Over the course of the past two years, it seems as if classic thrash metal has enjoyed something of a renaissance. The doors for the return of old-school speed were arguably opened by Slayer’s Repentless in late 2015 and, while many metalheads have said that the record couldn’t hold a candle when compared to stone cold classics like Reign in Blood and Seasons in the Abyss, what followed in its wake was practically unprecedented. A few months later, there were new releases from Annihilator, Megadeth, Anthrax, Voivod, Metallica and more, with Testament and Death Angel especially stealing the show with career highlights Brotherhood of the Snake and The Evil Divide, respectively.
And come 27th January, the hot streak of classic speed metal’s second coming will continue thanks to German veterans Kreator and their career-defining trailblazer Gods of Violence. In anticipation of what will be his band’s fourteenth full-length record, frontman and evil mastermind Mille Petrozza explores his career to date, from Kreator’s early days and the beloved Terrible Certainty album right up to the present and their two new, horror-inspired music videos.
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Obviously, you’re chatting with us today to promote the new album, Gods of Violence, coming out this month. This is going to be your first album in five years.
Four and a half to be precise.
So, what caused the band to take that long with the album? Did you just really want to take your time with it, or was there more to it than that?
When you’re on the road, there’s no real time to write. So in order to become inspired again, it’s essential to take some time off and live your life a little bit, and we did that in 2015 and 2016: we only played very few festival appearances and didn’t do any major touring. It took us a while, but I think it was worth it, because I don’t see a reason to come out with something that’s half ready, or not exciting enough to, y’know… for me not to enjoy my own music. The music should be the most important.
Absolutely. And Kreator is probably one of the best-known bands of the German metal scene. What was that setting like in the ‘80s, and has it changed a great deal since then?
I would say that the German metal scene, when we were starting out, it was more just the European metal scene. Because, in Germany, there was a few bands that played the same style as we did: there were many bands that played more traditional metal and we were one of the few bands that played thrash metal. So for us, in the beginning, it wasn’t that many bands, really. We were all teenagers at that time and to get gigs was not very easy. It was an interesting time I would say, it was definitely… you don’t know what’s happening around you, you just go for it!
And now that we’re in 2017, it’s the thirtieth anniversary of one of your earliest albums, Terrible Certainty, which a lot of fans consider to be among your best. What are some of the first things that come to mind when you look back at that album and that period in the band?
I really don’t think much about those days. I think that, like I said earlier, we were busy finding our sound and being part of a metal scene that was young, fresh and exciting. At the time, we didn’t think too much; it was all by instinct. We were writing albums every year almost and it was very fast, very spontaneous [and] full of energy. And Terrible Certainty is one of our strongest albums, the fans are right.
Talking of finding your sound, in the ‘90s you experimented with many genres and sub-genres. By the time that that period of the band came around, had you grown tired of thrash metal in general?
If you look at the time when we wrote our first albums, at a very young age, of course we wanted to explore new music and we wanted to explore new ways of expressing ourselves. I guess that’s why we were experimenting with new styles and new sounds. The ‘90s were a good time for that. We were discovering new instruments, we toured with a lot of bands that came from different styles, it made us also look for a newer sound. I think that started with the album Renewal and it ended with Endorama in 1999. But these experiments were necessary in order to get us to redefine our sound from the end of the ‘80s/beginning of the ‘90s to the 2000s.
Do you think that that experimentation in the ‘90s has helped Kreator to last as long as it has?
Yeah, absolutely. We would’ve gotten bored with what we do. Why even bother? I chose music because I want to express myself, I wanted to have something where I have to follow no one else’s rules but my own. And I guess that really, who says when you’re in a thrash band that you can’t experiment? Who sets the rules of music? I was always excited, I was always a big fan of music in general and I never thought of music as like a dogmatic thing and something where you just follow orders that your fans dictate. That’s not how it works. As a musician, you should just follow your heart really, that’s it.
And looking at other German metal bands now – bands like Rammstein, for example – there are some that are very, very experimental. What’s your reaction to the native bands that are playing in Germany right now?
These bands all come from the eastern part of Germany, and those people were always very open to experimentation. The German style is very unique, y’know. Many of those bands, if they don’t sing in German, you can definitely hear the German accent. The music is very different, it’s a very unique form of metal: it’s nothing like American metal or British metal. But it’s probably closer to British metal than American and not so bluesy. You’re absolutely right, mentioning these bands from Germany: they are experimental and they’re definitely some of the most exciting bands coming out of Germany.
