Formed in Essen, Germany, in 1982, Kreator was one of the non-American pioneers of thrash. Like many of its peers, Kreator began as a speed metal band inspired by the new wave of British heavy metal, but the added influence of acts like Venom and Discharge produced an adrenalized thrash sound.
Trying out the names Tyrant and Tormentor before settling on its current moniker in 1985, Kreator had honed its sound by the time it released its 1986 classic, Pleasure to Kill. Compared to the American style of thrash, Kreator's sound had a more clipped yet flowing violence to its dynamics, with a darker vocal style that proved influential in itself.
We recently spoke with founding guitarist and vocalist Mille Petrozza about a variety of subjects, from how the bleak lyrical themes of the band's songs often contain an undercurrent of positivity ("We sing about war, death and destruction, but we always try to make it complicated. We try to put a positive message in there") to why Kreator has long since ditched using loops in its music.
Westword: What got you interested in playing heavier music instead of some other form of rock and roll when you were younger?
Mille Petrozza: The bands that started it for me were the early new wave of British heavy-metal bands. Then, later, it was a band called Venom from England that really influenced us to play faster and heavier. We took it from there and tried to set up our own style.
My favorite first love was Kiss, of course. I think I wanted something heavier, and I saw Iron Maiden opening for Kiss, and from there on, I discovered all these bands that I didn't know existed. We started our own band, and we wanted to play. We were, like, fourteen years old then. We tried to come up with something of our own because we didn't know how to play, but we taught ourselves. We never had guitar lessons or anything.
When you started playing in bands in Essen, were there places for you to perform and develop your band as might have been the case in the U.K. and America?
It was totally different. When we put out our first album, Endless Pain, we were pretty young and had only played three shows up to that time, because there was no place to play. We weren't very experienced, and we were thrown into the ice cold water. For that matter, I think Endless Pain came out pretty okay and pretty decently. I wish we would have spent more time writing it and playing stuff live, but we got a record deal.
All the songs that we wrote up to that time, even though we had a different band called Tormentor -- all of a sudden, we didn't like the old stuff, and we wanted to write better music, and we threw away many of the Tormentor songs and wrote new ones in a very short period of time and went into the studio.
Tormentor was more of a speed-metal band, right? And by the time of Pleasure to Kill, it was nothing like that at all.
Yeah, yeah. For some reason, we wanted to be even heavier and faster. We were big fans of Slayer and Possessed.
You've been playing Jackson guitars for a long time. Have you always played them, and why do you prefer them to some other models of guitar?
I used to play Ibanezes. I went from an Ibanez to a cheap Les Paul copy. I have a lot of guitars, and I play a lot of BC Riches at home and even Les Pauls. For live shows, my favorite guitars are my Jacksons. I have my own model now. Once I started playing Jacksons, I stuck with it, because it's one of the best guitars to play live and in the studio -- at least for metal.
Sometimes when you're sitting at home and writing melodies, it's sometimes fun to try Les Pauls, but the Jackson is the killer live guitar. Some people don't like the V shape because they don't think it's comfortable. For me it's the best guitar for a live show. It's a matter of taste, I guess, but I recommend everyone try it. When you play metal, the V shape is nice.
And Jackson guitars have all of those nice angles to it that suits metal for whatever reason, even in the acoustical qualities.
Obviously Kreator has explored many different styles and sounds during the course of its existence. You did something a little different in the '90s and went a different direction in the last decade. What do you think you did for Phantom Antichrist that you feel has been different from what you've done before?
I think for Phantom Antichrist, we combined all the styles you just mentioned. We started as a young band with teenage angst, I guess, then we did that early death-metal stuff, and then we did that Coma of Souls-era [stuff] through the '90s.
Then for our album in 2001, Violent Revolution, we came up with a style that fit the new millennium. Even on Phantom Antichrist, we took all of that to another level. I wouldn't want to say it's a "mature" album, but it has the energy without being too all over the place. It's 100 percent Kreator -- that's all I have to say.
War, destruction and the end of the world seem to be recurring themes across all of your albums. Why have those been such a rich source of inspiration for you?
It's basically what we do. We've always done it, and we've stuck with it. It's not that there's nothing else to write about. Some of the lyrics are personal, but you can't really figure it out unless you take the time to check the lyrics. On the last album there is a song called "Flood Into Fire" which is not about death or destruction.
It's a more personal song. But if you were to ask me the story behind the song, I couldn't even tell you. It's just a certain emotion about loyalty, friendship and whatever. We sing about war, death and destruction, but we always try to make it complicated. We try to put a positive message in there. When things are really, really bad, there can always be a way out of them. For me, the music of Kreator represents that.
When you formed Voodoo Cult with Dave Lombardo and Chuck Schuldiner, how did that come about?
That was not my project, I was just a guitarist. There was this German guy called Phillip Boa who had this band Voodooclub, and he wanted to make a record with all of his favorite metal musicians on one record. I wrote songs for the album, but it was mostly a studio project.
In the '90s, you experimented more overtly with loops and atmospheres. What did you get out of that period, and have you incorporated it since then?
We don't do that anymore. You know, the thing is, on one record we tried it, and we went so far into it that in order to make the songs sound right on stage, we had to play to a click in a live situation. That, to me, is not what Kreator is all about. So the loops and the industrial elements were out. I love that style and that way of writing stuff, but Kreator is pure metal, and we don't like to use a click track in a live situation. It didn't work.
How did you meet Sami Yli-Sirniö, and how would you say he complements what you do in the band?
Sami was living in Germany for a while, and he helped us out at one point, when our old guitar player was sick and couldn't play a couple of shows. So Sami filled in, and when we got rid of the other guy, we felt that Sami would be the perfect fit. We were friends, and he helps me a lot when it comes to writing.
I come up with the riffs, and I come up with all of the melodies, but he's the best musician in the band. I would definitely say that. He gives the whole Kreator-raw-thrash thing a very unique taste, if you know what I mean. He sounds like no one else, and he puts his stamp on the guitar, and he comes up with little things that turn a good song into a great song. That's Sami's contribution to the band.
You put out a fantastic live CD/DVD combo called Dying Alive this year. Why do you think it's important to put out a record and video like that?
I think it's a document of where the band stands right now. This is what you can expect when you can come to see Kreator. It's as simple as that. It's a gift to our fans. They supported us for so many years, and they can look at the live DVD and hear the energy that comes from the audience, and how that is a big part of the Kreator show, and an idea of what it's like when you actually come to the show.
You're co-headlining the tour with Overkill. What do you feel has made that band important?
Overkill, they were one of the main influences on us when we started the band. They've been around a lot longer than we have, and they just wrote great music. They're one of the best thrash-metal bands around. They're one of the few bands that have been around forever. They never split up, always loyal to their fans, and always a great live band. I really respect them, and I'm kind of proud to be on tour with them.
Did you get to see them when you were starting out in Germany?
Yeah, the first time I saw them was in 1986, and they were playing with Anthrax the first time that band came through. That was a great experience. They were great back then, and they're still great now.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.