Latest release: Thrash Anthems II (Nuclear Blast) Website: www.destruction.de
Thrashers Destruction formed in 1982 and effectively started the German thrash metal scene, ironically enough coinciding with the movement erupting in other parts of the globe. Their three piece format was generally intact for the majority of their career although explorations with the four piece format contributed to front man Marcel ‘Schmier’ Schirmer leaving the band after a live recording [Live Without Sense] was released in 1989. Returning a decade later, the band resumed being a three piece, tightened up their sound and subsequently their fortunes improved. Overall, Destruction have continually released solid thrash metal albums and in doing so, retained a large, loyal following worldwide. The band are finally back in Australia to deliver a walloping lesson in thrash metal. Loud Online spoke to Schmier recently about all things Destruction related.
Destruction is finally touring Australia again. It’s been a while since your last visit.
We are finally happy that we have a proper tour and we’re going to a couple of cities that we’ve never been to and for us as a band, we are not just rushing through the country. We have some days off with time to meet friends and fans so we’re going to enjoy the country and its people.
You’ve also got a new drummer by the name of Randy Black.
Yeah, Randy really helped us out before when two years ago our old drummer Wawrzyniec ‘Vaaver’ Dramowicz was on his baby break as his wife was expecting their second child. So Randy helped us out in America for five weeks on our tour with Sepultura. So, he knows a lot of the songs and we’ve been playing together. He is a great drummer and a very good replacement for Vaaver at the moment. We had to make a decision to find somebody who is stable and Randy is the right guy. We don’t know if Randy will stay yet but we didn’t want to put the pressure on ourselves and stop all the touring to search for a drummer. We know that Randy is on the same level as Vaaver so we can continue and he is also very excited to come to Australia because he has never been there.
Randy has played with Annihilator, Primal Fear and even W.A.S.P. so that is a pretty substantial effort.
Oh yeah, yeah, he is an excellent drummer. I remember that first time I saw him playing with Annihilator I was thinking, ‘man, this would be a drummer that I really would like to play with’ and now we are playing with him again so that is awesome.
Your most recent album Thrash Anthems II has a lot of re-recorded classic material on it. Is that to be the primary focus of the tour?
Let’s say that we have an old school set list. There are a lot of songs from Thrash Anthems and Thrash Anthems II so the set list will maintain a lot of classics. There will also be some songs that we have never played in Australia with some little surprises. I think it is a good mix of old and new. We have already played some shows with similar set lists and people were freaking out because there are lot of little old pearls in there. I am sure that some Australian fans will also appreciate those songs.
Great. The album itself doesn’t let up at all which makes sense given includes a selection of reworked classics. Have the songs changed for you over the years at all?
Yeah, when we wrote those songs we were sixteen or seventeen years old so we were very young and when you are young you want to explore new fields. There are a lot of crazy ideas in those songs and also, that was a problem because I had try to catch the lyrics because back in the day we didn’t have any lyric sheets included in the albums. So some songs really had no more lyrics so I had to really listen to the songs and research what I was singing. On the demo and the first album, my vocals are very hard to understand. So it wasn’t so easy to recapture everything and we thought it would be easier to play those old songs but we wanted to do it properly so we put a lot of work into the re-recording. It was more work than we thought it would be but it turned out well. As a band, it is very important to connect with the roots of your music again when you do something like this; if you play a song live, it is a different thing but if you record it again and put much more effort into it then you really connected with the song again. That was actually a great thing for us so we’ve dug out some old songs that we’ve never played live or that we almost forgot about such as ‘Frontbeast’ which we never recorded on a normal album.
That song has a bit of a gallop to it. What sort of musical influences were happening for you in the early days of Destruction? Did Metallica, Anthrax and Slayer have an initial impact?
