Being the new singer for a classic metal band is usually a daunting task because of legacy and fan expectations. The twist with Accept frontman Mark Tornillo is that he is the third singer in the band’s long history yet the first lyricist with English being his first language. While one-time singer David Reece was American, the German band’s manager Gaby Hoffmann had been penning lyrics under the name Deaffy and did so through their 1996 album Predator. Native tongue aside, Hoffmann’s words were usually provocative and thought provoking, making her a tough act to follow.
Luckily, former TT Quick singer Tornillo has brought in a personal perspective that fits in well with their ominous, larger-than-life music. He also is imbuing their songs with an American perspective. The German group certainly showed a lot of faith in their new frontman when he began working with them on 2010’s reunion album Blood Of The Nations and their new release, Stalingrad.
“To an extent,” remarks Tornillo modestly. “I don’t have my claws in that deep, I don’t think. Peter [Baltes] and Wolf [Hoffmann] have a lot of history together, so they’re not going to go too crazy giving up pieces of the band, let’s say, but they really needed to write a killer album with Blood Of The Nations. When they found out I could write lyrics, they said, ‘Let’s see what you’ve got.’ And it was all downhill from there.”
Joking aside, Tornillo is enjoying his role as wordsmith with his German bandmates, particularly as he relishes the chance to contribute words with a sociopolitical context. “I enjoy writing that kind of stuff,” he says, “and I never really did much of that sort of thing with TT Quick. A little bit here and there, but that was more of a party atmosphere than this is.” New Accept rockers like “Hung Drawn And Quartered,” “Shadow Soldiers” and “The Quick And The Dead” are a bit grim and not party-hearty material, but fans have always been drawn to their dark side.
The New Jersey frontman had many different things on his mind while Accept created Stalingrad, and he admits this was a tough album to make, “especially when we were touching on the subject of war once again. The title track was really a history lesson for me more than anything else, really going back and looking at what really went down in World War II. What we tried to do is really focus on the people rather than the war itself, and the soldiers and the injustice of the whole damn thing. It was really an awakening for me, especially the song ‘Hellfire,’ which was written about the Battle of Dresden in Germany, which really wasn’t a battle because the allied forces just came in and leveled them for no apparent reason. It wasn’t like there was a big stronghold there, Churchill just said, ‘Hey, you know what, let’s go burn these bastards down and send a warning to Stalin.'”
Further, the Allies had already won the war when the bombing took place. “Exactly!” concurs Tornillo. “There was no strategic reason to do that. We’re not always the good guys.”
The subject of war has been a thorny issue in the metal community since 9/11. While many metal bands in the ’80s—particularly those in the thrash underground—questioned the government and the sanity of war, there were a lot of groups who received flack from their own fans for expressing such sentiments in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks.
“Blood Of The Nations was the first post-9/11 album that I had written, and you could see it in that,” recalls Tornillo, who offers his own viewpoint on the issue. “It was not so much pro-war but pro-military, and with good reason. Every day these guys put their life on the line to protect our silly asses so we can do this kind of stuff. There are other things on the album that are on a lighter note. It’s not all death and war. We touched upon the Occupy Wall Street situation with ‘Revolution,’ and there are a couple of fun things on there too.”
The title track of the new Accept album refers to the Russian city in which one of the bloodiest battles in history was fought in 1942 and 1943. Allegedly, up to two million people died in an epic, five-and-a-month conflict which pitted Allied German forces against Russian ones. The Germans ultimately failed to seize the city, and the Nazis suffered heavy casualties that they could not replenish, which ultimately lead to their later downfall.
While Stalingrad was not going to be a concept album, Tornillo says that the approach was to collect “songs of resilience more than anything else—rising above oppression and things of that nature. There were songs that we had written that didn’t make it onto the album that were in the same vein. I think it was getting a little too dark, and one of them was a ballad that didn’t really fit. I think Gaby was the one who came up with the idea for ‘Stalingrad’ itself, and we ran with it from there. We were pondering, ‘What if?’ Stalingrad was the turning point of World War II. The Germans were winning up until then, and after that the tide turned. I think it was a strange thing for the Germans to want to do, to write a song about that, but I think it worked out well.”
It is interesting to look back and recall that Accept was originally a West German metal band dealing with themes of oppression and the existence of the Berlin Wall that separated the West from the Eastern parts of that city. “These guys really did grow up in post-World War II Germany right after the war, so it really had a big effect on them,” notes Tornillo. “I feel pretty damn lucky. You really appreciate the freedom and protection that we have—well, we had until 9/11 hit. Before that we believed we were invincible, and it was a hell of a wake-up call for everybody.”
Ever bringing their intense metal to the masses, Accept is embarking on a European album kickoff tour this month, and they tentatively plan to launch their North American tour in September, starting in Canada and then working down through the States. As far as this month’s trek, the band of their recent producer Andy Sneap, Hell, will be opening shows for them.
“He’s a godsend,” declares Tornillo. “We literally picked up on this album right where we left off. We were still in that frame of mind, and it really worked out well with him. He’s the guy that basically made it sound like Accept again because he’s a fan. He grew up listening to the old stuff, and when we started writing Blood Of The Nations, he wasn’t sure we were going in the right direction. He made Peter and Wolf listen to all the old records from start to finish and went through and said, ‘This is an Accept moment, this isn’t. This is what makes you you, this doesn’t.’ It really put everybody back on track and in the right frame of mind. I was already listening to the albums because I had to learn them, so that worked out well for me.”
While Tornillo has toured with TT Quick, being on the road with Accept has been a totally different experience. “I’ve been to some places I never dreamed of being—Turkey, Russia, really cool stuff,” he says. “The main thing is that no matter where you go you see your people right away. There are the black rock t-shirts and the long hair, and they’re all over the street. ‘There’s my guys!’ It’s the same all over the world, it’s like one big metal family.”
Accept’s new album, Stalingrad, is available now through Nuclear Blast. For more information about the CD and their future endeavors, go to acceptworldwide.com.