For those paying attention, 2016 was a bit of an American thrash revival with many of the 80s biggest names scoring successful “comeback” albums full of rich, speedy goodness. Hell, even Metallica graced us with something arguably worth hearing, so the pigs have clearly taken flight. Sadly, our beloved European counterparts fared less successfully, with Destruction and Sodom releasing decent but unremarkable platters. That leaves it to the mighty Kreator to right the Germanic thrash battleship and hold the Flag of Hate high as they return from a 4-year hiatus with Gods of Violence. Can they top the wildly entertaining fury of 2012s Phantom Antichrist? Can they still fit into those bullet belts and high tops? No, and also no, but fear not.
After a militant-sounding war march of an intro, things get off to a Furious George-approved start with the vicious “World War Now.” This is the Kreator we know and love, with rabid riffs cascading over a cliff of excess as Mille’s ever-caustic snarl snaps and chomps at our nether regions in unsettling ways. It’s fast and angry but also catchy and anthemic, and the melodic break at the mid-way point is expertly done, sticking around just long enough before the rip-saw guitar solos crash in to Hanneman/King their way into your heart. Thrash done right.
There are several other examples of thrash excellence here, like the wonderfully over-the-top “Totalitarian Terror” which blasts away with a punky viciousness that recalls their Terrible Certainty era, while still injecting some of their newfound sense of melody and ear hookitude come chorus time. Best of the lot is the title track which plays like a trip through the band’s entire career, fusing blinding speed with Middle Eastern melodies and stunning guitar-work, and they even work in the epic vibe of their much-maligned Endorama material. The sheer amount of tasty riffs and leads they cram in is staggering. The lead at 3:53 will likely be one of my favorites of 2017 and that’s just a small part of the fun the song offers.
The fun doesn’t stop there, as “Army of Storms” adds some effective Maiden-isms to the thrash template with good results, and “Hail to the Hordes” is a brilliant cut jam-packed with traditional metal influences and an epic feel. It’s such a fist pumping, classic metal song it’s almost hard to believe you’re listening to Kreator. The same goes for impressive closer “Death Becomes My Light” which is also steeped in traditional metal, sounding like a mix of Maiden, Priest, Helstar and once again, Kreator‘s Endorama era, with Mille’s clean vocals making a rare (and brief) appearance. The increase in classic metal influences makes for a less thrashy end product, but it enhances the album’s diversity and keeps things from feeling monotonous.
While there are no bad songs, “Satan is Real” is much less interesting than the surrounding songs and the one-two punch of “Fallen Brother” and “Side by Side” is a bit less entertaining than the aforementioned moments. At 51 minutes, Gods never feels like it runs too long and it goes by in an entertaining flash. Sound-wise it’s a bit loud, but not to the extent that it inhibits enjoyment or fatigues the ear.
The biggest reason Gods is so much fun is the wild guitar-work from Millie and Sami Yli-Sirniö (Barren Earth). They shred and slash their way through the material while appropriating from thrash and classic metal equally. Their skills are certainly impressive, but it’s how catchy and engaging their playing is that really wows the listener. Mille’s bark hasn’t changed much over the decades and he remains one of the best thrash vocalists of all time. His raspy snarls and screams are as effective in 2017 as they were in 1985 and he always adds righteous venom to the chaos. Likewise, Ventor is the ever-reliable back-line kit abuser, and smacks the skins with power and rage aplenty. When you go back and spin classic albums like Pleasure to Kill or Terrible Certainty, you realize how different their current approach is, but it’s still Kreator and they can still kill it with fire.
As a straight-up thrash opus, Gods of Violence is ever so slightly less inspired than Phantom Antichrist, and while their increasing affinity for classic metal does dilute the aural savagery, it definitely adds an interesting dimension to their sound. The Great Thrash Revival hasn’t ended yet, and here’s hoping it never does. Long live the living legends.