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Morbid Tales (1984)

In 1984, after a brief existence, Hellhammer was laid to rest and Celtic Frost was born out of its ashes. It was said that nothing more could be accomplished within the limited framework of Hellhammer's sound, especially after the monumental song "Triumph of Death" was unleashed. The truth is that Morbid Tales could, easily, have been released under the Hellhammer name. It sounds a little more professional and polished, but there is no more difference between it and Apocalyptic Raids than is found between Kill 'Em All and Ride the Lightning, for example.

The true reason behind the demise of Hellhammer is likely a complicated one which may not be easily understood. The band members seemed to shun the project for so many years. It could be that even they struggled to come to grips with this creation and only realized its impact and legacy in later years. Whatever the case, this band was no more and Celtic Frost was in its place, releasing the Morbid Tales E.P.

"Into the Crypts of Rays" begins with the screaming of damned souls as they descend into the abyss. This brief intro ends, abruptly, as the song erupts at full speed. This album, typically, gets a lot of praise for being a huge influence on black and death metal, which it was, for the most part. However, it doesn't really hold up to similar releases such as The Return, Endless Pain or even Apocalyptic Raids, which was spawned by the same band that composed this slightly more mature, yet less exciting release.

The next song is "Visions of Mortality". This one begins in a fairly slow manner, being a little sloppy and relaxed. Absent is the murky guitar tone of Hellhammer, replaced by a much crunchier sound. The drumming is more professional, and helps to hold everything together. As for the vocals, they are certainly unique but they lack conviction, at times. The Cronos influence is present, but they do not really possess a dark or evil feeling to them. As this song continues, the pace speeds up and the listener is assaulted by many riffs and lead solos.

The next song has been covered a million times and is one of Celtic Frost's better known works. "Procreation (Of the Wicked)" is a mid-paced song that is surrounded by an aura of doom. The vocals are a little better suited for the music on this song, though still not holding a candle to Cronos, Tom Araya, Angelripper, Quorthon, etc. All in all, it works. The demonic voice in the background adds a nice effect to the song as well. This was actually done by Horst Müller. This song never speeds up or changes in pace, at all. It crawls across the murky landscape, leaving a trail of sludge behind it, devouring all in its path.

"Return to the Eve" is next, opening with more typical Celtic Frost riffs. You would almost think that you have already heard this riff, and you're probably right. This song is pretty mid-paced, but still features a few riff changes. This is one of the more interesting songs of the album, until the last minute or so when the brief spoken word part (done by a female) intrudes and kills the feeling, to an extent. Surely, this was inspired by Venom's "Welcome to Hell" and it wasn't much appreciated there, either.

The album nears its conclusion with the very eerie instrumental, "Danse Macabre". This may not sound like much if you're listening to this while at a party or driving down some crowded street, but try immersing yourself in this alone, in the middle of the night. This is like something pulled straight from a nightmare. This actually would have been a very appropriate way to end the album, but perhaps they wanted to pull the listener back from the edge of the abyss before leaving them alone in the darkness.

Unfortunately, "Nocturnal Fear" does nothing to capitalize on the horrific feeling created by the previous song. It rages forward at a high speed, actually sounding very similar to the first song, "Into the Crypts of Rays". As it slows down, it recycles more riffs found elsewhere on the album, particularly from the title track. This isn't terrible, but it seems a bit uninspired. However, after the brilliant instrumental, they get a pass to do whatever they wish to close the album out.

All in all, Morbid Tales is a good E.P., though a definite step down from Satanic Rites and Apocalyptic Raids. Despite its shortcomings, it has earned its place in metal history. While it lacks the aggression and dark atmosphere found on early albums from Slayer, Bathory and Kreator, it maintains an identity of its own and managed to influence many bands that came later.
(4 Apr. 2009)

Emperor's Return (1985)

Following the success of the Morbid Tales E.P. and their very first tour, Celtic Frost entered Line In Recording Studio, in Zurich, during the second week of April 1985. The result was the Emperor's Return E.P. which was produced by the band. It was released in mid-August 1985 and featured new drummer, Reed St. Mark.

"Dethroned Emperor" begins with more slow, thrash riffs. Really, you hear this riff all over Morbid Tales and Emperor's Return, in different forms, as there isn't a whole lot of true variety here. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does take something away from the music. This song manages to create a dark atmosphere with the slow, doom riffs. The solos are nothing special, really, though they add to the eerie feeling being slow and demented. On this song, Tom's groans of death fit in the best, though the scream of "ow!" doesn't suit the aura of darkness.

