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I am finding it extremely hard to write this on an iPad, but I figured this album was definitely in need of a short review. My laptop took a giant crap on me so for now, this will have to do. Celtic Frost is without a doubt one of the most historically important bands in all of extreme metal. Forming from the ashes of Hellhammer, CF first formed in 1984, combining the sounds of thrash, and early death and black metal to create an unmistakeable sound of chaos and blasphemy. Though, with albums like "Into the Pandemonium", it was clear that CF could include experimentation into their sound quite effectively. Sure we had the iffy "Cold Lake" and whatever the hell that "Prototype" demo was but overall, this group has had a very strong discography. "Monotheist" is the final CF album, adopting the style that Tom Warrior would utilize in Triptykon. And wow, is it a monster.
I would like to say that this is my favorite CF album. I know that many would disagree but I don't think this band ever reached this level of darkness, horror, and atmosphere before. The guitars are tuned down extremely low and the production is very sludgy and dirty, making for a very organic sound. There is not a huge amount of technicality and the lack of guitar solos and repetition can attest to this. This is a far cry from classics like "Morbid Tales" or "To Mega Therion" and seems as if that thrash metal chaos has been completely abandoned but really, this for me remains CF's musical peak. "A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh" is perhaps the most well known song here and one of the darkest, most somber numbers. The music video is absolutely freaking strange. A majority of these songs follow similar structures and musical ideas, not really deviating from the horrifyingly dark, simplistic formula. This only makes the album seem like something bigger than itself. Speaking of huge, that "Synagoga Satanae" track near the closing of the record is an absolute beast. It is extremely brooding and does offer some variation from aggressors such as "Progeny" and "Ground". The instrurmemtal ambient closer "Winter" is about as hauntingly beautiful as it gets..
The vocals are also a bit varied ranging from a dark rasp to melodic singing, somewhat of a commonality in doom metal. Warrior has never been one of my favorite vocalists but he does a good job. There are multiple guest slots as well, with a few female vocalists that really add to the atmosphere and Satyr even shows up on "Synagoga Satanae", which seems to be the most involved song in terms of vocals.
"Monotheist" is one of the scariest albums I have ever heard, rivaling Leviathan's "The Tenth Sub Level of Suicide", Sunn O)))'s "Black One", and Xasthur's entire discography. It is unfortunate that CF ended on this album but this definitely was a heck of a way to go out.
Reading some of the recent reviews, I get a little disappointed seeing that people think this album was a bad attempt on being a gothic/nu metal album because of its overall style. Celtic Frost have always tried out different styles and experimented alot with their sound, most of the time it worked very well and sometimes not. However, with "Monotheist", Celtic Frost definitely go back to their roots while still exploring new soundscapes and leaving the thrash metal almost completely behind. The main complaints for this album seem to direct the gothic sound as well as it's heavy & modern production, which I can understand if that's simply not your cup of tea. If you ask me though, this album is much more than that.
"Monotheist" echoes an intense and gloomy, yet beautiful journey through an abyss that may or may not feel familiar. While it opens very loud & heavy, it will lead you through rather mellow and melodic parts as well, truly showing the mastermind behind CF. Even the two instrumental/ambient songs don't interrupt the constant atmosphere of doom at all, it harmonizes perfectly with the overall structure of the album, giving you an intense & creepy, yet beautiful journey through the deepest & darkest valleys. I never had the impression this album just wants to sound brutal and use that as a cheap method to impress the listeners. While it is that though, you can tell Tom Warrior & Martin Ain know better than that and its no surprise the album took about 5 years to make. You can feel the emotion put into the music in every song, whether it's Warrior's voice, smashing guitars or the creepy intro to 'Snyagoga Satanae', which leads me to the point that there is no filler moment on the album. The songs are very diverse, some very slow but intense, some very melodic with beautiful female vocals.
I will admit that there is a certain amount of gothic influence apparent in some songs but it's not done in a pretentious way nor is it even close to being in the foreground, it's one of many styles used to create something authentic & original. The main focus is the oppressive doomy soundscape, which is why I would label "Monotheist" as a perfect mix of black, death & doom metal, creating a unique sound that results in an overall abyssal atmosphere that is extremely crushing, dark & full of sorrow but still very powerful. Mighty Celtic Frost proved for the last time that they are the true masters of extreme & dark music without needing to mindlessly thrash on their instruments.
Not a typical black metal album but certainly a black tone to it. Just like this one, no CF album can be labeled to just one subgenre (excluding "Cold Lake"). Ever since "To Mega Therion", Celtic Frost have been avantgarde and experimented with their sound, using diverse styles and letting all kinds of influences flow into their music. Same with "Monotheist", while it mainly focuses on the gloomy, abyssal yet beautiful atmosphere. An absolute masterpiece & perfectly crafted piece of dark music, a must for anyone who has a heart for extreme metal.
Getting all my impressions of what the metal scene of today is into from this site and its reviews and forums, there seems to be a really grating trend in the last few years of putting the entire emphasis of appreciation for recent metal releases on production and aesthetics with very little attention paid to what is actually played. I don't know whether it is correlation or causation, but I see the worst examples in the "revival" of old school death metal, where bands like Encoffination can play two-note drones with zero musical content but be likened to the ungodly Incantation based on aesthetics alone, or where lazy fiddlings of random notes drenched in reverb like Chth'whatever are compared to the legendary Demilich without a batting of the eye. But really, I feel the starting point of this disturbing trend to be Celtic Frost's re-imagining of their dreadful Prototype-demo style by simply slowing down the kind of dreck they played on the demo and giving it a huge production and making it all sad and goth and whatever.
I'm really reminded by what a fellow reviewer of the old days once wrote about that new Neurosis album, how they are still playing those huge chords with all the gravity they always had, that crushing weight they exuded with each stroke of the guitar and that suffocating effect of how every monolithic chord slowly rung out, but that that's actually all they were doing anymore, just playing huge, crushing chords, but not playing anything with them. Like getting their entire substance just from playing each chord, but nothing, zero, nada from anything the combination of chords did together. Monotheist is like that. It's huge, crushing chords. The production on this album, the tone of the guitar, it is really fucking huge, and crushing as hell, and each individual chord does sound massive. But never, not at a single point on this album, do these chords ever do anything together, let alone ever form a riff, let alone ever even get within a line of sight (not even if you had the aid of the Hubble) of the riffs you hear on the EPs or debut album. Whatever riffs you want to imagine on Monotheist, it's really the kind of shit they tried on Prototype to dream of baiting Korn and System of a Down fans into the morbid fold. That demo was shelved because it was as pathetic and obvious a "we follow every trend"-circus as Cold Lake, but the idea survived, it was simply reshaped to appear "more Celtic Frost" by changing the aesthetics. Same pitiful style of non-riffs, but re-imagined slower and sadder so the jumpdafuckup won't jump da fuck in your face as much, given a monolithic sound that courts similarities to the legendary Apocalyptic Raids EP and whoosh everyone is happy. You couldn't do the same with a Papa Roach album, because while musically it would be the same if treated to the same aesthetic change, Monotheist succeeds entirely on brand recognition. So the mind of the listener goes from "Oh this is a gothed up nu-metal album" to "Oh Celtic Frost are back with this dark and crushing sound." No, they're not back in any way and you've been tricked by clever marketing.
That to this day this album continues to be confused for metal is mind-boggling in one way, because pretty much every song on here would fit on any Korn/Marilyn Manson collaboration album, but on the other hand it is not surprising at all if I think back of the obsession with production and aesthetics I bemoaned in the opening of this review. If Encoffination sounds like Onward to Golgotha then surely Monotheist is as balls to the wall extreme fucking metal as Morbid Tales, if not more so - the guitars sound heavier after all. Moving past the surface however, there's no way around everything on the album being a mix between nu-metal and modern gothic rock. If you try to recreate the sound of Love Like Blood's (German gothic rock band) Snakekiller album (produced by Peter Tägtgren), and started mixing Roots non-riffs with it at half to two-thirds their speed, you'd have Monotheist in a nutshell. In essence, it's Prototype V2.0, and by extension Cold Lake V3.0, and further proof that no low is low enough for Tom to never stoop to. I am glad that internal band differences put a halt to the mission to conquer MTV and Hot Topic and that Tom at least can't misuse the brand recognition for his quest for a gold plated and diamond encrusted Ferrari and sully the name of one of heavy metal's most iconic legends in the process. And people of the metal world, come to your senses and train your ears to listen for riffs again before letting yourself be fooled by production values and aesthetics. As long as the majority of reviews on this site discuss guitar tones and mastering techniques for 90% of their content and make only passing side-mentions - if any - of what the instruments actually play, I cannot rediscover my faith in our once glorious community to see through this dethroned emperor's lack of clothes, and the empowering of all production/aesthetics-supported fakes riding the wave of being able to claim fame without content by fiddling with the right gears in the studio and polishing it up with the right window dressing. May the false be without entry!
The final chapter of Celtic Frost's lengthy and incredibly checkered musical journey continues the trend of misguided and trite experimentation that begun with the woeful Into the Pandemonium. It shows Celtic Frost moving into musical territory that they had yet to explore, and to be frank said territory should have remained unexplored. This is not a return to form on the band's part - that would mean writing songs with the same level of intrigue and creativity as those found on To Mega Therion or Morbid Tales. On the contrary, this fails to match even Cold Lake in terms of musical substance. Listening to this album is a truly boring experience; the lack of actual musical contents is mind-numbing.
This album is frequently described as being heavy, and this is true, as the guitar tone on this album is monstrously deep and thick. What must be remembered however is that metal does not live by heaviness and darkness alone; there must be some sort of substance to the songs to begin with, and that is where this album fails. When the guitarists are actually playing they stick to playing large and droning chords, or simply put, they chug. This in and of itself isn't a problem; chugging is an acceptable way of playing the guitar. The real problem is that unlike many much better bands who use this riffing style, on this album the chugs never become anything else. Bands that use this style of guitar playing will typically turn those chugs into discernible metal riffs of some kind, or at least do something interesting with the rhythm and length of them, whereas here all the guitarists do is hold the chords out, turn them into 2 note drones or do nothing beyond playing them straight to create musical substance, which is an issue given that the main body of the songs are the guitars - so the central element of most tracks on this album is entirely flat, still and redundant. The actual heavy tracks on this album are some of the most monotonous in the band's history; there is absolutely no creativity or depth to the songs at all beyond simply being heavy, which is a purely aesthetic observation. I suppose a case could be made for the importance of production in an album, and how certain albums, masterpieces of their genres, simply wouldn't work if they were given a different sound, but the fact of the matter is that no production job can ever make up for poor quality guitar work. Simply put, Celtic Frost wrote an album without any riffs or indeed any interesting guitar work at all, and to make matters worse the album has such a monolithic fixation on these heavy, droning chords that the heavier songs here have absolutely no nuance to them - no little details or subtle flourishes are used in any of these songs as was the case during the days of their masterful debut.
