I’m on the line to another in the long line of metal Icons we’ve brought to you in Sentinel Daily’s short history, Destruction/Panzer bassist Marcel ‘Schmier’ Schirmer. We’re chatting because his ‘other’ band, Panzer, despite losing founder member Herman Frank last year, are on the verge of releasing their second album, the superb The Fatal Command through Nuclear Blast on October 6th.
We’ll chat about your history a little but later, but for now I want to talk about the new album. You’ve been in the game a fair while now, but are the butterflies in the stomach as you approach release time? Or is it a bit ‘meh’ these days? “Well, this is only Panzer’s second album, but with Destruction as well I still get excited. Not as excited as a seventeen year old releasing his first album, of course that’s the best moment of your life, but I’m still very excited to hear the first reactions of the fans and the press. Of course it’s different now with the internet, you release little videos before the album comes out, and people are reacting and responding even before the release. I like to use the modern tools. It’s cool to connect with the fans”.
It keeps you more ‘in contact’ with the release doing it this way doesn’t it? In the old days you’d deliver an album to the record company and maybe see or hear nothing about it for two or three months, almost becoming removed from it? “Exactly! It’s kind of unbelievable how it worked back in the day! I don’t know if I could work that way now! You have a lot more control with the direction the record company take this way, and of course also there’s that connection with the fans. As you say back in the day you did miss out on that two or three month period of ‘pre-promotion’. But it was exciting on release day going to the kiosk, or the shop and looking at the magazines to see if the reviews were in! But I think I prefer it this way. It feels more productive”.
Are you pleased with what you’ve heard so far, reaction wise? “We were curious what the reaction would be after Herman left the band, he’s an old legend! We were worried it might be a bit negative, which was why the new lineup put out a song six months ago, to prove that the Panzer is still rolling. It wasn’t an easy thing for us to do, and it’s important for us to see what the reactions are compared to the first album. So far they’ve actually been very good. It’s good to hear that people seem to think the band has developed in a good way but also kept the style of the band alive”.
It’s definitely a progression from the first record isn’t it? “It is, because we already knew where we were going with it. With the first record, we were ‘in the basement’, and we didn’t know where to go yet; when the album came out, we had a statement, and we could build on that. Now, of course, we have two guitars (former Gurd man V.O.Pulver and HammerFall alumnus Pontus Norgren, the lineup completed by drummer Stefan Schwarzmann, like the errant Frank also ex-Accept), which means we could take the double lead sound and add it to the songwriting process, which is great, because heavy metal is all about the guitars. We were able to take advantage of knowing we had two guitars right from the beginning of the songwriting, and I think you can hear that on the album”.
Yes, you can. For me the first album sort of fell into the middle ground between Destruction and Accept; The Fatal Command takes it further to the melodic side of things. Where are your personal influences coming from for that style of music? “I’m diving back to the times before Destruction, before I was a musician even! In 1979 my groundbreaking album release experience was Judas Priest’s Unleashed in the East. It was the album that changed my life. The look of the band, and that sound – it was the best thing ever! From then on I knew the sort of music I wanted to hear, which was classic heavy metal. From England! I liked the big bands like Iron Maiden and Priest of course, but I liked the underground bands too, bands that never really made it big like More, or Jaguar, exciting stuff like the Angel Witch debut album, you know? So that scene was important for me, all those bands were influencing us. By the time I did Destruction we wanted to take heavy metal to the next level by being more extreme than those bands, but now with Panzer I can go back to the very beginning and pay tribute to those bands, which is a very good thing”.
It’s certainly the most melodic thing you’ve ever been involved with. “Oh yeah, it is!”
How do you go vocally with that? Is it hard for you to sing in this style as opposed to the more extreme style you employ with Destruction? Or maybe it’s the other way round? “You know my Destruction-style singing is something that’s very natural, it’s in my blood. It really just comes out of the stomach! But for Panzer we had to try something different with my vocals. I wasn’t scared to try the melodies, but of course it has to sound like Schmier! I didn’t want to lose that identity. So here and there we were trying out stuff to see where it went, whether it fitted my voice, but I think in the end I was able to basically sing everything without losing my identity. I think my voice has some sort of special tone! It was important to put in a lot of melody, but without going in the pop direction that a lot of metal bands try to follow. We wanted the big melodies that made metal so big in the eighties. The big choruses that Judas Priest had were melodic but never cheesy”.
Also those songs always had guitar solos you could whistle – really strong structure and melody! If you listen to the best Judas Priest solos, they are all really melodic. “Oh yeah! These days it’s all about shredding, playing a billion notes a second. Of course, it’s amazing how people can do that, but there’s nothing that stays in your head. That was important for our solos. Pontus is a great shredder but he also put a lot of feeling into the solos, with melodies that will stay in your mind, the way it was done in the eighties”.
I think you’ve been very successful with that. The opening track in particular is a great tribute to that style of metal. “Oh yes! Satan’s Hollow is the Judas Priest tribute track of the album basically!”
Now, you’re four busy men – will you get the chance to do much touring behind this record? “I hope so! We all want to play with Panzer. Of course we’re all busy with our main bands, but we will put aside some time next year for some festivals and a tour. But in the end of course it always comes down to demand. If people like the album and we get good reactions then it will be a piece of cake to tour. But yes, we’re definitely keeping some time open next year for Panzer shows”.
We were talking earlier about the excitement surrounding the album release – do you still get excited by touring, or is it very much a necessary evil in today’s music industry climate? “I love it. It’s not a necessary evil to me at all. It’s part of the life! I would hate it if I couldn’t go on the road, you know? Even though sometimes it’s hard, you have to eat shit… people think it’s a little holiday but it isn’t! But I still love touring the world, meeting all the different people and getting all the different vibes… the essence of playing music is to be on stage, performing. Adrenaline every night, crazy feelings… I couldn’t miss out on that. When I’m home I always get a little nervous if I can’t play for a while. With Destruction we never go more than about three weeks without a show, and I’ve done that all my life. It’s a big part of my existence!”
I remember your first ever London show. ”Oh my God, with Motörhead!”
Yes, I can’t even remember when – 1986 or 87? “I think it was ’86 or ’87, exactly”.
That’s thirty years ago. Did you think you’d still be doing it now back then? “No! Never ever! I remember how exciting it was for us, our first time in London… I remember all the last details from that show! For us London was the capital of rock n’roll in Europe, to finally play there – with Motörhead! – in front of a packed house, was crazy. We never thought we’d be able to do it for so long. Strangely enough we were talking about this at a party at my house just last night. A friend of mine is Glenn Tipton’s guitar tech, and he talked about this exact topic. He’s working for Priest now, and other bands, he lives in America, and none of us thought starting out we could take it this far! We might wake up at the ends of the earth and not know where we are, but then you remember, you still do what you love! And that’s the best!”
Now, finally, your admitting to loving British metal leads me to ask you about a series we’ve been running on Sentinel Daily, wherein we have been trying to construct the greatest British metal band of all time – Who would you nominate for that? “There’s no question about this – it’s Judas Priest of course!”
Really? Just Priest? “Well, I’d have KK Downing and Glenn Tipton on guitars, and Rob Halford… but I’d probably have Lemmy on bass. Nothing against Ian Hill!”
I understand completely! Well, that’s our time up – thanks for speaking to us and maybe, just maybe, we might see you down here in Australia in 2018? “It’s too early for Panzer yet but we do have a few offers for Destruction early next year. Either touring together with Overkill in February or headlining a little bit later. So hopefully we can wrap something up for Panzer then!”