While Extreme Aggression felt like a right lane breakdown for the career steamroller that was Kreator in the 80s, it was at least an important transition piece, because without that effort, I'm not sure they would have evoked the flawless masterpiece that is Coma of Souls. This is hands down one of the best German thrash recordings in history, and the career peak for one of the most riff oriented firing squads ever to explore the genre. From front to back, it's loaded to overflowing with creativity, quality, and oddly enough, emotion, borrowing little but from themselves. Honestly, this could just be called Extreme Aggression II: This Time With Flavor, and it would make no difference to me. I am a richer man for having owned this, and it's spot fucking on.
This was once again released through the CBS/Noise deal here in the States, but sadly it made almost no difference, because human beings are in general ignorant, and by 1990, many had already stopped paying attention to thrash metal altogether (they somehow managed to let Artillery's By Inheritance slip as well), or at least outside of their backlogs of Metallica and Megadeth albums. Grunge hadn't quite hit its full stride yet, but people were certainly creaming their shorts over Janes Addiction and Red Hot Chili Peppers and all manner of new sounds that were starting their push through the airwaves. It sucks, but alas, it is the way of the world, and thrashing masterworks have always been left by the wayside. Fortunately for us, none of this means a shit, and Kreator's fifth full length is just as epic today as it was twenty years past, with its pristine production values and deep roster. There is no 'going to the bench' with this album, because all ten tracks are contracted to kick your ass at all times.
Speaking of 'epic', the album is inaugurated with perhaps the most fantastic global warming warning in all of thrash metal, "When the Sun Burns Red", which opens with a beautiful clean guitar sequence, then lightly glazed with leads that lead to the inevitable explosion before the minute mark. The Germans cast aside the lace, then firmly re-assure us that, yes, this is a Kreator album, and you will be now be face planted into oblivion. Perfect verses lead us by the throat to an amazingly catchy chorus, and it really does not get much better than this in this genre of music. "Coma of Souls" picks right up from the ashes of the first track with sheer, escalating riff brilliance, and leads to another vicious conflagration of swirling leads, hostile but melodic notation and Mille Petrozza's unmistakable bark. And then, as if toying with us all, they break into "People of the Lie", which features hilarious but great anti-Nazi lyrics that step perfectly alongside the album's ultimate 'thrash' riff (in the verse) which Exodus probably slapped themselves wishing they had come up with for.
As an example of the album's excellent pacing, they next veer into the hyper, 2 minute piece known as "World Beyond", a flash of glorious, popping melodies with Ventor laying into his kit. Then comes the stretch of the immortal "Terror Zone", somber melodies collapsing into a march of warlike percussion and more quality guitar riffs than most thrash albums have period. The song is amazing, and it's no wonder the band have incorporated the title into their web address. "Agents of Brutality" follows a similar tactic, slowly building from a lurch to a frenzy of hurtling melody that explodes with the fibrous, twisted mutes beneath the chorus. "Material World Paranoia" returns to the belligerent drumming that first arrived with "Terror Zone", as the guitars paint hostile rainbows across the pre-verse atmosphere, and then unto another ejaculate inducing verse/chorus manifesto with a turbulent momentum.
By this point in an album, the band might have just attached a few filler pieces, maybe some dumb cover song and be through with it, but in Coma-land, the thrills never cease. We are next assaulted with the surgical opening melodies of "Twisted Urges", which rapidly transform into another majestic flight of riffage bordering on death metal. "Hidden Dictator" waltzes forth into a swaggering gallop, and even when they're developing up to the chorus, they're STILL inventing unforgettable guitars. "Mental Slavery" ends the show with a cyclic, clever notation that almost seems to imply to us 'you've had enough by now, so we'll let you off easy'. Only, it's not really that easy, just another fully kick ass Kreator track with maniacal riffs and anti-establishment lyrics, even though its slightly less energetic in tone than the rest of the disc.
Coma of Souls is the end of an era, as Kreator were no exception to the trend of reinvention that enveloped most of the thrashing spectrum come the 90s (the next 4-5 albums vary highly in quality with one another), but what an end it is. The amount of organization that went into the arrangements, the thought put into the (admittedly leftist hippy) lyrics, the clean and sleek finish to the studio mix. Trickling down through the years, I've heard various complaints that the album isn't as brutal as Pleasure to Kill, nor as ambitious as Terrible Certainty. These are both true, but neither has any impact on the quality here. The band had successfully collected and honored all of the steps leading to this, and somewhere along the way, learned how to be phenomenal songsmiths. I would kill for more bands out there writing at this level, taking thrash metal where it belongs, not sulking in derivation or the pathetic, recalcitrant humor manifest through misplaced nostalgia, ironically bludgeoning themselves into a coma of creativity.
Verdict: Epic Win [10/10] (mercy will never be found)