Few if any of my friends were more excited than me for the brand new ACCEPT album, Blind Rage, out August 19 via Nuclear Blast Records. In fact, I can think of only one (right, Patrick??). After back-to-back home runs with Blood of the Nations and Stalingrad I was very excited to see if this band could three-peat. Well guess what? Mission accomplished. This is just about everything we could ask for and expect in an ACCEPT album, with riffs and hooks that feel very much like the old days. AND Andy Sneap is back in the producer’s chair! This pleases me because I have always loved this band, but now that I’m older I find myself playing their newer records more and more, much like I’ve done with OVERKILL and KREATOR. So let’s see what’s cookin’ with Blind Rage, hey?
Opener “Stampede” picks up right where “Hung, Drawn and Quartered” and “Beat the Bastards” left off in true pulverizing fashion, laying down the sonic law, Wolf Hoffmann and Herman Frank serving notice to all other twin guitar bands out there that they are still very much a force to be reckoned with. Mark Tornillo’s voice is ready to cut glass, and on this album, his third, it feels like he’s been in the band 20 years. “Last of a Dying Breed” is an instant standout with its trademark heavy metal gallop that begs to be blasted over and over again, and “Dark Side of My Heart” could have easily been on the Restless and Wild record alongside “Fast As a Shark”, my all-time favorite ACCEPT number. This is another one that will have you abusing the REPEAT button as I have been. Bassist Peter Baltes and drummer Stefan Schwarzmann serve up a rhythmic cocktail that will have everyone moving; it’s impossible to resist the groove.
There is a very majestic feel to the aptly-titled “Fall of the Empire” and the deliberate potboiler tempo evokes the image of the downtrodden finally deciding they’ve had enough and those who rule them are in deep shit. And then “Trail of Tears” puts the foot on the gas and doesn’t let up for its full four minutes, bulldozing everything in its path. You can hear the older sound meshing with the new on “200 Years” which straddles both eras perfectly, and on “Bloodbath Mastermind” the band plays a bit of a trick on us before bringing down the hammer in one of the album’s most crushing songs. On the opposite end, the acoustic intro and mid-tempo of “Wanna Be Free” belie what is a very anthemic tune, despite not being as heavy as the rest. And there is a very cool nod to the Balls to the Wall era with “From the Ashes We Rise”, something I couldn’t help grinning over.
The multi-level makeup of “The Curse” once again calls to mind the Golden Years, and closer “Final Journey” swings that sledgehammer one last time to remind you that THIS IS MOTHERFUCKING ACCEPT SO YOU BETTER FUCKING GET IN LINE!!!From start to finish this is an excellent record, and with Blind Rage ACCEPT show no signs of slowing down; quite the opposite. It sure sounds like there’s a lot of blood still pumping through that Metal Heart and I can’t wait to hear this stuff live. First it was the Bulls, then the Lakers, and now ACCEPT. All of them can proudly list a three-peat on their résumés!!
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Last of a Dying Breed”, “Dark Side of My Heart”, “Final Journey”, “Bloodbath Mastermind”, “200 Years”, “Stampede”
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.