Nima : I've been a fan of Udo Dirkschneider and his U.D.O. for years and know that the best man always delivers quality. In the last fifteen years he had a loyal partner-in-crime in his former Accept-mate, guitarist Stefan Kaufmann, who was also very decisive for the U.D.O. sound. And not only because of its distinctive guitar playing and sound, but also due to the fact that he took the production duties for his part. Last year, however, Kaufmann was forced to leave the band due to health issues. A while later also guitarist Igor Gianola, who was part of U.D.O. since 1999 left the band. I must admit that I was very curious about the new full-length album, 'Steel Hammer', the first without Gianola and especially Kaufmann.
Well then, 'Steel Hammer' has become a typical U.D.O. album and Udo and his men have remained true to their sound and style. However, the album is different than the last few albums, which is not surprising since the groovy style of Kaufmann and his heavy guitar sound is missing here. On this fourteenth long player the grabs back to the old style. There where the albums 'Dominator' and especially 'REV-Raptor' were namely heavy speed demons in general, 'Steelhammer' has a more rocking character and sounds more 80s again. And well, although I found the sound of the last few albums also fantastic, I'm the last to complain about the more old-fashioned approach. And don't get me wrong, because we are not dealing with a “retro” album or a repetition exercise here. It's just that the album breathes more the feel and atmosphere of albums like for example 'Animal House', 'Mean Machine' and 'Solid'. De new guitarist, Andrey Smirnov, who has laid down all the guitars for this album definitely has his own style, but it fits perfectly to U.D.O., and he creates a fresh sound, without affecting the essential U.D.O. identity.
'Steelhammer' has everything U.D.O. has characterized and stood for, for 25 years. For example, the title track, 'Metal Machine', 'Devil's Bite', 'King Of Mean' and 'Take My Medicine' are typical honorary heavy metal pounders and remind of the first few records, while the in the Russian-sung 'Basta Ya', the breath-taking 'Death Ride' and 'Stay True' are some real top-shelf speed devils. 'A Cry For A Nation' and 'Never Cross My Way' are slightly more sensitive rockers, but catchy nevertheless and of course a ballad ('Heavy Rain') could not be missed. Almost every album features a bit of a stranger, and this time it's the closing track, 'Book Of Faith'; a delicious heavy and menacing song, with a classical and theatrical touch. Finally, the production had been in hands of Udo himself and who knows better than he how an U.D.O. album should sound? If we add everything together, we can safely say that 'Steelhammer' is another classic U.D.O. album that will not only secure the band's status and reputation, but also establish it even harder.