The voice of Germany’s Heavy Metal Icon is ready for Global Domination
Dominator, AFM Records
A TCE exclusive interview with Udo Dirkschneider
His gravel-throated voice is easily recognized, as is his short, stocky frame when he prowls the stage in combat fatigues. Influenced by AC/DC’s Bon Scott, he formed the German heavy metal band Accept in the early ‘70s and led them to international stardom a decade later with monster hits like “Fast as a Shark”, “Balls to the Wall” and “Metal Heart”. In 1987 he formed his own band U.D.O. and continued to spread the gospel of metal to the legions that followed. His voice is the guttural angst of every teenager, the bane of every parent and an icon to the throngs that long to be like him, sound like him a true metal god.
This month (Oct, ’09) U.D.O. unleash their twelfth studio record in what has proven to be a long and illustrious career for the band’s front man. Paired with long time friend and writing partner Stefan Kaufman, the two have re-crafted traditional heavy metal to fit comfortably into the first decade of the new millennium. “This record came out very good,” says Udo calling from his home in Germany. “We are always saying we go back to our roots, which I feel this record does. But, it has a very modern production, which Stefan is very good at. I feel it is one of the best records we’ve ever made.”
Back to his roots is something that Udo, the man, has pushed for his entire career. He’s most comfortable in the heavy metal genre he helped create in the mid-eighties. That fixed, stubborn, yet dedicated streak is why the man has lasted in the ever-changing music cyclone and why his fans revere him. “When I started Accept with Michael Wagner in the early ‘70s we were more of a hard rock band; the Scorpions and AC/DC were getting popular and we were finding ourselves. After Wolf Hoffmann (guitar), Peter Baltes (bass) and eventually Stefan Kaufmann (drums) joined, our music became much heavier.”
In 1981 Accept broke international borders with the third album Breaker and subsequent tour with Judas Priest. Their chainsaw guitars, sledgehammer drums and pulsing bass gave rise to a new breed of tough rock. “When we released Restless and Wild we were becoming more speed or thrash metal,” says Udo. “This was 1982 and very quickly many bands, especially in San Francisco started to copy us.” By 1984 Metallica, Slayer, Testament and Overkill were leading the thrash tidal wave Accept instigated. “By ’84 we were on to something else,” continues Udo. “We were back to head-pounding metal that was also an anthem like ‘Balls to the Wall.”
Though Accept would split with Udo two years later, the singer recognizes what the band did for the genre. “Yeah, we worked very hard and sounded different enough to place our own stamp on heavy metal music,” says Udo. “I was politely fired when they wanted to go in a more melodic direction. I put U.D.O. together with the guys from Warlock (Peter Szigeti, guitar and Frank Rittel, bass), Mathias Dieth of Sinner and drummer Thomas Franke.” U.D.O.’s first two records Animal House (’87) and Mean Machine (‘88) continued Accept’s metal tradition but the line up started to fluctuate and with that so did the music. Even the ‘no keyboard’ law was broken on Faceless World (1990).
“Music grows with the artist,” defends Udo. “We were reaching so as not to go stagnant.” A three year Accept reunion (1992-95) put U.D.O. on hiatus but in 1996 the band reformed with Accept drummer Stefan Kaufman, who had produced several of U.D.O.’s records joining as it’s full time guitar player. “I took the best part of Accept with me when Stefan joined the band,” claims Dirkschneider. Forged through adversity, U.D.O. finally become it’s own true identity with classic works “Solid,” “No Limits” and “Holy” as blueprints for the band’s future.
“With each album we try to write better, sound better and have a better production,” says Udo. “We listen to other German bands like Destruction, Helloween, Gamma Ray, Brainstorm and Rammstien, which all give us ideas on production and song writing. Still, I write like I always do. The music comes from inside and needs to be very forceful.” He talks of 2007’s Mastercutor as being more adventurous. “We changed the arrangements and tried some new things that I think led to this record. It has some modern elements while still sounding very metal. Dominator has a very modern sound with a lot of aggression. It has the strength of my early Accept records.”
“As my English gets better I’m able to write better lyrics, and get my ideas across to a wider audience,” he goes on to say. “Twenty years ago I could not do a song like “Whispers In The Dark,” (the album’s one ballad) I was not there vocally or mentally. My range has become much wider. Working with Stephen has been a great thing. He writes very strong songs with powerful hook-lines. We work together to change the arrangement to fit my range. We like the same sound and have a similar focus. Anymore, we work seamlessly to the point where we don’t really need to talk to each other.”
As for the harder songs, none are heavier than the title track “Dominator” with its relentless riff and thunderous drum. The astounding “Doom Ride” and carnival-like “Devil Rendezvous” are equal record standouts. Both leave a lasting imprint. “We have songs like “Black and White” which is very much like Metal Heart-Accept, slow and powerful with a little Judas Priest, or the more cinematic “The Bogeyman” that keeps our old fans happy. ‘Heavy Metal Heaven’ was written specifically for our true heavy metal fans. It’s amazing to see our fans getting younger. It’s a new generation getting into all the old classic stuff. Our music is not like pop music out of style in two years, it goes on and on.”
Dominator will have two formats out in Germany. The digipack contains a bonus track “Pleasure in the Darkroom” (the Japanese edition also has “Bleeding Heart”). There’s also the Infected EP that for U.D.O. fans is a must. Infected has two non-LP tracks “Systematic Madness” and “Bodyworld”, both mind numbing with plenty of distorted guitars, crunching bass, and driving drums, leading to melodic choruses that sacrifice nothing on the brutality while still reaching the high notes. A Russian version of “Cry Soldier Cry” (Platchet Soldat) performed in Russia is more subdued than it’s metallic counterpart. And there’s a crazy live version of “Poezd Po Rossii,” a drunken party with thousands of Russian fans shouting back the lyrics.
“We love Russia,” comments Udo. “They are very good to us. We are getting very popular in South America too, so maybe on the next album we will sing in Spanish.” As for the US, Udo states, “We haven’t toured America since 2001. We had trouble with the label and getting interest. But lately we’ve been getting a lot of offers to play there. Hopefully in April or May of 2010 we will tour the US again. After all, this is my 30th year in the business.”
UDO will be a feature attraction at the 2010 Sweden Rock Festival. Click here for more info.