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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Celtic Frost: Cold Lake

CELTIC FROST: COLD LAKE (1988)

1) Human II (intro); 2) Seduce Me Tonight; 3) Petty Obsession; 4) (Once) They Were Eagles; 5) Cherry Orchards; 6) Juices Like Wine; 7) Little Velvet; 8) Blood On Kisses; 9) Downtown Hanoi; 10) Dance Sleazy; 11) Roses Without Thorns; 12*) Tease Me; 13*) Mexican Radio (live).

Speak o' the devil: soon after the release of Into The Pandemonium, Celtic Frost properly descended into pandemonium, quarreling between themselves and with their record label. By 1988, the band had effectively disintegrated, yet real warriors never die, so Tom ended up getting back his old drummer Stephen Priestly, recruiting a new bass player (Curt Victor Bryant) and an extra guitar player (Oliver Amberg), and leading the revamped Celtic Frost in yet another direction — with thoroughly disastrous results.

Disastrous, but intriguing, that is. Skim existing reviews for Cold Lake superficially and you will get the impression that in 1988, Celtic Frost turned into a glam metal band à la Mötley Crüe or Poison. In fact, if you check any of their videos from that period (e.g. for ʽCherry Orchardsʼ), or a bit of live tour footage, that impression is easily confirmed — with lionine hair, makeup, garish garb, cocky choreography, and smoke-a-rama-a-plenty, as long as you turn off the sound, they are pretty much indistinguishable from the average glam metal outfit. Once you turn it on, though, you are met with a weird, ugly, and quite idiosyncratic hybrid.

Glam metal, as we all know, was very much of a commercial venture — essentially, those were simple pop songs played with heavy metal guitars. On Cold Lake, Tom Warrior and his new bandmates (which are now also responsible for contributing much of the songwriting) certainly do not go pop: most of the riffs cannot be qualified as hum-along earworms, and most of the gang choruses consist of one-liners belted out by Tom ad nauseam. To this must be added the bizarre effect of the vocals — while they have lost much of their black-metallic devilish venom, they can never truly qualify as actual «singing. Put it this way: on Morbid Tales, Tom Warrior sounded like Satan with serious bowel issues, but on Cold Lake, he sounds more like a hobo — with even more serious bowel issues. Unless the entire world were suffering from constipation and wishing to empathize with the artist, there's totally no way this album could be a resounding commercial success, ever; and there is not the slightest doubt in my mind that Tom was perfectly aware of that when preparing the tracks for public release.

So what the hell is this, then? After the brief industrial-hip-hop-metal intro of ʽHuman IIʼ (already schizophrenic, eh?), the first proper song is called ʽSeduce Me Tonightʼ, a suitable title for a power ballad — except that the song is not a ballad at all, but more like a Judas Priest-influenced rocker with big Eighties drums and those «hardcore» vocals that would have probably sent Rob Halford flying for cover. Oh, and when it comes to the instrumental break, Oliver Amberg delivers a Rambo-style shredding solo that comes out of nowhere, disappears into no­thing, and is only nominally connected to the rest of the song. Meanwhile, the chorus, largely consisting of the song title repeated over and over, sounds as if delivered by some stone cold drunk biker to an inflatable doll, because no respectable hooker would approach his piss-stained leather pants within a hundred feet.

And now, rinse and repeat ten times, because this is the only formula for this album. Yes, each and every one of the next tracks is comprised of precisely the same ingredients. Sometimes a bit slower, sometimes a tad faster, they are all built on similar (and usually unmemorable) riffage, gang choruses, and sloppy shredding solos (sometimes devolving into series of obnoxious cherry bombs). Considering the relative stylistic diversity of Pandemonium, such slavish adherence to such a bizarre holding pattern is difficult to understand — but then again, the world of heavy metal was a fairly confused world in the late Eighties, and if this was Tom's idea of what a con­temporary experimental approach to heavy music should sound like, I guess it made more sense for 1988 than for any other year in the business.

We do not have to like it or appreciate it or even respect it, but for the sake of honesty, we should not be lumping a unique failed experiment like Cold Lake together with the pop metal cash-cows of the era. The synthesis of NWoBHM riffage, glam attitudes, and black metal ugliness was doomed from the start because it made no sense and satisfied nobody; yet nobody could deny that Celtic Frost were continuing their search for innovation, and that their servile adoption of a new rigid formula for the entire record meant that they desperately wanted it to work. Plus, Tom has to be commended for acknowledging his own mistakes — after the album flopped, he has publicly disowned it and admitted that it should have never seen the light of day (although he puts part of the blame on producer Tony Platt, but it was not Tony Platt who wrote those riffs and sang those vocals). Respecting that opinion, and getting fairly little enjoyment from the album myself, I concur in a thumbs down rating here; but in a way, it only boosts the reputation of Celtic Frost that their worst album ever also happens to be one of the most artistically baffling albums made by a heavy metal band in what might have been the defining decade for most of the subgenres of heavy metal.

7 comments:

  1. "Comprised of"? You're better than that, Professor!

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    Replies
    1. I'll just refer you to this link:

      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/05/why-wikipedias-grammar-vigilante-is-wrong

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    2. So what you're inferring is that, irregardless, you could care less?

      Misconception does not become truth because it is common. Did medieval England have a penalty "for unlawful carnal knowledge"? Did Einstein flunk his math classes?

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    3. I think that what makes this so irritating to me is that it's such a simple thing to get right. There is no context in which "comprised of" isn't used as if it were "composed of", so what conceivable reason is there to make the substitution?

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    4. What I am inferring is that, as every linguist knows and every non-linguist should know, language norms change over time, and that an enormous number of linguistic elements in every single modern language go back to "common misconceptions". If you want to avoid "common misconceptions" in English, you'd better start translating everything you write in the language of Beowulf (at least). Starting, for instance, with the totally misconceptional use of plural "you" for singular "thou". (By the way, isn't it irritating to you to say "you could care less" when the obviously logical choice is "you couldn't care less"?). Since "comprised of" is not my individual error (of the type that I do occasionally make), but reflects fairly common usage, the only logical choice is to assume that the new construction has its own internal logic, and live with it.

      Now let's get back to Celtic Frost's "Cold Lake", shall we? What is your opinion on Tom Warrior's command of the English language?

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    5. Fair enough to leave it at that, but I would like to clarify that "inferring", "irregardless", and "could care less" were sarcasm (which I thought obvious in such density).

      Mr. Warrior's English, uh, suffices.

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  2. You ripped this album an asshole

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