Up until this point I've only been talking about the heavy parts of the album, because that is where the album's lack of contents is most evident. However, there is another side to this album that is often cited as mirroring the eclectic nature of this band's earlier works, that being the use of dark ambient. Several tracks such as 'Drown in Ashes' make heavy use of keyboards and other ambient effects, and in theory these should be the tracks where the album truly shines. With the guitars out of the way however this album's other biggest flaw becomes immediately apparent - the songs are flat and redundant. The softer songs on here meander sluggishly without ever dropping to a truly dismal and depressing crawl or picking up even a bit. They achieve nothing and feel like padding, there only because older Celtic Frost albums had experimentation and therefore this must have some too, regardless of how well it is implemented into the album or executed. The heavier songs on this album are equally trite and dull - the chugs as mentioned are never developed or expanded upon, leading to their near endless repetition in one form or another. The highly predictable tempo changes throughout these tracks simply result in slower chugs or sustaining them, rather than any new ideas being introduced. Hence every single song on this album is as unvaried, flat and dull as the last.
Not only does the stagnant and flat music make for a boring listen, it also wrecks the atmosphere of the album and renders it almost entirely worthless. Celtic Frost were clearly going for a truly dark, depressing and maddening descent into the deepest recesses of the human mind, but this journey simply never takes place because the songs can't keep the listener engaged. The atmosphere rapidly dies as the songs present all their ideas and it becomes apparent that the album goes absolutely nowhere - dread and despair within the listener is quickly replaced with boredom as a result. Truth be told this whole album is lifeless (and not in the manner they intended); there is no passion to the music at any point during its running time. The delivery of the music in general is completely robotic and cold, which leads to further disengagement by the listener. I am aware that this is meant to be a depressing and dark journey but that still doesn't excuse sluggish and tired performances, repetitious songwriting and a total lack of riffing. Even the drumming is mechanical, lacking in energy and plain; a drum machine could have been used and similar results would have been achieved.
As the music is so boring and repetitive it falls upon the vocals and narrative to provide any saving grace, and even here the album fails. Tom Warrior's voice on this album is rough, strained and shot. A decayed voice could work for an album going for a decrepit and dark feel such as this but his voice lacks the agonised, tortured quality needed for that. In addition, there is virtually no sonic power to his semi-clean shout and in some cases he reduces himself to awkward-sounding muttering and mumbling, particularly during the quieter songs. His delivery is passionless, which further destroys any atmosphere the music might have carried, and to make matters much worse the lyrics are as oversimplified as the music itself. A lot of the lyrics begin with 'I am' and the same uninteresting vocal lines are repeated throughout a given track, which simply leads to irritation and runs any impact they might have had into the ground. Though several talented guest vocalists feature on certain tracks and serve to be silver linings to the album, such as the singers in the a cappella piece 'Incantation Against You' or the band's own Martin Ain on 'A Dying God...', even they are unable to carry the lifeless compositions they feature on.
Contrary to the prevailing opinion, nothing on this release is metal; given the amount of chugging and 2 note non-riffs this is basically a nu-metal album. If you are unconvinced by this comparison, consider this - one track here ('Obscured') is a reworked Prototype track, and the lyrics to 'Drown in Ashes' are taken directly from that very same demo. This should clue one in to the creative wells this album's contents are sourced from. This album is merely a slower Prototype with a very weighty production job, its more ridiculous experiments removed and a shallow gothic atmosphere draped over it. And yet in spite of this being a complete failure and a total sham, it isn't surprising that this is as praised as it is, given that when Sepultura did exactly the same thing 10 years earlier (only with tribal jams in place of the ambient scores) with Roots it was described as 'dense', 'innovative' and 'intelligent'. People seem to want heaviness and heaviness alone, and sure, that album was heavier than the seminal Morbid Visions, much in the same way that this is heavier than To Mega Therion. But are these albums more succinct, more creative, better written and more energetic than their earliest ancestors? If you think so, Tom continues to peddle this nonsense under the name Triptykon. If you think not however, then I rest my case. Stop listening for heavy guitar tones and other aesthetic fluff and actually focus on what the band is playing.
As an addendum, the only metal riff featured on this album (on 'Domain of Decay') is taken straight from their awful Nemesis of Power demo, a release which amounts to a bad Vanity/Nemesis - and naturally they repeat it into the ground. When one recycled and uninspired idea is the highlight of an album then it is abundantly clear that said release is entirely worthless.
Monotheist is the reigning monarch of wasted sound waves. The same band that delivered classics like “Morbid Tales” and “To Mega Therion” has returned with an effort, devoid of meaningful inspiration, and brimming with ill-conceived notions of experimental virtue. For those of us who possess a solid musical memory, this album is a curse. Amnesia would be a welcome release from the trauma inflicted by subjecting our ears to Celtic Frost’s “comeback.”
The first thing that becomes apparent, is Celtic Frost’s drastically altered delivery. All of the band’s former punch is lost. Monotheist sounds like “To Mega Therion” with brain damage. The drums; though well produced, are performed in an uninspired, drum machine fashion. Fuzzy guitar rifts are not only simplistic and amateurish, but also a thousand times less heavy than the band, circa 1985. Gone are the days of demolishing monsters like “The Usurper:” enter an era of cavernous gash and effeminate expression.
Agonizing riffs are bad enough at denying further inclination to continue listening; but when they never relent, they become scourges of joviality. Celtic Frost never broke new ground in song progression, but Monotheist repeats itself to the point of regurgitation. “Progeny” is sufficient to stir positive emotion in the beginning, only to die a slow death by insidious restatement of the same riff. Ambient noise and half-baked intros poison the album even further. “Winter” is the only track that is worth listening to from beginning to end, and it happens to be an instrumental.
Tom Warrior’s voice used to be an effective display of character and aggression. The days of guttural indignation are long gone; however, and the vocals sound emaciated. Warrior even lowered himself to the point of simply talking on “Drown in Ashes.” Ironically, the song “Domain of Decay” is the perfect, symbolic title of Frost’s current state.
Monotheist is an album worthy of being ignored. Instead, appreciate the band for their former glory by listening to their early to mid 80s offerings.
I wish I could say that my favorite album of all time was less… dark. After all, I’m a lot more cheery these days than the anti-social teenager I was when I first discovered Celtic Frost, and extreme metal as a whole. But the Frost’s final album, Monotheist, still manages to move me the way no other music can. Needless to say, it’s not moving in a somber or relaxing way, but it is moving in an engaging and exciting way. It is not superficially exciting in a way that tries to impress and repeat, because there are no flashy mechanics at work here. Every moment is filled with aggression, sorrow, or contempt. Every second a note rings, it is filled with such loudness and intensity that the anger and pain the artists felt is transmitted quiver for quiver into your nervous system. I mean every second. This is thanks to the piercing guitar tone, which is amazingly harsh but certainly distinct from the rumbling base. Tom’s sonic cannon of a guitar produces a dearth of boring riffs, which are distinct from the rumbling growls of Martin’s bass. All of this is accompanied by Sesa’s abundance of rhythmic variations, as well as carefully selected studio touches. The lyrics depict our deepest fears of the unknown, and foulest contempt for that which we do know very well. In every angle from which you can assess a piece of music, Monotheist appears to be flawless.
But most importantly, Monotheist will successfully transform your state of mind. Like any good art should, this album is capable of altering your emotions. Again, the more cheery me enjoys feeling other things, and most of the time I may be better off feeling the sobering jubilance of Neil Young, fiery arousal of Queens of the Stone Age, or introspective honesty of Todd Rundgren. But while those other artists offer most desirable emotions to connect to with their music, they do not do so with the consistency that Celtic Frost does. Monotheist, along with most music from this band, has the capability of turning you into a warrior almost instantly. You will immediately feel pummeled by the worlds obstacles thanks to the authenticity of Celtic Frost’s connection to darkness. Monotheist will forever be able to turn me into a fighting, angry, beaten victim and a metalhead at the drop of a hat, and for that reason I can confidently assign a rating of 100% to this album.
Dreary, gloomy, doom. That about sums it up. This album is not a cry for help; it is genuinely going to kill itself. Slow, trudging distorted guitar chords, lots of grimy chug, flawless double bass. The production is done so well it’s like sitting in a dark cave listening to the band live. There are some faster moments with the more thrash-based Domain of Decay and Ain Alohim. But honestly my favorite tracks are the bleak, measured plodders. The first 6 tracks are the best, but never would I stop this play before the final curtain.
The key here is contrast. There is a duality of the gritty and grimy with the beautiful. Drown in Ashes is the clearest example. The beautiful female vocals contrast perfectly with Tom’s theatrical, grim, ugliness.
But it is the lyrics and delivery that truly sell the whole thing. There are some clear anthems here: “OS! A-bys-mi, OS!” which translates to “Only Death is Real.” Or “TET-RA-gramm-a-ton!” one of the names for the national god of Israel. There is some great imagery as well: “Frozen is heaven and frozen is hell. And I am dying in this living human shell.” “And I think that I'm all alone. I can feel the rain pull me down again.” It should all come off as a bunch of cheesy, gothic prose, but damned if Tom G Warrior doesn’t sell the shit out of it. There is a genuine sense of longing, loneliness, and hopelessness. As someone who works with people who suffer from clinical depression, these vocals are the closest representation I have seen of the internalized cognitive patterns at play. The lyrics are supposedly influenced by the writings of Aleister Crowley.
There is also some successful but sparing use of industrial elements. These are most apparent on some of the earlier tracks and the last three with very ambient keyboards. Speaking of the last three tracks, they are the most experimental. They form a three-part suite that forms a pretty decent segue into the directions taken on with Triptykon. There is less traditional structure and the songs seem to meander aimlessly with various sounds, voices, guitar feedback, etc. It’s not something I would recommend listening to in isolation, but rather a thematic closing of the album. It’s as if Tom has transitioned from depression into complete despair and is lost in his own personal hell. Things do pick up again a few minutes into part two, with a return to the anthemic, dark vocals being spat more than sung: “In DARKness…Thou. Shall. Wor-ship ME!” There is so much venom it is palpable. Then we close with the most lovely of string arrangements.
