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I did not find Monotheist so much as it found me. I had been but a casual listener of the great Celtic Frost until one day I awakened to find myself deep in the clutches of that damnable chasm called Totengott. I had drifted off into an afternoon slumber amid the soothing drone of “Obscured” only to be snapped into waking by the sounds of pure demonical evil. The wraith-like voice of Martin Eric Ain stole me from behind my wall of sleep, thrusting me into the cavernous pit that is Part One of Monotheist’s fabled triptych. Startled into wakening, I was at once entranced by the blood curdling ravings of Ain’s despairing monologue, as death’s triumph had become all too clear. So it was that these first moments of the triptych had ripped the darkened veils of esoteric obscurity clean from the enshrouded Monotheist for my naked ears, and I have never been the same.
This album, this monolith, this hulking intellect that is an entity all its own, manifests itself through the confidence of Tom Warrior, he who has weathered Hellhammer, the rise and fall of Celtic Frost, Cold fucking Lake, resurrection with Monotheist, and the betrayal that found him after the completion of this opus. I tend to think of this record not just as a singular album, but as a band, the band Monotheist, who debuted with a self-titled release and went on to bring us Eparistera Daimones. The same entity that crushes us with the sickened guitar tone that we find on the Morbid Tales, now down tuned with the faith to end all faith, to dropped fucking B. I have MA’s autothrall to thank for the notion of this concept, see his review of Triptykon’s Eparistera Daimones for further insight into the abyss. I however, find the guitar work of Monotheist not only interesting, but fascinating in its stark simplicity; the low riffs are bone crushing as though emanating from the bottom of some forgotten, ancient tomb. It seems that Warrior may have harkened back to the straight ahead musical ethos of Hellhammer and early Frost, playing riffs from the gut, riffs that speak volumes of this man’s pain. Such is the beauty of the blues; such is the beauty of the diminished fifth and the down tuned guitar. Hell, I sat up with the album and a bass guitar one night until past dawn, so enthralled was I with this crushingly heavy yet simple riffology, just fingering out these riffs that say so much in so few notes. The song that initially piqued my obsession was the beautiful and horrifying “A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh.” It’s opening notes are a mere picking of a power chord sans distortion, the lowness of the dropped B tuning singing out in mournful lament, and when Ain’s dirty bass comes in on that open B, fuck me, it can’t get much heavier than that. Frozen was I, my head reeling with the seemingly infinite possibilities of this expression through an all-consuming coldness.
The effect that this work of art has had upon my all is fathomless, undeniable, and sometimes unspeakable, though not this time. This album opened doors for me that I had previously passed over, namely, the door to doom. I remember once attempting to describe to a wide-eyed hippie co-worker what this music was doing to me. I was telling this guy all about my newfound love for doom, that now I wanted to start my own doom-metal band, and he looks at me and says, “Man, what if you get too far into this doom thing? What if you doom yourself?” All I could say in retort was, of course, “doom on!” Monotheist became a part of my daily existence, picking apart and analyzing the songs, learning to play them, interpreting and reinterpreting the lyrics, which was aided by the thoughtful liner notes that shed light onto each song individually. I found these explanations to be infinitely helpful in my quest for understanding; so much so that all I truly need to say is thank you. So now that I had a glimpse of the abyss, I developed an insatiable need, neigh! lust, for more doom. I sought out the dreariest and most desolate albums, the Forests of Equilibrium and Stormcrow Fleets of the universe, but none of them have ever had the power to return me to the comfort of my doom-womb, Monotheist, the album to end all faith, the bleakest pit that I had unveiled. All is cold, and frozen.
The opening tracks of Monotheist are the thrashing and pissed off “Progeny” which is perfectly followed by the scornful rage of “Ground,” the chord progression of the latter I found to be particularly moving. The lyrics of these two songs, and all the songs here, for that matter, seem to be channeled from a place of utterly uninhibited emotion. “You mocked my care and you stained my mind,” curses the wounded Warrior, “You yearned for me to fail. UGH.” Goddammit these are the finest and most passionate death grunts ever, and grunted they are with authority by the beast-man himself, no less. Who or what is it that has hurt Tom Warrior so deeply? Who could have been so insolent to mock the one and only care of this man? This music will make you hunger for the knowledge of such pain. I think that Warrior and company may have selected “Progeny” to be the first song for its sheer lividity, because the first thing you hear is that searing flash of feedback with the pummeling to immediately ensue. This song’s epistle is the damnation of all who have ever crossed Warrior, for if he is I, “no love will prosper in this world,” for if he is I, “I shall not live to save myself.”
