“Steamrock fever, screaming rock believers.” – Klaus Meine, 1977
“Scream for me screamers, I’m a rock believer.” – Klaus Meine, 2022
SCORPIONS – Rock Believer (2022 Universal 2 CD edition)
The album of the year could be from a 57 year old band!
Although they’ve been trying hard, off and on, to recreate the past for the last 20 years or so, Scorpions never convinced us it was the 1980s again. Until now.
Whatever happened (be it the intense focus granted by a worldwide pandemic, or just the magic of interpersonal chemistry), Scorpions have issued their best record since Love At First Sting. Even the cover art recalls an earlier time in Scorpions history. With Rock Believer, the band have proven that time is no obstacle.
There are a lot of songs here and almost all of them are highlights. Opener “Gas in the Tank” feels like vintage, top-notch Scorpions. While Matthias Jabs emulates the sound of a car chase on his guitar, Rudolph Schenker lays down the first of many fully-leaded riffs. Though vocalist Klaus Meine no longer screams all the time, neither does Ian Gillan or very many other singers his age. The singer is still recognizable as nobody else, hanging onto his power and range. Nowhere on the album do you miss the screaming. Never do you say “all this song needed was a scream.” With the title “Gas in the Tank”, Klaus Meine may have unknowingly come up with a new anthem for 2022.
The only track that comes off as substandard by comparison is the second one, “Roots In My Boots”. On any past album from Crazy World on, it would be a high-speed highlight. On Rock Believer, we headbang along knowing that something better is coming. The chorus fails to land and neither do the lyrics. We are redeemed on third track “Knock ‘Em Dead”, which has the patented mid-80s Scorpions chug. Throw some candy-coated Matthias fills on top and it’s the classic sound. Klaus mentions “The Zoo” in the lyrics but it’s not all Judas Priest-like self-referencing (though there’s plenty of it on this album).
The gem of the album is “Rock Believer“, a truly remarkable ballad/rocker that strikes all the boxes. Klaus’ vocal performance is truly remarkable, going from forceful to tender in a single line. I am a rock believer like you too, Klaus. “Rock Believer” is an example of hard rock songwriting perfection. Every ingredient and aspect of the performance is flawless. Nothing extraneous, although drummer Mikkey Dee gets to go a little nuts at the end, which is a brilliant touch. It is rare to hear a song as immediately catchy as “Rock Believer” these days, but here you go, rock believers! This chorus is the kind that can stick in your head for the whole of a long weekend. (Trust me.)
A loud gothic riff on “Shining Of Your Soul” gives way to a familiar lighter reggae vibe similar to Scorpions classic “In Trance”. It’s a brilliant melding of two styles, and one that reaches back to the glorious 1970s era of the band. Certainly not a re-write of “In Trance”, but possibly a sequel. Jabs’ solo is absolutely brilliant, but don’t ignore underappreciated bassist Paweł Mąciwoda who brings a schooled melodic approach.
“Seventh Sun” stomps like the Scorps of old, recalling “The Zoo”. The bass leads the way while a sharp, sparse riff punctuates the song. It sounds like a huge mammoth of a beast, prowling heavily through the steppe. Scorpions don’t lose sight of melody and so “Seventh Sun” is strong in this regard as well. At 5:30, it is longest song on the album and closest to an epic.
Back to high-octane rockers, “Hot and Cold” really kicks. The riff is heavy and Paweł really goes for those low bass notes. While the chorus on this song is fine and dandy, it could be an example of a tune where the verses are superior. At least in terms of interesting and mind-grabbing guitar work, they are. Soon there’s another stinging riff, on the thrash-paced “When I Lay My Bones to Rest”. If you like your hard rock blasting fast and loud, then you will love “When I Lay My Bones to Rest”. Another heavy tune, “Peacemaker”, has been well received by fans. Scorpions have a long history as a band with a consistent anti-war stance. “Peacemaker” is the latest and possibly heaviest of these tunes. From the guitars to the chorus, “Peacemaker” rocks massive with melody and catchy stabs of guitar.
“Call of the Wild” is a different kind of song for this album. Klaus mentions a “Lovedrive”, but this song is one of their heavy and slow sex romps. It is somewhat unremarkable next to other tunes on the album, but it is different and picks up towards the end. Dig the slight “Sympathy for the Devil” homage. But have you noticed it’s been 10 songs, and not a real ballad among them? Ballads used to be a scourge of Scorpions albums, becoming too numerous especially on 1996’s Pure Instinct. This time there is only one, and it’s a classy one left for the end. “When You Know (Where You Come From)” is a thoughtful song, but it is the rare Scorpions ballad that stands as strong as the classics. It has a late 70s, early 80s construction and an absolutely epic guitar solo section.
11 songs with no instrumentals, interludes or fillers already makes for a hearty album. Scorpions had enough material written to make it a double, and so there’s a bonus CD with six bonus tracks. Seven in Japan, including their exclusive bonus track “Out Go the Lights”, an Accept-like heavy metal warehouse stomp. While “Out Go the Lights” is clearly bonus track material, the other six songs are not. Some of them are among the heaviest songs.
“Shoot For Your Heart” is album-worthy, with a cool unique lick in the riff that leaves you crying for more. This is a high-speed driving tune, the Scorpions bread and butter. “When Tomorrow Comes” has spoken word choruses with a forceful heavy metal riff and more “ahh, ahh, ahhs” than you can shake a scorpion’s stinger at. Good banger, but perhaps a bit too different for the proper album? It would not have weakened the record, but could possibly alienate listeners with weaker stomachs. “Unleash the Beast” is another bangin’ track, and check out Paweł’s deft bassline. “Unleash the Beast” doesn’t have the same kind of melodic might that most of the album has, but its strengths lie elsewhere, such as the creative guitars or Klaus’ talk-sing stylings. The vibe changes on “Crossing Borders”, a laid back rocker with charm and hooks. The guitars have a sleazy rock vibe and the lyrics follow suit. The final bonus track is an acoustic version of the closing ballad “When You Know (Where You Come From)”. The acoustic guitar solo perfectly augments Klaus’ flawless vocals. It’s a lovely coda and an appropriate way to end the extended version of Scorpions’ best album in decades.
Even with the wealth of of material on the deluxe edition of Rock Believer, missing is the ballad “Sign of Hope“, their 2020 standalone download-only lockdown single. Hopefully we’ll get a physical release of that eventually, though with the world now emerging it seems less relevant.
Though there are a couple songs that strive to be as good as the others, there’s nothing here worthy of the skip button. Even with the bonus tracks, Rock Believer is a solid listen from front to back. You cannot go wrong with either version, so just get one. Lockdown sucked and it was good to know Scorpions were using the time to create new music. Let’s support them in their efforts and celebrate their success.