Marcel ‘Schmier’ Schirmer needs no introduction to metal fans around the world; after all, he is a founding member of German Big 4 members Destruction!
In his spare time though, Schmier wasn’t content with only having one band that showcased his musical talent; so after being approached by none other than long-time friend and member of Accept in Stefan Schwarzmann (Drums) approached him to team up with fellow Accept band-mate Herman Frank (Guitar) in forming the German super-group Pänzer.
Some would say it would say the decision was a no brainer and you’d be right; Schmier joined the duo and Pänzer released their debut album Send Them All To Hell back in 2014! Since then, the treads on this Pänzer tank (pardon the pun!) have not stopped gaining traction albeit with a small hiccup along the way: Frank’s departure from the band lead the way for producer and long-time fan V.O Pulver to fill that void! Pänzer also decided that they needed to add a second guitarist to really polish off the sound; they welcomed aboard Hammerfall’s guitarist Pontus Norgren, who’s dedication to Pänzer cannot be argued with!
Fast forward to 2017 and Pänzer have re-affirmed their arrival back in 2014, as they’re releasing their second album Fatal Command via Nuclear Blast on October 6th. However between when OVERDRIVE’s interview with Schmier was confirmed and it actually taking place, tragedy struck Pänzer once again: Schmier broke his arm performing at the Summer Breeze Festival!
After allowing Schmier enough time to recover after the surgery, OVERDRIVE got the opportunity to speak to Schmier about Pänzer’s new upcoming album! Of course, the first thing that had to be asked was how the arm was feeling?
“It’s actually going really good! The surgery was last week so I have to keep everything calm for the next few weeks so the arm can recover; it was a bad part of the shoulder and the shoulder is very important as you know. If the shoulder isn’t working, the whole left part of your body isn’t working! I was lucky to get a good doctor and a quick surgery, plus I’m a strong guy so hopefully I will recover fast; I’m very positive that I can play the next show on the 9th. Granted I couldn’t be playing every day; it’s a headlining festival show so it’s a once off and I’m sure I can play it. It’s a total of six weeks that I need to keep calm; three weeks of doing not much and then after that I can start to come back with some physio. I was actually at the physiotherapist today and he said ‘that for the circumstances it’s looking really good; I can’t believe it was only one week ago that you had the surgery.’ I guess I took it well and hopefully my body will help me to recover fast. A lot of people had given me very bad prognosis’s because the shoulder is of course a difficult thing. I guess I was lucky; even if I wasn’t lucky with the accident, I’ve been lucky with the recovery so far and that the surgery went really well!”
The first actual topic of discussion was about the experience of getting to record at Little Creek Studios and really have Fatal Command feel like it came to life. Schmier gave a well detailed insight into the experience that Pänzer went though:
“It was a process that happened over a couple of months, in between the tours that I did with Destruction. When I came home, I started writing material before meeting up with V.O at his studio; we’ve been recording bits and pieces over several months basically. It was never stressful or anything like that; it was always great fun because you’re meeting with friends and you start to write material, so it wasn’t the standard procedure for writing an album! It was more like meeting with friends and just creating some music; it was just great fun even though there was a certain amount of pressure at the beginning. When Herman Frank left the band, many people were asking where Pänzer are going to go and how the new album is going to be; I think we’ve managed to show the people that we’re heading in the right direction right away.”
Touching further on the void left by Frank’s departure, this interviewer wanted to know if there was much arm-twisting involved to get not only their producer but also long-time fan V.O Pulver to fill that gap; Schmier explained how Pulver came to step up and join the band:
“I mean, not only was V.O the one who produced the first album, but he was also the second live guitarist in all Pänzer shows in 2015; so he was involved with the band from the beginning. Secondly, we have the same roots and come from the same background; he’s an old friend of mine and produced several Destruction records also. We’ve never written songs together though; I wasn’t sure if it was going to work out but it worked out much better than expected! He’s a very good songwriter and even if he hasn’t written material that goes in this direction, he has those 80’s roots like me; plus there’s nothing better than to write with a friend! When you’re close to each other, the songs at the end when they get written/produced/recorded from a team perspective always sound better then when you write songs with someone you don’t really like or have to co-operate with. It’s like with every job; the best result is if people work together, know each other and like each other! This time, there was very good teamwork and I’m very happy with the result; we’ve managed to write a lot of good stuff and keep the style by moving onto a new direction with two guitar players now. This has resulted in even more riffs and licks, double harmonies and melodic solos; we’ve improved the guitar side by having two guitar players, which is a good thing for Pänzer.”
