1984; Portrait Records
1. Is It Any Good?
Check out that album art. Is that part of a gimp's buttcheek hanging out? Is he squeezing a rubber ball? Yeah, and yeah. Is one of the songs on this album called "London Leatherboys?" Is the name of the album "Balls to the Wall"? Once again, yeah, and yeah. Does the lead-singer's dude choir try to sound British when they chant the chorus, even though they're from Germany? Yes, once again.
Let's quit sidestepping it: Is Balls to the Wall gay as hell? That's hard to deny.
Is Balls to the Wall metal as hell? Well, that's even harder.
Udo Dirkenschneider looks like a baby and he sings like the guy from AC/DC was kicked in the throat every day as a child. He sounds ridiculous, as you can probably intuit, but he also sings like his vocal chords are being processed by a cheese grater, which means that he sounds completely awesome. He sings with all the operatic bravado of Bruce Dickinson and mixes it with a big dash of straight up, down-on-the-street mean. He doesn't sound quite like anyone else in metal, except for maybe Brian Johnson, and even at that, that dude can only dream of Dirkenschneider's range and snarl. Even if the rest of the band wasn't up to par, his over-the-top howls would stay in your head for weeks.
Luckily, Accept is an anthem machine, and that's as much of a compliment to guitarists Herman Frank and Wolf Hoffmann as it is to Dirkenschneider, if not moreso. If you were a metal band in the '80s, you had two options as to the kind of music you could make: You could make the audience want to smash their faces through glass and punch people, or you could make them pump their fists and march on their school or workplace or parents or whatever was pissing them off. Balls to the Wall falls into the second category, and among it's contemporaries it was one of the best of the era. Most every riff is going to get stuck in your head, and not a single song doesn't serve as a great rallying cry for something or another, whether the subject is workplace rebellion or BDSM. The title track is just generally a great "stickin' up for the little guy" kind of song, and with an amazingly catchy guitar line and Dirkenschneider's increasingly psychotic vocals, it serves as a headbanger anthem for the ages. Likewise, "Losing More Than You Ever Had" serves as a surprisingly understanding ballad from a guy trying to tell his friend why his ex left him and why he should stop crying over spilled milk. It's weird subject matter for anthemic metal but it doesn't lose a shred of impact, thanks to the speedy tempo and loopy growls.
Balls to the Wall is an album that's often compared more with albums like the Scorpions' Love at First Sting and Twisted Sisters' Stay Hungry, but it's in the interesting position of being too fast and abrasive to really be called party metal, and not quite relentless enough in it's subject matter and speed to be regarded among more extreme efforts like Slayer's Reign in Blood and Kreator's Pleasure to Kill. Rather than alienating itself, though, this aspect of being not quite here and not quite there creates an album that can be enjoyed by metalheads of all kinds, as long as they're not in the mood for anything terribly serious. It's a ton of fun and it's heavy and catchy enough to stay with you for a while after you turn it off. It's essential for your understanding of the '80s metal scene, since you're getting a little bit of everything with this one.
2. Is It "Influential"?
Wikipedia defines this as being one of the first power metal albums, which is a hideous thing to be regarded as and is also probably wrong. That said, it was pretty instrumental in setting up the Teutonic thrash scene that would scream out of Germany a few years later, to the same extent that Motorhead's Ace of Spades helped make a blueprint for American thrash. That means that, interestingly enough, while not technically an "extreme" metal album, it was very important to later thrash, black, power, death, etc. releases that would come out in the next decade.
3. Is It A Good Starting Place For Beginners?
Absolutely. Dirkenschneider's voice is just abrasive enough for newbies to balk but not run away completely, and the guitars are practically engaging enough to be the musical equivalent of black holes. As stated above, this album offers a little bit of almost every kind of subgenre that was around at the time, so this would be a fantastic way to introduce a new listener to '80s metal.