I remember being a young lad in the mid 80s and hearing the classic Kreator albums Endless Pain and Pleasure to Kill and thinking they’d taken extreme metal as far as it could ever go. They seemed THAT raw and heavy at the time. Obviously, I was foolish and naive and things got way more nasty and sick since then. In those intervening years, Kreator‘s discography has gone in a few different directions, not all of them good. In the past year or so, the other two members of the Big Three of German thrash (Sodom and Destruction to all you nOObs) released quality albums, showing the old dogs still had some new tricks. Now Kreator completes the cycle with the surprisingly great Phantom Antichrist, and in the process, establishes a sort of Teutonic thrash renaissance (or Pox Germania, if you will). Phantom is the best of the bunch, and shows a new set of influences creeping in to the standard Kreato-template. In some ways, it’s as if Mille and company blended their entire history (even Renewal and Endorama) into one cohesive sound and included a healthy dose of melodic death influence from In Flames and Insomnium. In the process, they managed to create a shockingly catchy and listenable thrash album that still maintains enough razor-sharp points and jagged edges, capable of inflicting severe lacerations to the eardrums. It’s way better than 2009’s Hordes of Chaos and it’s likely their best since 89’s Extreme Aggression.
After a strange intro that does nothing to prepare you for the impending sonic ass whooping, the title track quickly proves that Kreator is back in a major way. It’s a blazing, maniacal ripper with that classic Kreator vibe. Mille’s raspy screech sounds great and the riffing is angry and bitter. It also sports a catchy chorus and some of the best guitar work and solos these guys ever had. “Death to the World” is even better and hurls a boatload of wild riffing and tasteful leads at you (especially tasteful at 2:00 and 2:56). I especially like how they tuck so many melodic goodies in the small spaces between the vicious thrash and violence. It has a simple but hooky chorus and reminds me of the material from personal favorite Terrible Certainty, and that’s a very good thing indeed. Things keep right on rolling with “From Flood to Fire,” which features some epic-flavored Amon Amarth riffs, brief clean singing, anthemic chorus and nutty solos.
Elsewhere, “United in Hate” sports a decided Destruction influence and “Until Our Paths Cross Again” borrows liberally from the book of moody Insomnium riffs. Hell, they even openly reference their widely hated Endorama opus on “Your Heaven, My Hell” and even that works just fine and dandy (and includes a bit of NWOBHM riffing, as does “Victory Will Come”). All the songs manage to be catchy and memorable, especially around chorus time. A lot of the material has a bigger-than-life anthemic quality to it but things remain satisfyingly heavy for the bulk of playtime.
More so than any Kreator album in my memory, this is a guitar free-for-all. There’s a huge portion of noodling and showboating by Mille and Sami Yli-Sirnio and at times it will remind of vintage In Flames. While it’s a long way from the primitive brutality of Pleasure to Kill, and thrash with melodic sensibility and technical chops is clearly not the Kreator calling card, it really works well and keeps attention laser-focused to the music. Ventor’s drumming is ever reliable and thunderous and Mille sounds plenty savage. It’s a band firing on all cylinders and writing some of their best music in years.
Sound-wise, everything is big and crisp, but not too modern and sterile. Of course, I prefer more rawness and murk in the mix, but as modern-day productions go, at least it doesn’t detract from the quality of the music or sound overly processed. The guitar sound is what really counts here, and it’s big and punishing enough, though not as distorted as I might prefer.
I love it when legends like Kreator release albums good enough to keep them relevant in today’s metal landscape. Based on Phantom Antichrist, they still have a powerful voice and a place at the head of the Great Table of Thrash (now available at IKEA). This is easily one of the best thrash albums of 2012 and a welcome return by respected vets. Check this out post-haste, then go listen to Terrible Certainty! That album is criminally overlooked and undervalued. So sayeth Lord Protector Steel Druhm (yep, I gave myself a promotion).