The legendary WOLF HOFFMANN of ACCEPT is releasing his instrumental solo album ‘HEADBANGERS SYMPHONY’ on July 1st via Nuclear Blast! The long awaited follow up to his previous solo album ‘CLASSICAL’.
Casper had a insightful chat to the man himself regarding putting this killer album together.
Wolf Hoffmann has a passion. His life-long love and dedication to heavy metal music is documented in dozens of albums spanning four decades with his long time heavy metal band ACCEPT. But beyond heavy metal, Wolf has an incessant craving for the classics, yes, the ones written decades and centuries ago.
Classical music has always been an influence – albeit limited – on ACCEPT’s Teutonic approach to rock and heavy metal. However, it wasn’t until 1997 during a extended hiatus from ACCEPT, that Wolf Hoffmann finally had the chance to fully explore and fulfill this interest by recording his first astounding solo album Classical, a record filled with his rock guitar driven interpretations of some of classical music’s most loved compositions.
Fast-forward to 2016… Wolf Hoffmann has once again taken time out from ACCEPT to complete the long awaited follow-up to Classical: Headbangers Symphony. It’s truly a bold statement by a genuine musician who simply refused to rest on his laurels and continues to push and challenge himself.
“I am just so excited about Headbangers Symphony. It has taken a long, long time but here we are, it’s done, finally!” Wolf is just bursting with vigor as he talks about his latest labor of love. But why now? “It’s truly coincidental, after we completed the last ACCEPT tour, I finally had the time to finish it. I started this a few years ago. The early recordings have been sitting in my archives in my home studio for years, almost completed. The reality was that with the continued success of ACCEPT, I was only able to work on it when ACCEPT was not recording or touring.”
Wolf took each and every rare free moment away from ACCEPT to dive straight into working on Headbangers Symphony. “I agree, it was very slowly building over some time, but last summer and fall, once ACCEPT were off the road, I was able to focus on getting it done.”
The prevalent early challenge was to pick the most suitable compositions. This was an exploratory process that only increased Wolf’s adoration for the classics. “I always listen to classical music, it’s always playing throughout my house. I have a huge collection of classics and as I listen – often at random, I take notes if something truly strikes me. When I notice that this or that could work in a translation to rock or heavy metal, I remember it and I pursue it! This has been going on for a long time!”
There are several reasons for the necessary experimentation’s that faced Wolf. Most classical compositions were written to be performed by a full orchestra. The fluid timing, those multiple, complex layers and sections that stretched out for lengthy periods, classical music was simply never designed to be played to the rigid beat so prevalent in rock ‘n‘ roll.
“Another tough challenge were the time signatures,” Wolf continues. “Classical compositions often have a beat in 3:4 time signature, as in a waltz. While this may not always be obvious, once you analyze it, they are written for that waltz beat, it truly sounds terrible when played with a drum set. Rock is much more in a 4:4 quadruple time signature.” Ultimately, Wolf set out to choose compositions that were workable within a modern rock beat.
Additional challenges faced the creative process as Wolf continued to search for the best pieces in this musical puzzle. He particularizes, “Once I get to play around with the piece of music… at times it doesn’t have the right vibe. The interpretation that I apply must do the composition justice. I try to be as respectful of the original work as possible, while still taking the liberty to ‘metal it up’ and change it around the way I see fit. For example, Puccini’s ‘Madame Butterfly’ was composed to be sung by a soprano female voice, not guitar. It is a beautiful piece of music with long stretched out vocal passages. We really had to change that one around quite a bit to make it work on guitar. As long as the final song is reminiscent of the original work, I am happy. There were other times when pieces just didn’t sound right when played on the guitar so I decided not to use them.“
“I worked with a good friend of mine on this album, Melo Mafali,” Wolf continues. “He is this great Italian musician and arranger, and we share similar musical passions. He offered several great recommendations on which melodies I should try. We have been working closely together; Melo really understands not just me and my goals, but also what works and what doesn’t within what I was trying to accomplish. We are never afraid try it out something new.”
In the end, Headbangers Symphony showcases an overabundance of highly skilled improvisations. Wolf took the main pieces, and then wrote riffs that fit them. Lastly, in the grand hard rock tradition, he layered a guitar solo over it. He shaped the sound into a quite adventurous elegance, but the key themes of the originals remained.
The first volume had a focus on the better known pieces; the second – Headbangers Symphony – takes a similar approach. “In general, it does follow the same path,” admits Wolf, “but this time I did try to add a couple lesser known compositions. Mostly though, listeners will say, hey, I know that melody… so it’s pretty much the same path as the »Classical«. It was my desire to record melodies I like and melodies people recognize.”
