This year heavy metal icon Udo Dirkschneider – the German Tank himself – will be celebrating his 70th birthday. To commemorate the occasion, Atomic Fire Records will be releasing his new album of covers titled “My Way” on 22 April. This will be the first album to be released simply under his own name as opposed to bands like U.D.O., Accept, Dirkschneider or Dirkschneider & The Old Gang. On Saturday 15 January, myself and a group of other music journalists from around the world had the opportunity to join representatives of Atomic Fire Records as well as Udo Dirkschneider himself via Zoom for a pre-listening session of the new album followed by a Q&A session. Based on what I heard that evening, fans of Udo Dirkschneider’s work have reason to be pleased with what’s to come.
When looking at the list of songs chosen for the album, a great deal of them are the usual heavy metal staples one might expect from an artist like Dirkschneider. You have your Rainbow, your Motörhead, AC/DC and Judas Priest. But some songs chosen for the album might take some die-hard metalheads a bit off guard. I don’t think many expected a Tina Turner cover to pop up on an Udo Dirkschneider album, for example. I sure didn’t.
And, yet, when you listen to the original versions of many of the songs chosen for the album, you can instantly recognize the same sense of melody that has been passed on to the heavier sound of Accept and U.D.O. It’s not hard to picture a song like Alex Harvey’s “Faith Healer” with a more metal arrangement fitting Udo Dirkschneider. And that is indeed the case when you hear the version on “My Way”, which opens the album. If you didn’t know it was a cover song, you could easily mistake it as being an original composition on a U.D.O. album. And as someone who was disappointed in the plastic and toothless sound of the band’s latest album “Game Over”, right from the get-go the production on “My Way” comes off as a very pleasant surprise. It’s beefy, heavy, and exactly what I expect from U.D.O. at this stage. Though granted this is not a U.D.O. album despite heavily featuring Dee Dammers and Andrey Smirnov on guitar, and Udo’s son Sven on drums. All the bass tracks for example are played by former Accept bandmate Peter Baltes, while past and present contributors like Stefan Kaufmann and Mathias Dieth pop in for a guitar solo each.
The second track on the album is a cover of the classic song “Fire” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and is fairly faithful to the original version. Really the biggest difference is Udo’s vocals, and a heavier, beefier sound. In fact that is largely the blueprint that much of the album follows, and the tone is set early on. The arrangements of most of the songs haven’t been changed much from their original counterparts, and are instead just played with a more modern heavy sound than the originals. One of the rare exceptions that stands out is “Paint It Black”, which is more up-tempo and heavy than the original with a darker atmosphere. The result sounds like a fairly traditional U.D.O. song, which goes to show how much Udo has inherited from bands like The Rolling Stones. One might not initially expect it considering U.D.O. sounds quite different from 60s and 70s classic rock, but when stripped down to their basics both sounds still share a similar sense of melody. The arrangements may change, but the music still retains the same core principles.
And that is where, to me, the core of “My Way” as an album lies. This isn’t an album that will convert anyone to become an Udo Dirkschneider fan, nor does it provide fresh and innovative new versions to breathe new life into old classics. But by succeeding in turning sometimes unexpected songs into kickass heavy metal songs, fans of Udo Dirkschneider may just gain a deeper understanding of their idol’s music and where his influences come from. The guitar melodies in the Uriah Heap song “Sympathy” for example sound very much like U.D.O., and you can definitely hear them echo in U.D.O.‘s own signature sound. And the cover of Sweet‘s “Hell Raiser” essentially sounds like early 80s Accept. Even the unexpected cover of Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits” (titled “They Call It Nutbush” on this album for reasons unknown) with its driving beat and horn section seems to clue us in on what kind of music may have influenced almost cabaret style U.D.O. songs like “Cut Me Out” and “Devil’s Rendezvous”.
Of course it’s no surprise heavy metal songs like “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man” by Scorpions and “Hell Bent for Leather” by Judas Priest are a good fit for Udo. Same with a rocking track like AC/DC‘s “T.N.T.” – a heavier production and Udo’s vocals are all the song needs to sound like a classic Accept or U.D.O. song. Same can be said for a couple of the other classic rock tracks covered, though they do bring to the table something slightly different than your average U.D.O. songs. Billy Squire’s “The Stroke” for example doesn’t sound quite like anything in Udo Dirkschneider’s discography, yet its spirit and attitude echoes many of his own big mid-tempo anthems. And while the organ sound in a song like Rainbow‘s “The Man on the Silver Mountain” may not be typical to Udo Dirkschneider’s heavy metal, it certainly is to the genre of 70s rock the song represents. And it’s a genre Udo sounds comfortable in, even when the original song is sung by a figurative giant like Ronnie James Dio.