When it came time for Violent Retribution in 2001, you went back to the more thrash metal style. What was it after all that experimentation that made you want to go back to more straight-forward thrash?
It wasn’t something we were planning. It wasn’t something where we said ‘OK, we need to go back to the thrash metal thing,’ we just… in the ‘90s, we would do a whole album where we would put a dogma on the music, saying ‘OK, we won’t go full speed with not as many solos.’ I always call those albums ‘the dogma albums’, because I think that was definitely necessary to explore new music. In the beginning of 2000 and 2001, when we recorded Violent Retribution, we put all these away and we were just like ‘Let’s try to be Kreator with a twist. Let’s use all these experiments and metal experience from our past and bring it to the future, bring it into the new millennium.’ That’s what we did; there was no conscious decision to be thrash metal again. I think there was a lot of thrash metal in Outcast and Cause for Conflict. There might not have been so much thrash metal on Endorama, but those were all metal albums. Everything we did was always metal.
We spoke earlier about how you wrote Gods of Violence and that you needed to be away from the road to formulate new ideas. Was it the same in the ‘90s and 2000s?
I think that it was kind of like the same thing: we always needed some time off. Now we take more time, but that’s only because we tour a lot more than we did in the ‘90s. I guess the songwriting process hasn’t changed that much, even though I use modern-day technology. I have my own studio that I can go into, my friend has a professional recording studio where I can make demos that sound just like albums, so it’s all very convenient. Technology has made the band a lot better. We have a much better picture of what we want to do before we head into the studio and we can hear things better. We’re better musicians also, but the technology helps a lot.
Gods of Violence is going to be your fourteenth album. So as you go, does it get harder to come up with new ideas, considering how many albums you have made?
I wouldn’t say it becomes harder; I could come out with an album every year if I wanted to, but I don’t want to. It’s because it becomes harder to come up with exciting music that we haven’t played before and done before. For example, when I did my first album, I hadn’t used any riffs up to that album. Now this is the fourteenth album and many of the riffs that I write have been written by myself already, so I have to find ways of not repeating myself. This is the essential thing: we don’t want to repeat ourselves. And in order to achieve that, of course, you need to take your time and take things very seriously. With that matter, yeah, it gets harder. It becomes more of a challenge. But at the end of the day, when we have our album ready and we listen to it, we say ‘Yeah, this is still great man. This is still something that we can be 100% convinced about and something we can support with all our hearts and souls.’
And listening to Gods of Violence, it is a very world-conscious record with tracks like “World War Now.” Do you think heavy metal is innately a very political genre of music?
It might be political sometimes but, let me put it this way, it’s more of a statement than a political genre. There are many bands that would use escapism and would never touch any political issues and there are other bands, and I would count Kreator, that use political issues as material for lyrics that go more into the realm of fantasy and dark horror, basing it on political events or terrorist attacks. On the new record, this is the case. I use some political inspiration but I would never talk about politics in general. I would never go ‘OK, you all need to become communists or fascists or whatever.’ There’s no political party that I can support 100% because I have my own political philosophy that things are way more complicated than they seem when it comes to living in a society and finding some government. Those people can only be human and, of course, some of them can be corrupt. So, it’s a fairly complicated subject and it’s not easy to put such complicated issues into a three-minute song.
And so far, you’ve released two videos from the record, ‘Gods of Violence’ and ‘Satan Is Real’, that both embody that dark horror you were talking about. Were you inspired by horror films when you were making those videos and were there any particular ones that really influenced you?
The ‘Gods of Violence’ video clip was inspired by the director Mario Bava. He was a director from the ‘60s and we wanted the video to look like one of his early movies. The second one [‘Satan Is Real’] was very much inspired by the movie The Witch that came out last year. Both of those videos are connected, but the third one will be even more connected. When you see the third one, it will all make sense because the two other videos we shot take place in darker times. One was taking place in the middle ages and the other one was ancient times, but the new one will be linked to modern-day times and it will be like a puzzle, you’ll have to solve it like a puzzle. The third one will make things clearer.
Are you able to say which song will be used in the third video?
It’s the song ‘Totalitarian Terror’.
Alright man, I look forward to watching it. Thank you so much for your time today.
Alright, thank you very much. See you later!