U.D.O. / Musikkorps der Bundeswehr – We Are One Review

If you made a short list of metal luminaries who you’d want to record a massive concept album with a 60 piece orchestra, I have a sneaking suspicion Udo Dirkschneider wouldn’t make the cut. To be blunt, I doubt the raspy-voiced Teutonic terror would make the long list either, yet here we are. You see, the man who once fronted Accept has somehow impressed the Concert Band for the German Armed Forces (Musikkorps der Bundeswehr) into service for a collaboration titled We Are One. With an environmentally conscious message and a whopping 1 hour and 15 minute runtime, this is a very ambitious project with a whole lot of people getting their balls to the studio wall on Udo’s behalf. While I can’t help wondering what made Mr. Dirkschneider think his unique but very limited vocal talents were well suited for such an enterprise, you certainly can’t fault his moxie. Can you fault the end product of said moxie? That’s another thing altogether.

Much like Jorn’s ill-conceived Dracula inspired rock opera, We Are One has the good grace to come out swinging with opener “Pandemonium.” It’s essentially a classic era Accept tune that sounds like Nightwish subsequently kidnapped and violated it, burying it under layers of symphonics and cute orchestral noodlings after they slaked their dark cosplay lust. Horns blare and cymbals crash dramatically as the guitars riff away, and for a while it seems as if things might work out. Udo joins the chamber music pot with his infamous snarl and actually sounds quite youthful and ferocious. It’s a catchy song that manages to retain a modicum of scrotal authority despite the overweening orchestral strum and bang. While it’s hardly essential listening, it’s definitely not awful. The title track then dashes some of that earned optimism, sounding like an overindulgent blend of metal, Oktoberfest oompah music and way off Broadway dreck. The chorus aims for anthemic, but ends up ham-fisted and sugar-coated enough to give you a toothache, like Up With People with a drunk, hoarse guy from the crowd wailing along. From there, We Are One wanders from bad to semi-okay to flat out awful.

Selections like “Love and Sin” and “Future is the Reason Why” manage to find that elusive balance between metal and symphonic bombast, mostly because they lean so much harder on the metal side of the spectrum. Neither will make you a trve believer, but they’re listenable examples of Germanic traditional metal despite the copious embellishments, and the Russian-influenced guitar work on the latter is especially fun. “Mother Earth” also does a good job walking the metal/orchestral razor’s edge and the chorus is one of the album’s best moments. “Rebel Town” is the heaviest cut and offers a welcome dose of anger and venom amid a sea of almost-heavy shenanigans, and the orchestral bits are kept from sinking things. The low points here however are especially damaging to the album’s hull integrity. “Neon Diamond,” the overwrought, unbelievably cheesy duet between Udo and Manuela Markewitz is so bad as to be a parody of maudlin metal power ballads, and Udo has no business doing these kinds of numbers. The saxophone flourishes recall Wham’s “Careless Whisper” and actually make you want to hear that chestnut instead, which isn’t a good sign. When I maliciously posted the video in the AMG virtual break room, Grymm only hit play because he thought the title said “Neil Diamond.” He was disappointed. Another kick to the chops comes with “Here We Go Again” where Udo tries his hand at funky Red Hot Chili Pepper-core as a horn section blares away and lyrics veer near rap music. If that description sounds bad the song itself is far worse.

Even on the better cuts, bloat is frequently an issue, with songs regularly running a good 2 minutes too long. When the bad cuts also do this, it’s like a blatant thumb in the eye1. As is often the case with these kinds of projects, the orchestral bombast both distracts from and saps the life out of the metal itself. Rage showed an ability to avoid this phenomenon at times during their symphonic stage, but Udo is not possessed of this niche skill set. Vocally, I give the man full credit. At 68 years of age, he can still rasp and croak, sometimes sounding as nasty as he did back in the salad days of Accept. If he avoided balladry here, he would do us all a favor, but we get what we get. The biggest criticism falls on the songwriting. A lot of it just doesn’t work, either because the songs are bad or because they’re okay but get swamped by the orchestral fluff and faff. At well over an hour, it’s a Herculean slog to sit through We Are One, and the good just isn’t good enough to keep me tuned in and excited.

I’m not the biggest fan of Udo’s post-Accept career, but you could always count on getting a few fun songs on every album. We Are One is no different, but I’m afraid the bad heavily outweighs the good here. I respect the ambition behind the project, it’s the results I take issue with. If you love symphonic metal you may find more here to titillate you than I did, but I wouldn’t bet the bassoon on it. I guess being a band leader isn’t all smiles and sunshine after all.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: AFM
Websites: udo-online.de | facebook.com/udoonline
Releases Worldwide: July 17th, 2020

Show 1 footnote

  1. Which is no different than a discreet thumb in the eye, but still.
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