Thrash ‘Til Death #05: Protector (Germany) 1986-1993

THRASH ‘TIL DEATH is a 50 week long set of features exploring the legends who crossed over between thrash and death metal between 1983-1993. The focus is primarily on under-served, unknown, and exemplar bands/releases. The selection is comprehensive but the numbering is not indicative of any type of rank or value: The order of appearance is arbitrarily chosen. E-mail me if you want to suggest any relevant bands!


Although we’ve thus far covered a lot of bands clearly making the transition from speed metal or traditional heavy metal style towards extreme metal Wolfsburg, Germany born Protector would take clear influence from the birth of death metal abroad in addition to the primal aggression of their compatriots in Germany. From 1986 until 1991 the core line-up (Michael Hasse, Hansi Müller, Ede Belichmeier and either Martin Missy or Olly Wiebel) wouldn’t vary a great deal but their varied interests would lead Protector down distinctively aggressive forms of raw death/thrash, pure thrash, blood-puking death metal and beyond. Consider the history of Protector a bit like Sepultura but without any ambitions towards mainstream garbage clouding their path. I lose a bit of objectivity when faced with the prime era of a project like this because the music of Protector is so ingrained into my appreciation of the thrash riff and my enthusiasm for death/thrash hybridization. They may be remembered as a sloppy, hellish bunch of throat punching little brothers to the bigger names of German thrash but in hindsight their impact upon extreme metal cannot be so easily compartmentalized.

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Artist Protector
Title [Type/Year] Protector of Death [Demo/1986]
Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

We begin with what is probably one of my favorite demo tapes to come from the post-‘Seven Churches’ furor as the two song ‘Protector of Death’ was a wild blast of furious, atmospherically rabid death/thrash made all the more exciting for its cavernous ‘Morbid Visions’-esque sound and kicking grooves. So many bands today obsessed with the cruelty of first wave black metal’s rawness can only hope to conjure the cacophonous depths of ‘Protector of Death’. Rose-colored obsessive fawning aside this tape still holds up as both spectacle and riff-fest, a style that held up in the same breath as Messiah, Merciless, and Poison at the time. This demo would be the only with bassist Michael Schnabel although he would also perform on adjacent death metal project Heritage a couple of years later. I think this demo is an important relic for understanding why anyone took notice of this band in the first place, they weren’t actually the Kreator copycat they’ve occasionally been reduced to by lazy revisionists but an inspired and ripping death/thrash metal band from the start. They would quickly sign to German label Atom H Records soon after, alongside Rumble Militia and Accu§er.


Artist Protector
Title [Type/Year] Misanthropy [EP/1987]
Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on Spotify! | LISTEN on YouTube!

By the time Protector resurfaced that next year in 1987 with their debut ‘Misanthropy’ EP this raw ghastly version of thrash metal was considered behind the times as records like ‘Persecution Mania’, ‘Terrible Certainty’, and ‘Release From Agony’ saw the early greats of Teutonic thrash metal taking hints from Coroner in terms of tightening up their technical thrash chops in the hopes of catching up with the rapid expansion of thrash worldwide. Protector were still thrashers at every point of their discography and this debut might be a four-piece but they still very much sound like the band you heard on ‘Protector of Death’ the year previous. The biggest change comes with the addition of Martin Missy on vocals who wasn’t as vicious as Hasse had been on their demo but still appears well-seasoned in his growling wretches after several rehearsal/live tapes in the interim. To stray towards the objective for a moment, clearly this isn’t the most original conception to come from the band but rather a first glimpse at how the bands sound had developed. As a heavy metal EP it should be appreciated for its mix of sluggish speed metal riffs and extreme vocals but the more involved listener will hear clear apes from Sodom and the general Wolfsburg underground death metal scene of the time. I think I’d read this EP described as ‘Onslaught meets Hellhammer‘ and though I think that’d miss the sharpness of Teutonic thrash circa the late 80’s the tonal comparison fits well enough. I am among the fold that considers this EP essential if you’re going to give Protector a chance though I know many folks write it off in favor of ‘Golem’.


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Artist Heritage
Title [Type/Year] Patient Zero [Demo/1988]
Rating [3.25/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

The ‘Patient Zero’ demo from death metallers Heritage circa 1988 is notable simply for its blend of Protector and Death Attack members. Most notably it housed former Protector bassist Michael Schnabel and soon-to-be second vocalist/guitarist Olly Weibel who would leave Heritage for Protector. This demo is worth including here for those associations alone but also for the presence of Protector‘s founding member, drummer Michael Hasse, whose speedballed “Nuclear Winter”-esque drumming makes this fairly rote late 80’s death metal demo more brutal than it had any right to be. I believe the shared vision between Hasse and Weibel were instrumental in the eventual shift towards pure death metal as the band headed into the 90’s.


