German thrash legends Kreator have come a long way since the barbaric infernal racket of Endless Pain and Pleasure to Kill. Ever since returning to a more straightforward metallic attack with 2001′s Violent Revolution after a misguided experimental phase, the band have experienced a rather impressive late-career resurgence, marked by the ripping instant classic Enemy of God and the solid Hordes of Chaos. Now with their thirteenth album Phantom Antichrist, Kreator have completed their stylistic evolution from primal thrash overlords to quasi-gothic/industrial metal weirdos to purveyors of thunderous, thrash-tinged traditional metal.
Essentially, Phantom Antichrist is what Iron Maiden would sound like had they been German rather than British, and Steve Harris hadn’t tried to turn the band into a prog-rock circus. Kreator have retained every bit of the ferocious extremity that made them gods of the Teutonic thrash movement, but they have also fully integrated the trad/NWOBHM elements exhibited on their last three albums, creating something that can only be described as classic heavy metal. While some have accused Kreator of adopting a Gothenburg/melodic death metal sound, I’m afraid I have to call bullshit on that. Guitarist/vocalist/band leader Mille Petrozza is forty-five years old and Kreator has been around since at least 1984; do you honestly think they’ve been influenced in the slightest by fucking In Flames? Gimme a goddamn break. Kreator’s incorporation of trad metal riffs and harmonies is clearly derived from the elder gods themselves; the aforementioned Maiden, as well as Judas Priest. I can only assume that the fools crying melo-death have either never heard Number of the Beast, or are still bitter over the fact that Kreator have chosen to continually evolve throughout their career instead of releasing infinite variations of Pleasure to Kill.
But style doesn’t mean anything without substance; fortunately Phantom Antichrist possesses substance in spades. The songwriting here is among the most mature and varied of Kreator’s entire career, possessing a level of finesse befitting a veteran band. Even though we’re all well aware that this is far from being Kreator’s first rodeo, there is still something utterly impressive about the level of compositional and instrumental precision on display here. Phantom Antichrist is German metal engineering at it’s finest; not a single note out of place, not a single note wasted. The guitar work of Petrozza and Sami Yli-Sirniö is, to be perfectly blunt, off the fuckin’ hook, a mash-up of old school thrash metal terror tactics and NWOBHM-derived shock and awe, while drummer Ventor and bassist Christian Giesler keep the rhythms punchier than a Tyson fight circa 1988. All of this is wrapped in a crisp production job from Jens Bogren, which emphasizes both power and clarity without sounding overly processed or triggered.
Lyrically, Petrozza sticks with the tried ‘n’ true themes that have come to be synonymous with Kreator, such as the horrors of war, the destruction of the environment and the collapse of civilization. These lyrics would probably sound trite or cheesy coming from just about any other vocalist, but Petrozza’s rasp drips with conviction, and it doesn’t hurt that there are hooks aplenty built into them. Although Kreator don’t play straight-up thrash these days, they’ve managed to retain the genre’s social conscience; perhaps they can teach these new-jack bands that there’s more to thrash lyrics than zombies, mutants and pizza.
Kreator have proven time and again that they are a metallic force to be reckoned with, and Phantom Antichrist is the latest crown jewel in a series of late-career albums that are for the most part totally unfuckwithable. It is both a sharpening and a refinement of the sound they’ve been hammering away at for the past decade, coming impressively close to complete perfection while still leaving room for further progression. Founding members Petrozza and Ventor may be getting on in years, but Phantom Antichrist will leave no doubt in fans’ minds that the Kreator war machine is still more than capable of achieving supremacy through superior firepower.