Saturday, September 15, 2012

Kreator - Phantom Antichrist (2012)




It’s rare for a band over 20 years into their career to release even a single album that can measure up to, let alone surpass, the classics of their heyday. This fact makes it all the more astounding to behold the latest audible feast by genre veterans Kreator, who have proven time and again to be one of the world’s premier acts to follow in not only thrash metal, but heavy music itself as an art form, spurring the universe on in their own simple, powerful way. Phantom Antichrist is no different, going above and beyond the call to become one of the greatest records in both their expansive catalogue, and the entire metallic lexicon.

2005’s Enemy of God was one of my favorite albums of that decade, and one of my favorite thrash records period; with a robust collection of truly epic songs, it’s still in regular rotation in my car stereo today. 2009’s Hordes of Chaos was a gem as well, if a mild disappointment in comparison. It was great, to be sure, but didn’t have quite the same level of staying power, with an emphasis on repeated, hooky choruses rather than seriously epic melodies. Enter Phantom Antichrist, an album that contains more tasty riffs per square inch than most bands can manage in their entire career, and a serious run for Enemy of God’s money as my favorite Kreator album. Only time will dictate overall preference, but for the sake of this review, all you need to know is that this is as close to thrash perfection as you could pray for. And pray you should, as Phantom Antichrist paints its dystopian picture with a savage grace, galloping its way into crushing thrash breakdowns, magnificent melodic bridges and ripping solo money shots.

Starting with a façade of deceptive calm, Mars Mantra glides gracefully into a furious crescendo, morphing into Phantom Antichrist, which bounds across the sand with sword in hand, slicing down poseurs and unbelievers in droves, before Death to the World summons a tidal wave of magma to incinerate the rest. From Flood into Fire is a Kreator manifesto, a marching song more infectious than the Black Death itself. Civilization Collapse gathers these amassed legions and sends them into battle, with a furious, driving verse and a chorus that scrapes the skyline, a melody so tasty it verily renders the sun itself. Like Enemy of God before it, this is not only a thrash album, but a work of unbelievably epic songcraft, a virtue illustrated by United in Hate, another conjuring of vast, panoramic hordes, uniting under the warrior-god cries of Mille. The Few, The Proud, The Broken ups the epic another notch with its soaring melodics and gladiatorial spirit. Your Heaven, My Hell softens you up with a soothing intro, akin to Voices of the Dead before it, and then breaks open the floodgates to an ocean of streaming melody, stabbing your heart and stomping your face in simultaneous rhythm. Victory Will Come…. Yes, yes it fucking will. The album end on a note of hope in Until Our Paths Cross Again, a summation of all the great elements within this record, and contains one of the best lead guitar lines in the band’s history.

You likely noted the word melody featured prominently in my gushing, and that’s an important point, as this truly is a distinct hybrid of thrash with latent tendencies creeping in from the world of melodeath, a practice the band began with Enemy of God. Those who want nothing but neckbreaking thrash might not be satisfied with the kingly, stoic grandeur of Phantom Antichrist, but that truly is their loss, as nobody should miss out on this soul-blazing record.

Historically speaking, one of Kreator’s most continuously admirable qualities is their insistence on evolution, even when it doesn’t turn out quite as good as expected.  Still, this is particularly satisfying considering the tendency of most old dogs of the thrash scene to stick to their established guns, and the majority of newer acts simply aping the output of the legends. In all, the genre becomes a bit of an inbred mess, and extra props go to Kreator for blasting them all out of the water. If I have any complaints at all, it’s perhaps that this does not feel entirely new, as it follows pretty faithfully in Kreator’s new songwriting and stylistic mold used in the last couple albums. However, being that the resulting quality is so immense, I would hardly call it a fault.

Phantom Antichrist is not a reinvention, unlike past excursions such as Renewal, Outcast, and Endorama. Rather, it takes the best elements of a storied history and stitches the best parts together seamlessly, tightening and brightening the formula until it conjures that savage magic that is the hallmark of their very best releases, and I could not have asked or hoped for more. Those hoping for a return to the roots of Coma of Souls will have to remain disappointed, but we already have that record, don’t we? Too many bands try live in the past, an idea that Kreator consistently spit on in their tireless quest for the holy grail of blazing awesome.

Not a second is out of place on Phantom Antichrist, and every riff is glorious. It’s a rare pleasure to obtain an album with absolutely no filler, where every track is lovingly crafted into a dynamic progression that builds its energy perfectly. Kreator choose just the right moments to build or ease tension, which makes every single song exude strength and heroism without ever feeling showy through unneeded technicality. This is not to take away from the musicians, as everyone is in force here as absolute demons, particularly Mille, who has never sounded better, and belts out all the apocalyptic screams you would expect, again with an impeccable sense of timing. Nothing is wasted, no element outweighing the rest; this is a perfect alchemical formula for a new ruling race of atomic, melodic thrash supermen, and sets the bar astoundingly high for the mid-point of 2012.

If you couldn’t tell, I find Phantom Antichrist to be apocalyptically crushing. It nobly presents its dystopian lyrical slant through its chosen progression of notes, and contains some of the most delicious riffs I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in my 10 plus years enveloped in the world of metal. This is a return to the womb of that experience, a reaffirmation of my love for this art, and a poignant reminder that no matter how awash the metal multiverse gets in trends and bullshit, there will always be those who guard the flame, and keep it burning all the brighter. To put it plainly, Phantom Antichrist is a shining, thunderous example of why I listen to music, let alone metal.

You know, it’s funny… it does nothing exceptionally new or inventive, and does not even begin to break or bend any borders, or redefine what is possible in metal. It’s nowhere near as artistic or forward thinking as the groundbreaking work being done by artists like Ihsahn, Mastodon, and Gojira. However, Phantom Antichrist does what it does so well, kicks your ass so hard, in such an epic fashion, and is so endlessly goddamn enjoyable, that it doesn’t matter one fucking bit. A near perfect release, one of the best this year, only lacking a fraction of Enemy of God's charisma. The beautiful end is beckoning you. Time to embrace it.

9.5 / 10 - Manifesting Melodic Perfection