Who remembers the curious case of Celtic Frost? It’s a story that will go down in metal history as a genuinely mysterious tale of genre-defying ambition. HRH Mag’s Simon Rushworth revisits the cult Swiss anomaly as their Noise Records releases are reissued and expanded.
In 1984 metal’s multi-layered landscape was changing fast but one album still succeeded in standing out from the crowd. Celtic Frost’s Morbid Tales was a brutal assault on the senses played at breakneck speed and underpinned by Tom Warrior’s snarling, growling vocals. The echo effect on Into The Crypts Of Rays is chilling but this is a pretty scary record from start to finish. Tracks like Danse Macabre illustrate just why the Frost were such key players in the burgeoning death and thrash scenes back in the day – and offer no hint of a more melodic and Goth-influenced future. This relentless reissue benefits from the addition of four tracks sourced from an early band rehearsal: it’s raw but strangely beautiful.
Still extreme and still sounding like an evil mash-up of Motorhead and Venom, the pedal was still being pushed firmly to the metal on 1985’s To Mega Therion as Celtic Frost continued to blaze a trail for bludgeoning European thrash. Nevertheless, even instrumental opener Innocence And Wrath, with its grand, symphonic intro. had started to point to where this wildly ambitious band would ultimately go. Fusing the fury of blazing metal with a Queensryche-esque approach to storytelling, To Mega Therion often sounds disjointed but never lacks determination. Jewel Throne’s pounding bass line perfectly complements Warrior’s increasingly self-confident snarl and Circle Of The Tyrants is utterly terrifying. But how many extreme metal bands used a French horn back in the mid 80s? Celtic Frost did and Wolf Bender’s contribution to Dawn Of Megiddo is mind-blowing.
Into The Pandemonium is, undoubtedly, a more polished affair as a band well aware of The Big Four’s increasing commercial appeal – and watching 1987’s MTV-fuelled rock and metal revival with interest – sensed their opportunity. If the layered vocals on Wall Of Voodoo cover Mexican Radio are hardly in the vein of Def Leppard then they did mark a significant sea change where Celtic Frost were concerned. And this was the album where the Swiss fully embraced their classical leanings – there was more French horn plus cello, viola, violin and haunting female backing vocals. In three short years the loudest and proudest of extreme metal bands had spectacularly morphed into a melodic thrash outfit utterly blinded by creative ambition. Tristesses de la Lune is one of the least expected tracks in metal and it’s impossible to imagine the reaction of die-hard fans when they first heard the spoken-word French language song. Bizarre or brilliant? The jury’s still out.
The super commercial Cold Lake (boasting a line-up change and more MTV-friendly sound) had come and gone by the time the Gothic-tinged Vanity/Nemesis marked the latest incarnation of a band still searching for – or refusing to settle on – its identity. Wine In My Hand (Third From The Sun) is a great place to start when attempting to evaluate just where Celtic Frost believed they were headed in 1990. Pure thrash metal, it’s the ultimate hybrid of To Mega Therion and Into The Pandemonium – the superfluous classical touches have been ditched but the raw passion remains. The decision to include Uta Gunther’s backing vocals was a stroke of genius: time and time again her subtle contributions bring an otherwise one-dimensional record to life. Lauded for their determination to defy convention and push the boundaries, this is the band’s least adventurous offering. It’s a good metal record but far from the greatest Celtic Frost opus.