Just as America had its Big Four thrash bands — Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer — Germany had a trio of homegrown powerhouses in the '80s. Starting in the middle of the decade, Sodom, Destruction and Kreator shaped a uniquely German thrash sound — punkier and more primitive than its slick American counterpart.
Kreator's debut album, 1985's Endless Pain, was recorded in 10 days, and it sounds like it. A grinding trio disc that combines the crude, hammering rhythms and caveman riffs of Venom with the lyrical nihilism of Motörhead, it's not their best effort — in fact, it barely hints at what they'd achieve only a year later — but it rocketed them out of obscurity.
When 1986's Pleasure to Kill was released, Kreator's reputation was secure. Songs like the title track, "Riot of Violence" and "Death Is Your Savior" proved that Europe had its own thrash thing going on. Indeed, it could be said that Kreator paved the way for death metal with frontman Mille Petrozza's guttural, barking vocals and the band's punishing sound. The brutality continued on Terrible Certainty and Extreme Aggression, and the group made some breakthroughs outside the recording studio — when the Berlin Wall came down, Kreator was the first metal band to perform in East Germany (a show later documented on At the Pulse of Kapitulation, a mid-'90s home video that was reissued as a CD/DVD set in 2008).
The 1990s weren't nearly as kind to Kreator, creatively or commercially. Beginning with 1990's Coma of Souls, they started to experiment, incorporating industrial elements and writing longer, more musically ambitious songs, with mixed results. Fans weren't pleased, and the band's profile dipped substantially. Even Petrozza's longtime partner, drummer Jürgen "Ventor" Reil, grew disgusted and left just before 1995's aptly titled Cause for Conflict, though he returned on 1997's Outcast.
Finally, in 2001, the group got back on track. Violent Revolution kicked off with "Reconquering the Throne," and the album lived up to that title's promise, delivering one reinvigorated blast of raw, crushing thrash after another. Reviews were rapturous, and the tour that followed saw fans returning in droves. Kreator then released their first live album, Live Kreation, which featured performances so strong, they even rehabilitated songs from the reviled Cause for Conflict, Outcast and Endorama.
Enemy of God, from 2005, was another collection of killer modern thrash. Since that album's release to another chorus of critical hosannas, Kreator hasn't slackened the pace. For the past five years, they've been touring the globe, only taking some time out to record another album, Hordes of Chaos, released in early 2009. Much shorter than its two predecessors, each of which offered 12 tracks and nearly an hour of music, Chaos features only 10 songs and gets the job done in less than 40 minutes — another sign that Kreator have come full circle and gone back to their primitivist thrash roots.
They promoted the album with one of the most hilarious videos ever, for the title track. The "Hordes of Chaos" clip cuts back and forth between Kreator playing the song atop a heap of bodies and the adventures of a head-choppin', limb-severin' barbarian who seems to own nothing but fur underwear, a big-ass sword and a generous supply of baby oil. "Jörn Heitmann came up with the concept," says Petrozza. "I think he wanted to visualize the Hordes of Chaos and use images from [painter Frank] Frazetta, Conan the Barbarian, etc. I think the results look amazing! There was a lot of waiting around on the set, so no exciting stories to tell, unfortunately."
In 2008, Petrozza told Metal Edge magazine, "No offense to bands that do anniversaries all the time — there's bands that celebrate the 10th anniversary, the 15th anniversary — but we're not into that. We focus on the present and the future of the band, not what we've achieved in the past, and I don't see a reason why I should have a special celebration. I think that's kinda lame, to be honest."
But for the band's 25th-anniversary tour, Kreator asked fans to vote for songs to be played live — and thousands responded. "The surprising thing is that our taste is not that far off from what our fans like," says Petrozza. "[But] there will be some songs in the set that we haven't played in a long time."
And even as they honor their past, Kreator are once again in transition. In May 2009, their label SPV declared the European equivalent of bankruptcy and shut down its U.S. division. Recently Petrozza announced, "We have just signed a worldwide deal with Nuclear Blast, the strongest metal label in the world!"
Petrozza's enthusiasm for the music is at the core of his being. He's had more success with Kreator over the past 25 years than Steve "Lipps" Kudlow and Robb Reiner had with Anvil, but he shares their attitude that metal is something you do out of love. Asked about his near 30-year relationship with drummer Reil, who had to skip a recent leg of tour dates due to medical problems, he says simply, "It's great! We both love metal! We are living our dream!"