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"...could I ever return, it would be my doom...
Hellhammer broke up?! I can still remember my buddy telling me at the lunch table he read it in Kick Ass Monthly (RIP). Though I didn't lose my appetite, I wasn't the least bit happy about it (or to be going to dreaded Spanish class next). About a month later there are reports Hellhammer has regrouped under the obscure moniker Celtic Frost minus drummer Bruce "Denial Fiend" Day. The world isn't in shambles after all.
Also inflating my mood was that an indie record store opened up in town that actually carried underground metal. Life doesn't get any better, eh? I get a ride over there, at this point looking for anything that wasn't mainstream, let alone anything from Celtic Frost. Guess what I found.
The bottom line is that Hellhammer's ashes were barely cold when Frost set naysayers and their cynicism on their ear with this one. As Hellhammer, they were called sloppy, sightless, and plain bad - the sewer of metal. Now sporting real names, a hardier production, honed songwriting, and the same superior lyricism, it turned out Morbid Tales would become one of the most influential early underground metal lps...and hardly anyone saw it coming.
While bands like Slayer, Metallica, and Anthrax were playing faster than average, Frost's tempo went against that grain and while they didn't fear the speed realm, much of their material remained lethargic to mid-pace, one of the many elements that set the trio apart from their peers. In addition, few vocalists could remotely challenge Tom Warrior's deep sepulchral delivery, a short enviable list that would include legends Cronos, Tom Araya, Angel Ripper, and evil Chuck if you want to throw his demos into the fray. Lyrically, Tom and Martin's darkly lit prose are cryptic candles illuminating a chamber shadowed with the banality and overuse of other bands' topics and have yet to be paralleled (and my old lady couldn't get on my case 'cos there was no way she was deciphering their meaning). Then there was the presentation of it all.
Sure, after hearing a hundred or so uneventful and overlong intros of everything from groaning organs to people throwing up to movie snippets, the overlapped vocal melange may have your head lolling back, but in '84 when there were maybe 10 actual intros roaming about, "Human" (unnamed on the North American lp version) was quite disturbing. "Into Crypts of Rays" erupts with more speed than any of the four tracks on Apocalyptic Raids, a straight shot of aggression to rip Hellhammer cynics apart, yet Tom doesn't lose the finesse of his patented noise solos. To dispel illusions Frost has transformed the murky HH resonance into aural adrenaline, "Visions of Mortality" hauls in the pace to showcase true Frost grit; pillars of guttural guitars downtuned to the cellar floor for the ominous plod to come. With quicker momentum the track races to a close, but is tackled by the groaning sneer of top track "Dethroned Emperor". DE is a beast that travels with a mid-pace churn, then stalks with a frighteningly menacing plod that creeps over into the chorus where Tom actually bellows the title about three different ways. The title cut welds unconventional riffs and even-keeled tempos to speedy, double bass driven ones, ending side one with the serenity of a gorilla attack.
Side two unceremoniously collides with "Procreation (of the Wicked)", the red-eyed brute that revels in a riff so discordant and heavy it almost rivals Sabbath's "Electric Funeral". The gait never increases above a quick lumber, and Tom's low, crying solo matches its mood. "Return to the Eve" is the birth of the band's future-famed experimentalism. Borrowing an uncharacteristic feature in Venom's track "Welcome to Hell", the female-narrated and hauntingly monotone verse 'Take my soul away into the dark...' is a purveyor to what Frost will accomplish, but it is a pebble to the avalanche that is "Danse Macabre", a lurid soundscape comprised of tinkling chimes, disparate moaning, chill wind, and lingering gloom that is more nightmare than song. With the subtleness of a choleric boar , "Nocturnal Fear" closes the eight-tracker with raucous rhythms, a quick primal chorus, the fastest rate yet, and a sinister 7-second interlude that comes out of nowhere and could've easily been in the previous track.
Morbid Tales was just the beginning of the eclectic and obscure nuances, the avant-garde tidbits that would warp their way into songs with seemingly little provocation. "Danse Macabre" drifts from a blackness only Tom and Martin had seen through. Did anyone see it coming? Was anyone ready for it? Where did that tiny burst of bass-pumping horror come from in "Nocturnal Fear"? I notice many seem to either downplay or just plain forget this shade of Frost's fabric, the avant-garde tinges that would infiltrate their up-coming lps to a much more prevalent degree. At least they gave us a few albums to listen to before sinking into Cold Lake.
...I've killed this old man, because he limped..."