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It’s often puzzling how artists are when it comes viewing their work – though, I feel for the purposes of adding to his own ever-growing headaches, I should refer to Tom as an “entertainer” – as Mr Fischer himself feels this is merely another step-up on the career ladder for his and Martin’s band. But, of course, as a fan of his perplexing body of work I feel Morbid Tales to be the peak of their achievements. It’s 1984, and this mini-LP or actual LP (depending on where you’re located) has just rose itself from the warm, stinky corpse of Hellhammer; it’s a time when the beast and beast-man in TGW’s head are still fiercely locked in combat – ferocity or avante garde? Songs built on monstrous riffs or female guest singers? Celtic Frost’s future was, as of yet, uncertain and it would be a few years yet till Tom’s ruthless pursuit of ‘bettering’ himself artistically would prove the band’s untimely undoing.
Well, the success of Morbid Tales is, in part, due to the fact that it can teeter between both. Not so much avante-garde as it is une bande petite avante-garde (please pardon my French, and I’ll pardon your garlicky smell). For every obviously looped screaming intro there’s still a wonderfully atonal solo that reeks of an amateur trying to extend his skills beyond what he’s capable of, whilst sounding all the better for it (or is that true of both?). Whereas Tom Fischer views Hellhammer as a noisy, juvenile fumbling of some inexperienced Swiss boys – often in a wholly derogatory manner that brings to mind the time when your parents would dismiss, say, Slayer’s Reign in Blood “bloody awful noise” – this is clearly more focused, if still completely charming in its unique construction and execution; as despite his own inferiority complex no-one plays guitar quite like Tom. In both shrouded, gloomy metal in a way Venom never imagined and the more out-there sections it’s a wonderfully complete listen, which never holds back on riffs that every self-respecting metalhead would want for Christmas.
It’s perhaps funny that such a seemingly primitive album (from a musical stand-point, at least) achieves far more than Tom’s own self-appointed Jewelled Throne, Into the Pandemonium. “How can this be my legacy?” Tom would surely say in the depths of night (in between looking for hair-restoring potions in Swiss mens’ magazines). I don’t know about you, but the subtle variations in mood and the obvious if completely fantastic tempo changes in the songs here are a far higher art form than the “second-head made of papier-mâché” add-ons of Into the Pandemonium (don’t get me wrong, though, I still like that album).
Of course, I don’t think anyone could argue that this is a truly amateurish attempt, I must stress that the lyrics are fucking excellent; there’s not all too many Satans and hex-demons from the gates of Rotherham, but Tom Warrior (who, I feel, is a separate entity to Tom Fischer) and Martin Eric Ain craft some deliciously dark images. It’s occult, evil stuff – but it doesn’t feel like it’s the 31st of October and children are asking for sweets but being given apples. If you needed a more obvious note of sophistication, which this record does possess in spades, look no further. It certainly goes a little deeper than the regular interjections of “ugh” and “hey”, all whilst being lyrically several steps above what most, if not all, English or American bands of the time were doing. In all, as a complete artefact from metal’s grim and dank past it possesses both a grandeur and intensity that few could ever match. Peerless, really!
As for a personal favourite from this heavy metal smorgasbord of metal, well, I’d have to go with the title track: A one-eyed beastie, morose and stone-faced upon its throne. It’s the classic Celtic Frost sound but with a deceptive chorus riff that conveys more melody than it initially seems. A monument to everything that band strove for and a stunning realisation of everything metal can be. If that’s simple then the next Satyricon album is going to be called “Yo! Satyr Raps!”… Actually, that doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Perhaps I should choose a better analogy?
It’s funny just how far bands could go in the early-to-mid 80s with merely the original intent of being “heavier than Venom”, isn’t it? And they certainly weren’t done just yet. But, of course, how could you relate to such a thing? Pre-internet heavy metal just isn’t your thing! It’s not your scene, man! It doesn’t match your perfectly sculpted eyebrows! Timeless music doesn’t transcend the decades, no; it simply lays in its box and rots!