Cutting the cord with Accept proved to be more difficult than Udo Dirkschneider imagined. In 1987, the diminutive powder keg of a singer announced his separation from the Teutonic heavy-metal terrors. Intending to go solo, he assembled a band of mercenary gunslingers to make his new project, U.D.O., the scourge of true German heavy metal.

Parting ways on the friendliest of terms, the two parties divorced. Only Udo wasn’t quite prepared to go it alone right away with his new playmates, seeing as how his former Accept songwriting partners created and crafted the content for U.D.O.’s debut LP, Animal House, which sounded a lot like classic Accept – intense, aggressive, engorged with testosterone and defiant, with just a touch of melody to sweeten the deal and hooks galore.

Interestingly, by the time U.D.O. set about recording their sophomore outing, Mean Machine, Dirkschneider had sent packing three-fourths of the original U.D.O., leaving only guitarist Mathias Dieth to forge ahead with Dirkschneider and newcomers Andy Susemihl on guitar, Stefan Schwarzman on drums and Thomas Smuszynski on bass. This time, the remaining members of Accept stayed out of it. With fresh troops having arrived, U.D.O. was ready was battle.

Their first salvo was 1988’s Mean Machine, a solid, workmanlike effort carried along by brawny riffs, searing guitar solos, hard-nosed, pulverizing rhythms, shouted backing vocals and Udo’s menacing wildcat howl. Part of a massive 2013 reissue campaign initiated by AFM Records to unearth U.D.O.’s entire back catalog – to coincide with U.D.O.’s 25th anniversary – Mean Machine was included in the second wave of re-releases that hit U.S. shores on Feb. 12, along with Animal House, Faceless World and Timebomb. And it may be the best of the bunch.

Forging straight ahead, with the emphasis on power, violence and excitement, Mean Machine practically spits nails, offering a series of vicious, bloody-knuckled traditional metal attacks like the electrifying “Don’t Look Back,” “Dirty Boys” and “Break the Rules” – these brawls of blistering hard rock, where lead pipes and chains are perfectly acceptable weapons. Simmering with tension, “Streets of Fire” explodes into thunderous choruses, while “We’re History” goes on a curb-stomping spree of metal riffage that effectively, and in no uncertain terms, ends a relationship built on lies. A dark, melancholy ballad, “Sweet Little Child” slides in on tendrils of piano and makes for wonderful drama, but it’s only a short layover of tenderness and mercy before the sonic crunch of “Catch My Fall” bites down hard.

Like the rest of them, Mean Machine gets a graphic makeover and comes with a bit of bonus material. In this case, it is packaged with a live version of “Break the Rules” that is meaner and nastier than the original, plus the video for the song of the same title. Meanwhile, Man and Machine, initially put out in 2002 and , is not nearly as raw as Mean Machine, but it is a more polished, if less consistent, piece of work. Augmented by a punishing concert version of the title track and a remix of Udo’s original duet with Doro Pesch on “Dancing with an Angel,” this astral projection of softly melodic incandescence, Man and Machine begins with the pummeling, dystopian industrial nightmare of a title track and and its high points are more glorious than those of Mean Machine.

Sweeping epics “Like a Lion,” “Animal Instinct” and the exotic “Unknown Traveller” are constructed of Led Zeppelin-like grandeur and the roaring emotions of power metal, while a churning, meaty “The Dawn of the Gods” growls and snarls with primitive, animalistic fervor. Along with Solid, No Limits, and Holy, the re-released Man and Machine arrived in late January in the first batch of reissues, representing U.D.O.’s later period. Why some of these anniversary editions feature more bonus tracks than others is puzzling, and you wish each album would include liner notes that might shed additional light on the inner workings and history of U.D.O., although at least Man and Machine has a plethora of behind-the-scenes, studio photos of bassist Fitty Weinhold, drummer Lorenzo Milani, and guitarists Igor Gianola and Stefan Kaufmann, both of whom recently announced their departures from U.D.O.

Some of these records have been out of print for a while now, and while U.D.O. hasn’t really distinguished itself from Accept over the years in any meaningful way, it’s nice to have them back. Still, had more thought been put into the packaging of each reissue, the word “essential” might apply here.


Label: AFM Records (Anniversary editions can be purchased here)