One could write a book about all the things that have changed in metal and hard rock since 1989, when Axxis' debut album, Kingdom of the Night, came out. Grunge made alternative rock mainstream, death metal and black metal became incredibly plentiful (especially in Scandinavia), gothic metal excited Europe, and metalcore took hardcore to a decidedly vicious extreme. But those post-‘80s developments have had very little, if any, effect on Axxis, whose 2009 release, Utopia, sounds like it could have been recorded 20 years earlier. The musical recipe that these German headbangers unveiled on Kingdom of the Night -- which combined elements of power metal, pop-metal and prog-rock and emphasized fantasy-based lyrics -- is alive and well on Utopia. Stylistically, tracks like "Last Man on Earth," "Sarah Wanna Die," and "Eyes of a Child" are stuck in the ‘80s; from the shiny guitar solos to the glossy production to the big melodies and big hooks, Utopia is 49 minutes of unapologetic ‘80s worship. As far as Utopia is concerned, the ‘80s never ended -- and depending on one's point of view, that can be either a plus or a minus. Utopia sounds incredibly dated, but for headbangers who still can't get enough the ‘80s, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Axxis still have an enthusiastic, ‘80s-obsessed cult following who applaud the fact that they have made no effort to change with the times or update their sound. The highly predictable Utopia doesn't offer a lot of surprises or take many chances, but it's a likable effort nonetheless -- especially if one has fond memories of the ‘80s.
by Alex Henderson