New album, new singer, same old sound
I talked about this the other week, in my review of the band's new record Blood of the Nations—I just can't quite get past the sound of the new vocalist, Mark Tornillo, formerly of New York metal band T.T. Quick. It seems that lots of other Accept fans can, though; the new record's been well received in the metal press. And I wish the band the best of luck with it, and with the U.S. tour that kicks off today. (Dates at the end of this post.) They're making a serious effort to reach out to their fans, promising to stay post-show for meet-and-greet/signing sessions, and doing a couple of in-store appearances along the way (in New Jersey and Ohio), too.
Anyway, here's my interview with founding guitarist Wolf Hoffmann.
How are you?
Doing great. Talking and talking and talking. I usually don’t talk this much, but this is what I do these days.
You guys were the first concert I ever saw—in Madison Square Garden, opening for Dio.
Oh my gosh. I remember that show, actually. The only time we ever played the Garden, unfortunately. I wish we could have come back with somebody, but those days are gone, of metal acts playing Madison Square Garden, I think.
Pretty much, yeah. The only one left that can do it is Iron Maiden.
Wow. Good for them.
So, the new record. People expect a certain vocal style from Accept—how much did Mark have to change in order to fit into the mold created by Udo?
Not at all. I mean, when we met him he just opened his mouth and started singing, and that’s the way he sings. And we were blown away by how much it reminds you of Udo, but at the same time how much of his own character he brings to it, too. He doesn’t sound like he’s imitating or whatever; that’s the way he sounds, and we felt it was a perfect fit.
He’s not some 19-year-old, either, which is good; he’s been around a while.
Absolutely. He’s an experienced singer, like you said. He’s done it all, which helps. I don’t think a 22-year-old kid would be possible for us. Even theoretically, if he was a kid but sounded like Mark or something, I don’t think we would have considered it, honestly, because that’s just not who we are, and it needs to all fit.
Are you still in touch with Udo, are you guys friends? Have you heard what, if anything, he thinks about the new record?
Basically now we have no relationship whatsoever. Invariably we run into each other sometimes, but we’re not enemies, don’t dislike each other, we just have separate lives, I’d say.
So you didn’t send him a copy of the record or anything like that?
Ask for his blessing?
No, no, but just filling him in, like, “Here’s what we’re doing.”
He knows, he knows exactly what’s going on. It’s all good, we just have basically separate lives, and I wish him all the best. I think he should continue to do his own stuff, ’cause that’s what he chooses to do. Because we asked him initially if he wanted to be part of this, ’cause obviously he was the main singer for Accept for all these years, even though he’s been out of the band a lot of times when people didn’t even realize that, so obviously we wanted him back. And he turned us down, so at this point we’re moving forward and doing our thing and we wish him all the best with his.
The last time you split with him it only lasted one album—why did that happen, and what brought him back for Objection Overruled and the 1990s albums?
He left the band to do his own solo career and we wanted to at the same time move Accept in a slightly different direction with a guy called David Reece, for this record Eat the Heat. That in retrospect didn’t work—there’s a million reasons why that didn’t work, but the fact is it didn’t work between David Reece and the rest of the band, [so] we just tried it again with Udo and did three more records with him in the '90s and the longer hiatus started in 96.
On your 1990s albums, the band was a four-piece, with you as the only guitarist. Were you happy with that, or do you prefer to have a second guitar behind you?
I like both, for different reasons. The reason we did it then was because we were tired of working in the second guitar player. We always recorded and worked and composed everything as a three-piece band, just drums, bass and guitar. Udo was never there, because we always delivered a finished product [to him], so it was literally just the three of us in the studio, and we always felt we had this incredible chemistry, and there’s usually that point where you have to work in the other guitar player basically for show purposes. It had been a two-guitar band all those years, but in reality it was just the three of us being the core band in the studio recording everything. And listening back to some of our demos, we thought, Shit, it sounds so much more energetic, let’s just go out like that, why go through all the hassle? And that’s what we did for a number of years. I enjoyed it very much. It was great. At the same time, if you’re totally honest about it and you want to represent the ’80s and all this stuff, you really need the second guitar player. Not just visually; it’s always nice to have a riff going all the way through when you do lead breaks and things. It is more the true Accept sound, if we’re honest about it. And nowadays we look at these things more like, what do the fans really want? We’re not really doing these shows for us, we’re really doing it to please the fans, you know? And we know the majority of people will probably say we’re a two-guitar band.
