Mark Tremonti’s never met Mille Petrozza before. But, as the Alter Bridge guitarist joins his Zoom call with the Kreator leader, he laughs, “I feel like I already know you. I’ve done so much research for this!”
It’s good that Mark’s clued in; Mille has 40 years of thrash metal trailblazing to talk about. He formed his band with drummer Jürgen ‘Ventor’ Reil when he was just 17 years old. Inspired as much by Twisted Sister as they were by Venom, they became the biggest, fastest and most melodic stars in Teutonic speed metal. As recently as 2017, classics Pleasure To Kill and Extreme Aggression wormed their way into the German charts, three decades after coming out.
Mark’s thrash obsession may not be obvious in his arena rock day jobs – Alter Bridge and, formerly, the radio-ruling Creed – but listen to his Tremonti solo project and the influence is undeniable. On last year’s Marching In Time, his melodic howls were underpinned by brutishly technical riffs.
The adoration becomes clear as soon as Mark asks his first question, tipping his hat to Kreator’s ability to stay blistering even on the cusp of their 15 full-length, Hate Über Alles. From there, the pair enjoy an illuminating chat about politics, Celtic Frost and the state of metal today. Mark even offers Mille one of his signature guitars once it’s over. Metal has rarely felt so wholesome.
Mark: “After 40 years of playing extreme thrash metal, how do you keep that aggressive edge? How do you keep your mind so engaged? The new single [Hate Über Alles] sounds like it could have been written by a younger Kreator; you’ve kept the passion alive for so long.”
Mille: “You’re also a musician, so you must know the feeling when you’re playing music; it keeps you young in your mind. The only way to keep the passion and energy levels up is to really believe in what you do. It’s as simple as that. I always dreamt of being a musician and now I am one, so I do it with all my heart. I guess that’s why it sounds so fresh, hopefully.
I take this music thing as seriously as I did when I started, so I still love playing, I still love being in the studio and I still love being on the road. To me, this is living the dream. That’s why we sound like we sound, and if you say we’re sounding as fresh as our younger selves, that’s a huge compliment.”
Mark: “The point you’re in right now is the most exciting point for me: where you’ve released the first song but not the rest of the album, and you’re anticipating how the world’s gonna react to your new music.”
Mille: “I avoid reading the comments, though [they both laugh]. In this day and age, we get the direct reaction from the fans not only in the live situation, but I think the live situation’s where it gets really pure. It’s a lot more real.
Of course you can see it in the YouTube comment section, but most of the time, the people who find something to nag about in your music, when they come to the show, they see the song actually come alive. I avoid the comments, but I still love the fact that we can reach all the fans nowadays with one YouTube video.”
Mark: “I know where you’re coming from. I try to stay away from any kind of negativity when it comes to my art. I think one good thing about YouTube is guys like us are the first generation of folks that can watch other people immediately cover our songs. Do you ever go online and see young bands playing Kreator tunes as soon as they come out?”
Mille: “Absolutely! There are playthrough videos popping up as soon as we come out with a new song. There are tutorials and stuff like that. It’s fun to see because sometimes, if I haven’t played a song in a while and we’re going back on tour, I go to those videos. Ha ha ha!”
Mark: “I do the exact same thing! Ha ha ha! People think you remember all your riffs and all your parts but, when you have 14 albums, you can’t remember it all!”
Mille: “It’s fun to see people getting so enthusiastic about your new release, but it’s also like, ‘I think I’m gonna use that for the live shows.’ Ha ha ha!”
Mark: “As we’re talking about guitar playing, what’s your daily guitar regimen compared to when you were younger?”
Mille: “Before we go onstage, we warm up, but when I’m at home, I only pick up the guitar when I want to write songs. I’m not a shredder but, every time I pick up the guitar, I know some riffs are coming.”
Mark: “Your right-hand technique and your downstrokes are every bit as complicated as any shredder out there. Hearing the new single, it doesn’t sound like you haven’t been practising!”