Back in the day, Metallica’s first album came out in 1983 whereas our first release [mini LP Sentence of Death] came out in 1984. But, it is not like now where there is trend that bands are following because back then, we were in there already. I think that our major influence at that time was Exciter and some of the speed metal bands like Jaguar and Angel Witch. Venom was the thing that came out which was a little bit influential. Metallica was a big deal when it came out but we had already written all of our songs at that time. The same goes for Slayer because when the first Slayer album came out, our demo was already recorded. The influences were also difficult to get because it was only cassettes that were flying around so you had to send cassettes over. So, the influences were really punk rock and the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that happened and that all got mixed up in Germany and in the Bay Area so that somehow, at the same time, it all came out. Metallica were the ones that made a statement with their guitar sound. That was something that we all wanted to achieve at the time. When we heard the guitar sound on Kill ‘Em All, we were all asking, ‘What the fuck? How did they do that?’ because it was a masterpiece. It is crazy if I look back because everything came out in such a short term. There was also the first Anthrax album. All these releases happened within a couple of years and remember that you didn’t have the Internet so there were no fast connections, streaming and YouTube.
Indeed. A song like ‘The Ritual’ has almost got a walking bassline in amongst a barrage of thrash metal. How do you stay in time?
We’ve been playing it for so long and when you have a solid drummer, you simply have to feel the music. I have been playing this music for many years and sometimes when you have a bad sound on stage you can really fuck up a song. But also, when you have a stable drummer and you have the right feeling, you can find your way back into the song quickly because of our thirty six years’ worth of experience. You develop an inner click track in yourself for this kind of music.
Some of the songs go into either half time or double time sections very quickly. That could be challenging in a live environment.
Yeah it depends since back in the day there was no click track so we were just doing stuff out of gut instinct. Nowadays when you compose songs as a more developed musician, you really do the double time or the half time. Back in the day the song might have been at two hundred beats per minute and when you changed it would probably be a little bit slower than the real half time and that is very difficult. That is also one of the biggest challenges with the old songs because the timings might not go together that well so you have to really understand the song and rehearse it. But as I said, we were young and we didn’t know much about music but we just wanted to produce some crazy music and we did.
Mike Sifringer put some great solos on there and even some harmony parts. What was his approach to re-doing solos on Thrash Anthems II?
We actually also invited Ol Drake from the British band Evile to do some leads on this album because he is a friend of ours and he has helped us out. He is maybe Mike’s little son, you know because the guitar style is very similar and if we were to have a second guitar player, Old Drake would be the one. But he left his band for his baby so he is doing the same stuff that our drummer does now which is a baby break. We gave him the chance to thrash with us and he is a big Destruction fan. He and Mike pulled out some really great stuff on this album. Who knows, maybe one day Ol Drake will join Destruction but at the moment we are pretty happy to be a three piece. We like the three piece things; it is still live and it is still a wall of sound. People always ask use, ‘how do you manage to sound so massive as a three piece?’ but I like the idea sometimes to have a second guitar player live so you can do the harmonies live. However, the way we play now is very intense, massive and very aggressive plus the three piece format is a big challenge for each musician. The more members you have, the easier it gets to play because the focus goes onto the whole band. If it is just three guys and just one guy fucks up, you’re fucked basically or even if the guitarist breaks a string or something.
I seem to recall that in the earlier days Destruction did become a four piece for a bit.
Yeah, we were a four piece on the Mad Butcher album. The first three records we were a trio and then we wanted to introduce new challenges so had a second guitar and it was actually a great thing for a while. The problem is that two guitars brings in a lot of ideas and so a lot of stuff changed in the song writing which kind of changed the sound of the band a bit. That also led to trouble in the band so we basically split up or the band split up with me back in the day. I am a little afraid that this could really happen again once we have a second guitarist that comes in with new influences. It can really water down the sound or bring the band into a different direction and I don’t want to change the sound of Destruction. We have achieved uniqueness and we want to keep it that way. Never say never because maybe one day we will experience having a second guitarist again. Working with Ol Drake is always a pleasure and too bad he is a Daddy now and he wants to stay home and not to tour.
Having kids changes one’s perspective and priorities substantially.
Yeah, you know how it is, it is a lot of work and I have a lot of respect for when you have a family. When you are a musician and you’re away from home for 150 days a years, you cannot raise your children.
Your vocal style is very powerful. Who was your primary influence in developing your sound?
