Decades into their game-changing career, German metal legends Kreator find themselves more successful and influential than ever. They’ve stuck to their guns, weathered the trends and outlasted their peers – never once wavering from the ferocious noise that excited them as teens. If anything, that thirst for sonic warfare is just as strong, if not stronger, today. Where others have suffered from creative malnourishment and artistic uncertainty, something which even metal’s biggest and best are prone to, Kreator have always charged full steam ahead – thanks to the red-eyed conviction and fearless determination of founding singer and guitarist Miland ‘Mille’ Petrozza. On 1985 debut Endless Pain, the Essen innovators created the template for extreme noise to come, fusing elements of thrash and black metal in ways that had never been heard before. Their sophomore album of the following year, Pleasure To Kill, became one of the landmark albums of 1986 – making metal history alongside key releases from Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth. And onwards they marched, bringing hellish anthems to the masses in every album that followed, with a track record few could ever rival.
The last decade has been a particularly exciting time for the group, with 2012’s Phantom Antichrist proving how they could embrace modern production techniques and move with the times without forsaking the underground spirit and defiance which made them a household name in the first place. Its successor, 2017’s Gods Of Violence, saw them topping the German charts for the very first time in their career, a feat virtually unheard for a band of such thunderous intensity. Returning this year with fifteenth opus Hate Über Alles – which marks their first studio album with Frédéric Leclercq (ex-Dragonforce, Sinsaenum) on bass, joining Mille, guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö and drummer Jürgen ‘Ventor’ Reil – the metal titans are once again channelling an unholy heaviness strong enough to tilt the earth off-axis…
“We still like to challenge ourselves, I guess that’s what it comes down to,” says Mille, when quizzed on the secret to their longevity and flawless credentials. “Every time we make an album, it feels like the first one. We take our time, it’s important to have something to say rather than releasing things just for the sake of putting out something new. Quality always over quantity. Why put out meaningless, boring albums? I’d rather build on the essence of what I’m trying to say and what I want people to feel. That’s why we sound so angry and edgy.”
Angry and edgy are certainly words that epitomise what’s at the very core of Kreator’s musical DNA. But even with the legacy behind them, they’re not ones to rest on their laurels and bask in the light of past glories – even when concocting the follow-up to a chart-topping creative and commercial peak…
“We didn’t feel any pressure in regards to the success of the previous album,” continues Mille. “Of course we’d like to top the success and intensity, but it’s not really something we think or talk about. It’s more of an internal competition. My gut feeling when writing music is: if I like it, the fans will too. That’s the only measurement. So it’s not really pressure, more of a nice healthy competition with ourselves. If something doesn’t feel heavy or passionate enough, it won’t be good enough for us or our fans.”
As for the name Hate Über Alles, which translates as Hate Above All, it’s a phrase which came to Mille after a closer look at the world around him. With political and personal ideologies exacerbated by the age of the Internet, he notes how we are all now forced to exist in a society edging further and further into the extreme. “Hate Über Alles reflects the time we’re living in,” says Mille. “Everything is really loud and aggressive. The way we communicate has changed, thanks to social media. It causes a lot of imbalance. The world is in a state of disrepair. Life is not harmonic right now, it’s disharmonic… that’s where I was going with the title.”
Bassist Frédéric Leclercq makes his studio debut with the band on Hate Über Alles, following his first appearance on stage as a member of Kreator at the Santiago Gets Louder Festival in October 2019. For Mille, it was wonderful to see the French virtuoso bringing an abundance of energy and passion into the sessions at Hansa Studios – the Berlin facility where David Bowie famously recorded Low and Heroes – with producer Arthur Rizk (Power Trip, Cavalera Conspiracy) lending his expertise behind the desk.
“Frédéric brought a lot to the table, especially in terms of arrangements,” reflects Mille. “We even co-wrote a song together called Dying Planet, which is the last song on the album and one of my favourite tracks. I think there is so much more to come from him and me collaborating – just you wait and see! He’s a fresh breath of air… someone who is very talented and musical.”
As for other highlights on their new masterpiece, Mille cites Midnight Sun, Strongest Of The Strong and Conquer And Destroy as personal favourites – the former of which showing how this band, despite their rich heritage and well-honed sonic profile, aren’t afraid of trying new things. “Midnight Sun has a female voice, which we’ve never used in Kreator before,” he adds. “We collaborated with a singer called Sofia Portanet who lives in Berlin. The rhythm is really unique and there’s also a great story in the lyrics. We’re not looking to reinvent ourselves but we like to find a new focus within the same sound, coming at our music from a slightly different angle.”
Unlike pretty much every other release scheduled for 2022, this is no lockdown album. The majority of its 11 tracks were written and demoed before the pandemic – and though the last 18 months have been a frustrating time for musicians around the world (“you start feeling useless because you miss the fans,” explains Mille), Kreator have embraced the inevitable and found inspiration where many have struggled.
“Most of this album was ready by the end of 2020 and we were supposed to tour in 2021, but then we moved everything back,” he summarises. “I’m glad we did because that allowed more fine-tuning. I can actually see the positive aspects of these crazy times – it’s allowed us to explore themes even deeper and come up with something monumental. That was the focus point for this album, treating our music almost as therapy. We’ve missed playing. We took all of that emotion and put it into the final versions of these songs – and you can hear it. Hope, anger and power… it’s all there.”
It most certainly is. Conquering and destroying in the way only Kreator can, Hate Über Alles will undoubtedly sit proudly as the finest metal of its year. And so onwards they march once more…