Interview with Accept: Teutonic Triumph

Reunions can be a dicey proposition depending upon how they come about. While money is always a factor, artistic integrity is also important. In the case of the excellent new Accept album Blood Of The Nations, the famed German rockers took an unusual turn. While they had done reunion shows with their original singer Udo Dirkschneider in 2005, the singer somehow did not feel that recording new material with them would work. He was happy with his solo band U.D.O., but guitarist Wolf Hoffmann and bassist Peter Baltes wanted to soldier on and create new music.

With things at a standstill between Dirkschneider and his bandmates, the men in Accept needed another option, especially as Hoffmann and Baltes were working on new music by 2009. Enter Mark Tornillo, New Jersey-based singer and former TT Quick frontman. His gritty, raspy style fit Accept’s sound well without sounding like an Udo clone, and the group, Hoffmann, Baltes, guitarist Herman Frank and drummer Stefan Schwarzmann, realized that they could move forward with him. Initial reaction to the project, however, were met with derision when the group released two demos/jam sessions of Tornillo singing older Accept tunes online.

“Maybe that fired us up even more to try harder,” muses Hoffmann. “I don’t remember which songs they were. They weren’t really meant to be compared to the records. They were meant to show that we were back and working on some new stuff. We didn’t expect them to be dissected as they were.”

Even though the group made the disclaimer that this was raw jam session material, fans analyzed the sound and took it very seriously. Even though the band did not want these raw recordings to impact or compete with the album, “there were endless debates about it. There were some other people who were pissed off that they weren’t the singer and how did we dare to choose someone else. There were weird comments, too. It was bizarre. But in the end we turned it around and used it to our advantage. We were number one on YouTube and MySpace charts with the video, so we got a lot of good mileage off of this whole thing.”

Accept replaced Dirkschneider once before when the singer first left to start his solo career in 1987. David Reece was brought in for 1989’s Eat The Heat, but that album was not well received. Udo later returned for three albums, starting with 1993’s superlative Objection Overruled, arguably their best album. He departed again in 1996 to pursue more solo work. While the Accept reunion shows in 2005 whet people’s appetite for bigger things to come, it was not to be, at least for the classic incarnation.

The truth is that metal fans are loyal not only to their favorite bands but their favorite line-ups, so replacing a singer can be a tricky gambit, and Accept were unsure how the whole thing would fly. “What are you going to do if the guy that you want doesn’t want to do it?” asks Hoffmann. “You can’t please everybody if you go with a new guy. I think overall we made the right choice. People really accept Mark, no pun intended, and everybody has to agree that he’s a perfect fit.”

Before the new CD was released, Accept played their first gig in 14 years at the Gramercy Theater in New York this past May. Hundreds of elated fans screamed and banged their heads in glee at the reunited group, and Tornillo was embraced with open arms (and clenched fists). From there they did European shows and festival dates, even opening two shows for AC/DC before crowds of 80,000 people. “It was spectacular, [even] just to survive those because people didn’t come to see us,” states Hoffmann. “They came to see AC/DC, but man, but we went over so well we couldn’t believe it.” They were heartily welcomed back to the metal fold, “even with Mark as the new singer. People were just really blown away.”

The German juggernauts also went on to do two Sonisphere shows in Istanbul and Romania. We did some really high-profile shows this summer, along with smaller type club shows that were more of a meet and greet type feel. This fall we’re going to do smaller gigs in the US initially, get a foot in the door first and say hi to some to fans and journalists, then we can always come back and do some larger shows later.”

When it came to recording Blood Of The Nations, Hoffmann and bassist Peter Baltes wrote most of the music, and they let Tornillo contribute the lyrics, which in the past were mainly penned by Deaffy, aka Gaby Hoffmann, manager of the band. “It’s not exactly like Gaby would’ve done it, but you have to pay tribute to the fact that we now have an English-speaking singer who is a lyricist in his own right, and we wanted to give him the chance to write his own stuff,” declares Hoffmann. “I think for the most part he stayed very true to what we were doing in the past.”

The guitarist is pleased with Tornillo’s efforts, which do follow along the classic Accept themes of breaking chains, fighting authority and inspiring revolution. The album cover echoes that vibe with an image of a blood drenched peace sign. “We had a song called ‘No Shelter’ that we honestly had no idea what it could entail or what it could mean,” recalls Hoffmann. “He took it and turned it into a story about the Bernie Madoffs of this world, about the people who made billions because they ripped off other people, and now they sit in a jail cell somewhere. Those are some cool lyrics. Obviously ‘Blood Of The Nations’ is about war and bloodshed and is very much in the Accept style right there.”

The song “Shades Of Death” is a horror tale about an actual road called Shades Of Death in New Jersey. “There’s a whole story about how it was haunted, even back to the Indian times,” explains Hoffmann. “People died there, and he wrote about it almost like a horror movie.”

The music on Blood Of The Nations retains the spirit of vintage Accept and shows that middle age hasn’t squelched out the quintet’s fire. Lead single “Teutonic Terror” is a mid-tempo stomper with a growling, rousing chorus. The title track is ripe with larger than life riffs, stirring guitar harmonies and the group’s ubiquitous chants. “Beat The Bastards” down is a fist-pumping barnstormer. And “Kill The Pain” is a contemplative, semi-acoustic song that, in true Accept fashion, skirts the dreaded power ballad cliché. Accept doesn’t do well with love songs.

Producer Andy Sneap was reportedly trying to move the band in the classic Accept direction. Hoffmann says he “was pretty pushy in the song selection at first. He really wanted to make sure nothing was too happy or too commercial. He really wanted a little bit more of the darker side of things, and he really wanted it to sound like a typical Accept record, not something a little off course.”

Upon their first meeting, Accept played Sneap their song ideas, and he picked the ones he wanted, then said that they needed more music along the lines of their Eighties tunes. “We listened to some of the older records for hours, and it brought back to us what Accept is and what set us apart from the other bands,” says Hoffmann. “Sometimes you forget these things when you don’t listen to your own stuff for many years, so it was very good for us to do that. He was instrumental in picking the right type of songs. He was open to trying anything, even up till the last moment, if it would make the song better, no matter what the cost. Some people might not be in the mood or say, ‘Ah, it’s good enough, nobody will hear the difference.’ And I hate that because I think people will hear a difference, and this album is the proof of that. You’ll hear that the band tried really hard and gave it all they got, not just went through the motions and made the same record again.”

It’s funny for some people to look at heavy metal bands like Accept hitting middle age and still rocking after all these years. It’s not something people thought about as much in the Eighties. Hoffmann points out that things have been gradually moving forward in that direction. “I found some old footage of Mick Jagger online, and they asked him in the Sixties if he could see himself doing this in his seventies,” the guitarist says. “It seemed ridiculous to even think about that. It seemed so surreal then, but here they are. As long as guys like that keep pushing it forward, we can all follow in their footsteps. This generation with the Stones and Black Sabbath are still doing it and having fun, and the audience grew with them, too. I think as long as everybody’s having fun and this is what they do best in life, people should realize that there’s really nothing wrong with it.”