem a bit lacking in imagination to some, but once you listen to the album you'll find yourself not caring. The overall sound, songwriting, guitar playing...shoot, overall playing by everyone, is incredibly inspiring and not something to be missed. This album inspired me greatly in writing my own music for my heavy metal opera Lyraka. I even got Graham Bonnet to sing my songs, which as you can imagine has been thrilling for me!

My favorite ever cds are this one and Rainbow Rising. I first heard both albums in 1986, after I'd been playing guitar for a couple of years. At the time, I was dropped out of college and homeless. Times were really horrible for me. I'll never forget hearing Assault Attack and being completely awed. I was already quite familiar with both Bonnet and Schenker, but for some reason this release had fallen through the cracks for me. Every time I thought about giving up the guitar back then(usually due to pressures resulting from my homelessness), I'd look at that cover and get renewed determination and strength. It looked to me like Michael was holding up that guitar out of rebellious determination in the face of terrible opposition.

But more, it looked like he held that guitar up in TRIUMPH, as though Assault Attack signified his sweet revenge against those who tried to keep him down. This album would help anyone to stay on track, to persevere against even the worse exploding warheads.

Andy DiGelsomina