Destruction’s “Diabolical” 40-Year Reign Continues (Interview)
Teutonic thrash metal veterans Destruction celebrated their 40th anniversary by unleashing their 17th full-length album Diabolical (released April 8th, 2022 via Napalm Records). Formed in 1982 in Weil am Rhein, Baden-Württemberg by bassist/vocalist Marcel “Schmier” Schirmer, Destruction has been one of the most consistent thrash bands throughout four decades. Well, there was that period in the ’90s when Schmier wasn’t in the band and their albums weren’t really up to par… however, we’re willing to overlook that time period because on Diabolical, the band, now a blistering quartet, is on fire. And although the band’s killer earlier material can never be duplicated, Diabolical is as close to Destruction’s vicious early musical roots as they’ve come in recent years. During a recent Zoom chat, Schmier talked about the band’s early days, the new album, what Destruction’s legacy means to him and more.
Destruction exploded onto the fledgling German metal scene with its 1984 debut demo Bestial Invasion of Hell. What do you remember the most about the recording of that first demo?
I remember a lot because it's the first steps you do, and usually the first steps are essential. When you create something special in your life, you will always remember; the first time you played football or the first time you had sex or something! So, of course I remember the first time for our demo because it was the first time we did a professional recording. And it was very difficult at the time to get a rehearsal room. It was difficult to maintain together, the lineup was just breaking apart because we just threw out our singer that we had, he was our guitar player that left us because we were too heavy for him. So when we entered the studio the band was just really broken apart and I over overtook the vocals. We had a rehearsal room again at the time, luckily, but rehearsal rooms in the first years of the band was so difficult to find, because people thought we were satanic bombers and too noisy and nobody wanted to give us a rehearsal room. So that was the biggest problem of the early days. And actually, nowadays, it's also not so easy to find spaces in Germany, at least not in our conservative southwest part where we live.
Destruction is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Do you have any special shows planned?
We basically have two years of anniversaries. This year is the founding of the band; 1982 was when we started the band, and 1983, next year, will be the first demo released. So those two years now are important for the forty year anniversary celebration. And of course we have our new album out, first of all. Then we will have at the end of the year a CD box (set) with all the picture discs of the first seven albums. And then we will have 40 years special release, which is kind of unreleased gimmicks from the old days. It’s coming out on High Roller Records, a small label that's doing our back catalog. And we will do some special shows also. Yet, it's a little difficult to plan what's going on this year with the festivals, but we have one festival coming to Germany in our hometown, called Baden in Blut. That's a festival that we can have for a special show with some former members. We will celebrate some more maybe at the end of the summer or for sure next year. But we just want to make sure that everything's going to happen this year because in Germany everything's very slow with COVID and shows are just coming back right now. It looks like this summer will really happen.
That's incredible that you’ve been involved with this band for 40 years and you’re into your 50s, that’s more than half your life.
The band is my life. We had some ups and downs and difficulties, but the band really became my life and heavy metal is not just a hobby, it's a lifestyle. It’s conviction and dedication and I’m basically breathing 24/7 Destruction and my music. It's crazy if you think about 40 years, it doesn't feel that long in the end. But if you look deeper of course, it was a crazy journey.
During the ’90s when you weren’t in the band, there was a noticeable downfall to Destruction’s sound on those albums. What led to your departure?
Actually, I was fired. That's a true fact and people still asked me why I left the band. It was quite obvious back in the day that I got fired because the guys did interviews afterwards. It wasn't the nicest period of our career. But we were young kids that had a lot of success really quickly and then there was managers and record labels and pressure. We had two new guys in the band also that came from different styles of metal and they tried to change the band at the time. The band was just going more technical and in different directions. I guess all of a sudden, too many cooks trying to prepare a meal and the band kind of basically broke apart. It was those three guys on one side, they wanted to go more progressive and more melodic and away from the thrash. And there was me on the other side and I wanted to maintain the roots. They fired me actually while we were in the studio recording the Cracked Brain album.
Were you already participating on that album?
