Five years between albums is a long time when out of all the old guard of eighties thrash metal bands, you’ve been by far the most consistent of the twenty first century. Once one of the most fearsome and brutal thrash metal bands out there as evidenced by genre landmarks Pleasure to Kill and Extreme Aggression, the experimental nineties led to some decent but ultimately questionable releases, another thrash band that seemed to have been claimed by the decade that all but buried the genre.In 2001 Kreator “mark three” came back with a vengeance with Violent Revolution, returning to a more straight forward thrash style, returning to the heaviness of the past but polishing up the production, amping up the crowd-pleasing epic song writing and imbuing an Iron Maiden-esque sense of guitar melody – winning over new fans, and winning back all but the staunchest of the eighties fans who stopped listening. A four album run since then culminated in their best album of the 21st century era in Phantom Antichrist, taking all these elements to perfection, followed by multiple headline tours and headline slots at Wacken, Summer Breeze and Metal Days, among others of the most prestigious festivals in Europe. So to reiterate, five years has a felt like an almost endless wait but their fourteenth album Gods of Violence is finally here.
If you’re still expecting a return to the somewhat sloppy but awe-inspiring brutality of the eighties – stop waiting because it isn’t coming back. Gods of Violence is exactly the kind of continuance to expected from the melodic but heavy Phantom Antichrist. Mille Petroza’s trademark aggressive but comprehensible snarl drives the songs forward with rousing verses and choruses atop riffs that are equal parts melodic and heavy. The title track is a perfect example of this – fast and melodic riffs that stick in your brain, blazing lead solos coming straight from the Iron Maiden guidebook and pounding thrashy drums all make for a heavy as fuck but easily accessible piece that’s simply classic “mark three” Kreator. The chorus is easy to sing along to the rhythm section gets the head banging away in one of the heaviest tracks on the album, with World War Now and Totalitarian Terror delivering the same brilliant modern thrash.
What Phantom Antichrist did well though was it’s ability to always sound completely epic on every track, even those such as From Flood into Fire or Civilisation Collapse that were slower and more melodic, intended not to be listened to in the bedroom but sung along to en masse at shows. Even if the lyrics got a little cliche it never felt at all cheesy, always sounding epic through the instrumental heaviness and melody. Unfortunately at points on Gods of Violence it seems to go too far when trying to be epic and rousing, by turning the dial down on a little on the heaviness that made it work so well before and by making the lyrics more predictable in their search for this epic sound, they sometimes drift off into cheese terrority. The choruses on , Satan is Real, Fallen Brother, Side by Side and Lion With Eagle Wings seem to be lazier than most of the albums of this era, the latter three all being of the “metal brotherhood” sort of predictability, and just coming off as bit forced and cheesy. But the choruses aren’t too much of a problem if the riffs and the rest of the song writing carry it off – plenty of Iron Maiden albums have repetitive choruses while being genre classics. It’s the way at some points the riffs feel somewhat watered down that follow this trend and cement the movement from epic to cheese. If the melodic noodling that serves for a riff in places such as in the beginning of Hail to the Hordes were slightly heavier rather than a somewhat neutered guitar sound it would be much improved – whereas Lion With Eagle Wings is one of the heaviest songs on the album musically, just with a weak chorus.
But none of the songs here are bad, apart from some lazy choruses the song writing is really solid, and it’s only a fraction of the riffs mentioned above that are lacking power, and there’s usually a good degree of melody to make up for it – even if a little saccharine it still holds interest. There’s not a single bad guitar solo on the album, each one blazing furious and melodic. Unfortunately it’s just the fact they can get it spot on 80-90% of the time but lose their way a little the rest of the time that makes it slightly disappointing, as they’re clearly capable of making pretty much perfect albums as evidenced by the previous effort. I wouldn’t for a second entertain the notion that any loss of heaviness is an attempt to make themselves more accessible and reach a larger audience – it’s still a really heavy album on the whole, and their popularity has sky rocketed since the nineties to the biggest point they’ve got to on the back of their touring and albums of the last sixteen years. They just had such a fantastic album to match up to that expectations were set a little too high. It’s a really good effort and is much better than Hordes of Chaos or Violent Revolution, just not quite reaching the heights of Phantom Antichrist or Enemy of God. But while the hints of cheese might creep into the song writing and they sometimes let off the gas pedal on the heaviness, they’re still brilliant, melodic, relevant and above all fun.