So what lessons did Pänzer learn during the recording of Send Them All To Hell bring into the studio this time around? Schmier gave an insight into what growth Pänzer undertook and how they evolved between albums:
“I think I learned to just have confidence in my vocals; when we write songs, I always sing on the demos right away very spontaneously even if I don’t have the lyrics, just to make some hook lines. That’s something I did on the first album, just to get a rough idea as to whether the song works or not. For me, it’s a good way to check out the hook lines and see if they work, or if the melodies are good enough or if the chorus is strong enough in the song; that’s why I’m always putting my vocals on. Even if they’re just phantom words I call them, it’s actually a great procedure for me to develop the vocals on the album really quick! It’s very much gut work; I spontaneously have a feel and I do a lot of work out of the stomach. Some musicians sit there and they think a lot about what they do; I’m the other way around and do a lot of work from the gut; it can also get very clinical if you do it too many times. When I was younger, sometimes I wasn’t satisfied with what was recorded so I sang them again and again; but in the end it often doesn’t get any better! Sometimes the first and spontaneous version is the best and that’s something I’ve learnt in these recent years. When you over record it, it can get clinical and not so charismatic anymore. Sometimes, the things that come on the fly have the magic; it that little special thing that you cannot recreate or that you cannot plan.”
Schmier also touches further on the downside to the technology boom we have experienced:
“With the modern technology we have, you can easily overproduce an album, you can make it dead and it has no more feeling. Especially with all the new tools to quanta size the drummer, loop the guitars and put everything on the grid so it’s super tight; but in the end, all this cutting and putting it together kills the whole vibe of a live band. This is the problem I see a lot now days when I work in the studio with other bands or when I see how other bands work; we try to avoid that of course! It happens a lot when you see bands live after hearing them on an album before; you go ‘whoops, what happened; why don’t they sound as good as they do on the album?’ and that’s because they’ve been cheating. The same thing is now everyone is using backing tracks; everybody is backing up the guitars or the vocals, putting in extra keyboards or strings…I’m not a big fan of that.”
Speaking of that newly acquired second guitarist; Norgren really showed dedication to the Pänzer cause during recording of Fatal Command! Whilst the rest of Pänzer were able to sit in a studio together, Norgren was on tour with Hammerfall across the USA…how was this dilemma overcome? Norgren turned the back lounge of the Hammerfall rider into a recording studio, that’s how! After letting out a massive laugh, Schmier touches further on the dedication that was shown:
“It was a crazy thing! We’re all professional musicians, we kind of grow into our job and we somehow don’t have to talk much; we let the music do the talking. We’ve been corresponding with Pontus just over music basically; we didn’t have to tell him much of what we wanted. We just said ‘dude, go ahead and do what you like!’ Of course he’s a fantastic guitar player who knew exactly how to add the little cherries on the pie of the Pänzer album. It was the first time we worked together actually; he kind of wanted to really be in the band, so it was fantastic that he joined us. We didn’t audition any other guitarist because he said straight away ‘if Pänzer want a second guitar player, I’m in!’ He’s a good old friend and a fantastic guitar player, so we took the chance; his style is a little bit than Herman’s, but it fits perfectly with Pänzer though. He also has this neo-classic style of fretting, so it’s a perfect fit.”
Touching further on the fact that technology made things easier for Pänzer to collaborate on the album, Schmier agreed and continued with “of course; otherwise it would have been very difficult to finish the album on time. The American tour of Hammerfall was eight weeks basically, plus we had certain deadlines to fulfill here. I like to have time when I record also; it’s even better to have your time and be in a tour bus, just sitting down and recording what you want instead of being in a studio with a big producer, who is putting pressure on you whilst you’re paying big money every day for the studio. Sometimes you don’t function because it’s too much pressure on you; at times I like to do home recordings and even use some of those on the album, because it’s those relaxed moments that are the magic normally. Pontus did great for that! Everyone is using the opportunity to send files and course it’s a great achievement of the modern world!”
This interviewer is always curious to find out how long the band has been waiting for the finished album to come out; Schmier explains how there was a small setback in releasing the album, however the band turned that around and used it to their advantage!
“I think the album was supposed to come out a little bit earlier but Nuclear Blast pushed it back a little bit; so we kind of re-mastered the album again. We were done already in May I think, after I came back from the American tour we finished the album; so the album could have come out already end of August/beginning of September, but Nuclear Blast pushed it back because of deadline lines they had, as well as having a lot of other stuff coming out as well. They didn’t want to put the Pänzer out at the moment when there were too many other releases, so October is fine for us. Of course when you’re a musician, you want the album to come out as soon as it’s recorded but it’s not possible (laughs)”
Touching further on how Nuclear Blast pushed Fatal Command back so that it was being released without other releases from the label and that they really take care of their artists, Schmier was quick to add that “oh yeah, great label. They’re simply the best; I’ve been working with a lot of other record labels but no one compares to Nuclear Blast! From all the labels I’ve been on, Nuclear Blast treated me and the band the best; no other record label has come even close. I know there’s a lot of haters out there, but in the end they’re just jealous of what Nuclear Blast has achieved; they’re just a label with a big heart and a lot of metal heads working there with lots of dedication. It’s my home since many years and I couldn’t imagine myself being anywhere else.”
