Album review: U.D.O – Steelhammer

AFM Records – [Release date 21.05.13]

Udo Dirkschneider is a man who simply does not understand the meaning of slowing down. Even though he has recently witnessed the departure from the U.D.O ranks of his long-time friend and collaborator Stefan Kaufmann, the sixty one year old ex-Accept frontman has decided to soldier on, step up a gear, recruit two fairly unknown young guitarists and start working on new material.

That very process led to the creation of “Steelhammer” – a collection of fourteen new songs which constitute the band’s fourteenth studio album. So, how well have ‘Mr. Metal Heart’ and his young guitarists done?

Actually, if you exclude the quality of the sound which comes across as less computerised and more old-school/organic, you will find it very difficult to believe that Stefan Kaufmann and Igor Gianola have left the band and that is indeed quite an accomplishment on Udo’s part.

As most of us would expect, the album is filled with trademark vocal melodies and 80s Accept-style riffs, however, the Wuppertal-born singer has ensured that the use of vocaliser and orchestral and keyboard arrangements have provided “Steelhammer” with the variety needed in order to come across as an album that is classic, but could also potentially attract a younger audience.

The opening same-titled composition “Steelhammer” is a celebration of 80s classic Metal, while “A Cry Of The Nation” finds Udo indulging in a slow melodic guitar theme and narrative-style vocals. Fast is not always heavy, as suggested by the controlled but solid riffs of “Metal Machine”, while “Basta Ya”, Udo’s tribute to his Spanish fans (lyrics are in Spanish) is an 80s Dio-style (see “We Rock”) composition.

With the help of a grand piano, Udo performs the short but emotionally-charged “Heavy Rain” and the mid-tempo key-supported “Devil’s Bite” paved the way for the bombastic head banging riffs of “Death Ride”. If you like your Metal classic and 80’s-sounding, then the Accept influenced “King Of Mean” and “Take My Medicine” will most likely bring a smile to your face, while the Hard Rocker “Never Cross My Way” might just make you sing along to the catchy tunes of its memorable refrain.

The song that really stood out for me is “Timekeeper” – a composition which features a sensational lead melody and whose effect cannot be compared to that of either the Judas Priest influenced “Stay True” nor the symphonic (that’s right boys and girls) “Book Of Faith”, the most unusual and unique U.D.O. song that I have heard in years.

As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – and many musicians of Udo’s caliber follow this motto. Herr Dirkschneider, on the other hand, continues to seek new ways of making sure that his classic blend of Heavy Metal remains relevant to younger metalheads and the results are always rewarding.

If honesty and passion is what you seek in an album then “Steelhammer” should be your next purchase.  **** (4/5)

John Stefanis

Interview (May 2013)

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