There are no two ways about it; when ACCEPT returned with ex-TT QUICK frontman Mark Tornillo and released "Blood of the Nations" countless fans and critics were floored with the results. Now the question is whether a sophomore jinx (for Tornillo-led albums anyway) would derail the highly anticipated follow-up, "Stalingrad". No jinxes here; just another quality product that isn't quite as robust as "Blood of the Nations", but does come awfully damn close.
Above all else, "Stalingrad" maintains the momentum gained from the exceptional "Blood of the Nations" and what's brought to the table is Grade-A ACCEPT. You can almost feel the band brimming with confidence as these songs come blaring out of the speakers. Tornillo was a good fit right from the start, but he really hits stride here with an enthusiastic performance. Let there be no further debate over the assumed necessity of Udo Dirkschneider as the leader of this band. That's not a knock by any means on U.D.O. who plows ahead with one solid release after another. It's just high time that folks get over it and get on with it.
And Wolf Hoffman? Forget about it! The guy plays his ass off on "Stalingrad", firing off every solo with raw power and a graceful sense of melody that is so important to the larger effort. It is something that many traditional heavy metal bands of the current era rarely seem to get right. Furthermore, "Stalingrad" proves yet again that there was no better choice than Andy Sneap to ensure that the intensity of the sound is raised to its highest possible level.
"Stalingrad" boasts a handful of prime cuts and a remaining batch that are well above average, making for a front to back listen defined by consistent quality and heavy ordnance. A wise choice for a lead-off track, "Hung, Drawn and Quartered" moves at a quick tempo, featuring a cool little majestic lick, a memorable main riff, and an easily grasped chorus. Also well worth mentioning is the reappearance of those low-register, German-accented vocal harmonies following Hoffman's lead that has been a hallmark of the ACCEPT style since the early years. You'll find them at various points all along the way. The other standouts include the classy mid-tempo title track, the melancholy-laced "Shadow Soldiers" and a song in "Against the World" that doesn't initially reveal itself to be anything more than sold until its basic hook grabs hold and sucks you right on in. The up-tempo "Hellfire" is right there as well with its fist pumping, shout-ready chorus. Both "Flash to Bang Time" and "The Quick and the Dead" showcase Hoffman's skill as a six-string flame-thrower of the highest order. Seven-minute closer "The Galley" offers an effective build to heavier fare before bringing the listener back home with a soft landing.
It is most satisfying to see a much beloved, seminal heavy metal act from the golden age releasing albums like "Blood of the Nations" and "Stalingrad" this century. Even with a still sizeable and appreciative fan base, there are still some middle-agers out there who cling to those early Udo-fronted albums without realizing the return to form represented by these 21st Century long players. As such, the only statement left to make is a simple one. Get with the program!