By Jim Barber
One of the true pioneers of European heavy metal is back with one of his most powerful albums ever as U.D.O frontman and namesake Udo Dirkschneider unleashed Decadent on Feb. 3 throughout North America, a few days after its international unveiling.
This marks the 15th U.D.O album since the band’s formation in 1987 in the wake of Dirkschneider’s departure from popular Teutonic metal band Accept – a band in which he was an integral part from 1979 and through 10 studio albums, including three in three years in the 1990s. (There were also a couple of reunion tours in the 21st century)
Decadent is also a stark, honest, no-holds-barred account of the muck and mire that modern society seems to be sinking into and contains the biting social and political commentary that has been Dirkschneider’s hallmark as a lyricist for more than four decades. Even during his formative musical years, the native of Wuppertal, Germany (where Bayer aspirin was patented in 1897 and where Karl Marx’s collaborator Friedrich Engels was also born), always mixed crunching riffs, hard-driving rhythms and memorable melodies to his intense lyrical content.
This potent combination could be one of the reasons why Dirkschneider’s back catalogue is still considered required listening by the discriminating metalhead and why his music is still relevant and still resonates today with rockers of all ages.
Decadent is as good as anything that U.D.O. the band, which also features long-time collaborator Fitty Wienhold (bass) and the relative new guitar tandem of Andrey Smirnov and Kasperi Heikkinen, both of whom signed on in 2013, has ever done. The topicality and thematic elements of the songs are fresh, pointed and often quite blunt as Dirkschneider expresses his revulsion at the ills of the world today.
“I don’t want to be a teacher but for me it’s important to do lyrics about what’s happening in our world now. For example, on this new album the song Rebels of the Night came when we were on tour in the Ukraine and all that shit happened there with Russia. Nobody else was touring Ukraine at the time, only U.D.O., and we were around when all that was going on and we were talking to soldiers and talking to young people and they didn’t understand what was going on and why it was happening,” he said from a hotel room in New York City, where he was conducting press interviews recently.
“On House of Fake, the lyrics are about all the political things that governments tell us they are going to do. They say they are going to do this and that for us to get us to vote them in, and in the end they do nothing of what they said. The song Pain is asking how much pain can you take, how much can you watch and endure. When you switch the news on it’s like a horror movie talking about all these wars and massacres.
“So Decadent is the album title and its saying we are living in a decadent world and there is something really wrong. There is this huge gap between a few rich people in control and so many people who are poor and who have no power. There’s nothing in the middle any more.”
For the first 38 years of his life, Dirkschneider lived in the epicentre of the Cold War – a divided Germany, where the West (including Wuppertal) was free and democratic, and communist East Germany was allied with the then Soviet Union. That tends to make one political, and makes one pay close attention to geopolitical affairs. As well, as a teenager, Dirkschneider was also witness to the counterculture movement where art, music and politics became enmeshed throughout the late 1960s and into the early 1970s.
“I was always interested in political things and always about what was happening in the world. I always found that to be more interesting than what a lot of other people were talking about. Even to this day, if I need some ideas I just switch on the news and there are tons of ideas. I was always, even at 18 or 19, very much into political stuff. And in the 1960s rock and roll music was doing that. You had songs like Revolution by The Beatles – when they came out with songs like that it was a real change in rock music. If you grew up with all that, you starting thinking more,” he explained.
“It was more interesting for me to write lyrics about that sort of thing than to write lyrics about dragons or witches, or even about sex and drugs and partying. I mean, sex is okay, rock and roll is also okay, but drugs are not okay. I’ve never taken any drugs in my life and I am very much against them, and would never write about them.”
When asked if he thinks society is more decadent now than in the past, or if the decadence is simply exposed more because of the advent of mass media and social media, Dirkschneider said he believes things are indeed getting worse, which is why he made the title track and called the album what he did.
“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and that’s a problem. We have so many people in Europe coming here as refugees from war and poverty. Maybe instead of spending so much money buying and making military weapons put it into the poorer countries to help build them up and show them things to help them live better. There’s something wrong with a system where we have enough money to help these people but we spend it on military weapons,” he said.
“I think something is going to explode, there’s so much tension. I have nothing against rich people, but it’s the governments and the corporations that put the money in the wrong places and they need to take care if the poor countries and the poor people within their own countries. That’s a much better idea than to buy new weapons that can destroy the whole world.”
Dirkschneider is not simply lashing out at poverty, injustice, greed, corruption and war for the sake of lashing out; he hopes that his words and music will strike a chord with his listeners and that they might at least recognize the decadence around them and perhaps even do something about it. He firmly believes that knowledge leads to understanding, which leads to action and change.
“As a musician, we can write words and songs and hopefully some people get the meaning. But I really want them to take that meaning and really want to do something where they realize that if they want to change something they have to get involved and maybe get political and make the politicians take notice,” he said.
“I got the idea for Decadent watching those TV spots for Save the Children. All these kids in Africa have nothing to eat and that’s where the idea that the world is so decadent that it allows this to happen came from.”
With Decadent’s release, and a hugely ambitious world tour in the works, it’s obvious that Dirkschneider has no desire to slow down any time soon, even has he approaches age 63 in April.
“I love music and I love making music. And the music that I do is still popular, especially in Europe. For me it’s a lot of fun to do, it’s my passion. I love to sing and I love to write songs so why would I stop? And I am really happy with the new lineup of the band. We have a big tour coming up, maybe the longest tour ever with U.D.O.,” he said.
Part of the reason is that he is now finding a whole new generation of metal fans coming to his shows and buying his albums. And he is also breaking U.D.O. into new and exciting markets.
“I think that we write good songs that touch people, you know. It’s very interesting that the last four or five years to see so many really young people at our shows. A new generation is coming up for sure. We have the older fans that are coming still and many of those started as Accept fans, but now these younger kids are coming as U.D.O fans first and many don’t know that much about Accept. I don’t play many of the Accept songs any more anyways. Many of them are surprised to hear I was in this band Accept when I talk to them. So then they go back and explore the whole history of me in Accept and the history of U.D.O. and they become fans of all that music,” Dirkschneider said.
“And we are becoming very, very popular in the eastern European countries. I want to say this without meaning to sound arrogant, but we are really big in Russia and now also in Rumania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic. We also have started doing shows in Turkey, Israel and Poland and the Baltic states too because many of these places are becoming more and more open to this kind of music.”
And travelling the world is not only a lot of fun but it continues to be fodder for Dirkschneider’s songwriting as he gets to see the good, bad and the ugly of different cultures and communities and peoples.
“You see so many things and when you travel and tour these places you become more open minded as an artist and a lyricist than you would be if you maybe lived in just one country and went on a holiday for three weeks somewhere else. It’s one of the great things about being a musician is that you get to see and experience the world and have it teach you things,” he said.
For more information on U.D.O and Decadent, visit www.udo-online.de