By Martin Popoff
Teutonic metal munchers ACCEPT are currently blasting their way through North America in advance of a South American tour, European dates and then, quite likely, a follow-up to their well-regarded "Blood Of The Nations" comeback album, the band now fronted by the irrepressible Mark Tornillo, in place of Udo Dirkschneider. See them live and you will be a stone-cold believer that this is probably the tightest yet most energetic, charming and charmed “heritage” band on the planet. Tornillo kills it as front man, upholding the band’s standard of 0% body fat, athletic rock despite the grey hair, and yes, of the right vintage – and voluminous Brian Johnson voice – to be spokes-screamer for this illustrious act.
On paper, Tornillo, an American with TT QUICK in his rear-view mirror, is supposed to be the weak link, given the boots to fill, given that the lineup behind him is gleaming and legitimate. On stage, incredibly, he is indeed the frontman, dare I say the leader and the focus. Quickly won over, the crowd surges toward metal heart and heaven, and stays there through the duration of the set list, one stuffed with new songs, obscurities and hits alike. The new songs, quality through and through, triumph, but the secret weapon is a canny picking apart of an astonishingly ripe catalog. For example, proceed to "Russian Roulette," and boom, the best two songs, ‘Aiming High’ and ‘Monster Man’, major anthems from a not great album, are rescued and then served to us with hi-fidelity, humor and air-tight precision.
Why was the Toronto show packed? All I can surmise is that… well, it was orchestrated by our town’s most accomplished promoter, Noel, but atop that, word must have got ‘round how heroic Accept were presenting themselves on stage. By the way, kudos to second-to-headliner on Toronto’s four band bill, SABATON, who found themselves beloved by a huge, packed crowd who dug this band’s magnetism and dramatic songs – an improbable AMON AMARTH-type march up the ladder of success is in their future.
Anyway, a quick chat with Accept bassist Peter Baltes was in order pre-show, and his evident state of being stoked can’t help but be part of what stokes the long-starved Accept fan-base.
“Well, yes, I’ll tell you, since we’ve been on the road, since May 8 of last year, it’s been a revelation to me. First of all, I had no idea that our fans are so loyal. They’re coming out, and you hear it, you heard it in the meet and greet, ‘I haven’t seen you in 25 years - I can’t wait. I’ve come with my kids.’ Young kids are coming because, ‘My dad told me, and I watch you on youtube.’ Or, ‘We play you on Guitar Hero.’ You look in their faces and you see pure joy. That’s a real difference. Because when we were younger and we were playing, sometimes with a beer or two on stage, the audience had a couple of beers, it was more like edgy, releasing that whatever. But now, the audience comes purely just to see you play and rip it up, to hear your craft, what you can do, and we’re doing the same thing. I said that in some interviews the other day, that my main goal at this point, after the first minute of the show, is to create a situation where the band and the audience merges, so it doesn’t take half an hour for them to get warm. You want to come out every night and have that merging of both, and then keep that momentum going to the end. So that when everybody leaves, they’re thinking that was the best show I’ve ever seen.”
After suggesting that part of the reason Accept are able to conjure this is their time-honored sense of headbangin’ choreography on stage, Peter figures, “Sure, that is still there and we are aiming to do this and it’s so much fun, but… the fun aspect is really kind of underrated. People don’t realize how important it is for a band to have fun. Once you see one who does, you never go back - you want to see that again. And it depends on the chemistry in the band. And now we have that chemistry in the band finally, all year long, and it couldn’t be better. We’re all seasoned. There’s no bullshit anymore. We all know everything, and we really enjoy it and we value and respect the other players on stage.”
“I would probably say unleashed beast,” laughs Baltes, asked about the personality of the new record, "Blood Of The Nations," the first album with Tornillo on vocals. “You know, waiting for a long time, a caged-up animal finally released and just going on a rampage.”
And the way it all happened? “Wolf is in Nashville, and I live outside of Philly,” explains Peter. “I’m a writer for television and radio - we had our own lives. Wolf had a shoot in my area, so he stayed at my house, and we said, ‘You know what? We haven’t played in such a long time, we’ll go to my friend’s studio.’ I called a drummer friend and we just jammed a little bit. And so we were in there doing it, and it was kind of boring without somebody singing it, so my friend in the studio said, ‘Well, there’s a guy who lives around the corner, he sounds a little like Udo, give him a call.’ And so we called him up and it was Mark. And he was dead sick that day, but when he heard it was me calling he came right down, and we put him in a vocal booth and headphones and stuff, and before you know it, we started playing and I looked at Wolf and I said, ‘What the hell is this?! This is even better than the old days! I mean, come on!’ So we spent a little time with him, and we all went home and discussed the situation with the management, called the other guys, and we had an opportunity to start a band - finally we found somebody who could actually replace Udo. And Mark mulled it over for two days and the rest is history.”
“And we’re already in the process of writing for the next album,” continues Baltes. “We have Andy Sneap on board for the next record. We’re gonna tour, I think until the middle of July, and then we stop shows, not take anything else on. September, October, hopefully we’re going to record, and then we’ll have an early spring release.”
Curious closing comment from Peter is one that helps explain why Accept is able to tear it up with such conviction through an action-packed set of songs that quite often, have a plethora of demanding parts. Asked to confirm or deny a reputation in the ‘80s for being sequestered away from cavorting with other bands on tour, to the point of many of those acts calling them stuck up, Peter says, ‘Yes, it’s true, because of our manager Gaby. Because she laid down the law very early, that if anybody would ever have a joint or anything, that would be the end for the band. So we took that to heart, because we knew how important she was. And you know, we were Germans, we were beer drinkers, but we were never really into it at all. So that’s one of the main reasons we couldn’t really associate with these other bands. And now we’re so grateful, we’re all alive, we feel good, we’re in good shape, we put the shows on, and we bypassed that whole scene. I’ve had friends of mine die and I’ve seen so many sad stories, so we did our own partying. But mostly it was really done by playing. I mean, get wasted all you want and do all the drugs in the world, but my god, you stand there on stage, and look out and everybody has their arms up… tell me anything that gets you higher.”