Mille: “Ha ha! Thank you.”
Mark: “You’ve lived my dream; you lived during the heyday of metal. I grew up an extreme metalhead and, when I look at the bands you’ve influenced and toured with, it’s my bucket list. Celtic Frost are probably my favourite band of all time. What was it like touring with those guys?”
Mille: “We were close friends in the beginning; when they started out, they would always invite us to open up for them. They even asked me to join them at one point.”
Mille: “It was right before we released Pleasure To Kill [in 1986]. Tom [G. Warrior, vocals and guitars] asked me to join the band and I went to Switzerland. The reason I didn’t join was because they lived in Switzerland and, back then, it wasn’t like how it is today; they wanted me to move to Switzerland and I wasn’t into that.
It didn’t happen, but we did at least two or three tours with Celtic Frost. I totally agree with you; they were one of the most influential bands, even for me when we started. Tom’s riffs are just amazing! His lyrics also influenced me; they taught me that everything matters. They taught me how to put meaning into a song.”
Mark: “When I met Tom, I asked, ‘Is it pronounced Seltic Frost or Keltic?’ He said, ‘Both’ [they both laugh]. It’s a shame that most people in the world don’t know who they are.
Mark: Another band I’d like to talk to you about is a band that I think are one of the most influential of all time, I’d say up near Black Sabbath: Venom. I think every thrash, death and black metal band will say Venom were an influence.”
Mille: “Yes! When I was a kid, one of the first shows that I saw was Aardschokdag, which was a festival in Holland. Venom were the headliners and Metallica opened for them; that’s how big they were at that point. The show was huge! They had fire and everything. They were such a huge influence. You said we’ve been around for 40 years but, in ’82, we were still trying to figure out how to write a song.
We’d cover bands like Judas Priest, Twisted Sister and Raven. Then the Venom album came out. I remember, I came to rehearsal and told my drummer [Jürgen ‘Ventor’ Reil], ‘We should speed it up a little bit; listen to this.’ That’s how influential they were. We were like, ‘OK, heavy metal is something we know how to play. We know how to do those New Wave Of British Heavy Metal riffs, but let’s speed them up! Let’s be like Venom.’”
Mark: “One thing I’d love to talk about is you guys’ imagery. It seems like, from the very start, you had the Frank Frazetta kind of cool, oil-on-canvas artwork that I love. I love to paint, and I was into Dungeons & Dragons and Frazetta growing up, so looking at your art is so awesome. Every time we come out with a new album or merch, I’m looking for cool, unique art, and you nail it every time.”
Mille: “It just came about. In the beginning, we weren’t so involved in that kind of stuff. Our labels back then would collect all the art and suggest it to the musicians. When we started the band I was only 17, so I was like, ‘OK, whatever. We deliver the music, you do the art.’
Nowadays, I’m a lot more involved. I’m the same way as you; I’m looking for artists that I think are interesting and that could fit the band. The new record has very cool artwork; I love it. It’s old-school but modern at the same time. It was done by Eliran Kantor. He’s the best artist in metal at this point.”
Mark: “I absolutely love that cover art. Do you get to keep the original? Is it framed in your house? Who gets to hold onto it?”
Mille: “I’m really not a collector. I don’t keep anything that has anything to do with the band. When I’m at home, I don’t want to see any of the Kreator stuff around. If I’m home, I’m off tour, so I want this to be my private space. I’m not the kind of person that puts up all kinds of memorabilia on the walls, but I would love to get the artwork of the new record. I really like the art and I’ll ask Eli if he can give me a copy.”
Mark: “Do you have any old Tormentor demos from back in the day? [Kreator were called Tormentor before changing their name in 1984]. I know you said you don’t collect band stuff, but you’ve got to have the first demos, right?”
