In February of this year, I traveled to Berlin to give a talk as part of a lecture series held at Centrum. I spoke about the German thrash metal scene of the 1980s, focusing on the three biggest bands—Destruction, Kreator and Sodom—but also delving into the work of less well-known acts like Running Wild, Grave Digger, Living Death, Iron Angel, Deathrow, Holy Moses, Rage and Erosion. The German thrash scene was easily as important as the American scene, and just as America had the bands known as the “Big Four”—Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax—Germany had Destruction, Kreator and Sodom. Each of these bands was unique and different from the others, but they had much in common, because of the political realities of life in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s. The core members are all more or less the same age—Tom Angelripper of Sodom is the oldest, born in 1963, but Marcel “Schmier” Schirmer of Destruction and Mille Petrozza of Kreator were both born in 1966. This means that their formative years were the 1970s, during which time there was a lot of terrorist activity in Germany, from groups like the Red Army Faction, the RZ, and Carlos the Jackal. In addition to this, there remains the issue of seeing one’s older relatives grappling with the legacy of Nazism, and having that hang over you. That’s something that greatly impacts an artist’s chosen expression, something which Destruction and Sodom have explicitly grappled with in songs like “Incriminated” and “Bombenhagel.”
Counting 2007’s Thrash Anthems (on which they re-recorded songs from their ’80s releases, plus two new songs) and the four records (two LPs and two EPs) they made between 1990 and 1997 without Schmier, Spiritual Genocide is the 13th Destruction album, and a 30th Anniversary celebration of sorts—the band formed in 1982, even if their first EP, Sentence of Death, wasn’t released until 1984. As long as Schmier’s been a member of the band (he returned to the lineup on 2000’s All Hell Breaks Loose), Destruction have been fairly predictable…in a good way. From their earliest days, they were more precise and technical than Sodom, whose sound was a blend of Venom‘s crudity and Motörhead‘s rock ‘n’ roll fervor, and less blindly aggressive than Kreator. On their second album, 1986’s Eternal Devastation, they were already leaping ahead of the pack; songs like “Curse the Gods” and “United By Hatred” were the equal of any band’s work, from any country.
The songs on Spiritual Genocide may not be as immediately memorable as those on 2001’s The Antichrist or 2003’s Metal Discharge, but the riffs have the blend of aggression and control they’ve perfected over three decades, and they throw a few curve balls at the listener. “Legacy of the Past” is a goofy German thrash summit of sorts, featuring guest vocals from Sodom‘s Tom Angelripper and Gerre of the beer-obsessed (and inexplicably beloved) Tankard, and the “single,” “Carnivore,” has more rock ‘n’ roll swagger than thrash fury—in its album version, anyway. The deluxe edition of the album includes a re-recording of the song, with former members Harry Wilkens and Olly Kaiser on guitar and drums, respectively, and that version is more of an old-school thrash anthem; it could have come off any Destruction album from the late ’80s. Over the last dozen years, Destruction have solidified their style and are now cranking out fan-pleasing albums roughly every two years, much like Motörhead. And also like Lemmy and company, they’re as good now as they’ve ever been, even if nobody outside the cult knows it.