In the end, I find this far more accessible than Celtic Frost’s bygone 80’s thrash era and the endless tracks of Triptykon. Song length is generally reasonable averaging about 5 minutes. But don’t get me wrong. If you like this, you definitely have to try Melana Chasmata. Your increased patience will be rewarded.
Lying vacant for 14 years, the legendary Celtic Frost was risen from the ashes to give it one final go. They ended up changing their sound to an almost unrecognizable style. Taking their time, its took 4 years to write the material for this final offering making this album very mature and well written. Monotheist might be too different for some, and it even was for me when I first heard it, but transforming into a dark and heavy doom style wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
Thomas Warrior's vocals make a dramatic change on this record compared to past albums. Taking a lower and more sludgier approach and even some cleaner angles on tracks like "Obscured" and "Os Abysmi Vel Daath". Fischer's vocals fit well with this new direction and really bring the darkness on these recordings. Fischer also throws in a few UHHH!!'s from the olden days that would make any old school fan smile. Martin E. Ain also has a nice vocal role in "A Dying God Coming into Human Flesh". Providing a clean monotone voice that is haunting and sets the mood for Fischer to apply his vocals roles as well. Other than Ain and Fischer, Simone Vollenweider supplies a great voice on the slower track s"Obscured" and "Drown in Ashes". Vollenweider and Fischer do a lovingly dark duet that is easily one of the best tracks on the album. Those with LP or the Japanese edition get a nice a-cappella piece featuring Vollenweider and her golden voice.
The guitars here are heavy as any good doom should be. Some nice riffs are also present chugging about and doing what they do best. "Ground" has a great riff that really screams doom as well as "Domain of Decay". "Synagoga Satanae" is another great track with tons of dark diminished riffs heavy enough to crack the streets of Manhattan. Other than heavy doom riffs, this album has some nice clean melodies on "A Dying God Coming into Human Flesh" and "Obscured". This album is rather lacking in solos, but thats not much to complain. The bass guitar from Ain is very buried in the thick layer of guitars and vocals that it is only heard in a few spots. But when the bass does decide to peek its head from the layer of chunky riffs and rotting vocals, the tone is rather dirty and very low as heard on "Ground".
Franco Sesa does a fantastic job on drums. Supporting the sadness and diminished riffing with simple, tight beats. "Obscured" has a great swinging beats that rolls nicely over the ballad. "Domain of Decay" has a great fast beat with nice kick drum action and moody cymbal crashes. "Ain Elohim" has come nice double kick work and doomy beats that keep the song moving at a good pace.
Lyrics on this album are very depressing to say the least. Ranging from questioning God, losing love, and being reborn. There are some great lines on this record like ,"Oh god, why have you forsaken me?", from "Ground" and the "No, no, no, no" part on "Obscured" which is very haunting. "Totengott" is the intro to the epic Triptych has some rather strange lyrics that seem like nonsense but are very creepy along with the way the vocal presentation is distorted and manipulated.
In the end this is a great comeback album. Creating a great atmosphere molded by heavy guitars, pounding drums and Fischer's sludgy vocals, as well as mature and well written lyrics and song structures. This is definitely an album for any Celtic Frost fan, old or new, looking to try something new.
Few bands have practiced the dark arts with such alacrity as Celtic Frost. Their music spans deep divisions, alters dimensions, and supplants structures that they themselves had a heavy hand in creating. They are the elder gods, transcendent. They have stumbled, they have fallen. Having wielded power beyond most bands imaginings, they sank into derision before vanishing into dormancy, recultivating, awaiting the right moment to arise through flame and supplant those who dared worship at the altar of others. Monotheist undoes years of damage with a dark tongue. It is a monolithic statement on the enduring quality of transcendent art and a testament to those few restless souls unafraid to embrace it.
Few bands have crafted a legacy as enduring and encompassing as the almighty Frost. Their crude initial outbursts as Hellhammer formulated thrash and death metal. Morbid Tales embraced a radical template for experimentation in speed and groove. To Mega Therion forged a doom different from those intent on gimmicking Sabbath. And Into The Pandemonium demonstrated a crystalline dedication to outside influence and experimentation that ultimately wrecked the band. That said, the linear evolution left long ley-lines of influence, gathering nearly all forms of crude, heavy, aggressive music under one ever-altering banner. With Monotheist, Celtic Frost discards all failed experiments to once again stand alone on a precipice of excellence few bands ever dare approach.
As always, Frost challenge themselves. The music recorded here is fuckin' bleak and harrowing, laced with tension and a darkened atmosphere against which few others can truly compare. This is true doom: end-of-the-world within music, despairing and transgressive at once -- catharsis through heaviness and earnest emotion, the wrestling with themes and feelings beyond oneself. Martin Ain and Tom G. Warrior have crafted lyrics resonant of poetry and philosophy without sinking into pretentious trappings of pseudo-intellectual nihilism -- there is transcendence here, a working through pain and grief via auditory incantation: an exorcism recorded.
The music is vicious and snapping. The guitars snarl like mutant hellhounds, cutting across wide swaths of aggressive, repetitive chord figures. Threading the needle of blackened textures that weave darkened beauty into dementedly heavy chugging grooves has become a Tom G. Warrior specialty. The riffing on this record is so far removed from Morbid Tales and yet it sings singularly of Frost. Martin Ain's bass is cranked deep and rumbling, his voice shading in terrified harmony behind Tom's varied vocalizing. The drums are are especially noteworthy, hitting resonant tribal rhythms akin to Goths set loose in Rome.
The songwriting is dense and complex, embracing strains of avant-garde classical, ambient, and industrial passages that sing out for a moment and then scatter, reintegrated into the moribund heaviness like the last gasp of a dying civilization under the tramping foot of an unstoppable army. Tom's duet with Lisa Middelhauve on "Drowned In Ashes" is hauntingly beautiful; as is the divine "Incantation Against You," with its soft Gregorian choral work undergirding Simone Vollenweider's ethereal singing. Entirely acapella, this track flirts with Dead Can Dance level gothic beauty. But such beauty is fleeting beneath the punishing wrath of such tracks as "Progeny," "Ground," & "Os Abysmi Vel Daath" -- twisted compositions of charnel house horror with superbly punishing riffs and hypnotic vocal invocations. These tracks are a fresh twist on an ancient sound: Celtic Frost 2.0 and beyond.
In recognition of their own dormancy, Frost aggregates their influences as well, handing listeners a complex aural knot of mutual reciprocation: "Temple Of Depression" sounds almost exactly like Coroner circa Grin, just darker and heavier, like an admission to the fact that the greater Frost sound is actually a darkening strain of DNA against which few have managed to innoculate themselves. So if you hear shades of other bands on here, don't think Frost unoriginal. The mythical alchemists have returned to transmute what others have accomplished in their absence. And in doing so, they have (with one quick sweep of the hand) brushed the majority of their peers and followers aside. Monotheist is a dark masterpiece of the highest order and one of the greatest metal records of all-time.
After experiencing their Prototype recording earlier in the 21st century, I had no hope that Celtic Frost would ever be returning to the level of artistry and quality that they once reached through their mid-80s albums To Mega Therion and Into the Pandemonium. It had become clear that 'creativity' wasn't an issue, since Warrior was experimenting with industrial/electronics, and even awful hip hop influences, but it felt wholly misguided. Imagine the surprise then, when just a few years later, after a lot of effort and hard work, the Swiss idols would release another heavy album to great praise, with worldwide distribution through Century Media. Arguably, this was the Celtic Frost record fans had been waiting on for nearly 20 years, but its uncompromising, massive sound was also welcoming towards those decades of newer fans who came up on death and black metal, extremities who in part owe their existence to this band's very legacy.
Unfortunately, I feel like the huge production and overwhelming grooves on the album have gone a long way towards its popularity, and less concern seems to be placed upon the actual construction of the riffing or enduring nature of the tracks. Don't mistake me for someone who hates the album, because after a gulf of 10 years, Monotheist was a breath of relief that the band had stopped fucking around. I like it alright, and listen to it once in a great while, but there is no chance in hell that it's quite so great as many would seem to believe. Greatest comeback ever? Work of genius? Absolutely not. Celtic Frost's primal riffing was a boon in the 80s, a clever antithesis to the increasing complexity of the thrash and speed metal scenes, but there in 2006 a lot of the guitar patterns felt irritably derived, and I'm rather surprised that it took Warrior, Ain and their new band mates '4 years of songwriting' to arrive at what a group of 'core kids jamming on the corner of my street could have come up with in 15 minutes in an afternoon session.
Of course, Celtic Frost are more or less cashing in debts on something they had a heavy hand in first creating. A lot of the palm muted chugging that filtered on down through thrash, hardcore and groove metal scenes first originated with bands like this who played them with muscle, and so if Monotheist often reminds me of younger acts that broke out through the 90s, then they're automatically forgiven. Some of the open, groovier low end open note rhythms in tracks like "Ground", "Progeny" or "Ain Elohim" remind me of the first two albums from New Yorkers Life of Agony due to that voluminous guitar tone. More surprising, the whole album reeks of a modern doom metal effort more than any other specific genre. Granted, works like Morbid Tales and To Mega Therion had a huge impact on a lot of the death/doom that originated from England like Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride, almost as much as Sabbath, but this is the first Celtic Frost record that I would classify as predominantly doom, with a hint of their formative, thrashing fervor. Not a bad thing, per se, but it certainly plays into how one experiences the album.
For any who might have worried that Frost had lost its 'worldliness', fear not. Touches of Into the Pandemonium's eclectic nature are retained here, even if they're in the minority. Examples include "Incantation Against", a Mesopotamian inspired guest vocal piece by featuring Simone Vollenweider's gorgeous voice against a brooding, monotonous male choir backdrop. "Os Abysmi Vel Daath" features alternations of crushing, simplistic riffs with some dark noise passages; while "A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh" opens with brooding, dark clean guitars and desolate crooning by the man himself. There are also a number of guest slots throughout the album like Satyr and Peter Tägtgren lending vocals for the 14 minute slog "Synagoga Satanae", or Ravn from 1349 appearing on "Temple of Depression". Considering how many death and black metal bands pay tribute to Frost on a normal basis, it makes a lot of sense that that various personas would have been lining up to contribute. In general, though, Monotheist is far less dynamically ranged than Into the Pandemonium, perhaps even less than To Mega Therion: as a whole it congeals into a very consistent, depressing experience.
