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Reissue Review: ACCEPT First Four Albums: Platinum Editions

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Accept have been one of the more consistently excellent bands over the decades that it can easily seem to even longtime listeners that the band sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus and immediately commenced to laying our ears to waste with molten classic after classic. Yeah, about that. There aren't many duds in the catalog, granted, but Accept hardly began life churning out unassailable albums, a fact that this recent AFM reissues series highlights, while also tracing the full lineage of the group's path to greatness.

1979's self-titled debut went absolutely nowhere commercially, but showcased a band with an intriguing if only semi-coherent struggle to nail down an actual identity. "Seawinds" is weirdly endearing, considering it was 1979 and Accept were still trying to figure out whether Rocka Rolla and Fly to the Rainbow era gothic ballads were still hip or not. "Sounds of War" is an uneasy take on the street punk that was peaking in popularity right about 1979 (interestingly enough, bassist Peter Baltes provided lead vocals on both of those songs). "Glad to Be Alone" presents yet another stab at yearning balladry in a Priest "Diamonds & Rust" vein; both it and "Seawinds" are actually quite good, but lack an overt enough hook to ever be considered a potential hit.

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The recording quality on Accept is hardly laudatory, the sour guitar solo on "Sounds of War" really belaboring that point. "Free Me Now" comes off like the band were listening to a lot of Motorhead at the time but thought, "wouldn't these songs sound better with Rob Halford on vox?"  "That's Rock 'n' Roll" is a sort of Bon Scott-era AC/DC celebration of jumping pub rock, but the chorus is awkward and half-baked.

Accept is not an album of interesting failures, though, more like a clutch of near-successes whose minor missteps offer crucial context to the band's later work. For all the naff songs you won't want to actively listen to again, the album is redeemed by songs like "Lady Lou", "Helldriver" and "Street Fighter", which demonstrate enough of an affinity with the cresting NWOBHM movement of the time for Accept to later refine in their own indelible image. "Lady Lou" is easily the best of the bunch – not coincidentally the only single released from the album – and, really, some of the more uncharacteristic songs like "Seawinds" are frankly better than the boilerplate stuff like "Street Fighter", but taken as a whole Accept is an interesting look at a young band still trying to figure out the sum of its parts.

Original German cover on Brain Records

I'm a Rebel only avoided the dreaded sophomore slump in that Accept resolutely failed to hit it out of the park the first time around, but it offers little in the way of clarity, the group still struggling to iron out the Teutonic template that would later make them a singular metal juggernaut. What it did give us was the title track, arguably the most unsung gem in the entire Accept catalog and a far more triumphant stab at street punk than "Sounds of War" or "Free Me Now". The track was the first written by a non-band member, but that writer turned out to be Alex Young, the older brother of AC/DC's Angus and Malcolm. Brought in to try to score the band a hit song, Young strips the punk sound down to brassy simplicity, not diluting the anthemic aspects of the street punk ethos with out-of-place proto-metal adornments, and the end result is a stone cold classic that stands up proudly next to anything by Cockney Rejects or Cock Sparrer.

Yeah, well, that lasts all of about three minutes and fifty-seven seconds. "Save Us" is a pretty state of the art metal song circa 1980 up through the verses, but the chorus deviates into a weird bit of harmonizing that sounds like Styx listening to too much REO Speedwagon. "I Wanna Be No Hero" and "Do It" find the band continuing to toil in the shadow of 70's Priest. Again, this is a band with a lot of talent but lacking the instinct and vision to tie it all together. Peter Baltes pops his grill over the mic again for a couple more ballads, "No Time to Lose" and "The King", and though he's not the most naturally gifted singer he belts with enough passion to acquit himself admirably. Unfortunately, both ballads are tepid retreads of similar efforts from the first album, and are perhaps the most emblematic symptom of a band that, at the turn of 1980, was starting to sound hopelessly retro.

"Thunder and Lightning" and "China Lady" are the earliest Accept recordings that display the classic Accept sound, although "China Lady" has a riff on the bridge that wouldn't have sounded out of place on an early Def Leppard recording. The band was showing signs of life, but the musical schizophrenia hadn't subsided much, and in its eight-song modesty I'm a Rebel fails to improve on the debut album, representing if anything a minor setback; granted, the highlights here are a definite step forward, but the band didn't write their best song up to that point, "I'm a Rebel", and "Thunder and Lightning" back-to-back with "China Lady" aren't quite enough to top the more successful overall eclecticism of Accept.

