Latest release: Too Mean to Die (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.acceptworldwide.com
German heavy metal band Accept formed about forty five years ago. In their early days, they quickly established their hard rock and heavy metal credentials within Europe. But by 1985, their profile reached an international level, touring most of the world’s heavy music centres on the back of their influential sixth studio album, Metal Heart. Personnel changes and an inevitable break a few years later remarkably saw a temporary reunion but by the mid-nineties, Accept had all but disbanded, despite another reunion attempt.
It wasn’t until 2010 that Accept reformed and released the excellent Blood of the Nations album. Their output since then has been consistently great, no-nonsense heavy metal and with the high charting Blind Rage in 2014, Accept ventured here for their first ever Australian tour. Sadly, more personnel ructions ensued and when co-founding bassist and co-songwriter Peter Baltes left in 2018, it looked questionable if Accept’s impressive legacy would continue.
The stars aligned with new recruits contributing in the song writing realm, plus the addition of a third guitarist now makes the band a sextet. Accept’s sixteenth album, titled Too Mean to Die, was recorded in Nashville and continues their current trend of releasing solid, driving heavy metal. Loud Online recently spoke to the surprisingly calm heavy metal guitar legend, last remaining original band member and classical music aficionado, Wolf Hoffmann.
The latest album continues in the fine form of recent releases. How did you and Andy [Sneap – producer and mixer] manage the recording aspects given the pandemic meant some work had to be done remotely?
Yeah, that’s a bit of a misconception where some people think that we did the whole thing remotely. We didn’t, we just did some songs, like just less than the second half remotely. The majority was done the traditional way with everyone altogether in the same room. But, we had scheduled the first half of recording for earlier in the year  not knowing when we would have time to regroup for the second half and then that second half was during the summer when the COVID19 travel restrictions were going on. So, we couldn’t actually meet in person because he couldn’t come into the country. So, we only did a few songs that way where the rest of the band was alone without a producer in Nashville and he was over in the UK doing his thing, but he could actually control us a little bit from over there. Or, supervise it, maybe is the right word, you know.
The Judas Priest influence on the title track together with Andy’s tenure in Judas Priest is hard to miss. Do you agree?
Yeah, it’s always been there, there’s has always been a bit of Priest influence in our music, for sure. We’ve never denied it and he has never tried to discourage. Sometimes I think I’ll play him some stuff and I’ll say, ‘That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? Does it sound too much like Priest?’ and he would say, ‘Nah, it’s fine.’ Ha-ha.
It certainly makes sense because you both came up, in way, initially when Priest was becoming huge.
We did and of course, everyone has influences. We have Judas Priest, AC/DC and Deep Purple. I would say that those are the three influences in Accept’s music.
The line-up has obviously changed which would have had a significant impact on Accept. Can you talk about Philip Shouse [Gene Simmons Band] joining?
Yeah, I believe he is a latest addition or may have come in about the same time as Martin [Motnik] but Phil was a lucky find. He was with us during a tour in 2019 when we did a tour, or a special tour in Europe with orchestras where we played a bunch of classical music from my solo albums and then some rearranged Accept tunes when our other guitar player, Uwe [Lulis], wasn’t available. So we used Philip as a stand-in and he is a Nashville player who is a good friend of our drummer. We got to know him really well during this tour and we found him out what a fantastic player he is and what a nice guy, how he can we work the crowd onstage and we really liked him. We thought, ‘why can’t we have him all the time?’ you know, so we took him on as a third [guitar] player. I think that it worked out really well and it enables us to do a few more things live that you normally cannot do with just two guitarists. Also, we wanted to represent him quite a bit on this new album so we gave him some room and some spots to play lead and some parts to play. I think it benefitted the whole production.
It is interesting how the solos work there as apart from the great trade-offs, there are plenty of harmony lines. Is that something that happens as part of pre-production or is there a better result as a spur of the moment thing?
No, these things are pretty well thought out and, I would say, composed, as they are really part of the songs. To me, when I write songs, the middle eight, as we call it, or the middle section, is always an important part of the songs anyhow, especially on the more intricate songs. I mean, if it is a straight up rock and roll song then sometimes you’ll just play a lead over the riff or the chorus or whatever, in somewhere where it doesn’t play such a big role. But in something like Symphony of Pain or Zombie Apocalypse, these type or more intricate or more riffy songs, I always try to come up with something special for the middle part. So these sequences are usually well thought out and composed, even during a melodic part, with a twin guitar thing, that is usually thought out and worked on. It is usually not done as something spontaneous.
I was going to mention Symphony of Pain, particularly with the classical music references in there.
Yeah, that is a song where I was able to find a place for my favourite little tricks where I take some classical elements and sneak them into our songs. This said to me, where it was screaming for it because it is called Symphony of Pain, and I thought, ‘well, there is a song that requires some symphonic elements’, and lucky enough Beethoven worked in there beautifully, which is one of the best known symphonies in the world. For the 5th Symphony and the 9th, almost every kid in the world knows those few elements [Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor – Ode to Joy and Beethoven’s 5th Symphony].
