The thrash scene changed irreversibly in the early 1990s, with the rise of death metal in the underground grabbing all the attention and leading the way in innovation. There were the first faint stirrings of the spectre of black metal too. There was no blindingly obvious way forward, so bands tried a number of approaches to the changing tide. Metallica and Megadeth slowed down and aimed at commercial acceptance. Anthrax and Flotsam and Jetsam shed members and went rock. Slayer and Overkill didn’t seem to notice, and just ploughed on regardless. Celtic Frost gave up. Kreator looked outside metal for inspiration, and came up with a formula for reinvention, even if it wasn’t well received at first.
‘Renewal’ saw Kreator slow a little, but their sound was powered up by incorporating Industrial and Hardcore into the mix. The result was a crushing album, but it threw off many traditional thrash fans because it wasn’t a traditional thrash album.
Most obvious was the change in Mille Petrozza’s vocal delivery. Gone were the razor sharp screeches, replaced by a throaty hardcore style shout. Also gone were the breakneck rhythm guitar riffs Kreator were infamous for, replaced instead by a more measured gutsier sound. Drummer extraordinaire Ventor also had a bit of a rest. The frantic double bass driven physical workouts he’d been peddling for the best part of a decade had metamorphosed into straightforward but precise and mechanical rhythms, topped with electronic flourishes.
There is no way the band would have released songs as adventurous as the plaintive “Karmic Wheel” during the restrictive musical climate of the 1980s. A study in dynamics and structure, the song starts with a despondent, gloomy vocal and an understated riff. It leads to an extended atmospheric, almost trippy passage, where tortured souls emerge from a vortex, before returning to the main riff, which disappears leaving only the bass and drums to carry the song.
The experimentation and innovation pops up all through the album. The short “Realitatskontrolle” takes the industrial influences to their experimental extreme, with no guitar, a distorted bassline and an effects laden vocal loop. The intro to “Europe After The Rain” is straight from the Discharge school of hateful discordant hardcore. However, it doesn’t stay quite so straightforward. The song also features Ventor’s famous double kick fury, bass-led breakdown passages, and a frantic speedfreak solo. Despite being so twisted, it is still the closest song on the album to traditional thrash.
Kreator’s previous album ‘Coma Of Souls’ was the zenith of the sound the band pioneered in 1985 with ‘Endless Pain’. There was no way forward from there without treading water or going over old ground. Unfortunately, many fans could not see the creative well had run dry for the band, and labelled ‘Renewal’ a sell-out. ‘Renewal’ is a reinvention, not a sell-out. It requires some effort on the part of the listener to try to grasp what the band was trying to do. Those who make the effort will be justifiably rewarded.