DESTRUCTION – Second To None
In crafting May 2016 effort Under Attack, German thrash metal outfit Destruction changed their general approach. The trio authored compositions in-between tours and concerts, which wasn’t the case with previous studio affairs. Almost four years had elapsed since the release of 13th full-length studio album Spiritual Genocide – issued in November 2012.
“It’s the biggest time off that we had between albums, was four years, so we had enough time to write, which I think was much better than finally starting to write again after a few years,” reckons Marcel ‘Schmier’ Schirmer, vocalist and bassist for Destruction. “I think this was a good step that we took. We also chose a procedure of how to record. We left a bigger gap between this album and the last album, because before that, for 17 years now we’ve been writing an album every two years or so. We’ve been very productive, but this time it was just important to do a good album, and so we took some more time.”
Changing the overall approach towards writing and recording was a conscious decision. “When we saw that the touring would go on, we said to each other ‘How are we gonna do a new album when we tour so much?,’” the frontman remembers. “We had never written on the road – we always sat down at home. Then we had this idea that we could record in-between the tours right away; record the songs as demos, and then later on work from those demos for the album. Therefore, we needed a studio that was close by.
“There was a studio in Switzerland that we had worked at many times before. We recorded all of the basic stuff there, and they were shaping up. After a while, we saw that this new procedure would work really well. We changed one thing in the end. We went to a bigger studio for drum recordings; we recorded the drums in a big room with almost 30 microphones, because we didn’t want to use any samples this time.”
As referenced, Destruction had not demoed material in-between tours in the past. “In the past, we did a tour,” Schmier tells. “Then we sat down to write the songs, and that was a procedure that takes time. If you wanted to write and then go into the studio, you needed at least two months totally free of concerts. Basically, how we did it in the past was we’d take two months off of touring schedules, and in those two months we’d write a part of the album. Then we recorded demos, and then the album.
“Of course, the songwriting usually takes more than two months, so you start on the bits and pieces. In the past though, we’ve always focused on only the recording, which actually isn’t the best thing to do for us. I saw this time that it was much better if you had live shows in-between; if you have a lot of positive vibes from the shows, then you bring the live kind of atmosphere into the studio.”
The change of overall approach towards writing and recording might perhaps be the given approach for Destruction in making future full-lengths. “It definitely worked for us,” the rhythmist feels. “I don’t know what we’re gonna do for the next album, but at the moment, I could totally do this again. We need to see how it’s gonna be in 2017, 2018 though. Whenever we’re gonna start writing another one, we will see how it is then. It’s too far into the future to decide right now.”
No leftover tracks exist from writing sessions for Under Attack. “When we start writing, we write new stuff,” Schmier explains. “You don’t wanna carry old shit around – I’m not a big fan of that. When the writing is done, it’s over, and then when you start a new writing process, you start from scratch – you start to have new ideas. When I write, I always wanna have new ideas in the songs. I don’t wanna use old shit for new songs.”
Sometimes ensembles cut more tracks than what eventually surface on the final track listing of a given album. “No, we never do that,” the singer clarifies. “We write the amount we like, the amount that is needed, and stuff that we don’t like – like there’s always ideas or parts that we record but then see that we don’t like – we just put them into a trash can and start again. So, we never work on a song that we don’t like. I don’t wanna waste my effort on a song that starts to be mediocre, so we always put those songs into the trash can. Once we see that demos aren’t working good, we write something new.”
In most instances, a reason exists as to why leftover tracks weren’t originally used. “Yeah, exactly,” Schmier agrees. “A lot of bands are writing ten songs extra for each album, but I think it’s a waste of time. It’s a waste of effort, because you will never, ever hear those songs. It’s kind of stupid.”
Ten original compositions are what Under Attack boasts, all of which possess a production the four-stringer has warm feelings about. “I think what stands out this time is that the production is more pure, and more dynamic,” he describes. “As I said before, we used a real drum sound. There’s no samples this time – we didn’t have too many layers. We didn’t overproduce the album; we wanted the album to be more raw and more brutal, and more Destruction sounding. In the past, we worked with a lot of great producers. Every producer also puts his own sound into the band though, so the band never sounds like the band. Those same guys know how to do it, but they also have their own style of producing something. This time, we did it with a friend of ours that has worked with us for many years.
“We mixed everything together, and I think it turned out great. It’s a big difference compared to the last couple of albums. The album has more time to breathe and is more dynamic, and it just sounds more like real Destruction. I think that’s the biggest thing you first notice when you hear the album. I think also the songs turned out really good, because this time there are more instrumental parts, and there’s more catchiness. It’s a little more heavy metal also, with the chords and the harmonics.
“The final resolution is that the album is a little more classic Destruction; more like the 80s, less diminished, and more rock ’n’ roll I would say. Some are more catchy. The approach was a little bit different this time; we wrote the first songs and liked the way those first songs turned out, so we kept on doing them. I think they are more catchy that way.”
