Category Archives: Albums

Celtic Frost – Monotheist

Two Monotheists... a Duotheist?
Two Monotheists… a Duotheist?

One day a theatre critic had been invited for dinner. He hinted that, having watched a play in which [Klaus] Kinski had a small role, he would mention him as outstanding and extraordinary. At once, Kinski threw two hot potatoes and the cutlery into his face. He jumped up and screamed: I was not outstanding! I was not extraordinary! I was monumental! I was epochal!

– Werner Herzog, My Best Fiend

Every time I think about Monotheist I think about Herzog’s story about the actor Klaus Kinski. Celtic Frost’s 2006 comeback album is not simply outstanding. Or excellent. It is monumental! It is epochal!

It’s also pulverising, esoteric, gothic, grand, terrifying, seductive and totally dark. Monotheist doesn’t let up until its Nuremberg Rally climax in Synagoga Satanae gives way to the beautiful strings of Winter: Requiem.

I’ve been listening to it again as I just bought the new reissue on vinyl. It sounds great and, as an added bonus, it features a different bonus track to my old CD version. The CD had a track called Temple of Depression and this edition replaces that with Incantation Against You. The vinyl version has a better, more varied, flow. Temple of Depression was always a touch samey to me, creating a mid-album lull. But, even then, Monotheist is so monumental etc… that I want every track I can get my hands on from it. It’s the best album released this millennium. You don’t get much more epochal than that.

[Celtic Frost – Ain Elohim]

Cirith Ungol – Frost and Fire

Could take someone’s eye out with that

Cirith Ungol’s debut is 35 years old now but it’s new to me. After just a couple of listens, though, I can safely say… it sounds a bit like Rush. Mainly due to the piercing vocals of Tim Baker but the music reminds me of Fly By Night/Caress of Steel era Rush in feel, if not in compositional or instrumental niftiness. It rocks more straightforwardly, more garage-y like an American entry in the NWOBHM canon. With the exception of Jerry Fogle’s handy guitar soloing, it’s all pretty meat and potatoes but I find the simplicity inspiring. As I listen I’ve instantly got an idea what they’re doing. If I ended up in the rehearsal room I reckon I’d have a good crack at joining in. It makes me want to play and I can’t give it much more praise than that. Time has proven that the albums that give me the guitar-playing itch tend to be keepers. Oh… and how awesome is that cover?

[Cirith Ungol – I’m Alive]

Anathema – We’re Here Because We’re Here

You can do it!

Modern Anathema albums require supension of disbelief. I’d normally be calling shenanigans on this kind of stuff. “Been listening to Radiohead much?” I’d ask. Oh, here’s the “ump ump ump” drumbeat… this must be the euphoric bit! “Only you can heal your life…” thanks for that, Louise Hay. Got any more positive affirmations for us? Maybe call your next album “Money’s going to rain down on you today. You’re a tiger! Rarrr”?

But, full credit to the Liverpudlians, We’re Here Because We’re Here is so beautifully, crescenduously affecting that none of those criticisms occur to me when it’s on… even though they all apply. It’s risky territory and treads a fine line between the sublime and the mawkish. It’s a line the band are starting to increasingly trip over but on this 2010 album they get the balance just right. And what you get is one of the best albums of the last ten years: a testament to the band’s heartfelt belief and delivery and their excellent way with spiritual, uplifting harmony.

[Anathema – Dreaming Light]

Ulver – Bergtatt [Et Eeventyr i 5 Capitler]

Warning: Trolls
Warning: Trolls

Bergtatt, the title of Ulver’s 1995 debut, doesn’t seem to have an exact translation to English. In the album’s liner notes it’s translated as both “Spellbound” and “Mountain-taken” which is the literal translation*. It’s a Norwegian term for people (usually maidens I imagine) that have been lured into the hills by particularly alluring trolls and other assorted faerie folk, never to return! The music is appropriately seductive, alluring and magical: the album is laden with dreamy acoustic guitars, flutes and soothing Gregorian chant singing. There’s excellent, raw black metal throughout as well but, even then, the orchestrated layers of guitar don’t shatter the dreamy allure: Ulver aiming for a panoramic, classical vibe rather than the usual evil aggression. It’s a debut so fully realised that the band immediately moved on from the style but Bergtatt has proven to be inescapably influential. In 1995 this was a unique album but so many bands have followed in its dreamy, progressive footsteps since that, if it was released today, it would be more relevant than ever. It’s ageless rock n troll.

