Friday, July 1, 2011
Destruction - Eternal Devastation: Part 2 in a 10-part series looking back at the best thrash metal albums of 1986
Throughout 2011 I'll be looking back a quarter century at 10 iconic thrash metal albums of 1986. For my money, 1986 was the best year in the history of thrash -- and probably the metal genre as a whole -- giving us seminal releases by many of thrash metal's best acts. Each entry will coincide with the 25th anniversary of the album's release date and will feature interviews with band members and/or people who were part of the album's creation.
For Part 2, I'll take a look back at Destruction's classic sophomore release, Eternal Devastation, which was released on July 1, 1986. I e-mailed some questions to Destruction bassist/vocalist Marcel "Schmier" Schirmer (via ridiculously helpful Nuclear Blast publicist Loana Valencia), which resulted in an entertaining and informative Q&A.
The first half of 1986 was overshadowed by the March release of Metallica's landmark album Master of Puppets, but other strong offerings from the likes of Canada's Voivod, the UK's Onslaught and Germany's Sodom proved that thrash metal was truly a global phenomenon. The second half of the year started off with a bang, thanks to another German thrash outfit, Destruction. Along with Kreator and Sodom, Destruction would eventually come to be known as one of the "Three Kings" of Teutonic thrash metal, mirroring the rise of the "Big Four" American thrash bands.
Originally formed in 1982 in Well am Rhein, Destruction was one of the earliest German bands to adopt the thrash metal sound. The trio's 1985 debut, Infernal Overkill, was one of the more polished thrash debuts of the era and served as the precursor their epic 1986 follow-up, Eternal Devastation.
From the ominous intro to "Curse the Gods" through the closing track, "Confused Mind," Eternal Devastation not only raised the bar for German thrash metal, but for the genre worldwide. The album's combination of technicality and brutality foreshadowed the rise of death metal several years later. Bassist/vocalist Marcel "Schmier" Schirmer's gravelly delivery was punctuated by impossibly high-pitched shrieks, while guitarist Mike Sifringer churned out pummeling riffs and blistering solos over drummer Tommy Sandmann's pounding beats.
The album marked the end of an era for Destruction, as Sandmann would depart soon after its release and the band would add a second guitarist for 1988's Release From Agony. Schmier departed the band in 1989, but Sifringer would carry on the Destruction name -- for better or worse -- throughout the '90s as the band self-released three albums that are frequently referred to as Neo-Destruction and are not included in the band's official discography.
Schmier returned to the band in 1999, just in time for thrash metal's unlikely resurgence in the early 2000s. The band has remained prolific ever since, releasing six studio albums, two live albums and a collection of re-recorded classics. Their latest album, Day of Reckoning, was released in February by Nuclear Blast Records. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of Eternal Devastation, I e-mailed some questions about the album and the band's early days to Schmier. Here are the results:
Q&A with Destruction bassist/vocalist Marcel "Schmier" Schirmer
Tempe Carnivore: What was your mindset heading into the studio to record Eternal Devastation? With thrash metal on the verge of really taking off in popularity, did you feel a sense of urgency to "step up your game" or anything like that?
How do you think the album holds up 25 years later? Where would you rank it among your favorite Destruction albums?
Oh, it’s still a total classic. “Curse The Gods,” “Life Without Sense” and “Eternal Ban” are among the best Destruction songs EVER. It’s sure one of our Top 5 records. The Antichrist and Infernal Overkill I would rate higher...
The opening track "Curse the Gods" is a pretty harsh condemnation of religion (not to mention one of Destruction's all-time greatest songs). What specifically inspired that song? Were you raised in a religious household?
We are all from the countryside. So yes, we have had a conservative and very Catholic household. We wanted to break out of that. I guess we found out pretty fast that the "pretending to be this-and-that" lifestyle wasn’t our cup of tea. Mike wrote the lyrics and all we wanted to say is "ALL RELIGIONS SUCK - PEOPLE GET A LIFE!" After my whole family died within three years, I could scream out the song with pride and conviction. It never changed again!
Did you experience backlash from any religious groups at the time because of that song?
Really crazy -- I was an altar server [boy] when I was a kid. Raised with the bible. But afterwards, I found out that bibles are just empty words, and I took my life in my own hands. As I said, everybody from my family died within a short amount of time, just my Mum was left, so I totally gave up on religion. "GOD, WHERE ARE YOU NOW?" was my thought for many years. Then METAL became my religion!!!
Do you have any plans to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the album, such as a deluxe reissue or playing it live in its entirety at upcoming shows?
Ask our old label SPV. They still hold the rights. Things are complicated. I wish we could do what we wanted to do. Hopefully we’ll find a way to finally do those re-issues with good value and quality. We’ve been talking about it for years. It’s tiring, but we’ll do shows here in Europe this winter with a classic set. THIS will be fun!
Can you share any funny or crazy stories from recording the album or from the subsequent tour?
We were drinking a LOT at that time. The studio was in the middle of nowhere in Bavaria, so there was nothing to do! Just drinking and recording! At one point, some friends picked us up to go to the next big city. When they arrived, they were all drunk already, including the driver. I was a little worried, but hey, we wanted to go out to party. I think we drove about half a mile until we hit a tree. No one got injured really bad, but the car was scrapped. It made us believe in the band stronger and brought us closer together, I believe, ‘cause we did survive this accident!
Fans in Europe -- and Germany in particular -- have always seemed to be more supportive of thrash metal and heavy metal in general than U.S. fans. Why do you think that is? What is it about Germany that not only produces great metal bands, but some of the most dedicated metal fans as well?
I have no idea. Metal does not get supported very well by the mainstream media or the public in general. I guess it’s the fight for independent music that keeps us fighting hard. Germans have always been good, working-class people. Same goes for the metal; it comes out of that scene. Hard work - heavy music. The more rich people there are in a country, the less they will listen to heavy music. At one point, we are all stubborn, I guess. America has much more background and acceptance for hard rock and rock 'n' roll. I wish we would have had the chance to get accepted by the public as a music group. Ha ha!
Here in the U.S., the competition among the "Big Four" American thrash bands seemed pretty intense. Was there a similar sense of competition among the "Three Kings" of German thrash (Destruction, Kreator and Sodom) back in the '80s?
I never felt it that way. I was proud other kids were doing the same shit as we were doing. We got close friends pretty fast back in the day. Sure, there was a competition, but somehow I never felt it that way. I loved the guys and their music and we were young freaks that did not care about commercial success. The labels later on started to care about that, then the quality wasn’t the same anymore...
In light of the success of the Big Four concert in California, is there any chance we'll see Destruction, Kreator and Sodom tour together or maybe do a one-off show here in the States?
We did this tour in Europe in 2001. It was amazing. But we never made it to America. We all know the fans deserve such a historic event, so it HAS to happen. I will do my best to get this going. It would be the tour of a lifetime, after a long career of ups and downs and crazy shit - A TOTAL HIGHLIGHT!
Thanks for taking the time to do this Q&A. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
“Curse The Gods” is my all-time fave Destruction song, so it's killer and a big honor that after all these years, people still remember a harsh thrash record called Eternal Devastation done by some crazy German hillbilly kids!!!
Read about the other great thrash albums of 1986:
Part 1: Metallica - Master of Puppets