Sometime during 1996, Jeff Scott Soto and Marcel Jacob were completely thrown for a loop when a best of album was released in Japan for their band Talisman. No one told them. The album was called “Besterious” and consisted of all songs that were previously released from the band. In response to this, Jeff and Marcel, along with Empire Records, decided they were going to release their own band approved version of a greatest hits compilation. It was called “Best of…” and it was chock full of hits plus a ton of previously unreleased tracks that any diehard fan would want to buy. I should know, I bought it!!
Two of the biggest treats were the first two tracks. These were both demos yet they had Goran Edman on vocals instead of Jeff Scott Soto. Goran was the singer for John Norum’s band and joined Talisman prior to Jeff. Goran left to join Yngwie’s band. The first of the demos is “Day By Day” and musically is no different than what ended up on the debut. It is a very Bon Jovi style song. Goran’s vocals are higher than Jeff’s but I’m not sure they have the power Jeff’s have. Regardless, it is still a stellar version of the song.
The second Goran demo is “Lightning Strike” seems a little more raw than the final Soto version, but all the elements are there. The chorus has some great harmonies and layers of vocals. Jeff sings it in this same style as Goran. I’m not sure which one I like better with this one. The rawness of this one adds a little to it.
Axel Rudi Pell had fallen in love with the idea of the Pyramids. He had studied them immensely and was fascinated with the mystery behind them. So much so that he wanted to do a whole concept album on the pyramids, but in the end thought better of it and as a result, only a handful of the songs actually have a pyramid theme.
From October 1995 to January 1996, Jeff Scott Soto and Axel Rudi Pell worked on the next Axel album. Out of the 14 tracks on the album, 4 were co-written with Soto. The band was unchanged with Volker Krawczak on bass, Jorg Michael on drums, Julie Greaux on keyboards, Jeff Scott Soto on vocals and of course, Axel Rudi Pell on guitar. The album came out in Germany on March 3, 1996. Axel wanted to tour the album, but due to scheduling conflicts with Jeff Scott Soto they were unable to do so. Axel could’ve grabbed another singer and done the tour, but Jeff was too important and Axel knew it. What was so important for Jeff, that is easy. It was a 70’s tribute band called Boogie Knights. They were constantly playing at least 3-4 nights a week. Mr. Soto needed a steady paycheck and the Boogie Knights gave that to him. We will get to them later down the line so back to the music.
The album kicks off with an intro called “Return of the Pharaoh”. It is a haunting storm brewing as the Pharaoh is escaping from his tomb…at least that is what it feels like. The thunder and lightning build, the instruments build until the explode in to the opening track “Gettin’ Dangerous” which is a pure speed metal at its best. It is like an adrenaline shot straight in to your vein. The drums are immense, the speed is frenzied and Jeff’s vocals are all powerful. Pell’s solo is freaking sick and the whole song is an attack on your senses. A slammin’ opener.
Next up is one of the coolest songs on the album, “Fool Fool”. It feels like an homage to Black Sabbath’s Heaven And Hell. The riff is totally killer and Jeff’s vocal style is deep and darker and fits the groove so well. He stays reserved and doesn’t over sing which is what this song needed. It is the chorus that hooks you in and won’t let go. The bass work on here is great as there is a groove throughout that just resonates. Pell’s solo has this whole atmospheric vibe that plays for the song and then he goes nuts and delivers another riveting solo.
“Hole in the Sky” brings the speed metal back and Pell shows what he can do best. Jeff’s sings back in his higher register to match the speed of the song. I don’t know how Jorg can pound the kick drum so fast and furious without missing a beat. Another beast of a track with Pell doing what he does best.
With “Touch the Rainbow”, we get another mid-tempo rocker where the guitar work is pure Jimi Hendrix and I love it. The rest of the song is a pure 80’s rocker with a very melodic and harmonized, catchy chorus which gives you a whole Dio vibe with the Rainbow themes. A song in the wheelhouse of Mr. Soto’s vocal prowess. And Pell’s solo…wow!! That is all I need to say about it…wow! A very different track and all very cool.