Yeah, we already recorded demos and it was the final recording session in Munich in a super expensive studio that the record label hired. There was so much pressure, there was a famous producer from Motörhead from England producing the album. And we just couldn't stand the pressure anymore and nothing worked out and he had a lot of problems on the personal level too and also musically. So the time didn't work out. It happens, and I understand that sometimes you need to talk a little bit more to sort things out, but when you're young, you just don't know any better. I always think stuff happens for a reason. Without all this happening, I guess I maybe wouldn't be here now doing this.
On Diabolical, was there anything you tried differently or wanted to explore more or is this just 100 % Destruction?
Yeah, exactly. Once you reach the level of your original style, why should you change it? It's a big achievement to have your own style that people recognize and people understand. As a music fan, when I buy an album from a band, I want to know what I get. I don't want to have experiences and I don't want to have tryouts and new stuff happening. I want the name that’s on the brand that you know. It happened many times in the 80s where a lot of bands changed when I was young, and I was so disappointed as a kid. I got the new Def Leppard and all of a sudden it was like American pop rock instead of United Kingdom of British Heavy Metal. Or Metallica when the black album came out. It was a huge success for the band, but it wasn't a thrash band anymore. So, all this kind of marred my life, that's something that I don't like. Destruction broke up because of the difficulties of the musical direction. So I think stick to your guns, it's an important thing. And I think this album goes a bit more back to the roots. It has of course some surprises and some nice little extras and a lot more guitar and leads this time I think, but the basic recipe is back to the roots and maintains the style. We try to write good songs, we don't want to change the band and do something new. Sometimes it's funny when journalists write, “There's nothing new happening on the new Destruction album.” What do you expect me to do? Should I do prog rock, jazz now, just because journalists want that? What about AC/DC or bands like this? Who expected AC/DC to do something else, something different? I guess it's something that you should do when you're a band. It's very tough to achieve your own style and your own goals, and when your band has achieved that, you should stick to your guns.
After the brief instrumental intro "Under The Spell,” the title track hits the listener with all guns blazing. Is “Diabolical” your interpretation of the current times full of political unrest and corrupt business practices, etc?
Exactly. It's all about how we're all dependent on leaders, but all our leaders suck. It doesn't matter if it's the Russian leader, the American or the German one, they all suck. They're all not there for the people, they’re there for the industry, they’re there for the rich people and not for the normal people anymore. And I guess once you’re that powerful, you kind of lose it. “Diabolical” is about the true evil in politics, and the situation that we have in Russia right now that the Russian leader wants a war that nobody else wants. This is how the world is functioning today and that's super bad. This is what “Diabolical” is basically about and it's actually the last song written for the album, and once it was done, I thought right away that this is a special track. The energy and the groove and everything just turned out great. I made it the album title and the first song of the album because we thought it turned out really strong. And this intro we have right before basically is the transcription of the chorus onto acoustic guitars. So basically what you hear in the beginning, this little spooky intro, is basically the chords from the chorus.
The musicianship throughout the entire album is top notch. What's the band camaraderie and musical chemistry like between all its members?
All the guys are basically working with me or (have been) friends with me for a long time, Randy (Black) already talked about auditioning for Destruction in 2010 when Damir (Eskić) came into the band as a drummer. Randy was already interested in this and we've been friends since then. He helped us out on the American tour with Sepultura five years ago, that's how we stayed in contact. And Damir, the guitar player, he’s a good friend of mine. He already played some solos on Under Attack. He's actually the husband of the guitar player from the band Burning Witches, which I produce and manage. So we’ve been working together since several years. So even before he was in the band, he toured with his band and supported Destruction. It's been a big family. Same goes for (Martin) Furia, our brand new guitar player that used to be our front of house sound guy and he used to be our tour manager. So he was really close to the band. And he's actually a producer and good musician too. So he was really big part of the family already, even before he joined the band now. So basically, nothing has changed so much. Of course we lost Mike (Sifringer), which was kind of really sad. But the chemistry in the band now is actually better than ever, because you all get along and we back each other up. I think that's very important thing. It’s like a football team, you need to back each other up, if you're friends, everything's much easier. And I always said the chemistry is the most important thing in the band to write songs, and also to be good to maintain a band on the road and have a good time. If you can't stand each other, it's difficult. That's why I always say to the young bands, usually when they're still friends, when you’re still hungry, you make your best albums. If you look at the history of rock, it's always been like this. Then once you become more famous and become more diverse, the friendship maybe breaks because of ego problems. Then it's not the same anymore. I think this album is strong because we all get along, the chemistry is great between the band members.
