1986 was an extraordinary year in the evolution of heavy music. With Metallica and Slayer releasing their respective masterpieces, Master Of Puppets and Reign In Blood, the thrash metal scene consolidated its reputation as an unstoppable force. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Europe’s metal militia were beginning to pick up the same kind of furious momentum, with Germany’s Kreator firmly at the forefront of things, alongside fellow countrymen Sodom, Destruction and Tankard. After releasing a raw and chaotic debut album, Endless Pain, in 1985, this teenage trio from Essen slowly began to realise that they were leading the charge for the European thrash scene.
“When we made Endless Pain, we thought that recording an album would be a one-off thing for us,” says Mille Petrozza, still Kreator’s frontman and creative driving force today. “Of course, we were hoping that people would like the album, but it was more like, ‘OK, let’s go into the studio and try stuff out!’ We didn’t know anything about production or how music could sound outside the rehearsal room. The first time I kinda realised that people actually liked what we do, it was when I went to a show – it was Venom, Exodus and Atomkraft – and we saw that this guy had a Kreator patch on his jacket. Suddenly we knew people had got the album and were enjoying it.”
Famously, Mille was so young when Kreator were offered a record deal that his mother had to sign the contract. Two years on, it was slowly dawning on the young guitarist that his band were having a remarkable impact, not just in their home country but on an international level, too. Exhilarated by what they saw as a golden opportunity to forge an authentic career as musicians, Mille and bandmates Ventor (drums) and Rob Fioretti (bass) threw themselves into the process of writing the most brutal and vicious metal album imaginable.
“It was really special to go into the studio and make another album,” Mille recalls. “We didn’t feel pressure but we knew it was a real chance. This wasn’t a one-off anymore, it could turn into something cool. So we just wrote what we thought was a better album than Endless Pain. It was faster, it was more complex, it was more of everything. We still had the same attitude, the same sturm und drang, teenage angst inside of us. It was just a continuation, but we were digging more into the stuff that we listened to back then, which was stuff like Slayer’s Hell Awaits and Possessed’s Seven Churches. We wanted to be even heavier, really.”
With sales of their debut exceeding expectations, Kreator entered the studio once more, early in 1986, eager to capitalise on their newfound popularity. With their label, Noise Records, increasing the band’s recording budget, Kreator checked in at Musiclab Studio in Berlin, with the Berlin Wall looming in the background, to work with Harris Johns. An increasingly in-demand producer with highly regarded albums by the likes of Helloween, Grave Digger and Coroner on his resume, Harris clearly saw huge potential in the young band and pushed them to new heights.
“The main difference for Pleasure To Kill was that Harris Johns was a real producer. He was someone that wanted to help the band. No offence to the guy who recorded Endless Pain, but he just didn’t get the music, so he just recorded what we did. Harris Johns was really producing us. He made sure that everything sounded right.”
Every classic album needs a stand- out anthem or two, and when Pleasure To Kill was released in May 1986, its wild and violent title track was immediately hailed as precisely that. A twisted diatribe, spat from the bloody lips of a gore-hungry vampire, Pleasure To Kill remains one of the nastiest thrash metal songs of all time, as Mille shrieks away like an actual psycho: “The colour of your blood from your open body is all I wanted to see / Tasting the blood from your lips as you die means satisfaction to me… pleasure to KILL!” Giving even Slayer a run for their money in the fast’n’furious stakes, Pleasure To Kill neatly encapsulated the intended theme of Kreator’s second album.
“The main idea… there was one point where we thought about calling the album ‘Faces Of Death’, because at the time there was this strange mockumentary [John Alan Schwartz’s notorious 1978 ‘mondo horror’ movie of the same name] doing the rounds on video. We were like, ‘This is the most brutal thing ever!’ so it became an album about all these different ways to die. Ripping Corpse is about a corpse coming into town and killing everybody. Command Of The Blade is about this Conan-type battle. Under The Guillotine is pretty obvious, and Pleasure To Kill is this undead, vampire creature that’s coming to kill you. So the album is basically about getting killed. We thought it was an amazing idea at the time! Ha ha ha!”
Released in May 86, Pleasure To Kill was plainly too extreme to propel Kreator into the mainstream, but its impact on the thrash scene and the burgeoning metal underground was immediate and huge. Still in their teens, the band suddenly began to receive offers for live shows and festivals, leading to a deep commitment to touring that has since sustained Kreator through several decades. As Mille states today, those early shows were a real revelation for a young band that had only occasionally ventured outside of the rehearsal room.
“There was never a particular moment when I felt, ‘Oh, this is a big record now!’ but I do remember that we played a tour with Destruction and Rage across Europe, and then we were flown to Montreal in Canada to play a tour with Voivod,” he recalls. “Before that, we played two headlining shows, one in Quebec City and one in Montreal, and the show in Montreal was huge. We thought, ‘All these people came to see us!’ When we played in the US for the first time, we met all these bands that we looked up to. Danny Lilker from Nuclear Assault came to see us in Brooklyn and he showed me around. Just great memories on a human level, you know? It was a crazy time.”
An unquestionable benchmark in the history of metallic savagery, Pleasure To Kill has remained a permanent fixture in Kreator’s live sets since its namesake album’s release. Thirty-five years later, the band are still one of Europe’s biggest and most revered metal bands, with a vast catalogue of acclaimed full-lengths. Nonetheless, the one song that is absolutely guaranteed to send any Kreator crowd into a violent, limb-threatening frenzy is the nasty one about the murderous vampire, written by a bunch of fresh- faced teenagers with big dreams and deeply unpleasant video collections, more than three decades ago.
“I honestly don’t know why Pleasure To Kill stands out,” Mille concludes. “Maybe it’s the raw brutality, the primitive approach. Maybe it’s a blueprint for a raw, thrash metal song with nasty lyrics. I don’t know! We usually play it at the end of the set, so we try to put everything that’s left in us into that song, after a 90-minute set. That’s when we get the craziest pits too, even though it’s right at the end of the show! Ha ha ha!”
Mille notes that he regularly receives messages from fans asking Kreator make another album “like Pleasure To Kill”, but while he observes that it would certainly be technically possible to write an album in the same vein, recreating the atmosphere and intensity of those original recordings would be utterly impossible. Instead, Kreator keep Pleasure To Kill alive by playing it at every single show and watching total chaos unfold.
“In some ways I haven’t changed, and that 17-year-old is still inside me somewhere,” Mille grins. “The core of the band is still the same, it’s me and Ventor. We talk about this a lot, and we both still have the same attitude towards the old stuff. It’s not about showing off how well we can play those songs these days, it’s more about an emotion, an energy that we try to capture. Pleasure To Kill is very primitive. It’s not rocket science. But it could only have happened in 1986, in a studio close to the Berlin Wall, with Harris Johns and us being totally crazy, partying all of the time. It was pure energy and emotion.”
Published in Metal Hammer #345