Schmier, one of the most well-known personalities of the thrash metal scene has had affairs with traditional metal in the past and a few years back he was asked to join another classic metal outfit called Pänzer. The band's lineup has since changed, but Schmier is still there and with the guys releasing their second album "Fatal Command", we thought it was a good occasion to talk with him about their Priest and Maideninspired hobby. We had to touch on Destruction, obviously, and ask a little bit about their "Thrash Anthems II" release consisting of rerecorded classics so, here you are, read one, get one free...
"Fatal Command" was out a few months ago. What's the feedback from the metal community so far?
I think we've got really good reactions. A lot of people were sceptical at the beginning, because Herman is not with the band anymore, but we've got great new guitar players with the band. V.O. Pulver was already our second guitarist live and he produced the first album and the second one as well so, we're a really good team. Of course, we were also a little nervous how the crowd would react, but the reviews were great and we've got a lot of good reactions on the album. So, I think people like it and now we're looking forward to playing some festivals, hopefully this year.
Herman Frank wrote quite a lot of material for the first album, along with you. Was it more difficult to write songs now that he's not in the band anymore? How much did Pontus and V.O. contribute to the new album?
I mean, Pontus came to the band very late and he was very busy, so when we recorded the album all he could contribute was the leads and the melody lines and stuff. The songs were written all by V.O. and me except for one song that was written by Stefan, our drummer. It worked pretty well, because V.O. and I live very close by. He lives in Switzerland and I live in Germany but he has a studio in Switzerland so, I went to the studio in the breaks I had with Destruction and we kept on writing. We managed to produce many albums together, but we never wrote songs together. It was the first time and it worked great because we have the same background, you know, we're coming from the '80s metal. We both play in thrash bands but we still have the '80s background. Of course, there was this little pressure because Herman is like a riff-master and everything but Mr Pulver is also a great guitar player and it was actually very easy to write songs with him. I was very happy with the song-writing, it was very smooth and we agreed on a lot of things right away because we have the same roots.
So why did Herman leave? I mean this band was originally his idea, wasn't it?
The band was the idea of Herman, Stefan and a guy from Switzerland that is the owner of a music venue. And they came to me and asked me if I wanted to join the project and then it became Pänzer. But you know, Herman, after his Accept years, he wanted to write his own songs, he wanted to be the boss and we had a lot of disagreements. The first album kind of worked, but then Herman was getting complicated and I understand that. He was with Accept for many years but he couldn't write songs so, he has lots of songs in his pocket and lots of riffs and he wants to go out there and show to the world that he's a great guitarist and all. But in Pänzer we work as a team and it got us in weird situations and then we kind of didn't agree anymore to the terms of the project and it was better for Herman to do his own stuff. I think he's happy now, doing his Herman Frank project and we're having no trouble. We didn't want to have any bad tensions in the band because of that. Basically, for us it's a hobby band, it's what we do beside our main bands to have fun and we could feel that Herman saw a lot more in this and it was getting a little uncomfortable for everybody. So, he found a great solution I think this way. He can do whatever he wants, he can be the boss, he can write all the songs himself and we can continue with Pänzer in the same way of a team-work.
How hard was it for you to write in a different style and to make the songs not sound like Destruction tunes?
I took a totally different approach to the Pänzer song-writing, because we write classic heavy metal and classic harmonies here, you know? In Destruction we're using a lot more, let's say crazy stuff, like diminished scales and here with Pänzer we're writing much more classical. For me it's a great challenge to just strip down to basics, you know? I cannot normally use that stuff for Destruction so, all these basic ideas we came up with Pänzer is quite fun for me to play because I cannot do this with Destruction. It's a whole different approach of singing, a whole different approach of writing songs and I can bring in some harmonies I would never use for Destruction. I think there's only one song on the album that has this Destruction reminiscence but I think all the rest of the material is very classical heavy metal and it doesn't have this thrashy background. "Bleeding Allies" is I think the one that has the most Destruction in it, but for the rest we really tried to make it different. I don't want people to compare the bands. I think it's two different cups of tea, you know? Otherwise I wouldn't do Pänzer, there's no challenge in doing the same thing as Destruction.
You created the debut album as a trio, but now you brought a second guitarist to the permanent line-up, not just for gigs. Why?
