Justify Your Shitty Taste: Kreator’s “Renewal”

Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalogue. Occasionally, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Decibel site to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. This time around, Greg Pratt defends Kreator’s Renewal.

Ah, yes, one look at that cover art takes us right back to 1992, and right back to when a lot of bands who had already been around the block were a bit unsure of what to do with themselves. For some reason, the conclusion everyone came to was that the longhair listening public wanted albums that go on forever with no sense of fun to them whatsoever. But, here’s where Renewal already kicks ass: it clocks in at 38:53, which is seriously only about 20 seconds longer than the ideal album time, so Kreator doesn’t have a chance to wear out their welcome, no matter how terrible this album is.

But here’s where you’re wrong: it’s not terrible. It’s not even bad. It’s kinda good. And it’s nowhere near as “industrial” as you remember. That’s actually some Berenstain Bears shit right there, because it’s not really industrial at all. Renewal instead is a mainly enjoyable glimpse into a band that, sure, is having a bit of a mid-life crisis, wondering what to do next. But after conquering manic Teutonic thrash and before settling into the comfortable, anthemic-thrash zone they occupy today, the band, naturally, was going to experiment a bit. And the experimentation here isn’t quite what we’re remembering: it doesn’t sound like no-fun Ministry, it sounds more like a vicious, crusted-over and blackened-out thrash, one with a tempo knocked down a few bpms but never at the expense of any sort of impact. Renewal actually has a pretty interesting sound, and it’s loyal to Kreator’s constitution and policies.

The vocals do sound kinda weird, though, as opener “Winter Martyrium” proves immediately, all of us simultaneously wondering if that was even our man Mille Petrozza behind the mic when this came out (it was, but I still find that kinda hard to believe). But check it out: this song actually does some unspeakable stuff, namely successfully combining balls-out thrash with a sort of no-fun groove metal. Successfully! Christ, that’s never done.

And how about “Reflection”? It’s a mid-tempo groove-metal thrasher that works, and not even just in a “if we pretended it was some other band…” way: I enjoy listening to this song and thinking, “this is Kreator doing groove metal, and it’s working quite well.” The song has a great climax, an intense vocal performance, and, uh… some killer keyboards, dude. Alright, ignore those, and that still doesn’t make it “industrial.”

“Brainseed” has a bit more programming that I guess pushes this toward “industrial metal” but I’d really like to stress here that this is basically a groove-heavy Kreator album with a very minor dabbling into programmed bits-‘n’-bites that barely distract or get in the way. And get a load of “Karmic Wheel,” which is some of the best quiet-Kreator ever, the band really creating and rolling with a good vibe here.

Let’s get back to that production, which I mentioned at the offset. It actually sounds pretty fine, not dated, which is always a risk with these “experimental” albums from the early ’90s. Again, the vocals just sound really… different, and they’re sitting sort of oddly in the mix, but it adds to the album’s urgency. Listen to “Zero to None,” which at points is so intense and raw I feel like this should have come out on Profane Existence, not Noise Records:

If anyone is still thinking this album sucks, listen to “Europe after the Rain” and bask in its frantic thrash intensity, or check out closing tune “Depression Unrest,” which is a raging, catchy thrasher that actually has an effective “quiet, thoughtful intro.” And we all know “quiet, thoughtful intro”s are always just met with polite smiles while we daydream about music that is actually awesome. Here, it works.

The album as a whole actually captures a pretty awesome vibe, Kreator feeling pretty down in the dumps about things but showing sprinkles of hope throughout. I mentioned Profane Existence earlier, and that was for good reason: much of this album reminds me of modern blackened crust in tone, and that’s a damn good place for Kreator to be.

See? Renewal full of awesome surprises.

And it’s not industrial. And it’s not shitty. Now, excuse me while I gather my notes to see if I can defend Endorama or not…