There are two primary suspects holding me back from appreciating this comeback as fully as some of my peers. First: the guitar riffs. I like that they're crude and loud, almost as if Warrior was reaching back into the primordial ooze from which he first shaped Hellhammer for a new strain of pummeling slime to unleash upon his followers. But the actual patterns of notes are so often treacherously dull and uninspired, 'first thing that came to mind' progressions that might thrill people attuned solely to the leaden distortion and Franco Sesca's concrete foundation, but seem to lack all the charisma of their old songs. Whereas "Return to the Eve" or "Circle of the Tyrants" have survived for 20+ years in my memory, feeling fresh even today, something like "Ground" or "Obscured" is almost impossible for me to recall even a week later. The guitars were such a prominent feature of their classics, but here they might just belong to any other run of the mill doom metal band of Sabbath lineage. They are no way even nearing impressive, and this is a fault I also found with the subsequent Triptykon debut, which has an even more brazen and 'bigger budget' production sound.
Since the guitars don't really stand out other than their tone, they rely all too heavily on the pacing of the beats and the lyrical narrative to fuel the album, and this leads me to my other major complaint against Monotheist: the lyrics very often suck from the same bone that they did with the Prototype demo. Lots of 'I am I am I am I am' which appears in about half the songs on the frickin' album, and far too much repetition of lines like 'Oh God, why have you forsaken me?' ("Ground") or 'I am a dying God, coming into human flesh' (guess the track), 'I deny my own desire' ("Os Abysmi Vel Daath"), etc. I realize that the actual purpose behind the lyrics is to provide a dark, hypnotic and tormented mantra alongside the simplicity of the riffing, but with so little to enjoy in the guitars themselves, I found that the lyric patterns and choruses seemed lazy and forgettable, as if partially inspired by a lot of miserable groove and nu-metal acts throughout the 90s who had the poetic eloquence of a manhole cover. It's not that what is being said is not 'important', but it's just not being said by the most interesting means.
Tom, on the other hand sounds pretty damn good. He had clearly aged, but his gruff bark has lost little power over the years. It even seems a little more daunting and acidic among the concrete chords that carve out "My Domain of Decay". His froglike gutterglam whines circa Cold Lake have been supplanted by a cleaner, wavering Gothic tone which, while not as charismatic as his lines on "Mesmerized" or "Babylon Fell" from Into the Pandemonium, is acceptable enough on a depressive, atmospheric droning cut like "Obscured" (on which he's joined by female vocals to provide what must be the catchiest single passage on the whole of the album). The new rhythm section seems to gel together quite nicely, granted they're not doing so much outside of accenting the guitars, but there's a more tribal nature to Sesa's performance than I can recall from Reed St. Mark or Stephen Priestly. Ain contributes backing vocals and writing, and the new guitarist Erol Unala (who had been with them since Prototype) is a fitting match for Warrior.
In the end, Monotheist overcomes my sizable gripes if only because it still provides an alluring atmosphere in which the listener can drown him or herself for 70 minutes, and has a few aural climaxes scattered about its cratered, sorrow-scarred surface that compensate for its ruddy, often overbearingly and tactless gloom. It's a good example of a cult act adapting itself to a modern environment without losing all of its identity, though as we know it was not exactly the most seamless of transitions (listen to the two prior demos, or the 'glam' phase). The cover image is great not only because it sticks with you, but it also matches the haunted aesthetics of the music. That aside, this is not an album I want to render down to its individual components very often, or I'll become too annoyed with the lackluster architecture of the riffs and the general predictability of the songs as they stray forth into the apocryphal dusk.
A legend like Celtic Frost could not be overlooked when after 14 long years they release an album, and what an album. Celtic Frost is widely known as a major influence for many black metal, death metal and thrash metal bands. Morbid Tales and To Mega Therion are considered classics of the early black metal movement while Into the Pandemonium and Cold Lake venture into industrial, avant-garde metal and the other one into hard rock. Vanity/Nemesis was just a reheated porridge, trying to go back to their original style. As a result, the band did not last for long, disbanding after releasing a best off.
The early 2000s brought the band back from the ashes. But what could I expect from Celtic Frost back then? I have to admit that the band surely took it's time in preparing to release this album. After all, we speak about 6 years since their re-union until Monotheist was available in stores. I remember that I went back and had a listen to their older records, out of nostalgia mostly. I placed a bet saying that the proper re-union gift would be to turn back to their roots and record a follow up for To Mega Therion but instead I received something totally unexpected and surprising, the least to say.
I would not exaggerate in saying that Monotheist was by far the best album released in 2006, this coming from a band that hasn't released nor played anything for almost 14 years! While Tom G. Warrior activated in an industrial project called Apollyon Sun, the other members were completely out of the scene until the re-union. I was surprised to see the quality of this release. To be more precise, not only that the sound quality was great, but the mixture of elements, genres, influences and atmosphere were absolutely stunning.
I could describe Monotheist as the peak of glory of Celtic Frost, providing a primitive sound which could be heard on the old Hellhammer songs (Apocalyptic Raids) and combining this with Gothic and doom metal elements. Closely listening this record I even managed to identify groove elements specific in songs such as Ain Elohim or the first track of this record, Progeny. It is also pretty hard to label this record as black metal. Though it has some elements of it, the fact that the tempo was slowed down to allow a more atmospheric and somber sound is also quite noticeable.
A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh is by far one of the best tracks this album could give, no wonder that this song was selected for having a music video. This album featured female vocals done by Lisa Middelhauve (ex. Xandria) in the song Drown in Ashes. Simone Vollenweider contributed with her vocals in songs such as Temple of Depression, Incantation Against and Obscured (a song which has many similarities with Drown in Ashes). The rawest song of this album is Temple of Depression which, in my opinion, is the closest to the black metal roots specific for Hellhammer or old Celtic Frost records.
Monotheist stands as the most surprising 2006 record and also as one of the best material Celtic Frost ever released. For doom metal fans, this record is a must while for older fans it might be a sort of surprise, depends on their preferences if the surprise is either positive or negative. For a band that has been inactive for 14 years, I think that Monotheist is a great record which clearly signifies Celtic Frost's revival. If these arguments do not impress you, then at least give it a listen for Celtic Frost's sake a band which is noted as a major influence for a great number of metal bands.
There are some bands that don't even need to be uttered in the Metal universe; their name just makes mere metal maniacs tremble at their lips and go into convulsions to to extreme worship. One of those bands is Celtic Frost. Imagine a mountain somewhere in some far off land and there is an old man in a cave. Below the mountain is a thriving happy sun-filled village while the old man is in the cave covered in cobwebs, surrounded by ancient furniture from a medieval time and upon his head, a rusty crown where the diamonds have turned to brass. It's face covered in dust, grime, and streaks of blood across his mouth. He was put there for a purpose it seems. Something too fucking extreme happened to this rotting shell of a man eons ago that put him in such an extreme state of exile. That pretty much sums up Celtic frost, and for those that don't know, they have had one of the most rockiest histories in the Metal universe. Well, now that those iron chains have rusted and corroded with enough time, that same old man breaks free from them and walks out setting forth to take back the very lands beneath him he once conquered, and failed at, but now after years of silence....the old king is taking it's final war campaign against all that have shunned and forgotten him. That honery motherfucker is PISSED!
Celtic Frost did no wrong with their first 3 albums. Each priceless, timeless classics inspiring and influencing thousands of endless worshippers then "Cold Lake" happened and the king(s) was forever vanished. Like a great hall in some castle his(their) good deeds are remembered in a golden age where everything they did was gold then something happened. Well, their final album "Monotheist" makes you forget that "Cold Lake" even happened. What makes this album so effective in the CF dischography is that it's NOT "Morbid Tales prt. 2." It's not "To Mega Therion....the continuation." Nor is it even the a sister to the avantgarde masterpiece of "Into the Pandemonium." In fact, I'll go on to say that this album is beyond those albums. They didn't retread familiar ground. They didn't try to re-create. No, this is just a huge fucking iron fist to the face of everyone who doubted them for so long. And they took their special brand of darkness and actually modernized it to stay with the current times. Most bands cannot do that. They cannot progress THIS damn good. If they did they would have had to have written an album in the 80's and 90's when things were fresh and the future had endless possibilities. Celtic Frost had almost two decades in the darkness and absence from the modern day Metal scene and this albums shows it.
Tom G. Warrior. The man. The voice. The grunt. UGH! The Warrior is back with original bassist Martin Eric Ain (who btw, looks like a fucking caveman these days) and two new members; guitarist Erol Unala and drummer Franco Sesa. With new members come new sounds and the new sound is a a pitch black droning doom sounds. It's black. it's fucking metal. It's somewhere centered between all the genres they influenced. It's also much like the album that SHOULD have been written between "To Mega Therion" and "Into the Pandemonium." but even then it's way more fucking eviler. I mean, you know the old saying you can't teach an old dog new tricks? Bullshit. Old yeller went and got rabies and slaughtered the entire fucking family on this one. Riff wise, there is no shortage of those back-breaking, soul-burning, psychotic-inducing riffs that Tom G Warrior has been known to create. He goes for broke in making his heaviest riffs ever.
"Monothiest"....right off the bat the album again captures the idea that may be whatever god or gods the majority of human beings are praying to...simply aren't listening in the least bit. Don't give a crap and have given up on their creation once and for all. It's a bitter but truthful idea that man creates his own hell based off the mere image of his negative characteristics and there's no shortage of CF( and metal in general) holding that mirror up and showing man for the beast he can be. The album opens up with "Progeny"....that intro wall of guitar feedback and then you hear it..."UGH!" oh yes. Then for the next hour and eight minutes the heaviness does not stop. Tom G. Warrior takes you through the demented mind of that dethroned emperor I mentioned that has planned for a long time to reclaim his kingdom. It's really hard to go into vivid detail about the songs because the album as a whole is just one blackened monolith that stands alone in their discography. Again the music doesn't go into pure thrashing mode that one would expect. In fact one should remember was that CF was a band that made NO fucking promises or compromises about their music. Again, you're going to find the music mainly shifting between a funeral-like doom dirge CRAWL("A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh"), some weird female vocals("Drown In Ashes"), lots of "UGH!"("Ground"), and a SHITLOAD of infernal darkness("Triptych" a song trilogy containing some of the most evil-sounding music this side of the fjords of Norway.)
Celtic Frost COULD have planned this. Really. Even earlier I said they never promised anything, but they could still have planned this album. For all the flak they got for so long, they came back with their final stand reminding people just who the real emperors are. Remember that village I mentioned at the beginning? Decades later, people say there was a plague of some sorts that made everything disappear. They said it became a barren wasteland where nothing grows and where even vultures do not soar into because they won't find anything......except......in the blackened land where it was once green, now is covered in the smell of smoke, where the temperature is forever deathly cold, and somewhere in that apocalyptic wasteland...the lies a rusted crown where the diamonds have turned to brass. Congratulations Celtic Frost.
