For the next several installments of Riffology, we will break from format (somewhat) by adding a little history to our lessons. We shall embark on a riff odyssey through the catalog of German thrash kings, Kreator, as Kreator is one of the greatest bands to ever thrash, and by my lights, one of the greatest metal bands, period. Kreator’s recorded works should yield plenty of prime riffage for us to explore.
The trio of guitarist/vocalist Mille Petrozza, drummer/vocalist Jurgen “Ventor” Reil, and bassist Rob Fioretti began playing together in 1982, eventually settling on the moniker Tormentor. As Tormentor, the band released two demos before signing with Noise records in 1985. In October of that year, the band re-christened themselves as Kreator and released a savage debut, Endless Pain.
Like many of its fellow German thrash bands, Kreator was initially a lot rougher around the edges than its American thrash contemporaries. What the band lacked in polish, however, it made up for in ferocity.
As much as Kreator is associated with thrash, the raw, brutally of its first few albums fit comfortably alongside that of early death and black metal bands like Venom, Bathory, Mantas, Hellhammer and Master. A prime example of this brutality is Endless Pain’s second track, “Total Death.”
“Total Death” begins with a chaotic sounding flurry of notes that Mille manages to mold into a musical pattern that serves as a recurring theme. At 0:09, Mille lets out a vicious roar, and the thrashing begins in earnest. The song’s main riff is textbook thrash metal, as it’s based on an open sixth string pedal tone – E, in this case – and a simple descending melody hammered out with power chords played as fast as (or in some cases, even a little faster than) the band can manage.
To take the focus away from the riffs for a moment, it must be noted that Mille’s vocals on this track practically scream black metal. His demonic rasp no doubt caught the ear of many a young future black metaler, and it might not be coincidence that none other than Darkthrone has an album titled Total Death.
At 1:39 “Total Death” slows down for a simple but effective interlude. Much like the main riff built around an open sixth string pedal tone, the interlude is using a mid-paced, galloping rhythm and a mere half step of melodic movement. To add a little variety, at 1:51 the band modulates the riff up a perfect fourth and plays the same phrase on the fifth string (A).
“Total Death” is hardly a dazzling composition, but Kreator made it work with a convincing performance. At this point, the band did not have much flash, but it had aggression in spades, and the unquantifiable ability to convey that aggression to the listener.
The second and final track we will focus on for this lesson is “Storm of the Beast.” At just over five minutes in length, this is the longest track on Endless Pain, and it displays a little more sophistication and dynamics.
Most of the tracks on Endless Pain take the blitzkrieg approach, but on “Storm,” Kreator lets the thunder rumble a little before the lightning strikes. The song starts with Ventor and Rob laying down a mid-paced, double bass-powered groove. After a few bars, the guitars enter, with Mille floating some sustained power chords over the groove. A much busier, chugging riff enters at 0:42, but the mid-paced tempo remains.
At 1:09 the lightning finally strikes, as the band kicks into high gear with another with a four bar riff based around – you guessed it – an open sixth-string pedal tone. If you listen closely, you can hear Mille almost stumbling over the notes in an effort to keep up the frantic tempo. We do, however, get a glimpse of burgeoning compositional finesse, with this riff’s shifting tonal center: The first two bars based in G and the second two rooted in E. It’s not exactly Mozart, but it does hint at some creative potential.
The real hook in “Storm of the Beast” is the dead-simple chorus. Built on a groove similar to the intro, the riff has only three chords (D5, E5 and F5) to match the three words of the song title-as-chorus. Ventor’s maniacal growl is so infectiously enthusiastic, when he screams “Storm of The Beast Yeaaaaaaaah,” it is impossible not to shout along. It’s not always the quality of the music that matters, sometimes it’s the conviction of the delivery.
In the grand scheme, the story of Endless Pain is one of aggression above all else. Though Kreator could definitely write a memorable song, the band was more than a few steps behind the leading lights of thrash, such as Metallica and Slayer, in terms of both compositional and technical prowess. Kreator would gain ground, though, and quickly…
Post an eighties band whose style fell in the cracks between death, black, and thrash metal in the comments section.
Kreator – Endless Pain