The winter of 2007 was a cold yet memorable one, as I found myself alone and trying to learn my way around the city of Essen, and the German language. Grasping at any common interest I might have with random strangers on the U-Bahn so that I might strike up a conversation that would sharpen my colloquial skills, I naturally felt empowered by anyone displaying any alternative culture on their clothing or bags. And God damn, every other person was repping Kreator. “These guys are very well-loved by their countrymen,” I stated in broken German to an older lady with a Kreator patch on her leather jacket sitting across from me. “They are well-loved in Essen,” she said, “because they are from here and they are our band.”
And there is so much meaning in the name alone. Although not the first-ever teutonic thrash outfit, Kreator has certainly become the Godfather of the style. Consistency is a word that often gets thrown around when it comes to bands with larger discographies, but a more accurate word to describe Kreator is persistent. Thirteen albums in and still going unexplainably strong, Kreator will give you its message, which is one of fearless rebellion; and it will give you its music, which has influenced musicians well outside of the thrash genre.
While it is true that Kreator’s early albums never had the songwriting of Ride the Lightning / Master of Puppets or even the riffs of Reign in Blood, can one honestly listen to Pleasure to Kill and believe a genre like black metal would exist the way its known today without such an album? The remarkable aspect of Kreator isn’t just that it has helped spawn entire genres of music, but rather that the band has kept going. Sure, there has certainly been some odd experimentation along the way (think Renewal through Endorama), but even a lot of that is absolutely stellar work, albeit not the classic Kreator Last Rites wishes to represent here. Phantom Antichrist, a work that was no less inspired than any of the band’s early material, was the band’s thirteenth album, and it showed absolutely zero signs of Mille, Ventor and crew slowing down.
“Macht kaputt was euch kaputt macht,” well before its english translation ever became a Kreator track, was a stickered slogan blanketed all over the city of Essen’s subway stations and street signs, but it’s also a tremendously accurate phrase for Kreator’s prosperous yet humble career. Kreator, more than anything, wishes to be a beacon of hope for good in a world that is increasingly more corrupt, more polluted and more selfish. Its anti-war and anti-fascist message has been carried by many unforgettable riffs and melodies over the past thirty years, but it has always been fierce. Much like two strangers sitting across from one another on a train, every Kreator fan has a deep well of things in common with the next, because Kreator is a unifying force – a yearning for peace despite an apocalyptic outlook – for good in a dying world.
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FLAG OF HATE[Endless Pain, 1985]
When Endless Pain came blasting forth in 1985, thrash was in its earliest stages, and though some contemporaries may have equaled them, there was no one faster, no one more chaotic, and no one more blistering than Kreator. Dead in the center of Endless Pain, “Flag Of Hate” is a raging beast of a tune, from Ventor’s sloppy-but-perfect drum intro to the proto-black tremolo of the riff, and all topped with Petrozza’s snarling bite. (A literal bite, perhaps, if you count the bit about “I’ll eat your intestines.”) Raise your flag of hate, indeed, and this is the perfect soundtrack.
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TOXIC TRACE[Terrible Certainty, 1987]
Of all the thrash bands to come out of Germany – and heck, the world – Kreator has perhaps the most diverse and consistently successful catalogs. The track “Toxic Trace” represents their third album, Terrible Certainty in this here Devil’s Dozen. That album was the last time that drummer, and part-time lead vocalist, Ventor, would touch the microphone (although it wouldn’t be for this track). “Toxic Trace” is yet another awesome instance of Kreator flexing its social justice muscles and writing music that just kicks ass. Aside from the blistering pace, burning soloes and typical Kreator aggression, the lyrics deal with the poisoning of our beautiful planet. And that’s classic Kreator: Using its untouchable musicianship and expert thrash composition to highlight issues. If only Kreator was correct when it crooned, “Social injustice will be no more, without exception, devastate all.”
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DEATH IS YOUR SAVIOUR[Pleasure to Kill, 1986]
For many, myself included, Pleasure to Kill represented a perfect storm of Teutonic rage that balanced the sheer violence that ruled Kreator’s 1985 debut with just the right amount of rude melody and boldness that would eventually play a much heavier role on future releases.
