Book Review of Violent Evolution: The Story of KREATOR

Posted: March 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

Violent Evolution cover

Violent Evolution: The Story of KREATOR is a page-turner from the word go. Why is that? I’ll attempt setting aside my lifelong proclivity for all things metal  – in particular well-scripted narratives about bands I’ve personally loved since my teenage years – and give the book an objective literary write-up in the following paragraphs. (As though it were ACTUALLY possible for a metal head to be objective about Germany’s thrash metal titans…)

Foremost is that any metalhead will appreciate Kreator’s chronicle. Older fans will be taken back, waaaaaay back, to the humble beginnings of it all. They will hence delight in the nostalgia Kreator’s story provokes: the olden days of VLUU L310 W  / Samsung L310 Wan incipient but global underground extreme metal scene characterized by fan unity, tape traders, Xeroxed ‘zines, high-tops and denim jackets with Venom back patches, all leap from the pages as you leaf through various chapter’s in Kreator’s storied career. This is especially true regarding the sections dealing with the band’s early career up through Coma of Souls, when Kreator was heir apparent to the throne of the second-tier of the thrash heap – behind the Big 4 – with bands like Exodus, Testament, and Death Angel. Younger fans have but a single reason to read this book: these rambunctious breakdown upstarts ought to know how the Teutonic legends laid the foundation for everything fast and belligerent they’re listening to on their iPhones today. Your Warbringer ring tone? Your 1,000-song iTunes playlist with Killswitch Engage and My Dying Bride co-existing sonically and peacefully? You can thank Kreator, and a very small cadre of bold men and women in Europe and the US in the early 1980s, for rendering it a reality.

Beyond that, young or old, anyone can appreciate a touching come-from-behind story like Kreator’s. They started off ravenous in 1980s, escaping the confines of mining town Essen for greener metal pastures abroad; the band experienced a lull in the 1990s when the sands of pop culture shifted under metal’s feet, and for a short while all seemed lost, perhaps a musical specimen relegated to the proverbial yesteryear; and then as the corner turned into the new millennium, Mille caught a second wind, bounding back with utter vengeance and producing three of the mightiest thrash albums of all time: Enemy of God, Hordes of Chaos, and Phantom Antichrist. These are the kind of records you expect young hungry bands to release early in their careers, not after 20 years and a million miles traveled. Compare Kreator’s latter-day work to contemporaries like Metallica or Megadeth who have long been soft and – in Metallica’s specific case – can barely sing/play their own songs anyhow, and judge for yourself: creeping ever-closer to 50, Mille and company could give any 21 year old a run for his metal money in terms of songwriting and delivery. It’s like they say in Chile, “Mas sabe el diablo por viejo que diablo.” (The devil is smarter because he’s experienced, not because he’s the devil.) That is a story worth telling, and the author’s done a noble job of recreating it.

The book’s strong suits are, first, that it was written with such passion. That much jumps off the page at every turn. It frequently feels like a friend is enthusiastically telling you stories, as opposed to reading them. I don’t know how SAM_0519much of this was apparent in the original German version, but if the Swedish translators of the English edition were faithful to the sentiment the author intended to convey, then it’s clear he had a hella good time, a lot of laughs, and a good amount of reflection while penning this work. It’s exciting to read. A corollary is that it was written with an eye toward evincing the fundamental human qualities of the band members themselves. While it’s true that he attempted to be complete – or at least as complete as anyone could be cramming 25 years into just over 175 pages – the majority of the stories in the book tend to focus less on the technical, functional side of the band (i.e. business), and more on the human one, portraying them as they are: working class kids from working class places, who made a far-fetched commitment early in life and stuck it out, living to tell a tale of success probably beyond their own wildest imaginations.

A second strong point is the host of tour stories. Pulling together a collection of the most relevant ones for a band that’s been on the road over 25 years is no simple endeavor. The author does as admirable job of sifting through the accumulated media haze existing around the band for over two decades, and culls the shots that relate Kreator’s storied trek to immortality aptly. He hits every stage of their career: the band’s formative years playing garage-styled gigs, the initial period of success through Coma of Souls, their mid-1990s period of diminished fortunes playing to small crowds after producing sub-par albums (Renewal and Endorama most notably) that left even the band’s most devoted fans scratching their heads with no small measure of confusion, and their comeback and subsequent festival headlining performances and lengthy independent tours around the globe. The stories flesh out the key component to Kreator’s ultimate success: being on the road, being a working band. They are ably buttressed by a comprehensive tour date archive in the book’s annexes. It comes to an abrupt halt in 2011, which I’m told was a publishing error. But other than missing a few shows here and there (I personally found one from July 1993 with Morbid Angel and Paradise Lost, as well as one from March 1996 with Skrew, missing), the overall touring archive is accurate and, anyhow, the author never claimed to be perfect. The fact that he even attempted to reconstruct the band’s road chronology in the first place is admirable: they’re done thousands of shows and it’s not like Ticketmaster has been keeping track of them all, nor making reference of them easy. The archive lists date, venue, and who Kreator was touring with whenever the info is available.

A third strong suit are the photos: an outstanding collection of snapshots – often ones I’m sure came from the band members’ personal archives – are arrayed strategically throughout the book. They are chronologically appropriate, adding a visual element of progression to the band’s narrative as it happens. The pics evince a band that enjoys itself SAM_0526immensely both at work and play. Most striking are the live photos, and in particular those of Mille when he commands massive festival audiences for which Kreator have developed renown the last few years, the headlining spots on which serve as Kreator’s just rewards for having spent a lifetime laboring sonically in the trenches of the thrash faithful, replete with the ups and downs the journey has necessarily entailed. If the book has any weak points, they are few. But they do exist, and one of them is critical. First, the book is too short. 25 years in roughly 175 pages can be done, but it’s not going to be thorough. The book, at its current length, merely wets the appetite. In a sense, it’s a good thing, leaving you wanting more, waiting for the encore. But it can be bad: what if the encore never comes, the house lights come on, and it’s just time to go home? Second, and most importantly, the book was released through a very small company that, from my understanding, hasn’t done much to promote it. And that’s the true shame here: David Lee Roth once told Vince Neil, in Motley Crue’s very early stages, “If your records aren’t in Tahiti, then they’re nowhere.” While it’s not reasonable to expect Violent Evolution to be in every Barnes and Noble, or heading up the New York Times Book Review, it would be nice to see it get wider promotion and distribution. If a tree falls and no one sees it, did it really fall?

In closing, all prosaic odes and ass-kissing aside, it’s important that we fans remember (or learn, if you weren’t around to witness it personally) how strenuously thrash’s forefathers worked just to get something recorded and out to even a tiny audience – or even to get shows in their own towns, let alone embark on those first national and international tours. We need historical record of how that tiny audience grew deliberately by word of mouth, how tape traders and ‘zines spread the gospel of this mighty music gradually to every corner of the globe (they were the YouTube videos-gone-viral of the era) and how it resulted in the Kreator – and broader international extreme music scene hosting the largest music festivals in the WORLD – that essentially all metal fans are not only to access with ease, but also enjoy without fear of discrimination, today. Kreator was at the forefront of making that possible, and younger fans owe the band a serious debt of gratitude. So get your pucker on, folks: it’s time to kiss the ring.

Book trailer on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjV-IA1bc40

Purchase on Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Violent-Evolution-KREATOR-Hilmar-Bender/dp/3944154940/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1394900350&sr=1-1&keywords=kreator

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