The next song is one of Celtic Frost's best-known. "Circle of the Tyrants" features a fairly fast pace and some raw thrash riffs that wouldn't have been so out of place on Satanic Rites. There isn't really any sort of dark or evil atmosphere to speak or, but this is a pretty good song to listen to for thrashing out or driving down the highway at high speeds. The middle of the song slows down, considerably, featuring some vocal effects in the background that are intended to sound evil. Actually, the darkest sound on this one is the distant screaming that follows the lead solo.

As "Morbid Tales" starts, it has much more of a rock and roll feeling, sounding like something from Shout At the Devil. There is certainly nothing morbid about this, as it lacks any kind of dark atmosphere. This was something that was also apparent on the earliest Hellhammer demos, as there is often a less serious Rock feeling, showing the roots of the band aren't merely limited to Venom.

The E.P. continues with "Suicidal Winds", which opens with more of the twisted riffing that was made famous on the Hellhammer recordings. There is a certain groove that is found on this song that makes it seem like a leftover track from Apocalyptic Raids or something. The drumming is pretty standard, here, and it makes one wonder why it was so hard for them to find someone. There are faster sections, but the band insisted on keeping the catchy vibe, putting an end to the speed. The drums get a bit more interesting, right before the final lead break. During these sections, the song appears to be building energy yet it keeps returning to the mid-paced riff. There is a lot of potential, here, but it doesn't seem as if it is ever realized. The song ends with some feedback and semi-chaotic sounds, but it pales in comparison to what Slayer was doing around this time.

The final song is "Visual Aggression". This one begins much like "The Third of the Storms". Thankfully, they learned a little bit since then and managed to put a little more energy into this track. The guitar riffs are a lot better, sounding more metal and less punk. Still, the influence doesn't seem completely lost.

As I mentioned in the review for Morbid Tales, this material is not so far removed from Hellhammer as to warrant changing the name and trying to distance themselves from that project. It doesn't appear they did that much to differentiate the newer material, as it could have been released under the Hellhammer name and no one would have thought twice about it.

The Emperor's Return E.P. is not as essential as Morbid Tales, for Celtic Frost fans. This is, probably, why the only decent songs from here were added to the US release of their debut E.P. to make it a full-length. Aside from the first song, this is pretty mediocre stuff. I can't exactly recommend this, as one song isn't really worth it. Your best bet is to get the later re-issues of Morbid Tales.
(18 Apr. 2009)

To Mega Therion (1985)

Misfortune befell Celtic Frost as Martin Eric Ain exited the band just as they prepared to record their debut L.P. He was replaced by Dominic Steiner. In the second half of September, 1985, the band entered Casablanca Studio in Berlin to record To Mega Therion. Once again, the album was produced by Horst Müller. This album too the concept that was born in the days of Hellhammer to its conclusion. As indicated by the ridiculous band photos, the path that they would follow after this would be more mainstream and 'experimental' at the same time. It is funny to see that one band member looks like he belongs in The Cure, while the other two appear as something vomited out of Motley Crue. The cover artwork redeems them, aesthetically, as they were allowed to use H.R. Giger's "Satan, I".

The album begins with an intro titled "Innocence and Wrath". This doom-laden piece features the use of a timpani and a French horn. It's not bad, but it could have been more effective without the extra instruments. The sound would have benefited from remaining raw and less polished. Nonetheless, it does a decent job of setting the mood. The problem is that it the song that follows does nothing to build on this.

"The Usurper" features the typical, uptempo thrash riffs that are common with Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost. The vocals really kill the feeling of this, with the "hey!" part thrown in. For me, this really takes away from any sort of dark feeling. The use of female vocals is entirely worthless, as well. This could have been a nice, energetic thrash song, but too many factors play a role in ruining it.

The next song is "Jewel Throne", which begins with kind of a mid-paced thrash riff. Some interesting guitar work adds another dimension to the sound, though it disappears too soon. The vocals hinder the song, in terms of darkness, as the feeling is completely different from the music. It's not just that the delivery isn't harsh enough, but the way that he seems to try to sing by raising his voice at certain times. It gives too much of an uptempo, lighthearted feeling where it isn't wanted. Around the middle of the song, the tempo picks up for a bit. This is pretty energetic and, when the vocals are absent, it can be enjoyable. As the song goes, the pace quickens even more, just before a nice lead solo. Mr. Fischer is far more competent as a guitar player than as a vocalist, it would appear.

