By David E. Gehlke
Apparently, the perception was not the reality with long-running German thrashers DESTRUCTION. The perception was that co-founding guitarist Mike Sifringer served as the band's primary songwriter. The reality was that co-founding bassist/vocalist Schmier was writing the music. Sifringer's departure last year pulled down the curtain on DESTRUCTION's inner workings and placed the onus squarely on Schmier's shoulders — something the frontman seems to want, especially now with their new studio album, "Diabolical" making the rounds.
"Diabolical" shows that DESTRUCTION is still dependable, if not capable of the occasional moment of greatness. Schmier's biting social commentary is apropos for the time, while the updated guitar team of Damir Eskić and new guy Martin Furia bolt together propulsive riffs and a barrage of solos. It is unmistakably DESTRUCTION, but, ultimately, "Diabolical" is less of a revelation as it is a staunch show of strength in the face of a significant lineup change.
Schmier connected with BLABBERMOUTH in the middle of a torrential downpour to talk about Sifringer, his new guitar tandem, lyrical themes and the war in Ukraine. As usual, the man was not at a loss for words.
Blabbermouth: Did the perception that Mike was DESTRUCTION's primary songwriter bother you in light of his departure?
Schmier: "Mike, in the early years, he was the super-important guy behind the band. He really was very inspiring, but over the years, stuff has changed. I've always been involved in songwriting since day one. Since the  reunion, I've been the driving force behind the band. What really bothers me is that Mike did those albums without me. Listen to them! Listen to those fucking records, then you know. At the moment, it bothers me that I'm accused of stuff like this, and it is my fault and Mike is DESTRUCTION. This is from people who don't have an idea. I've always been trying to keep the band peaceful and fair to anyone within the band. I treated Mike really well and with respect. It wasn't always easy to get two songwriters that have different opinions. One guy wants to do 6/8 beats and prog rock. The other guy wants to do thrash metal. There was a compromise between two parties, two strong minds and two strong songwriters in between the songs. That's how DESTRUCTION worked. Sometimes, for the peace, for the sake of it, it was a compromise and say, 'Okay. This album will be more progressive, then the fans can hate it, but I have peace in the band.' That's how it was for the last 25 years. It was a compromise, but I was trying to be fair. I don't like to be bashed for stuff that's not true.
"I understand people loved Mike and he was the driving force in the band and was important, but he gave up. He fucking gave up. In the end, I'm not a quitter and I want to continue, but I don't want to be bashed for trying to survive. This is my band; I love what I do. I also have to point out that I was fired from the band 29 years ago. I was fired from my own band. I forgave that act. We were stupid and young, but now we have a split of the band again. It's the same shit again. We didn't talk about it. We didn't have a conversation and this is Mike's way of doing things. He doesn't talk. He just acts. In the end, I'm not taking the blame for it. I think he's super-sad he left and the way he left was super-sad. But this is survival for the band. The show has to go on. The band is my life. People don't understand sometimes. People want to say, 'I don't want this anymore. I want to make more money. I don't want to tour anymore.' That's how life goes. That's why sometimes, it's difficult for me to stay focused and fair on the conversation when it comes to Mike. I don't want to say anything bad about him. We've been partners for too long. I totally respect him and without our cooperation, I wouldn't be here."
Blabbermouth: You mentioned the two albums Mike did without you. "Cracked Brain" (1990) isn't bad, but "The Least Successful Human Cannonball" (1998) is a dud. What was your reaction when you heard it?
Schmier: "I couldn't listen to it. I said, 'Dude, this is actually horrible. This approach of prog rock and PANTERA totally failed.' They had great musicians and a great singer, but they weren't writing songs. They were writing crazy stuff that wasn't DESTRUCTION. If he had named it something else, like, I don't know, it might have been successful. The musical potential was immense, but it wasn't DESTRUCTION. If you look at the history of music and later on, there were a lot of bands who mixed up death metal and progressive who became famous. It is possible to do this, but when you have a brand and re-name the brand with different music, it becomes a problem for the fans. When I was a kid, I bought [JUDAS PRIEST's] 'Turbo', and it was horrible. When ACCEPT changed and went commercial with a different singer, I hated it. We have a responsibility for the fans and the brand that we created. That's why I didn't like those albums because they put everything upside-down."
