A Metal legend was born in the latter days of the 70s, one that would join the likes of MOTÖRHEAD and RIOT in bridging the gap between the old school hard rock of the 60s and 70s with the thriving beast that would become the NWOBHM. Suffice to say, ACCEPT is a band with a long, albeit uneven history, shifting lineups quite often and falling into a state of seemingly permanent hiatus in the latter 90s. All bets were off on whether a band could regain its foothold after more than a decade of studio silence and the absence of their charismatic helmsman Udo Dirkschneider, but those who would end up banking on a glorious return held within "Blood Of The Nations" hit pay dirt with a vengeance.
This isn't a reunion in the sense that most would define it, but an out and out rebirth with the obligatory return to outright youthful vigor generally unseen by a band as old as this, literally as if they came forward in time from 1983. Naturally the band shows some signs of maturity and progression as the songs have gotten a bit longer and quite darker, but the nuts and bolts that make this wrecking machine work remain largely unchanged from the chunky riff monsters that defined "Restless And Wild" and "Balls To The Wall". But perhaps the biggest surprise of all is that vocal replacement Mark Tornillo proves to be quite competent and even slightly more adept at his craft than Udo was, bringing forth an impressive assortment of AC/DC inspired shrieks to match the band's signature sound and a surprisingly clean cut lower ranged croon that dredges up images of the lighter side of the 80s, albeit amid a backdrop of dark and forbidding music.
Arguably the only area where this album seems to leave a tiny bit to be desired is in how ambitious it is in spite of its fairly simple, catchy formula. Particularly on longer epics such as "The Abyss" and "Shades Of Death", there is an uncharacteristic melding of complex change ups and atmospheric curve balls that, while not unheard of in more modern Metal outfits, do deviate a bit from the band's traditional 80s sound. It ends up working quite well as the ideas presented endure continued repetition and limited variation, all held together by a versatile and impassioned performance courtesy of Tornillo. The only time when the band seems to shift all but completely away from their roots is the mostly acoustic ballad "Kill The Pain", which largely exploits the cleaner side of Tornillo's voice and comes off more like a middle ground between the old ballad work of Judas Priest and some of the handiwork heard out of recent European Power Metal outfits.
The real meat and potatoes of this album are found when experimentation gives way to a slightly modified version of ACCEPT's established orthodoxy, which comes in two familiar forms. On the speedier side of things is a crusher of a song in "Locked And Loaded" that finds itself pretty close to "Painkiller" territory, not unlike a number of recent German bands in PRIMAL FEAR and IRON SAVIOR that have played up the same formula. The opener "Beat The Bastards" takes a similar route but relies more on straightforward aggression and attitude and slightly less on flash and technique. These are where Tornillo's gravely shrieks really come into focus and Herman Frank's axe work truly shines, cutting through the air like an ensemble of swinging katana blades. On the other end of the spectrum is an impressive collection of mid tempo bruisers with all the crunch and punch to rival the heavy hitters on "Balls To The Wall", of which "Teutonic Terror", "Pandemic" and the title song prove to be the most memorable and reminiscent of the good old days minus an updated production and a meaner guitar tone.
A large number of so-called reunions have come and gone and few truly live up to the height that they tend to garner, but this is one of those cases where the trend proves not to be an absolute rule. Doubters who think that this band can't function without their iconic front man are encouraged to give this a go regardless of their loyalty to Udo, as this is pretty far from being another "Eat The Heat". There are few things more Metal than a blood-covered hand giving a peace sign, and the same proves to be true for this band even after more than 30 years on their quest to bring the wrecking ball to the world.
(Online April 7, 2013)