Interview: Kreator's Mille Petrozza Talks 'Phantom Antichrist'

In an era dominated by reunions and reissues, anniversaries and anthologies, you won't find Kreator guitarist/vocalist Mille Petrozza getting tripped up while looking backwards.

"This is the most important moment in your life," says Petrozza adamantly. "It's not about what you've achieved in the past, it's what you are doing now."

What Kreator are doing now is preparing to release their 13th studio album, Phantom Antichrist, on Nuclear Blast before hitting the road this fall with Accept for a tour that could only be called the "Teutonic Terror Attack."

As for Phantom Antichrist, it seems a disservice to call it "everything fans would expect from a Kreator album," but it also wouldn't be inaccurate. The "us against the world" mentality, the visceral religious imagery, the unrelenting thrash metal attack — it's all there, and then some.

Never content to rehash the same old ideas, Petrozza and crew have upped the ante with Phantom Antichrist, a testament to their commitment to evolution, even after being one of thrash's most consistent bands for the better part of the last three decades. The songs are often stretched to accommodate more complex arrangements, and the dual guitar attack of Petrozza and Sami Yli-Sirniö has taken on an Iron Maiden-esque quality in places, lending tracks like "United In Hate" and "From Flood Into Fire" the proper anthemic feel for the beginning of a violent revolution without straying too far into the realm of the progressive — grandiosity without pomposity.

With perhaps their strongest album in recent memory on the way, I spoke to Mille Petrozza about guitars, the pressures of covering Iron Maiden and a very surprising influence.

GUITAR WORLD: On Hoards of Chaos you took a very old-school approach to recording. Did you approach the new album similarly?

We did a lot of analog stuff on the new record and a lot of vintage equipment. Jens Bogren, our producer, has a lot of goodies in his studio and we definitely used a lot of ancient, very cool-sounding equipment.

And also it was very important that we recorded the album in one room as a band, just like on Hoards of Chaos. It was the same kind of recording procedure, but instead of using all of the basic tracks — including guitars — we only ended up using the bass and the drums tracks, and then went on to do overdubs for the lead and rhythm guitars, which he hadn't done on Hoards of Chaos. On that album you hear all the rhythm guitars record live and this time we recorded the bass and drums live, all in one room recording. It definitely had the same vibe to it.

Why did you switch up your approach to recording rhythm guitars on Phantom Antichrist?

I guess it's because we needed a certain tone. We were looking for a certain sound and a certain dynamic and I think it's easier to achieve that vibe doing overdubs. It served the purpose better than doing live recordings.

During the recording sessions we knew we would explore with a lot of guitars. First and foremost, I'm always playing my Jacksons, but a lot of the solos and the acoustic guitars and the clean guitar parts were done with stuff like Telecasters and many nice-sounding vintage guitars.

How did you go about crafting your tone for this album?

We used a lot of those MXR pedals that create this nice, kind of chaotic sound for solos. We used a lot of the echo pedals that they have, and a lot of the equalizers. Basically pedals are what we used. We used a Tube Screamer for all the rhythm tracks.

We were switching from Engl amps to EVH, and we ended up using both of those for the rhythm tracks. Sometimes when the song asked for it we would use a different amp, but basically we used those two amps.

How have you seen your choice in gear evolve over the years, having been doing this for so long?

I started out with Ibanez guitars, went to B.C. Rich and then came to Jackson and stuck with it. I've got a Jackson signature model coming out. A prototype of it came in when we were doing solos [for Phantom Antichrist]. Basically what I did on this guitar, I was trying to keep it simple. That's what I love about Jackson; it's got a nice tone but it's not a complicated guitar. Anyone can play it and it's perfect for metal.

It's my favorite guitar to play live and my favorite guitar to produce leads in the studio. For the rhythm tracks I sometimes use Les Pauls, but in a live situation I always go for the Jackson. I have my signature model now, and I think it's the best metal guitar there is out there.

To me it's an honor to be a part of their family now, and they trust me so much that they built a signature model for me. I'm really happy that it finally happened.

When working out the lead guitar parts on your songs, is there a particular method by which you and Sami [Yli-Sirniö] divide up who plays what?

I usually write the rhythm tracks for the leads, and for each lead part I kind of have in mind who's playing what. For the fast stuff it's usually me and for the slower, more emotional, more melodic stuff, it's Sami.

On this new record we split it up a lot more, though. We have a lot question and answer stuff, kind of like K.K. Downing, Glenn Tipton, Dave Murray, Adrian Smith — very classic metal solo vibes. Going over the top and larger than life, so to speak. [laughs]

Did approaching solos this way force you to work them out more in advance, or was there room for improv in the studio?

Both. We had a couple of solos that were almost the same when we recorded them in the studio as they were in the demo tracks. But there was also a lot of room for creativity.