Mille: “No, not even that! Ha ha! But I know people who do. I have one friend that used to work for us as a merchandiser and he has everything. If I’m in need of old demos or photos, I go to his house. He has an archive of all the Kreator stuff.”
Mark: “One really cool thing I read about you guys is that, when the Berlin Wall came down, you were the first West German metal band to play in East Germany. How was that?”
Mille: “An epic moment. I was 21, and we’d just toured the US. We were aware that something historic was happening, but at the time we’d already played a couple of shows in Poland. People from the eastern part of Germany were allowed to travel to Poland, so we were already in touch with a lot of East German metal fans. We talked about it: ‘Wouldn’t it be great to play East Berlin?’
That was in ’89. We kinda saw it coming, because we’d visit these [eastern European] countries, but we didn’t expect it to happen so soon. Afterwards, I know how epic it was, but when I lived it, it was just about the moment and playing a good show. We realised we were the first metal band to play after the Wall came down years later.”
Mark: “That’s a big moment, especially when you’re 21! When I was 21, I didn’t know what the hell was going on; I was a fry cook or washing cars or something. With that in mind, do you see any young metal bands today carrying the torch for extreme metal that you’re proud of?”
Mille: “There’s always very cool stuff coming out! Of course there’s the retro stuff, with bands like Crisix from Barcelona. They have a song called The World Needs Mosh; they’re so enthusiastic and youthful, they just go out and party. We were never a ‘party’ metal band, but I like them. There’s a whole retro thrash scene, with bands like Warbringer and Nervosa, for example.”
Mark: “There’s a band that I recently discovered called Power Trip…”
Mille: “Amazing band! Amazing!”
Mark: “It’s such a shame that their singer [Riley Gale] passed away.”
Mille: “We were about to go on tour with Power Trip, but then the pandemic happened. It’s so sad that Riley passed away so young; he was only 34.”
Mark: “I’ve heard you guys say that you’re not a political band, but there’s a lot of political commentary throughout your lyrics. It couldn’t be any more important than right now to have that voice. You’ve got to feel like you’re using your platform to the best of your ability, because it seems from the outside looking in that you are.”
Mille: “If you were to call Kreator a political band, I wouldn’t like that term. We’re having to deal with politics all day! When I listen to metal, I don’t want to listen to more politics. For me, it’s more on a humanistic level: ‘Fuck, this sucks! Why isn’t there world peace? Why can’t it happen?’
For example, we’ve just had a long break because of Covid and were going on tour in Russia in April. That won’t happen now, because of one politician. I don’t know what the reasons are, but they should stop the war and make people stop suffering! I don’t care who thinks it’s right or wrong; war is so outdated. I’m so disappointed that we see another war around the corner in Europe. Today, I took the train from Berlin to Essen; the whole train was full of people that had left Ukraine. They’ve had to leave their homes! What the fuck is happening?!”
Mark: “I think one of the reasons that this stuff goes on is because you have these high-level people in power that don’t see it face-to-face. If you took some of these people that are firing these missiles and you introduced them to the mothers who just lost their children at the hospital that they bombed, they might think differently next time. It’s heartbreaking. It’s good that your band doesn’t preach politics, but preaches about the rights and wrongs of the world and how politicians aren’t doing their job.”
Mille: “That’s a better way to put it, absolutely.”
Mark: “It’s got to be amazing to see your albums enter the charts three decades after you’ve written them. It shows the timelessness of what you’ve tapped into as an artist. You’ve gotta feel good about that, right?”
Mille: “Absolutely! It’s a privilege that people still care after all this time. Some people have called our albums ‘legendary’ or ‘historic’ in metal; I feel very flattered.”
Mark: “Well, they are!”
Mille: “Thank you! Ha ha ha! The metal community is so strong and supportive, and so I’m happy that I’m part of it. Every day I think that it was absolutely the right choice to become a metalhead.”
Mark: “Thanks for helping pave the way for everybody that’s come after you guys.”