Retrospective: Kreator’s ‘Terrible Certainty’ 25 Years Strong

By Avinash Mittur

When it comes to thrash metal, few bands have as mighty a discography as Kreator. The five albums the band delivered between 1985 and 1990 have had an immeasurable influence on black, death and thrash metal and they’ve been justly lauded for it in the years since. Kreator’s 1987 release, “Terrible Certainty,” has always been a bit of an underappreciated gem in the catalog though. The two albums that bookend it are usually spoken of more for understandable reasons. “Pleasure to Kill” was perhaps the most frenzied and gore-obsessed album of its time while “Extreme Aggression” was the first album to successfully marry the two styles of thrash coming out of Germany and California. Released twenty-five years ago in October 1987, “Terrible Certainty” is every bit as memorable a record as any of those albums though- it’s one of the Kreator’s finest and stands as one of the great contributions to heavy metal music from Germany.

Right from the get-go, one could tell that Kreator had seriously upped their musicianship in the eleven months since “Pleasure to Kill” had been released. The opening riff of “Blind Faith” was their most technical yet, and the entire album would follow suit. Mille Petrozza’s vocals made a quantum leap in confidence and authority and his guitar playing had made a similar jump. Mille’s lyrics had also matured by a huge factor; where he had been obsessed with gore and zombies before, he now found interest in Roman gladiators and even condemned the use of pesticides and other chemical agents among other topics. He and his new partner Jorg Tritze finally began to display their chaotic solos and the riffing became much tighter and more dialed in. Ventor seemed to improve the most however, giving a crazed performance while being far more precise and metronomic than he had ever been before. His drum intro to the title track still sends fans into a frenzy at Kreator concerts, but his work on the entire album was simply great. The production on “Terrible Certainty” was also a major improvement over Kreator’s prior records, and was perfect to show off the new level of ability from the band.

There isn’t a single track on “Terrible Certainty” that could be considered filler- every song saw Kreator firing on all cylinders. It’s a short record, only thirty-six minutes long, but the entire album holds together amazingly well and never gets repetitive. From the almost black metal solo section of “Blind Faith” to the clean guitars in the intro of “Behind the Mirror,” nearly every song features a unique tic that makes it stand out from the rest. “Toxic Trace” is a personal favorite- the contrast between the hypnotic chugging main riff and its raging German thrash verses is something that other bands only started to attempt years after Kreator had perfected it. Ventor also gave his final vocal performance to date on “As the World Burns,” a song that was also Kreator’s first mid-tempo bruiser. Kreator were learning that great thrash songs didn’t have to be at mach-ten speed all the time every time, and the ensuing results on “Terrible Certainty” were uniformly punishing. Even the cuts that aren’t acknowledged as often like “No Escape” and “One of Us” rage with the same youthful fury that fueled “Endless Pain,” but with a new level of technical proficiency and conviction that hadn’t been seen until this album.

Current issues of “Terrible Certainty” include the “Out of the Dark, Into the Light” EP as bonus tracks- the one original song “Impossible to Cure” would have fit nicely on the original album, though it isn’t at the level of any of the original album tracks. Their cover of Raven’s “Lambs to the Slaughter” is appropriately thrashed up, and is a fun snapshot of Kreator paying tribute to their heroes. The three live tracks paint a picture of a band that wasn’t a very tight unit onstage yet- it would still be a couple years until Frank Blackfire kicked their butts into high gear on the “Coma of Souls” tour.

In 2012, “Terrible Certainty” is hardly represented in Kreator live sets- fans are lucky if they get a showing of the title track these days. Many of these songs absolutely deserve to be played with the current lineup, and have been unfairly forgotten in the last twenty-five years. “Terrible Certainty” is a monolithic yet diverse record where a few other Kreator albums begin to sound the same halfway through. “Coma of Souls” and “Extreme Aggression” are wonderful albums for the iTunes generation; both records are full of fantastic songs, but neither make for nearly as great of an uninterrupted listen as “Terrible Certainty.” The near-gothic atmosphere given off by the album combined with the all around stellar songs made for an album that has stood the test of time as a thrash classic. After 25 years, “Terrible Certainty” isn’t merely a highlight in the Kreator catalog; it’s one of the greatest documents of the entire Teutonic Thrash movement.