“Sphinx’ Revenge” is the first instrumental and what a piece it is. It is full of riffs and the speed is ridiculous. Axel really let’s loose and shows he is no Blackmore or Yngwie clone. Jorg Michael’s shows what a beast of precision he is on the drums and Volker’s bass is so key to the sound on this one and he gets a solo break as well with Jorg laying the beat behind him. But it is the fret work and riffing by Pell that makes this song stick in your head.
The grammatically incorrect “You and I” is up next and gives you another heavy 80’s rocker style song. It has the catchy chorus and the Dio styled lyrics and the Pell riffs. If there is a weak song on the album, this would be it but it isn’t by much.
“Silent Angel” is the first ballad and opens with Julie’s keyboards doing a whole Journey even Motley Cure “Home Sweet Home” sound. Jeff sings softer and brings as much emotion as he can muster. But the song itself is way too generic and even the solo is less than. It is a poor man’s Scorpion ballad at best.
Axel loves to throw in one epic 10 minute track and this time around it is the title track, “Black Moon Pyramid” which harkens back to Sabbath and Rainbow as Axel likes to do. Think “Stargazer” if you need to have a comparison. Jeff does some speaking vocals at the beginning and then when he goes in to the singing his vocals soar. More proof of his talent and versatility. He owns this one along with Axel’s guitar playing which is rich, dramatic and technically incredible. His solos are far from boring as they are their own symphonies. Julie’s keyboard work on here is great as well as there sounds like some string arrangements which I believe are all done on keyboard as there are no credits for it. I love all the changes in the song as it takes you on a journey and a heck of a thrill ride it is that goes by so fast.
“Serenade Of Darkness (Opus #1 Adagio Con Agresso)” gives us another Pell instrumental. It is done in a whole Back classical style and shows Axel isn’t a one trick pony that he his skilled well-trained musician. Then the song explodes into a mad-frenzied solo where the song becomes a pure rocker. I have to say Pell gets better and better with every album.
Next up is “Visions in the Night” which brings us back to the power metal we are used to hearing but it goes back and forth between heavy and soft though not a ballad by any means. This one has some softer, more tender vocals from Jeff until he brings it home with the chorus and man does his voice sound good here. They soar to new heights and his shining moment on the album.
Then we get a minute long instrumental called “Aqua Solution” and it sounds like it is in water. That goes in to the most unusual song and heavily Jeff Scott Soto influence “Aquarius Dance”. It is funk-filled rocker. Jeff loves his funk and he definitely funkafied Pell. Totally doesn’t fit on this album, but so what. It is so good and I love the psychedelic funkiness of Pell’s guitar and who added the bongos…love it. As a Pell song, ehh…As a Soto song…totally awesome!!
Then we get another version of “Silent Angel” and this is the Guitar version which is totally instrumental and a much better version of the song. It is tender, sweet and brilliant at the same time. It doesn’t feel generic like the vocal version…sorry Jeff. It has more heart and soul and that is all you want in a ballad…right!
Return of The Pharaoh (Intro)
Gettin’ Dangerous – Keeper
Fool Fool – Keeper
Hole in the Sky – Keeper
Touch the Rainbow – Keeper
Sphinx Revenge – Keeper
You and I – Keeper(1/2 Point)
Silent Angel – Delete
Black Moon Pyramid – Keeper
Serenade Of Darkness (Opus #1 Adagio Con Agresso) – Keeper
Visions in the Night – Keeper
Aquarius Dance – Keeper
Silent Angel (Guitar Version) – Keeper
The Track Score is 10.5 out of 12 Tracks or 88% (I didn’t score the Intro or “Aqua Solution” as not real songs). This is a step in the right direction for Axel and might be favorite of his albums we’ve review so far. It is the total package, great variety, impressive playing by all, solos galore and melodic vocal prowess by Soto. You get speed metal, hard rock, instrumentals and hell, even funk. It is a smorgasbord of variety and it keeps your interest from beginning to end. The minor missteps don’t overshadow the greatness included here. I’ve really started to enjoy Pell’s playing more and more with each listen. The album also got better with each listen. And Soto…well, he is why we’re hear anyway. What else do I need to say. My Overall Score is a 4.0 out of 5.0 Stars. Worth a buy if you find it, no doubt!!
