I’m doing another album ranking today. This one wasn’t something I had planned but the gears started grinding on it when 80’s Metal Man did a post recently on one of the band’s albums. Cheers to him for that post and the inspiration to start thinking about this band’s albums.
It’s also a very, very easy album ranking – in the on-again, off-again course of the band’s history, they only had five proper studio albums and one EP that’s long enough to include. This isn’t a scholarly effort like that of ranking Iron Maiden or Saxon records, it doesn’t take a great deal of time or energy to rank the Celtic Frost albums.
For the purposes of this ranking I will include Morbid Tales as a full-length album. The US release was eight songs, which is essentially a full album anyway. I’m not normally a fan of including things that aren’t full-length releases on these rankings but in this case I think the length and the impact of the work are both warranted.
Celtic Frost were a unique entity in heavy metal – their work was along the lines of thrash, though so dirty that it’d help give birth to entire new subgenres. The band never stuck with one sound for very long and they would become a contributor to the emerging doom scene. Avant garde is a term often used to describe some of their music. There was always something more artistic to what Celtic Frost were doing, it was never just a day at the office.
Time to get down to business – ranking the six Celtic Frost albums.
6 – Cold Lake (1988)
The bottom slot, somewhat unfortunately, goes to the album that 80sMetalMan did his retrospective on. Cold Lake is a very complicated album in the Celtic Frost pantheon, being one often viewed with scorn and contempt. Said contempt comes from none other than the band’s main man himself, Tom G. Warrior.
Celtic Frost were derided for going “glam” in this era, though honestly that was far more in pics and videos rather than the music. The tunes themselves are fairly straightforward sort-of thrashy numbers. There are a few false starts and missteps among these songs, which is why I rank it at the bottom. But, the album does have its highlights, like Cherry Orchards, and is far from the disasterpiece it was made out to be. While the album isn’t necessarily a credit to the grim presentation Celtic Frost have in their defining moments, it’s not the boogeyman it’s been made out to be either. And it seems plenty of people have warmed up to it in recent years.
5 – Vanity/Nemesis (1990)
After Cold Lake and its disastrous reception, CF reconvened with founding bassist Martin Eric Ain and offered up this slab of thrashy, goth-rock inspired tunes. It was initially hailed as a “return to form,” but the truth is that it wasn’t really that. It was a different direction for the group, though in reality it isn’t that far removed from its immediate predecessor.
The songs here play out fine enough, but the album isn’t all that exciting. It’s one of those that, for me, is fine to listen to but also doesn’t really move the needle. While Celtic Frost were often a shape-shifting group in their time, this record didn’t necessarily shift into something terribly essential.
4 – Into The Pandemonium (1987)
Speaking of shape-shifting, Celtic Frost did it on this album and did it very well. This was a more refined approach to songwriting, leaving behind the rough and tumble nature of the early albums and investing more atmosphere into the proceedings. It still links to the early records but shifts its leanings to the doom and goth realms, areas where the band also had great influence. Songs like Inner Sanctum and Babylon Fell still offer that classic CF feel, though.
3 – Morbid Tales (1984)
CF’s debut effort was recorded less than a year after Warrior and Ain abandoned their Hellhammer project. This EP/album/what have you would go on to be massively influential in the metal world, and even beyond. Songs like Into The Crypt Of Rays and Procreation Of The Wicked have gone on to be covered by countless metal acts and are in rotation across “best of metal” playlists all over. This is a piece of metal history that is widely responsible for a lot of that godawful noise people are still listening to today.
2 – To Mega Therion (1985)
The first true proper full-length from Celtic Frost shares the influential lineage spawned by Morbid Tales. This album was a blueprint for death metal, black metal and doom metal. It is one of the most important releases to extreme metal as a whole, joining with Venom and Bathory in that regard. It’s really impossible to overstate the influence of this album.
And what an album it is. Songs like The Usurper and Circle Of The Tyrants are masterpieces. The entire album is a great marriage of savage noisemaking and creepy atmosphere. It’s weird to think what kind of place metal would be in without this offering.
1 – Monotheist (2006)
With all that said, my favorite Celtic Frost album was their final one, released after a 16 year gap between albums. The return was highly anticipated and the resulting album delivered in a way that exceeded notions.
Monotheist sees CF lean heavily on the doom side of things and is a presentation even darker than their pioneering early works. Tom Warrior’s voice added qualities with age (not that he was that old, early 40’s at this point) – his delivery is very fitting for the music. And the riffs and arrangements found here are unrivaled. This was a majestic offering from the band, who looked poised to perhaps lead a charge for a new decade but split up again instead.
That does it for the Celtic Frost rankings and, sadly, this is certainly the final, definitive ranking. The band split up in 2008 due to seemingly perpetual tensions between Tom Warrior and Martin Eric Ain, and in 2017 Ain died at only 50 years old. Warrior has proposed a show or two comprised of former CF members purely as a tribute to Ain, but the book on Celtic Frost’s recording career is long closed.
Even with the long layoffs and a discography on the shorter end, Celtic Frost hold an undeniable legacy in the world of metal. They were one of the most important bands to the formation of the extreme metal scene and their influence is responsible for literal decades of music since.