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The Machine That Didn’t Need to Eat Any Heat - 85%

bayern, July 29th, 2017

The mid-80’s were a relatively early time for things to start mutating, but they did, first with the poppier, friendlier direction the field took with Dio’s “Sacred Heart” and Motley Crue’s “Theatre of Pain”; and second with the more aggressive, speed/thrashy ways of execution that were quickly gaining inertia. So the heavy metal behemoths (Black Sabbath, Accept, Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest) had to start looking for ways to adapt if they wanted to sound relevant excluding Scorpions whose cross over several genres and nuances had already ensured them fairly wide audience. And before you know it, we had a number of albums (“Seventh Star”, “Turbo”, “Somewhere in Time”, “True as Steel”, etc.) in 1986 which captured some of these softer, pop-metal-ish aesthetics each in their own way; the veterans had made some cosmetic alterations eventually to their approach without having to shed their skin too much thus preserving their fanbase and reputation.

Accept were an exception to that imposed rule as “Russian Roulette”, released the same year, preserved their blitzkrieg teutonic style with only minor adjustments. However, the guys were looking at the numbers achieved by their compatriots Scorpions so more compromises had to be made later. Certainly, but without Udo; the man was adamant to keep raising the flag of classic heavy metal sky high, and left his comrades to embark on a solo career. Disagreement regarding the band’s future style was stated as the reason for his departure, but I have the feeling the man already had these intentions even before the end of the “Russian Roulette” tour as his debut “Animal House” appeared mere months after the tour was over (rumours say that this was a material written for the next Accept instalment…). And not only, but he had secured an admirable line-up to follow him down this road with musicians from Warlock, Sinner, Running Wild among whom was Stefan Schwarzmann, the drum guru (also Paradox, Accept, X-Wild, Running Wild again, etc.). Said debut was a really fine slab of classic heavy metal antics which saw the man carrying on from exactly where “Russian Roulette” had left off. A very promising beginning on all counts, and it now remained to be seen how Accept would respond to the challenge…

The story is very familiar to all metalheads, Udo’s former colleagues produced the disastrous “Eat the Heat”, one of the ten biggest flops in metal history, caramelized, Americanized radio-friendly non-sense which effectively terminated their career. Triumphant, with a malicious grin on his face (or so I imagine), the short man with the vociferous throat unleashed the album reviewed here four months later to display his superiority, and also to show that he could still be on the front seat without having to change anything from the good old formula. Although this opus doesn’t beat the debut, it’s another assuring collection of rousing heavy metal hits that were readily devoured by the hungry fanbase, and not only by the one based in Germany.

“Don’t Look Back” is a rousing speedster Udo’s staple mean spiteful antics soaring above the fast lashing guitars before “Break the Rules” “breaks” the fast-paced rules with a more streamlined hit-potential approach. “We’re History” is a nice epic semi-ballad mimicking the pathos from “Run for Cover” from the debut; and “Painted Love” is an excellent more dynamic shredder with a great chorus, arguably the highlight here. The title-track carries on in the same direction with sprightly speedy rhythms, a few interesting slower deviations, and another memorable chorus. “Dirty Boys” is the definitive heavy metal hymn with the hard-hitting riffage, the energetic delivery and the straight sing-along chorus, a template on which hundreds of acts built their entire repertoire in the 80’s and beyond. “Streets of Fire” slows down and notches up the epic again, but there’s no speed lost on “Lost Passion” which gallops with the finest out there also adding a dark, brooding flavour to the album. “Sweet Little Child” is a “sweet little” ballad, an obligatory entry for nearly every heavy metal album from “Paranoid” to “Painkiller”; Udo is at his most lyrical and poignant here, but it can’t be any other way with these “little children” who are also graced by brilliant lead sections. “Catch My Fall” is a fitting epitaph, a nice sing-along heavy metal anthem with heavy stomping riffs… Wait, this is not the closer since right after come some 30-sec of raging grindy thrash named “Still in Love with You”, the obvious joke finale, and also a short rehearsal for the next instalment “Faceless World”, Udo’s graceful entry into the speed/thrash fodder…

Kidding of course, but the man did try more aggressive music on “Timebomb” in 1991, overwriting the timid poppi-ness of the mentioned “faceless” (literally) third opus, where some tracks were pure speed metal fury not far from the most brutal material featured on “Painkiller”. The man was getting angrier with age, but this process was left unfinished, unfortunately, as he was invited to re-join his old love Accept in 1993 for a string of three capable, but hardly exceptional albums. Once this stunt came to an end, Udo resumed his solo career by also taking away the Accept drummer Stefan Kauffmann with him the latter staying around for a long spell all the way to 2011. Udo hasn’t looked back ever since although another potential reformation with his comrades from Accept was looming on the horizon in 2005 with several live appearances taking place. His determination to continue with his main band was stronger, though, and has remained such until the present day. We the fans should be all happy, Accept and Udo, two separate entities, walking hand in hand (well, not exactly)… producing the good old heavy metal on more or less regular bases. It’s a wonderful life for sure as there's no danger of any of the currently fully operational machines to get overheated any time soon.

Dirkschneider's real solo debut - 78%

Lewton, August 4th, 2007

"Mean Machine", despite being the second album in U.D.O. discography, can be in fact considered the very first Dirkschneider's solo recording. That's because the previous CD released by U.D.O., "Animal House", was entirely written by Udo's bandmates from Accept, as a kind of a nice goodbye gift when he decided to left them in 1986 to establish his own band. But it turned out that Udo was able to make a very decent album on his own.

"Mean Machine" is a logical continuation of what we experienced on "Animal House". This CD may be a little more speedy than its precedessor, but it still contains all things that were remarkable on AH: great melodies, catchy choruses and, above all, very characteristic vocals by Dirkschneider.

What we get here is quite traditional heavy metal, so don't expect untypical song structures, surprising tempo changes or other innovative solutions. Most songs are built in a standard way and the only really astonishing thing here is the last track: "Still in Love with You", which is not, as the title might suggest, a tearjerking ballad, but a truly strange, short instrumental piece, consisting of a very chaotic drum- and guitarwork and some inarticulate shouts. But it is surely included as a kind of a joke or curiosity.

As for the "normal" songs, there are ten tunes, all with no exception on a very decent level, so melodic and catchy that each of them could have been chosen for a single. Video was made for "Break the Rules", but "Don't Look Back" or the title track are surely not worse. They are fast, energetic songs in a vein of Accept's "Fast as a Shark", "Aiming High" or U.D.O.'s "Go Back to Hell". We also get a ballad, "Sweet Little Child", which manages not to be totally cheesy in spite of not the best lyrics.

All instrumentalists, while not being particularly outstanding, do a good job. Mathias Dieth's solos are rather nothing exceptional, but they fit the songs quite well. Dieth may be not as good as Wolf Hoffmann from Accept but he knows how to play the guitar and is probably the best guitarist U.D.O. ever had.

Udo himself is such a type of a vocalist that if you like him on one of his records, you'll like him on all the others as he always sings in the same, harsh, screeching way. But in choruses he is often supported by his bandmates, whose clean voices create a nice contrast with him in songs like "Painted Love" or already mentioned "Don't Look Back".

Overall, "Mean Machine" clearly isn't a classic masterpiece or a breakthrough in heavy metal. Nevertheless, it's a really decent, well-written and enjoyable record. If you like other Accept or U.D.O. albums or if you just like traditional, melodic heavy metal in general, you shouldn't be disappointed with this one.