When we reviewed Takara’s ‘Eternal Faith’ album a few weeks back, we mentioned that Jeff Scott Soto said he wasn’t a member of Takara and did it as a favor. Well, a couple years later we are back with the second Takara album and who is singing? It is a Mr. Jeff Scott Soto, of course. After the band had such success in Japan with ‘Eternal Faith’, the Japanese record company wanted another album and would only do it with Jeff on vocals. Jeff didn’t want to let his good friend, Neal Grusky, down and be the reason his buddy lost his record contract, so Jeff being the man he is agreed to do vocal duties again as well as Produced, Engineered and Mixed the album. When Jeff says he’s going to help out, there is no half-assing it for him.
The band had more money to produce this record then the measly $2,500 for the last so we do get better production quality…plus Jeff was getting better at it. The biggest difference is that Jeff’s friend Greg Schutt was no longer on bass. Duties were handled by Carl DeMarco. There were two songs that the bass was done by Bob Daisley from Ozzy and Rainbow fame which is pretty cool, but Carl was the now official band member. On drums, we still had Robert Duda and Neal Grusky on guitar as expected. There are also some keyboard elements done by none other than Jeff’s then girlfriend Julie Greaux, of course!
The album was released on May 24, 1995 in Japan and went to #96 on their national charts, so not bad at all. The version I have is the Canadian Release from 1995 but the CD has 1993. That isn’t the only mistake the CD has as it also called the last song “Lonely Sade of Blue” omitting the “h” in Shade. Oops! Good quality control goes a long way. Let’s get to the music, shall we!
Axel Rudi Pell has had four solo albums so a live album was long over due. As a result, during two shows on February 4th & 5th of 1995, they were recorded so a live album could be released. They were recorded in Markthalle, Hamburg and Zeche, Bochum. There were three songs from the Markthalle show and five from Zeche. The band was of course Axel Rudi Pell on guitar, Jeff Scott Soto on vocals, Jorg Michael on drums, Volker Krawczak on bass and Julie Greaux on keyboards. It was the same band that recorded the previous album ‘Between the Walls’ for which they were now touring for that album, and it is a great, solid band.
1994 was an extremely busy year for Jeff Scott Soto and by the looks of it, 1995 was not going to be any different as we have 3 releases for this year and this being the first. For this album, Jeff felt the biggest fault was it was too short and he would’ve liked to have included a few more of the older tracks. With that being said, if that is the only fault, then we are in for a real treat. The show captures how much Jeff enjoyed working with Axel and it shows in his performance and everyone’s performance for that matter. The album came out around May 22, 1995 and is a great time capsule of a great period of Axel Rudi Pell.
The show kicks off with some riffing by Axel and then they go straight in to “Talk of The Guns” off their most recent album ‘Between the Walls’. Here is the song is sped up even faster and a lot heavier. It seems faster than speed metal here. The drums are pounding and relentless and Pell’s solo is pure Axel. Jeff does a great job keeping up with that pace and not losing his breath, but it was close.
For the 10 years prior to this release, Jeff Scott Soto has been singing for other people and other bands. This time around it was all for himself. ‘Love Parade’ is Jeff’s first solo album and the first chance for people to see a side of Jeff they’ve never seen. That can be a good thing or a bad thing and for a lot of Jeff’s metal fans this album was a strange departure. It was because this was not a metal album or even a hard rock. It is more a funk, R&B and a rock album all rolled in to one. His influences are worn on his sleeves with this one.
The songs he compiled for this album were mostly old demos he had that never amounted to anything prior. He felt they truly represented who he was outside of the metal/rock world. There were several songs from his band Slam that never released anything. He had a couple songs from his girlfriend, Julie Greaux, that he was co-producer on. He took them, re-worked them and then sang on them.
Musicians on the album were some friends including Gary Schutt, who Jeff sang for on Gary’s debut solo album, played bass and guitar. His girlfriend, Julie Greaux did background vocals and keyboards. George Bernhardt played drums, bass and guitar as well. And Jeff played a little of everything as well including the singing. The album was released sometime in 1994/1995 on Long Island Records but the year depends on who you ask. The album didn’t make any major waves, but thankfully in 2002, Jeff signed with Frontiers Records and they re-released it and by this time it made bigger waves as he was more famous.