Hmm, I don’t know because I wasn’t a vocalist in the beginning. I was thrown into the job because we fired our singer right before the recording of our first demo. So I had to develop my own style. My squeaky, screaming stuff definitely pays tribute to the high pitched singers of the eighties such as Rob Halford who I have always liked but I liked Lemmy a lot and I also liked Cronos. I remember I used to say those three where my influence in my late teens and I still find that those guys influence me, definitely with the roughness on the high squeaky stuff. Cronos has this very special crunch in his voice that makes it unique.
How you retain your voice because it must become pretty taxing after a while?
You have to be careful. The voice is like a muscle in that you have to train it correctly. It is important for me when we do long tours is to warm up my voice with some rehearsals. We will usually meet up and rehearse for three days or so but once you are in tour mode, I can go on forever. If I have a short break of two weeks, I recover well and then we can go on. I usually don’t face problems unless I get sick, which can happen. You have to see the voice as very fragile. I kind of respect that much better than before and you have to have the right technique. When you are on tour you have to have certain rules. Rule number one is get enough sleep and rest. Rule number two is take a big dose of ‘shut the fuck up’ during the day. When you talk the whole day, your voice is tired at night so you have to be aware of that. If you do this right then there are no problems. Don’t drink so much booze too. High proof alcohol is not very good for the voice. I drink on tour but in small doses and I always have a bottle of water with me. It is the little tricks that you have to know and you have to know your voice as well such as when it gets fragile and you have to really keep it calm. It is experience that really helps to maintain my voice.
Presumably that also applies to recording in that you have to not push your voice too hard.
Yeah, I mean, it is a normal part of the job. I also injured my shoulder and my hand in the last two or three years so I now know how fragile a musician is since for a long time, I thought I was invincible and that nothing could happen to me. I never really cared about it until I cut my finger almost off and when I broke my shoulder last summer. The shoulder is the body part that keeps everything together. So, I was worried for a little while but I recovered pretty well with some physiotherapy and work out stuff. When you become older, you become more fragile. That is just a part of the game so I try to stay in good shape.
Surely Herman Frank [ex Accept] who played with you on Pänzer debut album [Send Them All to Hell] could relate to you about that situation.
Oh yeah, I know a lot of guys who are in their mid-fifties now and they all said to me, all of them, that when you turn fifty, you will change, you will see. I have to say they are right, you know, when you are fifty then every day you will have a new problem. It is not that bad but it is definitely like when you have a hangover, it is not a hangover, it is like a three day recovery. So stuff changes with age and you have to live with it. That is why the Rolling Stones don’t party anymore because it is not possible to party until you are ninety. Of course, you have to find the right measure for everything in life. You can party hard but you have to find the right dose.
Speaking of Pänzer which gives you a heavy metal outlet from the thrash metal of Destruction, you’ve now got Swedish guitarist Pontus Norgren [Hammerfall] in the ranks. His solos are great such as on the song ‘Skullbreaker’ plus he a guitar tech for Yngwie Malmsteen.
He is also doing the live sound for King Diamond. He is a busy guy. He can play like Yngwie and Blackmore but he can play the more modern styles as well. His solos always have a lot of melody and feel in them. I think that is a great mix. It is not all about the shredding but it is about the tone and the expression in the leads. We’re all experienced musicians so everybody brings in their own personality into that band. We added a second guitar player to Pänzer when we had our first live shows and when we wrote for the second album [The Fatal Command] for two guitars and I was the one pushing my guitar players for more harmonies, melodies and double leads. I’m a fucking heavy metal fan and I want to hear those fucking guitars. Sometimes they called me nuts but it was good for that album. Of course, we don’t have Chris Impellitteri in that band. We play together as a team and the solos have to be in the right positions. Pänzer is a whole different approach in writing and live because Pänzer has two guitars whereas with Destruction I am using three microphones so I can walk around on stage which is a whole different feeling to Pänzer where I have guitars around me from the left and right. I can push the borders with Pänzer to go back to my heavy metal roots. I can do stuff that I cannot do with Destruction because we’re playing thrash and it is also a limited space there where people expect an aggressive, in-your-face album. Pänzer is great fun to do and something you appreciate when you’re older that you can jam out with friends. The second album was more pure heavy metal and has less thrash influence than the first album. In Destruction we use more of diminished harmonies and fewer classical resolutions. So with Destruction we are destroying classical harmonies whereas with Pänzer we are more or less obeying the classical harmonies.
