Review: Celtic Frost “To Mega Therion” [Noise Records]

Review: Celtic Frost “To Mega Therion” [Noise Records]

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It always fascinates me how quickly the musical ideas and visions of certain artists change over time. Who’d be a better example than Tom Warrior himself? During his abrasive Hellhammer years, he wrote some of the most sinister metal tunes ever, whereas Celtic Frost’s sound has progressed, regressed and even took some unexpected turns with shocking results. Generally, Into the Pandemonium reveals Celtic Frost’s first step into the realm of avant-garde weirdness, but I consider To Mega Therion to be the band’s first artistic record. With gargantuan songs that feature poetic lyrics and convey a wide scope of vivid imagery, Tom’s grimmest days were certainly over, yet the metallic edge was still extremely evident at this point.

After the grand introduction of “Innocence and Wrath”, To Mega Therion quickly morphs you into the creative realm of Tom Warrior and company. Back then, Tom Warrior stuck to a rough-throated bellow that made him sound like a (dethroned) emperor and while his roar sounds far cooler than the moan that he’d introduce in years to come, I’ll admit that I find his performance to be a bit too one dimensional and restrained at times. In fact, I miss that maniacal side of him that was extremely present during his short-lived Hellhammer years; when he’d scream, groan and roar like a possessed maniac whose only interest came down to beating Venom at their own game. Besides Warrior’s trademark roars, you’ve got the occasional reedy female vocals and while I approve of them on paper, they’re not so fantastic either. Rather goofy than angelic, (think of Fenriz’s “female” vocals on Goatlord and you’re not far off), this “beauty and the beast” trade-off wouldn’t start to work out until some years later. Fortunately, the instrumental side of To Mega Therion certainly makes up for the less-impressive vocals; French horns provide a sense of arcane majesty and best of all are these groaning riffs that highlight how much of a distinctive guitar player Tom was at one point. Sure, you don’t need a PhD to play along to these simplistic riffs, but tracks like “The Usurper” and “Jewel Throne” instantly blow off the roofs with their spiking riff-gaze, while crushing monoliths like “Dawn of Megiddo” and “Necromantical Screams” reveal the epic side of To Mega Therion.

It’s also no wonder plenty of death, black and doom/death metal bands have been inspired by To Mega Therion, as this record has so many unique ingredients in store; such as these slow-burning grooves that would be expanded by Obituary, sledgehammering riffs that would make the Darkthrone crew jump with joy and beauty and the beast trade-off that Paradise Lost would played around with (fun fact: Martin E. Ain loved Gothic and liked the idea of having taking that direction with Celtic Frost itself). If you ask me, plenty of later bands would take Celtic Frost’s sound to a whole next level with far superior results and in this band’s case, not every track works as well as it should. Certain arrangements of To Mega Therion sound somewhat off. Slower sections of “Circle of the Tyrants” make somewhat of a dragging experience, whereas “(Beyond) the North Winds” becomes a strange experience because of Tom Warrior’s rushed vocal lines.

Still, none of the record’s flaws bother me as much as the flaws of their later albums would. From the quirky Into the Pandemonium, to the laughable sell-out that Cold Lake represented, to the endless snooze-sludge of Monotheist, Celtic Frost would quickly become too much of an unstable band for their own good (you might have noticed that I’ve left out Vanity/Nemesis, but did anyone actually care once that one saw the light of day?). Indeed, To Mega Therion is the last Celtic Frost album of interest to me. Sure, it’s not perfect… but like most things in life, it doesn’t have to be.

Score: 80/100 – Artistic extremity

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