While Jeff Scott Soto was touring with Talisman in Europe, Axel Rudi Pell was ready to make another album. After the mixed reaction from the fans on ‘The Ballad’ album, Axel was going to go to his roots and make a pure metal album…a German Metal Album as he has stated. He contacted Jeff and arranged for him to come in and work on the album while his other band was touring. Jeff was happy to do so as he really enjoyed working with Axel since it wasn’t a dictatorship like other bands he had worked in. Jeff and Axel work well together and Soto co-wrote 4 of the 10 tracks.
Most of the band was back from the last studio album, ‘Eternal Prisoner’. There was obviously Axel and Jeff, but Jorg Michael was back on drums and Volker Krawczak on bass. Keyboardist Kai Raglewski was out and in his place was Julie Greaux who has worked with Billy Idol and happened to be Soto’s girlfriend. That’s convenient wouldn’t you say!! What I would say is that this was a solid line-up and had me interested to hear what they had put together this time around. It is definitely more fantasy and mystical lyrics and it is truly metal for sure! One more thing, in the liner notes, it lists out what instrument each band member plays with and for Jeff…it says he plays with Julie….”Oh Heffe, Oh Oh Ooh”…Let me just say…Wow!! Okay, hold on tight and let’s get to the music.
Talisman’s debut did quite well in Sweden, but for Jeff Scott Soto, it was only viewed it at the time as a side project as he was busy with his band Eyes. The band Eyes was frustrating for him so he left to work on a new band Slam. Marcel Jacob still kept Talisman alive. However, the label went belly up and Jason signed with Warner Sweden. With Jeff gone, Jason Bieler left to focus on Saigon Kick and everyone else left, Marcel needed a band. After much searching, he found 19 year old guitarist extraordinaire, Fredrik Akesson. Then shortly thereafter, he ran in to an old grade school pal, Matti Alfonzetti, who would join as the singer. They wrote and put some demos together for the label.
However, there was some management change at the label and they didn’t care about the success of the debut album as it wasn’t their baby so Marcel packed shop and left. They shopped the album around and after six months of nothing, Matti decided to leave and pursue other things. Marcel was not deterred and kept shopping the demo around without a singer. Finally Dino Records was interested in the band with one big catch. They wanted Jeff back on vocals. They knew about the success of their debut with Jeff and they loved that sound. That wasn’t a terrible thing for Marcel. Marcel decided to reach out to Jeff and catch up. And within 3 weeks of that call, the two were together again in the studio to record the next Talisman album. Why did Jeff join so quickly, well…the Eyes were done in his eyes and his band Slam was going nowhere as every door had been slammed in their face so what choice did he have. None really and we are all the better for it.
Talisman at this point was Marcel Jacob, Jeff Scott Soto and Fredrik Akesson (now in Opeth) and so they had enough players with just the three of them and they got to work. They didn’t have a drummer anymore as Jakob Samuel left to focus on finding a band where he could be singer so Marcel handled all the drumming through a machine as well as the bass work. They recorded the album in December 1992 and on July 7, 1993, the album was released. It actually got some international interest and not just in Sweden. A Japanese edition was done with a bonus track. My version is not either the original or the Japanese Edition. I have the 2003 Re-Issue that was a double CD. The original album with the Japanese Bonus Track, plus a Bonus CD full of demos and alternate mixes. You even get the songs that were sung by Matti Alfonzetti which for a collector is a pretty cool score.
“Time After Time” kicks off the album and it was a song developed during a sound check while on tour for the debut album. Marcel was playing around with it and took it back to the hotel and turned it in to a song with Jeff adding lyrics and vocals later. The song kicks off with some finger picking and then a funky bass groove and then BAM!! It explodes in to a heavy rock track that blows your head off as your mind tries to wrap around the greatness. Jacob’s bass is front and center laying down a nasty funked up groove and the riffs by this 19 year old virtuoso player a recipe for a masterpiece. Soto’s vocals are powerful and yet so melodic and the chorus is catchy and slick and pure bliss. What a way to kick off the album.
