Axel Rudi Pell

The Ballads III

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The art of '80s-styled heavy metal power ballads is alive and well thanks to the efforts of German guitar hero Axel Rudi Pell, who turned in his third full disc filled exclusively with the same in 2005's The Ballads III. OK, so calling this concerted act of compositional repetition "art" may be stretching it a bit, but at least there's no subterfuge disguising what's in store here. And that's 11 examples -- three new, the rest drawn from previous LPs -- summing up to nearly 70 minutes' worth of heart-wrenching, soul-baring, fist-clenching, eye-squinting, baby-please-don't-leave-me, soft-rocking tearjerkers -- all of them custom-made to have macho men and denim-and-leather warriors everywhere pining for their leather-clad wenches. Or not. Bottom line: where the inclusion of one, or maybe even two, slow tunes amid a slew of angry metal anthems (the so-called "Stairway to Heaven" rule) makes for a nice break for relieving the tension, lining them up back to front quickly leads to distraction -- particularly when the bulk of them exceed the six-, seven-, and even eight-minute marks with despairing regularity. Tellingly, it's the gratefully brief (if spectacularly named) "The Curse of the Chains" -- a shimmering solo guitar instrumental inspired by classic Blackmore-isms like "Vielleicht das Nachste Mal (Maybe Next Time)" -- that leaves the most lasting impression. Still, in the end one comes away feeling like The Ballads III was one of those kooky ideas that looked a lot better on paper than proved practical in reality. But then, the fact that it's the third installment in the series suggests there's plenty of devout Axel Rudi Pell fans begging to differ.

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