For what it's worth...My feelings on the Frost reunion. Firstly, this is one of my favorite bands. Has been ever since I bought my vinyl copy of MORBID TALES with the lyric poster. In all frankness it was a fetish object for me in '84, as were their next few releases. As much as I loved death and thrash metal in general, CF always seemed in a state above the scene. Sodom, Kreator, Onslaught, Destruction, Possessed and many, many more were all great, but CF was something else all together. An enigma, a religion, a universe unto themselves.
And then came the experimentation, the let-downs, the break up and the long whispered rumors of reformation. During this time we read interviews in which Tom Warrior laid himself out as an arrogant prick, pissing on the old school metal fans who supported his art, wanting to believe his work was part of some larger esoteric tradition. We absorbed this and decided that if Warrior didn't want us anymore, we certainly didn't need him. He hadn't put out anything worth getting excited about in some time, so let him disappear up his own ass for all we cared. But suddenly the Frost reunion got more serious, and the rumblings were that it was going to be something special. Warrior (and Ain) seemed to rekindle their passion for metal, even to the point of finally saying vaguely nice things about Hellhammer! You could say they were merely trying anew to curry favor among their expected buying public, and you could be right. Time will tell if their passion remains after it has ceased serving their needs. But this was the band that gave us MORBID TALES, TO MEGA THERION and INTO THE PANDEMONIUM. Whatever their reasons for being back, and whatever their motives, I had to hear their latest work.
Fact: this is a doom-laden, dirge ridden album. It features a lot of slow and similar material. But for me, a huge fan of Moss, Electric Wizard and Skepticsim, this is not a problem. I find it odd that in a day when ultra doom, drone doom and funeral doom ae in vogue, why Frost should get so much heat for experimenting with the style. Expect an old school thrash record (ala THERION or EMPEROR'S RETURN) and you will be let down. But Frost never promised us a thrash album, or anything else specific for that matter. The sound, captured by Peter Tagtgren, is thick and black as mud, and a worthy lesson on how to produce a modern metal metal album. Clarity is in abundance, but so are unspeakably ebony guitars, sub-sonic bass tones and thundering, booming drums.
Thus, this dark, cynical, intellectual and affecting record sprawls itself out over us, through fairly straight forward tracks ("Progeny," "Ground") more ambitious but still extremely heavy work ("A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh," "Obscured") into "Ain Elohim," one of the more frankly apocalyptic lyrics and potent musics this band have ever created. Then there's the three part Triptych that closes matters, which at 23 minutes total may be seen as some sort of pinnacle to the Frost mountain. But the first part, basically Ain intoning dire words in Gollum-like accent is a waste of time. The 14 minute centerpiece is excellent though, a long, strong epic both atmospheric and brute. By the time the mournful strings that make up "Winter" arrive, it's hard to imagine listeners, Frost fans or not, failing to be at least somewhat moved by this album.
To say I was skeptical about this album would be a vast understatement. When most bands reform, it's not because they have anything to say to us, either lyrically or musically. But Frost do and that's why MONOTHEIST matters. But as with every Frost record, please do not go into this with any expectations. Many of the low ratings I see mention how this record wasn't what the listener had hoped for or was planning on hearing. It's not as diverse as PANDEMONIUM, it's not as "death metal" as THERION, and it's not the kind of commercial thrash of VANITY. Obviously it isn't even on the same planet as A COLD LAKE. If anything it recalls MORBID TALES or even APOCALYPTIC RAIDS, only this time delivered by adults with years of experience behind them and that maturity shows. And I don't believe the press is simply bending over backwards for MONOTHEIST for the sake of it. I'm a bona fide CF fan from their earliest rumblings, and despite their troubled career and our troubled relationship as fans to this legendary band, I feel it deserves all the accolades it gets. If they give us another album as good as this one, perhaps it will quite some of the naysayers down a bit. Nah...it'll probably just piss them off more. Serves 'em right.
This album is a colossus and a monstrosity. I should start by saying this was the first album to ever truly frighten me. Everything about this album made me fear for my life and what was beyond. I hadn't heard a single track off of this, before buying it. And in my normal fashion with an album I'm anticipating, I make an evening of it. I went to my room, shut off the lights, pulled the shades, put on the album and the movie Begotten on mute. Maybe rub one out first.
But onto the album. The first two tracks were a slab of Celtic Frost's particular brand of plodding thrashy genius. But it wasn't exactly what I was expecting from the avant-garde pioneers. They were heavy, to say the least, but they seemed a little played out, and I started to get bored. It seemed almost formulaic for Celtic Frost.
And then "Dying God..." hit. Oh my fuck. It crept up on me. Clean vocals from Martin Eric Ain, and a simple, slow, reverbed to hell clean guitar melody. It picked up and picked up and I started to get frightened. Then the distortion kicked in on that one HUGE chord. Let me say that this riff consists of no more than 2 chords, but it is the most abusively, crushingly heavy thing I've ever heard. It roars through the room like Cthulhu rising from the ocean. The screaming, shrieking vocals display utter angst and helplessness, something we haven't heard from the normally tyrannical vocals of Tom G. Warrior. It was almost like Celtic Frost's way of saying "WHOOPS, GOTCHA THERE."
Next comes the ambient, and eerie "Drown In Ashes." It's slow. It's simple. It's not nice. The female vocals, while beautiful, sound like something just isn't quite right. And I fucking love it.
"Os Abysmi Vel Daath" Perhaps one of my favorite tracks on the album. For a very simple reason. The vocals. Here, laid bare, we are given the most dead-sounding, hollow vocals I've ever encountered. Hearing him, really just speak in time with the plodding heavy riff and the bizarre wailing in the background, chilled me to the bone. He sounds, to me at least, like a rotting corpse, a ghoul, speaking of his spiritual depression from beyond. And of course, the ever-present "UGH" of Warrior. And, before the music comes back in at 2:36, we are treated to an almost gurgling groan. Absolutely CHILLING.
Obscured seemed to me to just be a continuation of Drown in Ashes, with drums. But this track is the most hopeless, desperate track on the album. With the helpless repetition of "No" over and over, ad nauseum, it brings to mind a man who has been so physically and emotionally scarred, that he can do nothing but hope that his begging will do something to relieve it. But it doesn't. And at around the 4 minute mark, in comes this slow, ringing, MONOLITHIC riff. 3 chords. And it is a MONSTER. It hits like a tidal wave.
I'd like to say that Domain of Decay is the only problem with the album. The song itself is fantastic, but I think it gets in the way. If it had been put somewhere else on the album it would have been better.
Ain Elohim. Of course. The Nietzschean blasphemy with a Celtic Frost twist. The high point of the track, near the end Tom's tortured screams give way to the next track.
Tottengott. Celtic Frost has summoned something from the other side. After listening to this track, I had to take a break from the album, or I was going to do something very drastic. I don't even want to talk about this song other than to say that it is fucking terrifying.
Synagoga Satanae. Oh boy. My favorite. 14 and a half minutes of doomy, thrashy black metal. Featuring vocals by Satyr (I believe) the song is based around the mighty heretic, Tom G. Warrior, roaring, like pharaoh at his slaves. This man's voice is tyrannical. The music is bizarre, and ever-changing. Truly an experience.
Winter. The culmination and climax of Celtic Frost's career. It's simple. It's beautiful. It's melancholic. Perhaps the most melancholy track in circulation today. The dust has cleared from the battlefield of the last 2-3 tracks. And everything, and everyone, is dead. Your family, your friends, your enemies. Everyone you've ever known is dead. Think about that when you listen to this. Then you'll understand. I've always believed that to understand, you had to hate yourself.
The great inexorable lapse of time and the events contained within it can do odd things to the perception of musical craft. When one listens to ‘Morbid Tales’, the seminal release of Swiss pioneers Celtic Frost, and compares it to many of the releases than came hence from then on, the benefit of hindsight lends the milestone release an enormous degree of historical importance within metal – it’s relative uniqueness and influence are absolutely irrefutable.
The same can be said for ‘Monotheist’, the (as of this writing) final recorded work that Celtic Frost may ever produce with Tom G. Warrior at the helm. Since the band’s dissolution, listening to ‘Monotheist’ becomes a far more emotionally intense and absorbing experience. To hear it is to see within the mind’s eye the band carving upon their own graves their final epitaphs, fading into the shadowed ether with the records funeral cry ringing out mournfully from the black abyss.
But that, be assured, is only one aspect of ‘Monotheist’, one that has only been heavily amplified by the band’s own personal course. The funereal tone of the album does not hold exclusive reign, and on this, possibly Celtic Frost’s most intimate and revelatory of releases, many ideas, moods, textures and feelings are presented forth to the listener, linked together by the unifying thread of the band’s exploration of musical territory indebted greatly to gothic and doom metal to create a remarkably unique piece of artistry.
To place ‘Monotheist’ into the aforementioned genres is to do it a profound disservice – the connotations brought forth by those simple words are in this case far too restrictive to adequately describe the work showcased here. The album is indeed one virtually saturated in the melancholic gloom of gothic metal, and the many slow, protracted, lingering and purely heavy guitar parts owe everything to the schools of the very best doom metal.
Celtic Frost’s unique stamp of experimentation, however, is all over the record. Consider the twin masterstrokes of the album: the astounding ‘A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh’ and the breathtaking ‘Synagoga Satanae.’ The two pieces mix an impossibly heavy sound with an extraordinarily atmospheric one; the towering riffs on display here, despite (or perhaps because of) their hideously effective simplicity, sound something akin to the unstoppable march of some great Lovecraftian horror, and yet they are offset sublimely with introductions, interludes and concluding passages marked by strains of sinister melody and ethereal textures.
For those seeking a purely heavy album, ‘Monotheist’ is perhaps not the album to explore, as only the double opening assault of ‘Progeny’ and the almost anthemic ‘Ground’ even approach the traditional concepts of extreme aggression, full as they are of pounding double bass work, rapidly paced riffing and what may even be approximated to a breakdown at one point.
Elsewhere, however, it is not simply the heaviness that impresses but the consideration with which the material has been handled. Absolutely none of the experimentation found here seems to have been included simply because the option to do so was available, and as such no idea ever seems unnecessary or overextended. The grieving violins of ‘Winter (Requiem, Chapter Three: Finale)’, and the beautifully haunting female vocals of ‘Drown In Ashes’ achieve maximum effect simply because they are used appropriately and fittingly, as does the band’s very own performance, with every crashing strike upon the drums and gentle, careful pluck on a resonating guitar string speaking enormous volumes to the listener.
