WOLF HOFFMANN – Headbanger’s Symphony

474632Wolf Hoffmann needs no introduction. If you – as a rocker – haven’t been living under a rock deep in the woods for the last 30 years, Wolf Hoffmann’s name should at least ring a bell. But ok, for you who have been living under said rock, Wolf is the guitar player for German metal band Accept and has been their guitarist since the beginning. Today, he and bass player Peter Baltes are the only original members in that band – and the guys who writes all Accept’s songs as well. Accept have in the last few years been making big progress in their comeback that took place in 2010 – the band more or less had to start from the beginning again when they hired American Mark Tornillo as the replacement for the charismatic Udo Dirkschneider. So after three successful albums where the latest one, Blind Rage, turned out to be one of the best albums Accept ever made, guitarist Wolf Hoffmann breaks loose to release a solo album. As I had no clue of the fact that Wolf had already released one instrumental solo album back in 1997 called Classical, this solo album came a s a bit of a surprise. And just like Classical, this one is an instrumental album made of old classical music pieces covered as metal songs. For Accept fans, Hoffmann’s fascination with classic music interpreted as metal isn’t any thing new – for instance, we all remember him throwing in “Für Elise” as a section in the solo in “Metal Heart” back in 1985. I have always been a fan of Hoffmann’s playing – in my book, he’s one of those underrated players the never got the “guitar hero” label, for some reason back in the 80’s. Just like Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi) and Anders Wikström (Treat), Hoffmann never got the recognition he deserved. Maybe it was because neither of the guys mentioned here were show-offs and therefore far too few rock fans discovered their greatness. Maybe that will change with this album, then? Personally, I have never been a fan of instrumental albums, the only exceptions being Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force (1984) (yes, I know that album had two songs with vocals on it), Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien (1987) and Tony McAlpine’s Edge Of Insanity (1986), but for some reason, this project had me interested as soon as I read about it for the first time – a must check-out for me.

Beethoven’s “Scherzo” opens the album and attentive Accept fans will recognize this one as Accept borrowed parts of it for “Teutonic Terror” from their 2010 Blood Of The Nations album. That means that this song bears resemblance to that song so if you like “Teutonic Terror”, you’ll probably dig this one as well. For all of us who have heard Beethoven’s original knows that it sounds pretty metal in that version as well. In Hoffmann’s hands, Mussorgsky’s “Night On Bald Mountain” almost becomes a pop metal hit – the melodies are catchy and even sing-along-ish and the rhythm brings an infectious groove. The whole arrangement even brings Trans-Siberian Orchestra to mind and you really can’t go wrong with that – killer tune! It’s still heavy as f**k, though! “Je Crois Entendre Encore” is arranged as a metal ballad and Hoffmann’s guitar playing goes in a more bluesy direction here and the mix of classical and blues really makes for a really cool contrast – gotta love it! “Double Cello Concerto In G Minor” by Vivaldi brings a bit of a Yngwie Malmsteen vibe – which isn’t strange at all when you think of the fact that Vivaldi was always a big influence on him –  but even though the song is quite intense, Hoffmann’s brilliant melodies makes the song more melodic and even catchy. Yngwie would probably had been all over tune all the time, but Hoffmann is more laid back. Yes, Yngwie, less actually can be more. “Adagio” comes in a ballad-like style that really shows Hoffmann’s own style, tone and sound. The guy has so much feel that he would be a millionaire if he could put it in a bottle and sell it. Big orchestration comes in focus on the big beast that is Mozart’s “Symphony No 40”, to me one of the best songs on this record. Wolf kicks in hard on rhythm and groove here as well and I hate it when the song ends – I just want to put it on repeat. One of the most well-known pieces here is, of course, “Swan Lake”, the dark and romantic ballet by Tchaikovsky. Wolf have speeded it up some and given it an Accept-ish treatment, making it a heavy groover, but the melody is spot on and very recognizable – a damn brilliant version to my ears. “Madame Butterfly”, the old Italian opera by Puccini is also extremely well-known and I guess every music fan out there will recognize it no matter if you like classical music or not. In Wolf’s hands, it has turned into a dreamy sounding power ballad with an atmospheric sound scape – really spellbinding, in my opinion. Beethoven’s “Pathétique” turns into a straight ahead Accept-like heavy metal tune, but as soon as the orchestration comes in focus, it takes a route of its own life and the mix of the two just feels like the most natural thing in the world – brilliant. The calm and collected slow ballad “Meditation” is a real breather, a mold breaker after the metal treatment we just got. Yes, the title really serves the song right and the base of just piano and guitar feels like a velvet blanket for the ears. The closing track, Bach’s “Air On A G String”, is a beautiful and atmospheric interpretation of an old classic and Hoffmann’s Ritchie Blackmore influence really comes across here. It’s a great way to close a really good album.

I have always been a fan of Wolf Hoffmann’s playing and as I wrote up above, I find him very underrated. That means that I didn’t find it surprising that this album would be a good one, but I wasn’t prepared for just how good it would be. I guess that if you’re a classical music conservative, you’ll probably find this album an abomination and that Wolf has taken a big dump over all your favorites, but for the rest of us, there are a whole lot to love here. The lack of vocals isn’t annoying at all, it’s actually hardly noticed – Wolf’s guitar is the lead vocals here – and the way that Hoffmann can make these songs his own and at the same time stay true and be really close to the originals is really astonishing. Also, this album could be a gateway for metal fans into the world of classical music – at least for the more open-minded headbangers. Want an instrumental album that puts the songs in focus instead of shredding and showing off? An album that shows us that melodies are what’s important and not notes per second? Well, you got it right here – a splendid piece of music!

9/10

Tracklist:

1. Scherzo (L. v. Beethoven)
2. Night On Bald Mountain (M. Mussorgsky)
3. Je Crois Entendre Encore (G. Bizet)
4. Double Cello Concerto In G Minor (A. Vivaldi)
5. Adagio (T. Albinoni)
6. Symphony No. 40 (W. A. Mozart )
7. Swan Lake (P. Tchaikovsky)
8. Madame Butterfly (G. Puccini)
9. Pathétique (L. v. Beethoven)
10. Meditation (J. Massenet)
11. Air On The G String (J. S. Bach)

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