Were any of the shows on the 2005 reunion tour recorded? Will anything be done with those tapes?
Yeah, we did. Maybe one day. We haven’t agreed on anything yet, but there was talk about it at some point, it just never went anywhere.
Some of the songs on this album really fit with your classic sound, but others are very different—how much are you concerned with preserving links to the past, and how much with moving forward?
We weren’t really trying to move anywhere with this album. We were just trying to give the fans pretty much a typical old school Accept metal record like it could have been written in the ’80s. We just wanted to have a continuation of the good old days with a modern sound. Most people who’ve heard the record would probably agree that it’s exactly what they want to hear from us, and we still love to give it to them. So we didn’t really try to reinvent the wheel or anything, we just wanted to do like we’d always done back then and come up with fresh ideas. More of it, basically.
I’m interested by the song “Kill the Pain”—Scorpions, for example, had a lot of mainstream success with ballads in their career, but you guys never really went that route in the ’80s. Why is that?
We did have a lot of ballads, really, if you think about it. There was one on each record, but they were mostly sung by Peter [Baltes], the bass player. A lot of people don’t know that, but they were. Even in the ’90s, we did some ballads. And in this case, we did one because we wanted to showcase Mark’s vocal ability a little more. We weren’t going to do a ballad, but then we heard him do a few pieces on other songs where all of a sudden he came up with this beautiful softer voice that we really were intrigued by. Especially on the song “The Abyss,” there’s a middle section where he almost sounds like a different singer. And we thought, Wow, this is incredible for him to be able to have this high-pitched screaming sort of voice, and at the same time to be able to deliver this really articulate lower voice, that’s amazing. So we needed to have more of that, and that’s when we did “Kill the Pain.”
You’ve talked in the past about the influence of classical music on your own playing, and you’ve quoted from classical pieces on Accept albums. Which composers do you listen to the most?
Oh, probably Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mozart more and more lately. I like Georges Bizet a lot. That’s pretty much the main guys. Georges Bizet is one of my favorites. Carmen and this kind of stuff. Of course I like Ravel’s Bolero, and Dvořák is pretty awesome, too. There’s a lot of stuff I have here that I like.
Accept U.S. tour dates:
Sep 23 - The Chance, Poughkeepsie, NY
Sep 24 - Rams Head, Baltimore, MD
Sep 25 - Starland Ballroom, Sayreville, NJ
Sep 26 - Vintage Vinyl, Fords, New Jersey [IN-STORE SIGNING]
Sep 27 - B.B. King Blues Club, New York, NY
Sep 29 - The Showcase, Foxboro, MA
Oct 1 - The Silo At Riveredge, Reading, PA
Oct 2 - Emerald Theatre, Mt. Clemens, MI
Oct 6 - Scatz, Middleton, WI
Oct 8 - The Exchange, Parma Heights, OH [IN-STORE SIGNING]
Oct 8 - The Agora Ballroom, Cleveland, OH
Oct 9 - The Arcada Theatre, St. Charles, IL
Oct 11 - Backstage Live, Blanco, TX
Oct 12 - House of Blues, Dallas, TX
Oct 13 - House of Blues, Houston, TX
Oct 19 - The Key Club, West Hollywood, CA
Art-metal, Chicago-style, with special guests
Yakuza will be touring the US with Triptykon and 1349 next month; here are the dates. They're the first band on, so get there early!