Now granted Udo doesn’t stretch himself to try and compete with vocalists like Dio, Rob Halford or Tina Turner, instead arranging songs so he can sing them comfortably in his own style and register. During the Q&A session after the album pre-listening he stated that the songs on the album were chosen to be ones he feels comfortable singing. And indeed by being smart and choosing the right songs even from demanding artists and vocalists, he manages to get through them all sounding comfortable, confident and above all good. For me the track that best illustrates his uniqueness as a vocalist is “No Class” by Motörhead. Udo isn’t Lemmy Kilmister, that goes without saying, and he can’t give the song the same punkish attitude that Kilmister in his hoarse raspiness could. Udo isn’t a traditional gravelly-voiced low-register rock singer like Lemmy Kilmister or, say, Gene Simmons. He’s on the opposite end, his raspy yet high-pitched voice being more of a piercing shriek. But that’s the very thing that makes his voice so great. It’s one you can’t forget, and I’ve rarely heard another quite like it. As a result Udo Dirkschneider is, and continues to be, one of my favorite metal vocalists of all time.
During the post-listening Q&A session Udo expressed interest in potentially playing “No Class” live on tour. Personally I would love to hear his cover of Led Zeppelin‘s “Rock and Roll” in a live setting. This high-energy, hard-rocking track is a perfect fit for him, even though the original has a legend like Robert Plant singing it. Of course Udo doesn’t even try to compete with or emulate Plant, but instead confidently sings the track with his own signature style. And may I say, he sounds great doing it. The one vocal I might change on the album though is on the Frankie Miller ballad “Jealousy”. The song itself is a great choice and sounds like it would fit right in on most U.D.O. albums. But Udo sings it with far more power and aggression than I initially anticipated. As a result the song comes off more bitter and angry than melancholy and depressed. While that is a perfectly valid approach to the song, I would’ve probably preferred a more mellow and tender vocal performance for exactly that more melancholic atmosphere.
The biggest surprise on the whole album for me is probably “We Will Rock You”. I was fully expecting the cover to follow the blueprint of Queen‘s fairly barebones original for another midtempo anthem in the vein “The Stroke”, or say a song like “They Want War” off U.D.O.‘s debut album. Instead the song is a much faster riff-driven version more in line with the one off Queen‘s “Live Killers” live album. When I asked Udo about it he said the last thing he wanted to do was do the same version of the song so many others have already done, instead wanting to shake things up a bit. Brian May has apparently had a chance to hear Udo’s version and was very complimentary towards it.
The album closes first with its one German-language song – a cover of “Kein Zurück” by Wolfsheim – which is grand and atmospheric. It is then followed by the title track “My Way” – a cover of the song made famous by Frank Sinatra. The version on this album I believe is the same one that already appeared a few years ago on the Dirkschneider live album “Live – Back to the Roots – Accepted!”. This is the song that musically stands out the most on the album, being a mostly orchestral and piano-driven one. It isn’t anywhere near as beautiful or grandiose as Sinatra’s classic version, but given the lyrics and theme of the song, it makes sense why it was chosen for the album. And Udo even confessed during the evening’s Q&A session that he initially didn’t even want to cover the song because he didn’t think he could pull it off. The initial push instead came from Stefan Kaufmann after they couldn’t get the rights to use the Sinatra version that was used as an outro on tour for the live album.
And that’s the album. If you go and listen to the original versions of the songs picked for it in anticipation, try and imagine them with the same sound as U.D.O.‘s “Steelfactory” album. That should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. In fact, the album is pretty much exactly what you’d expect. The tracks are not daring reinventions, nor does the album see Udo and his collaborators stray very far from their comfort zone. That being said, the album does draw a pretty straight line from the classic rock Udo Dirkschneider was influenced by in his younger years to his own later brand of metal. He takes some even seemingly non-metal songs from other genres and effortlessly makes them his own, proving we often owe the existence of our favorite metal bands and artists to more than just other metal bands. ”My Way” is an hour’s worth of kickass Udo Dirkschneider brand heavy metal, and as a fan myself, I am definitely happy with what I’ve heard. I look forward to the official release so I can hear these songs again.