Friday, July 19, 2013

Celtic Frost "Monotheist"

"Os Abysmi vel Daath"

from MONOTHEIST (2008)
I don't think that at this point it is even arguable whether or not Switzerland's Celtic Frost (they were-along with Venom, Bathory, Sarcofago and a million others I'm probably forgetting) were responsible for inspiring what became known as "Black Metal".  And, in spite of the band's foray into hair metal territory with the awful Cold Lake (1988) and their clumsy attempt to right the ship with Vanity/Nemesis (1990), Frost's early material was so strong that the never entirely lost their credibility or it's influence.  Morbid Tales, To Mega Therion and Into the Pandemonium are classic albums that (like Bathory) combine proto-black metal with strong classical influences and Discharge/D-Beat drumming. 

Unlike Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth etc., Celtic Frost paid particular attention to atmosphere and mood.  Most critics weren't
"Into the Crypt of Rays"
from MORBID TALES (1984) 
sure what to make of this approach and often used terms like "Avant-Garde Metal" (as well as "Black Metal") to describe their sound, which was a bit lazy and tiresome, if not entirely inaccurate.  But ultimately, Metal is Metal and another sub-genre isn't necessary even if a band like Celtic Frost pushed the envelope.

After losing their way, on the aforementioned Cold Lake Celtic Frost eventually came to their senses.  But, it took a break-up that occurred in 1993 and a reunion in 2000.  It is unfortunate that it took them until 2006 to release Monotheist and even more unfortunate that they disbanded a second time in 2008, because it is every bit as good as their earliest material.

Monotheist is as relentlessly cold and bleak sounding as it is heavy. The brute force of Frost is
"Circle of the Tyrants"
from TO MEGA THERION (1985)
only thinly veiled by their classical leanings, epic arrangements and gothic overtones.  It often sounds mechanical in the way an old, rusted, rarely used piece of industrial machinery might sound if fired up again after years of neglect. The songs churn and sway in a mid paced grinding fashion, picking up speed occasionally, but rarely to velocity of their earlier work.  

Monotheist sounds bitter in the same way NYC's monstrous, crust/doom unit Winter's Eternal Frost album was, but only during the moments when is sounds as if the grinding slows to a pounding tempo - it isn't "Doom Metal", but flirts with that "genre" quite a bit.

If I had to take issue with any part of Monotheist I would say that the guitar tone  on this album is far too crisp for my taste and there are times when the triggered double-kick is too prominent in some of the songs. But, those are minor complaints.
"Caress Into Oblivion"

While I cannot say that Monotheist is my favorite Celtic Frost album, I can say that it is a great record and every bit as heavy as well as imaginative as anything that they have ever produced.  Monotheist serves as a reminder that Celtic Frost is every bit as influential as their '80's thrash-metal era peers and they will be missed.