Welcome to part two of Riffology’s Kreative Evolution mini-series, wherein we will examine riffs from the Kreator catalogue on an album by album basis.
1986 was the pinnacle year for thrash. The year birthed two undisputed genre-transcending classics in Slayer’s Reign in Blood and Metallica’s Master of Puppets, and Megadeth’s Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying (1986) is nearly as well-regarded. In addition, second tier acts such as Nuclear Assault (Game Over), Dark Angel (Darkness Descends), Destruction (Eternal Devastation), and others released material ranging from solid to classic.
Our heroes in Kreator did not quail in the face of this stiff competition; in fact, they rose to the occasion as few have done before or since. Slaughtering any notion of a sophomore slump, the band released one of the greatest and most influential albums in the history of extreme metal: the legendary classic Pleasure to Kill.
With Pleasure to Kill, Kreator trumped its debut on all fronts. Not only is Pleasure to Kill a more sophisticated and (slightly) more melodic album, but it is also faster, heavier and an altogether more brutal affair than its predecessor. It was, in fact, one of the most violent metal albums in existence at the time.
The brutality of Pleasure to Kill is not, however, immediately apparent. Taking a cue from Metallica, the album begins on a lighter note, with the instrumental track “Choir of the Damned.” The song begins with a lone guitar picking out a hypnotic triplet-based melody, which segues into an acoustic passage accompanied by lush keyboard swells and synthesized horns. Heady stuff, indeed, but this new found subtlety only lasts a minute and forty seconds before “Ripping Corpse” rips your fucking face off.
“Ripping Corpse” is, for all intents and purposes, death metal. Mille’s vocals might not be quite as deep and guttural as we’ve come to expect from the style, but musically, everything is in place.
For starters, the track, like the rest of the album, is tuned down one whole step, giving it a darker, heavier sound than most of Kreator’s thrash competition. Furthermore, many of the songs’ riffs are performed using tremolo picking, which has come to be a hallmark of death metal.
Finally, the subject matter of “ Ripping Corpse,” a reanimated corpse slaughtering your family, is right in line with the violence and gore themes common (but certainly not exclusive) to death metal. At this point, Kreator had much more in common with death metal acts like Sepultura and Possessed than with pure thrash groups like Megadeth and Anthrax .
The most musically interesting part of “Ripping Corpse” is the intro (1:43 in the video), which features one guitar, the bass and the drums pounding out quarter notes in D, with a second guitar tremolo-picking out a melody on the fifth and sixth strings. In the first measure of the beat, the melody plays a D note on beats one and three, which harmonizes perfectly with the steady D-notes of the rhythm guitar and bass. But on beats two and four, the melody plays A-flat, which is (you know what’s coming) the diminished fifth of D. The alternating consonance and dissonance of this pattern creates a push-pull effect that really twists the ear. The rest of “Ripping Corpse” is a bloody rampage, notable for its ferocity, but fairly standard fare from a riff standpoint.
No discussion of Pleasure to Kill would be complete without mentioning the classic track “Riot of Violence.” This song is a fan favorite, which remains in Kreator’s set to this day (though usually only in lengthier headlining sets), and is, sadly, the only Ventor-sung song the band still performs. “Riot” is also a fine showcase for the rapid growth in Kreator’s compositional ability.
The intro to “Riot of Violence” uses a similar note pattern to the “Total Death” intro, but whereas the latter was a chaotic cacophony, the former is much punchier, due to better articulation and palm-muting of the strings. (Palm muting is a technique whereby the palm of the picking had is rested lightly on the strings near the bridge.) Notes picked while palm-muting will still sound, but the decay will be almost instantaneous. This technique is a corner stone of thrash metal, due to the tight, percussive sound it produces.
The verse riff is a typical mid-paced thrash riff that chops out eight notes on the open sixth sting, with a few quarter note power chords creating a skeletal melody.
After the first verse, things start to get interesting. Kreator makes the first of several key-changes with the next riff (0:39), which takes stuttering stabs at A-flat5 and G5 before executing a rather dexterous melodic run (0:43) loosely based in F-minor. The band proceeds to an interlude where Mille picks out similar pedal tone melodic riffs alternating keys between C and G. Their riffs are not exactly the height of technicality, but they are certainly miles ahead of anything on Endless Pain.
After some hardcore-esque high speed strumming in A for the chorus riff (1:29), the post-chorus riff shits to another pedal tone riff in C.
After the second verse and solo, the band really ratchets up the intensity. The post solo riff (2:46) sounds like the bigger, meaner brother of the riff at 0:39, which we discussed earlier. The riff has a similar rhythm and melody to its predecessor, but it is played about a third lower in the key of E minor. Kreator then shifts into death metal mode with a tremolo-picked melody at 3:06.
Following the second solo, Kreator slows down at 3:55 for a simple but surprisingly subtle interlude. Over sustained D5 chords, the band picks out a delicate, three note melody using natural harmonics at the seventh fret. Shattering the somber atmosphere with a primal Ventor scream, the band pulls out all the stops for a furious thrash through another chorus and few more riffs before bringing this monster riff-fest to a close.
Pleasure to Kill displays enormous growth in Kreator’s songwriting acumen, while retaining (or even superseding) the raw savagery of the band’s debut. To some, this album is the band’s finest hour, and I am not disposed to argue too strongly to the contrary. As we will see in the coming weeks, Kreator continued to make excellent thrash records, but none have quite reached the same heights of sonic violence as Pleasure to Kill.
1. There are more good riffs on Pleasure to Kill than we have time or space to cover, so post your favorite(s) in the lashes.
2. Post which 1986 thrash album you think is the best.
Kreator – Pleasure to Kill