I think of the first three songs here as part one of this album, culminating in the torturous passing of the already dying Gods, as they come back into flesh. Once returned to human form, the sullen mortals “Drown In Ashes” of what once was. The ashes of youth, the ashes of innocence, are now a shrine, and for Warrior a personal “hell of anger and weary lies.” This song is one of the most calming and aesthetically pretty offerings of Monotheist, with the eerie female vocal accompaniment lending an added touch of surrealism to the undulating bass line and Warrior’s saddened voice. Love, mind and soul, are destroyed until we regain consciousness upon the mute and pallid soil of “Oss Abysmi Vel Daath,” undoubtedly one of the most vitriolic songs to be found here. Again, the guitar work is devastating in its simplicity; this is the only way to convey such pure and unabashed anger, you must “deny your own desire,” because this time less is more, so much more. Fear this place, for there is “no god, no me, no in-between. OSS.” This song is another instance where I found the liner notes to be extremely helpful, for admittedly, I had no clue what the word “Daath” meant. Oh and that band called Daath, btw, do not deserve to use such a cool word to name their shitty band. “Temple of Depression” finds drummer (and later on in life, betrayer) Franco Sesa in one of his best performances. Regardless of what happened between Sesa and Warrior after the release and tour of Monotheist, his drumming aptly carries the torch of early Frost percussionists Stephen Priestly and Reed St. Mark. I’ve always thought that Morbid Tales sounds kind of like Hellhammer with a better drummer, and Sesa captures that same spirit.
“Obscured” is one of the most ominous tracks of the album. Try to listen to it and not find yourself somewhere on down the road singing “no, no, NO” and truly meaning it, feeling the despair of such a simple yet crushing word. “No” is a word that can mean many things, among them, death, ending; it is a word of total finality, and we feel this within the walls of “Obscured,” a fucking doom metal giant in its own right. “Domain of Decay” features some of the most aggressive and unique riffing on Monotheist, its 6/8 meter making it feel even more evil than it is. Evidently this song gestated for many years after the original termination of Celtic Frost, only to reappear and rear its ghastly head here at this grimmest of reunions. “Ain Elohim” goes straight for the jugular with a riff that is absolutely ripe with the stench of Hellhammer. It seems to say “low-low-low-low LOW” as it thrusts itself into the ears of the listener over haulin double bass drums. The lyrics are steeped in esoteric mysticism, and I found myself learning still another new word in “Sabaoth.” Get a dictionary, for this is a word metalheads NEED to know, but, semantics aside, the underlying theme here is an age old maxim of the metallic sacrament, and I for one believe it to be something along the lines of “believe in yourself, for that’s all you have.”
And so begins this Triptych. Prepare yourself to be cleansed in the flames of Hell, incinerated to black cinders, and made whole again, upon the beautiful completion of “Winter.” I already told you what the menacing and damnable “Totengott” is capable of, so now it is time to rise, and take your place in the congregation of “Synagoga Satanae.” This song seems to be the musical and lyrical summation of Warrior’s legacy up to this point, from troubled and depressive adolescence through to the spreading of immortal wings that is represented here. Warrior has been quoted as saying that “it took attaining his late thirties” in order to gain the strength required to have complete and utter confidence in his artistic expression. This confidence is heard throughout Monotheist in the sureness of his voice and the heaving riffs of his guitar, which is truly wielded as a battle axe for good and all. Warrior cleaves the heads of his enemies with his mighty axe, which has now reached its deadliest potential, sharpened to raze and dripping with the blood of his foes. “My blackened heart is a writhing mass of poisonous snakes, grotesquely slithering as I slowly shed my dying skin,” snarls the Warrior, the god-man, one of the most rightfully hallowed innovators of heavy fucking metal. Listen to this without distraction or judgment, if you can, and let its immeasurable blackness swallow you whole.