PANZER - Should You Choose Not To ACCEPT...
January 15, 2015, 8 years ago
It was a brain scratcher when word came down in September 2014 that Accept guitarist Herman Frank and drummer Stefan Schwarzmann had launched a new band dubbed Panzer, particularly since the audio teaser accompanying the announcement sounded suspiciously like Accept. This only a month after the release of Blind Rage, regarded as one of Accept's strongest outings in their 14 album career. Odder still was Destruction frontman Schmier taking up vocal and bass duties to complete the three-piece Panzer outfit when he already has a very successful trio of his own. The recipe for a potentially questionable platter of "Why Bother?", yet Panzer's debut Send Them All To Hell has gone over a storm amongst the people that have dared to step into the line of fire."We've had great reactions so far," Schmier confirms. "Some people thought the old men might be doing a blues album... (laughs)."
Thoughts that are quashed early into the record, although the lead single "Panzer" was met with a lukewarm response thanks to a plodding 4/4 groove that is too Accept-like and predictable."Yeah, the song 'Panzer' doesn't represent the whole record," agrees Schmier. "Nuclear Blast wanted it to be the first release and use it on samplers and all that, but I don't think it was the best choice. That's the easy listening track on the album. We made a video for the first song, 'Death Knell', and I think that one shows the real direction of the record. It's nice to hear that people appreciate what we're doing because there are too many bands these days doing this All-Star thing. It's good that people recognize Panzer isn't just another one of those projects. Things are worked really well between the three of us."
Panzer started as most good bands do: rooted in friendship. Frank and Schwarzmann had developed the idea of forming a traditional metal trio and simply approached Schmier with the open frontman slot on offer. At the time of this interview Frank and Schwarzmann were still members of Accept, but they closed out December 2014 with the news they had left the band. Frank has stated in other interviews that he was frustrated at not able to write for Accept, thus deciding to form Panzer as his outlet.
"I was honoured that they would ask," Schmier says. "It's a big challenge for me because it's a different situation working with two veterans of the German metal scene. Herman has been doing this 10 years longer that I have, and I've been around for a while (laughs). It was a great idea and I really wondered if I could do it, but even after our first meeting it was clear we were going in the right direction. It was a great fit from the start."
"We wrote the songs quickly, and I think Herman was a little bit afraid that we were rushing things, but we're all professionals and we all know how to record, so things just came together naturally. Sometimes it's better to be spontaneous and not over-produce a record. We didn't want to be one of those boring hard rock Hall Of Fame bands. We wanted a powerful album that's completely in your face to prove that the old men can still do it (laughs). It was great fun being in the studio and I think you can hear that on the record."
"We started from scratch. We all agreed on this fast Priest / Motörhead / Accept kind of sound, and there's some of the speed and thrash because of where I come from with Destruction. We didn't try to push it and go over-the-top, though. We kept the music in a comfort zone for everybody. I wrote one song which was really fast and heavy, Herman wrote one as well, and soon we were writing songs together. We were afraid at the beginning that if we had too much of a wild mix of ideas things would fall apart - maybe it would be too thrashy - but the mix actually turned out great. It turned out better than I thought it would at the beginning. I was a little bit afraid because I didn't know what they expected from me. I'm not a typical melodic hard rock singer."
In actual fact, Schmier comes across on Send Them All To Hell as an evil mashup of his Destruction persona cut with equal parts Udo Dirkschneider (U.D.O., ex-Accept) and Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth (Overkill). And melody is most certainly a large part of Schmier's vocal delivery."When we try something in Destruction that's too melodic we're like 'Naaaaaahhhhh!!' so we scrap it and try something else," he explains. "In Panzer, I was able to try something new without it being cheesy. I didn't try to get away from my natural singing voice, but I did try to be more melodic here and there, and it didn't sound like me anymore. Herman worked with me for the first demos and we decided on the rough Schmier sound with the melodic tools that the vocals need to stand out."
Some folks are surprised he can, in fact, sing..."It's funny because when the first clip hit YouTube people were wondering if it was the guy from Destruction and why he sounded so good (laughs)."
There are Destruction fans, however, that are probably still wondering why Schmier would ditch one trio for another, if only temporarily. Panzer - or if you want to be fussy, The German Panzer as they're known for legal reasons - isn't a huge jump from the realms of Destruction."It's the same reason why people cheat on their partners; the excitement (laughs). I guess this is the same feeling; a little scared, a little excited, but it's a big thrill."
It helps, though, that Destruction guitarist and partner-in-crime Mike Sifringer knows about and supports Panzer."He was okay with it, sure, and he knows Destruction is my top priority and that I'm 100% dedicated to the band. Mike knows Panzer is a great opportunity and he loves Herman's work, too. One thing is my life and passion, the other is totally new because playing heavy metal for me is different from what I do with Destruction. I've been doing the thrash thing for 31 years and of course it has something to do with heavy metal, but in Panzer we do what we want. We're paying tribute to our roots with Panzer. With Destruction there are a lot of expectations from the fans because of those 31 years of history. Panzer is a great jam, and if people don't like it we don't lose anything."
"There will also be people that don't understand the record and say 'It just sounds like Destruction and Accept, that's boring.' Not everybody will understand that we're paying tribute to where we come from. But, if you like real heavy metal you've got to love this record because it has everything you need."
Regardless of whether Panzer becomes a long term project, for Schmier it's still an opportunity to work with someone he considers a living legend."Some of my very first concerts were Saxon in 1981 and Accept on their Restless And Wild tour in 1982. So, I saw Herman on his first big tour with Accept back in the day. And he's a riff machine; when you compose songs with Herman he just doesn't stop. He's got the chords and the harmonies, he knows his shit from the ground up. It's a great experience for me to write with someone like him because he's got a different way of composing compared to a lot of other people. He's been doing this for so long it's in his blood. It's been a very intense experience."
When Panzer isn't on the road in support of the new album, Schmier will quite naturally be up to his ears in all things Destruction. He assures the fans the band has no intention of slowing down."It's our life and Destruction is a 24 hour thing. We're in the lucky position to have fans all over the world and there are lots of requests for us to do shows. There isn't one month where we don't play. Sometimes it's just a few show, other times it could be the whole month. I like to keep in shape, and if I have to be off for a long period of time I feel like an old man by the time I hit the stage."
Schmier acknowledges the fact that Destruction would be foolish to take a break at this point of their career, as they're more relevant now than they were in the '80s when they first made a name for themselves."That is very true. People like to look at the past and call Destruction the originators, and we do have our classic albums, but if you look at the scene now we're headlining all over the world. That wasn't possible for us in the glorious '80s; we were supporting other bands and you couldn't tour certain countries back in the day. Now we can go from South America to the States to Canada to Asia. We played in Korea and Índia for the first time in 2014, which proves there are old school thrash fans all over the world."
Meanwhile, work with Panzer will continue for the forseeable future."Yeah, because I love what I do and Panzer was a great opportunity that came my way. There's nothing worse in life than missing opportunities. A lot of times I'll wake up in a hotel at the edge of the world, for example, and think 'What the fuck am I doing here? I'm the luckiest bastard on the planet.'"