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Awesome with a new lineup. - 80%

Tobbe L, June 23rd, 2013

What a comeback to better days, now without long-time guitarists Stefan Kaufmann and Igor Gianola, who both announced their departures last year. The two latest releases, Rev-Raptor and Dominator, were the absolute weakest releases in the entire U.D.O. catalogue. Gone is Kaufmann's robotic, flat, and dead production that has overshadowed the latest albums and made them partially unbearable. The Russia-born Andrey Smirnov handles all guitar play on this release since the Finnish axeman Kasperi Heikkinen joined the ranks after the recordings.

Steelhammer presents a band that has returned to their earlier days and with the production from Dirkschneider and Wienhold this feels more alive again. With Udo in charge without Kaufmann's strong influence, there's clearly more room for a classic sound. It's no total early nineties album, yet older days are strongly evident. Something had to be done to create life and activity in this band again and they have actually succeeded.

U.D.O. uses their whole repertoire with fast songs, mid-tempo heavy metal tracks ,and actually a little unexpected, a true ballad in Heavy Rain. I can't say that Udo's voice is exactly fitted to ballads, but it's a cool move, though. He has also gone back to a more Accept-like approach and although he's aging, he tries to sing many songs like he did earlier into his career with Accept's eighties releases and with U.D.O.'s earlier days. Perhaps because of his former band's great success on their two new releases?

The guitarists swap has totally made this band hot and on topic again. Most likely, this matter has created a new, or rather an older, viewpoint which is to release music the fans long for. I'm very satisfied with a number of songs and U.D.O. fans should indeed give this new piece a shot. Definitely their best work in many years. I can't see how fans of their classic sound wouldn't like this awesome return.

Originally written for www.metalcovenant.com

Ruling with an iron fist - 92%

kawuniadarunia2, June 17th, 2013

Whenever you hear ''U.D.O. is releasing a new album'', you pretty much know what can you expect. And when you also know, that the album is called Steelhammer, you can also expect that it's gonna kick ass. Well, here it is and there's no chance of speaking about a letdown. What you need to remember is that this LP was actually a test o strength for Dirkschneider. It's a first release in many years not to feature band's long time member and co-writer, Stefan Kaufmann and also a great guitar player Igor Gianola. First of those two doesn't need any presentation. The legendary ex-Accept drummer has been helping his old colleague with his career since the album Solid from 1997 and he co-wrote some of the band's best stuff. The question is: did Udo passed the test? Hell fuckin' yeah! The ugliest dwarf in heavy metal and one of the best singers of all time is back again to smash our faces to the ground! And Steelhammer is His best work since Mastercutor! And also the band managed to ''commit'' some interesting musical experiments.

The title track is a typical U.D.O. opener - heavy, rolling and ballbreaking. And the second the choir in the refrain show shows up confirms our belief, that this album simply rules. The production is pretty decent but that's not a big surprise, U.D.O. never fails on that plane. Of course the lion's share of the album are classic post-Accept heavy metal anthems. The band's new line up brings two guitar players - Andrey Smirnov and Kasperi Heikkien, although only Smirnov managed to play on the album. His play seems to be right where it should, you can't complain about any lack of guitar power due to the missing of Kaufmann/Gianola (hell, some people may not even notice that while listening!). The riffing is heavy in some slow rolling songs (Timekeeper, A Cry Of A Nation), in others it can be speedy and sparkling (Death Ride, Stay True, Basta Ya). And those fast moments, larded with brilliant solos are some of the highlights of Steelhammer. Stay True automatically joins the ''Fast-as-a-shark-type Killers Club'' and it confirms Dirkschneider's vocal shape. It's amazing how the years are passing by and yet he still got the ability to yell just like 20 years ago. King Of Mean or A Cry Of A Nation presents him as Brian Johnson's monster clone, the songs like Never Cross My Way on the other hand proofs that Udo can also sing with feelings and sensitivity. That song is actually one of the most catchy points of the album. When Love Becomes A Lie stands on the same level and brings lyrics full of bitterness, written after Dirkschneider divorced his wife. Rest of the songs though brings subjects more typical for the band, like Metal Machine (they made a music video for it) or Devil's Bite.

Now for the experiments, which are in my opinion the most interesting parts of Steelhammer. First of all - Basta Ya. Musically it's good old U.D.O. as we know it. But wait, Udo sings the whole song in Spanish! He also joins his forces here with a spanish metal singer, Victor Garcia. The effect - mind-blowing, one of the album's highlights! Heavy Rain is a gentle ballad based on nothing but piano and voice. Some die-hard fans may call it controversial, but since Udo totally knocked me down with his piano version of Balls To The Wall, I had no prejudice to this one. And once again this bulldog-faced screamer shows, that he can sing with delicacy (of course with some dramatic hoarseness). The wierdest thing is the album's closing track, The Book Of Faith. Strange pulsation and rythm (as for U.D.O.), bizarre sound effects and musical equipment and most of all the vocals! Udo sounds here like a combination of Bon Scott and Ozzy Osbourne turning into a goddamn lizard-mutant! Actually there's a interesting story behind that song. As it turns out, Udo had drunk one night with the band after a gig or something like that and then those vocal lines poped into his head. He liked them very much but he was afraid that might forget them the next day, so he recorded them on a cell phone. And as he said in one interview he tried to sing it many times after that night but none of them was as good as the original ''cell phone version''. So the band putted that recording on the album! But if you ask me, I like it. I like the way how odd this one song is.

Referring to the album cover - being 61 years old Udo Dirkschneider still rules the metal world with the iron fist and seems unbreakable. So let us hope for more LP's like Steelhammer.