Welcome to the third installment of Kreative Evolution, our riffological examination of the Kreator catalogue. If you have been following the series, I am sure you have caught the pattern, and it should come as no surprise that this lesson will focus on Kreator’s third album, Terrible Certainty.
As big a leap forward as Pleasure to Kill was, Terrible Certainty reveals still more evolution in Kreator’s sound. Perhaps the biggest change is one of personnel. With the addition of second guitarist Jörg “Tritze” Trzebiatowski, Terrible Certainty is Kreator’s first recording as a four-piece band. Former Sodom Guitarist Michael Wulf was credited on Pleasure to Kill, but did not, in fact, perform on the album. Tritze joined the band shortly after the release of Pleasure to Kill and participated in the Kreator’s first tour.
Extensive live performance having its usual effect, Kreator’s playing on Terrible Certainty was honed to a much keener edge than on the previous two albums. The production as well yielded a much more polished sound, but at the expense of some heaviness. For better or worse, just as the rough edges disappeared from Kreator’s sound, so too did most of the band’s links to death and black metal; the guitars were tuned back up to standard pitch, and Millie’s vocals followed suit – coming closer to the shriek he still employs today. As a result of these changes, Terrible Certainty is what could be considered Kreator’s first pure thrash album.
There was also a subtle change in the band’s lyrical approach in 1987. Most of the songs still deal with violence and death, but certain tracks are a little more thought provoking, and they show signs of a social conscience. “Blind Faith” posits the absurdity of Christian beliefs, and “Toxic Trace” forecasts an environmental apocalypse.
Though Kreator’s unbridled blood lust might have been tempered somewhat on Terrible Certainty, increased technical and compositional ability made up for what might have been lost. And, in the grand scheme of things, Terrible Certainty was still a very violent and aggressive record.
The first track from Terrible Certainty we will examine is the title track.
The intro is an iconic, head-banging classic, making the track a staple in in Kreator’s live set. Ventor’s rumbling drums lay down the groove in the songs opening seconds, and a few bars later, Robb’s bass sketches out the melody. When the guitars enter at 0:15, they are playing a heavy handed, two-bar riff that’s composed (aside from a few extra chugs) of clean, blocky-sounding power chords. The riff is based loosely in the key of G# minor. This unusual choice of keys contributes in a subtle way to the riffs memorability, as ninety percent of thrash riffs are in the key of E-minor.
More than the melody of the riff, its rhythmic structure is what makes the “Terrible Certainty” intro so effective. Though the first bar of the riff is based around the G#5 chord, and the second bar around B5, the two measures are rhythmically identical: The first two beats strike the same chord with sledgehammer force, and all the melodic movement is crammed into the last two beats of the measure. Sixteen bars of this unwavering rhythmic pattern sets up a groove so strong you simply must bang your head.
The phrase that begins at 0:50 is what could be considered the song’s main riff, as it appears before the first verse and in the choruses. This riff is a classic pedal tone thrash riff, with a steady eighth note rhythm composed entirely of single notes. The lack of chordal harmony and relatively simple and memorable melody make the riff sound easy to play, but that is not necessarily the case. The strong melody tends to draw the ear away from the fact that every note of the melody except for the last is preceded and followed by a palm-muted chug on the sixth string, as are any gaps in-between. Picking out this steady stream of eighth notes at 185 beats per minute is no mean feat, and Kreator does it with nary a stumble. Not bad for a band which just two years prior could hardly get out of its own way.
Another display of precision picking occurs in the intro to “Toxic Trace.” Kreator actually filmed an official video for “Toxic Trace,” but the sound quality on the clips available was a bit substandard. The embedded clip is superior for our purposes.
Much like the “Terrible Certainty” chorus riff, the “Toxic Trace” intro riff is based on a pedal tone, but this one uses a fifth string pedal, indicating a key of A minor. The “Toxic Trace” riff is simpler, in that it is only four measures long (with an extra thrown in on two occasions), and whereas the “Terrible Certainty” riff’s melodic movement is practically constant, this riff is melodically static for comparatively long stretches. Mille and Tritze spend five-eighths of the riff just banging out open A notes and cram in two bursts of melody in the second and fourth measure.
The first five-note melodic figure, heard around 0:02, is a simple run of eighth-notes on the second and third frets of the fourth and fifth strings. Ventor, however, creates an audio illusion by double timing the beat under this figure, which makes the run sound faster and more complex than it actually is.
The second melodic run finds Kreator making use of it second guitarist by harmonizing the run the first time through. Mille (presumably) plays the roots of the eight-note figure, while Tritze harmonizes in major thirds one octave higher. Harmonized melodies have been a staple of Kreator’s sound for years, and the band’s latest album, Phantom Antichrist, is riddled with them. In ’87, however, it was a new trick for the band, and another sign of Kreator’s rapidly expanding musical palette.
Terrible Certainty was an album that found Kreator in transition. The band was just beginning to take advantage of its expanded line-up, with more complex arrangements and shedding its raw barbarity in favor of a more focused, but equally effective attack.
Sadly, Terrible Certainty is also the last album to feature any lead vocals from Ventor, with his lone contribution on “As the World Burns.” Why Ventor gave up his spot behind the mic I cannot say, but I suspect Kreator’s increasingly sophisticated music made singing and playing at the same time too difficult.
Despite the myriad changes on the album, the band never falters or sounds unsure; Terrible Certainty is another solid block in the foundation of Kreator’s remarkable musical legacy.
Once again, I have hardly scratched the surface of the great riffs on this album, but class cannot go on forever. Hopefully I have piqued your interest enough to give Terrible Certainty some independent study.
Name the band that you feel has displayed the greatest increase in technical ability over its career.
Kreator – Terrible Certainty