Unlike some of the more high profile extreme Metal releases of late (SATYRICON and DISSECTION for example), the return of CELTIC FROST hasn’t had the same pressure of expectation. After three seminal works of undisputed genius, their two previous efforts “Cold Lake” and “Vanity/Nemesis” were poor efforts of insecure mediocrity that tried, abysmally, to catapult them into a more mainstream light. The utter failure of this enterprise hinged on the fact that the band lost all of the superior features of their earlier work.
Both “Morbid Tales” and “To Mega Therion” showcased an energy and confidence hitherto unequalled in its effectiveness, where as “Into The Pandemonium” offered a different, more progressive and experimental, confidence. The belief and self-importance of the younger band scattered soon after, but, thankfully, with “Monotheist”, CELTIC FROST are back with another different breed of confidence, one that comes from a maturing in both material and attitude. Though as you'll discover, this confidence is not total.
As a comeback “Monotheist” is defiantly ambitious, being over an hour long and another stylistic reinvention. The riffs and material has dramatically slowed and is dominated by a slightly CATHEDRAL oriented take on the classic BLACK SABBATH doom sound. However, the effect is darker overall, with emphasis being placed firmly on maintaining an ominous mood.
To compare this to any other CELTIC FROST release is, perhaps, pointless, but at its foundation “Monotheist” has the same goal as “Into The Pandemonium”. It desires to remain firmly Metal, delivering simple material of high quality, while still experimenting with fresh ideas. Previously these were more avant-garde in nature, but here the sound is more modern, with subtle Gothic and Industrial tones.
However, there’s no “Babylon Fell” here, nothing wholly characteristic of the roots of the band. “Domain Of Decay” is the closest they come and, while it's good, it doesn’t quite capture the proper attitude or weight and as thus, reinforces the necessity of their reinvention. Conversely, some of the better sections do have a distinctly old CELTIC FROST texture, but it is in the incorporation of this with the new that the album garners its strength.
Unfortunately, I don’t expect that all fans will return to the fold as both the sloth and the direction of the experimental flirtation may put some off. Yet, it remains that these sections make up the rest of the better ones, with the Gothic leanings of “Drown In Ashes” and “Obscured” being of supreme quality.
“Monotheist” is an excellent return to form, but retains some frustrating flaws that detract from the overall effectiveness of the material. Firstly, it tries to hard to be modern. Having supposedly learned their lesson on the aforementioned duo that we’d all rather forget, it seems that this may be a longer process than hoped and perhaps CELTIC FROST are still trying to appeal to an audience rather than to themselves. Perhaps I’m wrong, but the confirmation found in the unconvincing anger (at a few points only) is difficult to ignore. Similarly, although the Tägtgren production is much less oppressively clinical than usual, it adds to this needless appeal to modernity. Still, it is crisp and effective and allows the weighty sections to sound heavier than ever before.
I previously mentioned the ambitiousness of this return, but now I mention it in a more negative light. Another of the primary weaknesses of the album – and an equally frustrating one – is that the band have tarnished brilliant material by adding filler and stretching songs out unnecessarily. At least 10, though perhaps up to 20, minutes of this could easily have been cut out leaving a full and ripe album that makes the best use of the material at hand.
Despite obviously trying too hard, the band have crafted some brilliant songs and written some of the best passages of their career. With a little less worry and a little more confidence the follow up should be a bone-fide classic, but “Monotheist” itself is unquestionably good, just not quite great. (Online May 23, 2006)