When we started Pänzer it was a trio because of the idea behind it, but Herman said right away that we needed a second guitarist for the live settings. And even though we composed the first album as a trio there were some limitations and for the second album we said right away we needed the second guitar player. We did live shows and we saw how important the second guitar was. We have a lot of harmonies and double harmonies on the album and we could compose the songs now for double harmonies. And for straight heavy metal that's a very important little detail that you can add right from the start into the song-writing. And I think there's also a big difference from the first to the second album, that we have much more double harmonies on the second album. That's something that I like because I'm a big Judas Priest fan and of course Iron Maiden and stuff like that, this is my youth. So, it was very nice to start the composing knowing that we could put harmonies in there and that's what we did in almost all of the songs.
You recorded a cool version of Saxon's "Wheels of Steel". Why this particular song?
That was the first song that I could play on my bass when I was 15 years old. It was the first riff I could play and after that came "Doctor, Doctor" from UFO but "Wheels of Steel" has this very special meaning in my life. Also, my very first heavy metal show was Saxon on the "Denim & Leather" tour so, Saxon was always a special band in my life. When we came to do the cover for this album it just happened in the studio by accident that I started to play the riffs and said, "Hey, what about "Wheels of Steel"" and everybody liked the idea. The crazy thing about this song is it basically has only like three riffs and you think it's an easy song, but because the riffs repeat all the time it's not so easy. I would never write a song that has three riffs, I would be like, "Oh this is not enough", because I play thrash, you know? But it was very nice to put everything away and strip down to the basics and the song meant a lot to all of us because we all were growing up on Saxon stuff and of course it's a song about riding a bike, it's also a pretty rock 'n' roll theme.
The lyrical themes for Pänzer are different to what you write about for Destruction. Would you say Pänzer is a kind of outlet for you, where you can write about stuff you couldn't write about for Destruction albums?
Yeah, of course, it's much more open, I can use more personal lyrics, I can use more normal words. For Destruction I try to keep the lyrics evil and mean and it fits to the band name and to the legacy. For Pänzer I can write more open lyrics and more personal stuff. I like that. Sometimes of course I also use some topics that are the same because of the political situation in the world. Sometimes I just have to write about stuff like in "We Can Not Be Silenced". It's a song I could also write for Destruction lyrical wise but a lot of other stuff is more personal and I enjoyed that. It's of course Schmier lyrics and of course social criticism is there but there's also a lot more personal stuff in there, some stuff I wouldn't write for Destruction because I think it's too normal. But for Pänzer it fits very well.
There are quite a few familiar faces on the album cover, from the past and present. What's the idea behind the artwork with all the politicians on it?
Yeah, I mean basically, we had the panzer on the first album so we came up with this idea, "What about showing the panzer inside and showing this crazy party of politicians that's basically celebrating the end of the world?" We talked about who we should put in there and we wanted to put in there the craziest of all politicians. After the cover was released a lot of people were pissed off, especially Americans, because Trump has a lot of fans in America. We wanna provoke a little bit and of course everybody's asking where's Angela Merkel and where's Kaczynski but we wanted to have those people that are really the crazy guys in the world in the politics at the moment. I think back in the '80s this cover would've been done by ten thousand other bands before us but now, in this moment, people are not doing covers like this anymore. It's a shame that people don't wanna provoke anymore, everybody wants to be not political and for me it's important as a rock band to be a little edgy and to kick some ass and that's why we did the cover basically.
Yeah, you sometimes wonder who will press the button first, Kim Jong-Un or Donald Trump...
Hopefully none of those two idiots, but of course it's very scary to have those two not very smart people having the opportunity.
I think the umlaut wasn't there in the band logo on the first album... Did you have any legal issues because of the name having been used by other bands previously?
Yeah, we had legal issues, there's a couple of other Panzer bands. When we started the band, we googled panzer and there was one Spanish band Panzer that split-up many years ago, but then we found out later on that there was a Brazilian band and also Chilean and American band called Panzer. And the Brazilian band right away freaked out about it and were threatening us with lawyers. The band doesn't even have an international release so, it's a joke, but our label was also uncomfortable with it and so they said, "For the second album let's put the umlaut." And it's kind of a tribute to Motörhead at the same time. Metal fans will understand it and it keeps us away from being mixed up with those other Panzers and the Brazilian Panzer will hopefully find peace finally because they were very angry, a little bit too much attacking in my opinion. We're a German band and Panzer was obviously close thing to do because it's a metal machine and it's not so easy nowadays to find good names so, we thought Panzer was great for us. We didn't wanna step back in the end, but I think the umlaut is something we all can live with.
Have you heard the new Judas Priest tune?