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Third time's the charm, then. Breaker is where it all came together for the band, not quite a perfect ten of an album, but definitely demonstrating the talent and vision of a band that would soon get there. So what the fuck happened in the year since I'm a Rebel to give Accept the kind of confidence and discipline to crank out instant classics like "Starlight", "Breaker" and "Son of a Bitch" one after the other? According to later reminiscences by both Udo Dirkschneider and Wolf Hoffman, the inconsistency of the first two albums was due to record label pressure to produce a hit. When "I'm a Rebel" failed to provide that breakthrough, the band simply decided "if you can't joint 'em, beat 'em" (paraphrasing here) and rejected all outside input on the direction of their third album.

It wouldn't be the first time that record company meddling hampered a young band's creativity but man, what a turnaround. Even the unheralded deep cuts on Breaker are superb, "Can't Stand the Night" chief among them, a much more 80's-centric bit of hard-edged balladry than similar backward-leaning efforts on the previous pair of albums. Udo would later match his singing on "Can't Stand the Night" several times over, but he never topped it. "Son of a Bitch" was a deliberate middle finger to the record label; as mild a profanity as it seems now, in 1981 UK that wasn't a phrase that could even be printed on record sleeves, let alone played on the radio. Sure, the lyrics are a bit juvenile – especially the chorus – but the menacing hammer-on's of the central riff are prime 80's metal.

"Burning" was the first single from Breaker but, for all its continued popularity (it's included on no fewer than eight Accept compilations), has always seemed like the album's big backslider to me. Another Teutonic spin on vintage AC/DC, the song is hardly a dud, but it's the only song on the album that seems to be reaching backward for inspiration, and the addition of fake crowd noise to make it sound like a live rave up doesn't do it any favors, either.

"Midnight Highway", surprisingly never released as a single, is exactly the type of commercial attempt Udo and Hoffman would later claim they were avoiding around this time, but unlike previous attempts at radio inclusion "Midnight Highway" bears little mark of compromise; if the track had indeed become a successful single, the members of Accept would have deserved every accolade they received, the track being a pseudo-pop metal masterpiece as catchy as anything out there in the harder edged, pre-glam metal era. Only Peter Baltes' obligatory ballad "Breaking Up Again" and the just-ok "Feelings" and "Down and Out" prevent Breaker from a perfect score, but the album is nonetheless well worth exploring beyond the greatest hits and live setlist fodder.

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Having themselves a genuine sense of poise and artistic recognition under their belts at that point, Accept wasted little time recording their follow up, with Restless and Wild tallying up the group's fourth album in as many years when it was released in late 1982. "Fast as a Shark" is often cited as the first speed metal song (debatable; the Mercyful Fate EP had already come out the month before) and is one of the band's most lasting classics, a frenetic, galloping riff ceding way to Udo's trademark melodic croak on the catchy chorus. The track also boasts one of the best twin harmony guitar solos in heavy metal history.

"Restless and Wild" is also deservedly one of Accept's most heralded classics, and one of the great "wild youth" songs of the 80's, a decade that was bursting to the seams with them. Those two tracks open the album, but perhaps Restless and Wild's greatest claim to posterity is that it distributes the remainder of what have come to be known as its most well-known songs ("Neon Nights", "Flash Rockin' Man", "Princess of the Dawn") evenly throughout the album with no loss of momentum or consistency. "Demons Night", "Don't Go Stealing My Soul Away" and "Ahead of the Pack" are all stellar second tier interstitials between the more well known classics, cementing the whole edifice together seamlessly.

Now, for "platinum editions" these albums are a bit skint on bonus material, with most consisting of a contemporary live song or two, the most interesting of the supplements by far being the four-minute interview on the early years appended to the Accept reissue. Even that is fairly non-enlightening given its brevity, and the remastering provides only modest dividends over the many prior issues – so many that I'm not even sure how long, if at all, any of these have been out of print – but these are essential cornerstones of metal for anyone that doesn't already have them. It's a shame that there doesn't appear to be any vinyl forthcoming to complement these CD digipaks, but the music itself is hardly optional for anyone considering themselves a metalhead.

Scores:
Accept: 6.5
I'm a Rebel: 5.5
Breaker: 9
Restless and Wild: 10

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