Album Rankings – Celtic Frost

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.

Album Ranking – Metallica

It’s time to cap off Metallica week and that means it’s time for my album ranking. I’ll be going worst to first on the Metallica discography, sorting out the cream from the chaff (whatever that really means, I don’t know).

This ranking will include the ten full-length studio albums credited to Metallica. It will not include EP’s , singles, live albums with orchestras, live albums without orchestras, etc. It will also not include Lulu, the 2011 collaboration album with Lou Reed. That one is a bit tricky since it’s a full-length album that features the band in its entirety, but I’m going to go with the typical list that most people use. Also, Lulu is an abomination.

Let’s head into the waters here, I don’t think my list is radically unpredictable (mostly).

10 – St. Anger (2003)

This isn’t a hard call. I can find people in the wild who defend this album, but honestly I think it sounds bad and I have a hard time even listening to it. The production choices are beyond questionable, they’re flat out trash. And the songs are generally a mess. Finding a few diamonds in the shit doesn’t mean the album is redeemed in any way.

9 – Death Magnetic (2008)

This album is far, far better than its predecessor, but it’s still not all that great. The band did sound like they were trying again, but it also does sound like they are trying, rather than succeeding. And the album after this stands as proof that such is the case. There are a few nice songs on here, The Day That Never Comes stands out to me. But it’s not an album I feel like visiting much, or at all really.

8 – Reload (1997)

Kind of a “second half” album to their 1996 effort, Reload is a groove-based, almost blues and country styled album. A departure for Metallica, sure, but a pretty decent sounding effort overall. I do think this lacks real heavy hitters but it’s a collection of songs that are fine enough to listen to. I’d cite The Memory Remains as my favorite.

7 – Load (1996)

The band, not content with their 1991 reinvention, got haircuts and released some alt-metal. The world was abuzz about the physical and musical changes, but honestly they put out some stuff here that I really like. I think the first seven tracks are all bangers, that includes I think all of the singles. I like the last two songs as well – it’s the stuff inbetween that loses me a bit. If that were trimmed up some, I’d probably be ranking this one higher. I do truly think they wrote some really good songs here, regardless of what they were “supposed” to do.

6 – Hardwired … To Self Destruct (2016)

If Death Magnetic was supposed to be a return to form, Hardwired truly was, at least in places. Several of the songs here are the kind of bangers not really heard since 1991, if not even earlier. There are some secondary tracks on this huge album, to be sure, but even some of those are pretty nice. This album did recapture the magic in some way and it was damn nice to hear. The title track and Spit Out The Bone are the best work Metallica have cranked out in a very long time.

5 – The Black Album (1991)

I’d almost be cheeky and rank this lower but that would be dishonest – while I’m not in love with the whole thing, there some damn great songs on here. Wherever I May Roam and Sad But True are stellar songs, a handful of others are very nice and a few are good without being great. There are some, mostly towards the end of the album, that I can’t quite get into, but overall this was a success, both in my book and in the sales book. Can’t really argue with it.

4 – …And Justice For All (1988)

The first album without Cliff Burton could have went any number of ways, but Metallica were able to alter their formula some without sacrificing the core of their sound. Harvester Of Sorrow always gets me going, and One is a masterpiece and one of the band’s most iconic songs. While it sounds odd production wise (and lacking in bass), it makes up for that with a batch of great songs.

And this was the album I talked about in much more detail back on Monday – post here.

3 – Kill ‘Em All (1983)

The debut was a monster of a record – putting thrash on the map when the genre wasn’t a known quantity yet outside of local live scenes. This was very hard-hitting, fast and savage metal that pulled no punches and delivered a fist full of great songs. Not a weak note here and a still beloved collection of metal all these decades later.

2 – Master Of Puppets (1986)

The band’s third album is often cited as a “perfect” metal record, and for good reason. All eight songs are total masterpieces and every note hits hard. The album is crisp, clear and totally devastating. It set the band on a path of superstardom not touched by any other thrash act.

I had this record as an Album of the Week awhile back, here is that post.

1 – Ride The Lightning (1984)

Metallica’s second effort still possessed a bit of the savage energy found on the debut, but the songwriting refinement here ramped things up exponentially. Some stuff still hits heavy, like For Whom The Bell Tolls and Creeping Death. And the band’s first ballad Fade To Black was a metal masterpiece. While some find fault with a few songs on the album, especially Escape, nothing on the record bothers me any. I’ve played this album thousands of times and I’ll likely play it thousands more before I push up daisies.

Ride The Lightning has been an Album of the Week in the past, here is that post.

That does it for the Metallica album ranking. I doubt this is a “final” ranking as I would expect at least one more album, but all that can be sorted out down the road. And while I’ve talked plenty about them this week, this will be far from the final time I discuss Metallica on here – they are a lynchpin in heavy metal as well as my own musical formation.