Of course, I'm a big Judas Priest fan, I've heard the new tune and I've also talked to Andy Sneap who produced the album. My expectations are very high. He's a great producer, he did miracles for Accept on the first album after the re-union. So, he already told me the album is quite good, so I'm expecting a strong album. I think the last two albums weren't that great and this new song sounds really good. I mean it sounds like it's been on "Painkiller" but that's what we wanna hear, I mean come on, we're Priest fans, we don't wanna hear prog rock, we don't wanna hear ballads. I think Rob Halford didn't sound that good for years so it's very promising. Let's hope the rest of the album is as good as this track.
What are some of your favourite classic metal bands?
Other stuff I listen to, of course it's a lot of the underground, NWoBHM back in the day like Jaguar, Angel Witch and Tygers of Pan Tang. All this kind of stuff was very important when we started playing music.
You had another classic metal band before Pänzer. Will you ever work on Headhunter again, now that you play this kind of music with Pänzer?
Yeah, it's difficult because I can actually do the same thing that I did with Headhunter. And the other guys in Headhunter are not so active anymore and they live far away from me so to get Headhunter together is really complicated. We're obviously still in touch so, who knows, maybe one day we'll do another record, but at the moment I would say we're all too busy. Like the drummer Jörg Michael is doing productions for festivals, he's doing the production for Wacken festival and stuff, so he's really busy and our guitar player, he actually re-formed his first band Talon, he's doing re-union shows at the moment. I asked him if he was interested in helping out with Pänzer because it might happen that Pontus or V.O. are not available for all the shows this year. So, we are still all in touch but I would say, never say never. Headhunter was always fun to do but it's complicated because we live in different parts of Germany and have different jobs so, it's easier with Pänzer because we're located at the Swiss border except for Pontus who's from Sweden, but this way we can rehearse and it's much easier. I mean Headhunter was always fun, so who knows, maybe one day we'll say, "Hey we need another album" or somebody will convince us to do one.
When starting the band did you see it as a problem, that having a line-up of guys who had played with big, well-known bands such as Destruction, Accept or Running Wild would set the expectations for Pänzer extremely high?
I don't think so. I think having a name is always a good thing and the expectations are there anyways. For me Pänzer was actually really, really relaxed because I didn't feel the pressure so hard. I mean, of course I'm playing with great musicians, you know Accept was also my youth and it was one of my first metal bands, I think the second one after Saxon was actually Accept. But I really enjoyed working with experienced musicians and for me, I had nothing to lose. I think the pressure for Destruction albums is much higher for me. I mean in Pänzer I can do whatever I want, I can get some more experience with my vocals, I move ahead as a singer, I try new things and I really enjoy that. So, for me there was no pressure for this actually and of course there will always be people that don't like my voice but it's my trademark and I think it fits really good with Pänzer also.
As you set out to play classic metal, was singing with a clean voice ever an option for you?
No, because I'm Schmier and Schmier needs this fuckin' dirty rotten voice that he has and I think I found a good mixture with Pänzer now. There are some good melodies there and there's also this distinctive Schmier voice. I didn't wanna give this up. Otherwise you sound like everybody else. I like singers with identity, I grew up with Bruce Dickinson and Lemmy and Halford and they all sound different and I think it's very unique to have your own voice. Not everybody likes Udo Dirkschneider but he has a very special voice so, I see myself more in this direction, more of being a very distinctive singer than being the best singer in the world. When you hear me singing you know it's Schmier. Whether you like it or not, it's definitely unique.
Now that you've released two albums, is there a chance for a headlining tour?
I think we're not famous enough yet for a headlining tour, ha-ha! But we're working on it. I mean the second album shows to the world now that Pänzer is a band that will go on and we'll hopefully have a chance in the future to do headline tours, but we would like to maybe do co-headline tours with another band and play some festivals this year as a next step and then see how album number three will go. It's a long way to the top, we're basically at the beginning with Pänzer, even if we have names it's not so easy anymore to just go out there and do headlining tours. Of course, there will be some Destruction or HammerFall fans coming to the shows and of course Pänzer has already sold some albums. The first one sold pretty well and for the second one I don't know yet, but for a headline tour, it's too early. But who knows, you have to build up a reputation, we have to do some festivals this year to prove that we're also a good live act. You take it step by step.
OK, it's time for Destruction, so to say, ha-ha! "Thrash Anthems II" and the new Pänzer album were released only three months apart. So, did you work on them simultaneously?