"Dawn of Meggido" is, possibly, the best song on To Mega Therion. This one is slow and mid-paced, possessing a strong feeling of doom. This features the same added effects that were present in the intro, which aren't necessary at all. The vocals are still out of place or, rather, out of tune with the feeling of the music. The guitar riffs are very familiar, as they sound extremely similar to others that were used on Morbid Tales and Emperor's Return. The tempo picks up a little bit, near the middle, but is crushed back to earth by the main doom riff of the song. It finally struggles free, speeding up a slight bit to accompany the lead solo. This track has a very oppressive atmosphere and is the darkest piece to be found on this record. There is certainly room for improvement, but it's still a fairly decent song. It would have been even better had they dropped the extra instruments and kept the primitive feeling from Hellhammer. By keeping it simple and utilizing the vocal approach from "Triumph of Death", this could have been a classic.

This is followed by the mid-paced opening riffs of "Eternal Summer". This one speeds up but it sounds like something already heard on Morbid Tales. Despite the lame song title and the feeling that this has been heard before, it's a pretty energetic song; one of the best on here, so far.

The re-recorded version of "Circle of the Tyrants" is done very well, especially the vocal effects that help add a little depth and darkness to the aura of the track. Unfortunately, the song is tainted by a completely worthless section that features female vocals. This has never been acceptable for this type of music and it sounds very much out of place. It is brief, but it does a serious amount of damage to the feeling, for me. This is a step down from the original version, which was featured on the Emperor's Return E.P.

"(Beyond the) North Winds" is a mid-paced song that utilizes more familiar-sounding riffs, slightly altered from Side A of this very album. The vocal approach still leaves a little to be desired, but this isn't a bad song. It's actually a good thing that the riffs were recycled as they are better implemented here. This sounds like something that could have, easily, been included on Apocalyptic Raids. The only thing is that this vocal approach wouldn't have fit in very well.

The next song is "Fainted Eyes". This is another typical sounding Celtic Frost song. There isn't a whole lot to say here. It's fast-paced and just serves as another example of this band's lack of creativity, at times. They were better off making only an E.P. or two, as a full-length seems to be too demanding for them. The lead solo, in the middle, adds nicely to the song. Following this, the pace slows down a bit. You can really hear how influential this was for Obituary, a few years later. Their debut album really showed how this style could sound, when executed properly. All in all, not a bad song, just not very moving either.

"Tears in a Prophet's Dream" is a brief instrumental piece, reminiscent of "Danse Macabre". This works well to conjure up nightmarish images that haunt your mind and tax the limits of your sanity.

The final song on this record is "Necromantical Screams". The pointless female vocals do a lot of damage to this song. Despite this horrid addition to the track, this remains one of the better songs on the album. Of course, this is simply a revamped version of "Buried and Forgotten", from Satanic Rites. They took the original and stripped it of certain elements while adding less suitable ingredients, such as the aforementioned female voice. This song represents the end of Hellhammer, in a sense. This was the last time that Gabriel and his cohorts exhumed musical ideas from that deceased project to exploit them once more.

The experimental aspects of To Mega Therion foreshadow the path that this Swiss band would follow. While the first two mini-albums were not so far removed from Hellhammer, this is where the break became most apparent, while still retaining many similarities. This isn't a terrible album, but it's certainly not one that holds up under close scrutiny. There were many missed opportunities where good songs could have been great ones or where the vocal approach distorted the feeling that the music was creating. In the end, it isn't that essential; not when compared to the earlier efforts and certainly not when compared to their peers.
(20 Apr. 2009)

Into the Pandemonium (1987)

Into the Pandemonium is the second L.P. from Celtic Frost, released by Noise Records in November 1987. While some consider this a part of the band's "classic era", the truth is that this is the point where the band became completely worthless. To Mega Therion had its problems, but the good outweighed the bad, for the most part. However, one must really struggle to find any redeeming qualities about Into the Pandemonium. It's called "avant-garde", by those who support this abomination. In reality, it represents a total lack of direction or motivation.

The album begins on a negative note, which is kind of appropriate as it lets the listener know what to expect. In this case, it serves as a warning to turn this off and toss it in the nearest garbage can. "Mexican Radio" is a terrible song and shouldn't have been covered, but the fact that they insisted on starting the record out with this abomination, rather than burying it somewhere on Side B, is the first of many mistakes.

