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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Celtic Frost


Review by Mike Korn

In the 16 years since Celtic Frost released their last studio album Vanity/Nemesis, the metal scene has recreated itself so many times that 1990 probably seems more like fifty years ago. Not that keeping up with the Joneses ever mattered to Celtic Frost...they have always existed "outside" of even the underground metal phenomena. The only exception was the disastrous Cold Lake, which pretty much sealed the doom of their first incarnation.

It's this very feeling of "otherness" that makes Frost so special...and Monotheist has it in spades. This album is so dark and suffocating that being alone in a cave with no light would be cheerful in comparison. Tom Gabriel Fischer's constant tormented psycho-babble has become kind of a parody, but he certainly backs up his mental gloom with this oppressive, crushing release. This is the doom album of Celtic Frost, wallowing in inky black despair and downbeat tunes. Is the celebrated "sludge" of classic Frost effort like Morbid Tales and To Mega Therion back? Not exactly. With Hypocrisy's Peter Tagtgren manning the production boards, the sound is clearer than ever before. Yet the annihilating distortion that has always characterized the band's best output is definitely present. You could make a pretty good case that this is the heaviest Frost ever...Fischer's bass is almost subliminal with its infrasonic tones.

The metal world has gotten more and more extreme since Vanity/Nemesis. Monotheist definitely keeps pace but remains, as always, "outside" the scene. Celtic Frost continue to blaze their own path, this time through the darkest corridors of the mind. If you have the nerve to follow them, you may find this record to be one of the most unforgettable you'll ever hear.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 5 at

Track by Track Review
A squeal of feedback and we're off. The pounding, simple groove of this cut reminds me somewhat of what Sepultura did on Roots, only much heavier and completely subverted to Celtic Frost's own vision. Tom Fischer's vocals have lost none of their venom over the years and lash the listener with spite. It's pretty clear that distortion is still king with Frost after hearing this one.
The heaviness not only continues here, it intensifies. The guitar sound of Martin Eric Ain and Erol Unala (since departed) is absolutely monolithic and the riffing is simple to the point of being primitive. The agonized mantra "Oh God, why have you forsaken me?" is repeated with increasing anguish. This is a brutal, ravaging tune.
A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh
On this cut, the heaviness lets up but not the dark feeling. Beginning as an ominous Gothic ballad, Martin Eric Ain's vocals now turn to more of a plaintive moan as they relate a bleak tale. Pulverizing guitars return on the chorus, as well as some of Fischer's most inhuman vocals. As the track continues, it becomes more distorted and crushing, with twisted vocals repeating the song's title over and over. Repetition is an important part of what makes Monotheist so effective.
Drown In Ashes
The Gothic flavor continues here. Hauntingly beautiful female vocals drift over ambient sounds and then a wavery male monotone vocal enters over a throbbing bass and steady drumbeat. This track owes as much to Peter Murphy and Sisters of Mercy as to any metal band. Heavy guitar eventually enters with a doomy accompaniment, but it’s really the female/male vocals that drive this one.
Os Abysmi Vel Daath
I would rank this with the great Celtic Frost tracks of all time. It is basically a ritual incantation of Aleister Crowley adapted to an incredibly doomy and catchy heavy metal tune. After feedback and a Gothic beginning, this trudges forth with a sludgy, oozing riff that crawls like a creature on the bottom of the sea. Then Fischer spits out "I deny my own desires" over an even heavier riff, which becomes monumentally thick and doomy as he chants "Os Abysmi" over and over like a priest reciting a dark and evil spell. This is just incredibly effective! There's a long stretch of tuneless guitar distortion lasting a minute that finally breaks into that "Os Abysmi" riff and chant again...breathtaking stuff! It’s my favorite cut on the album.
If there's a bump in the road, this would be it. Propelled by Francesco Sesa's tribal drum beat and featuring more guitar feedback than most would be able to take, this gloomy, droning cut is again more akin to Goth like Fields of the Nephilim and Sisters of Mercy. The vocals are robotic and monotone, with a female counterpoint hovering in the background. This is a cold and dreary voyage through a dead winter landscape.
Domain of Decay
The heaviness returns here in spades. The beginning chords sound like they could have almost come from Morbid Tales, complete with a death grunt from Fischer. It's a bulldozer-like attack of mid-paced Celtic Frost in classic style. "In these darkened walls, how can I be human?"
Ain Elohim
Lovers of the older Frost records will really dig this tune. It's a twisting epic that hits with more force and speed than the other tracks here, opening with a flurry reminiscent of classic tracks like "The Usurper" and "Into the Crypts of Rays.” The cut goes through an array of ultra-heavy brutal riffs in both fast and mid-paced mode...excellent! The various vocal styles here really give this depth, ending with a monk-like chant that summons up the occult nature of the band. 
I've heard a lot of weird and hair-raising vocals in my long tenure of being an extreme metal fan, but nothing like the tortured, hell-spawned shrieking of Martin Eric Ain here. What an incredible anguished storm of evil screaming! Really, the cut is basically a sinister monologue with those screams...the first part of the album-concluding "triptych." 
Synagoga Satanae
This will really put your endurance to the test. Lasting over 14 minutes, this is the longest Celtic Frost track ever...all of it the punishing distortion for which the band is famous. Guest vocals from Satyricon's Satyr bolster Fischer on this one. It would take too much time to go over all the changes in speed and riff here. Suffice it to say, it is the last word in sludgy, ultra-heavy metal with doomy overtones. "In darkness, thou shalt worship me/In darkness, thou art mine eternally!"
Winter (Requiem, Chapter Three, Finale)
The conclusion of both the triptych and the album, this is not metal at all, but a somber, droning string arrangement. It really does sound like winter and brings an exceptionally dark and negative album to a fitting end.
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