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The first step is taking this pooch for what it is - 83%

Gutterscream, September 2nd, 2013
Written based on this version: 1983, 12" vinyl, Mausoleum Records

It’s nice to see a band give a pooch (the real life Underdog, apparently) not only front jacket coverage, but also a photo shot on the back where’s its just relaxing and not four seconds away from ripping a family apart or something. Even warmer than this canine lover’s feel good moment is this German band’s rockin’ metal hybrid that by ’83 sounds about three or more years outta date, but regardless still manages to come across honestly, professionally, toastily produced, and, I dunno, comfortable to the unpretentious ear when put into equally unpretentious perspective.

Listen to cusp of the decade releases from Belgium’s Killer, the Fists from both Canada and England, countrymates Mass, Demon, Axe, and probably UFO, then put your ear to Underdog and I’ll bet you’ll find more of the warmth of confidence, naturalness, and things worry-free those albums shoulda known. The five-piece is also unafraid to age further by dusting off Heepishly-Purple (or vice-versa) keys that sometimes merely underscore a song, yet other times rise to more prominent occasions as explained in slower porch swing “Hammer my Nail into You”, Purpled “Shut up You Dudes”, the title breed, and the unneeded new wave, synth-effectual story arc of “Red Alert”, seemingly an intro to the song that these effects warp over into, the Heepishly cool n’ bump-free “Speed Attack”. Locate the guy on the cover glowing with the most new wave weeeee! factor and you’ve fingered their keyboardist.

Whereas some metal groups whose rock-charred full-length platters find refuge in the temperance of medium-paced unhurried haste (as well as the occasional Kleenex sapster), Underdog aim more for the brisk ride to amp up heart rates and knot up ponytails, and peppered thoughtfully around this lp are tunes bred with their brand of get up n’ go agenda. Oiled up to be the inspired doormen to this thing are helmetless mood-setters “Lightnin’ Fever” and “Damned Man Alive”, the sides’ lively kick starts. Don’t know where “Speed Attack” would be if not picking bugs out of its teeth here, then there’s cool-ass “Night Shock”, “Underdog”, the mid-paced fitness of “Burnin’ Eyes”, and the looser, southern rock-tinged anthem/finale “Shout it Out Together” putting the kibosh on any proposed hi-tailed skimp factor.

Much of this lp’s aforementioned warmth vents in from a guitar tone that’s altogether tidy, fuzz-free, toned fairly richly yet is oddly humble, and is yet more oddly unimposing without diminishing its king ‘o the kennel position among the other instruments. Sounds strange I know, yet admittedly intangible and subjective evidence of this encourages my belief that it was the band’s A-plan all along, with perceptible moments being the breakdown behind the solo in “Lightnin’ Fever” and up-front in the AC/DC-sparked main rhythm of “Night Shock”.

While we’re down under, AC/DC’s infectious spore blows across these grooves as well, snagged most noticeably in the chorus of “No Way to Lose”, the undercoat of “Underdog”, the stylishness of “Night Shock”, and other places where the Aussies’ disregard for vanity, posturing, and self-importance spreads roots. In addition to this and with relative ease, Mike “Spider” Linster swipes the magical newsboy cap off Brian Johnson’s ‘fro and scrapes up a style similar in manner and inflection when he’s not vehemently screeching the ends of most verses with a raw, scratched-high veneer. Well, for me no harm done since I’ve always felt Johnson originally stole that hat from Nazareth’s Dan McCafferty, so it serves him right.

Underdog is an unexpectedly solid bowl where one can feed on tastefully mashed together AC/DC, Heep, Purple, some Thin Lizzy, a stretch of debut More, and a few others that translate the quintet’s resonance as carved more largely from hard rock influence than any modern metal, however don’t expect things as predictable as anything blues-wrought or wrapped in tissues. This translation also reveals the ingredient that’s most conspicuously missing from this recipe is the common table salt known as, by ’83, inescapable nwobhm presence. Seems almost impossible, but makes sense considering when this lp sounds like it was recorded.