Certain tracks on Under Attack are reminiscent of a heavier Motörhead. “There’s definitely more rock ’n’ roll there,” Schmier submits. “We are all big Motörhead fans, lifetime Motörhead fans. If you can hear Motörhead, then that’s always good (laughs).”
The rock ’n’ roll temperament on Under Attack translates to a more live atmosphere. “We tried to make it feel more live,” the mainman shares. “We’re just a three-piece band, and we’re a live band. I see us as a live band; I think when you see Destruction live, you definitely catch the spirit of the band much better than just hearing our records, and we of course try to put this live energy into the band.
“Vaaver (Wawrzyniec ‘Vaaver’ Dramowicz) is a very good drummer; on this album, he’s featured stronger than on the latest releases because he’s the backbone of the band. We tried to use a live sound on the record, as well. We also put the bass on a certain level that you can hear on the record. On a lot of heavy metal albums, you cannot hear the bass. On this album, you can hear the bass – we tried to put this on the record. There is of course a difference between live and in the studio, but I think this is the most live sounding album we have ever done at least since the reunion.”
The production values prevalent on certain past records have positive and negative traits. “I think afterwards, you’re always smarter,” Schmier muses. “You learn from those little things you do and don’t like. I would say there’s no album I totally disagree with, but of course some stuff was maybe a little bit overproduced – like too blown up and too compressed. We’re in this digital world where everything has to be loud. If I could change some stuff, I would definitely not over-compress the records like we did on some of the older ones, but for the time that they came out, it was totally okay. Looking back now though, it looks a little bit different. Luckily mind, there’s also a scene of people who understand that heavy metal doesn’t just have to be loud but that it has to sound good also. I’m happy about that.”
The ‘brickwalling’ phemonenon of recent years among some artists has endured a backlash from fans, generally speaking. “When your song is on some kind of a compilation, you want your music to have a certain volume to be kind of comparable to the rest,” the vocalist elaborates. “When you put your CD into the CD player and your music is much lower, it just leaves a weak impression. That’s what’s in people’s heads – that they have to be louder. The American recording industry inspired this some years ago.
“In the beginning of the 2000s, it was getting to the stage where all of the American productions and masters had such a loud volume, and everybody was following it. Over the years, it became normal that all albums were sounding fucking compressed to death. I remember the Metallica album – the latest one (Death Magnetic, September 2008) – where it had like cracks. It was so compressed, and it was starting to crack through the speakers. That’s definitely not the way to go, so I’m glad that we have the control to move back to where we want. That’s why we didn’t choose to work with a big producer this time, because even if you tell them not to compress it so hard, they still do it.”
Some producers feel they know more with respect to the recording process than the bands themselves. “Yes, because they are famous producers,” Schmier judges. “They have done a lot of stuff, and of course they have a certain influence on a record. A lot of bands let them do what they want because they are famous, and have a lot of control. Sometimes when they’re forced to work with people that are experienced like us, then of course you have a certain diversity. You have different opinions, and so you have to find a middle opinion for how the album should sound. A producer puts his name on it and you put your name on it, and so it’s not so easy to find that middle ground.
“I can’t put blame on anyone. We always had okay results with the last few productions, but if I look back now, I think here and there we should’ve done some stuff differently. It’s a part of the learning process, though. When you’re a band, you never stop learning from what you do. I think that’s in general, too.”
An array of topics encompass Under Attack’s lyrical matter. “Basically, it deals with a lot of different topics around life,” the bassist begins. “Of course, I try to write about stuff that really bothers me. ‘Under Attack’, the title song, is about the problems we have right now with terrorists. I wrote the song after the Bataclan shootings, because we had all played at this place before of course. It was a big shock for the music world.
“We have a song about the tragedy of the backing track nowadays. It’s just a sad fact that a lot of rock and metal bands nowadays are using backing track tape for backing up the band, with vocals, and strings, and backing vocals, and guitars, and keyboards, and all kinds of shit. For me, when you play live, there should be no backing track. A lot of vocalists also back up their whole lead vocals with backing tracks nowadays, and that’s a very sad fact. In that song ‘Elegant Pigs’, I’m asking ‘What the fuck happened to rock ’n’ roll?’ It’s lying. The fans don’t know when the band is cheating, but for me it’s a fucking topic that I want to talk about.
“A lot of my musician friends don’t like the fact that I’m talking about it, but I don’t care. For me, rock ’n’ roll is a holy spirit, and it’s a fucking no-go to do this in this kind of music. A lot of pop bands have been doing this for generations, but not in heavy metal. Yeah, I’m dealing with stuff that is basically bothering me. It’s also a big release for me to write lyrics – kind of my own psychological session.”