The artwork for Pänzer’s The Fatal Command is clearly quite topical.
We knew we would get reactions about it. It was the provocation that we wanted to have but we were actually surprised that nobody did a cover like this yet because it is the times for it. We finished the album cover many months before release and I was a little bit scared that some other bands might bring out a similar cover. But nobody did which was great for us. Back in the eighties there would have been a hundred bands doing it. Maybe people are more concerned. I felt the need to make a statement and be sarcastic about it because as an artist it is important to bring a message around. It is very funny to see people nowadays saying that heavy metal should not be political or critical. I wonder who says that. I’ve been playing metal for over thirty five years and we’ve always been political and critical. That is where heavy metal is coming from, it is coming from the blues and the blues was a big statement back in the day, wasn’t it, so I don’t know what people are talking about. Just because there was rainbows and unicorns involved for some years in heavy metal, now we cannot be political anymore? That is quite ridiculous, I think.
Destruction toured with Motörhead in Europe in the late eighties. What did you pick up from watching them live?
We toured a lot with Motörhead in the eighties. At that time [Rock ‘n’ Roll album], Motörhead were a four piece with Würzel in the band. I thought they sounded great with two guitar players but of course I was a big fan of Motörhead as a three piece. They were a role model for Destruction in the beginning, in many ways. They always treated us well, were polite and showed use a lot about being professional on tour. We learned a lot about the music business from Lemmy and his boys back in the day. His bass sound was an important influence because I always wanted to have a bass sound that has a lot of crunch, has a great tone and fills out the space between the guitars and the drums. Of course Lemmy’s sound was very special but there were two bass players of my youth and one of course was Steve Harris [Iron Maiden] because of all of the harmony playing that he did and the other was Lemmy who almost used his bass as a weapon.
The back catalogue of Destruction is very large. Is there a highlight album in there for you?
Oh fuck. It is very difficult to say but I think that when our first album Infernal Overkill was released we were very proud and it has become a very influential album. That is one from back in the day that is very special for all of us. Also, The Antichrist album which was the second album after the reunion was a very important album because it showed the Destruction were back in strength. We kicked everybody’s ass and there were a lot of disbelievers when we came back so we proved with that album that thrash was back and that Destruction was back. Those two albums will always be very special albums in the back catalogue for me.
Do the more recent albums Spiritual Genocide and Under Attack have a similar appeal to you? There was a reasonable time gap between the two releases.
We needed a gap between those two albums. Sometimes when you tour a lot you can easily burn out. We had this routine of doing an album every two years and we even did DVDs and Best Of records in between so we didn’t want to burn out and we realised that after thirty six years, a band like Destruction doesn’t have to prove anything anymore. We can just write a record and take our time. That is what we did with Under Attack. It took us three and a half years until that album came out and it was worth the wait because that album was a strong one. We will do it the same way for our next album. We will start writing for it whenever we feel like it and not when people think the time is right. Our label doesn’t put any pressure on us so that is actually very good. We still feel that we can write good songs and we want to produce new music. Being on stage is one thing but also being in the studio and recording is great. It is a creative process and at the end it is like, ‘wow’ and I love that so we are actually going to keep it that way and keep doing albums as long as possible and as long as people still want to hear us. We are having a problem nowadays with streaming and portals with this new, ‘everything is for free’ generation which means it is going to be more and more difficult in the future to produce records because there is no more money in this procedure.
Agreed. If you were starting out now it would probably be very difficult to create an established band name.
Yeah, it would and we were lucky to be there in the beginning. We founded the scene in Germany and is not able to be repeated. I have a lot of respect for the young bands now because it is super difficult nowadays to be successful and to do something new.