By Kris Peters
When all is said and done, music is a finite medium. There are only so many guitar chords or variations. So many piano keys and so many drum beats. Basically, nothing can be truly fresh or original when it has been done for so long, with music, or some form of it, being around for thousands of years.
When looking for inspiration, Wolf Hoffman, guitarist for German metal pioneers Accept, casts his ear back further than most. He draws artistic merit from the most unlikely of sources, with classical music from Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven amongst his unlikely allies.
After releasing an album which gave his slant on classical works, albeit beefed up considerably by his metal leanings, some 20 years ago titled Classical, he recently released the follow up, Headbangers Symphony.
Whereas the first album concentrated musical output on electric guitar, drums and bass mixed through and over the original compositions, with the follow up he has decided to harness the original energy of the music by including a full orchestra as well.
“This was a challenge on a different level,” Wolf admitted. “I wanted to use the orchestral instrumentalisation on this album so I needed somebody else to help me with that and I finally found someone in the form of Melo Mafali. He’s a guy from Italy – a pianist and classical trained musician – so it was great to have him on board to do those parts because I couldn’t have done that. I’m the guitar player and I know what I want to hear but I can’t tell an orchestra what to play. It was just way outside of my league and comfort zone; you know what I mean? I’m just a metal guy, what do I know? It all worked out well, the two of us really work together quite well and it was effortless really to write all the stuff but to write the demo’s, that’s the fun part and the challenge was in making it happen and not letting it fall by the wayside. Accept started to get really busy and I really didn’t have the time to finish it and release the album until now.”
Taking a classical piece written solely for orchestral purposes and trying to modernize it with a metal sound is something that would not have even entered the original composer’s minds, but Wolf says that when he settles on a particular piece of music and starts hearing it modified in his head that they either fall into place or they don’t.
“They are really just favorites of mine that I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” he said of his song selection, “and sometimes it takes a while to wrap your head around these things and figure out what the best form is, especially when you bring in drums and electric guitar it changes everything. As soon as you put a beat to those classical tunes it becomes quite difficult and some pieces like that treatment better than others so you have to find the right ones first and foremost that really want to be transformed. Some of the pieces just don’t sound right when you start doing them – at least not to me. I wanted to be a little bit respectful to the original compositions and at least get a little bit of the mood across. I didn’t really want to hack them to pieces and just rip them apart and not do them justice. I want to at least pay my respects to the composer and say, hey, I’ve messed up your song but it sort of hits the same mood, ha-ha.”
Seeing as how something like this is purely a labor of love, Wolf says it is difficult to classify how to describe what he is doing when re-working classic tunes.
“That’s a good question!” he laughed. “I don’t really know. Some of them I just interpret but some others I just pull apart and pluck the best parts out of them and make them my own. I would say it’s more of a tribute to classical music. I take a few pieces that I really like and go crazy with it and make it my own song basically. I’m not really trying to stay in any shape or form true to the original and I couldn’t – I wouldn’t want to – either. I’m just having fun with it.”
When experimenting with music in a style that in effect hasn’t been done before, Wolf says that it is important to do things for yourself, and while admitting his fans will always be important to him and his music, sometimes you have to put yourself first.
“I have to be honest, I really didn’t think of the audience at all when I made this album,” he conceded. “I was thinking mostly of myself ha-ha. I thought I’d make it and if anybody else likes it, great, if not it doesn’t faze me. I didn’t make it with anyone else in mind but myself. It was quite an egotistical labor of love type thing I just wanted to do for myself. I spent so much time on this and so much money in the end it was just for my own good. It would be crazy to say I’m not wanting people to like it but it wasn’t on my mind when I made it.”
In saying that, Wolf says he thinks the majority of his fans and people who appreciate music will gravitate towards the album, not least because it is something different.
“Once the album has been out for a bit and more people hear it you will start to get opinions but in general I think people are much more open minded than you think. I think the days are over where it’s a strict division between the serious old school musicians that hate everything else and then there’s the rest of us. I think it blends over so well now and there’s so many young players in orchestras that like both or other styles of music so I think they are more open minded to this radical stuff than we think.”
Headbangers Symphony is out now via Nuclear Blast Records