||Accept - Balls To The Wall
(CBS '84, INL63563)
One of the cool things about Accept is how every album up until Metal Heart offered a considerably different metal sound, next and last with Udo (until reunion), Russian Roulette perhaps falling short because it seemed to cut-and-paste all previous styles, resulting in a functional, sound record on the surface, rehash upon examination.
Balls To The Wall however, the band's fifth album, was Accept's grand commercial success, along with being a personal favourite of Udo Dirkschneider and Stefan Kaufmann, at the time the band's drummer, now U.D.O.'s guitarist, always a heavy hand in the songwriting. Chalk some of this up to the rose-coloured glasses syndrome that clouds rockers' judgments (more than half the time, these guys will cite the biggest seller as their fave album). But one can also look to the record's concentric, returning focus, its creamy smooth sound, its uniform tornado swirl into the world of riff, each track clinging with both sonic hands to its central and simple guitar core. Conversely, if Restless & Wild was unquestionable metal brilliance, it was also jarring, screechy and defiantly underground.
Any press is good press, and Accept, granted, full-on a critical wave frothed forth by their excellent Restless & Wild album the year previous, found themselves embroiled in a "gay metal" controvery, due to no less than five ducks having lined their leather thongs up in a winking row: 1) the cover art, 2) the title of the album, 3) the naked shot of the band (Udo is in fatigues though) on the limited edition 2-panel poster included with some import copies, 4) the lyric to 'Love Child', and 5) the lyric to 'London Leatherboys'.
The band were incredulous, counting on their advanced European sensibilities to play exactly the same way in middle America, or at least outer America. Not so.
I asked Stefan if he was surprised by the controversy. "I was surprised about a lot of things. For example, when Russian Roulette came out, we had problems touring America because it was pro-Russian propaganda and we had the same problem with the album in Russia because it was an anti-Russian propaganda. Come on. So actually, we were supposed to do a tour in Hungary and they didn't let us in because of that; back in 1986, the Iron Curtain was still there. So first Balls To The Wall was called the first gay metal album, then it was about the Berlin Wall, and nobody cared about reading the lyrics. It was actually about minorities, that's it. For example, 'London Leatherboys' was about punks or bikers or whatever (Udo says bikers), enjoying their life. They're normal people, they just look different and they behave different. But they're normal people, another minority. And 'Love Child' was about gays, true, but it's basically about people who are suppressed."
What about the album cover? Did you think it might cause problems? "No. We had this guy with his leg. Actually this guy was 50 something years old, and he was a boxer, and he had those two wooden balls in his hand. Of course we knew it was going to be controversial, but we never thought about the gay connotations. We were just thinking we'd get in trouble because of 'balls'."
"As soon as we had that title, that was it," adds Udo. "But the front cover, I had nothing to do with it. It was an idea of the management. And yes, a lot of people were thinking now we were a gay metal band (laughs) but it had nothing to do with that." And the infamous poster? "Oh, that was a horrible situation. This picture took nine or ten hours, the whole day to get the lamps in the right position and all that stuff. It was very heavy going."
Followed closely by Breaker and arguably I'm A Rebel, Balls To The Wall contained the band's most commercial production values to date. Recorded in mid-'83 at Dierks Studios, up and coming production legend Michael Wagener took more control of the process, although as per Restless & Wild, production credit would go to Accept, with Wagener credited for recording and mixing.
"I'd say it was Michael Wagner," offers Udo, commenting on the record's streamlined sound. "He was involved with both albums but he was looking for something different, something special. And in the end we found our sound. The difference between Restless & Wild is that with Balls To The Wall I think we found the real Accept sound. And I remember it was a lot of fun recording the album, very easy going. It took about four months, about the same as Restless & Wild. We recorded it a little bit outside the city of Cologne, in a small city, very quiet. We were never interested in recording in a big city. There are too many distractions. All of us could get home to our families on weekends except for Hermann Frank. It's the same situation we have now with U.D.O. Stefan has his own studio which is five minutes from my home. It's easy and we can go there whenever we like. If he has an idea, he gives me a tape and I have a little studio at home, I put the vocals on that and then we go back to the studio and see how it works. We never had to say, okay, let's start on songs for the new album; it's constant, we're always working. But we did Balls To The Wall together with Louis Austin, and in the end we weren't really satisfied with the sound, and then we got Michael Wagner and he mixed the album." Stefan would also underscore Wagener's importance, calling the record more of a co-production.
