U.D.O. - Mastercutor 2.5/5

Reviewed: 8-10-07


1. Mastercutor
2. The wrong side of midnight
3. The instigator
4. One lone voice
5. We do - for you
6. Walker of the dark
7. Master of disaster
8. Tears of a clown
9. Vendetta
10. The devil walks alone
11. Dead man's eyes
12. Crash bang crash

There's no denying that U.D.O. are something of an institution in the world of heavy metal. Led by the vertically-challenged camo-clad Udo Dirkschneider and former Accept drummer Stefan Kaufmann (who switched to guitar many years ago because of back problems), the prolific German quintet have persevered through countless trends, Accept reunions, medical scares and spontaneously combusting drummers to continue delivering the goods through 11 uniformly solid studio albums. Mostly anthemic, usually Accept-like, and always straight-up traditional Teutonic steel, U.D.O. may rarely surprise, but they also rarely disappoint.

All of that said, Dirkschneider has made it clear in recent interviews that he is acutely aware of the risk of painting himself into a stylistic corner, of becoming a paint-by-numbers act that records the same warmed-over, rehashed tripe over and over again with a different title and CD cover. So he and Kaufmann try to tweak the formula a little bit each time. On 2005's 'Mission no. X', U.D.O. experimented with a song with spoken-word lyrics. On 2004's 'Thunderball', it was a Russian-flavored folk song. The CD before that, it was a duet with Doro. So you get the idea. As an old-time, toe-the-line banger, I rarely enjoy these forays into uncharted territory because I prefer the pure, unadulterated U.D.O. experience (although I really did like the Russian folk song a couple of years back). Nonetheless, I understand the artistic and aesthetic reasons for wanting to prevent things from becoming stale.

So what's U.D.O.'s angle this time? Unfortunately, Dirkschneider and Kaufmann have decided to dabble in more industrial sounds, from the repetitive, melody-less riffs to the mechanical guitar tone that sometimes approaches W.A.S.P. 'K.F.D.' and Annihilator 'Wake the fury' in terms of annoyance level. These tinges and accents do not pervade the entire CD, but they surface sufficiently often to become a distraction. "Master of disaster" has a tortuous techno effect going on in the background. "Dead man's eyes" is basically an industrial song with a whiny vocal and a White Zombie groove that would rank among the all-time worst U.D.O. tracks, were it not for a redemptive chorus that pops up late in the song. More generally, the extremely repetitive rhythms, riffs, beats, and the like that crop up from time to time lend the impression that this CD was recorded for the rave crowd rather than for the metal crowd. I don't listen to stuff like Rammstein or Ministry, so I'm no expert on what they sound like, but 'Mastercutor' occasionally has the sort of industrial feel that I would intuitively associate with that category of band. This is not welcome news.

As if that's not enough, we have a truly wretched ballad called "Tears of a clown", featuring terribly hackneyed lyrics and a heartfelt vocal performance from the gravelly Dirkschneider crooning, "The clown/The clown/His heart is all alone" as the ivories tinkle in the background. Painful doesn't begin to describe it. Maybe "Dead man's eyes" is worse than this, maybe not. To further put a damper on the proceedings, a couple of tracks have foul, bizarre lyrics about eating excrement and sniffing underwear (I'm not making this up). Yuck.

Despite the harshness of these criticisms, none of this means that 'Mastercutor' is a bad CD. It isn't. If you've been following U.D.O.'s career as a loyal fan for the last 20 years since the 'Animal house' days, you will find plenty of moments that warm the cockles of your heart and put a smile on your face. The title track, "The instigator", "Vendetta", and "Crash bang crash" are all quality U.D.O. songs that would place in the upper quartile of their extensive catalogue, and most of the other cuts range from okay to good. Dirkschneider still caterwauls like a banshee, and any listener will recognize this CD as undisputably U.D.O. almost immediately.

I know there are published reviews lauding 'Mastercutor' as the best U.D.O. studio recording in years. I know it charted better in certain European countries than any previous CD by the band ever has. To my ears, it's a flawed CD that has (barely) enough hallmarks of the once-great U.D.O. to stay out of my "to-sell" pile, but 'Mastercutor' belongs at or near the bottom of the highly decorated U.D.O. musical legacy. My only hope is that they abandon the industrial influences next time around, kick up the tempos, and go back to the roots to come up with the kind of ass-kicker that used to be their stock in trade.




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