*In English the full album title is Mountain-taken: A Fairy Tale in 5 Chapters

[Ulver – Capitel I: I Troldskog Faren Vild or Chapter I : Lost in a Forest of Trolls]

A Troll: Alluring and Seductive
A Troll: Alluring and Seductive

Primordial – Imrama

Primordial - Imrama (1995) Original Cover
Primordial – Imrama (1995) Original Cover

When Primordial released their debut album Imrama they hadn’t yet discovered the unique and powerful heathen metal approach they’re now revered for. It’s easy to overlook Imrama, then, but you shouldn’t: all the pointers to their future greatness are here. And as a bonus you get to play “spot the influence” too. Always fun. There’s a much more prominent black metal attack on this than on later efforts and also a gothic mournfulness which reminds me of the early Anathema stuff. A.A. Nemtheanga also throws in some neat Martin Walkyier “chaarggee-AH” type vocals too which always wins points from me! And there’s that rolling, strummy folkiness in tracks like Fuil Ársa that would be become the band’s staple in future years. So it’s all here really, just rejigged, refocused, refined and perfected in later releases. An interesting and promising debut from a band headed for greatness. On last night’s train journey from Ayr to Glasgow this went down especially well: the folkiness was ideal for the beautiful sunset view of Arran, and the rough, charging black metal was perfect for drowning out all the drunken revellers heading back home from a day at the races.

[Primordial -Let the Sun Set on Life Forever]

Cover of Metal Blade's sweet reissue
Cover of Metal Blade’s sweet reissue

Alice Cooper – Killer

Big Killer and Baby Killer (Rhino LP and CD from the Studio Albums box set)
Big Killer and Baby Killer (Rhino LP and CD from the Studio Albums box set)

Trying to catch up with some old favourites so I gave this a spin tonight. One of my all-time favourites and an album that always hits the spot. The original Alice Cooper band released a bunch of brilliant albums but this is the cream of the crop. If I wanted to show someone how incredible and unique this band was, this would be Exhibit A. No slight on the albums that followed but on School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies you start to get into the whole Boaby Ezrin theatrical production numbers whereas, even at its most far-out, Killer is straight-up garage rock n’ roll all the way. And it’s just awesome: cars, telephones, come-ons, spies, teenagers, a cowboy that’s really Jim Morrison, bad parenting, murder and a watch that turns into a lifeboat. Killer, right enough.

[Alice Cooper – You Drive Me Nervous]

Saxon – Rock N’ Roll Gypsies (Review)

Saxon - Rock N' Roll Gypsies (1989)
Saxon – Rock N’ Roll Gypsies (1989)

Saxon had lost their way with the dicey Destiny album. Dropped from EMI in 1988, they took a creative break. For the next couple of years their activity was restricted to touring and the release of a couple of live albums through one-off record deals. The first of these, recorded on a tour of Eastern Europe, was 1989’s Rock N’ Roll Gypsies.

The main historical interest is the new lineup: Nigel Glockler makes a welcome return to the drum stool and bassist Timothy ‘Nibbs’ Carter makes his Saxon debut. There’s no song duplication with their previous live album, 1982’s The Eagle Has Landed, and none of that album’s sweaty, beery atmosphere. But it kicks off very promisingly indeed. The band sound driving and ballsy and thunder through Power and the Glory, And the Bands Played On, Rock the Nations and a superb Dallas 1PM, only slipping up on a sleepy version of Broken Heroes. The next side kicks off with a rousing Battle Cry before things start to go pear-shaped. The patchiness of the band’s EMI years rears its ugly head as Rock N’ Roll Gypsy, Northern Lady and I Can’t Wait Anymore progressively suck more and more life out of the album: the excitement level dropping so low that the kinetic closer This Town Rocks barely registers.

Original Vinyl Tracklisting
Original Vinyl Tracklisting

CD editions add quality and value with bonus tracks The Eagle Has Landed and Just Let Me Rock but, all in all, Rock N’ Roll Gypsies is a solid but unremarkable live stop-gap. The lack of song duplication with The Eagle…  is a double-edged sword. It’s more collectable and interesting to hear different songs but the feel of a live Saxon show is hampered when there’s no Wheels of Steel or Strong Arm of the Law. And given the lack of concert classics, the omission of Crusader (one of the band’s most triumphant post-1982 songs) is unforgivable. Great performances, dodgy tracklisting. The faltering steps of a great band finding its feet again.

HMO Rating: 3.5 out of 5

[Saxon – And the Bands Played On]

Mah copies! Original LP and CD appears Saxon Chronicles DVD set (w/ extra tracks)
Mah copies! Original LP and Saxon Chronicles DVD set (w/ CD edition as bonus)