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Artist Protector
Title [Type/Year] Golem [Full-length/1988]
Rating [4.25/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

Despite the goofy tape insert I’ve included here, Protector‘s ‘Golem’ sold well and saw wide appeal at the time as thrash fandom in Europe sported a very healthy environment for primal death metal and brutal thrash variations. The floodgates had been opened years previous for underground death metal but here in 1988 you’ll begin to see a notable upsurge in morbid, ripping death/thrash projects. If there is any certain lineage from Kreator‘s ‘Pleasure to Kill’ (and Dark Angel‘s ‘Darkness Descends’) in ’86 towards the rise of bands like Merciless, Pestilence and Massacra no doubt that Protector provided an extra (or just adjacent) push in that direction with this insistent and brutally heavy debut. This is no pure thrash record by any stretch of the imagination and ‘Golem’ should be a bit of a surprise in terms of its death metal prowess even decades later with its thunderous guitar tone and the brutal sledge of Hasse‘s drumming. Protector move so confidently at high speeds that I am still blown away by the dark and primitive feeling that is relatively simple record provides. As with all Protector releases if you can get the High Roller Records remasters you’ll be a bit better off in terms of avoiding a ‘dated’ sound but I am still very partial to the original mixes of each record.


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Artist Protector
Title [Type/Year] Urm the Mad [Full-length/1989]
Rating [3.75/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

Exactly one year after recording ‘Golem’ Protector would return to record their second album with Jörg Stegert at Phoenix Studios. Stegert would record many late 80’s thrash records between Living Death, Target, and Mekong Delta which should immediately ring a bell with thrash heads that most of what he produced (and well, mixed) was of varying quality and often muddy. ‘Urm the Mad’ still insists that it is a Protector record with Hasse‘s harried drumming and a mixture of mid-paced thrash stomps blended with primitive death metal riffs; Where I begin to squirm under the pressure of this record comes with an old friend’s suggestion that ‘Urm the Mad’ is a non-essential death  metal version of Sodom‘s ‘Agent Orange’. Though I know that is typical reductive metal fandom at its best some of this sentiment does ring true. Other folks consider this an early death/doom record in some spots but you’ll find folks suggesting this even for certain pieces on ‘Golem’. The issue with the poor recording quality, the under-thought guitar tone and the slow-motion thrash of ‘Urm the Mad’ comes with the feeling that its low speed doesn’t seem intentional, it really does sound as if they’re not playing as fast as they want to and above all else it appears the album was written too hastily. I’ll backpedal somewhat violently at this point and say whatever, I still really enjoy this record despite its wonky, braindead verve. If you’re a death metal fan consider this an analog to Asphyx‘ momentum-killing ‘Last One on Earth’, it isn’t bad but it is also hardly remembered.

Without any regard for my own opinions today, back in 1989 ‘Urm the Mad’ was poorly received and seen as a bit of a failure by the press and fans. This coupled with difficulty working with Martin Missy‘s work schedule giving a chance for Oliver Weibel to step in on live performances and eventually replace Missy full time. This is a bit confusing today as Missy would reform Protector decades later and remains the sole original member from post-‘Protector of Death’ line-ups. At this point you might be wondering when this always extreme band would actually take a turn towards pure death metal, if ever. That distinction between death/thrash, raw slo-mo thrash, and pure death metal becomes very clear as the band extended into the 1990’s thanks in to small part to Weibel‘s brutal tendencies on both guitar and vocals.


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Artist Protector
Title [Type/Year] Leviathan’s Desire [EP/1990]
Rating [4.25/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

There was a point of transition for Protector before they basically dissolved into a duo for the next full-length and that’d be the sorely underrated ‘Leviathan’s Desire’ EP which is often curiously tacked onto reissues of ‘Urm the Mad’ despite the line-up and sound being more relevant to ‘A Shedding of Skin’. This death metal record was produced by Ralph Hubert, who is not only the main surviving member of of Mekong Delta to this day but also produced many notable releases. So, why is ‘Leviathan’s Desire’ so interesting as a transitional piece? It more or less returns to the style of ‘Golem’ with a full death metal sound in mind, consider it a sort of smaller analog to Pestilence‘s ‘Malleus Maleficarum’ in that both seem influenced by both Dark Angel and Morbid Angel in terms of guitar work. This would also differ from ‘A Shedding of Skin’ in terms of not yet fully using his double-bass drum setup. It is a wild mix of death metal and speed metal that felt like a true return to the sound of ‘Misanthropy’ while the corpse of ‘Urm the Mad’ was still freshly stabbed. There is a tendency to skip over this EP with the assumption that it invokes ‘Urm the Mad’ in some way but in fact this came after the exit of Missy on vocals and also serve as the final contribution to Protector from original member guitarist Hansi Müller. I can’t help but think they’d bullied his old thrash ways out in favor of the futuristic promise of death metal but in any case his work is fantastic here after he’d been somewhat blasted by critics on the previous record. Death/thrash fans should find great comfort in these riffs and the very clear influence from ‘Altars of Madness’.


