I would like to offer my apologies, dear readers, for Riffology’s long absence. I did not intend such an extended break between lessons, but work, side-jobs, deer season, holiday season and illness combined to sap my time and energy for much of the past four months. It’s a new year, however, and school is back in session.
While the year is new, we still have some old business to attend to. In our last lesson, oh so long ago, we covered riffs from Kreator’s Extreme Aggression album. On Extreme Aggression, production, performance and composition all came together to create a devastatingly powerful record. On its follow-up, Coma of Souls, Kreator made only minor tweaks to the formula. Coma of Souls is slightly more accessible than its predecessor, by all accounts, but it is still a brutal thrash album.
The biggest change on Coma of Souls is the addition of former Sodom guitarist Frank “Blackfire” Gosdzik to the ranks in place of the departed Jörg “Tritze” Trzebiatowski. Blackfire was both a talented lead guitarist and a great thrash composer in his own right. On the strength of Gosdzik’s compositions, Sodom was elevated from a raw, sloppy group of Venom-worshipers (not unlike early Kreator) to a true thrash force to be reckoned with. Kreator, at this point, needed no such elevation, but Frank’s fluid and adventurous soloing was a great complement to Mille’s frantic, aggressive style.
The first riff we will cover is the iconic intro to the album’s title track. The intro riff is roughly in the key of E minor, but the initial eight measures of the riff feature a chaotic melody that uses power chords based on just about every note in the scale.
Kreator creates some order from this chaos in a couple of ways. First, the riff starts with a sort of signature phrase. This phrase is a short descending melody from B-flat to A and then to G, with a couple muted chugs on the open sixth string sprinkled in. The phrase is repeated every two bars, on every iteration of the riff; it is the glue that holds the whole riff together.
Second, Kreator breaks the melodic movement of the riff into three-note chunks, with sixth string chugs used as musical spacers. This creates a rhythmic order to things, when the note choice seems almost random.
After the initial eight bars, at 0:16, the riff becomes a simpler, less cluttered two-bar pattern. The first bar begins with the riff’s signature phrase, but instead of a flurry of power chords, what follows at 0:17 is a dead-simple, but deadly effective bit of textbook thrash. Mille and Frank fire a quick, half-bar burst of palm-muted sixteenth notes on the open low-E string. What makes this so extraordinarily effective, however, is the most judicious use of double bass in all of metal. Ventor has played a sparse accompaniment to the riff up to this point, so when he locks into the guitars with his kick drums for this brief flurry, each note hits like a fifty caliber slug. Double-bass drumming has become ubiquitous in extreme metal, but in 1990, the technique still had some teeth, and Ventor sunk them in deep on this riff.
Next we will examine a few riffs from “People of the Lie,” a track that shows Kreator making a few baby steps toward accessibility.
The track is composed of only a handful of comparatively simple riffs, and while “People of the Lie” moves along at a relatively brisk pace, by Kreator’s standards it is almost slow. The intro has an awkward flow, but the brief melodic theme developed foreshadows Kreator’s obsession with grandiose melody showcased on recent albums such as Hordes of Chaos and Phantom Antichrist.
The song’s main/verse riff, which enters at 0:20, is lean and mean. For the vast majority of this four-bar pattern, Mille and Frank are chugging on the open sixth string. This is broken only rarely by less than a handful of power chords sketching out the barest hints of melody. This riff gets by more on its tight groove than anything else.
While the main riff is lean, the chorus is absolutely bare bones. The band plays five power chords over four measures, with no embellishment whatsoever. The melody ascends from E to G to B and then quickly descends in the last measure from F# to F. Perhaps because of this simplicity, the song’s chorus ranks among the most memorable and anthemic of Kreator’s long and productive career.
Beyond the main riff and the chorus, “People of the Lie” contains only a couple other musical ideas. There is a short six-bar bridge and a solo, under which the band plays a slight variation of the main riff, modulating it through a handful of keys. Most notable, however, after the solo at 2:09 is the brief but effective interlude featuring a catchy melody harmonized in fifths.
In a way, Kreator came full circle with “People of the Lie.” Though the band had grown and improved immensely–both in performance and composition–in the mere five years since Endless Pain, it could still get the job done in three minutes with a few simple riffs.
And that, folks, is where we’re going to leave it, at least for now. Coma of Souls by no means marked the end of Kreator’s evolution, but like many thrash bands in the Nineties, Kreator struggled to find its place when death metal and then black metal overtook thrash at the extreme metal forefront. The band experimented with different sounds, and the resulting albums were often less than thrashtastic. Thankfully, Mille and company returned to form in the new millennium with 2001’s Violent Revolution, and the band has been releasing quality, if a bit over-melodic, thrash albums and ripping up stages the world over ever since.
It has been a long ride, but I hope you have enjoyed this examination of Kreator’s metamorphosis from raw, hungry upstarts to accomplished thrash masters. Next time Riffology will return to its regular format and, with any luck, a regular schedule.
In the comments post your favorite instance of double-bass drumming in metal.
Kreator – Coma of Souls