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Review: U.D.O. – “Holy” (1999)

There’s many reasons that Germany’s Accept is a hallowed and legendary band in the pantheon of Heavy Metal. A monolithic beast that influenced, and continues to influence, everything from European Power Metal acts like Hammerfall and Blind Guardian, to Thrash bands like Kreator and Destruction, and even Metalcore acts like Trivium and Machine Head.

A large and significant part of the legend of Accept is original, powerhouse vocalist, Udo Dirkschneider. His vocals combined the histrionic highs and growling lows of Rob Halford, with the rough and ready approach of  AC/DC’s Brian Johnson.

It was strange then that,when Udo and Accept parted way for the first time in 1987, Udo’s first few solo albums (Under the moniker U.D.O.) did not really live up to his legacy. That’s not to say that they weren’t solid releases in Heavy Metal. I’d have a hard time finding anyone who has any big issues with rock-hard albums like “Animal House“, “Mean Machine“, and “Timebomb“. In fact, the latter is easily the equal of Accept’s ’93 reunion album  “Objection Overruled”. Both albums are easily two of the best traditional Metal records of the early 90s. But nothing that U.D.O. had released up to that point could come close to matching the lofty heights reached by classic Accept albums like “Breaker”, “Restless and Wild” and commercial and critical magnum opus “Balls to the Wall”.

Accept dissolved again in 1997, and Udo returned to his solo act with a seemingly renewed fire. U.D.O. would release 3 albums between 1997 and 1999, each one better than the last. The culmination of this creative win streak would be the 1999 album “Holy“, the subject of this review.

The album get things kickin’ immediately with the instantly memorable title track. Lyrically, it’s somewhat clichéd, but still very powerful, painting Metal as a religion, and Udo as a high priest. The riff is an immaculate, mid-paced monster, that makes it impossible for you to not bang your head. It’s far from a complicated song musically, but it doesn’t need to be, U.D.O. having that innate ability to turn simple songs into crushing tank columns of Heavy Metal thunder.

Track 2, “Raiders of Beyond” is nothing to write home about, but still keeps the flow going from the amazing first song. There are a couple of songs on the album that work similarly: Not standing out, but not breaking the flow either.

Track 3, “Shout it out” is the album’s second anthem. Ironically, this one is more of a correlation to the album’s title than the title track itself, with a powerful, choir-like, stadium-ready backing vocal in the chorus, and a riff that overlaps with it giving it even more power. The song sounds like a thousand Metal fans bowing at the altar pictured on the album’s cover, on which the phrase “Metal is our Religion” is engraved.

“Recall the Sin” is a game changer in the album, bringing a bit more melody into the game, and just a touch more speed. Udo’s vocals really stand-out on this track, the melody allowing him to get away from his usual gruff-and-tough style, and be a little more emotive. The following track, “Thunder in the Tower” is somewhat repetitive, and merely another one of those “keeps the flow going” tracks.

If you came here looking for speed metal, “Back off” certainly has you covered, the track being pulsing, driving, and ALMOST thrashy. Excellent rhythm work from drummer Lorenzo Milani.

“Friends will be friends” picks up nicely from where “Back off” picks up. It’s a little more melodic and cheerful, but still fast and grooving. Definitely a good times metal drinking song. Following track “State Run Operation” is one of the weaker tracks on the album for the same reasons that “Friends will be Friends” actually works relatively well. It just takes it a little too far.

“Danger” brings the speed back down a little and makes things a little heavier again. The central riff using a grooving, flowing construction that will delight air-guitarists everywhere, and a chorus line that’s catchier than malaria. “Ride the Storm” amps up the formula making one of those classic tunes you should never listen to while driving. A little lacking in the chorus, but the verse will undoubtedly make you put your foot down.

Final track, “Cut Me Out”, is just… odd… and that’s really all that can be said about it. It’s really up to you whether like this one or not… but the piano intro does it no favours.

All in all, the album was one 0f the best traditional Metal albums since Accept’s ’85 offering, “Metal Heart“. It set U.D.O. up to conquer an audience and continue to create excellent material within their niche. And continue they did, even if it was not as successful as “Holy” and it’s two predecessors were (save perhaps for 2005’s “Mission No. X”). Ultimately, this is a fantastic German Metal album, and easily THE a stand-out album in U.D.O.’s catalog. Pick it up, order it, download it, and spread the word about this fantastic release.

Horns up: \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ (9/10)

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