Courtesy: AFM Records
Veteran rock band U.D.O. returns Friday with its 17th full-length studio recording. Titled We Are 1, the 15-song record features the band performing its new compositions with the Concert Band of the German Armed Forces. While rock bands performing and recording with non-rock organizations is anything but out of the ordinary nowadays, the fact that the entire record is composed of new songs is itself interesting. The arrangements that make up the album’s body offer audiences plenty to appreciate, as do the lyrical themes that accompany that musical content. Each item will be addressed in itself here. When they are considered with the record’s sequencing, all three elements make the album in whole a truly unique presentation that rock and metal fans alike will appreciate.
U.D.O.’s latest album We Are 1 is an impressive new entry from the veteran rock band. There is no doubt in listening through the 75-minute record, that it will resonate with rock and metal fans alike. That is due in part to the album’s musical arrangements. The arrangements in question are full-on rock meets classical compositions that bear their own unique identity separate from the works that acts, such as Metallica and KISS have crafted. These new, original works are such unique orchestrations. One actually could argue that they are stylistically more similar to works from Devin Townsend’s latest album Empath (2019). That comparison stems from the use of the choral element, the strings, the brass and woodwinds together. Each arrangement sounds so epic even in a more reserved moment, such as in ‘Blindfold (The Last Defender).’ Now not having liner notes to reference, it is not known who the female vocalist is in this song, but her vocals, along with the bells, drums and harp make this song feel cinematic in its own right, especially with all of the attention to the dynamic changes throughout the song. ‘Blackout’ — which immediately follows ‘Blindfold (The Last Defender)’ — is another example of how powerful the arrangements are in this record. This nearly three-minute song’s brass and percussion come together to make the song sound like something that would be a perfect fit in the soundtrack for some military movie from the 80s and 90s. That huge opening that leads into the immediate softer, more contemplative sound, is so powerful especially as that noted softer sound crescendos back into something more constant throughout the rest of the song. On yet another hand, the use of the bagpipes, tympani, snare drum and standard rock elements come together in ‘Beyond Gravity’ to make this song yet another notable addition to the album that shows in its own right, why these arrangements are so important to examine. There’s no attempt here to rip off AC/DC or any other band that uses bagpipes. There’s not even any attempt to copy any other act. It is its own unique presentation that is certain to become a favorite on record and in a live setting when and if music can ever go live again. It’s just one more way in which the album’s musical arrangements prove so important to its general presentation. When it and the rest of the album’s arrangements are considered together, the album’s diverse musical styles and elements collectively build a strong foundation for the LP’s presentation. In themselves, they make a clear argument as to why this record is one of the year’s top new rock albums. It might not even be a stretch to call it potentially one of the year’s top new overall albums if only for its musical aspect. Of course the musical aspect is just one reason to take in this record. The album’s lyrical content adds to its appeal.
The lyrical content featured in We Are 1 runs through one general topic, that topic being concerns about the state of the world. Band founder and namesake Udo Dirkschneider talked about that overarching theme in a recent interview. He said of the album’s general theme, “We all live on this planet. No matter who we are or what we do, we all just have this one planet. There is no planet B. When I see the pictures of all the plastic in our oceans and when I hear about the next climate catastrophe in the news, I really start wondering how respectless and irresponsible we sometimes are. It’s not just about us. It’s also about all the others and last but not least, about our children!” That concern that he voiced in the noted comments is shown throughout this record in a variety of fashions. ‘Here We Go Again,’ for instance takes on concerns over how the Trump administration has handled the issue of immigration. Dirkschneider notes in this blues rock based song’s lyrical side, “Who has got the right to decide/Who’s gonna live and who’s gonna die/People on the street and people on the sea/Always on the run/Trying to be free/People on the left/People on the right/Everywhere you look/Uptight/Living in a cell/Living in a cage/Fairy tale is over…Everybody’s…longing for a new way/Everybody’s got the right/turning darkness into light/here we go again…Time to show again.” From here, the song makes mention of corrupt elections and trump’s cries of “fake news” every time that legitimate news agencies call BS on his lies in the song’s second verse. Given, this is hardly the first time that any musical act has taken on the corruption of the Trump administration and Trump himself, but it is still approached in a unique fashion here that is certain to keep listeners engaged. It is just one of the ways in which the album’s lyrical themes prove pivotal in their own right to the album. The album’s title track, which comes early in its run, is clearly another way in which the record’s lyrics show their importance.
