Apart from AC/DC’s replacing Bon Scott with Brian Johnson, there haven’t been many truly successful lead-singer transplants in heavy-metal history. But Germany’s reunited Accept has pulled it off, despite a 14-year gap between studio albums.
Founding guitarist Wolf Hoffmann is understandably ecstatic over how the headbanging public has embraced new vocalist Mark Tornillo’s raw-throated shrieks on 2010’s Blood of the Nations and this year’s Stalingrad. After all, the menacing persona of Udo Dirkschneider—short blonde hair, intense grimaces, and camouflage pants—marked the ’80s metal quintet’s biggest MTV hit, “Balls to the Wall”, and it takes quite a replacement singer to compete with such a strong image.
“I think Mark’s the perfect fit for this band,” says Hoffmann, calling from his hotel in Columbus, Ohio. “We couldn’t have asked for anyone better. He’s got the raspy voice of Udo for the old material, but he can do some stuff that Udo could never have done. So it’s awesome.”
The chance to see Accept live is also a rare treat for Vancouver metalheads. According to Scrape Records owner J.J. Caithcart, the group hasn’t played our city since appearing with Saxon and Girlschool at the UBC War Memorial Gym close to 30 years ago.
This time, Accept is co-headlining with German thrash pioneers Kreator—and flirting with controversy thanks to the new album’s title track. In the not-so-distant past, it would have been utterly taboo for a German metal band to sing about the touchy subject of Stalingrad, where the Nazis suffered a crucial 1942 defeat against the Red Army.
“ ‘Stalingrad’ is about World War II, a historical event, but it’s also a story about two soldiers that realize they’re brothers as they lie dying on the battlefield on opposing sides,” explains Hoffmann. This is more than just a German band singing about the Nazis’ crucial 1942 defeat against Stalin’s Red Army: the solo section also features Hoffmann’s soaring, fiery take on the Russian national anthem.
Stalingrad retains the formula of tight, melodic, battering-ram riffs and monk-like gang choruses that made 1982’s Restless and Wild and 1985’s Metal Heart cult favourites. The sound is compellingly punchy and modern, a tribute to producer Andy Sneap (Megadeth, Arch Enemy). Peter Baltes lays down a fat, loping bass line to kick off “Twist of Fate”, which progresses toward an epic cascade of riffage on the chorus. On songs such as “Shadow Soldiers” and “The Galley”, laden with marching rhythms, Hoffmann’s always impeccably structured solos reflect his love of Tchaikovsky and Beethoven.
Now Accept’s challenge is to see if it can sustain this momentum. While Hoffmann enjoys his alternative career as a commercial photographer, it’s not as artistically rewarding as playing for fist-pumping audiences from Vienna to Vancouver.
Is it hard to come up with martial-sounding arrangements and passionate rants against injustice this deep into the band’s career? “Nobody’s 21 anymore,” says Hoffmann, who turns 53 in December. “You can’t be angry all your life. But you come up with new stuff anyway. I think the new material shows that we can still create the riffs and have some angry stuff to write about.”
Accept plays the Rickshaw Theatre on Friday (September 21).