After a fourteen year hiatus from writing and recording new music — not to mention the permanent break with longtime vocalist Udo Dirkschneider — fans had some cause to be skeptical of Accept‘s 2010 return. Blood of the Nations, however, proved to be a shockingly impressive comeback record — not just a resurrection but a true return to fighting fit form. And the follow-up, Stalingrad — an epic collection of monster anthems and gut-check riffs — feels even tighter, even more fully realized. As the band prepares for a summer of European shows ahead of a triumphant co-headlining North American run with Kreator this fall, guitarist Wolf Hoffmann gave Decibel the low-down on the new record, the evolving new-ish line-up, martial “arts,” and what he would tell the 1979 version of himself if he coud turn back time.
Before we get to the excellent new record, I’m curious if you feel a certain German pride regarding this upcoming Teutonic Terror Attack tour?
Well, the idea has been to highlight German heavy metal. After working around the world and following the different styles in different countries — all under the umbrella heavy metal and then all the other branches coming out of that, we noticed that German-born metal has a distinguished flair and as we learned over the decades, Accept is labeled the first one who made German metal internationally accepted! So we believe that Kreator took the torch and opened the door for another branch of German metal. Both bands are ambassadors, both are from the Industrial Steel area called Ruhrgebiet, which is interesting as shortly before Accept, British bands evolved out of the same environment — the Steel Industry in Great Britain. The spotlight should be on not only on Accept, but also on Kreator representing what Germany has to offer — successfully for many decades.
Martial source material seems to be a good fit for Accept. Why do you think that is?
It always gives us the chance to build that bridge from there to here and now. Power is fascinating and can change the world; unfortunately, power used for your own agenda and to your own selfish advantage is…dangerous.
Is there something about the battle of Stalingrad as a historical event that lent itself particularly well to being explored via an Accept song?
Inspirations came from various corners — documentaries, etcetera. Wars will always be portrayed in history as the result of heroic sacrifices, meaning the soldier wants to kill his enemy no matter what before he takes his last breath. Stalingrad is about dying, but if you follow Accept you will figure, that we — before any other “metal bands” — put a spotlight on very controversial themes but always through a critical lens. Yes, Stalingrad is about one of the most disastrous battles in modern history, but we questioned the presumption that if you take your last breath, you have only one thing in mind: killing your enemy. This might have happened as well, but we saw that differently: Two people are dying and as death is a lonely business. They are seeking help, warmth, and love at that moment — no matter who is lending their hearts and arms… Brothers in death. We all come and go the same way. Brothers? Yes… we are, and it’s got to be thought through: You are killing your brother, your sister if you kill!
As a band with deep European roots, is there more at stake when you delve into this sort of history?
Could have been, but we trusted our long history as songwriters. We do not shed a light on one side without shedding light on the other….
Was it easier to approach Stalingrad without the weight of it as a “comeback album” on your shoulders?
Blood of the Nations has been the result of unimaginable coincidences from running into Mark Tornillo as well as Andy Sneap. Both have been unknown to us until we met. Inspired by Mark’s voice we were free as birds and everything fell in line. The result has been the biggest surprise in our music career. With Stalingrad two things happened: the fans around the globe gave us the greatest gift — we felt welcomed, which resulted in a healthy self assurance and inspired us to ask more from ourselves than ever before. We knew exactly where we wanted to go — staying on the path and again, let it all come out. Being the same and yet a bit different is not that easy, but we had no problems with that. The result and the success will be defined by our fans and so far, we are speechless. Stalingrad is very well received everywhere!
Stalingrad exudes a very natural flow. Is that an aural illusion? Was it more difficult than it sounds? Or was the creation of these songs a fairly painless process?
For me that is never a painless process. I am a perfectionist always and especially when it comes to the inevitable moment of the end of possibilities. We are grateful to have Andy Sneap who has a way of reigning me in…but I will not give up easily.
Was there a particular song that opened the floodgates for the album?
No…not really. If you think about it, my terrible obsession with trying to be better than ever all the time and the nagging feeling — will the fans like what we do? Again? — did not make it easier, that is a given! But that is a general obstacle and not created by a particular song.
Why does producer Andy Sneap merge so well with Accept?
Destiny. He is the perfect fit and after all it was Andy Sneap who has been leading us back to where we came from. I guess this is not a small intervention into our consciousness about who we are.
Mark Tornillo kills it again this time out — a super solid, meat and potatoes, rock-metal singer.
