Celtic Frost

The founders of metal's obsession with dark conceptual majesty, Celtic Frost stimulated imaginations enough in one generate to help the growth of two underground genres.

Morbid Tales/Emperor's Return

Production: Warm sounds from equipment roasting in the confinement of age.

Review: Where Hellhammer focused its strength on the ultimately granular, Celtic Frost is the extension of a shattered attention span to cover a developing theme and the consequences of its interaction in a complex system of complementary riff motifs. These majestically ambitious structures display the crude grandeur of stone fortifications, solid in design and clear in intent, with the neo-Gothic aesthetic enveloping in concept and sound.

Roaring standard form power chords rush to resonant states which, in the style first seen on the epic "Triumph of Death," augment or reduce those states for melodic motion instead of concluding them or in the hardcore style lingering on the essential rhythm and tone for the purpose of seamless looping. As a result, circular structures are longer and roll development of riff and theme from essential components fusing to unravel narrative to its culmination, allowing melody to appear not in the aspect of the riffs themselves but in a knowledge of the tones pursued and resonant change in harmony as structure having melodic aspects to its progression.


Morbid Tales
1. Into the Crypts of Rays (4:20)
2. Visions of Mortality (4:48)
3. Dethroned Emperor (4:38)
4. Morbid Tales (3:29)
Emperor's Return
5. Circle of the Tyrants (4:27)
6. Procreation (of the Wicked) (4:05)
7. Return to the Eve (4:08)
8. Danse Macabre (3:52)
9. Nocturnal Fear (3:38)
10. Suicidal Winds (4:36)
11. Visual Aggression (4:11)
Length: 46:14

celtic frost morbid tales and emperor's return initiated the advancement of theatrical black metal in 1985
Copyright © 1985 Noise

Epic rock had previously focused on the latter part of the epithet more than the first yet on this album a great consciousness is unleashed in a form that would inspire others to imitate and improve, hailing the exuberant spirit of inventiveness and fantasy that inspired Celtic Frost to create music resembling the fatalistic rumbles of a self-digesting world while celebrating the spirits of those laboring for life however perverse that is available within. Instrumentalism is basic: guitars use squealing feedback for great effect among the power chord textures, drums are tightly tucked into their own patterning and emphasize heartbeat structures of resurgence and completion; the hoarse chanted shout reads aloud a presentation of knowledge in rhythm to complement the song, instead of wrangling for counterpoint focus, and dynamic variance supports rising tension needs of song coherence.

While unrefined in some aspects of musical focus and raw in presentation, the music of Celtic Frost expresses a concept in songwriting where appearance defines setting and, in the style of Slayer, melody and structure demonstrate narrative and resonant properties in effect on the listener. Their label could only "afford" two EPs instead of albums and in this presentation they together demonstrate a journey toward the classic autumnal sound of the droning and majestic band that seeded all of black metal to come with its ideas.

To Mega Therion

Production: Noisy yet spatially present like a soundtrack.

Review: Gothic cathedrals of resonant noise rolling with a gracefully organic rhythm which in its accompaniment of laconic chord phrasing transforms this energy into a continuity of darkness working against its own grinding negativity and eventual decay into chaos, Celtic Frost brought their internal formula of doom-laden cavernous drone music to its most evolved state while remaining focused as concept and aesthetic of metal. Epic in scope and ambition of ideal, this album uses occasional symphonic accentuation and clean vocals to achieve an atmosphere which merges image and ideal expressed in music.


1. Innocence and Wrath (1:03)
2. The Usurper (3:26)
3. Jewel Throne (4:05)
4. Dawn of Megiddo (5:48)
5. Eternal Summer (4:34)
6. Return to the Eve (4:08)
7. Circle of the Tyrants (4:40)
8. (Beyond The) North Winds (3:08)
9. Fainted Eyes (5:05)
10. Tears in a Prophet's Dream (2:35)
11. Necromantical Screams (6:03)
Length: 44:37

celtic frost to mega therion 1986 a founding document of black metal music
Copyright © 1986 Noise

Protagonist Tom Warrior writes in his book about the band that the importance of projecting image coherent with music was where Celtic Frost differed from other bands of the time, and that vision is present here in distinctive songs which more than operating by hook work by visual architectures having significance in rumbling epics of fundamental conflict. Vocals chant a cadenced encouragement to roaring sound and drums shadow development through guitar phrasing as bass fills points of tonal variation, forming together a lower registers resonance which through its thrashing of undulating riffs projects a hazy dreamlike vision into the subconscious metaphorology of majestically raw and human motions in music.