The touch of ornamentation was still far from perfect, as evidenced by the amazing “Death is Your Saviour.” The song tramples from the gate on the back of Ventor’s potent drumming, then quickly cuts into a savage velocity that’s blown through the roof via two leads that hit the listener like wild snakes bursting from the chest of an enraged skeleton warrior.
Adding to the tune’s overall merit: it’s a VENTOR ATTAKK! on the mic, so we get to hear poetic eminence such as “fight under immortal command spread fear across the land trusting holy rule death is your saviour” barked at a hundred miles an hour, with no comma or period in sight. He’s the Cormac McCarthy of violent thrash.
One spin of Pleasure to Kill is enough to murder even the most ironclad listener, and “Death is Your Saviour”is clearly one of the record’s cruelest fatalities. Show your planet who is the Lord.
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EXTREME AGGRESSION[Extreme Aggression, 1989]
You never know the kind of aggression, penchant for violence or intentions that can lie in the darkest parts of someone. Extreme Aggression isn’t about seeing that in others, though. It’s about seeing that in yourself. Harsh mirrors aren’t exactly easy to look into, but at least you have a great soundtrack to smash the fuck out of that mirror to when you’re done. The trademarks of classic Kreator are all here, including the fierce energy that flows through it, and the relentless hammering riffs. Extreme Aggression also holds as a marker compositionally for Kreator’s music. For this album, and song, the band took on a much more structured approach, dropping off the raw harshness from releases that preceded it. Album preferences for fans will usually lie on a particular side of this marker, but few will argue the merits of releasing some aggression through this Teutonic gem.
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TERRIBLE CERTAINTY[Terrible Certainty, 1987]
By its third album, Terrible Certainty, Kreator was becoming a more refined unit, and the razor sharp riffing of the album’s title track is proof of said refinement. The deliberate, almost mechanically precise stomp of the song’s opening riff stands in contrast to the unbridled savagery of the band’s previous work. However, this more precise approach is, in its own way, just as neck-snappingly brutal as anything from the first two albums, and makes the riff as infectious as the plague depicted in the song’s lyrics. The band also works a surprisingly catchy melody into the verse riff without out unclenching its iron-fisted approach to rhythm. Kreator is in peak form on this track, and it remains a live staple to this day.
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TORMENTOR[Endless Pain, 1985]
The shortest song from Kreator’s debut, yet the most powerful, “Tormentor” is pure first wave black metal while still providing a blueprint for where the band would eventually go. Mille’s perfect vocal performance here provides the catchiest part of the song, while Ventor’s drumming stays light-footed and frenetic. The guitars in particular display more youthful passion than finesse; clockwork precision was several years out for Kreator. Just a lo-fi power trio providing aggression and attitude. This song would go on to influence a genre, and it’s a pure gem on its own merits.
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BETRAYER[Extreme Aggression, 1989]
Thrash metal will always have its place because it is a means to an end. If done properly, it will stir up feelings of frustration, anger and resentment to course through you in a sharp outburst. It will voice those feelings, and the melodies will match the intensity of them and the end result will feel like a release. This is a song written for the coworker who threw you under the bus, then rolled over you a few times, that “friend” who was trash talking you, or that dirt bag who broke your heart. Because what are they? BETRAYER. DECEIVER. Let the darkness flow through you, the Germans will teach you the way of the Sith for how it can be properly harnessed.
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COMA OF SOULS[Coma of Souls, 1990]
Sandwiched between the aggressively extreme Extreme Aggression and the underrated Renewal, Coma of Souls portrayed a face of Kreator that was exceptionally appropriate for the time. It was 1990; thrash was more commercially endorsed than ever, and bands that showed a respectable amount of skill landed big labels and extensive tours that put actual money in the back pockets of a lot of ripped, acid-washed jeans.
For Kreator, this meant tempering the sheer vitriol flaunted via their ’89 release with enough melody and song-writing complexity to make everyone wonder if they’d spent the summer kicking around footballs with Adrian Smith and Steve Harris. In true Kreator fashion, however, the added progression and prettiness was still offset with enough aggression to tornado a circle pit into a hurricane, and the fantastic title track flaunted the appropriate amount of vehemence to pull any rager worth their salt directly into the storm.
If you can sit through the contagious, malicious riff that opens and closes this beautiful shot of venom without thinking about skanking through a crowd of featherweights, you are a sourpuss of epic proportions.