The next largest complaint would have to be the atrocious vocal delivery of Tom Warrior. Songs like "Mesmerized" have half-decent riffs ruined by his bloody awful attempts to sing. His vocals were always one of the low points of Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost, not really being dark or evil enough to suit the music, but here it defies all logic. He sounds like a whore being anally raped in a back alley somewhere. He couldn't sound any weaker if he tried. He doesn't utilize this style the entire time, but far too much. One has to wonder what the hell he was thinking.

As for the music, there are some brief flashes of the old Celtic Frost, though still seeming tame and easier to digest for all of the goth kids that they were, obviously, trying to appeal to at the time. Songs like "Inner Sanctum" seem good, compared to the horrid filth that they're mixed in with; however, even the best songs on this record would be singled out as the weakest ones, had they appeared on Morbid Tales or Emperor's Return. Listening to "Sorrows of the Moon", I have to think to myself that, if they had sought out a new vocalist, maybe this 'artistic vision' would have been better realized. But, of course, Tom's vocals give the mental image of someone sitting in a dark corner, crying and applying eyeliner while listening to The Cure. "Babylon Fell" sounds like a rejected track from To Mega Therion, more or less. And, naturally, it features more of Tom's whining vocals. However, this isn't the worst offense presented here.

Somehow, one of the forefathers of black and death metal decided that it was appropriate to use dance beats, in the middle of the record. "One in Their Pride" is completely useless and only goes to show that the members of this band were completely out of touch with their roots; no more Venom or Black Sabbath, it appears. As for "I Won't Dance"... nothing can be said to convey how horrible this is, though some irony can be pointed out regarding the title of this song and the sound of the previous one.

Into the Pandemonium is offensive to the ears, and it marks the moment where Celtic Frost lost all credibility. For anyone that was surprised by the pure feces released on the Cold Lake album, they must not have heard this one first, since the drop in quality was already quite evident. If you are a fan of Celtic Frost (or just someone with good taste, in general), and you have been fortunate enough to not have heard this yet, do yourself a favour and avoid this at all costs. It is utterly worthless and you're better off to just flush your money straight down the toilet. While there are a few passable riffs, you are better off listening to an album that is actually good.

(10 August 2010)

Cold Lake (1988)

Cold Lake is the third full-length from the 'legendary' Celtic Frost. By this point, they had already defecated all over their legacy with the horrid trash known as Into the Pandemonium. With that album, fans witnessed the total pussification of this band, or so they thought. In 1988, Tom and Co. returned to finish the job. Remember, at this point, he was still completely disowning the Hellhammer material, and seemed even to dislike the early Celtic Frost stuff as well. Somehow, he got the idea that he could jump on the cock rock bandwagon, and cash in. In the end, he learned a hard lesson; when a metal band tries to sell out, nine times out of ten, they only succeed in alienating their true fanbase and rarely, if ever, achieve the results that they had in mind.

The production of the album is even softer and easier to digest than the previous record, and the songwriting suits this pretty well. It's weak and uninspired, for the most part. Sadly, a few decent riffs manage to sneak onto the album, and the songwriting actually seems more consistent than on Into the Pandemonium. Of course, it's consistently bad, but consistent, nonetheless. Of course, upon closer inspection, one can detect that some of the riffs have been 'borrowed' from other bands. The latter part of "Petty Obsession" sounds familiar and the main riff of "(Once) They Were Eagles" is ripped off from King Diamond's "Twilight Symphony", released several months earlier on "Them".

One of the problems with this album is that some of the riffs are still too metal for the crowd that they were trying to appeal to. The songwriting is tame and the production is weak, which goes along with the wretchedly awful vocals. However, this still might have been too heavy for the Poison and Cinderella fans (or whoever the hell they were hoping would buy the album and line their pockets with cash). This means that, at certain points, it is very clear that the music and vocals don't fit together very well. Actually, I cannot fathom what sort of 'music' Tom's homosexual mating calls were meant for, but it has no place in rock or metal. Some people simply cannot sing and are better served to stick with a style that hides this fact.

It is laughable that this is the album that the band seems to want to keep hidden away, as it hasn't been reissued along with the others. The one before this was just as bad, just in a different way, yet they still seem proud of that one. At any rate, regarding Cold Lake, this is one of those times when an album is completely torn apart and ridiculed for good reason. The following album, Vanity/Nemesis, is often called a comeback album. By comparison, it seems a little heavier and more metal-based (especially with the stolen Megadeth riffs from "In My Darkest Hour", on "The Name of My Bride"), but it is more of the same. Avoid anything from this band, after 1985.

(10 August 2010)

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