Blabbermouth: Do you then consider "Diabolical" the most important DESTRUCTION album since (2000's comeback) "All Hell Breaks Loose"?
Schmier: "It is a super-important album. It's a new beginning and recharge for the band. If I look back in history in some years, it will be one of the most important albums. It happened during the pandemic, we changed labels and Mike left the band. A lot of difficulties were there. It was important to do a strong album to survive. When you write an album, you don't know how it will turn out. I'm very glad that everything turned out great and the band is a strong unit again. It's good to get the support of the fans and go back on tour. It's a weird time. Tours are coming back here in Europe, and everything is allowed — all the masks are gone, vaccination proofs are gone, but nobody is coming to the shows. All the shows are empty. For festivals, people are going to be more open. Open-air events are not so dangerous and by then, people will be used to things being open again. We have to learn to live with Covid and not get locked down again. We're humans. We want to be free."
Blabbermouth: Was this the most extended period you went without playing a show?
Schmier: "Yeah, I think so. There may have been a period from '96, after the last album with HEADHUNTER, then the first show in DESTRUCTION, so '99. That was two-and-a-half years when I didn't play any concerts, but this was the most painful one because there was no perspective for a long time. We didn't know how long it would last and whether shows would come back. The musicians and the arts were last in line. Everyone could go back to work, even prostitutes, but we couldn't. [Laughs]"
Blabbermouth: How did Mike leaving, the band moving to Napalm Records and the pandemic factor into your songwriting for "Diabolical"?
Schmier: "They say, 'Art and pain go closer together.' I guess good art comes from pain and is inspired by pain. It's a good thing, sometimes, that we have pain. If you look at history, I've said my philosophy, when artists are too rich and too famous, especially in rock, metal and thrash. Usually, the turnouts of their albums are not so good. They're too happy. They're too happy with their lives with Gucci bags and Porsches. It's difficult to write aggressive thrash metal, then. I think music has to have a certain pissed-off factor, especially our music. Through the pandemic, it was raised as it went on. I'm glad I could still write. I know some friends that they couldn't write. They said they couldn't write and everything was so depressing and they didn't feel good writing. I'm glad we got over that obstacle and started writing."
Blabbermouth: This is Martin's first album with DESTRUCTION. What did he add to the band?
Schmier: "Furia came in a little late into the picture because we were already done with songwriting. But, he was always involved in the band for the last couple of years. He was our tour manager and live sound engineer. He's a producer, so I'm always talking to him about the steps we need to take as a band. When he finally came into the band, his opinion was already there because he's a producer with a lot of experience and a great musician. He took on a lot of leftover leads and harmonies that came in at the end. Also, we changed some of the songwriting details when he was there. He came in as a fresh guy — we presented him the first songs and he said they were cool and said, 'What about putting a different riff here at the beginning of the song?' Everybody had their input on the album. Damir, the other guitar player, was the main songwriter with me on all the songs. When Martin came in, he looked at them from a different perspective and said, 'I can add some more melodies here.' He's been a part of the team for a long time. It just felt great to have him in the band as somebody who has a lot of inspiration."
Blabbermouth: You've been a proponent for DESTRUCTION having two guitarists. What's the chemistry like between the two?
Schmier: "Damir is like the guitar nerd. He studied guitar and is a guitar teacher and can really adapt to things easily. When we started songwriting, it was fantastic when I came up with all the ideas and how he dived into the songwriting process and how fast he understood my ideas. It was great. He was so quick in the studio, also. A lot of first-takes. He didn't play stuff over and over. He was really quick on the money. He's more of a shredder. He's kind of a solo player that plays fast. Martin is the opposite. He's more of the songwriter, the producer guy. He has a great right-picking hand. He has such a bluesy-feel of a solo player. He's more into this direction like Mike was from this side of playing.