With Pulver stepping up to replace the void left by Frank’s departure, did Pänzer get someone else to come in and relieve Pulver of his production duties? Schmier was quick to explain just what kind of machine Pulver really is:
“Actually no, he did a double duty; he recorded the band and then recorded himself, as well as co-producing everything together with me and did all the engineering, so he was very busy. He was getting a little scared that he would lose touch, but on the other side he has a lot of experience; he did stuff like this before and we have worked together a long time. We also took breaks between mixings; we did the final mix and mastering in little steps so we could always move on and get a better mix out of it. Time is a big factor on that; a lot of times when the mix of an album is not good at the end, there was no more time. What you have to do is listen again after some days, then you finally hear what is not so good; maybe too much low end or too much compression or whatever. We could take our time because Nuclear Blast pushed it back, so we could do that re-master; the first album sounded good but the new one sounds even better! Sometimes you get blind because you do it for 24 hours, you get totally involved with the subject and then you don’t see the little mistakes; sometimes you need just a day or two to look back and see ‘here’s a typo and here a sentence isn’t right’. It’s the same with the production; to look back after some days or weeks really helps. We’re also in the lucky position that our guitar player has his own studio; that makes a lot things easier of course.”
Another thing this interviewer always likes to find out about a new album; what song brings the most enjoyment to have either recorded, or to play live for fans. Schmier was impressed and stated how “that’s a good question” before continuing:
“We’re gonna start rehearsing soon for the first live shows, but until the album comes out there’s stull some time; so we haven’t played any of the new stuff live yet. But it’s quite similar to my favourite songs, ‘Fatal Command’, ‘Satan’s Hollow’ and ‘We Can Not Be Silenced’; those three are my total faves. I’m sure all those three songs are also going to be great live tracks you know? Sometimes you have to grow into a song, whereas some other songs work right away when you play them. But for Pänzer, as it’s just straight heavy metal; in your face usually, all the songs on the album also work very good live! I mean basically, we’re now in the lucky position where we only have two albums; so we’ll definitely play a lot from the new album on the next shows, as well as the best songs off the first album so it’s going to be a good mix. Of course you want to represent the new team and the new guitar players, so we’re definitely going to choose a lot of stuff from the new album.”
Even though Fatal Command is still yet to be released, the first two singles show you that it sounds like it was recorded back in the 80s; what was the inspiration behind creating an album that sounded this way? Schmier explained where the inspiration came from:
“I mean, we’re all kids of the 80’s; we all grew up on the new wave of British Heavy Metal. Those years were very important for us; even if you founded bands later on that sounded different and were going in different directions, those roots were always very important! For us, Pänzer was a great opportunity to dive back into those roots and pay tribute, as well as play the music we love; it’s basically music that we don’t play with our main bands, even though the influence is always there. But with Pänzer, we can just go ahead, write songs and dive into those 80 vibes again; it brings back a lot of memories and is great fun to play! We don’t want to re-invent the wheel you know; we don’t want to create a new style, we just play this kind of music! When you hear this album, you get a lot of flashbacks that bring you back to the old 80s sound and that’s what we wanted to achieve with Pänzer. You know, not so many bands play this kind of music and it’s kind of dying out, so we see ourselves as the founders of the old faith; we want to keep the style alive! Even though the original bands that created this music, they don’t bring out so many albums anymore; so not only is this a great opportunity for us to do this, it’s also great fun to play with friends and recreating some 80s vibes is really hard to beat! When I listen to all those new bands coming out at the moment, it’s a lot of keyboards and it’s missing a lot of those 80s spirits; for me, that was the reason why we started Pänzer. The direction was clear right away that we’re full force ahead and it’s always very powerful and in your face; it’s something that was in us and I’m glad we can unleash the fury!”
This interviewer mentioned how as he was born in the late 80s, he didn’t get to experience the era of music that Schmier was talking about; so to have a band bring that vibe into 2017 so the younger generation of metal heads could enjoy it was very much appreciated! Schmier was quick to add that “hopefully we can keep a bit of the spark alive!”
Pänzer have come out and stated that they will be upgrading into the ‘Absolute Heavy Metal War Machine’ when they undergo a full blown tour next year; this interviewer HAD to ask whether Australia would be along the way to help with that upgrade:
“That would be great of course, that would be fantastic! We really want to tour next year; we are very busy musicians, but we can definitely find some space when Destruction and Hammerfall is not touring to get the band on the road. We’re looking for some offers now to tour with another main; we’re also looking to play some festivals next year. Of course it would be a dream to come to Australia; I’m really crossing my fingers for that. Pänzer will hopefully be coming out later 2018!”
FATAL COMMAND IS AVAILABLE VIA NUCLEAR BLAST OCTOBER 6TH: PREORDER YOUR COPY HERE!