DESTRUCTION - "We're Still A Bunch Of Angry Bastards"
May 18, 2016, 5 years ago
Seeing as how BraveWords lays claim to being Canada's authority on metal and boasts an international reach that few can compete with - we're a humble lot up here in the Great White North - it falls to us to acknowledge the victory of fellow Canuck and drummer extraordinaire, Randy Black, who made a small but significant contribution to the legacy of German thrash masters Destruction in 2015. Thus, going in to discuss the band's new slab of violence Under Attack with Destruction frontman Schmier, the first order of business was to find out how Black fared filling in behind the kit while permanent drummer Vaaver took some time off to be with his family early last year.
"He's not a crazy Canuck," Schmier laughs. "Randy doesn't drink or do drugs, and he takes his job very seriously, so nothing spectacular happened like Randy destroying the bus or anything like that. He's very focused on his work. It was difficult because we needed someone to replace Vaaver for a while and it had to be someone who was familiar with Destruction who could learn to play the material in a short amount of time. It's not easy to learn and feel the songs like a drummer who has been playing them for a number of years, but Randy did it his way and he did a great job. Vaaver thought it was great the way Randy interpreted the songs. It was fun working with him and there were a lot of people that liked it so much that they started asking if Randy was joining the band permanently. I think it was a good challenge for him. It was a good cardio workout for him, anyway (laughs). I think the last time he played stuff like ours was with Annihilator, but Destruction has more fast stuff compared to them. Randy was in great shape by the end of the tour (laughs)."
Fast forward to the present, where Under Attack closes the four year gap since Spritual Genocide. An unusually long time between Destruction albums, but according to Schmier it was a conscious move on the band's part to take their time making rather than having to deal with unexpected roadblocks.
"We've been playing a lot of shows over the last few years which is why this album took a little longer. For the first time in 16 or 17 years we said 'Fuck it' and took our time making it, and I think it was worth it. It was nice not feeling so rushed. Sometimes you make an album and then, months later, you wish that you'd done it differently. We made sure this time that everything was exactly how we wanted it from the production to the songs. We're old enough now that we can take our time (laughs). Back in the day we worked differently. It was normal to do an album a year, which is actually fucking crazy. I remember the record deal back then actually said 'One album per year...' and that had a lot to do with the fact vinyl LPs were something like 35 minutes long."
"We recorded the demos for Under Attack and then went back on tour, so we were never in the studio for more than three or four days at a time. It was actually a genius move because we recorded a song or two or three, went back on the road, and we had all that energy and excitement from playing the old songs for the fans. When we went back into the studio we had that old school feeling even as we were refreshing our sound, and it made the songwriting process very smooth. If you don't write songs for two or three years, when you do start writing again you have so many ideas. I was like a volcano of new ideas, it was shocking."
If you're a thrash fan, Under Attack is a fun record for the ear-holes. Destruction have always retained that invaluable old school energy and approach, but Under Attack is remarkably catchy for something so crushingly volatile.
"I think it worked out pretty well because it breathes better," says Schmier. "There's more space on this record. We tried to keep it basic. It's very easy to over-produce a record in the studio these days because there are a lot of ways you can 'improve' how something sounds. It's common for people to tighten up the drums by putting samples on them, fixing the bass drums or weak hits on the snare, and at the end it sounds so clinical that the drums aren't powerful at all. We wanted to get away from that on Under Attack so we didn't touch the drums. I also tried to keep the vocals pure and not use a lot of effects, and by not doing a lot of layering or overdubs. And the songs are more in-your-face this time. There are some atmospheric parts here and there but we definitely tried to make things more intense this time."
"We produced the new album ourselves," he adds, "and we kept all the big names away from the record this time because sometimes when you have a famous producer involved he tries to make you sound like his production instead of the way the band should sound. We've experienced this in the past so we wanted to get back to the roots and not have something that sound over-produced."
It's interesting to note that Under Attack's title track is far from being a traditional Destruction thrash arrangement. It sounds more on the verge of early day Metallica...
"(Laughs) We tried to do some things differently, bring in some fresh ideas and still stick to our roots. We haven't used acoustic guitars for a while, and we used some riffs that definitely aren't 100% typical Destruction just to refresh our own style a little bit. There's nothing that says thrash has to only be staccato and fast. It's 2016 and we're one of the founders of thrash, so why not refresh our sound a bit? That's what Under Attack as a whole sounds like."
As an outsider, it's hard to imagine a band like Destruction with a 30 year history not looking back at previous albums in their catalogue to retain that old school feeling the fans feed on. Schmier dismisses the suggestion, saying it's the last thing on the band's mind.
"We don't have to look back because we're out there playing live so much. We have a big setlist with the old songs, we're putting songs back in the setlist. That's what happened with making 'Thrash Attack' (from debut album Infernal Overkill) a bonus track for this album; people are screaming for the song all the fucking time (laughs). Now we have a reason to play it again live. It was funny because when we announced the tracklist for the album, so many people were freaking out about 'Thrash Attack' being on it as a bonus track. So, we'll bring it back for the next tour."
Schmier does admit, however, that working with former Accept members Herman Frank (guitars) and Stefan Schwarzmann (drums) on The German Panzer's debut album Send Them All To Hell in late 2014 did have an impact on how Under Attack turned out.
"Absolutely," he says without missing a beat. "When we started working on Under Attack, Vaaver told me he really loved the Panzer record with its straightforward in-your-face approach. Panzer has that 'classic' sound, which comes from Judas Priest and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, and punk rock of course, and over the years with Destruction I've gotten into diminished harmonies and jazz-ish parts. It makes writing songs a lot more enjoyable for me to be able to use these harmonic ideas for the vocals, and that's why Under Attack sounds the way it does. It has the aggression and speed that Destruction is known for, but it's more catchy. I guess you can say there's a bit more Judas Priest on Under Attack compared to the last few albums. We've always been classic influenced because thrash comes from New Wave Of British Heavy Metal."
While we're on the subject, will there be another Panzer album at some point?
"It was a great experience for me, it was very inspiring and I learned a lot, but we'll see. I'd love to do another Panzer album once this cycle for Destruction is done, and we've got some tour offers for Panzer for 2017, so you never know. People asked me what I expected to happen with Panzer, and I really didn't expect very much because we're a new band, but Nuclear Blast kept us under contract which is a good sign for the future. There could be another album if we have time."
Under Attack marks Destruction's 12th album (we're ignoring their '90s non-Schmier output on purpose), a 31 year legacy, and the band is nowhere near the point of slowing down. Schmier admits he's surprised the band is still jammed into high gear 17 years since he rejoined the band, and he's loving it.
"I love making music, and sometimes it's scary to realize I've been able to do this for so long because I'm not running out of ideas. I find the older you get and the more experience you have, new ideas come easier and you don't question them. I don't wonder anymore if a song or a riff is good enough or heavy enough for Destruction. At this point I know what works best for the band. Music is a big challenge, and what I love nowadays is that we can just jam a lot more. Panzer was a nice jam for me, and we invited some guest guitarists to play leads on the new Destruction album; they just came to the studio, had some drinks and some laughs while we recorded under the influence (laughs). In the early days we were afraid of the studio; that big red 'Record' button was the enemy. Now, the experience we have has brought us a lot of cool things."
"A lot of bands slow down with age and don't feel inspired any more. I think that you can hear Destruction is still pissed off, we're still a bunch of angry bastards (laughs)."