Tearing Down the World - Schmier, Destruction and thrash metal

One of the figureheads of the Teutonic Thrash movement, Schmier has nothing but an unquenchable thirst for thrash metal that has fueled him for over 30 years on the road, as he explains.

Destruction has been thrashing for a very long time. Almost 30 years in fact. Like punk, thrash is seen by many as the music of youth – angry, aggressive and spiteful toward the mainstream. It’s the music of a harder, faster and more vitriolic rebellion. Marcel “Schmier” Schirmer, (one of) the unofficial bass-wielding and acid-tongued figureheads of the Teutonic thrash metal movement is now at the forefront of a welcome revival. Partly thanks to the Big 4 uniting for shows and a raft of stellar new albums from greats and newcomers alike; Thrash - it would seem – is back!

“To me,” Schmier says in his inimitable leathery German-tinged voice, “the reason thrash came back was because of strong albums and a young generation that gets into it. The quality of thrash records have been rising over time. Those young guys are really coming into it… ten years ago there were no young thrash bands. In 2000, 2001…there were no thrash bands supporting Destruction at that time. All of it was death metal. If you go out touring now, a lot of the local supports are thrash bands. The quality is so good now. Some bands…they give me tears in my eyes when I see them now – they really know how to play.”

Schmier says that at the beginning of the new millennium people were “ready for thrash again” because it is, at its core an “honest art.”

“It’s in your face, there’s no bullshit around it. The lyrics are real. Thrash was a big part of the extreme metal of the 80s; it’s the foundation of extreme metal from the 80s. So of course a lot of kids are coming back to see where it comes from and discover the roots. I guess that’s why thrash metal is more famous than other kinds of [styles.]”

Of course, genres live or die by the output of their contributors and Destruction’s new record, Day of Reckoning was recorded “smoothly” according to Schmier, with careful attention paid to its production and to avoid “studio fatigue” by playing the odd festival in between sessions.

“We recorded everything as demos beforehand, and we started recording piece by piece. We recorded during the summer; first the guitars, then the drums, then the bass. We kind of took our time and we didn’t spend time in the studio for weeks and weeks and weeks – we just entered the studio for some days and we played some festivals, entered the studio again after and recorded the bass. This time we didn’t want to be stuck in the studio because it’s quite boring recording…In summertime I want to play the festivals. It was a smooth process without any pressure.”

Destruction has been in the thrash metal game for almost 30 years – what is the key to their longevity? How can one man stay this pissed off at the world for so long?

“Yeah, it’s been a long time,” Schmier whimsically agrees. “I remember, for example we went on tour with Motorhead in the 80s and Lemmy turned 44 and I was there for his birthday. Now it’s like 20 years later and I’m 44 and Lemmy’s still around. As for my feelings of anger, I feel like I have to scream it out or I’ll kill somebody, you know?” he laughs. “I think the worst part of humanity is ignorance and greed. You see it everywhere. That combined with selfishness, it’s something that drives me crazy. If I go to certain countries I can see differences.  There are some countries where people are friendly and there are some countries that are just totally ignorant. I can see it in their daily lives – and in our daily lives there are so many things that piss me off, you know? Like brainwashing on TV – it’s come to a point where I have to say ‘Oh my fucking god, what’s happening to us?’

“So writing lyrics keeps my hands away from going and doing something insane.”

But why thrash metal? Young, alienated teens with anger in their blood and music as a passion would usually take a trajectory suited toward punk or even hardcore music as their outlet of choice. For Schmier, it wasn’t too far off the mark but metal inevitably prevailed as their sonic weapon of choice.

“In Germany in the 80s there was no real thrash metal,” he recalls. “There was punk, and I was hanging out with the punks. But I didn’t really share their views as much, you know. At the time [in Germany] the first metal albums came out – Judas Priest, Accept, Iron Maiden. Though I was still with the punks, metal became my priority. At the time, there wasn’t so many but I discovered all these bands. I dived right into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. (NWOBHM.) But having those punk roots and those punk friends and to make my own band that mixed the aggression of the punk background and the NWOBHM. The same thing happened in the Bay Area of the US and in Germany at the same time. It was the foundation of thrash.”

But how did Destruction and their contemporaries become so successful? Is there such a movement and style such as Teutonic thrash metal style or is it just thrash that happens to come from Germany?

“Well, I think unique style is the most important thing for a band that wants to survive,” Schmier says. “So if you listen to Kreator, Sodom and Destruction we all play the same kind of music but we all sound quite different. I mean, Sodom has this punk rock sound, Kreator has this very aggressive vocal style from Mille [Petrozza, guitarist and vocalist] and of course, we have our own trademarks as well. The trademarks are very important to become big and stay big; I mean all the bands that made it and stayed famous in the 80s had their own trademarks.” Schmier adds.

What is now quickly becoming a trend in metal as well as underground music in general is to stream albums in their entirety before its initial release to give fans a taste of what to expect. Schmier is no stranger to social media and interestingly chose to stream the album on Facebook instead of the usual choice of MySpace. With over 4,500 friends (at the time of writing) he’s embraced it in a big way and keeps in touch with friends and fans alike.

“At the beginning,” Schmier explains, “I used Facebook just as my private page, to keep in touch with friends but then fans started to complain over time – I had a big problem over who I should accept [as a friend] who I shouldn’t. I thought well, Facebook has a limit of 5,000 people so I said that the first 5,000 fans can be my friend. A lot of people have become really good friends and I’ve found a lot of old friends again from school or friends from touring before. It’s a good mix between fans and old friends. As a musician, it’s definitely cool. MySpace used to be really good but it’s completely dead now. They just closed down the offices in Germany, for example. You can’t set up a MySpace profile any more – people look at it and they run away,” he laughs.

Destruction fans from Down Under were dismayed a few years ago when tour plans went awry due to promoters canceling shows, much to the disappointment of Schmier and company. But now back on major metal label Nuclear Blast, Schmier feels optimistic about a tour to happen this year.

“We’re already talking to some friends about it down there,” Schmier reveals. “We’re trying to find the right promoters but hopefully we’ll be back in November. This year we’re going to do our best to make it happen.”

Australia is miles away from anywhere and any band that travels here will know the pain of fatigue and jet lag as they attempt the journey, feeling tyrannized by the distance. Schmier is a seasoned jetsetter and long hauls don’t faze him.

“We’re used to travel, the traveling isn’t such a problem for me. We hang in planes, in cars, in buses all the time. It’s never a problem for us. I think the problem is that the costs are so high. We try to make Japan before Australia so we can share the costs for flying. The scene is so small over there so if you want to make money over there it’s basically not possible.

“We come to Australia to have a nice trip, see some friends and enjoy the country.”

Schmier has turned thrash metal into a vocation, having played in such a significant part of his life. What would he be doing if he wasn’t in a thrash metal band?

“Oh, I’d probably run a restaurant or a bakery. I had one for many years, so I might be running a restaurant right now if I wasn’t in Destruction!”

He’d give Gordon Ramsay a run for his money, that’s for damn sure.