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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.