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VIOLENT REVOLUTION[Violent Revolution, 2001]
I did my duty as a developing metalhead in the mid-90s and picked up a copy of Pleasure to Kill/Flag of Hate…but for whatever reason, I wasn’t ready for it. It didn’t grow on me; I just flat out ignored it as it sat on my shelf. Over time, though, I began to learn and subsequently respect their influence and legacy – still without touching that album.
Then, along came Violent Revolution, and everything changed.
Now in the second stage of my development, “jaw-droppingly awestruck” is an apt description at hearing the title track. The urgency, the precision, the teutonicness was mindblowing. This was an album that demanded to be heard, and quickly made thrash my favorite subgenre. Pleasure to Kill suddenly made a lot more sense; the bland taste that came from dabbling in the band’s mid-to-late 90s experimentations was completely cleared away. “Reconquering the Throne” may have been the mission statement, but “Violent Revolution” was the call to action that firmly re-established not only Kreator’s relevance, but its place among the elite.
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CIVILIZATION COLLAPSE[Phantom Antichrist, 2012]
Kreator’s most recent album, Phantom Antichrist, is loaded from top to bottom. If anything, the album reveals that Kreator still has plenty of gas left in the tank. “Civilization Collapse” is a barnstormer with a mid-paced intro leading into fast riffing and a steady gallop. The chorus down shifts and adds some melody, giving the song distinction, but what’s most memorable about “Civilization Collapse” is the precise, fast riffing. The combination of speed and melody narrowly gives this song the edge over the album’s title track.
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WARCURSE[Hordes of Chaos, 2009]
After the hyper-produced project that was Enemy of God, Kreator took a completely different approach with Hordes of Chaos, recording it the closest thing to live-in-studio. “Warcurse” is a highlight for recapturing some of that enthusiastic chaos of the black metal days. The almost tribal intro of toms and harmonics gives way to a first first that, if it were more lo-fi, wouldn’t sound out of place on Pleasure to Kill. After the second chorus, the song transitions into a modern, tightly palm-muted mid-tempo thrash section, proving that the band can do both. “Warcurse” proves that Kreator is at its best when they just go for it and don’t waste time quantizing each note.
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ENEMY OF GOD[Enemy of God, 2005]
“You know, I wish Kreator would learn how to write a halfway decent title track for once in its career,” said no one that ever lived. Why’s that? Well let’s see… out of the nine albums represented in this Devil’s Dozen, all of the title tracks received votes. None, however, were as popular as “Enemy of God,” and for two primary reasons. First, this song has structure, baby. In classic, circle pit fashion, its opening segments contain enough adrenaline to resurrect the dead. A devastating breakdown takes place next, followed by a catchy two-step pattern good enough to make every modern hardcore band simply quit playing music, if they knew what was good for themselves – not to mention some brilliant soloing before the song’s closing, emotional outro.
It’s not just the structure of the song that’s so powerful, though. Instead of taking the easy path to thrash / black / death blasphemy, Kreator really addresses the fundamental issue it has with religion here. Wars aren’t just started over religion, they are justified by it. The fact that people who believe fantasies truly feel, with every fiber of their being, that it’s right to hurt people who believe different fantasies… The essence of that fanatacism is what Kreator addresses so incredibly well in what might be the band’s most iconic title track in all thirteen albums.
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RIOT OF VIOLENCE[Pleasure to Kill, 1986]
It’s been said that thrash, in its essence, is about violence, and if that is so, then “Riot of Violence” is thrash in its purest form. An almost nonsensical tale of violence, bloodshed and apocalyptic destruction, “Riot of Violence” is rendered all the more potent by the maniacal vocal performance of one Jurgen “Ventor” Reil. Yet, for all its violent imagery, “Riot of Violence,” with its myriad changes, is one of the most sophisticated early Kreator tracks. From the predatory bite of the opening riff, the nearly-elegant dance of guitar and bass in the first interlude, the hardcore-esque strumming of the chorus, the death metal tremolo riffs preceding the second solo, and the chiming harmonics of the fourth (or is it fifth?) interlude that sound the death knell for that poor lonely flower as it’s kicked away with “POWAAAAAH!”, “Riot of Violence” proves itself to be an all-time thrash classic at every turn, and a surprisingly astute commentary on man’s inhumanity to man.
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