No, I didn't really wanna do that and that they came out so close to each other it's actually because Nuclear Blast kind of delayed the Pänzer album and with Destruction we didn't know if Nuclear Blast would release the "Thrash Anthems". So, we did this pledge campaign and we did the "Thrash Anthems" ourselves at the beginning without Blast. And finally, they wanted the album and everything came close together. I wanted to have at least 6-8 months between those two albums, but because of Pänzer being delayed and Destruction being a little early it came very close together. It was actually terrible for me because in between the tours I had been doing promotion all the time so I was like, "What interviews I'm doing today, Pänzer or Destruction? Which album are we talking about?" and it was a little bit confusing to me. I never did two albums so close together but it was the only way to do it because Nuclear Blast is a big label and they tell you when they have space for your release and there's not much to do about it. So, I had to accept it because I was very happy that Blast was doing the second Pänzer album also. It's not so easy to stay with a label when you're a newcomer.
The first part of "Thrash Anthems" was a proper "best of early Destruction" so, was it hard for you to pick the songs for part II now?
We did it with the fans so, that was making it much easier. The fans' favourites are always a bit different from what the band likes and the fans picked out some jewels that we had on the list, but we weren't sure about. We kind of picked the songs that we most agree on with the fans and I think the number one song that everyone wanted to hear was "Frontbeast" from the original demo, a song that was never released on any albums. So, we weren't sure about this but then fans were like, "You have to do "Frontbeast"" and it was a great decision to do it. Of course, those are more of a second row songs of our career, of our beginning, but it's quite funny, I think when you listen to the album it still sounds like something that is not randomly put together. The songs really fit together and even when you have the songs from the later part of our career which are maybe more progressive and the first part is more punky, it still fits together on the whole album. For us it's great because we can bring some songs back into the setlist now, that we wouldn't play normally like "Confused Mind" and "Black Mass" which we haven't played since 1985. So, I'm looking forward to that.
Why did you first decide to re-record the old tunes? I mean they are already there, they have their unique classic sound...
Yeah, but we played pretty lousy on it, you know? I was 17 years old, I played bass for 2 years, same with my singing. You know, the originals have this certain charm, but the recording technique and also the technique of the band wasn't that good, you know? And when we play the songs live now, everybody says the songs sound so good live. It actually started with re-recordings in 1999 for "All Hell Breaks Loose". We re-recorded, I think "Total Disaster" was the first one, we recorded "Bestial Invasion" for the demo already and everybody loved the re-recordings. They said the band sounded so good nowadays. And over the years we did a rerecording on every album. And in 2006 or 2007 we did "Thrash Anthems" because people were saying, "Hey, come on, do a whole album with those re-recordings" and it was the fans that basically encouraged us. Of course, we were aware that some people wouldn't like it, you know? And the same basically happened now. 10 years later people were asking for the second "Thrash Anthems" and we were also questioning it ourselves first like, "Is it really needed?" but when we started to rehearse the songs and to dig out some of those old jewels we really felt great. I mean if you compare "Frontbeast" from the demo to the "Frontbeast" on the album, it sounds much different, one song is like a punk song, the other is like a real thrash song. So, I think it shows that the band has a different approach nowadays, you know? The old days cannot be recreated, they were important, but for me as a musician, now we recorded the songs the way they were meant to be. When I was 17 I wasn't able to record them the way they were meant to be because we were too young, too inexperienced also the recording technique was pretty bad at that time. So, you cannot recreate the charm of the '80s but for us it was a great thing. And there's of course a lot of young fans that liked the re-recorded songs. For the old fans, you can listen to the classics. We know not everybody will like the re-recordings, but that's the choice of your own.
You invited a couple of guests to play on the album. I know Ol from Evile is your longtime friend, but why Michael from Arch Enemy? Is he a friend too?
He's a very good friend and he's a huge Destruction fan. He was at our shows in England back in the '80s when we played with Celtic Frost and we were friends since and I think last year we met and he said, "You still didn't invite me to play a solo on a Destruction album." And then I said to him, "Yeah, but you know, you're so selective, I would never ask you because you would decline" you know? But he said, "No, I would never decline, I'm such a fan, I would be honoured." And I said, "OK, choose a song when we do the re-recordings, that would be perfect." "The Ritual" has a very classic solo and he was like a little scared, he said the die hards were gonna crucify him for changing the original solo in his own style, but it's fantastic because it sounds like a mixture of Destruction and Michael Schenker now. He has this very special tone like Michael Schenker and lot of feelings in his playing and he did a great job on this sol. And of course, those Destruction fans who don't accept this, they can listen to the original songs. But for us musicians it's of course great to bring some fans in and it has a special meaning also. Also Ol Drake is a good friend, and he helped out when Mike broke his hand. If we were ever to have a second guitar player in Destruction it would have to be Ol Drake, you know, because his style fits so good with us and that's why we invited him to play some leads on the album. He grew up on those songs and for him it's a great connection also between us and him. It's also important to him to stay in the scene you know, since he's not in Evile anymore, he's a father, a family dad now but he still loves music so, I think it was a great thing for him to stay connected with the original thrash spirit. He still plays guitar, he should never give up playing guitar, cause he's a fantastic guitar player and who knows, maybe one day we can convince him to play with us, ha-ha!
