In a way, Celtic Frost (along with Hellhammer) could really go on any essential listening list for extreme metal. They've been so influential to Thrash, Death, and Black metal that they transcend any tight, genre-specific limitations. And though To Mega Therion is often considered their signature musical achievement, Morbid Tales offers a glimpse into the raw beginnings of what many of us fans now take for granted. Along with Bathory's In the Sign of the Black Mark and Possessed's Seven Churches, Morbid Tales marks an important moment in the mid-1980s where signs of what was to come with extreme music began to emerge.
Ok, so before going any further, let's just clear something up. Though I've always loved "Into the Crypt of Rays", I always wondered "what the hell is a crypt of rays?" For a moment I thought, "oh it's probably like early Sepultura where the band could hardly speak English and just wrote whatever sounded really cool and evil." But then I thought, "wait they're from Switzerland, and usually the Swiss speak English very well, so that can't be it." So I finally took a look at the lyric sheet to find a reference to Gilles de Rais, a marshal of France in the 1400s, who according to The Encyclopedia Britannica:
developed an interest in Satanism, hoping to gain knowledge, power, and riches by invoking the devil. He was later accused of having abducted, tortured, and murdered more than 140 children.
Ah, it all makes sense now. You'd be hard-pressed to find better subject matter for metal than THAT.
And you'd be hard-pressed to find a more characteristically "metal" story than that of front-man Thomas Gabriel Fischer. Growing up in a remote, rural community through a sad and lonely childhood, he was basically left to create a "world of his own" (I highly recommend the interview Guitar World conducted with him a few years ago). And out of this world came the music of Hellhammer and Celtic Frost (and now Triptykon). One of the best and most influential products of that realm was Morbid Tales, an album of grim, brutal songs whose sound has gone on to influence countless bands across several genres.
Now, as my colleague Jeremy has described, Hellhammer's Apocalyptic Raids has been incredibly influential as well. But when the band broke up in 1984, Thomas and Martin Eric Ain sat down and plotted course for the future:
Morbid Tales would be the first salvo fired from the new band. I'm not sure about you, but when listening to the record I just want to start pumping my fist and making that aggressive frowny-face expression. The heavy, dbeat-esque drumming and punchy-riffing style has that immediate appeal to it, matched with a grim and chaotic atmosphere that gives Celtic Frost its unique quality. There's almost an aggressive simplicity to the music, one which makes it both enthralling and easy to connect with. As far as black metal is concerned, Visions of Mortality and the title-track come to mind right away as building-blocks for what would later emerge from the Norwegian "inner circle" a few years later. Taking what they heard from bands like Venom and Discharge, the band streamlined their approach and made it into a solid and cohesive piece of heavy metal, one which had its own flavor and identity to it. Whereas Hellhammer was meant as a radical artistic experiment, Celtic Frost has a more thought-out, concrete aspect to it.
Throughout the record, whether it be the chord-progressions or the guttural vocals, you can see the signs pointing to songs like Darkthrone's "In the Shadow of the Horn"s or Mayhem's "Deathcrush" and where the album fits in the history of the genre. But that doesn't mean the album's value exists solely from an influential standpoint. To the ear of the modern metal-head, Many influential albums released in the early-to-mid 80's don't always hold up so well. Morbid Tales is definitely not one of those. Beyond what Fenriz, Ihsahn or or countless other musicians took from the music, Morbid Tales stands up very well on its own merits. The greatness of songs like "Into the Crypts of Rays" and "Visions of Mortality" is not isolated in the artists they inspired, but because they're genuinely dark and engaging songs themselves.
"Are you morbid?"
I sure hope so.