There are few bands that had as much of an impact on my youth as Celtic Frost. Rising from the ashes of Hellhammer, Thomas Gabriel Fischer and Martin Eric Ain released the seminal album Morbid Tales. The year was 1984 and to say this album fascinated me was an understatement. Even though I had been listening to the heavier side of music for a few years, this was far and away the strongest, most brutal thing my soft, supple 14-year-old ears had ever heard. To this date, I defy anyone with a penchant for the metal to listen to that album and not be knocked on his or her ass. I played it night and day. Dethroned Emperor, Return To The Eve, Into The Crypts Of Rays, they all became the lullabies as I laid my weary, angst-addled head on my pillow each night.
Their next two releases, To Mega Therion and Into the Pandemonium brought the band to a whole new level of both brilliance and tension. As Tom Fischer stated in his highly informative book Are You Morbid? "We toy with frequent notions about just giving up the whole nonsense of being in the rock biz". The relationship between the band and their label became more and more tumultuous and the music became more and more mysterious. It was still very much in the heavy genre, but with orchestral arrangements, operatic female vocals and a whole host of other accoutrements that defied the whole metal stereotype, which, by 1987 had become stale to say the least.
This is nothing special nowadays, of course. Hell, with all the Emperors and Cradle of Filths it's almost become a genre of its own. But in 1987? There was nobody and I mean NOBODY doing this type of thing. Anybody reviewing the album particularly in North America categorized it as "Avant-Garde" which became a lazy-ass blanket term for any type of music the reviewer found weird and unexplainable. In any case, Celtic Frost, though not given credit back in the day, was years ahead of their time.
These huge strides forward made the next album all the more baffling. The departure of Martin Ain seemed to leave the band with somewhat of an identity crisis. Cold Lake found the band adopting more of a (and I shudder to use the term) glam approach in both image and by presenting more straightforward, stripped down songs that compared to other music of the day was still preferable but nonetheless left most fans confused.
Ain returned to the fold in 1990 and the release of Vanity/Nemesis saw the band return to form but despite being a hell of an underrated album, the damage had unfortunately been done and Celtic Frost was no more.
Monotheist is pure, unadulterated, Celtic Frost brilliance. Anyone unsure should take a listen. Anyone who's familiar with the band and disagrees is wrong. Dead wrong. See, I'm already hearing rumblings from those bitter-net malcontents that it's "too slow". "It's not fast enough". Let me tell you, kids - it's these single-minded assholes that have kept heavy metal and any type of heavy music in general from being taken seriously. Believe me when I say, speed has nothing whatsoever to do with heaviness. Speed can be conducive to being heavy - 1349 would be a prime example of that, but it's hardly the gauge to standardize an entire form of music by. Monotheist is proof positive of this.
"Progeny" kicks it all off and within the first minute it becomes glaringly clear that despite being a virtual non-entity for over 15 years, Celtic Frost haven't lost the juice in the least. Everything that was ever great about the band is beautifully encapsulated on this album. When listening to the band's previous albums, it's truly striking how they've managed to not sound dated like so many of their peers from the same era. Monotheist manages to have the same power and feel of previous albums, but with a new maturity that thankfully has not a trace of the desperate grasp at past glory that so many reunited bands have succumbed to. Swimming against the tide and stigma of so many other bands pissing their legacy against the wall can't be an easy task, but Celtic Frost remains just as I remembered themÃ¢â¬Â¦powerful, brutal and downright essential.