Some rock and metal groups employ the use of backing tracks in light of the fact that they are arguably past their prime. “I think there are different reasons,” Schmier ponders. “What I hear on times of course is that the big bands are doing it so they sound live like they do on the record. They say ‘The big bands are doing it, too. I wanna sound good live,’ and so then they use all of this backing stuff. Then there’s another reason, which is what you just said; that there are a generation of singers that can’t do it any more, or could never do it. Then they’re backing up their vocals; the high parts, the melodic parts, the harmonies. They’re backing them up with all of those backing tracks.
“Then there’s a third thing, which is the new generation. The new generation is the laptop generation, who grew up producing their albums on their own laptops. When you go onstage you just flip out that laptop, and then you have like 20 backing tracks running with the band. I see this a lot with all of the new bands. There’s one singer, and he’s singing in three harmonies live, and it’s like ‘What the fuck?’ It’s different. It goes from generation to generation – it’s not just the old guys that can’t do it any more. It’s also a new thing which the young guys do too.”
Given that the Destruction frontman is behind the microphone as well as occupying bass, he notices more than the average observer. “It’s like this: when a band sounds too perfect live, then there’s mostly something wrong,” he argues. “In my generation and in my rock ’n’ roll book, I go to a live show to see a band that plays live and sounds different live. It’s not metal. Who wants to sound exactly like a record? That’s fucking totally stupid. In my world, music created live is a wholly different thing than a studio album. In the heat of the moment onstage, bands that sound the same every night are very suspicious. When I’m on festivals and on tour, I have access to backstage and the mixing desk, and I see what’s happening. I see ten to 20 channels of backing tracks on the main desk, and if I think of the names of the bands, it’s everyone from old, established heavy metal bands to the new generation.”
Live albums can be suspicious, where a band will subsequently enter the studio to fix mistakes made on the evening of the performance. “A lot of bands go in the studio later on and fix stuff, but every night onstage, having a backing track, doing the vocals, and playing the show, basically,” Schmier divulges. “‘How do you feel about this?’ I couldn’t fucking look at myself in the mirror. I’d be cheating on the fans, on the people who pay my rent. I don’t think it’s very professional. This is just fucking bullshit, but those musicians have to make themselves sound so good live. It’s not live any more, though.”
The title track – a fellow composition to ‘Elegant Pigs’ as well as the rest of the numbers on Under Attack – lyrically concerns the November 2015 Paris attacks. Albeit targeting an Eagles Of Death Metal performance at the Bataclan theatre, the terrorists could have targeted a Destruction show, or anyone else’s.
“We actually played that night, also,” the rhythmist recalls. “We came off stage into the backstage area, and there was a football game – Germany against France – on the TV. When we came into the backstage though, there was the news. Everybody dropped all of their stuff, and was shocked. We sat down, and watched the news that was going on. I had to play another show the next day, so this was of course a brutal experience. As you said, this could have happened to anybody. It’s a similar feeling like when Dimebag (late Pantera / Damageplan guitarist ‘Dimebag’ Darrell Abbott) got killed back in the day (December 8th, 2004).
“I was just sitting in front of my computer for days, shaking my head and not believing what I read on the online news. It’s something you can’t believe, and something you have to face when you are a musician. I guess it’s not just a problem in the music industry, though. This terrorist problem goes much further than just the music industry, but of course music festivals in the future will be an easy target.”
Recording sessions for Under Attack took place at several different studios. “We recorded all of the main stuff – from the vocals to the demos and the guitars and bass – in Switzerland at Little Creek Studios with our old friend V.O. Pulver,” Schmier informs. “He’s also a guitar player in a band called Poltergeist and Gurd. He’s been working with the band for many years – he’s been recording a lot of our stuff in the last few years. He’s a good friend and a close friend, and so it’s nice to work together with somebody you can trust.
“That’s how we did all of the basic recording, and then the drums were recorded in Germany – close to Cologne – with another musician, which was Martin (Buchwalter) from the band Perzonal War. He has a studio up there. We’ve also recorded with him before. He just has a very nice drum room, and so we could record the drums the way we wanted without using too much technology afterwards. It worked out really good. It was a good team.”
The fact that V.O. Pulver happens to be a musician himself benefits all concerned. “Sometimes you have trouble explaining to people what you want, and what you want to achieve,” the singer relates. “He’s a musician himself though, and he’s known Destruction since the 80s, so I don’t have to explain too much. He already knows the direction, and he already knows what I want. He’s very professional, and he’s very fast also. Sometimes working procedures between us that would take days with a normal sound engineer just takes hours between us. From recording stuff to changing the songs or some sounds, we’re very fast. He’s always like a band member to us, because he knows us so well.”
