It might not be as important to the Celtic Frost/Hellhammer legacy as its immediate predecessors, but To Mega Therion is still a fine work of metal 30 years (and four days) after its release. Many early underground metal recordings are noted for stripping their musical content to a bare minimum of function and simultaneously exploring new methods of arrangement and songwriting. To Mega Therion, on the other hand, takes a step towards refining the new standard, with more elaborate instrumentation, production, and songwriting than the EPs that came before it. It’s still more restrained in its aesthetic exploration than anything else Celtic Frost released, but listeners can easily hear how some of the more obvious experiments here (timpani, occasional female vocals, etc.) anticipate elements that would become fixtures in the band’s later works, and furthermore in the plethora of subgenres to follow.
From the cluster of San Antonio bands who have provided a steady stream of necrotic underground metal since the mid-1980s comes a new project, a Celtic Frost cover band named Morbid Tales, which plays live on Friday, October 11 in San Antonio.
Composed of Bjorn Haga (Necrovore, LaSanche, Hod, Thornspawn) on guitars, Art Espinoza (Deguello) and Rob Garcia on drums, Morbid Tales revives the roaring glory days of Celtic Frost as it re-invented metal to be a more primal and psychic assault.
As death approaches, documentation increases. As a circle closes, individuals are given an oppurtunity to reflect on, track and document the meandering course that a society, individual or movement took and assess and re-evaluate this course to determine both its moments of strength and those of weakness. One consequence of this tracking and documentation is that the diligent and astute student of life is provided with an opportunity to discover those behavioural patterns that have been forged in the fires of history and are therefore conducive to success. The intelligent will reflect upon these lessons and apply them to their own worldview, life, ideology or movement and increase the quality, although not necessarily quantity of those lives. Therefore, we serious Hessians take the outpouring of heavy metal documentation rather serious, as it contains for the discerning, the lessons upon which the ideological, and perhaps spiritual foundation of a new spring, a new dawn and a new beginning for our culture may rest.
Heavy metal documentation has progressively reached new heights in this age of mass media as rabid fans, bands, and sociologists alike are taking it upon themselves to exploit available media outlets in order to document the rise and fall of extreme metal, an alienated cultural phenomenon, that unsurprisingly late is being treated with respect outside of the insular metal community. Along with the ideological documentation of Black Metal in the excellent documentary, Until the Light Takes Us, and the chronological presentation and thus preservation of the history of Swedish Death Metal in Daniel Ekeroth’s book of the same name, Hessians world wide are now being treated to an outpouring of band and album documentation in the form of DVD’s and texts exclusively dealing with important bands such as Asphyx and At the Gates, and seminal albums such as Reign in Blood.
To date, “Only Death is Real” by Tom Gabriel Fischer represents the apex of extreme metal texts. Appropriately prefaced, most notably by Darkthrone’s Nocturno Culto, this near-perfectly laid out, hardcover text book, is full of historical relevance for the aspiring and established Hessian and includes a bounty of interesting photos that shed light on the enigmatic and sometimes adolescently awkward manifestations of both Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost. The strategically arranged photos, intriguing and aptly chosen, are unsurprisingly monochromatic, and this combined with the enclosed paper quality, reveals a sense of aesthetic class and attention to detail becoming of the fastidious and perhaps benevolently pedantic, eccentric and inspiring personality of the authour. Additionally, the book contains a plethora of interviews with previous members of Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, which at various junctures provide strange as well as enlightening anecdotes that augment the history of the band(s), and provide an otherwise unattainable depth to Fischer’s account. Given this, it seems somewhat surprising that this history reads as well as it does, as Fischer’s narrative, although periodically interrupted to include these interviews, remains clear.
As for the historical documentation itself, “Only Death is Real” retains a genuinely human tone that while undeniably revelatory does not diminish the mystical aura that surrounds both Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. In fact, throughout the text one senses an undeniable theme of mythic struggle as Fischer recounts the vast amount of turmoil, characteristically determined by some unforeseen variable, which plagued the establishment and development of both Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. We read with growing interest as the seeming omnipotent forces of dissolution strive to subdue and shackle the steely will of Fischer and his desire to create. Perhaps slightly melodramatic, the testaments of Fischer and others remain inspiring in the face of what Hellhammer and Celtic Frost would undoubtedly accomplish.
