Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Celtic Frost - 'Morbid Tales'

Rating - 8/B

Morbid Tales was Celtic Frost's debut album, and it thrashes! It's certainly furious - the riffs are simply crushing, whether speedy or played at a grinding mid-tempo and the drumming certainly keeps up, even if sessions drummer Stephen Priestly isn't a Dave Lombardo or Lars Ulrich. Thom Warrior's vocals are hoarse, barked out, kinda corny in their sense of menacing relish and wonderfully raw. Bassist Martin Ain achieves the average extreme metal bassist's lifelong ambition of doing nothing at all to stand out, while presumably being as tight and fast as the guitarist.

The mood here is dark, evil and menacing. It's not epic, or debauched, or angry, just downright dark. While this atmosphere is largely achieved through the traditional metal-band tools listed above, there are two glimmers of the extensive expriments CF would later perform on the genre. The exceptions are the two odd and disturbing interludes based on what are probably voice samples, Human and Danse Macabre. Just as soon as the souls-in-torment vibe of Human gets to you, the speedy, heavy riffs of Into The Crypts Of Rays crashes in. A song that screams 'this one will influence metal kids for years to come', it's one of CF's best thrashers ever, and features Warrior's trademark grunt-snarl vocals, often rushed to fit with the riffing to great effect. 'Into the crypts of rays - inna'th'crypsofrays!' Great! Other great tracks include Procreation (Of The Wicked), framed around a supremely hypnotic mid-tempo riff, the heavy-yet-groovy Dethroned Emperor, with its dark, mammoth atmosphere and the thrashy title track. All of these have Warrior barking out the titles in a suitably memorable way, and can be the basis for comedy if you are very immune to the pure, simple pleasures of metal music.

Echoes of this album can be heard all over the metal world - just check out Obituary, Carcass, Sepultura, Deicide and whatnot after listening to this album. But it isn't just a worthy historical document - Warrior's instinct for rhythms that both energise a mosh-pit and menace the living daylights out of the listener is almost unerring at this point and even if there is a fair amount of less memorable material his songwriting is strong enough to ensure that at least half of these songs will have either a riff or a vocal hook stuck in your head right away.

This album was rereleased with a few tracks from 1985's Emperor's Return EP tacked on at the end. The production on the EP songs is far muddier, for some reason, which makes them subside into a generic thrashy sludge at first listen, but at Circle Of The Tyrants, at least, will repay closer listening. Still, these songs and some of the more regular thrash pieces on Morbid Tales do come across as a bit interchangable.

The Eiderdown-Stuffing Bottomline: Are you morbid?! This album is essential for anyone into dark music, sludgy riffing and metal in general. A primer for many bands to come, but also a strong, memorable metal debut outside of all the context.

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