The record's corner piece was the hypnotic, understated title track, a song that combined the best elements of AC/DC with a German sense of drama and an advanced knowledge of guitar rock courtesy of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. It is a track that builds to conclusion, ebbs, flows, stalks and attacks, all at a surprisingly downwound tempo. Udo: "Wolf (Hoffman - guitars) came up with that riff and then I came up with the melody for the words and then I think Wolf or Stefan came up with the title. I think it was from a book or something. The song was not really there in the beginning. It was just a riff but then we built it up in the studio."
'Fight It Back' was another highlight, once more, as metaphor of the album, built in total deference to its overpowering, angular riff, topped with one of rock's most ferocious screams since Tyler's 'Back In The Saddle'. "Yes, it was a special thing. I did that before at the beginning of 'Fast As A Shark', and then we went into that German folk song. That's just me screaming that whole time. No tricks."
'Head Over Heels' does much the same thing, its various elements clinging to an exacting riff, culminating in gorgeous melodies come chorus time. "That's one of my all time favorite Accept songs," notes Udo. "And for me it was the first time I got to sing a bit differently, with more melody, which continued with 'Winter Dreams', also one of my favourites, a song we never played live in America or Canada (note: until the ill-fated 2000 U.D.O. tour). I learned a lot with this album." The latter track is the album's lone ballad of ten tracks, conveniently tucked at the end for those who want to avoid the melancholic, Byrds-y chill of its fading strains.
'Love Child' is a central sticking point in this album's gay controversy, the lyric wobbling on its stunted English axis before identification with, and observation of, a man fired with homosexual thoughts. I'm pretty sure it isn't Udo in character. The guy's got a wife and grown kids. But it was certainly an eyebrow-raiser within the he-man metal world of 1984. Once more, it is the combination of riff, production, and howling vocal acumen, iced with a measure of melody, that makes it work so well, Udo particularly impressed with the track's "fantastic guitar solo."
'Turn Me On' is much more typical rock 'n' roll fare. "Yes, that's a funny story," laughs Udo. "It's a true story, a backstage story. And I also like the melody of that song. There was some roadie that was making some sex in the dressing room and somebody came in there and caught them. So when we were doing this album, we wrote some lyrics about that."
And a few random notes for you. On 'Guardians Of The Night', Udo offers the following. "That's a very good song. We played it once in Europe, or three or our times, that was it. It wasn't a really famous song but I think it's a good song." 'Losing More Than You Ever Had'? "I don't like the guitar solo on that. We had this crazy idea of putting a special solo in there. I like the old version better than the one we used." Finally, Udo cites 'Losers + Winners' as his least favourite song on the album, and indicates that in terms of leftover material from these sessions, there were many un-named fragments, or songs that went into a first verse but no further. None of these were used on the subsequent Metal Heart album, which he indicates was "all fresh material."
But where did all this come from? Where did Accept come up with the idea to rock hard, and most impressively, rock as early as the mid-'70s? "One influence was Deep Purple," reflects Kaufmann, "the other was the Rolling Stones. You always had the two camps between the Stones and Beatles, and we were of course on the heavy side. And then all the glitter stuff coming from England, Sweet, Slade, T. Rex. Because that was heavy rock music but really melodic. And then of course there was Judas Priest, with Rocka Rolla. So these were the main influences, but with Accept you had the rehearsal room and you didn't care about anything. So the first two albums were very underground, and then when Breaker came out, it was 'aah, heavy metal.' Because the first time I ever heard the expression heavy metal was 1981 in England. We thought we were doing hard rock."
In any event, Balls To The Wall was a success, clocking around two million units worldwide, no doubt somewhat fueled by the added spice of controversy. Tours with Ozzy, Motley Crue and Kiss would ensue, along with a key showcase at '84's Monsters Of Rock. Videos would be generated, and the band would find themselves losing key guitarist Hermann Frank, topping a brief two album tenure, to the ranks of his solid solo project Hazzard. Jorg Fischer would be coaxed into rejoining, having attended a Christmas party at which he was persuaded by the band's manager, Gaby Hauke, now Wolf Hoffman's wife. Accept would follow up quickly with Metal Heart (produced by painstaking taskmaster Dieter Dierks), a record somewhat panned as disjointed and forced at the time, but now gaining stature fast in many fans' estimation as one of the top three Accept albums of all time, the third and last of the band's golden era from 1983 to 1985.