I must confess that I’ve had a big love/hate relationship with CELTIC FROST over the years. Undoubtedly they are one of the most important innovators in Metal history and countless bands continue to draw inspiration from them and the pre-CELTIC FROST band HELLHAMMER. The thing with me is that I have always enjoyed the band’s music more when it was covered by other bands – I even found their definitive album, “To Mega Therion”, to be quite listless at times. So, obviously I approached this new album with caution, especially since the general consensus seemed to be that it will take a few listens to sink in.
Well I was pleasantly surprised by the new album and even better, it grabbed me right from the first listen while still impressing after repeated listens! That characteristic downtuned Doom guitar sound is still intact, as is Tom Fischer’s trademark “oohs” and “urgghhs”, things I’m sure will bring a big grin to the faces of old-time fans! “Progeny” kicks off proceedings in blistering fashion, with heavy guitars and solid drumming by newbie Franco Sesa. I can’t remember the last time I heard such a focused and forceful song by this band! “Ground”, who you all should have heard by now, continues in much the same fashion, with suitably grim lyrics. It’s only by the third track, the murderously slow “A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh”, that the album throws us a slight curveball – very slow-paced and with acoustic interludes dominating affairs. It’s not a bad track by any means, but it sort of halts the album’s momentum, especially since it was preceded by two brilliant songs. The next two songs, “Drown In Ashes” and “Os Abysmi Vel Daath”, shows the bands experimental side by incorporating lots of subtle keyboard touches, female vocals and very Gothic-ish vocals by Fischer. Unfortunately these tracks tend to drag a bit and they definitely take the wind out of the album’s sails.
Luckily things get right back on track with “Obscured” - another Goth-like song that recalls MY DYING BRIDE to a extent, but here the band managed to pull it off convincingly, especially as far as the vocals and lyrics (very bleak and grim – “..I think I’m alone, I can feel the rain pull me down again…”) are concerned - overall a great song with a strong emotional undercurrent. All the remaining tracks are top notch and as they are of the heavier, darker variety, they will most certainly appeal to fans of HELLHAMMER and “Morbid Tales”. “Domain Of Decay” and “Ain Elohim” are two potent tracks that switches from Doom to Thrash effortlessly, backed up by impressive drumming and suitably angry vocals. Then, ladies and germs, we get the “epic” of the album – the 20 minute+ ‘Tryptych’ of “Totengott” (featuring Ain’s hideously evil hissing), “Synagoga Satanae” and the closing keyboard piece “Winter”. All three are well done, with the centerpiece (“Synagoga…”) being over 14mins long with lyrics sung in English, German and Latin by a host of guest vocalists, including Satyr and Tagtgren, among others! Brilliant way to close off this album and a sure sign that this band has lost none of its fire, even after a lengthy 16 year absence. The production (by you know who) is crisp while still containing a dirge-like atmosphere that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Industrial album. Tom’s vocals have held up rather well, Ain is as consistent as always (especially as far as his songwriting is concerned) and newcomers Sesa and Unala are no slouches either.
So overall this is a very impressive album that certainly contains more brilliant moments that the expected WTF ones and it is good to see that they have retained both their heavy and more avant-garde elements. I find it somewhat amusing that so many “fans” of this band continue to harp on the experimental touches here and there, I mean that has been the foundation of this band, hasn’t it?! It’s been present ever since the release of “To Mega Therion”, so these so-called fans clearly don’t have a clue what they are babbling about…
Great stuff and an album that definitely deserves to be heard! (Online July 14, 2006)