Friday, January 08, 2010

Again We Rise: Celtic Frost - Monotheist

True to Iron Maiden's promise at Madison Square Garden in 2000, the decade that followed has seen a resurgence of metal that not only obliterated the specter of death staking the genre in the 1990s, but makes previous heydays seem puny in comparison. Metal in the 2000s was all about proliferation: new styles emerged, old ones regenerated, and - thanks to the Internet - exposure spread like a virus. To highlight all of that success , we're launching Again We Rise, an occasional feature that will celebrate the releases that rose above the voluminous crowd to become classics. Today, Celtic Frost's Monotheist.

In the measurement of an album's brutality, there are a few key ways for a release to stand out: it can hit you physically, executing a convergence of riffs and mix that feel like a beating; mentally, dazzling you with vision-generating atmospherics; or psychologically, daring you to confront the true meaning of emptiness. Metal being such a masochistic art form, all three methods are enjoyable, but it's the psychologically brutal albums that are perhaps the most effective - and of the past decade's releases, none were more effective than Monotheist. Fourteen years in the waiting and six in the making, the swansong album for Celtic Frost takes its surface character from the bone-dry distortion of a single shambling guitar and the tuneless chant of Tom Warrior, working in tandem to drive the listener slowly down the road to the abyss.

There are many strange and wonderful sights along the way, however that keep Monotheist from becoming a simple plodder: the opening of "A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh," where a few simple guitar counterpoints, the rumble of a bass, and a haunting melody sung by Martin Ain build to a crushing crescendo that they eliminate the potential cliché in the lyrics - "frozen is heaven/frozen is hell/and I am dying in this living human shell" - with mesmerizing ability.

The combination of feedback, analog keyboard pads, and a To Mega Therion-style female vocal in duet with Warrior's growl on "Drown in Ashes" becomes the aural equivalent of chasing will 'o the wisps through a swamp.

The sonic imagery of "Totengott," which might as well be the bedrock for the albums released by Teitanblood, Anaal Nathrakh, and 1349 last year.

"Winter," which sums up all of the emptiness Monotheist trumpets in spades with a simple 1:30 of droning, shifting strings.

If the contemplation of nothing and our insignificance in the face of that infinity that represents this contemplation at its truest had a soundtrack, it would be Monotheist.

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