ALBUM OF THE DAY: CELTIC FROST, MORBID TALES
So, I don’t like all the Celtic Frost albums I’m supposed to as much as I should. I mean, don’t get me wrong: To Mega Therion? Awesome. Monotheist? Excellent return to form. Triptykon’s debut? Motherfucker’s still got it, gym pants, eyeliner and all. But they don’t hit me like a great album’s supposed to hit you. What does, though, is Morbid Tales. Raw and primitive but not apathetic and sloppy, it rides that line between doom, black metal, and thrash on a fleet of mammoths (well, mostly because none of those things really existed in earnest yet). So while they would go on to do more interesting things as well as hilarious things (Cold Lake, of course), to my ears, none of what the band did (and, who are we kidding, are doing with Triptykon) is nearly as fierce or, arguably, as satisfying as Morbid Tales.
Though “hardcore” isn’t a label that’s often hung on Celtic Frost, you hear a lot of it, mostly as a hangover from Hellhammer (though they played the “Is this too metal to call punk?” game as well). The d-beats, those snarling chords, Tom G. Warrior’s mid-ranged growling… all of those could have been coming from a basement show in the Midwest in the early ‘80s with Black Flag and Die Kreuzen. Of course, Hellhammer were a raw, manic band,whereas Celtic Frost had the confident posture of game changers; it’s like the difference between an internship and a career. On paper there may not be a ton different between the two, but at times on Morbid Tales, it’s like night and day.
That isn’t to say this isn’t one of the most bone-demolishingly metal albums ever, though. You want grooves? There’s a ridiculous one dropped in about halfway through “Into the Crypt of Rays.” “Visions of Mortality” inverts the formula and breaks up Sabbath-y riffs with punky sprints. And “Dethroned Emperor” — still not listed as “De-Throned Emp Air Are” on the back, for some reason — is full of the sort of chunky swagger metalcore kids would give their tiny left nuts to write. But even with arty intros and asides tacked on with reissues (“Human” and what sounds like a Suspiria soundtrack reject in “Danse Macabre”) the album succeeds because of it’s straightforwardness. The band would tweak things later on to great and lousy effect, but Morbid Tales is an unpretentious slab of unfiltered energy, perfectly capturing what was great about punk and metal in the first half of the ‘80s. You only get to make your first album once, and Celtic Frost knocked it the fuck out of the park on that.