Class is back in session with lesson number four in the Kreative Evolution series. In case you have been too hungover to make it to the last three classes, we have been engaged in a riff-based examination of Kreator’s development from album to album.
Extreme Aggression, a phrase that nicely sums up Kreator’s career thus far, is the title for the band’s fourth album, and it marked some big changes for the band. The album was licensed by a major label, Epic Records, and Kreator recorded for the first time outside Germany (in Los Angeles) with accomplished metal producer Randy Burns (Seven Churches, Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying and Scream Bloody Gore, to name a few).
Unfortunately, Extreme Aggression has what is probably the band’s worst cover art, being forced to abandon the exploits of Kreator’s demonic mascot in favor of a drab, black and white group photo, likely because of the original artwork’s certain… “lack of finesse.”
Despite the various changes, Kreator stays the course musically on Extreme Aggression. There are no great leaps forward with this record, but rather a polishing and refining of the style established on Terrible Certainty. The eminently capable Randy Burns gives Kreator its sharpest and clearest production to date, while simultaneously giving the band’s sound a little more heft and bite compared to what was present on its predecessor. Kreator takes full advantage with its tightest performance yet, and a batch of nine stone-cold killer thrash tunes.
The first song up for dissection is also the first song on the album, the pseudo-title track, “Extreme Aggression.”
“Extreme Aggression” is straightforward thrasher, and a perfect representation of Kreator’s overall style on the album: brutal, concise, and fast as fuck.
The intro features some staccato chops at sixth-string power chords, followed by an eight-note melodic run in E minor (more or less). This two-bar pattern moves a long at a leisurely pace of 100 beats per minute, and by the third time through (around 0:10), the drums seem to settle into a comfortable groove. This is a Kreator record, however, and it is only a matter of time until all Hell breaks loose.
Sure enough, at 0:30, Mille let’s out a scream and Hell comes with it in the form of a blistering, 230 bpm riff. The riff’s first six bars are a flurry of furiously down-picked pedal tone phrases on the fourth and fifth strings. The phrases shift keys from B for the first two-bars, to B-flat for the next two, and then back to B for two more. The riffs final two measures (starting at 0:35) feature a tremolo picked phrase in E-minor that careens up and down the neck like a rollercoaster.
The flawless manner in which Kreator executes this complicated and blindingly fast riff, and the many others like it on the album, proves that the band has advanced to the elite levels of thrash musicianship. Just four years prior, Kreator had trouble staying in time, but at this point (1989), the band could go riff-for-riff with thrash titans such as Slayer and Megadeth, and in some cases, even come out ahead.
The next track we will cover is Extreme Aggression’s centerpiece: the five and a half minute “Some Pain Will Last.”
This song is a bit of a departure for Kreator, as it is the band’s first true slow-burner. “Some Pain Will Last” opens in uncharacteristically understated fashion, with one guitar picking out an arpeggiated B-flat power chord. After a couple pick-up measures, the first guitar begins the intro’s four chord progression (Bb5, A5, F5, Ab5), and the lead guitar enters shyly with a ghostly melody. There is a tonal ambiguity to the chord progression here; ostensibly, the key is some variation of B-flat minor, but the other three chords in the progression include both the major seventh (A5), the minor seventh (Ab5), which only confuses matters, and the tonally neutral fifth (F5) being present in both major and minor keys. The resulting sound of this ambiguous progression is unsettling, and this is compounded by the harmonies created by the lead guitar lines. For instance, when the lead guitar first enters, it is playing a B note over a Bb5 chord. This results in a minor second interval, one of the most dissonant in western music.
The sense of unease increases as the guitar work gets more complicated. Around 0:22, the lead guitar gets busier, picking out two-tone, quarter-note patterns. At 0:28, four bars later, the rhythm guitar follows suit, picking out a three-tone, eighth-note pattern. The juxtaposition of a two-note figure over a three-note figure, combined with the differing rhythms, creates constantly shifting harmonies, giving the piece an unstable feel. Ventor’s rigid drumming and Millie and Tritze’s precise picking bring some order to the chaos, however, keeping the track firmly on the rails, despite the unconventional note choices.
The verse is a bit more harmonically stable, but it still slips in some rather profound dissonance. The chord progression in the verse is the same as the intro, and the rhythm guitar plays sustained power chords exclusively. The lead guitar locks into the drum’s galloping, martial sounding rhythm, and it follows the chord progression using a pedal tone technique, but with a twist. On beats one and three of each measure, the lead guitar plays the same chord as the rhythm guitar, but in between, it pedals, not on the root note of the chord, but on the note one half step higher, the aforementioned minor second.
Finally, a minute and seventeen seconds into “Some Pain Will Last,” the chorus releases all the built-up tension. The chorus shifts to the thoroughly familiar key of E minor, and features perhaps the most infectious riff of the entire album. The nexus of the chorus is built around two nearly identical four-note phrases. Each phrase begins with an eighth-note triplet that descends from G to F# to E, following the triplet is a quarter-note C in the first phrase, and a half-note B-flat (the diminished fifth) in the second. The C and B-flat ring out strong and clear like a clarion call, in sharp contrast to the ominous and claustrophobic feel of the intro. It is a credit to Kreator’s ability to create tension that these two notes can hit so hard. On the third and fourth repeats (starting at 1:33), the chorus is harmonized in perfect fourths. A fourth is a comparatively consonant that is more pleasing to the ear than the shifting dissonance in the intro.
After another verse and chorus at 3:24, Kreator cuts loose with the high-speed thrash it is known for. Then at 4:36, the latter half of the intro is recalled and tension builds again, begging for another chorus, but Kreator instead brings the track to a close. It seems some pain will last, if not forever, at least until the next time you listen to this song.
With “Extreme Aggression,” Kreator emerged into thrash’s upper echelon. The group’s technical prowess finally caught up to its songwriting ability, and the album received the perfect production to showcase this growth. Unfortunately, thrash was reaching the end of its hey-day in 1989, and death metal was rapidly advancing to metal’s creative forefront. Though the nineties were not particularly kind to thrash, Kreator still had a classic left in the chamber, which we will cover in our next lesson.
Post your favorite track on Extreme Aggression, and your favorite Randy Burns-produced album.
Kreator – Extreme Aggression