"It's all about guitars. I tried to push them. They were a little shy in the beginning. I said, 'Come on, let's do more guitars. Let's do some harmonies here and maybe a duet.' They didn't want to overplay on the album; I was the one pushing them. I think DESTRUCTION needs guitars. We need to be proud of having two guitars again. People also expect a lot of guitars. I know a lot of people said, 'Don't overdo it with two guitars.' But this is what people love about DESTRUCTION are the extraordinary riffs and the solo parts."
Blabbermouth: What was on your mind lyrically for "Diabolical"?
Schmier: "I've been picking up the topics that were around. Some were created by the pandemic. 'Diabolical' is a song about the misuse of power. The single 'No Faith In Humanity' is about the problem that we don't stand together anymore. We're more divided than united nowadays and the only way to save this planet is to have solidarity with each other and support each other. We became even more divided during the pandemic. Another pandemic problem was all the mental problems, which 'State Of Apathy' is about all the anxiety and depression. I saw a lot of my friends suffer from that when the pandemic was going. A lot of people couldn't handle it. And some stuff is even more up-to-date. 'Whoreification' is about the prostitution of your mind on the Internet on yourself when you show your whole life in pictures on Instagram. I would never do that. I can never understand how you can sell yourself like a whore on the Internet and prostitute your private life for others. This is a new development that I don't understand. Also, some lightly dressed, good-looking woman from East Europe has more followers than the American president. People have the wrong values. Then, some of our values are the last of a dying breed, which is about values, the old-school values that I grew up with. People laugh at us and call us 'Boomers', but we grew up with values that were there and that were made in tough times, the Cold War and when there was no Internet, no fast connection and no cell phones and cameras. But people are laughing at us and calling us 'Boomers'. Okay, those are my values. Where are yours? You are staring into the Internet and your cell phone all day, watching TikTok. Wow! I'm writing about life in general."
Blabbermouth: What do you think about what's happening in Ukraine?
Schmier: "We had what I would call a 'botstorm' instead of a 'shitstorm'. We had Russian and Latin American bots attacking our website trying to post pro-Russian propaganda on our page. It was an interesting experience. I had to call my bandmates and say, 'Listen up. Everyone log into our webpage and clean up our page since we're being attacked by Internet robots.' It was sad to see how the war works on the Internet; how the bots shape the opinion. We've heard about the bots, but when they're attacking your Facebook page and you see the hundreds of messages they're posting and the hundreds of people you have to block that are bad profiles, you see the tragedy of this. Like, 'Oh my god. That's how it works. Okay.' It was interesting. The interaction was intense on that post. We had fifteen thousand likes and a thousand comments, and we had to erase a couple of hundred weird propaganda posts.
"The Russian war has affected the world. I saw that Putin has worked hard on his propaganda for the last few years. With [Russian state-controlled television network] Russia Today, he installed a propaganda tool, just like CNN for America. Russia Today was spreading the Russian way everywhere in the world. A lot of the fake news, the Russian news, has been established in countries that do not like Western culture, like Arabian countries or countries in Latin America, where people hate the capitalistic system and hate America. Those people now believe Putin is a savior. That was shocking to me. I'm not a capitalistic person either, but we saw a long way coming that Russia is not allowing any freedom of speech. Then, they're doing propaganda in the worst way outside of Russia. That was something that the Western world didn't see coming. That has affected our divided world right now so strongly."
Blabbermouth: It really has.
Schmier: "Of course, there's the war. Now we have the first time, all those pictures. The modern world is there with a camera all the time and we see the brutality of the war. Nobody wants this war; the Russians don't want it either. It's their president. How do you stop a maniac like this? As a German, I feel like he is the new [Adolf] Hitler and needs to be stopped. But the problem is that we all depend on him, at least in Europe, which is breastfed on his gas and oil. We have to cut this immediately. It's just heartbreaking. I've been to Ukraine. Our lighting engineer is a Ukrainian woman, Lena, she gets the news from Ukraine and shows us pictures and her family is suffering over there. It's so brutal to see this in the world today, 2022 when we're so educated. How can this still happen? I don't know."