While most Thrash fans during the ’80s were concentrating on the burgeoning scenes in the US, Germany, and to a lesser extent, the UK, bands from a number of other, slightly less fashionable, countries were also getting in on the act. Sepultura were a first glimpse of Brazilian Thrash, Canada gave us Annihilator, Razor, and Voivod, Australian act Mortal Sin looked set to make it big for a while, while the terminally underrated Artillery arrived from Denmark.
However, it was picturesque Switzerland, a country usually renowned for its cheese, chocolate, skiing, and enviably healthy bank accounts, which was responsible for spawning one of the most bizarre, creative, and influential additions to the scene.
Formed in Zurich in 1984 from the ashes of former band, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost were soon to become synonymous with the term “Avant-garde” mainly because nobody really knew what else to call them. With a career disrupted by internal disputes and years of inactivity, Celtic Frost was still instrumental in influencing an uncountable number of different acts. Now, nine years after frontman Thomas Gabriel Fischer (aka Tom G Warrior) officially ended the band, BMG has remastered and reissued four of their classic Noise Records albums and added a comprehensive compilation album into the bargain.
Apart from the amusing sticker on the record sleeve which stated “Limited Edition in Black Vinyl!”, the first thing you noticed about début album Morbid Tales (Noise) upon its initial release was the tone of the guitar: a grinding, fuzzy distortion which hit you with its full icy force the moment the “AAAAAAH”s of classic opener ‘Into the Crypts of Rays” were obliterated by a thunderous wall of noise. A relatively short album, the initial release of Morbid Tales only consisted of six songs, but the quality was undeniable. A US version released in 1985 added a couple of extra songs to the track listing, and this remaster includes all of those plus some rehearsal demos.
One year on from Morbid Tales and the band returned with To Mega Therion (Noise), a mightily impressive follow-up containing some of the band’s finest work. You simply cannot argue with the likes of ‘The Usurper’, ‘Jewel Throne’, and ‘Circle of the Tyrants’. Among the demos and remixes, the bonus material on offer also consists of three tracks from the superb Emperor’s Return.
Into The Pandemonium (Noise) is where Celtic Frost completely confounded their listeners. This bold, bizarre, and hugely polarizing record begins with a cover version of Wall of Voodoo‘s ‘Mexican Radio’, and goes on to feature horns, violins, sorrowful female vocals, and of course, ‘One in Their Pride’, an absurdly out of place hip-hop instrumental about the moon landing. The rest of the album, no matter how strange, hits the mark way more often than it misses. Sure, there are other wobbles (‘I Won’t Dance’), but ‘Sorrows of the Moon’, ‘Inner Sanctum’, ‘Caress Into Oblivion’, and the monstrous ‘Babylon Fell’ more than make-up for its shortcomings.
Acting as more of an apology for 1988’s massively divisive Cold Lake (an unfortunate omission from these remasters) than as a genuine progression, Vanity/Nemesis was the sound of a band trying to recapture the old spark but not quite succeeding. There are occasional glimpses of classic Frost along the way, like the riffing on opener ‘The Heart Beneath’, or ‘The Name of My Bride’, but on songs like ‘Wine in My Hand (Third From The Sun)’ there’s a sense they were being influenced by fellow countrymen Coroner, a band who ironically started out in life as Frost’s own road crew. Still, it’s certainly an interesting record, especially with their take on David Bowie‘s ‘Heroes’, and no album with a song called ‘Phallic Tantrum’ deserves to be ignored.
Completing these five discs is new compilation album Innocence and Wrath. Like any type of “Best Of” collection, you can never hope to really delve into the mind of a band as you can with a full studio album, but it does give you a definitive list of highlights (Plus a Dean Martin cover) to throw on when you don’t have the time or inclination to immerse yourself fully in the Frost experience.
If only ‘(Once) Were Eagles’, or ‘Cherry Orchards’ could have been included from Cold Lake…
Overall Rating: 8.5/10