Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pounding Steel?

U.D.O. – Steelhammer

AFM Records -2013

Muthas, the Teutonic Titan Udo is back with an album of original material following last year’s Live In Sofia and the compilation of rare tracks, Celebrator.  There have been some changes in the lineup with the exit of guitarists Stefan Kaufmann and Igor Gianola.  Kaufmann’s leaving is most surprising considering that he had been with the band for years, and was in Accept with Udo.  Kaufmann was also the producer for the last few U.D.O. albums, and his leaving was potentially disastrous.  So how did Steelhammer turn out?  Did U.D.O. shit the bed or did they rise to the challenge presented by the re-energized Accept?   

Fortunately, the answer is mostly positive.  When Stefan Kaufmann left, he took that horribly shitty and sterile guitar sound with him.  I doubt the guitars on Dominator and Rev-Raptor were ever even plugged into an amp.  The production on Steelhammer is miles better than what Kaufmann had been offering up.  The songs also exhibit a new sense of urgency that seemed to be missing from the last couple of albums. Udo the man, and U.D.O. the band, are nothing if not prolific, and the quality of their output may suffer from their high rate of production.  The couple of years between albums in this case has helped the band make most of these songs razor sharp.

Right off the bat, it’s clear that U.D.O. has renewed passion and vigor, because the first two tracks are good and the third track, “Metal Machine” is excellent.  Check out the video for it below:

Unfortunately, the flow of the album screeches to a halt during the next three tracks.  “Basta Ya” is fine musically, but the song is in Spanish, and frankly, I don’t want to listen to a non-English track.  Next up is the horrific ballad “Heavy Rain.” Udo needs to stop it with these ballads as they just don’t suit his voice at all.  No thanks. Then comes “Devil’s Bite” which has incredibly annoying, cheap-ass sounding keyboard flourishes. We are talking 1982 Casio keyboard here, and that shit is not acceptable. Ever. 

The rest of the album (except for the last track) is vicious, pounding Metal that rips faces off.  Check out “Death Ride,” “Never Cross My Way,” and “Take My Medicine.”  If Udo wants to slow things down he should do more cuts like the mid-paced “Love Becomes A Lie” and not that “Heavy Rain” turd.  Oddly, the last song, “Book of Faith” has a bizarre, almost jazzy intro and should have been cut from the album as it's kind of a clunker.  

The only other criticism is that the album is simply too long at fourteen tracks, and would have benefited from some judicious pruning.  Chop out “Basta Ya,” “Heavy Rain,” “Devil’s Bite,” and “Book of Faith” and put them on one of those EPs that AFM is so fond of churning out, and the resulting album would have been ten tight tracks of excellence. 

The album cover is killer, and very evocative of the music that lurks within its steely confines. Album art and design is sadly neglected in the digital age, but it's still important.  More artists should get their shit together and offer up great artwork like that on Steelhammer. Thankfully, that stupid clown/juggalo/whateverthefuck mascot that started with Mastercutor is history. Fuck that guy.


The Bottom Line:  U.D.O. have released their best album since 1999s Holy, with great production and many cuts of anthemic, crushing steel.  It’s great to see them finally answer the challenge presented by the last couple of Accept albums.  Buy it.

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