Next up is “Comin’ Home” which was actually the first song written for the album and is about finding that perfect place that is a part of you as much as you are a part of it. The combo of Jacob and Akesson are the new dynamic duo of bass and guitar. Together they lay waste to all that hears them. It is a smorgasbord to the senses. This stadium sized anthem is loud and features metal riffs while maintaining that melodic sound with Sotos smooth vocals. Check out the solo as Akesson shows what he is made of with this one. You do get Jakob Samuels on the backing vocals so he wasn’t totally gone yet.
The first single off the album and a classic Talisman song is “Mysterious (This Time It’s Serious)” and it keeps the party going. If this song would’ve come out 3 years earlier you would have an instant and massive radio (and MTV) hit. This Chic inspired song has some fun and funk that pays homage to them while still being a pure hard rock song. Jeff’s vocals soar and he has never sounded better. Talisman is the biggest showcase of the stellarness that is Jeff’s vocals. I think I’m making up words.
“If You Could Only Be My Friend” brings some more hot, sizzling, funky goodness. I guess when the main songwriter is the bass player, bass will be heavy in the songs and Talisman is certainly that. Marcel’s playing is so recognizable the minute I hear it, I know who it is. How many bass players can do that? This song is his showcase. The song is rick, textured and full of layers of goodness. Soto tackles the vocals with the veracity of those bass line. That chorus seeps into your ears and sets up shop to be sung long after the song is over. The guitar solo, with the heavy bass thumping along, slays and the album.
The bass keeps going straight into “All or Nothing” that explodes with a force that will shake the walls and rattle the floors. The lightning tempo will get you moving for sure. It is 100 mph rock frenzy as all the songs have been so far. The solo is a back and forth for the Bass and the Guitar before the Guitar solo knocks it out of the park. This 19 year old is a pure powerhouse and a major shredder. There is no time to catch your breath as it is pounding one song after the other. And Amen to that brother!!!
Then things finally slow down with the first ballad “All I Want”. The song is piano based which starts off with just the piano and Soto on vocals. The piano is actually played by Jeff’s girlfriend at the time Julie Greaux (Billy Idol & Axel Rudi Pell). The band comes kicking in and adds the power to the ballad. The song is quite nice with the emotive vocals that immerse you into the song. You have the obligatory solo and everything you want in a power ballad. It is a nice time to slow it down so you could catch your breath.
The next one opens with a bass solo accompanied by a heavy pounding bass drum. “U Done Me Wrong” kicks off the back half of the album as the first had started with power and energy. When these boys rock, the kick some major ass. The song follows the same formula as the rest and as a result works just fine. Jakob is back on backing vocals for this one too.
“I’ll Set Your House On Fire” is another rocker and this time the guitar riffs are nasty and a little gritty. There is a stylistic change, a more deliberate pacing, a darker tone and a heavier groove. The sound is crisp and clean and the guitar solo is short and sweet. Jeff’s vocals aren’t as sweeping and smooth as he adds some grit and gives a more serious delivery brings us one a really cool song.
Another rocker with “Give Me A Sign” was originally a Matti song that they tweaked the lyrics so Jeff could make it his own and he did. Not as heavy as prior songs, still a rocker though. Bumped up against the first half of the album shows the song is still good, but not as strong as the first half songs. Jeff’s vocals are melodic and strong, but the song itself is a little dull compared to the others. The saving grace is the guitar work by this kid at the end. It is stellar. But I still wouldn’t skip it.
More funky goodness comes with “Lovechild”. Marcel lays down some magic with those bass lines. Jeff turns the vocals into another melodic party. This one is a slower rocker with as not as much power, but more power than a ballad. It sounds like three guys playing and having fun making sound it so effortlessly and easy. When Frederik lays down that solo and has Marcel chugging along, it is fantastic. A great deep cut.
