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Celtic Frost was dead. The band which had quite literally changed the state of music around them playing a huge role in turning it towards the esoteric and the extreme had collapsed after less than a decade, and they hadn’t exactly gone out in style. Cold Lake was despised and Vanity/Nemesis saw just some improvement from that rather than a fully-fledged rejuvenation. Tom G. Warrior, a man who has frequently said that music is an essential creative output for him, was missing his valve for the first time. Most accounts of this story may gloss over the next decade and cut to the point of Celtic Frost’s reformation but there is in fact something more lying in-between, a forgotten outfit even more overlooked than Vanity/Nemesis: Apollyon Sun and their single album Sub.
It’s clearly forgotten for a reason; alongside bearing an unfamiliar name, it’s a vast departure from anything Warrior had done before, and for the few that heard Sub it wasn’t always to their taste. Apollyon Sun were essentially an industrial metal project featuring members such as ex-Coroner drummer Marquis Marky and future Celtic Frost guitarist Erol Unala, filling Warrior’s Frost-shaped void for the best part of half a decade and a long way away stylistically from both what had made Celtic Frost classic and later what had made them reviled. It’s almost a Painkiller moment for the extreme metal pioneer; just as Judas Priest were on tired legs in 1990 and looked to the wealth of current, heavier bands that they themselves had inspired in order to create their most gloriously over the top and invigorated album ever, Tom G Warrior looked the likes of Godflesh and other industrial purveyors of doom that had come in his wake. The fingerprints of Justin Broadrick, Al Jourgensen and Trent Reznor are all over Sub, and it’s often dismissed as a tired and uninspired cash-in on the trend of the times.
In retrospect though, even more so than with Cold Lake, this is rather unfair. Sub has a lot more to offer than that, and while there are Ministry-isms a plenty, this is a Tom G. Warrior album. In a way Sub almost seems to preface at the turn of the century what Warrior would go on to do during the rest of it. His voice is huskier and darker than before, differing from the commanding bark of early Frost and the bizarre wail of their dying days. The sinister chorus of Naked Underground seems to foreshadow Triptykon’s Myopic Empire ten years earlier, and Slender is a stand out with its clean guitar and synthesised strings, a pseudo-ballad showing a more sensitive side to Warrior that would truly come to fruition with later songs like My Pain. This experiment with industrial sees doom and slow, churning dread come to the fore beyond the thrash and blackened terror of before, tracks like Reefer Boy grinding and lurching with utmost menace, all making sense when put in context with Monotheist and Triptykon. Even an industrial re-imagining of Hellhammer’s proto-black classic Messiah transforms it into a pulsating and eerie ball of ruin and desolation instead of the ravenous violence it was before.
To suggest Sub is a classic alongside To Mega Therion or Into the Pandemonium would be rather silly, but in many ways it seems to offer Warrior a vital stepping stone to what he would go on to achieve in future. In its own right it’s a solid and intriguing industrial record, and in its own strange way it signals the start of a true artistic regeneration. The seeds of a whole new brilliance were sown here.
Originally written for http://soundandmotionmag.com/
In most metalheads' minds, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost and Triptykon are a continuum. From the early blackened, grimy metal of Hellhammer, through the dirty black thrash of early Celtic Frost and the avant-garde experiments, to the colossal rudeness of Monotheist and its logical continuation as Triptykon's Epistera Daimones and Shatter, the only misstep on the way seems to be Cold Lake. Yes, anything Tom G lays his hands on seems to be successful on some level, and it always gets some kind of audience completely enthralled.
But what about Apollyon Sun? Where exactly does this weird band fit in the procession of a quarter of a century? Or does it? And is Sub a worthy addition to the canonized history, or is it equal to Brian Lumley's awkward contributions to Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, an angular piece in a jigsaw made purely with curved lines, the odd thing among the masterpieces?
Yes. And no. It depends on the point of view.
