Monday, April 20, 2009

Celtic Frost - To Mega Therion (1985)

Misfortune befell Celtic Frost as Martin Eric Ain exited the band just as they prepared to record their debut L.P. He was replaced by Dominic Steiner. In the second half of September, 1985, the band entered Casablanca Studio in Berlin to record To Mega Therion. Once again, the album was produced by Horst Müller. This album too the concept that was born in the days of Hellhammer to its conclusion. As indicated by the ridiculous band photos, the path that they would follow after this would be more mainstream and 'experimental' at the same time. It is funny to see that one band member looks like he belongs in The Cure, while the other two appear as something vomited out of Motley Crue. The cover artwork redeems them, aesthetically, as they were allowed to use H.R. Giger's "Satan, I".

The album begins with an intro titled "Innocence and Wrath". This doom-laden piece features the use of a timpani and a French horn. It's not bad, but it could have been more effective without the extra instruments. The sound would have benefited from remaining raw and less polished. Nonetheless, it does a decent job of setting the mood. The problem is that it the song that follows does nothing to build on this.

"The Usurper" features the typical, uptempo thrash riffs that are common with Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost. The vocals really kill the feeling of this, with the moronic "hey!" part thrown in. Gabriel seems to know little about maintaining any sort of dark feeling. The use of female vocals is entirely worthless, as well. This could have been a nice, energetic thrash song, but too many factors play a role in ruining it.

The next song is "Jewel Throne", which begins with kind of a mid-paced thrash riff. Some interesting guitar work adds another dimension to the sound, though it disappears too soon. Gabriel's vocals hinder the song, in terms of darkness, as the feeling is completely different from the music. It's not just that the delivery isn't harsh enough, but the irritating way that he seems to try to sing by raising his voice at certain times. It gives too much of an uptempo, lighthearted feeling where it isn't wanted. Around the middle of the song, the tempo picks up for a bit. This is pretty energetic and, when the vocals are absent, it can be enjoyable. As the song goes, the pace quickens even more, just before a nice lead solo. Mr. Fischer is far more competent as a guitar player than as a vocalist, it would appear.

"Dawn of Meggido" is, possibly, the best song on To Mega Therion. This one is slow and mid-paced, possessing a strong feeling of doom. This features the same added effects that were present in the intro, which aren't necessary at all. The vocals are still out of place or, rather, out of tune with the feeling of the music. The guitar riffs are very familiar, as they sound extremely similar to others that were used on Morbid Tales and Emperor's Return. The tempo picks up a little bit, near the middle, but is crushed back to earth by the main doom riff of the song. It finally struggles free, speeding up a slight bit to accompany the lead solo. This track has a very oppressive atmosphere and is the darkest piece to be found on this record. There is certainly room for improvement, but it's still a fairly decent song. It would have been even better had they dropped the extra instruments and kept the primitive feeling from Hellhammer. By keeping it simple and utilizing the vocal approach from "Triumph of Death", this could have been a classic.

This is followed by the mid-paced opening riffs of "Eternal Summer". This one speeds up but it sounds like something already heard on Morbid Tales. Despite the lame song title and the feeling that this has been heard before, it's a pretty energetic song; one of the best on here, so far.

The re-recorded version of "Circle of the Tyrants" is done very well, especially the vocal effects that help add a little depth and darkness to the aura of the track. Unfortunately, the song is tainted by a completely worthless section that features female vocals. This has never been acceptable for this type of music and it sounds very much out of place. It is brief, but it does a serious amount of damage to the feeling, for me. This is a step down from the original version, which was featured on the Emperor's Return E.P.

"(Beyond the) North Winds" is a mid-paced song that utilizes more familiar-sounding riffs, slightly altered from Side A of this very album. The vocal approach still leaves a little to be desired, but this isn't a bad song. It's actually a good thing that the riffs were recycled as they are better implemented here. This sounds like something that could have, easily, been included on Apocalyptic Raids. The only thing is that this vocal approach wouldn't have fit in very well.

The next song is "Fainted Eyes". This is another typical sounding Celtic Frost song. There isn't a whole lot to say here. It's fast-paced and just serves as another example of this band's lack of creativity, at times. They were better off making only an E.P. or two, as a full-length seems to be too demanding for them. The lead solo, in the middle, adds nicely to the song. Following this, the pace slows down a bit. You can really hear how influential this was for Obituary, a few years later. Their debut album really showed how this style could sound, when executed properly. All in all, not a bad song, just not very moving either.

"Tears in a Prophet's Dream" is a brief instrumental piece, reminiscent of "Danse Macabre". This works well to conjure up nightmarish images that haunt your mind and tax the limits of your sanity.

The final song on this record is "Necromantical Screams". The pointless female vocals do a lot of damage to this song. Despite this horrid addition to the track, this remains one of the better songs on the album. Of course, this is simply a revamped version of "Buried and Forgotten", from Satanic Rites. They took the original and stripped it of certain elements while adding less suitable ingredients, such as the aforementioned female voice. This song represents the end of Hellhammer, in a sense. This was the last time that Gabriel and his cohorts exhumed musical ideas from that deceased project to exploit them once more.

The experimental aspects of To Mega Therion foreshadow the path that this Swiss band would follow. While the first two mini-albums were not so far removed from Hellhammer, this is where the break became most apparent, while still retaining many similarities. This isn't a terrible album, but it's certainly not one that holds up under close scrutiny. There were many missed opportunities where good songs could have been great ones or where Gabriel's vocal approach distorted the feeling that the music was creating. In the end, it isn't that essential; not when compared to the earlier efforts and certainly not when compared to their peers.