You know, the story about Mark Tornillo and Accept is so unbelievable that if it would not have happened to me, I would not believe it. We all have — besides others — one unique thing in common: First and foremost, we never believed we would come back into the music world. Never. It is no secret that we are not seventeen anymore and that Mark as well as Peter and I have lived a totally different life for a long, long time. The minute we started playing and Mark started singing during an accidental jam session, it was done. It opened a door we three did not know a second before that, that we would actually go through it. We did not think about the consequences — it has been a gut-decision….very scary, if you think about it. For us and foremost for the fans, this is the perfect marriage. Our music needs his voice and vice versa…I guess.
Do you think he’s come to feel more at ease and comfortable with his role in Accept over the last couple years?
I would say, we hope, that he found his place and that he is happy knowing that we and the fans have truly embraced his voice. We all hope to expand. And looking at Stalingrad and our experience with him so far, I guess it is safe to say there is more to come. After all, we are a group of individual artists who decided to join Accept as long as there is creativity — creativity in a way we are happy with. So far so good. We at a very exciting and creative point in our lives. And I don’t shy away from it — we live for the reaction of our fans. They are the blood we need to drink to make it even better than the last time. Of course, every musician knows you can only give so much, but right now, we feel at a beginning and that is very different than what we felt other times.
You’ve been writing and recording with Accept for decades now, with a few well documented hiatuses. What is it that has brought you back to Accept over and over when some thought the band had run its course?
I guess we never did run our course, in reality. It was all circumstantial. But as I mentioned before — and not everybody has to agree — for me being a musician is a neverending struggle for perfection. How can I look into a fan’s eye and be tortured by doubt if I could have delivered something better? I cannot. So, the only way out is to be constantly the best I can. And if the best is good enough, it will be decided by our fans and surely not by me!
Do you approach the work the same way you did in the beginning, or have you had to change things up occasionally to keep yourself in a place where you can continue to churn out new and innovative riffs?
Peter and I have been writing songs together since we were 16 years-old. We are joined at the hip and I guess that reveals itself through our career like a red thread. I don’t know if fans recognize it — we deliberately are fighting on stage, musically, and — this is serious! — we both accepted the fact that we have to fight each other with everything we have, knowing that the result, no matter what, will bring us the greatest joy. It takes everything we have to conquer each other and we could not be more different in some aspects. Yet we know when we be both reach the point of no return we’ve got a song to play! It is that easy and that difficult. So, we wanted to show a bit of that on stage and we never know how it will go down but the fans decide and force us to go over the top.
How would you rate the current incarnation of the band against previous eras?
You know, I guess we are allowed to be proud of past accomplishments. It was a different time and we were at different levels within ourselves. The circumstances and the people we have been with had their share of influence and now we have reached a different sphere. We are surrounded by professionals, some of them for decades and [manager] Gaby for over thirty years now. This is not an erratic change of principles. It’s the opposite. It is our endurance and resilience to never waiver when it comes to principles which, sets us free. Now more than ever before.
Is touring something you still enjoy?
Of course! We could not be where we are without celebrating the moments with our fans. That is our lifeline, the air we breathe. And as long as we are fit and can go through the roof, we will do exactly that on stage.
Has that life on the road shaped the way you look at culture, politics, humanity?
Touring makes you a world citizen and seeing the fans everywhere and sharing their joy — and in many cases their life story — makes you understand very clearly that we are all alike and that we all want the same. We are ruled by circumstances and music is the only language that unites and connects the world. It has no boundaries and helps us to understand each other.
Obviously Accept has been a hugely influential band…
This is the greatest honor — if somebody is influenced by you. To leave tracks behind in music history is huge, yes….
Do you ever think about the band’s legacy? Or is that something you feel would be counterproductive to continuing to push forward?
I am not sure what you are asking here. The legacy of Accept has been put down decades ago. We are meticulous — and always have been — to never sell out and nurture our own expectations of excellent work. Maybe that is what we are more aware of now than in the past. It sure is, I guess.
I imagine your shows must have representatives of many ages and heavy metal subgenres in attendance.
You are right. For many, it is something they have not been aware of or seen for a long time — the elders remember and the young ones discover. We’re loving every minute of this. We feel so connected and so real and so close to people from all walks of life.
What advice would you give an eighteen year-old musician just starting out on the path Accept has trod?
Be honest! Be a role model and never give up to seek the high ground! The rest will follow.
If you could go back in time to 1979 and talk to the version of yourself about to record the self-titled record, how surprised do you think he’d be that the band was still thriving and charting in 2012?
1979? I believe we had no real grasp about our own future. That moment in a young person’s life is overbearing and only the lucky ones, I believe, are growing consciously and learn to distinguish between very important and not-so-important. To be able to connect the dots and see the big picture is the real fortune for me. I have to say at the end of the day: I did my very best. The rest is…destiny.