Oct 6 - The Gramercy Theatre, New York City, NY
Oct 7 - The Middle East, Cambridge, MA
Oct 8 - Otto Bar, Baltimore, Maryland
Oct 9 - Polaris, Philadelphia, PA
Oct 10 - Les Foufounes, Montreal, QC
Oct 11 - The Opera House, Toronto, ON
Oct 13 - The Grog Shop, Cleveland Heights, OH
Oct 14 - Mr. Smalls Theatre, Pittsburgh, PA
Oct 15 - The Majestic Theater, Detroit, MI
Oct 16 - Bottom Lounge, Chicago, IL
Oct 17 - Station Four, St. Paul, MN
Oct 19 - The Marquis Theatre, Denver, CO
Oct 21 - El Corazon, Seattle, WA
Oct 22 - Hawthorn Theatre, Portland, OR
Oct 23 - Slim's, San Francisco, CA
Oct 24 - El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles, CA
Oct 25 - The Rock, Tucson, AZ
Oct 27 - The Marque, Tulsa, OK
Oct 28 - Ridgelea Theatre, Fort Worth, TX
Oct 29 - Emo's, Austin, TX
Oct 30 - The Warsaw, Houston, TX
It's not about actually learning anything - it's for charity
According to their PR department, the Agassi Foundation runs a public charter school, the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, through which it "strives to provide underserved youth in Las Vegas with a quality K-12 education to prepare for excellence in college and beyond. Through state and national advocacy, the Foundation also works to increase investment and accountability in public schools."
Here are the terms of the deal:
"Lars will begin your unbelievable day with a tour of Metallica headquarters, which includes Metallica’s recording studio, rehearsal space and home of their fan club, website and merchandise department. Once inside the studio, you will have the privilege of receiving a one hour private drumming lesson from one of the greatest drummers of all time. After Lars shows you a thing or two, you and your guest will join him for a private lunch. Almost too extraordinary to believe!
"American Airlines will provide first-class airfare for you and one guest to complete this rare experience. You will also enjoy a two-night stay at Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco, a luxury hotel offering legendary service and stupendous views of the city’s iconic sights.
To remember this once-in-a-lifetime experience, you will be sent home with all kinds of hot Metallica gear to make your friends jealous. Now that’s a rock star package!
"This package has been generously donated by Lars Ulrich and Metallica. Flights and hotel were donated by Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco and American Airlines. This package will be held at a mutually agreeable time in Marin, Calif. One Bay View King room at the Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco will be provided for two nights and certain date restrictions apply. First-class airfare for two people with flights originating in the continental United States will also be provided. Transfers and meals are not included in the package other than what is specified in the package details. Package expires on December 31, 2011. This package is nontransferable and nonrefundable."
Is Lars Ulrich someone whose drumming you admire? Do you think he's got something to teach you? Are you a rich asshole who's got enough money to donate to some celebrity's private school in Las Vegas? Place your bid today!
Evolution is a gradual process
Frankly, Willowtip's been expanding beyond their core competency a little lately, and I'm worried. I come to them for wildly widdly tech-death bands like Gorod, Arsis, Necrophagist, Neuraxis, Illogicist, Spawn of Possession and Alarum; I also come to them for brutal grindcore like Kill the Client, Defeatist, Maruta, Magrudergrind and Phobia. I don't come to them for Grief reissues. But I digress. The point here is, Unique Leader has a new release that's worth your attention. Flesh Consumed's Ecliptic Dimensions of Suffering comes out in a week, on 9/28.
(Above: Flesh Consumed playing "Fermented Slaughter" and "Inhuman Butchery" live in 2009)
Flesh Consumed have undergone a slight evolution between their last full-length album, 2008's Mutilate Eviscerate Decapitate, and now. That one had track titles like "Schizophrenic Slaughter Frenzy," "Lynched With Entrails," "Harvesting Humans," "Sadistic Incineration"...you get the idea. I don't know what it sounded like, but I can guess, and you probably can too. But they followed that up with 2009's New Order of Intelligence EP, which paired two old songs—one from M.E.D. and one from their Inhuman Butchery EP—with four new ones, and those tracks had titles like "Conflux of Man and Machine," "The Apocalypse" and "Frontlines." It also marked their departure from Sevared Records for the comparatively big leagues of Unique Leader.
