By STEVE MASCORD
RECORD sales today are a fraction of what they were in heavy metal’s commercial heyday – so when the genre has a number one record, what does it mean?
Is it a greater achievement in an age of prefabricated, disposable pop when rock can be pronounced dead by Gene Simmons, or a feat based on infinitesimal sales at which the titans of the past would chortle heartily?
“My bank account would have felt a whole lot better 20 years ago, I’ll tell you that!” Wolf Hoffmann, the guitarist for German legends Accept, tells Hot Metal from his home in Nashville.
Accept’s new album, Blind Rage, debuted at the top of the German charts in August, “and to top it off, we kicked out a really popular pop artist from the number one position in Germany, which makes it even more funny”.
Hoffmann, who brings Accept to Australia for the first time ever this weekend, adds: “We’ve been around for so long and finally we reach number one. It’s amazing.
“I think it’s a symbolic thing we’ve reached in our career. It’s a sign of the appreciation of the fans. It means they still care for our music. They made it possible. It’s more a badge of honour for us. It’s just a number other than that. It still feels great, man.”
Accept, with the diminutive Udo Dirkschneider long since replaced by American singer Mark Tornillo, have been on the road pretty much ever since that career highlight. Along the way, they’ve managed to engage new media better than any similar act of their age and stature.
In fact, if you listen to a few podcasts and a little bit of streaming radio, chances are you’ll have heard half of the excellent Blind Rage before you buy it. Six cuts from the platter appear in the band’s current set, a “world record for Accept”, according to Hoffman.
This still doesn’t prepare the writer for the answer of the 54-year-old when I ask if there’s anything about the music business now that he prefers to the golden ages of heavy metal.
“I would say I like it today better than it was 20 years ago, for some reason,’ Hoffmann says.
“It’s a very small community but they grew up with us now, most of our audiences, and they take everything with a grain of salt, you know? Twenty, thirty years ago, you couldn’t be a fan of AC/DC and Accept. You had to be one of the two. Now, anything goes. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Accept – you can be a fan of all that.
“You can just love the genre, per se, whereas in the old days it was pretty diehard one or the other. Overall, I enjoy the whole touring cycle, the whole industry, a lot more these days. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I’m older and wiser.”
Accept pay tribute to Ackadacka in Blind Rage cut “Dying Breed”, crooning “In the land down under, a highway to hell was paved”.
One of Tornillo’s first performances with the band was opening for Australia’s finest, and one of Accepts’ early hits – “I’m A Rebel” – was originally written for the Youngs. It was also recorded by AC/DC – although only a privileged few have heard it.
“I have heard that version, yes,” says Hoffmann. “But it’s only a demo. I think the story is: one of their brothers, and there’re quite a few, wrote it with them in mind and they didn’t care for it or whatever. But they demoed it. We heard that demo through our publisher in about 1980. It was suggested that we try that song to get a little more … because it was quite catchy and a maybe a little more radio-friendly than any of our own songs.
“So we ended up recording it in 1980.
“We definitely heard it again two years ago when that publisher showed up to our show. He had it on his iphone but he said it was going to stay in the archive. His lips are sealed. It’s not going to see the light of day any time soon, I think.”
Blind Rage has some interesting lyrical twists. “Wanna Be Free” references human trafficking and “The Curse” takes a few risks by lamenting “the curse of being good”, opening with the line “Why are the world’s biggest sinners/Always saints when they’re gone?”
Hoffman makes no apologies for taking the high ground – in music or in life.
“That’s been bothering me all my life,” he says. “I mean, you could be the worst mass murderer in history but people still find something really nice to say about you at your funeral. It’s always been bugging me. Nobody’s been really honest about these things.
“You don’t always get rewarded for being a good person. The opposite sometimes seems to be true. When you’re living your life a certain way, with certain higher principles, always doing the right thing, people look at you sometimes as an easy target, and you’re the weak one. The strong people just push you aside and over-run you. Life isn’t fair sometimes. That’s what it really comes down to.”
Living in Nashville isn’t the only thing Hoffmann has in common with an increasing number of rock veterans. He’s also taken up a completely different career: in his case, photography.
He reveals: “I choose not even to mention that I’m a musician. When I started my photography career, just kept my mouth shut and became a photographer. I didn’t tell anybody what else I had been doing in life.
“People found out eventually, and still do occasionally when I’m on a photo shoot, but for the most part I keep the two things totally separate. I’m photographer Wolf. It’s funny, sometimes people find out anyway and the subject I’m photographing is also a metal fan and they have my records at home. We come to this photo shoot not knowing that from each other.”
Photography may pay a few bills and give Hoffmann a creative outlet. But snappers don’t debut at number one.
ACCEPT: Rock Is Better Now Than Back In The Day (2014)
By STEVE MASCORD
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