Celtic Frost, September 25, 2006
I never thought I would see the day when the avant-garde Swiss metal band Celtic Frost, would actually play my city. The Frost came to my attention as the new band created from the ashes of Hellhammer, who were established in 1982 and were one of the pioneer extreme metal bands. Hellhammer's front man, Tom Gabriel Fischer (aka Tom Warrior) and their second bass player, Martin Eric Ain, along with drummer Stephen Priestly, formed Celtic Frost in 1984 and released the album Morbid Tales.
I became more of a fan when I heard their second album, To Mega Therion, which featured a startling (and tasteless) cover painting by artist H. R. Giger, known as the creative force behind the Alien sets and the album cover Brain Salad Surgery by Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They were not just a thrash band, but seemed to have some style behind their music, including gothic and symphonic influences, which made them stand out from the rush of Metallica and Slayer impersonators that sprung up at the time. According to their website, their lyrics were influenced by writers such as H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Aleister Crowley, and Charles Baudelaire
After their third album, 1987's Into The Pandemonium, Celtic Frost took an ill-advised chance to increase their popularity by going...glam, if you can believe it. No one bought Cold Lake and it disillusioned long time fans. They recorded Vanity/Nemisis in 1990 but their career was in free-fall. Parched With Thirst I Am and Dying was the compilation album they released in 1992.
In the mid-90s', Gabriel founded the band Apollyon Sun and released two recordings of this experimental metal before penning a book, Are You Morbid? in 2000. I haven't read it but I would love to track it down.
In 2001, Celtic Frost reformed to begin recording a self-funded album, which turned out to be 2006's Monotheist, which is aimed more at the early fans. The album has received mixed reviews and Celtic Frost have a lot more competition today, including many bands that they have influenced. They are now on a 47-city tour of North America and appeared on MTV's Headbanger's Ball Saturday, September 30 (which was recorded during their NYC appearance.)
Opening the show was Norway's Shag, who were loud but not terribly interesting. There was nothing of note in their presentation, unfortunately. Another Norweigan band followed, 1349, who were extremly heavy in sound and appearance. They wore tons of make up which either made them look like zombie corpses or clowns, depending on your perspective and sense of humour. There was no distinguishing the songs from one another and the vocals of Ravn, if you can call them that, were all but indecipherable. Bands like this will always have a niche appeal, but will not make the jump to becoming big league. Bands that have longevity and increased popularity tend to have songs that you can tell apart and can remember, maybe even play along to on guitar. Probably the most interesting thing about 1349 that I can say is that their name is derived the year the Black Death first arrived in Norway, from a corpse on a boat.
Celtic Frost took the stage with a hero's welcome. In fact, Tom Gabriel was frequently smiling in amazment at the reception and commented on how much nicer it was than what they received at the border by the customs officials. Here's what appeared to be the setlist (although not in this exact order), for fans, it was laden with great material:
Procreations of the Wicked
Circle of the Tyrants
Dawn of Megiddo
Sorrows of the Moon
Into the Crypts of Rays
There are time changes in the songs, which only serves to increase the excitement level and they build to the point of moshing mayhem and unbridled frenzy. I almost found myself in the pit, but I managed to step away. The friend who I was with, dove right in early on and wasn't seen again until the end of the show! The group sounded surprisingly like they do on record, with a dominant, thick bass guitar sound. Drummer Francesco Sesa was very much like Reed St. Mark, the New York drummer from To Mega Therion (translates to The Great Beast in Greek.)
My only disappointment in the show was the turnout. There was less than 200 people there to witness the return of one of extreme metal's most influential and interesting bands. I don't know if the new album will bring them to a new level of popularity or simply buy their career more time to record and tour again, but I was just happy to see them up close and live. If we're lucky, maybe they will release a live DVD of the tour and some footage of previous tours.