U.D.O. And The Musikkorps Der Bundeswehr – We Are One

UDO - We Are OneAfter over forty years of being in the metal business, Udo Dirkschneider might have just released his biggest album yet.

Rock and orchestra working together, it’s a marriage as old as time, or at least as old as the Moody BluesDays of Future Past from 1967. That album is a good example of how well you can pull the marriage of rock band and symphony orchestra off: by writing songs with the orchestra already in mind. Another good example is, of course, Deep Purple’s seminal Concerto for Group and Orchestra. Then there are bands whose sound is already symphonic to begin with. Within the realm of metal, for example, you only have to look at what bands like Epica (The Classical Conspiracy), Therion (The Miskolc Experience) or Dimmu Borgir (Forces of the Northern Night) have done with a live orchestra. Already heavy on keys and digital orchestration, their material has the symphonics built firmly into its DNA from the start, making the step to working with an actual orchestra a logical one and easily integratable. The third and last option is to take pre-existing and not symphonic material, try and slap an orchestra onto that and hope it sticks. Sometimes it works, but more often than not the results are dire because both styles just don’t match. You don’t have to look any further than Metallica’s S&M to see how horribly wrong things can actually go. 

Luckily, Udo Dirkschneider (yes, he of former Accept fame) takes the best route and has constructed an album specifically written for the German Armed Forces Concert Band. The military band and Udo have been working together on occasion ever since their set at 2015’s Wacken Open Air festival, where they played both U.D.O. songs and some Accept classics. This time though, the material is all fresh and the result is We Are One, and I’m pretty happy to say that it’s mostly good. Of course, We Are One is cheesy as cheddar on occasion but that’s to be expected when you combine balls-to-the-wall heavy/power metal and a big, military maching band. But would we have it any other way from this metal legend? I don’t think so.

First off, We Are One is huge. Not only sonically, but also when it comes to length. Running for 75 minutes this is a big album, but the songs are mostly excellent and varied enough that it feels like time flies by. The concept is a bit heavy handed, dealing with issues like global warming and how we should be taking care of our planet, but if you choose to ignore that you still get 15 mostly very good metal songs. The first thing you’ll notice is that at 68, Udo still sounds remarkably spry. His AC/DC-like rasp has perhaps lost a little of its power over the years but the man is still a force to be reckoned with. On the first lines of opener Pandemonium he sounds like he’s slowly getting into gear but after that it’s full speed ahead for Udo. The second thing you’ll notice on most of the songs is that the orchestra never gets into the way of the songs themselves. There are a number of instrumentals sprinkled throughout the album where they can run wild (the bombastic Natural Forces being my current favourite), but on the actual songs they enhance the material rather than dictate it, and that is a good thing.

UDO 2020

There’s something for everyone on We Are One. Want some good stomping rockers? Try Future Is The Reason Why or the highlight that is Rebel Town. If you fancy a good symphonic rock ballad, Blindfold (The Last Defender) might do the trick. You can find some cheesy eighties saxophone in Neon Diamond and some classic, speedy metal in We Strike Back. In 75 minutes, there’s a lot going on and variation is the key word here, even though the album runs a bit out of steam near the end. Beyond Gravity marries a classical Irish jig sensibility with rock and bagpipes and while fun feels really out of place here. Here We Go Again is a maximum cheesefest with an abundance of horns and rap vocals that just doesn’t work whilst instrumental closer Beyond Good And Evil runs far too long at six and a half minutes. Of the last four songs, only the speedy We Strike Back really hits the sweet spot, but in the end it might have been a better idea to end things on a high note with Neon Diamond. Everything up to that point is good to excellent and it’s a shame to drop the ball on what’s basically the last fifteen to twenty minutes of such a big record.

Even though it peters out a bit near the end, We Are One is mostly a fun record that shows how good the marriage between rock music and orchestra can be if you make a proper effort. At 75 minutes the album is a bit long in the tooth, although I understand that if you get to work together with an army music corps you don’t want to just release forty minutes of music but make the most of it. Luckily, everything up to and including Neon Diamond is well worth listening to and the songwriting, on which Udo collaborated with former Accept buddies Stefan Kaufmann and Peter Baltes, is mostly good and manages to successfully build a bridge between Udo’s classic heavy metal and classical music. Most importantly, it manages to remain fun without becoming overbearing or self-important (are you listening, Metallica?), and that’s always a good thing. 

Label: AFM Records, 2020

Track listing:

  1. Pandemonium (5:27)
  2. We Are One (4:43)
  3. Love And Sin (7:12)
  4. Future Is The Reason Why (5:03)
  5. Children Of The World (6:35)
  6. Blindfold (The Last Defender) (4:20)
  7. Blackout (2:40)
  8. Mother Earth (4:10)
  9. Rebel Town (5:31)
  10. Natural Forces (3:29)
  11. Neon Diamond (5:46)
  12. Beyond Gravity (4:34)
  13. Here We Go Again (5:07)
  14. We Strike Back (3:53)
  15. Beyond Good And Evil (6:30)

Line-up:

  • Udo Dirkschneider – vocals
  • Andrey Smirnov – guitars
  • Fabian Dee Dammers – guitars
  • Tilen Hudrap – bass
  • Sven Dirkschneider – drums

Further surfing:

Review by Ralph Plug

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