U.D.O.
"Celebrator"

(AFM)

For the complete track listing, go to this location.

RATING: 8.5/10

You have to be a headbanger to get this statement, but just the sound of Udo Dirkschneider's voice is comforting.

Like Rob Halford, like Bruce Dickinson, like Tom Araya, like the late, great Ronnie Dio, there's no mistaking Udo Dirkschneider. While there's been a bounty of German metal heroes (and heroines i.e. Sabina Classen and the reigning queen of the realm, Doro Pesch) over the years, one voice captures the essence of Teutonic pandemonium. If you're not a fan of Udo Dirkschneider, well, that's your fault. This guy peels the paint without even trying and more than four decades performing music heavier than the contents of a D-cup, Udo is. He just is.

Forget Udo's separation from ACCEPT. ACCEPT is achieving the impossible with Mark Tornillo at the helm, while the never-say-die Dirkschneider has steadily assaulted our ears in a solo capacity since 1987. That's a lot of freaking music, folks. Yes, much of Dirkschneider's work under his U.D.O. moniker has resembled ACCEPT. Yet as a metal community, we've benefited from his ongoing contributions while his former band rides back into glory in their own right. There's now a weird win-win comeuppance from both sides of the maddening ACCEPT implosion.

Alright, so Udo Dirkschneider plays to a concentrated crowd of trad metal freaks who could care less about IWRESTLEDABEARONCE or A BULLET FOR PRETTY BOY. Nevertheless, when U.D.O. puts out an album, Dirkschneider and his fellow ACCEPT refugee Stefan Kaufmann makes it count. There's no compromising with these guys. Even a ballad conjured up in U.D.O. almost always jacks itself up at some point. Kaufmann and his strumming sidearm Igor Gianola make as formidable a twin tag guitar section as they come. Fitty Wienhold is an ace of bass who reliably creates pulse after rhythmic pulse in the German metal custom.

25 years in the life, U.D.O.'s more recent albums, "Thunderball", "Mastercutor", "Dominator" and "Rev-Raptor" have proven the blood pumps with honor inside Dirkschneider's writhing metal heart. It's fitting a tribute to his enduring career finally emerges upon us. Even better said prospect, "Celebrator", isn't your prototypical retrospective album.

Nobody's going to say U.D.O. as a unit has any actual "hits" despite being a functioning metal band for a quarter century. Even ACCEPT, revered as they are to the metal world, only has a handful of tangibly successful cuts such as "Screaming For a Love Bite", "Fast as a Shark", "London Leatherboys", "Midnight Mover" and, of course, their calling card trash anthem, "Balls to the Wall". For their long-standing as a band, U.D.O. hasn't released anything of transitory mass acceptance. Precision, power and the will to blow out ear canals is all U.D.O. has sought for themselves, thus an actual attempt at a hits package would be a farce.

Thus "Celebrator"'s reason for being is to give the band's fans a double-disc onslaught of rarities, remixes, bonus tracks hiked from singles packages and a few nyuks. Yes, you will laugh as Udo Dirkschneider nearly does on the first chorus of the piano version of "Balls to the Wall". Yet after the second verse, you're won over by the smartness of the arrangements in transition from metal to chamber. Only Yoshiki's gorgeous piano impressions of KISS's "Black Diamond" outclasses this. The elegant orchestral take of the already-emotive "Tears of a Clown" from "Mastercutor" presents the song in a weepier tone and it's certainly worth revisiting.

The predominant theme of "Celebrator", however, is to sling out one ass-kicker after another. As always, Udo's madcap minimalism induces a hammy silliness lurking beneath some of these tunes such as "Bodyworld", "Systematic Madness", "Hardcore Lover", "Scream Killers" and "Tallyman". In the case of the former two songs, they originally appeared as part of the "Infected" CD single from a few years back, while "Hardcore Lover" and "Scream Killers" make a visit courtesy of the "24/7" single. You get why they were relegated to bonus tracks based on their ridiculousness, but they still knock you in the teeth and besides, Udo's fans appreciate his nutty spirit of camp. Nobody else could get away with fusing his likeness atop a Terminator bot on the "Dominator" album cover or the psychotic joker on "Mastercutor" which hearkens deadly close to Spawn's main nemesis. Udo's music is so stark in execution it's almost a way to breathe easy when you get to enjoy an underlying chuckle. "Train Ride in Russia" from "Thunderball", for example, is based on a true vignette from U.D.O.'s traveling diaries, but it is nonetheless a total hoot. You get the guy or you don't.

Bringing up comic books again, "Tallyman", an outtake from the "Rev-Raptor" recording sessions is most likely in honor of the somewhat obscure villain haunting Batman's world, but the song comes off like the opening theme to a yet-to-be-filmed B-horror flick. It just so happens the song rips your colon apart, though the enunciation of the dark muse's name unintentionally comes off similar to "Taliban", perhaps the reason it never made the final cut on "Rev-Raptor".

What's really boss about "Celebrator" is how polished the majority of these songs are, given this could've been littered with raw demos or unfinished works in progress. U.D.O.'s duet with LORDI, "They Only Come Out at Night" may be the only song on "Celebrator" that sounds subpar compared to the rest of the selections and that's more a case of the participants playing it tongue-in-cheek. It's done in the vein of "Constrictor"-era Alice Cooper as it also rings a distant cousin to Alice's "Prince of Darkness" from "Raise Your Fist and Yell".

Most of "Celebrator" is worth sinking yourself into. The HAMMERFALL cover of ACCEPT's "Head Over Heels" is decent even though Udo's parts are downplayed in the final mix. The cover of JUDAS PRIEST's "Metal Gods" is more than passable, while Udo's duet with power legends RAVEN on "Born to Be Wild" is more than hysterical. However, the nifty coupling with Doro Pesch on "Dancing With An Angel" is one of the best of the novelty tracks offered up here.

All told, "Celebrator" is chocked full of the goods you're craving from one of the living icons of heavy metal. "Stormbreaker", "Free Or Rebellion", "The Silencer", "Artificialized", "Platchet Soldat" and "Man A King Ruler" plus some of the previously mentioned tunes will pound you senseless. "Bleeding Heart" from the "Leatherhead" single is the perpetual prospectus to "Celebrator" and anything else U.D.O. chooses to record from here on out. Only expiry will put Dirkschneider and Kaufmann away for good, and there's no signs of that, praise the gods.

As worthwhile as anything Udo Dirkschneider's laid his severe agro pipes to, "Celebrator" is a must-have for his fans, while those still investigating the roots of metal wouldn't suffer in their research for digging into this treasure trove of ferocity.

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