Home > Music > Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales (1984)

Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales (1984)

folderNote: For simplicity’s sake, I’m also including the 1985 Emperor’s Return EP in this review. There have been multiple pressings of the two that share various tracks.

The earliest ‘extreme metal’ recordings emphasize simplicity and have blatant hardcore punk influence. Morbid Tales, as is to be expected, is quite like that even when it’s blatantly more occult than your average Discharge or Black Flag album. Still, this is a lot more polished and disciplined than its predecessor (the discography of Hellhammer). Future Celtic Frost albums would be… rather more experimental, to say the least, so you could say this is the most straightforward work in their discography. Is that a good thing?

Given that Celtic Frost’s experiments haven’t always been successful, you could describe this approach as a good contrast. It becomes immediately apparent that Morbid Tales relies on a relatively small palette of musical instruments and techniques to paint its pictures (compare to the cover art), meaning they have to really master those things to get their point across. The album is full of little two/three note riffs and uses a lot of tempo changes to indicate section changes. At times, it reminds me of Morbid Visions/Bestial Devastation by Sepultura in its commitment to primitivism, but this band has rather less interest in velocity in favor of slightly more complicated songwriting.

Most of what succeeds on this album is what got people listening to my point of comparison – it’s very basic stuff that’s strung together in a way that makes the whole product stronger than the sum of its parts. At times, you get a sense of how the band is developing their abilities – tracks like “Visions of Mortality” and “Return to the Eve” seem to demonstrate this most effectively due to their less… circular structures. Another key to this album’s strengths are the lyrics, oddly enough – they are rather more ambitious than that of contemporary bands, even if the subject matter’s rather similar. They’re not always particularly fluent English (as Celtic Frost is from Switzerland), but when they are, they showcase rather more literary knowledge and mechanism than you’d expect for 1984. The vocals that deliver these lyrics are generally interesting sounding and full of amusing grunts from Tom Warrior, but they’re thickly accented; good luck parsing the lyrics without the text on hand. I also kind of miss the completely ridiculous, over the top approach of “Triumph of Death”, but there’s not really much here where that would’ve worked.

Clearly, this isn’t as filthy as its predecessors, or as ambitious as its successors, but Morbid Tales does rather have solid songwriting expertise in its favor. If you like the whole early underground metal style (or collection of styles, because let’s be honest, a lot of ideas evolved independently from one another), you might get something out of this. Personally, it taught me to get something out of the rest of Celtic Frost, but I’ve found that looking at a band’s foundational works often helps me appreciate their other recordings more…

Highlights: “Into the Crypt of Rays”, “Morbid Tales”, “Return to the Eve”

P.S: I’m still waiting for the Celtic Frost/Simpsons mashup featuring Krusty the Clown and Mayor Quimby.

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