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Among the many legendary bands that have reunited this past decade in tandem with metal's greatest re-expansion since the 80s, I would consider Celtic Frost's Monotheist to be one of the rousing success stories. Not only did the band score a hit with a great many of their older fans, but ushered in a whole new crop of admirers, many of which exalted their new album even more than the band's classics like To Mega Therion or Morbid Tales. I was actually quite divisive about the album. While it certainly carried on the Frost's tradition of taking the listener to a new and interesting place, and thankfully didn't abandon the groundwork the band laid in getting to their cult status, I found the album almost too simple, with nary a lick of interesting guitar work despite its huge atmosphere and consistent sense of gravitas.
Regardless, the album went over very well when compared to so many other comeback efforts, and the band was able to launch a successful tour on it, giving a glimpse of Celtic Frost live to many who thought they might never live to see the day. Sadly, it took only a short time for the band to fall to pieces once more, through intense personal differences, and the new tricks for old dogs were laid to rest. Dissatisfied with idea of letting any creative momentum subside, Thomas Gabriel Fischer (T.G. Warrior) decided to forge out on his own under a new guise, and with the assistance of a few younger recruits (bassist Vanja Slajh, guitarist V. Santura of Noneuclid/ Dark Fortress, and drummer Normah Lonhard of Fear My Thoughts), he has carefully carved out Triptykon from his dreams and nightmares, a project which could rightfully be described as Monotheist: The Band without causing anyone's fur to fly.
That's correct. Triptykon is the natural evolution of the final Celtic Frost opus, but made the more extreme through a use of heavier vocals, and and even more crushing guitar tone that remains loyal to the prior album (and strangely enough, old school Hellhammer/Celtic Frost). Atmospherically it is also comparable, though I found this sound to be far more centralized around the guitars, with Fischer using less of his old Hellhammer personality to the vocals, and a more direct, and unfortunately, less memorable barking presence. But though the band may seem as straightforward in principle as a blunt object slowly rising and falling with steady strength on your brain, they are certainly not above experimentation. Chanting, whispers and other measures of morbidity all weave their way through the 72 fucking minutes of visceral miasma that awaits the listener. It's a huge investment of time, but one I'm sure many are eager to take if they enjoyed the previous album.
The shocker is that I didn't really enjoy this, and in fact I liked it even less than Monotheist. While I can laud Fischer for continuing with determination along the path of heaviness that he himself had a hand in helping create, commend the producers and musicians for putting together such a huge sound, and feel my inner teen feint in rapture at the return to H.R. Geiger cover artwork, there is a gap here that I just couldn't cross. The album sounds monstrous, the guitars the perfect study of maximized extremity through simple riffing, and the vocals and instruments all extremely well organized here to lull the listener into submission and not boredom, but I'll be damned if I can think of a single guitar riff on the entire album that 'did it' for me. These are the sorts of riffs that have by 2010 been played a thousand times, through thrash metal, death, black and doom, and regardless of how well sounding the distortion may seem as it slices you through the headphones, they're simply not inspiring. I feel no nuance, no surprise hidden around any corner in any of the songs.
Fischer's past work was far from complex, but records like Into the Pandemonium and To Mega Therion evoked a mystique and aggression that was so rare in the metal of its age, an undeniable charm that snaked itself about you with each successive listen as it ascended into the stuff of legend. But after spending over 70 minutes with this new album (numerous times), it feels simply cumbersome. It's Monotheist all over again, but lacking even the subtle charms of that effort as it attempts to span the bridge to a modern audience which demands more heavy, more crunch, more doom! When you've got an 11 minute song like "Goetia" or a nearly 20 minute track like "The Prolonging" (the punditry of the title is not lost upon me), I expect to hear something more interesting than basal chugging and open picking riffs that sound like they took little to no effort to compose, but are here to fill up space.
Granted, the band are not horrible composers, and each extensive sequence always features some slight shift in perspective (usually through Lonhard's tribal war drumming infusions or another vocal arriving to balance the grunting off), but I still get the constant feeling like I'm waiting for the morning bus to arrive. Only it's getting later, and I suddenly realize it's a holiday, or the schedule has changed, and I'm going to be waiting a lot longer than I had expected. There are some bouncy moments here like the 13 minute mark of "The Prolonging" that should get ever sludger out of his galoshes and into the murk and blood of the local mosh pit, but I actually think the material here works best when it's moving faster. A point in case would be "A Thousand Lies", which opens at a pace very similar to the title track of Sepultura's "Chaos A.D", which was undoubtedly itself influenced by Celtic Frost, and then continues to spew lava as a dense, nihilistic thrash grinder. For slower material, which you'll be hearing a lot of, the song that least drove me towards my Tempur-Pedic would be "Abyss Within My Soul", which persists in some rather creepy, haunting grooves through its 10 minute existence. "In Shrouds Decayed", the song most resembling older Frost to my ears, Tom brings back the old, tortured lament (ala Into the Pandemonium) to his vocals before a meaty doom riff erupts.
The album also takes some breathers, as in the dark ambient interlude "Shrine" or the tranquil post-rock tonal meandering of "My Pain", with its ethereal female vocals and subtle drums. These elements are to be expected, being familiar with Fischer's past few works (Monotheist, Apollyon Sun, etc.), and they do feel as if they're inserted in the proper spots to bisect the weight of the metal tracks. "My Pain" is actually not so shabby, where Tom takes over from the placating female vocals with his moribund, gothic narration. As for the lyrics, well they do tend to fall on the rather average side of sinister, but there is a consistency between their composure and the music itself which fits like a hand in a glove, and he does continue to explore the realms of both the internal/personal and the occult.
Once again I stand divided and unconvinced. While the album is a technical marvel, a Celtic Frost brought current and level with the 21st century standards of studio gravity, and the band have carefully plotted out its entirety so that even the disbeliever won't be so bored as to run screaming in terror, I developed no relationship with any of the songs here as I have so many times in the past with the man's work. Some credit is deserved that Fischer would press on with the inspiration he had for the past album, twisting it into a blacker veneer, rather than run towards a softer direction, and assemble a band who seems to complement his vision. I expect a lot of people will have their jaws so agape at the production elements of the music here that it's an assured success, but I'm still waiting patiently for my bus to arrive.
Highlights: A Thousand Lies, In Shrouds Decayed, My Pain