Artist Protector
Title [Type/Year] A Shedding of Skin [Full-length/1991]
Rating [4.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

At this point Atom H Records had dissolved to become C&C Music who would release a few gems that’d be forgotten with time (Psychopath‘s ‘Making the Transition’) including the first release under the new name ‘A Shedding of Skin’. This record would serve as the first and most valuable eructation of (then) modern death metal from Protector. The band had lined up Kreator‘s frontman for production but due to scheduling conflicts they would end up with Harris Johns as co-producer who had seen some flops (Sodom ‘Better off Dead’) and some big wins (Pestilence ‘Consuming Impulse’, Immolation ‘Dawn of Possession’) in producing this new wave of death metal extremity. I say co-producer because in the credits the executive producer credit is given to Mekong Delta bassist Ralph Hubert and producer Carlos Reuter. Thanks to such a big production and a lot of staff on hand the sound of ‘A Shedding of Skin’ is clear and viciously heavy whether or not you grab the remaster or the original. It is one of my personal favorite death metal records out of Germany and perhaps because it delivers so completely on the ideas that Protector had been struggling with on ‘Urm the Mad’.

Is it on the level of those aforementioned Pestilence and Immolation records? Actually, it almost feels like a cross between them at times and for my own taste this is not only the best Protector record but again, a personal favorite. The sound and approach here is almost exactly on par with Massacra‘s ‘Enjoy the Violence’ from the same year but the production and Weibel‘s wild vocals provide personality enough to edge it up a notch in my mind. Even more curious than this brutal punch of thrashed out maniacal death metal is that it was entirely performed by the duo of Weibel (vocals, guitars, bass) and drummer Hasse as bassist Mattias Lindner is falsely credit on import copies to give the appearance of a full band; He would however perform on the 2000 demo ‘Resurrected’ before the band officially died out in 2003. Trivia aside, this and ‘Golem’ are perhaps the best reasons to remember Protector‘s original run today… and in no way am I knocking the 1993 album that would precede decades of silence.


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Artist Protector
Title [Type/Year] The Heritage [Full-length/1993]
Rating [3.75/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

‘The Heritage’ is a strange album for several reasons but the most prominent in my mind is that its line-up features no original members and the only returning face is vocalist/guitarist Olly Weibel. With Hasse exiting his own group in 1992 this fourth full-length from Protector doesn’t entirely make sense. Is it a good death metal record? Yes, in fact it almost seems like Weibel took this chance to realize the ambitions of his prior project with Hasse, Heritage, which had folded in 1989 to focus on Protector. You might fire up this record and fully buy into it for the first twenty minutes or so and fairly so, it rips! Drummer Marco Pape really kills it on this record and I say this in spite of a few very questionable choices that Weibel makes later in the record. It’d be entirely fair to say that this is even more of a death/thrasher than ‘A Shedding of Skin’ on some level and… Oh wait, “Convicts on the Street” jumps in with what is clearly the main riff from Pantera‘s “Walk”. Nothing against 90’s groove metal but the song is a complete embarrassment and a smudge on an otherwise strong record. I felt like Weibel was either a fan of Deathrow or Dark Angel to some greater degree after many closer listens, I began to hear both when things turn towards thrash metal riffing in the second half of the album; This is a major strength of ‘The Heritage’ and might come as a surprise if you’ve read any of the terrible online reviews of the album, or the description on German Wikipedia that suggests it is a mixture of death and doom metal.

According to some later interviews Protector were not only not literally Protector anymore but they were not getting along. Fights on stage and a few canceled shows with big name bands left the band on life support until 2000. The band becomes difficult to follow from that point on as a bunch of unauthorized and frankly completely SHIT compilations would be released after the band had officially folded in 2003. With Hasse dead in 1994 from a supposed overdose it didn’t appear that anyone laid any particular legal claim to the name until vocalist Martin Missy revived the project in 2011 and they’ve released two full-lengths since with another planned in the coming months. The legacy of Protector is hard to summarize because their second wind has been more stable and about as prolific as their inception. This first wave is peculiar for the bands ever-shifting line-up and stylistic jumps, it should at least drive home the fact that many great bands were born in the garage and spent zero time thinking of the future as drugs and heavy metal took over their lives. Protector‘s powerful, brutish shred towards extreme metal is one of the more compelling and influential ‘idiot savant’ moments for German death/thrash metal history and if nothing else, most all of it holds up great.


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