And so Accept Mk. XV reaches album number III; Three albums in five years is a work rate that would put most modern bands to shame, especially given the amount of touring that Wolf Hoffmann and co. like to devote to each record’s support, so has this apparently breakneck modus operandi had a deleterious effect on the songwriting on Blind Rage? After a few listens I’m glad to say that no, it hasn’t. But if you’re looking for a carbon copy of the first two albums released by this incarnation then you might be a little disappointed.
Actually disappointed is probably too strong a word, but there are moments – quite a lot of them actually – where the band deviates from their default balls to the wall setting and finds themselves heading into altogether more melodic waters. Melodic here is a relative term of course – every song on Blind Rage is a bona fide heavy metal beast of irreproachable breeding – but there are plenty of songs here that might well have ended up on Accept’s ‘hair metal’ album, 1989’s Eat the Heat, rather than, say, the epic metal masterpiece that is Metal Heart (1985).
Much of this of course has to do with the fact that American vocalist Mark Tornilloactually has a half decent singing voice, as opposed to the deranged pitbull-chewing-wasps howl of the doyen of Accept vocalists, Udo Dirkschneider. Tornillo, now three albums into his tenure as vocalist, has never sounded so at ease at the mic, and it’s great that the band has actually written songs to benefit his voice rather than forcing him to sing a set of cookie-cutter Accept anthems for the sheer bloody-minded sake of it. Consequently Blind Rage is far more varied a listening proposition than either of its immediate brace of predecessors, so I voice my warning to you again – if it’s heads down sturm und drang you’re after, you might like to move on to the new Wolf or Strikeralbums. If it isn’t, then you’ll love this record as much as I already do.
Still, album opener Stampede is EXACTLY what you’d expect as an Accept album opener. A stately, portentious opening quickly gives way to uptempo snare work from drummer Stefan Schwarzmann (with lashings of double kick, natch) and an hilarious gang-chant of, you’ve guessed it, ‘STAMPEDE!!’ come chorus time. Oh and, there’s some trademark catchy soloing from Hoffmann and six string sidekick Herman Franktoo. So far, so Accept.
Last of a Dying Breed is that most maligned of things, a metal list song. But Accept don’t do a Manowar and just sing about themselves, oh no, there’s too much class about them for that. Instead they use …Breed to tribute some of their great metallic influences (notably Judas Priest, who get two mentions and Motörhead , to whom Tornillo bestows the greatest of honours by impersonating Lemmy when he growls ‘the Ace of Spades’). It’s top stuff, and refreshing to hear such a great, genre-defining band paying a bit of homage to their own influences.
Next up is the excellent Dark Side of My Heart. A melodic stomper, it would have been the first single released from the album were we still living in 1988, replete as it is with an uber-catchy, radio-friendly chorus and yet more beautifully melodic soloing from Hoffmann. Easily the most commercial thing Accept have done since ‘the return’, it’s a throwback, but a good ‘un. So no harm done, eh?
Fall of the Empire starts quietly and fails to really go anywhere until the band conjours up one of those marvellous, Russian-tinged mass choir choruses they’ve come to specialise in, but it’s not quite enough to really save the song from it’s inevitable final destination in the ‘filler’ folder. Of course Accept filler is good enough to pass muster as most band’s a-grade material, but it’s listless feel and slightly lifeless delivery mark it down as something of a disappointment as far as this album is concerned.
The same can’t be said for the spritely Teutonic speed metal of Trail of Tears. It’s a well worn metal path, of course, the plight of the Cherokee nation, but Accept attack their subject matter with verve and vigour, and Tornillo puts in one of his finest performances of the album. In short, this is a classic Accept uptempo rocker.
Wanna Be Free is a whistful, yet strangely stirring call for universal human rights, blessed again with a catchy chorus and classy solo section; Could this be Accept’sWinds of Change? I doubt it. At least I hope it isn’t, but the noble sentiment and singalong style nestle it neatly next to Klaus and Rudolf’s Moscow musings in the German metal hymn book, and it’s a comfortable fit.
200 Years is the closest Accept come to in 2015 to a recognisably ‘Dirkschneideresque’ track, what with its jagged riffage and spat out lyrics. As a nice tip of the studded cap to the past it works fine, but it also serves to point out that Accept have actually left the past behind very nicely thank you. In Tornillo they have a versatile singer who can handle bothe side of the Accept songwriting coin, and it’s a testimony to the man’s undoubted vocal smarts that he handles this track with aplomb without ever needing to try and ‘out Udo’ Udo. Classy stuff indeed,
Bloodbath Mastermind is full of crunch, bluster and bile, and comes fully equipped with some truly massive rhythm guitar work that brings to mind the best moments of 1982’s meisterwerk Restless and Wild; propulsive, compulsive but above all bloody brilliant, it drives the album on through the final turn and into the home straight in fine style before giving way to the more regal pomp and grind of From the Ashes We Rise.
From the Ashes We Rise is, if anything, the apotheosis of modern day Accept. Slithering in on a restrained opening, before building into another fists raised, like brothers-we-stand chorus, it’s the sort of slow burning metal anthem that this band has become the undisputed kings of producing, and this is yet another sparkling exhibition of same. Tornillo stars again, sounding nothing so much like a heavy metal version of Brian Johnson, whilst bassist Peter Baltes backs up that analogy with another of his rock-solid single note basslines by way of anchorage on the verses. One of the undoubted highlights of the album, this track will go down a storm with crowds around the world I’m sure.
Penultimate track The Curse doesn’t fare quite so well, though once again it’s good parts – notably Hoffmann’s faultlessly exemplary lead work – are beyond reproach. However at six and a half minutes long the song drags in it’s second half; it’s absolutely the only time on the album you feel the band is treading water a little, but then they then crash in with last track Final Journey and all is quickly forgotten.
Ah yes, Final Journey. The band really saves the best for last here, unleashing a superb staccato blast of vicious vocal and guitar interplay, topped off with another of Wolf Hoffmann’s now storied trips into the world of popular classical music, as he solos a fantasia on Edvard Grieg’s Morgenstemning from Peer Gynt. Don’t know what I’m talking about? You will when you hear it, don’t worry.
So there it is. Blind Rage delivers on the promise of the first two albums released by this version of Accept, further cementing the German-American collective’s reputation amongst the true Gods of the traditional metal genre. In a year when perhaps their biggest influence, Judas Priest, showed that there’s life in the old dog of true metal yet, Accept went far beyond Rob Halford and company’s return to form with a true classic of their own that sits proudly amongst the very best albums they’ve ever recorded. Marvellous, life-affirming stuff for old headbangers everywhere.