There comes a time in nearly every veteran metal musician's life when the urge to collaborate with an orchestra becomes irresistible. It's actually quite surprising that Udo Dirkschneider waited so long to conjure a project as unashamedly overblown as "We Are One", but if anyone has earned the right to tick off the few remaining goals from his metal-as-fuck to-do list, it's the none-more-metal ex-ACCEPT frontman. Admittedly, the appeal of U.D.O. — Dirkschneider's titular crew, on and off, since 1987 — has always been noticeably narrower than that of his former band, but he is one of metal's most adored vocalists nonetheless, with a towering legacy and some of the genre's greatest ever anthems on his CV. Teaming up here with DAS MUSIKKORPS DER BUNDESWEHR (the official Concert Band of the German Armed Forces, no less!), and with former ACCEPT colleagues Peter Baltes and Stefan Kaufmann involved in the creative process, this could only be more metal if a zombie Paul Baloff delivered the vinyl to your door.
Of course, plenty of metal-plus-orchestra endeavors have ended in disaster. There's no need to name names, but it's not an idea that always works, and it needs the meticulous attentions of an expert in arrangement to make such a potential cacophony fall into sonic place. TRIPTYKON's masterful "Requiem" springs immediately to mind, and while "We Are One" is rooted firmly in the unapologetic catchiness and pomp of traditional metal, there's a similar attention to detail and organic fluidity to the MUSIKKORPS's contributions that makes everything sound wholly natural. The fact that these are all original songs, rather than fluffed-up renditions of old classics, means that "We Are One" stands or falls on its own merits. Assuming that you do enjoy the sound of a German heavy metal legend shrieking majestically over some thunderous, symphonic hard rock anthems, it's really hard to find fault with it. Everything from cast-iron crowd-pleasers "We Are One" and "Children Of The World" through to the stately grind of "Rebel Town" and the razor's edge bombast of instrumental "Natural Forces", Udo's perfectly justifiable self-indulgence has led to an explosive and wildly entertaining celebration of unity, strength and deafening crescendos.
Yes, there are moments that are so unapologetically cheesy you may feel like you are teetering on the abyss of a giant, iron-plated fondue, but therein lies the joy. We are one. Udo gets it. Now with added trumpets. And bagpipes.