It’s been said by some (one) that all we do at AMG is review death metal. Well, this here certainly ain’t death metal! It’s actually the follow-up to Accept‘s monstrous 2010 comeback effort Blood of the Nations. As a life-long Accept fan, that album brought great joy and I was thrilled to hear them sound so vital, powerful and fresh after being moribund for years. It ended up # 2 on my “best albums of 2010” list and generally kicked all sorts of booty. It goes without saying, I had high expectations for the followup (which arrived surprisingly fast). Sadly, those expectations may have been set a tad too high. With the same non-Udo lineup returning, Stalingrad sticks with the basic Accept formula and continues where Blood of the Nations left off. It’s more prototypical Germanic heavy metal with elements of Judas Priest and Saxon. While this is a solid album with some exceptional moments, it falls short of the consistent greatness and songwriting chops that Blood had in spades. There are several generic numbers and a drop off in energy and impact. It ends up another well-done, satisfying slice of traditional metal, but it’s definitely in the shadow of its larger-than-life predecessor and feels a bit rushed and incomplete.
The good news is, there are some rock-solid metal tracks here that would’ve easily fit on Blood of the Nations. Opener “Hung, Drawn and Quartered” has that same raging, “classic metal” energy, cool guitar harmonies and some nifty solo work. The title track is well-done and has those classic Accept 0hhh-ohhh-ohhh chants. It gets further elevated by outstanding guitar work, especially the bigtime stadium solo at 4:32, which sounds like the graduation march “Pomp & Circumstance” (which, oddly enough, they already did on 94’s Death Row album). “Shadow Soldiers” is a slick, memorable, quasi-power ballad with an instantly memorable lead riff and an excellent old school vibe. “Revolution,” “Against the World” and “The Quick and the Dead” are all above-average anthemic rockers in the traditional Accept template, with loads of infectious guitar and vocal hooks.
Unfortunately, the Filler Demon found its insidious way into the recording studio this time. “Flash to Bang Time” is heavy and fast, but generic, despite quality guitar-work and rough n ready vocals from Mark Tornillo. The closer “The Galley” is a really weak song (although some of the music itself is good), and should have been left off entirely. Even the more successful numbers like “Hellfire” and “Twist of Fate” feel like they’re missing something. The songwriting just doesn’t have that snap, crackle and pop like it did on Blood.
The fact the songwriting is inconsistent is quite a shame, because musically, these guys seem in their prime. The guitars of Wolf Hoffman and Herman Frank sound better than ever. Their riffing is catchy, and man, the solos here are great. Likewise, Mark Tornillo’s vocals are in fine form. His raspy, leather-lunged delivery is perfect for the music and he even channels Udo at times (especially on “The Quick and the Dead”). Even the songs I don’t care for have bits and pieces I really like. It’s the overall song-smithing that fails them. Drop two or three of the weaker ones and this would be another age-defying blockbuster bomb.
While below the level of Blood of the Nations, Staligrad is still an above-average, enjoyable slice of classic metal from a band that helped invent the sound. Better yet, the spectre of Udo isn’t hanging over things as it did last time, since Tornillo has comfortably stepped into his role as the voice of Accept. This will likely be one of the best “old school” albums this year and it’s well worth checking out. But next time, don’t rush things at the freaking song writing sessions! That is all.