“Only Death is Real” is consequently rich in history and provides a level of historical depth perhaps unmatched in extreme metal literature. Developing chronologically from an account of Fischer’s childhood and his musical inspirations, to the establishment of his first band Grave Hill and beyond, readers are also provided with enlightening expositions on a variety of pertinent subjects. Such subjects include but are not limited to, the realities of Hessian life in Switzerland during the early 80’s, the meaning and inspiration for the name Celtic Frost and the conceptual considerations that went into the development of the band, Fischer and Eric Ain’s relationship with the works of H.R. Giger, and the critical and undeniable influence of Martin Eric Ain in the development and maturation of Hellhammer and Celtic Frost.
Fans are also provided with a chronologically precise account of the sometimes dizzying array of Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost releases, including exact track listings, facsimile demo and EP sleeves, the intriguing history surrounding the development of each release, and verbatim and oft-times hilariously slanderous copies of reviews of these releases. Obsessive fans can also rejoice as Fischer has included a complete visual account of the evolution of both the Celtic Frost and Helllhammer moniker, including copies of hand drawn rejections completed by band members themselves.
Overall, this history proves itself essential reading for anyone who takes extreme metal seriously. Fans can rejoice as we are provided with a comprehensive history of two bands that became cornerstones in the development of extreme metal. Any Hessian neophyte would do well to take this text seriously as it provides a great introduction to the personalities and music of a band whose clarity of vision, will and capacity to inspire, has left an indelible mark on countless bands and individuals. Perhaps now, in the midst of what appears to be a bourgeoning extreme metal renaissance, fans and musicians would do well to look back, find inspiration in, and relentlessly devour the lessons of our forefathers. In so doing we may overcome the progressive deterioration of extreme metal, usher in a new epoch and raise the flag of Hessiandom to new and unparalleled heights.
Written by TheWaters
As a humble attempt to bring some ideas to the table in order to reverse the current backwards trend that plagues the underground, we’ll present to you an approach at music making that was tried by few bands in metal, and, because of the possibilities it offers, it can become a more than viable pathway to follow for metal to keep evolving.
Known by many open minded hessians as one of the few electronic acts that isn’t grating on the nerves, Kraftwerk, one of the leading acts in the genre, made a bright musical career by pasting synthetised and computer-generated sounds into melodically sensitive compositions that mixed simplicity with complexity in an effortless way, providing a soundscape in which emotion and technology interacted as easily as hydrogen and oxygen do to form water. Their way of pasting sounds (and what is music but an elaborate way of doing just that?) was influenced by the concept they had in mind at the moment of making the album, so coldness in sound and rhythmical monotony went hand-in-hand with the concept of dehumanization presented in their The Man Machine album, while, on the other hand, Trans-Europe Express classically influenced melodies and introspective style melds well with the journey of self-discovery and pride for european culture the musicians attempted to portray.
With all of that said, you might be asking what does that band have to do with metal? Many things: the shaping of concept, the narrative approach and the human-nature-society topics presented have much in common with the way of making metal. Particularly, Kraftwerk went on to influence two of the biggest names in the genre: Celtic Frost and Burzum.
Celtic Frost’s members well documented obsession with history, legend and esoteric themes gave them an approach towards creating music that was more about describing a mood around which certain lyrics, as mini-narrations, enhanced the atmosphere presented. And, like Kraftwerk, each album differed from each other in the concepts it portrayed and the adjustment of style towards that goal, from the primitive, rapid bursting of anger in Morbid Tales, to the mythical and barbarian otherwordly scenery of To Mega Therion , to the hedonist, self-punishing operatic drama of Into the Pandemonium (some detractors might even say that this album is punishing on its own merit, but I think that, while not perfect, it is a respectable effort).
Burzum, like the previous act, also made his albums with the idea in mind that each of them should have a very distinctive identity, even though various moods interacted in a single album and the whole Burzum concept had more of a unity behind it than Celtic Frost’s. Still, the difference in style for each release is self-apparent and we hear Varg adapting his playing, production values and even vocal style towards the emotions he wanted to display for each particular release.
One of the things we need to do in order to keep furthering the craft of metal is to leave behind our obsession with style and instead worry of taking each album we pursue as a fresh chance to start over. Otherwise, musicians easily lose ideas as they quickly run out of them if those are constructed around a single theme. We can learn from the aforementioned acts and demand more of our craft and of ourselves in order to reach a brilliant future for the genre.
