Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Riffology. In this course we will examine great riffs in metal history and attempt to discern the nature of said greatness. Course requirements include good ears and a strong neck.
For our first lesson, I have selected a golden oldie that is dear to my heart, the intro riff of Accept’s “Ball to the Wall”. The riff in question can be found from 0:00 to 0:33 in the video below. If you have never had the pleasure of hearing this particular gem of a riff, please take a moment to familiarize yourself.
Perhaps the most striking thing about this riff is how sharp it sounds. This is due in part to a great production job, but the band itself also uses some techniques to give this riff some extra bite. Accept guitarists Wolf Hoffman and Herman Frank use the tried and true pedal tone technique for this riff, chugging away on the low E string while alternately stabbing at chords, or in this case dyads (essentially two-note chords), on the higher strings. In place of traditional power chords which feature a root note and a note one fifth above it, the guitarists employ inverted power chords which feature the root note above the fifth. This inversion causes the dyad to sound as a perfect fourth interval. A perfect fourth edges a little closer to dissonance, than the thoroughly consonant fifth, and this helps the “Balls to the Wall” intro to really snarl. This technique can be found in a lot of metal from this time period, from the likes of Mercyful Fate (“Curse of the Pharaohs”), Iron Maiden (“Two Minutes to Midnight”) and Metallica (“Seek and Destroy”). The band’s choice of equipment also contributes to the sharp sound. Though Gibson Flying Vs are, like most other Gibson guitars, made of mahogany, which is known for producing a thick, bass-heavy tone, the V’s radically shaped body contains less wood than a Les Paul or an Explorer. This reduced mass gives the guitar more mid-range and high-end punch. Lastly, “Balls to the Wall” is somewhere between a quarter and a half step sharp of standard concert pitch. Whether this is the result of the band consciously tuning up or a manipulation of the tape speed I cannot say, but it makes the axes’ edges all the keener.
Not all the magic of this riff comes from the guitars however. Starting about ten seconds in, drummer Stephan Kaufmann begins dropping in solitary, seemingly random beats. Kaufmann deftly builds anticipation as his beats gradually coalesce into a pattern, and it all comes to a climax at 0:18 when the full band enters. If by then your head isn’t banging, brother, check your pulse.
Unfortunately, friends, although the rest of “Balls to the Wall” is filled with anthemic German metal of the highest order, the intro riff is never recalled. Thirty-three seconds of glory is all you get; bang while the banging is good.
Learn to play “Balls to the Wall”
Accept – Balls to the Wall
Learn how to play “Balls to the Wall.”