I’m not gonna lie: I feel like a fraud reviewing this album (even more so than I normally do just being here with the rest of this intrepid staff). I’m a moderate fan of Accept at best, at least based on familiarity with their body of work, and I’m even less familiar with the classical music that guitarist Wolf Hoffmann has used as the source material for his second solo album, Headbangers Symphony. Coincidentally, I didn’t know that he had a first solo album until now. I felt less bad about that when my chiropractor, a professed Accept fan who once gave me a copy of Breaker, did not recognize the name Wolf Hoffmann when I mentioned this album to him. He’s all about Udo.
But, none of that really matters. What does matter is, this is really freaking good.
Heavy metal renditions of classical compositions are nothing new. Trans-Siberian Orchestra has practically built a career around reimagining them; The Great Kat has built one around shredding them to pieces; Yngwie Malmsteen wrote his own damn symphony. There is no need to compare any of these to Hoffmann’s work, or vice-versa. His interpretations of these classics stand on their own, and also serve as a love letter of sorts to those who composed them.
So of course I had to hunt down Classical, its predecessor, after listening to this a few times. That one featured only the core instrumentation (guitar/bass/drums) and as such was a mellower, low-key affair. This time, backed by a 40 piece orchestra, the results are truly bombastic. Right out of the chute, “Scherzo” (from Beethoven’s “9th Symphony” – thanks, label bio) may sound familiar, the opening riffs having been previously “borrowed” on Accept’s “Teutonic Terror.” I’m only vaguely familiar with the original piece, but recognized bits here and there. Apparently I was also aware of “Night on Bald Mountain,” even if I didn’t know the name of the piece until now – reading it at first I thought it might be an original composition, a thought surely aided by the striking image of a bald Hoffmann on the album cover.
These first two cuts are real scorchers, and really show what Hoffmann is trying to do here. As I alluded to before, he clearly has great reverence for these compositions. The idea here is not only to honor them by faithfully reproducing them, but also to honor the composers by interpreting him in his own way. Whether dropping blistering guitar breaks, laying down a thundering drumbeat, or reworking entire passages to fit new instrumentation, the ultimate goal is to capture the musical and creative spirit of each piece – and it is achieved in spades.
It’s not all classic thunder, and it shouldn’t be. “Adagio” plays like a quintessential power ballad, Hoffmann’s lonely, almost bluesy guitar gliding over a slow beat and soothing orchestration. “Madame Butterfly” is soulfully gut-wrenching, Hoffmann’s adaptation of the traditional female vocal moving you to the brink of tears (What?! There’s no crying in metal!) These tracks are mostly intertwined with the heavier stuff, but in a bit of disappointment, the album ends with two of them. They’re beautifully played, but I’ve always felt a big finish was more appropriate for a symphony. Mozart’s “Symphony No. 40” would have been a good closer. It has a few moments that scream “FINALE!” But, nitpicking such details seems…well, nitpicky at best, and downright petty at worst.
Couple other tracks of note. “Swan Lake” plays very well, with some big sweeping moments and an overall feel that lands squarely in between the two extremes. On the other hand, “Pathetique” may be the heaviest track of the bunch. It almost sounds like an Accept original with added strings, truly a wonder to behold – and loud enough to wake Beethoven.
Participating in the Accept Devil’s Dozen a couple of years back gave me a much stronger appreciation for their work as a whole. Headbangers Symphony has done the same for my appreciation of Wolf Hoffmann as a musician, a composer, and an artist. What he’s accomplished here is nothing short of impressive–interpreting, arranging, and performing these compositions skillfully and tastefully to bring out the heaviness within some of the original heavy metal thunder. Get caught up in it.