As far as the focus is on the chronological order of things, Apollyon Sun is simply the band between the first time the mighty Celtic Frost split up and their eventual reformation. There was nothing else there, and nature abhors a vacuum. In that sense, yes, it is a part of the chronicles.
But in other ways, it's not a part of the grand scheme of things. A lot of true metalheads with credible opinions and knowledge on Celtic Frost and the two bands framing it on both sides have no idea of the band's existence, and even fewer seem to have heard Sub or any of the other releases. And even fewer still really care. The music has virtually nothing to do with the other bands, and while Celtic Frost and Triptykon have always had their share of desolate despair in the music, Apollyon Sun's repulsive industrial soundscape has little in common with that.
And repulsive it is, indeed! The music is depressingly flat industrial metal with traces of industrial ambient and even primitive techno in it, and it's damn difficult to listen, and even more difficult to enjoy. The first five tracks even have two remixes among them, and the artificially bloated drum sounds and generally monotonous thumping offers little reward to anyone thick-skinned enough to wade through it all. There are ideas in them, sure, but they seem almost like the band has gone through extraordinary effort to bury the fragments of creativity in "Messiah (Second Coming)" and "Feeder", for example, as deep as they could.
But suddenly, from out of nowhere, the sixth track, "Slender", turns the whole thing upside down. It resembles the oasis-like softer, ethereal spots on Monotheist, and wouldn't be out of place if it trailed the title track on Shatter. There are nice female vocals, the industrial sounds are forgotten for a wonderful five minutes, and the atmospheric soft song takes over and offers the listener a moment to catch his breath before the album again dives into the muddy, toxic depths next to a factory and becomes an asphyxiating industrial piece of art again. It is a tranquil pool, a place to rest before the taxing daily grind begins again. Scattered spots on "Mother Misplaced" offer something similar, but that's the best this album has to offer.
Somehow, the good things about most albums with Tom G on them are discarded on Sub, and the objective has been to make the album as bleak and flat as possible. The sound is mostly thin, almost skinny, and has an annoying electronic pulse in it, covered with disinterested vocals by Mr Fischer. And the vocals are the worst part. Because anyone familiar with Celtic Frost and the other bands in the relevant main history have heard the force of his expression, even if the voice of The Man has always been gnarly, unpleasant and croaking. But here, he sounds fed up, as if he had lost his interest, in the same way various bands crossbreeding industrial and gothic rock have done, or many commercially suicidally depressed grunge vocalists sought to sound back in the 90s. It may... nah, it must be an artistic choice. But it's an unfortunate and lamentable choice, just like most of the choices Apollyon Sun made when they recorded this.
The truly strange thing about the album is the way it works on replay. Be brave, pop it into the player, and face the 45-minute storm of rusty nuts and coal dust all the way through, and enjoy the two good songs on the latter half of the album. Then let it start over again, and pay as little attention to it as possible, and it will start to sound... ...tolerable. Do that a few times, and suddenly, there's something... ...enjoyable in the sound. It changes, but since the music on the CD can't change, it must be the listener, or the relation between the music and the listener that changes. Subtle tweaks in the brain, a few rewirings, a few parameters set to new values, and suddenly there's something to like in the bleak and repulsive sound. Yes, it does things to your mind, so once again, caveat emptor. Maybe Tom was on the verge of a breakthrough on subconscious messages, mindcontrol and reprogramming the human mind on Sub. It's a scary thought, but not something to put beyond his potential.
In the final analysis, Sub is not an abomination. Far from it. But it is wasted effort, a pitiful sidetrack in the course of a wonderful career, and something worth forgetting. Indeed, it's worse than Cold Lake, because it fails even at being offensively bad... it gets forgotten. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a poetically just fate for this album. It's not worth much attention, and it's better to think that Tom spent the years mixing Giger's paints or drinking Pina Coladas on the Maldives than to assume he poured his creative juices into the mold that produced this.