If ‘Monotheist’ is to truly be the final footnote upon the indescribably significant career of Celtic Frost, then it is one of the definitive landmarks of their long journey as innovators of so many facets of extreme metal. As much of a thought-provoking experience as it is a masterwork of ambience and atmosphere, ‘Monotheist’ is nothing short of a triumph.
A band that broke the boundaries of metal and helped to create both extreme metal and avant-garde metal (and 'darky' glam rock). They were a great influence also to gothic/symphonic metal. It's simple: without this band, Metal wouldn't be what it is today.
So, here is their latest release (and comeback album): Monotheist. Flamed by some people for not being ´Morbid Tales Chap. 2' or 'To Mega Therion II', yet, for me, it is a fucking great album, and one of the best comeback albums I've listened to.
It starts off with 'Progeny', mid-paced, yet a little faster than other songs, with really huge riffs. It reminds of Hellhammer in the tone of the guitar and the raw distortion. Then it comes 'Ground', slower, with only 4 short riffs being repeated again and again, yet sounding great and heavy. It also has some vocals and guitars effects that add diversity to the song.
Then, we have a section of almost purely atmospheric songs. The album's only single, 'A Dying God Coming into Human Flesh', has one of the most simple yet most efficient melodies Celtic Frost have ever written. It somehow reminds me of what the melodies in 'Sorrows of the Moon' where in their time: simple, beautiful, and really dark. Also, the vocals of Martin Eric Ain are truly a plus to the song. 'Drown in Ashes' is a really good song, yet it has not too much to offer. Just Lisa and Tom singing with some backing samplers. 'Os Abysmi vel Daath' is good, but kinf od misplaced in the middle of a really soft, atmospheric section. 'Obscured' is very much like 'Drown in Ashes', just longer and thousand times better in instrumentation. Here there are much more guitars and percussion, and the intensity of the track keeps growing until the end.
'Domain of Decay' is another great tune. Fast and aggressive, yet again it’s a couple of riffs being repeated over and over, with effects to add variety. 'Ain Elohim' is just great, faster and more complex than other songs, it evocates much more aggression. The drum work really shines here, with double-bass and some occasional blastbeats here and there. It's one of the longest songs in the album, yet it doesn't become boring. The riffs are more complex and longer, and the vocals fit perfectly.
Now, the Triptych. 'Totengott' is kind of a bridge between 'Ain Elohim' and the rest of the Triptych. But what a scary bridge! It is dark as hell, with Ain's vocals sounding louder and painful. The programming and sampler effects create a dark atmosphere that may scare the grimmest 'kvlt' kid.
'SYNAGOGA SATANAE!!!'... What can I say about it? It's just one of the best songs ever written in Celtic Frost's career... and maybe even in the history of extreme metal. 14 epic minutes of pure fucking blasphemy and darkness!. It starts with percussions and noise, the real song kicks in as powerful as it is. I just can't explain this song with words. You'll have to hear it to believe what I tell you. I hope you get so impressed as I got when hearing Tom and Co. screaming:
"Rise! Synagoga Satanae...
Lies! Lucifuge Rofocale"
Or in the chorus:
"In Darkness, thou art mine eternally!"
The final track, the long awaited 'Winter (Requiem, Chapter Three: Finale) is the concluding part of 'Rex Irae' from 'Into the Pandemonium'. It is a instrumental piece that spawns from the final notes of 'Synagoga Satanae', and it's oddly beautiful; good closer. This is by all means a great album, even if you are not yet a Celtic Frost fan (which is a weird thing, per se). A must have if you like dark and heavy music.
After a long anticipated hiatus, the legendary Celtic Frost has returned to the studio and is shattering all the limits of the heavy metal world again. Let’s go back twenty years to one the band’s previous full lengths, Into the Pandemonium, first of all. The album was a strong statement and change of form that managed to pin an ‘avant-garde’ tag on the grimy surface of the metal world. That peppy, balls to the wall thrash metal outlook is long since gone.
In seventeen years, headman, Tom G. Warrior has cut his hair, and ditched his stage name. Fischer has risen from the ashes of Warrior and he has brought along a completely new style to Celtic Frost… gothic metal. While gothic metal is typically noted for its beauty and usage of heavy symphonics and alluring female vocals, this is not to be seen in Monotheist. Rather, Celtic Frost has chosen to yet again reinvent a prominent genre of music and reshape metal, as we know it.
The album begins with the spine tingling screech of Fischer’s severely distorted and down tuned guitar before tearing into a powerfully deceiving thrash riff. This song is Progeny and is easily the most comparable to Celtic Frost’s To Mega Therion days. The fast paced thrash music quickly dissolves to expose a far colder and darker core that the legendary band has never once touched on before.
The remaining tracks take the listener on a monster of a roller coaster ride with underlying ambience and precise instrumentals that aren’t made to please the common person, but to rather aid in conveying this message of isolation and depression that the band has never been daring enough to express before. The album’s only single, A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh, features eerie, but beautiful vocal work by bassist, Martin Eric Ain with an underlying repetitious melody by Fischer on guitar that quickly shatters the harmony just as it sustained it and breaks into a heavy, doom track. In addition to this single and the opener, Progeny, Monotheist delivers several ambient as well as punching doom songs that could almost bring the listener to their knees in fear.
The album at last closes with the fiendish three tracks dubbed the “triptych” of the album (much in the vain of macabre artist, Heironymus Bocsh). First is Tottengott, which plays on heavy distortion and almost prayer like shouts by Ain. This track plays calmly into the real beast of the album, Synagoga Satanae, a fourteen minute long ride of pure paranoia and regret accompanied by some of the heaviest riffs on the album and even some German prayer chants by Ain. This track slowly breaks down and fades into the final blow, Winter which is a soft and melodic orchestral piece that is made to place the image of the dust finally clearing on the wasteland as the chaos at last dissipates.
The simple message that the album expresses on its own, without the aid of members’ explanation is this: Monotheist doesn’t care about anything but itself. This is a completely new direction for Celtic Frost, a direction that has proven that texture and atmosphere speaks louder than a catchy riff. It certainly takes an acquired taste, but that’s precisely what the band intended from the start.
Fischer has matured (which is apparent by his shortened hair and rejected stage name), as have his lyrics. Celtic Frost has always been a band in the past to incorporate dark concepts of philosophy and history into their lyrical themes, but this goes completely beyond that and emphasizes the despairing, fragile individual. Loosely a concept album, Monotheist describes the despair in losing faith and turning to what you most hate, simply out of desperation and not definite belief.
To summarize, Monotheist is not for the typical fan of Celtic Frost and certainly not for the typical listener in general. Rather, Monotheist is there to pierce through the sunny exterior of your being and it wants to linger menacingly in your mind. It is isolated and cold and it wants the listener to feel the same way. While the tracks are generally slow paced and somewhat repetitive at times, the album makes up in sheer expressive quality and in carving a new name into the stone fortress walls of gothic/doom metal… That is Celtic Frost.
The living legends that rose from the ashes of the pivotal Hellhammer are back and better than ever. They’re back in a far different sense and they want to see you quiver in fear. After years of anticipation, Celtic Frost has lived up to the hype and still stands tall as a truly unique and fresh metal band that doesn’t intend on throwing in the towel yet.
This is Celtic Frost as you have never heard them before. This is not an opinion, this is a fact. You may or may not enjoy the music contained within "Monotheist", but there is no denying that Celtic Frost have never stylistically ventured into the sonics they cover in "Monotheist". This is an entirely different sound for Celtic Frost, and ultimately I think is pretty damn good. This is not the Blackened Death-Thrash of the "Morbid Tales", "To Mega Therion" or "Into the Pandemonium" records, nor is it the Avant-Garde of "Vanity/Nemesis", or the Glam Rock of "Cold Lake". "Monotheist" is an entirely different beast. Tinged with elements of Black Metal, Doom, Gothic, Ambient and even Groove, "Monotheist" has invented an entirely new genre of aggressive music.
First, let us talk about Tom G. Warrior (now preferring to go by Thomas Gabriel Fischer), and all of his contributions to "Monotheist". First, his voice sounds better than it has in years. During the years of "Vanity/Nemesis" and "Cold Lake", his vocal delivery was so contrived and stale it was almost impossible to listen to without cringing. Those days are over. Gone also is that ghastly growl/shriek (which I personally enjoy) from the early "To Mega Therion" and "Morbid Tales" days. Warrior (er, Fischer) has now taken on a very bitter, cold, and sometimes pseudo-meldoic voice. His voice sounds especially intriguing when put up against the angelic voice of Simone Vollenweider, who is featured on a couple of tracks. The contrast is unbelievable, and creates a haunting, refreshing atmosphere. Warrior hasn't completley abandoned his harsh vocal style though - in contrast to his previously mentioned quasi-melodic delivery, he also quite frequently sings in a gutteral, almost barking kind of voice during the heavier hitting portions of the disc. Which occur frequently, mind you.
Alot of people are saying that this is a more mellow Celtic Frost, when compared to the violent fury and slash-and-burn tunes of their early recordings. The tempo has been slowed down, for the most part - but this hardly means Celtic Frost has mellowed out. If anything, I would say the general sound has intensified a great deal - there is no playing around these riffs. The riffs are fierce and titanic, epic in scope. CF has covered more sonic ground here, in my opinion, than they did with their first two full-length efforts combined. The riffs are gargantuan slabs of metal, grinding against the sometimes ferocious and sometimes groovy (yes, groovy) drumwork to create such an interplay that you can't help but bang your head. Many of the songs range from slow to mid paced, but that does not mean there are no breakneck-speed sections to be found on the record. For instance, to opener, "Progeny", one of the best tracks off the record - moves at a pretty frantic pace - the whirlwind drumwork keeping the pace even as Fischer and second guitarist Erol Unala detour into some doom-like riffery.
I think it is quite obvious, especially with borderline progressive tracks such as "A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh" (featuring one of the most beautiful melodies CF has ever conjured) and "Drown In Ashes", that this is the most musically ambitious Frost album ever, but there should be no speculation amongst the critics that lyrically, this is without a doubt their most ambitious work to date. Warrior has always been pretty well versed in history and the occult, but this truly shines on "Monotheist". Featuring passages directly inspired, and sometimes even lifted, directly from works such as the Necronomicon and The Book of Lies, as well as from such prolific characters as Aliester Crowley, Friedrich Nietzsche, and H.P. Lovecraft - Warrior has really covered alot of ground lyrically here - combining the usualy historical and occult themes, and applying his own inner rage, angst and turmoil to them. Some call this album angsty. And with lyrics like "My darkest mind - my love, destroyed...", it is easy to see why - but if you read these lyrics in the correct context and apply them to the grand scope of things, you will see that these are not teenage angst or mallcore-gothboy angsty rants. This is deep shit, friends and neighbors.
