Friday, 11 August 2017

Lupine Record Club: Celtic Frost – Morbid Tales (2017 CD Reissue)

Year: 1984/2017
Label: BMG/Noise

You can’t talk about any type of metal or hard rock for too long without running across Celtic Frost. Hugely influential across death, doom, black, thrash, and even helping shape Creed(!), Celtic Frost are in a league of their own. There were lots of bands working in a similar vein at the time – most notably Venom and Bathory – but Celtic Frost always stood out above their competitors. There was an intensity and seriousness to their work that belied their youth, and I suspect has helped their work last the distance over the years.  

I first came across their name in 2002, when taking my first steps into the world of extreme metal. But this being a time before YouTube and Spotify, and me not being an avid music pirate*, I didn’t actually hear them until I picked up a copy of Morbid Tales in 2005. Not long afterwards, they’d reform again and release Monotheist; it was intended to be the start of a grand new era for the band, but within a few years things deteriorated again and Celtic Frost were no more, with the key members barely on speaking terms.

Frontman Thomas Gabriel Fischer (aka Tom G. Warrior) has gone on to form Triptykon, while bassist Martin Eric Ain has kept a comparatively low profile. Nonetheless, their legacy still looms large, so I was pretty excited when I heard there was a new reissue of their albums on the way. I think it’s been around a decade since they had any sort of larger scale release, probably to coincide with the then-new Monotheist.

Morbid Tales has been remastered, but not remixed as far as I’m aware. In the past, Tom G. Warrior has been pretty adamant that for better or worse, the original mixes of his albums should be retained, serving as something of a historical document. Plenty of bands of their stature take a pretty revisionist stance when it comes to their own history, so I think there’s something admirable about keeping things as they were, warts and all.

30-odd years later, it still sounds great. It’s definitely raw by comparison to modern production techniques – and even in comparison to some of their contemporaries – but it suited their sound, and it still holds a power that is often lacking in bands that are far more polished. Totally essential for anyone interested in the history of extreme music, and great on its own merits too. But is it worth upgrading if you already own a copy? That’s a more complex question than it might sound – you’ll see why at the end of the review.  

Aside from the remastered audio here are three major changes to the packaging – the first is that that the artwork has been restored to its original look. The more recent reissues had an ersatz artwork on it which was perfectly serviceable, but didn’t have the same crude 80s feel**. For some, this will justify the purchase on its own merits.

The second is one that annoyed me a little – namely, the three Emperor’s Return EP tracks have now been moved to the reissue of To Mega Therion. Every other reissue I’ve run across has had Morbid Tales and Emperor’s Return together, so it seems a little strange to me – but no doubt there are compelling reasons for now doing it this way. It is more “correct” in terms of release chronology. In their place are four rehearsal tracks – Morbid Tales, Messiah (an old Hellhammer track), Procreation of the Wicked and Nocturnal Fears. They’re novel, but (like most bonus tracks) not essential. Still, they were impressively tight on these old tracks; missing them live in Sydney a few years ago is still one of my deepest regrets.

The third is the inclusion of a new booklet; the lyrics are contained of course, but there’s also plenty of cool photos from the era, and some liner notes. But you’ll notice that there are no written contributions from Celtic Frost themselves…and herein lies the complexity that I mentioned earlier.
Though Fischer was heavily involved in the process of creating these reissues, he has now withdrawn support for them due to a dispute with BMG concerning his liner notes. Prior to their release, he also had this to say on Twitter:

 I’m sure both sides have compelling arguments as to why they were right, but being a creative type myself I’m more inclined to side with the artist. So would I have still picked it up had I known this beforehand? Probably not. The older reissues still seem to be readily available for the time being, and I was certainly satisfied with my older copy when I bought it all the way back in 2005 – the extras are nice but don’t necessarily warrant replacing an older edition. But if you’re a fan, you’ll have to make up your own mind.  

*Not to mention that a lot of metal was actually quite hard to get hold of if you wanted to go that route back then.  

**Curiously, it’s been readily available as a t-shirt design for pretty much this whole period; maybe they were able to get the rights back around the time they put out Monotheist 

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