On Headbangers Symphony, Wolf made another variation from the first, taking a courageous stride as he wanted this time to include a full orchestra. “The first album was based solely around the guitar, but having an orchestra, I was hoping to make it so much more bombastic!” Wolf started to look for an orchestra that would make sense within his concept, and made him think with that end goal in mind from the earliest work sessions. Once Melo and he decided on a composition to work on, they wrote the arrangements together and the two took it on themselves to simulate the orchestra with digital library sounds.
“This is similar to how movie scores are written nowadays. It’s a wonderful tool, there are so many available that make the whole thing sound so real. It truly sounds realistic, so that’s what we did. Once we listened to the results, I began to think just how cool would it be to record these with a real orchestra.” A friend recommended Wolf to visit and look around in Prague, a fabled destination well known for its historical importance and of course tradition of classical music. Taking this advice, Wolf flew out to the Czech capital city, quickly found an exceptionally talented orchestra and recorded everything in two very captivating sessions.
“That was such a rush, such a great adventure,” Wolf exclaims. “My heart was pounding! There were these 40 tremendously gifted people in the room. The conductor lifts his baton and it starts, first with a few notes… and it just goes on. Wow, it was astounding and breathtaking, the real deal is just that, a real deal!”
Now that the album is done, Wolf is proud looking back and is pleased with this true labor of love; something he has wanted to do since the first »Classical« came out almost 20 years ago. While ACCEPT’s Peter Baltes added several impressive bass lines, and other notable guest musicians made an appearance as well, the bulk of the work was completed by him and Melo. So what compositions did finally make the cut?
“There are two major categories,” Wolf elaborates. “First the heavier stuff like Beethoven, the bombastic, full force epics on which you can simply shred along. Of course then there are the ballads, slower compositions that bring out the deeper feelings in each listener.”
The highlights on »Headbangers Symphony« are plenty and easy to pin point. The album kicks off with ‘Scherzo’ from the well-known ‘9th Symphony’ by Ludwig v. Beethoven. Many listeners might recognize the opening riff from the ACCEPT song ‘Teutonic Terror’. “Back in 2009,” Wolf explains, “when we started working on the songs for the »Blood Of The Nations« album, I played the classical demos to our producer Andy Sneap. He liked that riff a lot and insisted on using it for the album. So we wrote ‘Teutonic Terror’ using this ‘borrowed‘ riff.”
Other highlights follow in rapid succession: ‘Night On Bald Mountain’ by Russian composer Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky is a very dramatic dark song on the theme of a witches’ Sabbath, a perfect fit for Wolf’s “metal treatment”. ‘Symphony No. 40’ by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart will be immediately recognizable. “It’s a little more up-tempo, pretty happy, typical for Mozart. Not mean and heavy as most of the other stuff”, Wolf points out. “I came up with some cool riffs that fit this really well. I am becoming a Mozart fan; early on I was more into people like Tchaikovsky, more the dramatic, serious stuff. I go through changes and its fun to discover new things… and Mozart is quite easy to transfer to guitar, not as complex as let’s say Beethoven.” Additional highpoints include Wolf’s interpretations of such masterworks as Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’, ‘Pathétique’ also from Ludwig v. Beethoven, ‘Méditation’ from the opera Thais by French composer Jules Massenet, and of course the afore mentioned ‘Madame Butterfly’.
All in all, the eleven compositions on Headbangers Symphony paint the perfect portrait of Wolf’s life-long passion for the classics and his adoration for heavy metal. On the compulsory question whether Wolf will ruminate performing these compositions live on stage, he is quick to respond. “Of course I am trying to. To do so, I will need to find the right group of musicians that are also into this kind of stuff, plus an orchestra to make it all happen. Heck yeah, why not?”
Wolf then offers his final thoughts: “I have always incorporated classical music in my songwriting with ACCEPT, especially with Metal Heart, but I constantly felt there was so much more that I could do and I did not want to overload ACCEPT or force it in any way. I always knew I could make a whole record of it and that’s how the first »Classical« was born. Even today, fans tell me that they are still listening to it, that’s why it is so fantastic now to do another one.”
Wolf of course continues with ACCEPT who are readying yet another album later this year. He insists that ACCEPT will remain his priority but can’t hide his delight of finally completing »Headbangers Symphony«. “I worked so much and so long on this until I felt it was ready. Now it is and I am thrilled and proud. This is my baby, my labor of love, ready for me to set it free.”