Amazing for its ability to turn a sequence of one and two-note riffs into a progression of idea evolving into the next turn of structure, cycling across portions of the narrative journey through fundamental themes in riff and rhythm, this metal uses recursive structures to emphasize arduously nihilistic structures of the same feral approach to harmony seen in Hellhammer, refined to a greater degree of articulation in riff texture. Each song captures in its own space a grandeur which will forever be associated with this band, that of a panoramic view of vast realms of decay and hopelessness, including the lone warrior as he wanders investigating a world beyond his control.

Influential on most black and death metal to follow, Celtic Frost established a template for song construction and development which allowed narrative aspects of structure on both strategic (song composition) and tactical (riff shape) levels and in doing so, brought their consciousness of aesthetic gestured in music into the bloodline of the evolving black metal genre.

Century Media

Production: Crisp and high-intensity with limited depth or texture.

Review: Returning to metal after years of absence is like escaping prison after five-year sentence, because nothing is as one would expect normal to be. For this reason, escaped cons and weatherbeaten metal bands alike second-guess their audiences and sometimes try too hard to please or to be current. The return of Celtic Frost, "Monotheist," is both the sound of this band grasping their future firmly for the first time in many years, but also of an attempt to both fit in and innovate that ends up separating internally like oil and water into its component styles, which become correspondingly dramatic. Like all Celtic Frost works, this album is built around the concept of both God and the individual human being monotheistic entities.

The music remains in essence metal, although it has been "updated" with the type of bouncy rhythmic offset riffing that distinguishes both Pantera and Meshuggah, although the result here is more like later Prong as it prefers both greater ranges of melody and less incessantly abrasive rhythms. While this gives the creative minds of Celtic Frost new creative texture with which to work, it brings about a fundamental conflict: Celtic Frost was a band built around the grandeur of non-linear presentation, a slow building of emotion, and then a graceful contrast like morning sunlight through thousand-year old ruins. The abrasive style they adopt for about half of their metal content is unfortunately a two-step, and gives them no room to develop; the other half of the metal content is descended directly from Black Sabbath with some of the stylistic updates one might expect from Cathedral, and allows prolonged chord progressions to be forged into staggered layers of doomy riffs that dissolve the bouncing, jubilant, frustrated Pantera-style noise.


1. Progeny
2. Ground
3. A dying god coming into human flesh
4. Drown in ashes
5. Os abysmi vel daath
6. Obscured
7. My domain of decay
8. Ain elhohim
9. Incantation against
10. Synagoga satane
11. Winter (requiem)
Length: 69:01

Celtic Frost - Monotheist 2006 Century Media
Copyright © Century Media Century Media

When in chugging point-to-point riff mode, Celtic Frost rely on the surly shouted growl that modern metalcore bands use to convey the idea that they're both tough and hurting inside; it's reminiscent of a cross between Biohazard and The Haunted. Luckily, for much of the album, Tom warrior unleashes his vocal pipes and is able to slip between a crooning gentle vocal to a thick Gothic nocturne that is reminiscent of Sisters of Mercy or a synthpop bands like Wolfsheim. As the most perceptive songwriting accompanies these vocals, it is not unwise to assume that the band have sympathies which induce them to head in this direction, and as this reviewer sees it, that is positive thing: they can bring the doomy riffs in later but they must escape the artistically-confining nature of their "modern metal" influences, even if Prong and Celtic Frost both do better with that than any other band known.

Musically, this album has some of the finest moments yet heard from this band, and like previous industrial/metal crossover attempts "Grin" from Coroner and "Renewal" from Kreator, its rigidity hides a good deal of the experimentalism and playful subtlety of the experienced musician. Consider the rhythmic tribute to Motorhead's "Orgasmatron" on the second track, or the lightly sardonic and beautiful duet with female vocals on track four, or the history of metal riffs from Metallica to Disembowelment found on track 10; even moments that might considered interlude, such as the epic outro "Winter" with its brightly melancholic three-note landscapes or the transcendental, Middle-Eastern sound of "Ain Elhohim" -- these are creative moments that any band would be proud to call their own.

