Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kreator - Pleasure to Kill & Flag of Hate: Part 10 in a 10-part series looking back at the best thrash metal albums of 1986

Throughout the year, I've been looking back at some of the best thrash metal albums of 1986 -- the year thrash hit its zenith in popularity and creativity. When possible, I've tried to interview band members, producers and others associated with the original albums. I've also tried to time the blog posts to coincide with the 25th anniversary of each album's release, although accurate release dates from 25 years ago can be hard to come by.

For the final installment in this series, I'll be looking back at a pair of releases by the seminal German thrash band Kreator. The band's sophomore full-length, Pleasure to Kill, was released in November 1986 and the three-song EP, Flag of Hate, followed in December. I was unable to nail down an interview with a band member, but I didn't want to post the last part of this series without an interview, so I reached out to author/publisher/radio host/metal expert Ian Christe, who was kind enough to agree to a Q&A about Kreator and the 1986 thrash explosion in general.

At the time of its release, Pleasure to Kill represented a monumental step forward for Kreator as a band and the German thrash scene as a whole. The band's 1985 debut, Endless Pain, was a comparatively forgettable effort and did little to foreshadow Kreator's eventual rise to the top of the German thrash scene. Pleasure to Kill immediately established Kreator as a force to be reckoned with. Songs like "Riot of Violence" and the title track created a template for Kreator's run of excellence over the next few years and remain staples in the band's live set to this day.

As if one great album wasn't enough, Kreator furthered their legacy just a month later with the Flag of Hate EP, which features, for my money, one of the best songs they've ever written in "Take Their Lives." The one-two punch of Pleasure and Flag was just the beginning for Kreator, though. Their 1987 follow-up, Terrible Certainty, honed the band's sound to an even sharper edge and earned them a major label deal. Their two Epic Records releases -- 1989's Extreme Aggression and 1990's Coma of Souls -- cemented Kreator's status among the thrash metal elite. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Kreator's four-album run from Pleasure through Coma is arguably the best four-album series in thrash metal history. You could probably make a case for the first four Metallica or Slayer albums, but nobody else has come close to Kreator's late-'80s run of near-perfection. Hell, even the 1988 Out of the Dark... Into the Light EP is a winner, especially if you can round up the rare version that has the cover of Tygers of Pan Tang's "Gangland" on it.

Things took a turn for the worse for Kreator with 1992's Renewal, which saw the band incorporate gothic and industrial elements into their sound. Most disconcerting, however, was the change in vocal style by singer Mille Petrozza, who eschewed the raspy sceeches that had become a signature of the band's formative work for a shout-y monotone. The band continued to flounder throughout the '90s before finally returning to form with 2001's Violent Revolution. Since then, the band has released two more studio albums -- 2005's Enemy of God and 2009's Hordes of Chaos -- that have helped reestablish their image as one of thrash metal's all-time greatest bands.

Ian Christe
To help bring this series to a close, I asked Ian Christe to share his thoughts on Kreator, the early days of thrash metal and my picks for the best thrash albums of 1986. In addition to being an unrepentant thrash geek like myself, Christe is the author of Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal, one of the most comprehensive and entertaining books ever written about the greatest music genre of all time. Additionally, Christe hosts the weekly "Bloody Roots of Metal" show on SiriusXM's Liquid Metal station and is the founder of Bazillion Points Books, which has published numerous books about metal, punk and hard rock.

Q&A with Ian Christe

Tempe Carnivore: Since this post is about Kreator, can you share your thoughts on Pleasure to Kill, Flag of Hate and, more generally, the band's influence on the thrash genre?

Christe: Kreator was a band that started out with more frantic energy than technique, so they progressed quickly and very visibly over that first hectic run of albums. In a lot of ways, they sounded like a European Slayer, but sometimes they had more intricate songwriting. I honestly think they were more of an influence on early black metal and death metal than on thrash metal. They are a great thrash band, but the crude and early side of Norwegian black metal owes a big debt to Kreator's Endless Pain and Pleasure to Kill. The evidence of that is all over Metalion: The Slayer Mag Diaries.

I've long held the belief that 1986 was a banner year not just for thrash metal, but metal as a whole. As you noted in your recent article for Noisecreep, 1986 saw some great non-thrash releases from the likes of King Diamond, Iron Maiden, Queensr├┐che and Metal Church, among others. Would you agree that 1986 was the best year ever for metal? Can you think of another year that came close?

Well, 1980 was pretty awesome for its time, with classic releases by Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Mot├Ârhead, Judas Priest, and the Black Sabbath Paranoid reissue charting. But 1986 was definitely the peak of that original thrash metal wave, and not just because of Reign in Blood, Peace Sells and Master of Puppets. Almost every '80s thrash band released something significant and juicy that year.

What are your thoughts on the albums I chose to feature for this series? It was difficult rounding it down to 10, with Voivod, Hallows Eve and Onslaught narrowly missing the cut. Do you see any glaring omissions? 

Hallows Eve would have been nice to see. They're totally forgotten but made some great heavy and catchy records for the time. Voivod over Flotsam and Jetsam any day, anytime, though -- Voivod are totally unique and mindbending and yet just as aggressive or more so than anybody but Slayer at the time.

Music tends to be cyclical, but thrash never fully clawed it's way out of the underground back in the '80s. Are you surprised by the genre's resurgence in popularity? It almost seems like thrash is more popular now than ever.

The thrash metal era was cut short by death metal. So about five years ago some younger headbangers wandered into all this great thrash metal frozen in time, and thawed out the speedy riffs and gonzo attitude. Death metal and black metal had become totally monotonous after 20 years. Meanwhile, this great and fun era of metal was waiting to be reincorporated and enjoyed after a long, premature burial.

What do you think the future holds for metal, heading into 2012 and beyond? Can thrash remain viable? Are there any other sub-genres that are poised for a breakthrough or comeback?

I think more new hybrids of things that oldtimers and traditionalists do not like are on the horizon. For 14-year-olds in 2012, even Municipal Waste are an oldies act. Check out Design the Skyline if you want to be totally terrified about what the future holds. 

[Note: For anyone who remembers my brief BrokeNCYDE fixation last year, I think Ian might've found a band that's even worse. Click that link at your own risk...]

Finally, what does the future hold for Ian Christe? Do you have any books or other cool projects in the works?

In the last few weeks, Bazillion Points has just received big shipments of Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside AC/DC by Mark Evans, the band's 1970s bass player, plus the awesome and epic thrash metal time machine, Murder in the Front Row: Shots From the Bay Area Thrash Metal Epicenter, by Harald Oimoen and Brian Lew. I'm working on a summer 2012 photo book called We Got Power, by Jordan Schwartz and Dave Markey, which pretty much does for early 1980s LA hardcore what Murder in the Front Row does for SF thrash metal. Plus, I'm starting to interview ex-members of Death for a biography of the late Chuck Schuldiner.

Thanks for taking the time to do this Q&A. Is there anything you'd like to add that we didn't hit on?

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