We already discussed “Diabolical,” but what were some of your other lyrical inspirations?
It's important to get the title to visualize the songs and the lyrics. When I started writing, it was actually the second year of the pandemic. So it wasn't so easy at the beginning to see if I can focus and write about other things other than the pandemic. But I started to pick up stuff that is important, like “State of Apathy” is of course about anxieties and about depression. A lot of my friends at that time got depression and were in a state of apathy. I could focus on the music and that really helped me just to maintain normality and sanity myself and be in a happy mood. “Hope Dies Last” was kind of a motto for us in order to stay positive in the time of the pandemic and everything was complicated. The studio was in Switzerland, so for a while we couldn't go to the studio because of the lockdown and the country borders were closed. So basically, I picked up stuff that bothers me, that is around me and stuff that I see every day in our lives. A song like “The Last Of A Dying Breed" is a song about old school values, values we had when we grew up. We're different than now and everything was much slower than we were back then in the old days and now you have the internet and everything is so quick. People are reachable 24/7. Back in the day we had to write letters and everything was very slow and you get a different education. I love the internet, but it can also be a bad place. And there's now a song on the album called “Whorefication.” It’s a song about the visual prostitution that you do on the Internet or on Instagram; people basically presenting their whole life in videos and pictures and offering themselves basically for cheap, which is something I will never do because my life is private. I’m a musician and of course I use those tools, but I will never offer my private life to people, so mind your own business. But this is the new world when that East European lively dressed girl with long legs has more likes and more followers than Tom Cruise or the American president. It's a weird state that we’re in and our kids get educated by the Internet, which is not always a good thing. This is just part of my lyrics and I'm trying to basically talk about stuff that is relevant to me.
Your cover version of G.B.H.’s “City Baby Attacked By Rats" is furiously aggressive! What made you want to cover this particular track?
It's a song that was stuck in my mind from my youth. There's several songs that are always there and this one was one of them together with The Exploited and Dead Kennedys. GBH was one of the most famous bands back in the day. I was actually hanging out with all the punks back then, because the metal scene was so little. There was just a few guys listening to metal and the biggest scene, the bigger concerts and everything was punk. I was going to punk shows even when I let my hair grow and at this time actually punk and metal wasn't so well mixed yet. There was kind of a hate between the scenes still, but I didn't care. I liked the music and I liked some of the bands. Destruction was one of the first bands in 1985 that played with a punk band, it was Destruction and the Exploited. We played a show together in 1985 and that's when we became friends with Wattie the singer and he became a Destruction fan. At this point, the crowd though still didn't really like it and there was big riots in the crowd and big fights between the punks and the metalheads. We had the same thing happening actually when we toured with the Cro-Mags back in the day in the States for three months. The hardcore scene at that time and the metal scene crashed together and it wasn't so nice sometimes. But actually, if you look back now, there would be no thrash metal without punk rock from the end of 70s/early 80s. This song was really relevant for us. GBH is a band maybe in the States that isn’t that well known. But for us, they were one of my heroes of my youth.
After 40 solid years, I assume you're not ready to retire just yet? What do you think the band’s legacy will be?
For me, it's important that people remember Destruction as a band that just did their thing. A band that was just going out there, and we didn't give a fuck about the trends and the flavors of the music business. We just did something that at the beginning, everybody was laughing at, and nobody thought this would have a chance. But we managed to still be around. And our enemies who laughed at us at the beginning, they started to shut up. And I think we are hopefully going to be remembered as a band that just did their thing without thinking about commercial success. We were trying to raise the flag of fucking pure metal, and we still do that. I think we already achieved so much. Sometimes people say, “You're not as big as Metallica or Slayer.” But not everything in life is about money and about big sales. It's about your own satisfaction of your mind. And just the fact that we can still do this, I'm still living on music since 40 years. I will never be a rich guy, but I will be a guy rich of emotions and rich of experience. This is a lot more work sometimes than all the money in the world. We have already achieved so much for the band that sometimes it feels so unreal to be still able to do this.
Diabolical released April 8th via Napalm Records.