Review Summary: *constipated-sounding Tom Warrior grunt*Review re-written from my material on www.globaldomination.se
Switzerland's Celtic Frost had but a brief period of glory back in the mid-80’s (not counting their ’06 comeback Monotheist), ultimately crashing-and-burning with the hair metal trappings of 1988’s disastrous Cold Lake, but still managing to leave behind a big footprint on the metal world (specifically, the black metal world) nonetheless. Morbid Tales, their debut, was released just a month after the band came into being, but still shows a group very much accomplished within their own unique sound, and would provide a dark, daring new vision for the future of heavy metal as well…
Intro track “Human” lets you know right away that Frost isn’t just another run-of-the-mill metal band, since, instead of starting off with proper “music”, the track is instead nothing more than forty seconds of uninterrupted, demonic screaming, setting up a uniquely dark atmosphere for the album. When “Human” ends, there's an immediate transition to the speedy “Into Crypts Of Rays”, a track that familiarizes us with Frost’s musical conventions on Tales; the rhythm guitar tone is raw and muddy, the drumming is endlessly energetic, and sounds wonderful with its emphatic "thudding", the lead solos are some of the most hyperactively twitchy you’ll hear in your life (and is one of the most memorable aspects of Tales), and vocalist Tom Warrior sticks with a gruff, grunting style pretty much every time he opens his mouth. Overall, “Rays” is a great slice of thrash metal/proto-black metal, with a bit of sludge and doom metal thrown in for good measure, and it is this sub-genre cocktail that Frost will be using in various quantities for the remainder of Tales.
From there, “Visions Of Mortality”, “Nocturnal Fear”, “Visual Aggression”, and others continue to deliver the primal, unrelenting punch that “Crypts” started, while still maintaining a nice balance between a sluggish, sludge metal tempo, and a raw thrash metal speed. But despite the overall rough sound of Tales, there remains an underlying sophistication about it, with Frost writing some damn intelligent, logical song compositions, and also giving every instrument its own place within the scheme of things, even the bass (which could’ve easily been lost under the sea of aggression going on here).
And I better not neglect to mention the experimental edge Frost shows off here either, even if it isn’t as prominent as it would become on later releases. Along with the surprising “Human”, there's the demonic. spoken-word interlude on “Procreation (Of The Wicked)”, the eerie female vocalist cameo (courtesy of Hertha Ohling) on “Return To The Eve”, and most memorably, the hellish instrumental “Danse Macabre”, which I would be doing a dishonor to if I tried to describe it with mere words. I’ll just say that “Macabre” is one of the few songs to ever have truly
scared me as I listened to it, and leave it at that.
So overall, the raw aggression, dark atmosphere, and rough vocal work of “Morbid Tales” (not to mention Celtic Frost’s half-assed corpse paint jobs) would go on to influence an entire generation of black metal in the 90’s. Not counting the crappy original version of “Circle Of The Tyrants” (taken from 1985’s Emperor’s Return EP and put on the re-release of Tales, along with two other, much better tracks), every song here has something to offer, and is a worthwhile listen. I do admit, the heaviness of “Tales” can become a bit tiresome if you’re listening to it all the way through, so the record isn’t an everyday listen for me, but regardless, “Morbid Tales” is still a pretty ambitious, well-formed debut album, and a very important one in the history of metal as well. Check it out.