What do shred-masters Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Kirk Hammett and Dave Mustaine have in common? All cite German rock guitar virtuoso Michael Schenker as a monumentally significant influence on their individual playing styles.
Schenker first tasted of success after he and his brother, Rudolph formed the Scorpions in 1971. His status as a European guitar god had already been solidified by the time he formed his successful solo band, The Michael Schenker Group (MSG) in the ‘80s. But it was his work with U.F.O. that Schenker established himself as a force to be reckoned with.
Schenker joined U.F.O. in 1973 after being lured away from the Scorpions by vocalist Phil Mogg. His fiery, groundbreaking guitar playing proved to be the missing piece of U.F.O.‘s puzzle. The lineup of Schenker, Mogg, bassist Pete Way and drummer Andy Parker would soon churn out classic records like Phenomenon (1974), Force It (1975) and No Heavy Pettin’ (1976). With the addition of keyboardist/guitarist Paul Raymond, the band’s success continued with Lights Out (1977) and Obsession (1978) which included the hits, “Too Hot to Handle,” “Lights Out” and “Only You Can Rock Me.” However, after the release of their live album, Strangers in the Night (1979), Schenker abruptly left the band.
Though U.F.O. would continue with a variety of lineups, it would be 15 years before the band would reunite with the brilliant comeback release, Walk on Water (1994). Once again, Schenker would exit to concentrate his efforts on MSG only to return five years later to record their latest album, Covenant.
Covenant is a two-disc set with disc one consisting of 11 new songs from Schenker, Mogg, Way and drummer Ansley Dunbar (Frank Zappa, Journey). The second disc contains seven live tracks recorded during the band’s 1995 U.S. tour. While the record doesn’t walk on water, it still contains some excellent material that gets better with each listen. The opening track, “Love Is Forever” embodies that late ‘70s Euro-rock sound and features Schenker’s ominous choral arpeggios, blistering riffs and signature over-the-top solos. The band keeps things rockin’ with a succession of driving tunes such as “Unraveled,” “Midnight Train” and “The Smell of Money.”
Then there is the catchy anthem “Serenade” that features Way’s vibrant, propulsive bass lines against Schenker’s rich rhythmic melodies. The song also features excellent harmonies as well as a beautiful Paco De Lucia-inspired flamenco guitar solo.
“Fool’s Gold” is the record’s tour-de-force. The song begins with warm but haunting guitar lines amidst smooth, textured orchestration but quickly evolves into a sonic blitzkrieg with Schenker reeling off a barrage of mind-blowing solos. It’s unfortunate that his outro solo fades as soon as it begins. It should have lasted several minutes to satisfy his ravenous fans.
Is Covenant a classic U.F.O. record? Maybe not. But it is a great rock record, proving that these guys aren’t willing to rest on past achievements. It also showcases the greatness of Michael Schenker as a tastefully original modern guitar hero. But more importantly, Covenant transports the listener back to a time when rock was pure; before the genre was bastardized by the purveyors of thrash, goth, death, grunge and of course, rock ‘n’ rap.