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Friday, August 28, 2009

Accept: Russian Roulette


1) T.V. War; 2) Monsterman; 3) Russian Roulette; 4) It's Hard To Find A Way; 5) Aiming High; 6) Heaven Is Hell; 7) Another Second To Be; 8) Walking In The Shadow; 9) Man Enough To Cry; 10) Stand Tight.

One picture that can be constructed around the recording of this album is that it is darker and less compromising than Metal Heart, going easier on simple hooks and heavier on grim atmosphere, and that this reflected the creative struggle between grittier front man Dirkschneider and more flexible lead guitarist Wolf Hoffmann, a struggle in which, for this round, Udo had the upper hand but which eventually led to his departure from the band that Hoffmann would be free to lead to complete disaster.

At least this is what you get from reading the yellow press on the Internet; the real picture... well, you know. Russian Roulette is certainly a departure from Metal Heart, but in more ways than one, and both good and bad ways. The good news is that they start varying the approach a bit; that nasty nagging feeling that you're listening to a pre-programmed algorithmic artefact, where all the songs are modeled on the same formula, is gone. There is more diversity to the moods and tempos, and even a return to "epic" form (title track; 'Heaven Is Hell'). The bad news, alas, is that not all of this works, and that the band begins to sound tired and out of steam.

You know they're tired and out of steam when the first song of the album begins in the style and tempo of 'Fast As A Shark' — but forgets to pack an equally convincing and memorable riff, and ends up sounding like respectable, but still generic trash, elevated to this status of "respectable" more through a purely psychological understanding that this is still Hoffmann on the guitar on Udo on vocals, and there's no escape from their onslaught.

You know this even better once you understand that the convincing and memorable riff of the second song ('Monsterman') is actually lifted directly from Judas Priest's 'You Got Another Thing Coming' — intentionally or subconsciously, doesn't matter. And this is also where you could start getting the uneasy feeling that, first time in years, it is the gruff chorus chanting that interacts with Udo's solo wailing which is the major thing to get stuck in your head. 'I am the monsterman!' on 'Monsterman'. 'WAR GAMES! SHANGHAI'D!' on the title track. 'HEAVEN IS THERE WHERE HELL IS — AND HELL IS DOWN ON EARTH!' 'WALKING IN THE SHADOW, WALKING IN THE NIGHT!' All of a sudden, it's not that hard to understand the rest of the band might have developed the suspicion that they could go on getting by without Udo's help.

None of this should be disconcerting per se. 'Heaven Is Hell' is a glorious epic along the lines of 'Balls To The Wall' (but certainly not a rewrite of it, as some detractors have suggested) that de­serves eternal recognition in the metal canon. The sense of doom and gloom on 'Russian Roulette' arguably echoes the sense of doom hanging over the band itself, and is fully realistic, for that mat­­ter. Some of the shorter songs, like 'Aiming High', also reach their mark through the usual combination of grittiness and catchiness.

Yet they also recline back into the cesspool of arena rock — 'It's Hard To Find A Way', 'Man Enough To Cry', and the closing anthem 'Stand Tight' are, by all means, not the kind of songs that this band should be writing. Maybe it's the Hoffmann stamp, maybe not, but these are songs for the likes of Foreigner, not the Udo-led combo that, at their best, either avoided sentimentality or found subtler cloaks for it than power chords and passionate choral vocals. Looking back at the calendar, it's nothing short of amazing that it was 1986 — as far as I'm concerned, one of the worst years in history for popular music — and they still managed to get only two or three of those, but this realization doesn't make them any more listenable on their own.

So the crisis here is obvious, but "crisis" needn't necessarily be a horrendous thing — in times of crisis, you can start wildly fluttering around your cage, trying out every direction, and end up hitting upon a few gaps in the bars (as well as a few particularly rough spots). There is still that element of fascination in Russian Roulette, with its mixture of pompous failures and equally pompous hits, that prevents it from being the kind of blemish on Accept's reputation that their next album would turn out to be. The brain is, therefore, intrigued, and the heart gripped by mixed emotions, and I can't give this either a positive or a negative rating, but I do recommend hearing this at least once, because sometimes "confused" heavy metal albums give more food for both the heart and the brain than perfectly self-assured ones.

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