October 13, 2012
By Andy Laudano
Critical Acclaim In Speed Metal Game
JAM Speaks With Legendary Guitarist Wolf Hoffmann
No matter how many ways you look at the situation, it takes some real 'balls to the wall' for an established band to replace a founding member. It's even worse when the musician you're replacing happens to be your iconic lead singer. You just don't replace the 'voice' that symbolized your sonic musical attack by snapping your fingers and hoping no one noticed. The fans always do, and it's a fool's game to think any different. For every success like AC/DC, where Brian Johnson stepped in to replace the dearly departed Bon Scott, you have the dismal failure of Tim Owens trying to fill the shoes of the much-alive Rob Halford in Judas Priest.
Many noted bands of yesterday have tried to resurrect themselves without sounding dated or unable to adapt to the new world order of music. When legendary guitarist, Wolf Hoffmann, decided to put the vaunted German heavy metal band, Accept, back together without singer Udo Dirkschneider, rock fans around the globe feared the the band would forever tarnish their image instead of breathe new life into it. Fortunately, Accept proved to be the exception rather than the rule. In 2010, the band released its first studio recording of original material in 14 years, Blood of Nations. Led by former T.T. Quick vocalist Mark Tornillo, a reinvigorated line-up charted the highest Accept album in the band's impressive 35-year career. The recent release of the group's follow-up, the equally impressive Stalingrad, further proved Hoffman's decision to regroup was no fluke. The Teutonic titans of metal are indeed back, and sounding better than ever.
Accept was just a struggling local band in the German town of Solingen that had gone through many lineup changes before Hoffmann entered the picture.
"I joined when I was a teenager, just sixteen," Wolf recalled. "I heard a band called Accept was looking for a guitar player, so I auditioned and miraculously got the gig. They were somewhat organized. They already had equipment and gigs but in the end we were all just kids."
As Accept continued to grow and hone their sound, one of their compositions, "Fast as a Shark" from the fourth album, Restless and Wild, would eventually take on a life of its own. The tune is credited by many rock critics to be the first true speed metal song ever written. The development of that style of guitar playing by Hoffman has influenced countless musicians in bands around the world.
"It feels great," remarked Hoffman, "to know that as time passes on, what you created has turned into a very historic, significant event in rock and roll history. When we released that album, we didn't really notice anything different about the sound. I just thought it was a fun thing to do on that song. Time went by and eventually we started meeting people who would mention 'Fast as a Shark' to us and say, 'When that song came out, it changed my life.' We had no idea it would start the whole genre of speed metal."
Accept finally gained a real footing in the burgeoning U.S. metal scene with their 1983 classic, Balls To The Wall. The title track would become the band's signature hit.and give the band the much needed traction it sought in the American market. The tune wold eventually become a rock anthem for millions of rock fans around the globe to rally around. The Accept classic would be hailed in many music circles as the greatest metal album of the '80s.
"That entire period of time was amazing," recounted Hoffmann of those heady days. "I remember very well those where we all considered America to be the glory land.' This was the country every hard rock band wanted to perform in. Everybody in Europe dreamed about touring the United States and having a video on MTV. To us, the U.S. was the promise land. Our first ever tour here we spent six weeks opening for Kiss in these big arenas. It was mind-blowing. Playing heavy metal music in the U.S. during that tour was like heaven."
Despite the huge success the band enjoyed throughout Europe and Japan, Accept never had the same impact on the U.S. market. To this day, that lack of appeal with stateside headbangers still has Hoffman completely baffled.
"I have given up wondering about that," conceded Hoffmann. "It doesn't bother me anymore. At the time, of course, Accept toured with all these other bands that were looking to break out like we were. All the sudden they would sell eight million records. We tried hard to come up with something that would get us over that hump, but it just never happened. Our band always had this sort of cult following rather a mainstream one. We did well, don't get me wrong, but Accept never had that crossover success that made us all rich and famous. We've always been that cool underground band everyone loved. That in itself was quite an achievement.
"I remember at the time we were competing with the Bon Jovi's of the world in America. You had the Ratt's, the Poison's - all the pretty-boy American singers that were chick magnets. We were never that type of band. We always had 80 to 90 percent guys at our shows, especially in those days after "Balls to the Wall" broke out on American radio. I guess the women enjoyed buying the albums and watching the videos back then instead of coming to our shows."
In 1987, Dirkschneider embarked on a solo career. An American singer, David Reece, was brought in as a replacement. It was short-lived. By 1989, Accept had disbanded. Udo would reunite with his former band mates on several occasions over the next several years to tour. However, when it came to creating new material, the singer chose to focus his efforts on a solo career rather than carry on with writing music with Accept.
In 2009, a chance meeting between Hoffmann and Accept bassist Peter Baltes, with singer Tornillo sparked an impromptu jam session. Less than a minute into the session, Hoffman says he looked over at Baltes and nodded. They both knew resurrecting Accept from the dead was not only possible, it had to be done.
"Peter and I were just jamming at a friend's studio," recalled the guitarist. "After torturing our instruments for awhile, we both agreed it sucked not having a singer in the studio with us. Someone suggested this guy Mark, who lived around the corner. We were just doing this for fun, so it really didn't matter to us who it was we sang with. When Mark walked in, we hit it off immediately. He knew all about Accept, from our body of work in the '80s, and loved the band. After a while he said, "You guys wanna jam?" And then a miracle happened. After thirty seconds of hearing Mark sing, Peter and I looked at each other and knew we wanted Accept back."
Hoffman called old friend, guitarist Herman Frank to gauge his interest in joining the reformed Accept. He liked what he heard. Former Helloween drummer Stefan Schwarzmann also agreed to come on board. Along with Hoffmann, Baltes and Tornillo, Accept released one of the best comeback albums ever in Blood of the Nations.
"When we set out to do this thing," stated Hoffman, "we had everybody saying this was never going to work. People online, the whole fan community in Europe, all were convinced this band would be a failure. They would say, 'Here they are, fifteen years later, coming out with a new album, with a new singer. Why bother?' When the album actually came out, it changed everyone's minds. The record has been the biggest success for us ever."
The band's latest effort, Stalingrad, picks up right where Blood of the Nations left off. It continues Accept's tradition of heavy guitar riff driven songs full of anthem-like sing along choruses. Once again there's not a bad song on the album. Interestingly enough, as good as hard driving tunes like "Shadow Soldiers," "Hellfire" and the epic title track sound on CD, they come across even better live.
"We're glad to be back in the saddle and reconnecting with our fans," admitted the guitarist. "I talk to them all the time after the shows. People tell me how they've waited 20 years for us to come back and how they drove for hours to see us. There are some great stories and great people out there. We're also getting a lot of new fans too. We're seeing three generations of Accept fans at our shows - kids, their parents and grandparents. We're attracting them from five to fifty - now how about that!"