I remember with Yngwie Malmsteen putting a rendition of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Badinerie into one of his tracks [No Mercy] many years ago and it worked well. Crowds seem to enjoy it too.
They do, and I’ve done it thirty or thirty five years ago when we played Metal Heart in 1986. That is the first time where it worked really well when I played a solo there doing Beethoven’s Für Elise. So, ever since, I have been trying to do it here and there. I don’t want to overdo it and put it in too many songs when it doesn’t belong but when it works, it works well, definitely.
Does it surprise you that the average metal appreciates classical music?
Yeah but they only appreciate it to a certain degree, obviously. The average metal fan is not a classical connoisseur and I don’t expect that and of course, that is okay. But there are some references and melodies that you cannot help but know because they are almost part of everyday culture and some of these melodies that I reference even get used in commercials and things like that so they have been around. But, whether people know where they are from or not, it is usually pretty cool if you can find a new way to sneak them into your music and then present these sometimes beautiful compositions or melodies in a completely new environment or with a new sound.
Indeed, the other contrast being the AC/DC, four on the floor drum beat figure, type of thing. You mentioned that AC/DC influence so would you say the song Not My Problem has got that aspect of seventies AC/DC boogie to it?
That is, yeah and the other song is Overnight Sensation which is a very simple sort of rock’n’roll, AC/DC type, friendly, kind of groove tune that is not very complicated but is easy to get into and you know, it has got its own charm, I like it. A lot of people like that song.
The production on that song is also very good with things like some subtle flanger effects on the rhythm guitar.
Yeah, I know, that is a cool little element that opens it up. Stuff like that is a lot of fun and it is not a huge deal but it does add a little bit of something to the song. We don’t really want the albums to sound overly produced but when they are too plain or too vanilla then that is also no good. So, I think you’ve got to find the right balance between rawness and production, I think Andy did a really good job on this album, that’s for sure.
The Best is Yet to Come is interesting in the vocal approach from Mark. It kind of reminds me of a guitar at low volume which you can then turn up to get the amplifier transformer working, and it screams.
Ha-ha, yeah, that’s a beautiful song and Mark really did a killer job on that. This was one of those songs where we really weren’t sure initially because we really liked the demo because it had something that we liked but we couldn’t really tell how good it was going be, how usable or even if we would want that song on the album before we heard everybody do their part on it, especially Mark. This song really lives and dies with the vocals but he did a brilliant job and knocked it out of the park so I’m happy we did and happy that we got it on the album. I think it is actually my favourite track on the album. It turned out well and it is a good song so maybe we can play it live. It is fun and what I like about it is that it is not one of those sappy power ballads with lots of strings and keyboards that drags. I like the fact that it has a certain bounce still and it is not so super slow. A lot of ballads are really slow with acoustic guitars and strings; this was not that. It is slow and has somewhat of a ballad character but it is not your typical ballad.
You could possibly say that about you first single, The Undertaker, in not being your typical Accept song.
Yeah, there are some unusual elements there but at the same time there’s a lot of it which is Accept typical such as the pre-chorus part sing-alongs and the chorus is pretty heavy. Even the mid-tempo part of it reminds me a little bit of Princess of the Dawn [from Restless and Wild], and other mid-tempo songs that we have had in the past. But at the same time, there are some unusual elements in there, you’re right.
In that song, there are some Western film genre sounds, chord strums and even at the end, some brief acoustic guitar, which all works.
I know, but yeah, well, we’re talking about an undertaker so I kind of thought about – Mark wrote the lyrics first for this song and he just kind of gave me the lyrics. I didn’t really know if I wanted to use them or what to do with them since it was just a bunch of words or just a poem, if you want, and I was inspired by it because I was indeed thinking of this Western movie type character, creepy dude in a black outfit that would bury dead people. That is why there are somewhat weird chords at the beginning and how the acoustic or Western vibe came about because you know, once you have this image in your head, it’s just like a little movie that you imagine and it helps with writing the song.
How did the song Samson and Delilah come about as am wondering if that was something written for your recent solo album [Headbangers Symphony] that maybe didn’t quite fit, for whatever reason, at the time?
No, it was just a song that I wrote and played to Andy. Then Andy thought that it would make a good addition to the album. It was indeed based on classical music again [Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9, ‘From the New World’ and Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Bacchanale from Samson et Dalila]. It could have been on one of my solo albums. Had he said, ‘No, we’re not going to use it,’ or if it would have not made musical sense on the album then indeed, I would have probably orchestrated it with strings or something and out it on a solo release of mine but the fact that it doesn’t have strings, that it is so heavy and that it is not really overly classical at all – if you don’t know the original composition, you would never even guessed that it is a classical thing but it is indeed based on classical elements.
In that light, looking at both that song and also Sucks to be You, are you delving into exotic scales such as the Hungarian scale to get that slightly different melody?