Is it easier to record an album when you don't have to write the songs?
Actually, we didn't play many of those songs since we recorded them so, it was not so easy to find out all the details about the songs. Even the lyrics disappeared. We had a lot of lyrics that were missing and then I was googling the lyrics of those old songs like "Black Mass" and "Frontbeast" and there were lyrics of course on-line but they were all wrong. So, I had to re-create my own lyrics. We were actually searching in our cellars and our former drummer Tommy found some of the original lyrics, so we could recreate some of the stuff. Some of the stuff was really hard work for me because I really had to listen to the song a hundred times until I could really hear every word. My vocals from the first and second album are very hard to understand. On "Eternal Devastation" my English became better and then you can understand more of the lyrics, you know? From then on it's easier to find out what I was singing, but the first two albums, it's very difficult. And it was fun for me to also to go back, and I think "Thrash Anthems" is the album where I sing the word Satan the most times, because it's on those first two albums so many times, ha-ha! It was a lot of work, I never thought it would be so much work to recreate those songs because a lot of songs you think they're easy but when you want to interpret them it's not so easy. You got to catch the flair and that was also a great fun to do in the end, but we thought it would be less work actually. We spent more time on it than we thought we would.
Will there be "Thrash Anthems III" in 2027?
Ha-ha! Will we be still alive in 2027? I think, never say never, but at the moment I don't see it. For us to recreate those old songs was important because of the old recording technique, as I said before, and every song had some mistakes and it could have been done better. That's why we did those songs now. But if I look at the albums since 2000 or since 1999, those albums don't need to be recreated. Of course, there's some leftovers now from the '80s that we could record, but I don't know if there's a need. But who knows, in 10 years, maybe we'll feel the need. It's also up to the fans, we always listen to the needs of the fans. If people say, "Hey, what about this album" we might think about, if nobody wants it and we don't feel like it, we won't do it. I think it's a spontaneous act. You know, "Thrash Anthems II" we decided in December 2016 that we were gonna do it and then we started recording in February 2017. It was very spontaneous, it was like stomach decision. I talked to Mike about it, Mike wasn't sure and I told him about so many questions from the fans and demands. Also our label didn't wanna do it. When we talked to Nuclear Blast they said, "Best-of album? We're not interested." So, we did it basically ourselves and I think it's gonna be the same for the third album. We will decide it out of the stomach, if we feel it. But it's not gonna happen before the year 2027, as you said.
I'm talking to Blitz from Overkill in half an hour and I remember this story... You played a tour with them and their guitarist Derek fainted at one of the shows and you helped him out...
Yeah, ha-ha! Derek passed out at the show in Berlin, I think it was lack of oxygen and lack of water, so he got unconscious for a moment. I checked his blood pressure and I was there when he came back and he opened his eyes and looked at me and he was like, "Oh my god, I'm in hell, it's doctor Schmier!" Ha-ha! And since then they call me doctor Schmier. Yeah, I'm always carrying some devices with me, some stuff for blood pressure, for blood sugar, even for heart attack in the worst case. I'm always prepared on tour. If something happens to my bandmates or anybody, even if it's just fever, I like to be prepared. You know, a long way on the road means lot of experiences and it's always good to be prepared. Say hello to Blitz and ask him when he's gonna shave his moustache, haha! It's the famous cop moustache, like the police officers had in the '70s had.
OK, I'll ask him, ha-ha! Time to wrap up. It's been 1,5 years since your proper full-length album "Under Attack" was out so, are you working on new material yet?
We will play a little bit more this year, we're gonna have some more tours in the Summer and after Summer we're gonna start recording demos for the new album I think. So, I don't know if we're gonna start recording the album at the end of this year or beginning of next year, but I would say 2019 will be the year for a new Destruction album. Maybe the first part of 2019. We're also hoping for the Big German 3 tour, maybe it's gonna happen next year. Now that Sodom will have a new line-up this Summer with young musicians, maybe they will come out and tour with us and Kreator. We'll see.