There were also a couple of solos ... . There was one I had written for a song called "Victory Will Come" where we changed the solo around at the last minute because it was too melodic. There was so much melody going on already that we decided to make it a crazy shredding solo.

All of the signature Kreator lyrical themes are present on this album, but one has to ask: What is a "phantom antichrist"?

The title came from a radio program I was listening to in Germany where they were talking about how Osama Bin Laden got killed and then thrown into the ocean — for religious religions. And there is no such thing as a sea burial in the Muslim religion, as far as I know. And that's where I got the inspiration for the title from. But the song itself isn't really a political thing.

It's more about a force that comes to earth, destroys all life and a new beginning starts with a new consciousness. The thing could be really anything. It's a metaphor for a very, very brutal force that could be destructive but creative too. Basically, what it's about — and what this album is about — is mass media manipulation. There's a lot of lyrical variety on the album.

You, of course, get the Kreator treatment where I talk about politics — sometimes — but not in the sense of preaching politics, because I'm not a fan of that. I write songs that are more inspired by political issues rather than talking about my opinion, because politics are boring in my opinion.

But there's a lot of injustice and a lot of oppression, which is being supported by certain politicians and governments. That's something Kreator has been writing about forever and it's always going to be a part of our lyrical themes. You can find anything from fiction to personal stuff to more social issues ... like I said, the full Kreator treatment.

Despite the bleak picture painted by some of the lyrics, there's still an overriding sense of hope to the band's lyrics. As if to say, "Yes, things are bad, but if we recognize it then maybe we can fix it."

Yeah, exactly. You got it! That was definitely my intention when I wrote those lyrics. It's very easy to go, "This world is a fucked up place and we're all going to be sad and miserable until we die." That's the easy way out, so to speak. But it's harder to come up with a solution and be a part of it, to work on problems and make things better.

I know "progressive" can sometimes be a dirty word, but I can't help but notice that the new album pushes into some new territory for Kreator. Would you agree there are some progressive elements present?

Not in the sense of Dream Theater progressive. [laughs]

Progressive in the sense of longer songs, yes. Progressive for the sake of being progressive, no. Because that's what I don't like about a lot of bands. I'm a big Rush fan, but I think Rush songs — especially the early albums — definitely has a soul to it. It's progressive music, but it's a good song. If anything we've been influenced by band like Rush more than bands like Dream Theater, with only the technical stuff.

The album definitely has some progressive moments, but not in any technically, showing-off way. More of adding to the song.

I've said before that I see a difference between "Progressive" in terms of a school of bands that all have a similar sound and "progressive" in terms of simply pushing music into new places.

Exactly. It's not like the guitar school, L.A. kind of thing — the GIT thing — it's not like that, I was never a fan of that.

For the B-side to the single version of "Phantom Antichrist" you included a cover of Iron Maiden's "The Number of the Beast." How did you go about putting your own stamp on such a classic song?

We got asked to do a cover version for a magazine. They were doing a tribute to The Number of the Beast and asked if we would like to do the title track. I don't know what happened to that, it kind of fell apart, I think. At least we never heard back from them.

We were very concerned, because there are some songs that you should not cover, that you shouldn't try to put your own stamp on. Let me put it this way: It's really not necessary to cover a song sometimes. In my opinion, the Iron Maiden version of "The Number of the Beast" is perfect how it is, and it's very hard to make a perfect song more perfect.

Like you said, the trick is to put your own stamp on it and make it ... not your own song, but make it sound like Kreator playing it. I think we managed to do that. I can you definitely hear that it's Kreator playing Iron Maiden instead of Kreator trying to be Iron Maiden, if you know what I mean.

It's amazing the longevity the bands of the German thrash metal scene have enjoyed. Kreator, Destruction, Holy Moses, Sodom and Tankard, to name a few, are all still going strong. Destruction are on the road celebrating their 30th anniversary. Is that at all something you think about?

Nah. We're not so much of an anniversary band to be honest. We live in the era now, which means we don't celebrate anniversaries so much.

I think it's always important to make peace with your past. You want to be proud of what you achieved in the past, but be looking forward to the future. This is the most important moment in your life. It's the present. It's not about what you've achieved in the past, it's what you are doing now.

For that matter, we're not that kind of band. We're not celebrating every five years. Maybe for... no, I'm not a big fan of that.

So is it safe to say then that we have many more years of Kreator to look forward to?

Of course. I love what I do. I enjoy playing music, so why not?

Kreator's 13th studio album, Phantom Antichrist, is out June 5 on Nuclear Blast Records. Kreator will be on tour in North American with countrymen Accept this fall. You can find all the dates here.

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Josh Hart

Josh Hart is a former web producer and staff writer for Guitar World and Guitar Aficionado magazines (2010–2012). He has since pursued writing fiction under various pseudonyms while exploring the technical underpinnings of journalism, now serving as a senior software engineer for The Seattle Times.