The general mood conjured from this record is an epic one: grand in scale, dense in atmosphere, ambitious in execution and Celtic Frost manages to pull it off without coming off as cheesy and pretentious. If Celtic Frost are to continue down this path, assuming they do truck along, I will await the albums to come eagerly. But if this is the last of the mighty Celtic Frost, then I will proudly dub this one of the greatest swan songs in the history of dark music.
Celtic Frost is a strange creature. The constant evolution of their sound, style and image has been incredibly successful, with just the Cold Lake era glam phase being usually mentioned as a mistake. They have treaded the paths of black, thrash, doom and avant garde, usually at the forefront, scouting new territories, never settling for less than their own, extreme vision. How on earth could Monotheist, with its reported mallcore influence, fit the picture? The question is easy to answer: Monotheist could just as well be called Monolith. It's huge, unforgiving, and ruthlessly original, and does not care about its surroundings; it just is, and it's magnificient.
Before beginning to explaining the greatness of this piece of art, the most pressing question to be answered is the alleged mallcore influence. The band uses downtuned guitars, the riffs are mostly relatively simplistic, the album is "gothic" for the lack of a better word, and there's angst in everything on the bass-heavy, distorted album. So, we are talking about Korn's gothic little brother, right?
Mallcore, itself an ambiguous, amoeba-like term with many simple explanations but not a single dictionary-worthy one, has been defined by listing many features. There's downtuning, teenage angst, turntables, rapping, hardcore influence, simplistic riffs more centered on the sound's texture than actual riffing, breakdowns, more image than content, and other less-important things. Of those listed above, we can find downtuning, but it's just an effect used today by many credible death metal acts. We can also find angst, but not the my-girlfriend-left-me-for-this-polish-guy-I'm-gonna-cutmyself-just-to-feel-sumthin sort of teenage garbage. No, the angst on Monotheist is existential, profound, philosophical and grown up. It's the kind of Weltschmerz only those who think too long and too hard upon the fundamental issues of the world, religion, existence and purpose can feel.
What we have left of the list of "mallcore influences" are guitars more centered on the texture, rhythm and mood than on actual technical riffing. That's a more daunting piece of evidence to topple, but it can be shown that the origin, purpose and result of those guitars differ from their nü-metal equivalents.
To take a longer detour, let us talk about food. The world's cuisines are mostly centered on tastes. Sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, sourness, and, debatably, umami, are considered the basic foundations to build on. After the basic tastes, the olfactory epithelium takes over, and expands the experience by integrating smells and flavour. The sense of smell can multiply the possible tastes by millions, and expand the horizons of the experience thousandfold. The looks of the food are another point to consider, and to a connoisseur, the surroundings, the wine served with the food, and even the company, cutlery and background music can be important parts of the experience.
To a more brutal consumer, there is another factor to be considered, however. It's even more fundamental than the basic tastes, goes deeper into the predator's evolutionary history and sometimes outweights the flavour. At its best, it gives a more profound satisfaction that the tastes alone. It's the texture. The way the teeth must work to chew the food, the feeling of the grains on the tongue, the satisfaction of finally biting through the sinewy meat. Think about it. Do you like the crunchingly palatable but virtually tasteless squid? The crunchy piece of cartilage in the top end of the barbequed chicken's leg bone? Do you prefer the chewier pomelo over the grapefruit with its similar taste? Have you enjoyed the tenderness of a good eel sashimi without even noticing that the vicious wasabi had already killed your tastebuds? Have you eaten a calf's heart and enjoyed the pleasurable stringy toughness more than the mildly liver-like taste? Or simply kept chewing the gum long after the taste has vanished? If you have, you may have an inkling of the worth of Monotheist and it's basic, feral nature. It goes deeper than just riffs, melodies or lyrics. It's there, burrowing somewhere, and while the taste is that of dirty, rusty electricity, the texture makes it worthy.
What Celtic Frost have done is exceptional. They have taken their basic formula, the very same as found on some parts of Into the Pandemonium, and first degenerated it into the most primitive basic components, then finished the whole with a few well-chosen touches of beauty and refined spots of bleak colour. Monotheist is more of texture, emotion and atmosphere than technicality, melody or riffs. To reach the intended texture, the downtunings and occasional simplicity were neccessary. The result is rude, ugly and primitive, but like a stony desert, it contains beautiful oases, an occasional ruin of a ancient palace, or the fallen and decrepit remains of the statue of Ozymandias. The ugliness and rudeness has a majestic quality, and the beauty on the album just serves as the polar opposite of the jagged gravel desert underneath.
Musically, Monotheist is based on two factors: on one hand, the downtuned guitars playing slurried riffs mix and meld with Fischer's familiar grumpy vocals. On the other hand, there are spots of very beautiful melodies, an excellent clean-voiced female vocalist, strings and tranquil stretches. Contrasts abound and the two layers of the texture create the consistency Celtic Frost strived for. Any kind of sense of humour is completely absent, and the album is as serious as they ever come. The seriousness tops even that found on Into the Pandemonium, which is not a mean feat.
The "gothic" aspect of the album, often quoted in various contexts, is misleading. There are no romantic stories of the undead, no erotic tales of female vampires, no haunted house horrors. The atmosphere is bleak and melancholic, but at the same time angry and aggressive. Anyone looking for the kind of gothic metal that features operatic female vocals, whitewashed faces and a trickle of blood dripping from the rosy lips of a pale temptress can go and find something else. Monotheist is about bigger issues, it's all-encompassing and philosophical. Gothic doom is a mislabel, but like so many times before, Celtic Frost's specific genre is nearly impossible to name due to their originality. This may rather be the birth of a new genre than gothic doomdeath.
This piece of art will be imitated and copied, and hundreds or thousands of bands will be influenced by it. It's quite unlikely that anyone can reach the same artistic height, however; Into the Pandemonium, with its similarly original concept and execution, remains alone in its own category, despite its advanced age of two decades. There are not even credible pastiches of it yet, and the raw emotions expressed by its refined and occasionally symphonic sounds remain as potent as ever. Monotheist will have a similar fate: few will name it among their favourite albums, but it will be secretly revered by thousands, and influence and inspiration will be drawn from it for decades to come.
Monotheist is not an easy album to understand. It's even more difficult to like. But if you wish to like it, you must do it on Monotheist's own rules; the album will not yield an inch to accommodate your taste. It stands there, tall and foreboding, as a Monolith is supposed to do, and doesn't care. Worship it, loathe it or ignore it, it's all the same. Monotheist will simply ignore you.
It took just six months for the Monotheist to move from the record stores' front shelves to the bottom of the cheapest bargain bins. It just serves as evidence of a tragic truth: mankind still does not recognize its own greatest creations.
Celtic Frost pisses me off. They had so much potential with their first albums – and then they went with some progressive and doom influences and ended up being a watered down version of themselves. I thought with the reunion of the band, they might “restart” their career, if you will. Well – I should have known better.
I will say that Monotheist isn’t bad. It has some very interesting and redemptive qualities to it. It wasn’t a return to thrash like I was hoping it would be. In fact, there is some very interesting song-writing and music present on this album.
The first two tracks had me going…they were heavy, pounding, and evil sounding. I really like the first two songs on Monotheist. The rest of the album isn’t so great for me. The best part of Monotheist (as a consistent factor) is the atmosphere. If there is one thing that Celtic Frost did well on this album was create a very scary and foreboding feeling. As I was listening to the album I had a feeling of impending doom the entire time. It was a strange feeling – but very impressive at the same time.
The music is slow. Its so doom filled that it almost isn’t metal. Well, it is metal – but it is very slow and ambient. The guitar work is simplistic as is the bass and drum work. Granted all of the music does work on a purpose – which is to create an atmosphere. It may not be the fastest or heaviest but it does do its job. So I can’t complain all that much. I prefer faster and angrier music.
The singing is accomplished in a variety of ways, the heavy handed and rough singing of Tom G. Warrior, a female vocalist, and a soft male vocalist. These different kinds of vocals are intermixed to create a variety of sounds. This is both clever and frustrating. It creates a variety that the music doesn’t really do – but it also breaks up the atmosphere so that it doesn’t always hold.
The lyrics are full of controversial topics. There are some topics of religion, death, and birth…these are normal metal topics but when they are presented in the manner that Monotheist does – they seem a lot more aggressive.
Overall, this album does its job. It creates a frightening atmosphere. It’s not catchy and it’s a difficult listen. It requires a lot of concentration and if you tune out at any time then the purpose of the music is lost. I really miss the old Celtic Frost. Monotheist is a fine album for some. But I have heard better from Celtic Frost.
Songs to check out: Progeny, Ground, Domain of Decay.
Celtic Frost has returned in true controversial fashion.
Controversy appears to be part of the Frost formula and is perhaps stronger today than it was at any time in their history. If you're looking for MT, TMT, or ITP parts 2 into infinity, you will be disappointed. CF is always about doing something so radically different and pushing the boundary of the type of music they are producing. They are different today, some 14 years after the close of Celtic Frost's incomplete and jaded initial history.
This album is heavy. What it isn't is easily understood. The guitars are primitive and brutal at points, but a soundscape and texture is provided that would deliver a seemingly primitive and brutal album into a complex album that leaves the listener wondering what happened over and over. I mean this in a good way. The guitars hark back to Hellhammer. Tom's voice is different, but brutal. He infuses the music and the listener with his rage, not only in voice, but with the brutalization of his guitars. Not only is there the rage, but one can see a more vulnerable side to Tom and Martin in such songs as A Dying God... and Drown in Ashes. Franco is brilliant and infuses the music with his style of extreme drumming. In my opinion, certain elements of music can survive from the past, but the drumming is something that has evolved so far into the speed and technical realm that it can't be substituted. Fans of Reed St Mark and Stephen Priestly will be proud. Franco also co-writes several songs. Songs like Temple of Depression and Domain of Decay are straight and to the point and brutalize the listener with rage, volume, and speed, not to mention the Warrior "UGH!".
Of most interest to my was the three part, 20+ minute "Tryptich", comprised of the eerie Tottengott, Synagoga Satanae, and the conclusion, Winter (Requiem Part III). Tottengott is unearthly and also used to open the live shows. It again features Martin on altered vocals (first appearance on A Dying God with clean vox).