Like many recent metal bands, Celtic Frost try too hard to be angry, to emote, to identify with and communicate with their audience. People worshipped this band because, like the kid on the beach who made intricate sandcastles just for fun, they were at peace with creation and made worlds those of us trapped here in modern society could not wait to experience. Death became meaning, life became battle, the night opened itself with uncountable demons. For a comeback CD, this is of phenomenal quality, but the band must find their range first in style and next in songwriting, and that may take another release to get right. The music is good, but the aesthetics need work; it's too symmetrical, obvious, non-magical. Look to the next album for the art to match its concept.

Celtic Frost - Into the Pandemonium
1. Mexican Radio
2. Mesmerized
3. Inner Sanctum
4. Tristesses De La Lune
5. Babylon Fell (Jade Serpent)
6. Caress Into Oblivion
7. One In Their Pride (Porthole Mix)
8. I Won't Dance (The Elder's Orient)
9. Sorrows Of The Moon
10. Rex Irae (Requiem)
11. Oriental Masquerade
12. One In Their Pride (Extended Mix)
Length: 48:19
Into the Pandemonium (Noise, 1987)
When civilizations collapse, an intermediate stage manifests itself where all of the abilities and many of the ideas of a greater past persist, but the organization that united them is gone, and thus the whole resembles a television as seen by a drug addict on the nod on a nearby couch: disconnected visions shuttering between data so irrelevant to any whole concept that in retrospect it appears as grey, ashen, television static noise. "Into the Pandemonium" is exactly this in that it has three songs that approximate the intensity of older works, and then the bulk of it which have moments of the same greatness lost in a diffusion of focus brought about by doubt of style and intent to reach for a new height, yet being unable to control its new style to the degree it could direct the older, more rugged material could be. It has left behind the unselfconscious channelling of emotions and thoughts that were other works, and has entered a postmodern phase of self-awareness that leads to deliberately stylized and "different" impulses among the raw pathos for which the band is legendary. Some might say this is merely an intrusion of art rock, but it occurs simultaneously with a heightening of elements of aesthetic -- introduction of more backing vocals, vocal styles, classical interludes and guitar fills -- and while these in themselves are welcome, they indicate a shift toward Celtic Frost observing their older works and trying to dress them up as something new. Riff changes are slightly more abrupt and without foreshadowing and there are more passages where invariant repetition is disguised with female voices or Tom Warrior moaning like a rent boy; some riffs seem simplified at the same time they become more like the stadium heavy metal background this band originally was hellbent to escape. Kept at faster but still mid-paced tempos, with a friendly bounce throbbing from the drumkit at all times, many of these songs will have a pair of excellent riffs -- subtle yet revealing like a cranial x-ray, a mixture of rhythmic directions and contrast between chromatic and melodic intervals -- but then fade out into directionless muffled strumming in linear repetition. Re-mixes and alternate versions of several of these tracks do not, like the Etape I-III on Kraftwerk's "Tour De France Soundtracks," reinforce depth of concept with a geometry of multiple views, but bore into us repetitively. While the ideas here are good, they have not been mulled in the minds of these artists over time, and have an air of temporary or hasty construction; where older Celtic Frost was a suburb of hell, this is a trailer park on the dark side of purgatory, and the band are hanging out on the stoop in white undershirts stained with sweat, scratching their hairy bellies and belching. It is not much of a surprise when an electronic track appears, followed by a song on which an actual diva makes her presence known in a style better adapted to techno than metal. What is surprising is the quality of much of the material on here, both traditional metal and operatic-vocal enhanced tracks, if one can see past the confusion, and how much better this album could have been with some quality editing. On the whole however it is distracted and unfinished enough, as well as clearly polluted with mainstream heavy metal in what looks like classic envy of the more popular bands, such that those who want to like Celtic Frost should seek earlier works.

