Sunday, 22 May 2016

Balls To The Wall - Accept

Provenance: Bought this in preparation for an Udo Dirkschneider gig in May 2016, which was billed as his last time ever singing Accept material (beard on).

Review: I have a lingering affection for Germany, having spent some considerable time there in the early years of this century. Most of it was spent in Berlin. Waking up each morning I would turn on the radio, tuned to Spree FM, and waited for my morning dose of Depeche Mode. I was rarely disappointed. If the Basildon gloomsters failed to make an appearance I could always look forward to Phil Collins, such was the predictability of Spree FM.

I spun the dial this way and that in search of something with a bit more welly. No cigar. Germany has a strong rock and metal heritage but it seemed, at least in those days, that nobody was willing to give it an airing on the airwaves. Speaking to people, you got the impression that German rock was a bit of an embarrassment. Rammstein had a certain amount of cultural capital, but any mention of the Scorpions was likely to elicit a wry chuckle and a flippant remark about 'Winds of Change'. Fair enough, it's a shit song alright, but the Scorps had some great material and remain to this day a solid live act. Nobody knew who Accept were.

What a shame. During the 1980s Accept released a trilogy of brilliant albums, of which Balls To The Wall ranks at the forefront. I'll go one further as to say it was one of the best metal albums of the entire decade, by any band. Accept took the hard-driving metal template and twisted it around eminently hummable choruses. The production is crisp. It doesn't hurt that the title track is a true metal classic.

In addition, Accept had a secret weapon - vocalist Udo Dirkschneider. Along with Halford, Dio and Dickinson he was one of the decade's most distinctive singers, which is just as well as he a strange looking character. Here he is wearing his Action Man pyjamas, demonstrating just why he was so important to the overall Accept sound. That razored larynx, permanently pitched between a snarl and a scream, gives the album an added element of aggression and helps to elevate Accept's primo output to the top tier of metal.

Dirkschneider's lacerating vocal style is first heard in the chorus to 'Balls To The Wall', a wonderful mid-paced prowler with a huge intro riff and numerous screech-along moments. 'London Leatherboys' sounds like Killing Machine era Judas Priest, it's fist-pump chorus simultaneously preposterous and irresistible. Elsewhere, 'Love Child' is a lacerating head-rush (and one of the few metal songs of the age to tackle the issue of sexuality) whilst 'Winter Dreams' is a stately, strangely affecting conclusion to the album that transports the listener to Udo's own personal alpine fantasyland.

Yet it's an inescapable fact that this album is also pretty funny, due in no small part to the less-than-fluent English deployed throughout. Commercial realities meant that Accept needed to sing in English if they were to entertain any notion of success outside of their home territory. One of my favourite lines in the entirety of recorded music occurs early on, when Dirkschneider mutters "let's plug a bomb in everyone's ass. 'London Leatherboys' is a hot cut fresh from the Tower of Babel, its title alone veering dangerously into Tobias Funke territory. 'Head Over Heels' manage to sound both incomprehensible and perverse at the same time.

What the fuck, though. I couldn't write a song in German. It's all rather churlish to make fun when the music is so bloody excellent. I had the good fortune of seeing Udo Dirkschneider in London this year playing Accept songs for the final time (or so he says). That a large swathe of Balls To The Wall got an airing is testament to the popularity and durability of this release. When his band played 'Balls To The Wall' the crowd went nuts. I went nuts. An essential part of any serious metaller's collection.

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