Relatively little effort was needed in recording vocals and bass for Under Attack. “I actually recorded a lot of the vocals that you hear on the album in a first take, like from the first demos for the album,” Schmier discloses. “A lot of the vocals you hear are from the demo part. I liked them so much, because they sounded fresh and real that we kept them on the final album. That was something we had never done before. Usually, you just sing it again, but then afterwards you say ‘Oh, this is so much better than the demos.’ This time though, we said ‘No. Doing it over and over will not make them any better.’
“Sometimes the spirit of the first is the best, and so that’s what we did this time. We kept a lot of the first takes, and the first moments that were recorded with the vocals, from the demos. The basic recording was very easy to feature in it, because I also wrote a lot of the songs. We took our time with the bass, but I didn’t need more than a couple of hours for all of the album because I wrote a lot of the material. It’s not like I had to put so much effort into them. With the bass, you need one hour per song I’d say.”
Performing bonus track duties on Under Attack are a cover interpretation as well as a re-recording. “We have ‘Black Metal’ from Venom (originally featured on the November 1982 album of the same name), and we had Alex Camargo from Krisiun guest,” the four-stringer notes. “We played the song together at Rock In Rio some years ago (September 22nd, 2013), and it was just a magical moment. We knew the song was such a classic, and so then we got our friends from Brazil onstage in Brazil at the Rock In Rio festival in front of 100,000 metalheads, and like huge circle pits. It was magical. We said ‘When we do a cover version, we’ll do Venom again, and we have to invite Alex to sing with us.’ That’s what we did.
“I think it turned out brilliant. It’s like a fresh version of the classic song, and the other song – ‘Thrash Attack’ – is a classic song. It’s from Infernal Overkill (May 1985), and was the first real instrumental metal song that was written back in the day. It’s a classic for the fans, and we haven’t played it live for many years. We put it back into the setlist, and made a lot of fans happy at some shows we did. We decided to put it on the album, to give it a fresh face. It’s kind of a pretty unique thrasherpiece.”
In making cover renditions, Destruction opt not to cut facsimiles. “When we do covers, we always try to make the song our own,” Schmier stresses. “In the end, we pay tribute to the original and play with it. You can hear what it is, but I think it’s always very important to put your own style and your own direction on the song so that in the end, it should sound like a Destruction song. Sometimes fans write ‘I like the song so and so from this album,’ and they don’t even know that it’s a cover version. I think that’s sometimes a good compliment for a band, making cover versions sound like your own.”
And in turn, the cover version encourages the uninitiated to investigate the original artist’s material. “Yeah, of course,” the mainman seconds. “All of the cover versions that we’ve done over the years, most of them were actually English bands (laughs). There was Tank, Iron Maiden. There was Saxon, it was of course Motörhead twice, and now Venom. They’re actually all British (laughs). The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal influenced us a lot back in the day.”
A music video was filmed for the title track. “This time, there was a big effort to make a video,” Schmier reveals. “We wanted to have this live vibe from the album, as well. The song ‘Under Attack’ is of course dealing with attacks around the world to date. We wanted the video to have this world ending look that the record has, too. Of course, to do it professionally was a lot of effort. It was a lot of filming and a lot of special effects, and so this is maybe the biggest production we’ve ever had for a video clip. I think it’s an exciting video clip for us. I think the title track for Under Attack stands totally all for what Destruction is about; it’s a good song from a good album, so it’s a good representation of the new record.”
The prospect of further music videos being filmed to promote Under Attack is uncertain. “The thing is, nowadays all of the video clips that you do you finance yourself,” the vocalist laments. “The record labels don’t pay for this any more, so we do the video clip basically from our own money. Since MTV is no more, labels kind of stopped putting it into the contract – a budget for a video. Now, what they do is they pay you advance money, which is basically recouped from your own sales, and then you can put this money into a video clip. We use this as a massive promotional tool, because of course YouTube and other online channels are very famous nowadays. So, every video clip is also a big investment into the band’s promotion.
“It’s very tricky; the quality of videos in the last few years hasn’t risen as the technology has improved, because it costs a lot of money. This was a very big investment. We’ll see if we do another one. It also depends on the success of the record. When a record is selling well and you make some money, you always reinvest the money into the band, so then you can do another video clip. Right now though, we’re looking forward to making this one happen. Hopefully fans will like it, and buy the album. We’ll see.”
Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsák designed the cover artwork which adorns Under Attack. “The cover artwork of course expresses the band,” Schmier affirms. “It has everything you need to know; the title, the band’s name, and of course our skull symbol is kind of pinned up there. I think it’s very important, because we’re an 80s band. When you look at a cover, you should feel which band it is. I think this is a trademark of Destruction. I think it’s one of the standout covers of the last few years – it’s quite a strong image. This is what a thrash metal band needs.”
Under Attack was released on May 13th, 2016 via Nuclear Blast Records.
Interview published in May 2016. All promotional photographs by Kai Swillus.
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