Monday, 13 February 2017

Kreator's 'Gods of Violence' - Album Review

2016 was the 'Year of the Thrash' with many major thrash bands releasing great albums that all added to their legacies. Megadeth, Anthrax, Death Angel, Testament, and Metallica (plus others I am sure) all released excellent albums last year. Megadeth's excellent Dystopia was even afforded a well-deserved place in my Top 10 Albums of the Year list for 2016. It seems fitting that this monumental year for thrash should be book ended by two other excellent thrash releases. Slayer released Repentless towards the back end of 2015, and 2017 has started with a bang for the genre as German teutonic thrash giants Kreator have released their long-awaited fourteenth studio album Gods of Violence. Since forming back in 1982, Kreator have been a hugely influential band and are rightly revered in the metal world. The German teutonic thrash scene, which Kreator pioneered along with bands like Destruction and Sodom, was always heavier and more aggressive than their American Bay Area counterparts. While all thrash music is heavily influenced by classic heavy rock/metal and punk, the German bands certainly took more from punk attitude than their American peers. The NWOBHM movement was also a big influence on all thrash, but where Metallica took influence from Diamond Head and Saxon; Kreator took influence from Venom and Tank. This put the German bands on a much heavier path than the Americans, and created a sound which is actually closer to extreme metal than anything else. Early Kreator albums were certainly touchstones for the European black and death metal bands that followed in the following years, with founding member, guitarist, and vocalist Mille Petrozza's raspy, aggressive vocal style certainly forming the blueprint for all black metal screechers to come. As influential as early albums such as 1985's Endless Pain and 1986's Pleasure to Kill are, the past fifteen years or so have seen the band settle down somewhat into a slightly more accessible sound that relies heavily on the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene for influence. The Kreator of 2017 are far less punky and extreme as the Kreator of 1985, but that is not to say they are less powerful. The sound is cleaner, mainly due to better production facilities and budgets, and the songs are more hook-driven, but the same thrash attitude and song are still there. Gods of Violence is the band's fifth album to feature the band's current line-up, made up of founding members Petrozza and drummer Ventor ; bassist Christian Giesler who joined the band in 1994; and Finnish guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö who joined in 2001. It is the band's second album released through the giant metal label Nuclear Blast, and second to be produced by revered metal producer Jens Bogren. As is Bogren's style, Gods of Violence sounds extremely heavy and aggressive but the material here still sounds very clear and powerful. This is an album that definitely follows the band's blueprint of the past 15 or so years, but still manages to add something positive to their legacy with strong songwriting and performances.

After the percussive orchestral guitar intro Apocalypticon, a staple of many metal albums, the album gets underway with the fast and heavy World War Now. We expect thrash to be fast, but the song's main riff still manages to catch the listener off guard as it steams in in all it's Gothenburg glory. While some thrash vocalists loose their edge and anger over the years, Petrozza sounds as good now as he has ever done, he native German accent adding a heavier and more menacing edge than many of his peers. The song mixes extremely fast, almost hardcore punky, choruses with barked lyrics, with more methodical verses that are built on a solid and memorable riff. Drummer Ventor has lost none of his dexterity either, with the drumming during the choruses in particular being punishing. World War Now certainly sets out the band's thrash stall, but the next song, Satan is Real takes a much slower route. It is not just the tolling church bell in the song's intro that brings Black Sabbath to mind, and some of the slower moments here bring to mind the doom of the British legends. Petrozza and Yli-Sirniö's twin-lead guitar melodies help to add plenty of hooks throughout, and the slow, repetitive chorus just buries itself in your head. Not all thrash has to be played at break-neck speed, and these more crushingly heavy songs often help to provide variety on thrash albums. The guitar solo, presumably played by Yli-Sirniö but the album's booklet does not specify, is excellent too with plenty of technical but melodic runs. Totalitarian Terror brings another injection of speed to the album, and opens with a flurry of double bass drumming and Gothenbury-style riffing. This riff and drum pattern also forms the backbone of the chorus, which is easily one of the album's best, The melody and power in the riff, combined with some slightly left-field vocal melodies, makes for a strong combination that has a classic heavy metal feel but with an extreme metal bent. Some of the vocal melodies are almost Dio-esque! This vibe continues with the guitar solo, which much less of a shred-fest than many of the others on the album. It is the clear the band still continue to take influence for classic heavy metal and hard rock. The album's title track is one of the best songs here, and it opens in beautiful style with acoustic guitar and harp melodies that offer a little respite from all the heaviness that has gone on so far. The slightly Asian-inspired melodies are different from the sort of thing the band would usually do, and even when the opening guitar lead kicks in the melodies persist. Unsurprisingly, this gentle period does not last long, and the song proper soon comes with another furious riff that certainly has elements of early black and death metal about it. It is clear to see why Kreator had such an influence on the emerging extreme metal scenes of the late 1980s, and those elements are still very much present in the band's sound. This song is packed full of memorable riffs that constantly surprise, and the gang vocal section in the chorus is really made to be played live! Army of Storms leaves behind the extreme elements of the band's sound, and instead takes more cues from classic heavy metal with a less claustrophobic and more basic sound. Not many thrash songs are truly 'sing along' classics, but this one certainly is. Petrozza's vocal melodies throughout are extremely memorable, and the catchy guitar leads that often sit just beneath the vocals certainly helps the accessibility of the song. There is even a bit of a breakdown here that is similar to things the metalcore scene was doing in the mid-2000s!

