I thought for a great project, I’d review my first instrumental album. I don’t commonly listen to instrumental albums as it is, but I’ve always feared they’d be a challenge. I’ve even turned down a couple of instrumental albums that have been submitted to me. However, Wolf Hoffmann‘s Headbanger’s Symphony is all too intriguing.
Wolf Hoffmann is, of course, the lead guitarist and co-long lasting member of German heavy metal veterans Accept. I’ve always proclaimed Accept to be one of my favourite heavy metal bands of all time, with Judas Priest being the only classic metal band that I would rank above them if I had to list my favourites that is. Anything by Ronnie James Dio would also top that list above Accept, but that’s all!
Wolf Hoffmann has created a fan base thanks to his neo-classical playing. The same can be said about Randy Rhoads or Yngwie Malmsteen, but what differentiates Wolf from them is that I wouldn’t call Wolf a shredder, but rather a heavy metal guitarist with a strong sense of classical melody, be it incorporating classical musical pieces into Accept‘s songs, like “Metal Heart” and its use of both Tchaikovsky‘s “Slovanic March” and Beethoven‘s “Für Elise” in its intro, riffs and guitar solo, or be it a song like “Fast As A Shark” or “Neon Nights” in which Wolf plays original guitar solos that sound like they could have once been played by classical symphonies. Either way, he’s proven to be more than qualified to make an album such as Headbanger’s Symphony, an album of eleven classical pieces, all played by symphony orchestras, with an added Wolf Hoffman heavy metal touch.
I don’t know what fans have been expecting Headbanger’s Symphony to be like, but I can tell you that I had no idea what I was in for. What Wolf Hoffmann has delivered is a batch of songs in which the Czech National Symphony Orchestra just kill with their instrumental professionalism while heavy metal musicians play along. Think Trans-Siberian Orchestra. “Double Cello Concerto in G Minor” and “Night on Bald Mountain” (probably not a reference to Wolf‘s long gone head of hair, though I like to think so) both never cease to remind me of the type of classical heavy metal the predominantly Christmas group releases.
Each song on Headbanger’s Symphony manages to have distinctions, particularly in Wolf Hoffmann‘s guitar playing, such as how the guitar playing on “Night on Bald Mountain” reminds me more of his Accept stuff, and I can’t help but notice the Ritchie Blackmore style of guitar playing on “Swan Lake“. Some songs have the symphony taking centre stage, while Wolf just adds rhythm until it’s time for his guitar solo break, but some, like the recently mentioned “Swan Lake” feature a lot more lead guitar.
The most promoted track on Headbanger’s Symphony is its opening track “Scherzo“. This track is a good one to promote as it is essentially a classic heavy metal sounding song similar to the style of stuff Wolf Hoffmann fans would expect, but with the obvious twist of the symphony orchestra being added into the mix. “Symphony No 40” and “Pathtique” are others that would please the heavy metal spirited listeners. I know I prefer both over “Scherzo” and they’re both perhaps my favourites on the album thanks to their complex orchestration and just how nicely structured they have been made to fit in all the heavy metal instruments.
Classical music pieces tend to be, maybe a little stereotypically, soft and calming. Wolf Hoffmann includes some of these songs on Headbanger’s Symphony. My favourite being closing track “Air On The G String” which is a classical piece that I actually recognise. One time Yngwie Malmsteen vocalist Michael Vescera incorporated the main melody into the chorus of Yngwie‘s 1994 song “Prisoner of Your Love“. For this, Wolf plays the entire classical piece on lead guitar, making for one of his best of many great moments on the album.
Wolf Hoffmann isn’t afraid to include a large number of these softer songs on Headbanger’s Symphony. “Madame Butterfly“, “Je Crois Entendre Encore” and “Meditation” all take the album through dramatic turns while “Adagio” proves to be perhaps the best-structured song on Headbanger’s Symphony. It starts off low and soft, then continues to intensify as the song progresses into being more powerful than anything else heard in the forty-eight minutes of the album. Wolf‘s guitar playing on the track is also a cut above the rest, not only being the best guitar work on the album, but also some of the best of his career.
Headbanger’s Symphony is actually Wolf Hoffman‘s second solo album, though I’ve only heard portions (and what great portions they are) of his 1997 release entitled Classical, Wolf shows with Headbanger’s Symphony that the nineteen years between the albums has been worth the wait. Plus we’ve had a few solid Accept albums released in that time span too. I wasn’t sure what I’d think of Headbanger’s Symphony; I really just wanted to get the album as a fan of the man behind it, and I was prepared for disappointment, but Wolf Hoffmann exceeded expectations. Maybe I wasn’t familiar with many of the songs the way I was with a few of the songs played on Classical, but that only makes everything all the more interesting.
“Symphony No 40”
8 (Out of 10)
|2.||“Night On Bald Mountain”||4:22|
|3.||“Je Crois Entendre Encore”||4:17|
|4.||“Double Cello Concerto in G Minor”||3:31|
|6.||“Symphony No. 40”||4:10|
|11.||“Air on the G String”||2:50|