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Phantom Antichrist - 80%

absurder21, September 22nd, 2012

Kreator are at a point where they don’t owe anyone squat. Being a juggernaut of influence not only to thrash metal, but also being part of the Unholy Trinity (along with Slayer and Dark Angel) of thrash bands that would help smooth the transition of death metal’s birth into a burgeoning scene. The band already went through a questionable experimental faze in the 90s, and since 2001’s Violent Revolution, they have kept up a consistent pace of vicious, but cleaner thrash metal, which has generally appeased the fans. But after flirting with death metal on Enemy of God, the band turned to more melodic orientated work on Hordes of Chaos. In a sense, Phantom Antichrist does start where Hordes of Chaos left off, but it executes that style in a much more precise way, while using a few influences from more modern bands to give it a far more unique touch.

Even though I mentioned this album definitely has a melodic focus, that doesn’t mean it won’t rip and tear when it wants to. It’s not as intimidating as Pleasure to Kill or even Enemy of God, but this is still Kreator, and thus ripping, violent thrash riffing is abound. There are points that do almost bleed into full blown death metal, with pummelling blast beat’s and chaotic, tremolo-picked riffing riding them through the chaos. But since this album is based in thrash for the most degree, this time Kreator have spun a lot more Iron Maiden and even Amon Amarth influences into the mix. For example, while thrash riffing is the norm for this record, there’s a few songs (From Flood into Fire, The Few, The Proud, The Broken) that start off with an epic, dual-lead guitar bit that then breaks into a mid paced gallop, generally used by bands trying to get a Viking-march sound to their riffs. There are also a few songs (Civilisations Collapse, United in Hate) that have their choruses based around catchy, NWOBHM styled dual-lead guitar bits, harmonizing with Mille Petrozza’s gruff vocals and riffs to make bombastic, attention grabbing melodies.

This style actually manages to work fine with Kreator’s usual “ripping corpse” thrash style, and does end up leading to some pretty catchy songs. But then there are points like Victory will Come. The song itself is generally pretty good and catchy, but the down tuned melo-death chugging that the song is based around succumbs to that distasteful, grit tone that plagues a lot of metalcore bands based off the genre. The overall song is awfully upbeat for the band as well, and almost seems like it would fit more on a mid period(Colony, Clayman) In Flames record, and some of these distasteful features bleed onto a few bits in other songs.

While the band is all pretty much on the top of their game technically, Mille Petrozza’s vocals are also still pretty gnarly in their own right too. But where as the man has clearly tamed his voice from the feral sound it had in the 80s, he did show on Enemy of God that he could let that monster loose again. Alas, we are not that lucky, as he sticks to his general, modern style of throaty yelling (albeit he does sprinkle it with an old-school shriek every once and awhile) on this effort. The bass work is more or less unapparent, but the drumming is pretty impressive in its own right. Ventor has always been a beast, and here he proves he is still the machine that thundered out Pleasure to Kill. The man has no problems out-playing most modern purveyors at their own game (although I guess it helps when you helped invent said game), that said, pummelling blast beats, smashing snares and whirlwind drumming (as well as chilled, softer pieces) makes the drumming on Phantom Antichrist appear surprisingly fantastic.

This record is pretty damn consistent in its styles, and makes for an overall enjoyable, smooth listen all the way through. But the thing is, a lot of the songs tend to be decently predictable. For example, you can pretty much assemble the tracks as having: 1. an aggressive, old-school Kreator riff. 2. Some sort of melodic-based ear catcher 3. A crazy solo and 4: some riffs somewhere in the middle that gel the three types together. Sometimes they’ll throw in a curve ball, like a haunting acoustic guitar bit or a poppy, atmospheric intro, but those are rare. Really though, the beauty of this record is that the band have so perfected the ratio of aggression and melody between songs that you always feel the balance is totally covered by the beginning of the next track. IT never once seems to drag or have no idea where it’s going. When it comes down to the lyrics on this effort, it is somewhat business as usual for the German thrashers. But it seems that Mille was really going for a lot more anthem-like choruses on this record, and it’s reflected in the lyrics. Almost every other song contains some sort of chorus that beckons to be sung along too, using subjects such as fighting against oppressors or uniting against the corrupt and what not at an attempt to inspire.

While most of the thrash bands lost sight of the game in the 90s, it really seems Kreator bounced back out of their odd phase quite quickly and set into a comfortable niche soon after. I guess the question most bands have to ask themselves then is: “Do we bother trying to do something different ever again or just cut and paste over and over?”. And while it kind of seemed like the band was trying different variances of their 80s style since 2001, I think Phantom Antichrist really sees the band recovering from the fan lash back that experimental, yet clearly flawed records like Cause for Conflict and Outcast caused on their creative limits. It’s a bit more upbeat than your usual Kreator effort, and the Amon Amarth influence leaves a weird taste in your mouth, but it still aggressive and heavy, and there’s enough good, memorable tracks on this record to make it a fun ride. Phantom Antichrist definitely shows that Kreator are still competent song writers.

[Originally written as Adam Korchok for AXIS OF METAL]