This more accessible theme is something that is carried on in Hail to the Hordes. I read a review of this album where someone compared this song to Alestorm, and I know what they mean, but they were using it as a bit of an insult whereas I like this song. A thrash song and a fun catchy song do not have to be mutually exclusive, and this is easily one of the catchiest Kreator songs for a while. This song is clearly meant to be heard live, and I can just picture a large crowd really singing this song back at the band during a concert. The chorus does have a slight sea shanty vibe to it, and the guitar leads that are used throughout only help to cement this feeling; plus there are even bagpipes in the mix, although they can be quite hard to hear! It is certainly a song that is quite different from most of the rest of the material found here, but bands are allowed to have a bit of fun occasionally. Lion with Eagle Wings opens with a rather haunting whispered vocal section before the rest of the song comes crashing in and dispels any notions that the band had gone 'soft' all of a sudden with the previous song. The classic metal feel is still very present however, with some big power chord stabs that sit nicely alongside the true thrash sections with ease. The chorus actually sounds like a heavier version of Iron Maiden, with similar guitar leads and vocal melodies to that band's trademark style. A chugging riff heralds the opening of the crunchy mid-paced rocker Fallen Brother which returns to the vibes that Satan is Real promoted earlier on in the album. In fact, the songs' choruses are quite similar, with similar uses of repetition for maximum effect. I would say however that this song does not quite reach the heights of the former as it does not have the menace or bite of Satan is Real. A German spoken-word section towards the end does help to ramp these thing up a little however. The German language always sounds so menacing to non-speakers! Side by Side is the last true out and out thrasher on the album, and steams along at break-neck speed for most of it's short run time. As with the previous song, this is one that does not reach the heights of other songs on the album. It has a great energy however which certainly helps to remain an enjoyable listen - especially during the chorus which is again boosted by a strong guitar lead. It is one of the album's shorter numbers too, so it does not outstay it's welcome despite not being counted among the album's best pieces. The album comes to a close with the seven minute-plus Death Becomes my Light. a song which is book ended by clean guitar sections with mournful vocals from Petrozza. This is not something the band does very often, but it is used to good effect here. Petrozza's true clean vocals are not exactly that great, but they just about work, and a heavy galloping riff soon takes over and the song becomes a real headbanger's dream. This is a song that reveals more about itself the more you hear it, and the chorus here could be the jewel in the album's crown. The effects-driven clean guitar melodies that cut through the heavy mix while Petrozza howls the choruses make a real difference, and make the song sound like nothing else on the album. While not as fast and thrashy as many of the songs here, Death Becomes my Light is a really excellent piece of heavy metal that fuses many different riffs and passages together with ease and makes good use of light and shade. It is a fitting end to a strong album, and a song that transcends many of the usual thrash clichés. Overall, Gods of Violence is another very strong album from Kreator in a run of good albums that does not appear to be coming to a halt any time soon. While other thrash bands are bigger and get more plaudits, Kreator are one of the most reliable and consistent, and I am sure they will continue to impress.

The album was released on 27th January 2017 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Gods of Violence.

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