I don’t know what scale I am in, to be honest, I just do what I do but I think that I play a lot of harmonic minor. That is what people tell me but honestly, I have never bothered with learning scales and theory. I just play what I think sounds nice.
Lyrics in Accept’s music have always had a little bit of subtle social commentary or not so subtle, at times. What led to doing that?
Absolutely but it is a long tradition with us. We started doing that in the early 80s, mainly when my manager and now wife since thirty years, Gaby, joined the team and she discovered that, well, we all knew that we had terrible lyrics and we needed help. Our vocalist back then, Udo [Dirkschneider], didn’t speak English or write lyrics but somebody needed to write them. On the first couple of albums, we sat there with a dictionary and tried to make sense with the little English that we knew but it was quite difficult, to be honest and somebody had to step in and doing something about the lyrics. On Breaker, I think, we had sort of a ghost writer who helped us and he was also there on Restless and Wild. Then Gaby stepped in and wrote a bunch of lyrics for the next few albums [under the pseudonym Deaffy], well, most of the albums, actually. So the lyrics for Balls to the Wall and Metal Heart and all these albums were all written by Gaby but we didn’t make that public knowledge until much, much later. But, it has always been a tradition of writing about things that are real and with social commentary, things that are going on in the world and sometimes historic events or occurrences, stuff that is actually real. Not fantasy stuff or fiction, you know.
It’s great with lyrics like, ‘boasting is all you do’, ‘I treat how I want to be treated’, ‘just want to get a million views.’ You wouldn’t necessarily lump that in with the aggressive, in-your-face, metal scene.
Yeah, and I don’t like it if you have songs that have lyrics where you go, ‘Huh? What are they talking about?’ I mean, for instance and I love the guy [Ronnie James Dio] and I love the music but what the hell is Holy Diver all about? Honestly, I don’t get it. It is some fantasy thing about an outer spirit but sorry, I don’t get it and I like to write about stuff that I understand.
Pardon the pun but the artwork is quite striking.
We wanted a simple, iconic album cover again and we were searching for something that would make sense with it because we had the title of Too Mean to Die, which we all liked because it sort of represented the times we live in and it seemed to fit into these crazy days. So, it seemed to be a good metal statement during these times. Again, Gaby came up with the idea of using a snake. We looked at images of snakes and we found a picture that looked pretty evil and made it even more evil when our digital artist [Gyula Havancsák] friend from Hungary got a hold of it and he really turned it into this sort of metal serpent thing.
Briefly on equipment and technique, you use a wah pedal here and there. I’m just curious if back in the early days, did Michael Schenker and Scorpions have an impact on your initial style?
Michael Schenker was never much of an influence but Uli Jon Roth was more of an influence. I’ve always liked my wah pedals but I don’t use them much anymore, to be honest.
Still, I gather that Eddie Van Halen had an impact, directly or indirectly on the German rock music scene?
He did have an impact on everybody. But, I very soon realised that I cannot do this tapping stuff. It is not my deal. I remember when he came out in the late seventies, everybody was trying to be a little Eddie and I did too, for a little while there. But, I couldn’t figure it out, it wasn’t my thing, you know. He did it brilliantly but I am more drawn to melodic stuff so if I had to choose between say a David Gilmour and Brian May to Eddie, I would probably go to the melodic guys over Eddie.
Kirk Hammett cites you as a major influence on his playing [in German magazine Gitarre & Bass].
Wow, that is a huge honour, I know, I’ve heard that and I’ve read that recently. I know that Accept had an influence on some bands with the songs that we wrote for early albums, for sure, but I didn’t know that as a guitar player that I was a huge inspiration to Kirk Hammett, that is pretty awesome and an honour, of course.
Mixing wise, several songs have one riff starting on the left or right speaker, the second guitar joins the riff and then the third brings a harmony over it. Is that kind of spatial approach all done in the writing or is there some studio creativity as well?
That comes out as we write it, not necessarily from the left or the right but usually, often times we do this kind of thing. One guitar player introduces the riff, the other guy joins in and then all of a sudden, the rest of the gang kicks in. Doing that builds the song as you introduce it, then it is the next level up and then ‘boom’, so, yeah, we’ve done it a lot. It depends on what song it is but it is kind of a stylistic element we’ve been using a lot. Then again, everybody has used that or a lot of bands.
Given the resurgence of Accept in recent years, what would you now say is your biggest festival highlight?
There are a quite few, actually, as you can imagine. We’ve played many major festivals over the world with up to, I don’t know, up to hundreds of thousands of people. We once played a festival in Poland will supposedly up to five hundred thousand people there. I don’t know whether that is true or not but that is what they told us. I think for me, it is not always about the numbers because from a certain crowd size on, you cannot even tell the difference because you can only look so far and there are people up to the horizon whether there are one hundred thousand or five hundred thousand it almost looks the same from the stage. But, I’ve got to say that this show that we did in 2017, where we played at Wacken in Germany with an orchestra; that was phenomenal. It was a phenomenal show and a phenomenal day.