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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.