Celtic Frost - Cold Lake
1. Human (Intro)
2. Seduce Me Tonight
3. Petty Obsession
4. (Once) They Were Eagles
5. Cherry Orchards
6. Juices Like Wine
7. Little Velvet
8. Blood On Kisses
9. Downtown Hanoi
10. Dance Sleazy
11. Roses Without Thorns
12. Tease Me
13. Mexican Radio
Length: 44:57
Cold Lake (Noise, 1988)
Arguably this is the nadir of Celtic Frost, in that not only did they (like all modern people, apparently) confuse form with substance and lapse into boring mainstream heavy metal, but they do so in a prosaic form that relies on a nearly unchanging mid-paced tempo over which the primary instrument is voice, as guitar riffs tend to involve repetitive strumming of chords that shift, rock-style, between tones slowly to convey a partially symmetric curve between verse and chorus. The experiments in phrase and internal rhythm to riffs that made classic Celtic Frost great has become the fixed-position rhythm riffing and bluesy fills of blockhead hair metal. It resembles a hybrid between 1990s doom metal and early Van Halen, and subjects have also become tendentiously basic: normal life = boring, check out the other side -- which, if you look carefully (and this album doesn't) is an unrewarding version of the conventional in inversion. In the vinegar bubblegum vocals sometimes used for choruses, this incarnation of Celtic Frost is reminiscent of Voivod or the Sex Pistols, but has none of the distinctly self-explanatory whole composed of architectonic imagery and sound and style supporting a concept that those bands had, or older Celtic Frost had, for that matter. The entire album has an exhausted feel to it because it balances obvious quality songwriting with confused and poor concept, and ends up seeming like there was not enough energy to do more than adapt a generic concept to a modification of original themes; most bands have to spend a fortune on drugs to become this jaded and vitiated. In the same way that asking John Milton to write a modern romance novel would produce hilariously bad results, this expressive metal band has made a cheesemetal album that manages to both mock the genre and itself by taking a dumb concept too seriously and in the height of confusion, finding a vehicle in its lack of direction. The sooner this goes out of print the better.

Celtic Frost - Vanity/Nemesis
1. The Heart Beneath
2. Wine In My Hand (Third From The Sun)
3. Wings Of Solitude
4. The Name Of My Bride
5. This Island Earth
6. The Restless Seas
7. Phallic Tantrum
8. A Kiss Or A Whisper
9. Vanity
10. Nemesis
11. Heroes
Length: 49:36
Vanity/Nemesis (Noise, 1990)
A microcosm of the modern time can be found in this album: making the same mistake that drew Black Sabbath into mediocrity, a groundbreaking band tries to gain the same popularity it sees others enjoying on the television screen, and in doing so, makes its expressive music more like the rest, that is to say: not expressive of anything but the mundane concerns that make rock music so vapid in the first place. As evinced by his confessional book "Are You Morbid?" Tom Warrior (the creative directionfinder of this band) is both enormously talented and self-consciously underconfident; the result is that once his initial creative spurt was over, he tried to reinvent his band as a "success" in the style of modern giants such as Slayer, Metallica and Megadeth, who from 1986-1989 were the most visible bands that were still extremist. Sadly, lifted and tribute riffs from all three make it in here, as well as some slower passages and tediously competent lead guitar that sound like they're lifted from Motley Crue. As with most things, it is easier to memorize the patterns and styles of known success and to execute them proficiently than it is to invent ideas or be perceptive in what one writes about; the former requires diligence and little independent thought, while the latter requires a freedom from diligence (time to think, experience, and err) and extensive independent thought. Europeans fundamentally do not understand American rock styles because they attempt to think through what is essentially image; Americans are accustomed to a society where a book is a great book if it appears to be a great book, which is why "Beloved" is more widely read in schools than "Moby-Dick." We can see this in the guitar solos here that, like generation- and style-mates Bathory with whom Hellhammer and Sodom invented the nascent death/black metal genres, are ludicrous explosions of pentatonics with portable licks tied together in sequences that are more expressive than those of their American counterparts but, like a quantum physicist telling a joke, are more concerned with accuracy (like a philosopher) than dramatics (like a writer). Plenty of classic heavy metal riff patterns, half-chanted half-sung vocals, and stuffing-beating repetition adorn this album, but it is trying to invent quality art through re-configuration of its aesthetics; you could edit this into an excellent EP because much of the underlying music is quality (remove tribute riffs, detune guitars, add real vocals, remove solos and backing vocals), but because its style is confused, the end product goes nowhere. In this we can compare Celtic Frost to William S. Burroughs, who after three promising but incomplete attempts was able to distill his life experience into a work of groundbreaking brilliance but afterwards confused stylistic currency with the expression of life and wisdom that more than style made "Naked Lunch" great, and thus produced several unreadable novels with parts of promise the whole could not match.

BLACK   |   DEATH   |   HEAVY   |   SPEED   |   THRASH   |   GRINDCORE

Copyright © 1988-2006 the Dark Legions Archive