‘We Are One’ is a call for unity. Again, referencing Dirkschneider’s noted statements, the song’s lyrical theme makes crystal clear sense. He, his band mates and the choir that joins them sings in the song’s chorus, “What are we waiting for/Before we lose control/We are one/We are free/And we need a place to be/We are one/We will rise/Gonna be no compromise/We are one/We are free/And we need a place to be/We are one/We will rise/Never be a compromise.” This comes after Dirkschneider makes note in the song’s lead verse, of people dealing with all the negativity that is on television nowadays and the impact thereof. He continues the commentary in similar fashion in the song’s second verse, asking “Do you enjoy watching people die?” before reminding listeners again that “We are one.” It’s that call to unity and action that is just as needed and welcome today as ever, and just one more way in which the album’s lyrical themes prove so pivotal to this album. ‘Rebel Town’ is yet another example of the importance of the album’s lyrical themes.
The lyrical theme at the center of ‘Rebel Town’ is a celebration of the 30th anniversary of East and West Germany’s unification. The song makes mention here of revolution and people sacrificing, and indirectly of people tearing down the Berlin Wall. Dirkschneider even goes so far as to state at one point, “Chase away the leaders/Let them rot in hell/Believe in what you’re fighting for/Let them hear the rebel yell.” This is that call again, this time about people coming together to remove the barrier between the two Germanies “in this little town.” The use of the horns and overall orchestral elements here really paints such a vivid picture of that key moment in history. This is unique if not original in terms of songs’ lyrical themes from one to the next. This critic in particular is hard-pressed to find another band that has ever written a song about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of Germany. Keeping that in mind, the song is yet another example of what makes the album’s lyrical content so important to its whole. When it is considered along with the other noted themes and those in the rest of the album’s songs, the whole of the album’s lyrical content works with the album’s musical content to make the LP’s body overall such that it will guarantee listeners’ engagement and entertainment. Even with all of this in mind, there is still one more item to note in examining the album’s presentation – its sequencing.
The sequencing of We Are 1 is important to note because it displays the time and thought that went into maintaining the album’s energy throughout. Seventy-five minutes is a long span. Given it isn’t the length of a full concert, but it is still a long run time for a standard studio recording. To that end, the sequencing plays a key part in ensuring listeners’ engagement and entertainment. The album opens just as strongly as it closes and vice versa. In-between, the energy rises and falls at all of the right points from one to the next and even within each of the songs. Some of the songs start, stay and end strong while others, such as ‘Love and Sin’ and ‘Children of the World’ open with a semi-mysterious tone before launching into a full-on cinematic approach that is a fit for any epic blockbuster’s soundtrack. ‘Blindfold (The Last Defender)’ and ‘Blackout’ serve as solid break points for the album’s sequence, giving listeners something soft, and then fully orchestra in the vein of movie soundtrack composer Hans Zimmer before the album returns to its initial approach. ‘Natural Forces,’ which comes late in the album’s run, is another good break point, giving listeners more of the Hans Zimmer style presentation. From here on out, the album’s energy switches direction, rises and falls at all of the right moments, ensuring just as much as ever, listeners’ engagement and entertainment right to the album’s end. When all of this is considered along with the impact of We Are 1’s musical and lyrical content overall, all three elements come together to make this album a truly outstanding offering from U.D.O. that will appeal not only to rock and metal aficionados but to music lovers in general.
U.D.O.’s latest full-length studio recording We Are 1 is one of the most pleasant musical surprises of 2020 so far. While it features a rock band working with an orchestra, it can’t be compared to those rock-meets-classical records from the likes of Metallica and KISS by any means or any other band that has taken this approach. This collection of new songs really is its own, unique presentation that shows more similarities to works from Devin Townsend, composer Hans Zimmer, Epica, Judas Priest and even Joe Satriani (yes, that seems like an odd mix, but it works) than to the noted other acts’ works. What’s more, the socially conscious lyrical themes that accompany the musical arrangements solidify the album’s presentation even more. The record’s sequencing puts the final touch to the album’s presentation. Each noted item is important in its own way to the LP’s presentation. All things considered, they make this record not only one of the year’s best new rock and hard rock albums, but potentially one of the year’s best new overall albums. We Are 1 is scheduled for release Friday through AFM Records. More information on the album is available along with all of U.D.O.’s latest news at:
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