The songs on Ecliptic Dimensions of Suffering seem to be bridging the gap between the two sides of Flesh Consumed. You get "Devoid of Skin" alongside "Imprisoned Between Dimensions"; "Chamber of Torture" followed by "Immortality Through Infinite Consciousness." You get interludes—two-minute instrumentals that pair gently psychedelic guitar with static and bursts of soft electronic crunching. Musically, the band is definitely death metal. The vocals are a gurgling roar, totally indecipherable; the guitars are tuned way down and riffing savagely, except when they're cutting loose with squiggly solos or little oases of jazz chording; and the drums are a constant presence, not so much setting time as chopping it into little bits. They're skilled players, executing hairpin turns and rhythmic switchbacks with no struggle (obviously, death metal is a highly precise music dependent on studio technology, but I get the feeling these guys could pull this music off live).
The last track on the disc, "Staring into the Abyss (Outro)," runs 11:25, and it's the clearest sign, to me, of what Flesh Consumed are trying to do. It's all drones and bursts of static, like the two interludes that broke up the album, but laid over that backing are snippets of dialogue from newscasts or documentaries about serial killers, people who feel they've been possessed, killers themselves, and more. The band doesn't seem to be wallowing in shock value, though; there are relatively few gory details. Instead, we seem to be hearing killers explaining why they kill, as the music behind them goes not for haunted-house ambience but rather the kind of sound you might want to hear as you sit outside on a dark night, staring up at the stars. To me, it's not so much about man's inhumanity to man as it is man's insignificance. We can kill each other all we want; the universe doesn't care and never will.
It's both good and interesting to watch a band evolve. Flesh Consumed started out wanting to be Cannibal Corpse; now they seem to want to be Decrepit Birth, but they haven't quite let go of their old, blood-soaked ways. I'm very interested to hear their next album, as I have the feeling they'll be heading even farther out. But Ecliptic Dimensions of Suffering is a very good record, and you should get yourself one.
Power metal vs. power squirrel
Pikku-Orava is a cartoon squirrel who sings cover versions of songs in both English and Finnish, sort of like a Scandinavian one-man version of Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Here's the original, performed live before a large group of enraptured Finns:
And here's Pikku-Orava's version:
Saxophone vs. guitar - who shreds harder?
Painkiller: This trio, led by saxophonist John Zorn, originally featured bassist Bill Laswell and drummer Mick Harris (formerly of Napalm Death). Harris eventually left, but the trio continues on with various people bashing the skins. Almost their entire discography is available as a four-CD box; it's well worth your attention. Here's some footage of the original incarnation.
Last Exit: This late '80s/early '90s quartet also featured Laswell, along with saxophonist Peter Brötzmann (whose son Caspar is a pretty great guitarist in a sort of post-Hendrixian noise-rock style), guitarist Sonny Sharrock and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. They released several live albums and one studio disc; almost all are out of print. Here they are on German TV in 1986 or so. Video quality: not so great. Audio quality: superb.
Full Blast: This is a currently active Brötzmann group featuring bassist Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmüller. The album Black Hole is what you want. Here's some live footage from 2006.
Borbetomagus: These guys (saxophonists Jim Sauter and Don Dietrich, and guitarist Donald Miller) aren't quite jazz, and they aren't quite metal; some would argue they're not even music. But they create a wall of overwhelming sonic force like no one else around, and I love 'em. They've got about a dozen CDs available; I recommend Snuff Jazz. Here's some live footage from 2000.
And last but not least...
Miles Davis: Yes, Miles Davis. The trumpeter formed a band in 1973 that combined funk, rock and electronic noise with some truly free jazz (he played his horn through a guitarist's wah-wah pedal), and the result was some of the best music of his career. Guitarist Pete Cosey was his secret weapon, but the whole band tore shit up. Check out albums like Dark Magus, Agharta and Pangaea, all recorded live before stunned audiences in 1974 and 1975, for some of the most blood-boiling jazz-metal you'll ever hear. Here's some live footage from 1973.