All of the talk aside, we should study the aforementioned bands to really understand the idea presented here. Kraftwerk’s best works are (chronologically) Radioactivity (1975), Trans-Europe Express (1977), The Man Machine (1978) and Computer World (1981). Those should be listened to in that order. In doing so, observe how difficult is to point the similarities between the albums beyond the most basic musical elements, such as vocal styles and rhythms used. Even the sounds and synth patches went through tremendous changes in time and the outfit took their time to develop a voice of their own, starting rather timidly and displaying more confidence with the years (not surprisingly, the electronic genre was developing at the time and was quite fresh – as an exercise, and for fun, compare this rundown of albums with Black Sabbath’s first four LPs and its transition from blues to metal).
The rundown for Celtic Frost should be Morbid Tales, Emperor’s Return (as separate albums, in order to have a clear idea of the evolution taking place), To Mega Therion and Into the Pandemonium (without Mexican Radio if you prefer so ;)). Burzum’s as follows: Det Som Engang Var, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Filosofem. Notice that these aren’t “best ofs”, but a selection to further the comprehension of what has been said here.
Also notice the similarities between Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine: a simple rhythm track providing the backbone for endlessly repeating sequences (riffs) and the patient development of the songs by adding layers of more riffs on top of the basic ones.
This simple exercise should hopefully help you comprehend what’s been said here. It’s not all, though. The next step – the understanding of motifs and how do they relate with concept and unity in music making – will be explained on a post on its own. Stay tuned.
Another previously unreviewed record judged some of The Best Underground Metal of 2016.
Mount Um + 1997 Demo is a digital anthology collecting what Steve Cefala judged to be Dawning‘s strongest material. Half the run-time (“Side A”) is one new, extended track entitled Mount Um in three parts: “Pilgrimage to Umunhum”, “The Albino Bridge Sacrement”, and a melodic bass outro. Mount Um sounds like Summoning worshiping Emperor‘s In the Nightside Eclipse in a lengthy composition reminiscent of Celtic Frost‘s album work. Ambient fantasy keyboards are perverted into pandemonium as if on an arduous journey of great hardship and loss culminating in a bittersweet victory over the uncaring, vicious forces of nature. Mount Um‘s composition is progressive and profound.
Sepultura‘s Morbid Visions is my favorite thirty year old album. Released in Brazil on November 10th, 1986, Morbid Visions saw Sepultura slither past the primitive Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, and Sodom worship of their initial Bestial Devastation extended play (included as a bonus on almost all CD versions of Morbid Visions) and into ultraviolent, progressive but still primitive, death and black metal.
ZOM is essentially a crust band who starched by a discordant boondock black metal sensibility resulting in parlor tunes to cap off a hard day picking potatoes. Neither being soaked in rye nor smoked out on Dublin can make this release stand out in the fields of barley. The riffs aren’t worth paying attention to and as background music it is simply too assertive so it tends to pinch you if your mood isn’t wearing the right color.
Death metal had been well established for years by the early 90s. The genre was rapidly becoming an arms race of technicality with many bands attempting to use studio trickery to make records far beyond their musical ability in attempt to compete with their best contemporaries, e.g. Morbid Angel. Many brought in hired shredder studio musicians like James Murphy with drum tracks copy and pasted together onto tape from drum samples and “played” live with triggers activating those same pre-recorded samples at the slightest touch. At the same time, good grindcore bands were turning into second-rate death metal ones or worse, lame “melodic hardcore” which turned hardcore punk aesthetics into slit your wrists whine pop.
Lee Dorrian, vocalist of Napalm Death on the b-side of Scum and From Enslavement to Obliteration, was disgusted by Napalm Death writing material incorporating the worst, bouncy hit people aspects of death metal in an attempt to reach a wider audience and quit the band in 1989. He soon formed Cathedral with Gaz Jennings and Mark Griffiths over a shared love of older heavy metal bands such as Black Sabbath, Candlemass, and Witchfinder General. Demos and an album on Dorrian’s old label Earache quickly followed.
George Psalmanazar submitted a few reviews of albums he vehemently despises to Death Metal Underground. Enjoy!
Darkthrone‘s second album, A Blaze in the Northern Sky, turns twenty-five today. For much of the mid 90s, Darkthrone constantly referred to A Blaze in the Northern Sky as their first album as it was the first commercially released record to adopt the quick and dirty “necro” production style and to have been part of the Norwegian black metal second wave initiated by Mayhem. However most of the individual musical inspirations were audible on their prior Soulside Journey album recorded at Sunlight Studio; the compositions on A Blaze in the Northern Sky were just much more sparse and droning due to different overall compositional goals reflecting the shift from progressive death metal riff mazes to minimalistic Hellhammerism.