The packaging is incredible and costly with three distinct covers, as well as a poster.
In conclusion, this is Celtic Frost's best work to date. It gains from years of rage, dormancy, better production, and the Celtic Frost fire to forge into a foreign direction fearlessly, without regret. This is the first album that was all theirs, without influence of any recording executive with a desire to have them go in a more marketable direction. This simple fact produced a brutal, textured, and complex album composed of primitive elements that will please, as well as take time to understand.
After several listens of the intensive variety to this album, all I can say is this; all you folks who were expecting "Morbid Tales, Part 2" to make up for their long absence are stupid! If you know anything about the mighty Celtic Frost, you will know that they have never done anything that was expected of them. This of course has led to disasters like "Cold Lake". But this is about a million miles away from that travesty, and in fact is a massive kick in the 'nads and another to the head afterward from a band who still have lots to say and play, and this album proves that and then some.
From the opening squeal of feedback and the slamming opening guitar/drum tandem that starts "Progeny" to the moody atmospheric ending of the "Tryptych", this album sets an incredible, eerie mood that shrouds you in oppressive atmosphere. And the guitar tone from hell has RETURNED and how, aided and abetted by being severely downtuned to B, sledgehammering your ears and speakers with merciless brutality in its simple riffing approach--you were expecting maybe Yngwie? Tom's riffs on this album are simple and connect with deliberate intent to cause maximum damage, and such is the case throughout. The only thing missing is his gloriously weird, burbling, gurgling solos, but I'm over that.
Martin Ain's dense, woolly bass rumbles away underneath like a bulldozer, one of the best BASS sounds I've heard in a while, adding considerable weight and heft to the proceedings at hand. Franco Sesa is the best drummer they've ever had, too, incredibly tight at every tempo and an energetic player to boot with impeccable technique driving the thundering material along with unstoppable force. Makes Reed St. Mark sound downright clunky if you listen to this alongside, say, "To Mega Therion", like I have. Peter Tagtgren's considerable production expertise enhances the sound in a more subtle way than usual; this is not your typical "Abyss Studio" production. It's sludgier and darker, yet clear enough to get the point across with more than enough force.
And best of all, Tom's vocals! He has returned to a harsh growling style that is more coherent than the olden days, yet still menacing. And his clean vocals have improved vastly, showcased on epic doom numbers like the back to back tandem of "A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh" and "Drowning In Ashes". No more weak, pinched nasal whining for him, he sounds far better than ever before in that realm. He conveys feelings of angst, sadness and depression most convincingly when he goes into clean vocal mode.
The lyrics are depressing as hell, too, with the usual occult themes surfacing, but with a more moody, sad, and wistful feel, as though to convey a feeling of "I've gained all this power, but to what end? The price I paid was not worth it after all!" He conveys the feel of an ancient god yearning for death and oblivion with these lyrics beautifully, in my opinion.
The music? Wow...deep waves of dark and saturated guitars sustaining morbid bent notes and crashing chords over plodding doom beats is how this album works its Will upon you, the listener, filling you with gloom and drawing you in with barbed hooks of fraying sanity. As I mentioned earlier in the review, mood and atmosphere are paramount on this album and thrash is out of place here. Even though "Progeny" is the fastest song on the album, it still fits in as an aggressive opener to open your ears up to the intensely powerful beatdown that follows with the slower and more doomy and deliberate material like "Ground" (with its grinding bass breaks), the annihilatingly slow "A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh" which uses repetition to good effect near the end, and the intense treatise on depression known as "Drowning In Ashes". This is not a samurai's razor-sharp katana slicing your arteries open before you know it, but an ogre's thick oaken club battering you into pulp slowly but surely.
"Os Abysmi Val Daath" speeds up slightly, but slows down into doom mode again with a catchy and simple chorus. Haunting female vocals are used to good effect here and there and work because they are not abused; she fits in well and adds to the mood of the songs she appears on with her soft and soothing soprano croons. No operatic wails here, but that would be totally out of place anyway. Have I mentioned that this album is pretty damn dreary and depressing? The bridge early on in "A Dying God..." conveys the feeling of utter wretchedness of a diety being forced into a slowly decaying human shell after milennia of immortality to serve a demeaning death sentence in mortal form like you won't believe.
Those expecting the endearing crudeness of the early works will be disappointed with the more sophisticated approach on display here. Or maybe not...listen without prejudice to this album and let it soak into your DNA before you make a judgment. I, for one, love it and count it as one of my favorite albums of 2006 thus far.
Metal has been deluged in recent years by a flood tide of 'reunions' and 'comebacks' from old heroes and also rans alike. What most of these releases had in common was the distinct odor of cash grubbing from 'artists' who no longer possess anything remotely resembling creative vision. I didn't hold any particular hope from the 'comeback' release from Swiss legends Celtic Frost. After all, this is the same band that petered out in one of the great acts of artistic self-immolation in the genre's history, first collapsing into artfag pretension with Into the Pandemonium, then going glam with Cold Lake before finally descending into self-parody with Vanity/Nemesis. However, I find myself not only pleasantly surprised with Monotheist, but actively astounded by an album that, while not perfect, is a brilliantly evocative and powerfully diverse work of art from a creative powerhouse that I had thought dead and buried.
Among Monotheist's strengths are the things it is not. Monotheist is neither an attempt to recapture a 'classic sound' nor the work of a band capitalizing on current trends in hopes of scaring up a buck or two from a new audience. Instead, Warrior, Ain and company have gone back to the drawing board, taking a look at new look at the art that inspired them in their youth and using it once more as a springboard for their own creative process.
The results are nothing short of stunning, a diverse smorgasboard of musical delicacies running the gamut from brutally punishing to startlingly beautiful all laid out as a feast for the ears. Monotheist opens with two of its most consistently (and insistently) bludgeoning tracks ("Progeny" and "Ground"), tracks that bring to mind Discharge or early Master in their unrelenting violence and invitingly distressing simplicity. From there, things only get better, as the album lurches in equally sinister, but more sophisticated direction with songs like "A Dying God Came in Human Flesh," "Drown in Ashes" and "Obscured," which, with their 'gothic' melodies and dual male-female vocal technique resemble nothing so much as first album Dead Can Dance reimagined as genius-level metal. The true climax of Monotheist, however, is the monumental album closer "Synagoga Satanae," a bruising, brooding monster that encapsulates nearly a quarter century of experience and vision into a 14+ minute incantation to the night. With it, Celtic Frost achieve the seemingly impossible, a fitting conclusion to what Warrior and Ain begun with "Triumph of Death."
Monotheist possesses a coup of remarkable attributes above and beyond its atypical success for a 'comeback.' The exceptional coherence of the album, despite the diversity of material it contains is noteworthy. Equally significant is the way Monotheist adds to the structural lexicon of metal. Most early metal bands retained (if sometimes only in modified form) the verse/chorus format inherited from rock music. Hellhammer/Celtic Frost (along with Slayer and a few others) were instrumental in the early and mid 1980's in the move toward a more expansive, linear narrative form (a process that would culminate in the early 1990s with the symphonic ambient styles of bands like Burzum and Immortal). Much of the strength of Monotheist lies in reincorporating the viral/memetic approach pioneered by Discharge into its aural narrative. Celtic Frost's dark designs retain a holistic unity, but at the elemental level, break down into a series of repeated idea fragments that worm their way into the brain, ready to fester and infect. While the technique is perhaps somewhat crude at this point, it should rightfully be seen both as a revolutionary departure and as a promising vector for future exploration. Hail the emperors' return!
Obviously, it's not easy for a band like CELTIC FROST to release a new album after all these years. With so many jaded metal fans expecting a shallow cash-in or another 'Cold Lake' and so many die-hards simply wanting 'Morbid Tales part II' it must have been difficult for Tom G. & co to go ahead and make the music that THEY wanted to make. As it happens, they have managed and 'MONOTHEIST' is all the better for it.
The album opens with howling feedback signalling a return to a much harder brand of metal and the beginning of 'Progeny'. While immediately satisfying, the track seems to drag a bit and, while very heavy, is a tad directionless. All is forgiven when 'Ground' kicks in. Many fans will have heard the demo and rehearsal versions of this track on the band's website. The finished version is the best yet; a vitriolic expression of existential angst with the most brutal blood-'n'-guts guitar tone ever heard on record.
'A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh' has a much slower pace to it and is somewhat reminiscent of early MY DYING BRIDE but with a distinct twist. 'Drown In Ashes' is an altogether more atmospheric track with haunting female vocals, subtle, yet powerful electronic musical textures and Tom sounding akin to Andrew Eldritch.
'Os Abysmi Vel Daath' is another crushing doomy number enhanced by the addition of a french horn and the occasional death grunt (Uhhh!) in a manner which reminds us where they came from without the band sounding like a parody of themselves. The doomy, gothic number 'Obscured' has an altogether unique feel to it and really grows on you with each listen.
'Domain Of Decay' will be familiar to anyone who has heard the band's 'The Nemesis Of Power' demo. Tom has taken the riff from 'Pearl Of Love' (arguably, the best thing about 'The Nemesis Of Power') and used it seamlessly in this old-school crypt-kicker. It serves as a bridge, almost, between the band's past and present. 'Ain Elohim' is another 'speed song' in the same vein as 'Progeny'. While not remarkable, is definitely listenable.
Where 'MONOTHEIST' really shines is how the tracks seem to lead perfectly into one another and nowhere is this better illustrated by the magnificent 'triptych' of 'Totengott', 'Synagoga Satanae' and 'Winter'. 'Totengott' is a magnificently atmospheric and uncompromisingly grim soundscape with Martin Ain providing vocals that sound like an angry dalek in the depths of the abyss. 'Synagoga Satanae' is an epic number and the highlight of the album. A brooding masterpiece which flows and metamorphosises as you listen to it. 'Winter' caps off the album giving you a chance to collect your thoughts as well as being a wonderfully minimalist yet moving piece in it's own right.
I couldn't help but smile after the album was over; I found it very cathartic but most of all, I was glad that CELTIC FROST had delivered everything they'd promised and more. You may well have to listen to 'MONOTHEIST' more than once to get it's full effect; it's definitely an album that grows on you. Even if you didn't like it the first time, give it a chance.
Rather than just caving-in to 'fan' pressure and making another 'To Mega Therion', CELTIC FROST have, once again, shown themselves to be innovators and a band who, love 'em or hate 'em, you simply can't ignore. I'm proud to call myself a fan.