Wolf Hoffmann – Headbanger’s Symphony
Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: July 1, 2016
I am admittedly not an aficionado of classical music. Not that I mind it, it’s simply not something that calls to me. For that reason it is difficult to give a true assessment of Wolf Hoffmann’s sophomore solo effort, Headbanger’s Symphony. I have no frame of reference to the original classics that the legendary Accept guitarist revamps for this record. That said, having listened to the album, I found myself increasingly engaged in both the heavy and classical elements that he has woven together here with amazing dexterity.
It has been nearly two decades since Hoffmann released his first solo record, Classical. With Headbanger’s Symphony he continues in the same vein of reinterpreting pieces from Beethoven, Puccini, Mozart, Vivaldi, Bach, and Tchaikovsky. Wolf, rather than rely on keyboard generated orchestrations utilized a 40-piece orchestra from Prague for all of the string elements adding greater depth and a more genuine feel to the performances.
The record opens with his take on Beethoven’s “Scherzo” which immediately pulls the listener in with heavy riffs, sweeping crescendos, and dramatic instrumental performances from all involved. The song absolutely rocks, yet it remains faithful to the feel of the original.
As a child I recall hearing “Night on Bald Mountain” in the film Fantasia. Here Hoffman serves up a darkly sinister interpretation originally penned by Russian composer Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky. Hoffman and his merry band of miscreants deftly capture the foreboding essence of the song. Certainly Disney never rocked like this.
The tempo moves to a more sedate pace on Bizet’s “Je Crois Entendre Encore” which is followed by the cinematic bravado of Vivaldi’s “Double Cello Concerto in G Minor” which winds and builds into a sonic tempest. Just as quickly as it came, the storm passes into the tranquil waters of Albinoni’s “Adagio”.
The headbanging begins in earnest with Mozart’s “Symphony No. 40”, one of the record’s best known classic pieces. This segues into the equally well-known “Swan Lake” which has an almost bluesy groove in Hoffman’s melodically moving delivery.
Puccini’s oeuvre, “Madame Butterfly”, is a resplendent showcase and one of the album’s most poignant moments. This is followed by the atmospheric yet equally rocking conveyance of Beethoven’s “Pathétique”.
Closing out the album are the serene movements of Massenet’s “Meditation” with its serpentine fretwork and placid ambiance, and Hoffman’s equally staid take on Bach’s “Air on the G String”.
Wolf Hoffmann’s renderings on Headbanger’s Symphony quite literally hit all the right notes, and for those of us less classically inclined, the album offers a window into a genre of music we might otherwise have held in obscure regard. He adroitly maneuvers his way through the nuances of classical music and fuses those sounds with the assertiveness of metal, creating sonically eloquent reinterpretations of these iconic pieces. The record took years to get here, literally and metaphorically, but it has been well worth the wait, and it allows Hoffmann fans another perspective into the guitarist’s multi-faceted passions.