The dramatic, orchestrated keyboard opening of “Long Way To Go” is over-the-top goodness. The song then kicks in as the true rocker it is. Jeff’s vocals are on point and he delivers another great performance and just slays that short chorus with a scream of the song title. Another great solo and there are a lot of those. To think he was only around 19….crazy. Julie is also on this one but as backing vocals. What I like about this song is how different it sounds then a lot of the songs on here. I don’t know if it was a last minute add, but I am glad they did. It is great way to go out. Except not the end of the re-issue as we get a bonus track.
The Japanese Edition of the album had a Bad Company cover thanks in large part to Marcel who was getting in to Paul Rodgers at the time and loved this song. Jeff handles is beautifully as he can morph his vocals to fit almost any style and he takes this one and delivers an authentic Bad Company performance of the song with “Run With the Pack”. Okay his verses are pure Jeff, but I like the way he tackles the chorus with that deeper tone. It is great.
Time After Time – Keeper
Comin’ Home – Keeper
Mysterious (This Time It’s Serious) – Keeper
If U Would Only Be My Friend – Keeper
All or Nothing – Keeper
All I Want – Keeper
U Done Me Wrong – Keeper
I’ll Set Your House on Fire – Keeper
Give Me A Sign – Keeper(1/2 Point)
Lovechild – Keeper
Long Way To Go – Keeper
Run With the Pack (Bad Company Cover) – Keeper
The Track Listing is 11.5 out of 12 or 96% which is almost flawless. But let’s be honest, this album is flawless. It is the perfect vehicle to highlight Jeff Scott’s vocals as this is his wheelhouse in style I like him the best. Fredrik Akesson is only 19 and he nails every note and solo perfectly. For a band that does this style of music, you need a gunslinger and they found it. Marcel’s bass playing might be one of my favorite things of Talisman. I love how prominent he is in the sound and he is the main songwriter along with Jeff. This is as close to perfect as you can get. My Overall Score is easily 5.0 out of 5.0 Starsand might be the best thing they ever did…I said might be.
The 2003 Reissue had a bonus disc of demos and rare cuts from the band and it is pretty great. It kicks off an early cut of “Time After Time” which is a rough mix and and a little more raw which is kind of nice. It is definitely not finished production wise and I like the feel of it. Then we get “Comin’ Home” which again, not finished so a little rougher around the edges but you can hear the magic of this one. “U Done Me Wrong” still has the bass solo opener, but the bass drum is weak and awful, probably a cheap drum machine place holder. Once the song kicks in it is back to what you know. “Give Me A Sign” is next and wasn’t my favorite song on the album, and still not here either. It still not a bad song, but weaker in comparison.
Then we get the Matti Alfonzetti sung songs. First up is “Fighting For Your Life” which is the original title of “All or Nothing”. Matti has a great voice and I do like this early version of the song. They completely redid the lyrics and Matti’s song writing credit with the studio album. Musically it is basically the same. This is a very rough demo and not produced very well (thus a demo I guess). It does have the energy of the final version though. Cool track though I see why the label wanted Jeff. Then we get his version of “Time After Time”. and I think it sounds great. Basically same song with re-worked lyrics as again, no Matti writing credit on the final version like their is with this one. I’m guessing he didn’t write the chorus cause that is no different. Strange. “Give Me A Sign” is back again with Matti and again, same song, reworked lyrics. The next Matti sung song is “Angel” which Talisman never actually recorded for a studio album because it was written by only Matti. It was released on a Bam Bam Boys album and a Matti solo album I believe. It is a cool song. “Lovechild” which is like the others, rough different lyrics.
The last song is a song called “Rainbow’s End” which is a rare Talisman holy grail type song. It was recorded with Thomas Vikstrom on vocals. Thomas was lead singer of a band called Horny Strings. He recorded some demos with Marcel, but little interest was ever gained on them. The song is a great hard rock song with a great solo by someone. Marcel’s bass work is prominent as you’d expect. This is a cool treasure. The last track is a video that can be played on your PC. It is for the song “Mysterious (This Time It’s Serious)” and a great piece to have as well all on one spot (and you can see the video earlier on in the post).
I’m not going to rate the Bonus disc because it is demos and not quite fair. But as a collector this is 100% cool!! And worth every penny to grab this if you see it. I hope you enjoyed this long run through the album. Thanks for hanging around this long.