For many, the classic works of German thrash legends Kreator are as irreplaceable parts of their lives as Star Wars. People remember the first time they heard albums like Pleasure to Kill and Coma of Souls as easily as they remember first seeing Luke and Vader’s climactic battle in Empire. Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get it. We’re talking grade-A, canonized entertainment here.
It’s funny then, that much of Kreator’s new millennium material felt a bit like the Star Wars “Special Editions.” There was a new layer of polish on everything, but the battle-thrashing-brutality was largely the same, and Mille Petrozza’s gruff vocals were only getting better with age. But mixed in with the classic sound was the band’s ever-growing desire to stay current with the times. A huge dose of Gothenburg melodeath crept in bit by bit, as did big, dumb, tailor-made-for-Eurofest-singalong moments. Kreator, a band that has had nothing to prove in decades, still seemed desperate to prove their worth. It was kinda like when you were enjoying the polished version of Return of the Jedi when suddenly you’re assaulted with…
Much like with the Special Editions, Kreator’s new additions were never enough to ruin the experience, as albums like Enemy of God still managed to be total beasts, but with each new album, this vibe increased, and on Phantom Antichrist, major cracks were beginning to show.
Well if recent albums felt like the Special Editions, Gods of Violence is Kreator going full-on Prequels. Alright, that might be another small exaggeration; this isn’t a Phantom Menace-level offense, but I’d be hard pressed to say it’s better than Revenge of the Sith. Like on Phantom Antichrist, the band’s mixture of classic thrashing and melodeath stylings is front and center, but here the desire for catchiness means that almost every song is in some way hurt by ham-fisted passages more befitting of Trivium than the kings of Teutonic thrash. And it’s a goddamn shame, because take out these parts, and you’d have a really great modern Kreator album full of violent thrashing, vicious vocals, and monster soloing.
But all of those passages exist, and the level to which one will enjoy Gods of Violence correlates directly with how much one thinks these “raise your fists!” parts taint the songs. For yours truly, it is obtrusive to the enjoyment of all but a few tracks. It’s especially damning when the songs that could be the best are damaged by the worst passages. True opener “World War Now,” for example, is an absolute monster through its beastly verse and chorus, but when it hits the bridge, it all turns to garbage. It’s like Kreator just heard bands that were popular at Hot Topic in about 2004 and wanted to appeal to that crowd. Moments like this ought to be as embarrassing for band and fans alike as stuffed threaters having to witness the atrocity of Jar-Jar Binks for the first time. (Another exaggeration? Maybe.) As a result, Petrozza’s attempts to sound profound during these parts – such as his declaration of “One million hands turn into fists!” – end up sounding utterly juvenile.
…And then the song gets back to thrashing and delivers a truly great solo section, and you’re left feeling a little confused why it all had to be ruined by one passage that reeked of desperation. This is pretty much the story for the entirety of the album. Only a few songs are completely bad (the Amon Amarth wannabe “Hail to the Hordes,” the Heafy-ish “Side by Side”), and only a few are completely good (“Army of Storms,” the solo-rich “Lion with Eagle Wings”). Most are this frustrating mix of seemingly opposing philosophies about how to write and deliver metal. The title track, for example, is mostly a very good example of a “dramatic” Kreator, but begins with a section completely designed to whip the crowd into a frenzy; as if being Kreator isn’t enough to do that on its own.
It’s clear that Kreator achieved exactly what they wanted to achieve with Gods of Violence. What isn’t clear is why they wanted to achieve this. There is a pretty beastly, 40-minute Kreator album hidden in these 50 minutes, but the band’s inability to let go of the try-hard material ought to ensure that this one will start gathering dust pretty quickly.
But hey, at least the new Star Wars movies are rad.