In the 1980s, three bands stood out supreme above all others in the German thrash scene: the precise audio violence of Kreator, the sheer Motörhead-on-steroids bludgeon of Sodom, and the over-the-top insanity of Destruction.
While the careers of Kreator and Sodom continued from strength to strength into the 1990s and beyond, Destruction got a bit left behind. ‘Sentence Of Death’ demonstrates why.
First off, the studio was mightily unkind to Schmier and the gang. Live, the band was probably as heavy as you like, but the production job on ‘Sentence Of Death’ sounds like the band are playing at one end of a football pitch, while the sound engineer was doing shuttle runs with the microphone at the other. Yes, even the basics like evening out the volume are wrong. After straining to hear one song, you’re blasted out of the room by the volume of the next.
The most important thing in any metal band is the guitar. The riffing is suitably sharp, and the solos manic. Unfortunately being a three piece, you either get one or the other. It seems that even the most basic of studio tricks, like multi-tracking the guitar so that the rhythm continues during solos, are only used intermittently. Schmier’s bass is quite twangy, so it doesn’t fill much of the gap. While it could be argued it gives an almost live representation of the band, in hindsight decades after the recording, it is simply distracting.
The drumming is a tad simplistic, and playing fills often means dropping the beat. There’s little more than a high speed four-on-the-floor beat, but it suits the overall feel of the band pretty well.
Schmier’s vocals are totally insane, and his grasp of English is tenuous at best. At times, he drowns out everything else with his hoarse shout. His German accent slurs a lot of the lyrics, to great comic effect. When he’s not shouting, Schmier loves emitting enormous banshee screams, sometimes for no good reason. However, songs like “Total Desaster” and “Mad Butcher” still remain all time classics.
Despite the sound problems, Destruction fucking shred! There is no doubting the band’s enthusiasm or intensity, and they knew how to write metal songs. It is possible to hear the embryonic roots of many a death metal band’s sound here. At times, the bleak production and frantic playing hint toward the wild sounds of proto-black metal like early Bathory.
On paper, it might look like Destruction have been overrated by thrash fans looking back too fondly with rose tinted glasses, but it’s more a case of the end product being far greater than the sum of the parts. Sure, there are severe problems with the sound, but metal isn’t always about everything being perfectly clean and exactly executed. In this case, it’s about energy, enthusiasm, and having a good old thrash.