Power thrash from Trenton, NJ
They're a power thrash quartet from Trenton, NJ, with one album to their name. Grim Fate was released in May on the Witches Brew label, which puts out lots of retro-minded/trad-metal stuff from bands around the world, none of whom you've heard of. (You can see a rundown of their catalog here, but don't look to me for recommendations—I haven't got a clue about any of these bands.)
Grim Fate starts with an instrumental, a good sign. "The Ultimatum" gallops along like early Iron Maiden. Guitarists Joe Potash (also the vocalist) and Joe Hoyer crank out the riffs and trade better-than-decent solos; bassist Amadeusz Zajac and drummer Drew Rizzo throb and hammer the rhythm into place like twin jackhammers. The songs with vocals combine power metal's fist-pumping energy with speed metal's precision, occasionally dipping into a slower, doomier groove ("E.B.E.", sections of the title track). The vocals are rudimentary; Potash is about as skilled a singer as, say, Karl Simon from The Gates of Slumber, but he talk-chants his way through the lyrics with commitment. There's a lot of Judas Priest in their sound, minus the inhumanly polished production of albums like Screaming for Vengeance and Defenders of the Faith. Horrifier always sounds like four dudes cranking out music together in a room, which probably puts it in territory closer to early Manowar albums like Battle Hymns and Into Glory Ride, when Ross the Boss was still with the band. It's probably no surprise, then, that they've played New York's Bowery Electric, opening for Ross the Boss's solo band, in 2008 and again this year (the 2010 gig took place on September 12, and also featured Boston power-thrashers Ravage, who are signed to Metal Blade, though it doesn't seem to be helping them any).
These guys are a solid working man's metal band. If you recognize metal as a tradition, these guys are exactly the kind of traditionalists you'll admire. Visit their MySpace page and consider checking out Grim Fate.
Genres have rules; learn 'em and you're halfway there
People gripe that deathcore is generic, that the bands all sound the same. But don't most bands working within a genre sound pretty much alike? Let's take BRR (stands for Boring Radio Rock). Can you tell a Nickelback song from a 3 Doors Down song from a Daughtry song from a Saliva song? (Are Saliva even still around? Well, you get the point.) Of course you can't, unless you're a fan. If you played me ten songs by ten different indie singer-songwriter acts (the type of thing that gets reviewed on Pitchfork three or four times a week) I wouldn't be able to ID a single one of them without a cheat sheet, nor would I be able to re-match artist and song an hour later. Hell, I can't tell most mainstream hip-hop artists' work apart, and that's only partly because they're all using the same half-dozen producers and all guesting on each other's tracks. The primary reason I can't tell BRR bands, or indie feebs, or hyperconsumerist hip-hoppers apart is simple: I'm not paying close enough attention.
Musical genres have rules. These rules, spoken or unspoken, govern everything from what chords are to be used (black metal: lots of minor chords; mainstream guitar rock: lots of major chords) to what lyrical subject matter is acceptable. If a black metal band started screeching about going out on a Saturday night and getting drunk, they'd never be taken seriously. By the same token, if a country singer decided to talk about burning churches down and praising Satan, he'd have trouble. But good artists know the rules of their genre, and bend them in an appealing way, without breaking them. As a listener, you've got to know the rules going in, and pay attention to the way they're bent.
If you don't like deathcore's basic sound, I don't blame you for walking away entirely. I don't like black metal's basic sound—all those trebley, fast-picked guitar lines give me a headache—so it takes a lot to make me notice a band doing something really good within the genre. But what I'm saying is, there are good bands making interesting music that's getting filed under "deathcore."
Here's your assignment for the weekend: listen to these five albums. I think they're all pretty good, and I can tell these bands apart pretty easily.
The Acacia Strain, Wormwood (Prosthetic)
As Hell Followed With, Proprioception (Earache)
Chelsea Grin, Desolation of Eden (Artery Recordings)
Waking the Cadaver, Beyond Cops, Beyond God (Siege of Amida)
Whitechapel, A New Era of Corruption (Metal Blade)