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Axxis - "Utopia" (CD)

Axxis - "Utopia" CD cover image

"Utopia" track listing:

1. Journey To Utopia
2. Utopia
3. Last Man On Earth
4. Fass Mich An
5. Sarah Wanna Die
6. My Fathers’ Eyes
7. The Monsters Crawl
8. Eyes Of A Child
9. Heavy Rain
10. For You I Will Die
11. Underworld

Reviewed by on October 10, 2009

"Listening to the new album is an interesting experience to say the least, as part of it is ripped straight from power metal of yore, and part from a German disco."

Axxis is celebrating the 20th anniversary of their initial full-length album this year. That first album, “Kingdom of the Night,” became the best selling hard rock debut album in Germany. To celebrate this feat they released their 13th full length in 2009, “Utopia.” Listening to the new album is an interesting experience to say the least, as part of it is ripped straight from power metal of yore, and part from a German disco.

The intro track, “Journey to Utopia,” is a fairly standard atmospheric synth opener. Except that the soundscape sounds like the outtakes from the Mortal Combat soundtrack instead of the expected melodrama. The techno keyboards and lilting female vocals drifting in the background are certainly unexpected, as is the dance club keyboard opening to the title track. While the rest of the song has the standard power metal vocals and guitars and whatnot, those dance hall keys don’t leave altogether and meander about underneath the metal crush, popping in during breaks and bridges.

The next track, “Last Man On Earth,” changes course abruptly, featuring the gothic-styled keys and drama expected of a German power metal act. The verses are fairly spartan arrangements with staccato chords under the vocals. The bridges build layers and the chorus blows the whole thing out. But just when it seems like it is gone, the dance hall pops in again, this time in Marco Wriedt’s guitar – the fill between the first chorus and second verse is the exact reprise of the keys from the title track, just played on guitar. Wriedt does also contribute an outstanding solo to “Last Man On Earth,” although that dance beat is back underneath the lead also.

While power metal as a genre does incorporate some pop elements, particularly in the keyboard arrangements, Axxis has taken it to a whole new strata on “Utopia.” While no song features them quite as much as the title track, the pop influences are at the forefront throughout. The secondary keyboard melody on “Fass mich an” is straight from Top 40 dance radio, as is the intro to “Sarah Wanna Die” – which is a fantastic song, as it happens.

Axxis has written some seriously catchy tunes, and they just happen to play them as power metal instead of pop or more mainstream rock ‘n’ roll. Wriedt’s guitar and Harry Oellers’ keyboard are in lockstep the entire time, laying down bouncy melody after bouncy melody, trading off lead and follow throughout. Every solo, keyboard or guitar, is an anthemic line that is easy to feel good about, and every song has a fun part. Alex Landenburg keeps frenetic time on his drum kit and Rob Schumacher keeps his bass mostly out of the way. Bernhard Weiss’ gives a solid performance - his vocals never come out of falsetto and they carry the upper register melodies for much of the whole album.

While the musicianship is solid, the real story on “Utopia” is the songwriting. Blind Guardian has covered the Beach Boys and Lefay has covered Prince, but if Axxis covered those artists it would sound like they wrote "Purple Rain" themselves. The band’s ambition is to be “a pure rock ‘n’ roll band,” and they may have overshot, becoming ABBA disguised as power metal heroes.

Highs: “Sarah Wanna Die” and “Underworld” combine the metal and pop very well and are great songs.

Lows: The album gets very saccharine at times – “Fathers’ Eyes” and “Heavy Rain” are two big culprits.

Bottom line: Not enough salt to counter the sweet on this power-metal-meets-dance-hall-pop combo.

Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls
2.5 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)