Review Summary: The hills were alive...with the sound of U8.
The history of U8 goes back to the end of the 70s, a period when freakish feathered longhairs with names like Manfred and Klaus wore zebra-print spandex and sleeveless t-shirts like uniforms. It was all landlines, vinyl records, Zenith cathode ray TVs, and those ratty solid-state amplifiers cranking out layers of nasty metallic majesty to lost souls seeking headbanging bliss. The winds blew hard against bands like this one, formed in 1980 in Salzburg, Austria. Judging from the early Cheap Trick-style power pop of their original demos (cuts like “Rip it Out” and “She’s Alright” are included as bonus tracks on my copy), the honest, fist banging heaviness of U8 would take several years to percolate.
We join our heroes for 1984’s nonsensically titled “The Shaber”, the band’s slightly crunchier, slightly weirder sophomore disc (compared to their ’82 debut, “Pegasus 1001”). By this time, the foursome of Günter Maier (guitar), Erich "Lem" Enzinger (vox), Peter Wehrhan (bass), and Kurt Rumpf (drums) were desperate to break out of the hostile Germanic hinterlands, sick of the ‘local band’ tag and subsequent scoffers, channeling their own brand of high-flying guitars and riffy thunder with copious touches of Austrian Euro-charm.
It’s not a speed-oriented style, most of the material on “The Shaber” offering more of a rich, grinding Dio/Sabbath edge. The show starts in earnest at track two, the dubiously titled “Song for a Lonely Werewolf”. U8 were far from slavish copyists, and all elements that make this a boutique-metal classic are on offer: Enzinger’s quirky crowing and penchant for screams, impossibly strange lyrics, garroting riffs, and Günter Maier chiming away with deft melodies and fluid syncopation that leans against the vocals. There’s something about the chorus, when Enzinger wails, "I’m not the only one, for you are hunting in the night!”
– it’s pure metal bliss, right up there with Oz’s “Fire in the Brain” and a few other collectible nuggets that cause bullet-belt-clad metal fans to have heart palpitations. “Out of Control” is mane-shaking metal euphoria of the highest caliber, built on a scalding midpaced riff and a shrieking, O-ring popping chorus. Irresistible.
The title track is absolutely confounding, but it’s got a great riff and back-builds dramatic tension like nobody’s business. The cheese factor on the vocals registers pretty high, and I have no idea why there are hammers and saws going on in the background, but the band’s flair for the epic is undeniable. It all made sense to somebody. The album artwork is nothing, (is that shaving cream on the pavement？) but flipping it over and seeing those 7 and 9+ minute epics like this one made purchases like this worth the risk, and less likely that you’d accidentally buy a well-disguised disco/boogie record. There’s a goofy cover of Zep’s “Rock & Roll” on the album, but the loping Heaven & Hell-isms of monster closer “Till the End of the World” make up for it in short order. That riff tone is godly
Most fans of modern music will have no understanding of this music whatsoever. But for the demented souls like me with dog-eared Accept and Manilla Road albums on multiple formats, this is gorgeous music, handmade by artisans of yesteryear.