Label: AFM Records
Release Date: May 21, 2013
It has been more than a quarter century since Udo Dirkschneider walked away from Accept and formed his namesake band, U.D.O. In that span he and his band have made some pretty impressive albums, with a few so-so efforts in the mix. This month the mighty Teutonic vocalist and a revamped line-up return with their 14th studio effort, “Steelhammer”. The album is easily U.D.O.’s most impressive effort in recent memory, putting a fresh face on the band’s classic style.
“Steelhammer” is 14 tracks deep, and there really isn’t anything that one might consider filler. So the band has certainly made the investment of time and money worthwhile. The album’s cover art is classic metal and for some reason reminds me of Judas Priest’s “Defenders of the Faith”.
In 2012, the band’s longtime guitarist Stefan Kaufman stepped down for health reasons. He has also been Dirkschneider’s writing partner and the band’s producer. To add to the loss fellow guitarist Igor Gianola who had more than a decade in the band stepped down as well.
Finding new guitarists was an exhaustive process but he found two virtuosos in the form of former Amberian Dawn guitarist Kasperi Heikkinen and Russian multi-instrumentalist Andrey Smirnov (Everlost).
Writing the album proved much easier than Udo might have imagined. The stocky singer needed only to look stage-left at his bass player of 16 years to discover a new songwriting partner. Fitty Weinhold has been with U.D.O. since the band’s fifth studio album, “Solid”. Ironically the same album which saw Kaufman initially joined the band.
What becomes quickly noticeable about the “Steelhammer” album are the nuances that embellish the band’s tried and true riff-heavy assault. The differences begin with the guitars, and fear not the riffage is as crisp and ubiquitous as ever. The style has altered slightly though. After years of the cement-fisted sound of Gibson guitars; that thick solid body beef you get from a Flying V, Les Paul or Explorer, “Steelhammer” shows a fist encased in leather. Both new guitarists play thin body style guitars, and while the sound is still ballsy and crisp, it has a little less thickness to it. It’s a subtle difference only a guitarist might notice.
The title track opens the album with the aforementioned heavy riffage and a typical U.D.O. chorus. Have no fear U.D.O. is as strong as ever. But wait, what is this? Neo-classical guitar shredding woven throughout the track: This is new, and a nice addition to the band’s signature. Weinhold’s rumbling bass thrums like a well-oiled machine in time with Francesco Jovino’s bone-triturating drum work.
“A Cry of a Nation” is a vintage jawbreaker U.D.O. style number, but the chorus is a bit weak. The band makes up for it though on “Metal Machine”, and three songs in, any apprehension one might have had that U.D.O.’s days might be numbered are forgotten. This is a classic headbanging arena anthem and showcases the band’s ability to mesh old school metal with modern flourish.
One of the album’s true gems comes in the form of “Basta Ya” which translates to “enough is enough”. The song is performed in Spanish and is a call to arms against terrorism. Victor Garcia Gonzalez of Spain’s Warcry helps out on this track, and it’s a beast.
If you ever wondered what Udo might sound like singing a later-era Beatles song, crank up the album’s ballad, “Heavy Rain”. It’s a surprisingly appealing number, and shows that even a crusty old rocker like Dirkschneider has a sensitive side. Former Mob Rules and current Love.Might.Kill keyboardist Sascha Onnen added piano to the performance.
“Devil’s Bite” takes us back to the heaviness with a guitar line that harks to “Thunder Kiss ‘65” era White Zombie. It also offers up a bit of an electronica intro what might never have expected to hear on a U.D.O. album. In fact, there is a surprising amount of keyboard work layered throughout this record.
“Death Ride” is more traditional blistering U.D.O. while the combo of “King of Mean” and “Timekeeper” find the band channeling “Turbo” era Judas Priest. Both songs are wickedly performed, and they make for two of the album’s strongest tracks.
In the embarrassingly misheard lyrics department, which I’ll blame on Udo’s unique vocal delivery, what I first thought was “take my seed” turned out to be “Take My Medicine” and “it’s a hairy pill” is actually “it’s a heavy pill.” Regardless, it’s another riff-fest along with “Stay True”.
The album closes out with the quasi-ballad, “When Love Becomes a Lie” and the intriguing “Book of Faith” which I could easily hear Dio having performed.
“Steelhammer” find U.D.O. proving their metal worth on an album that masterfully blends the band’s roots with the powerful voice of the present. Udo Dirkschneider produced and did a stand up job of bringing his band of faithful brethren together with the dynamic and exciting fretwork of two outstanding new axe-wielders. This is U.D.O. in fine and rare form, showing the youth of today how the icons of yesteryear earned such legendary status.
Check out our recent interview with Udo.