The return tour is upon us-after many years, legendary avant-garde Swiss metallers Celtic Frost are back on North American shores with a huge tour in support of their comeback album Monotheist. Sea of Tranquility was at two shows-Ryan Sparks at the Le Medley gig in Montreal, and Pete Pardo & Ken Pierce were in attendance at the second of two shows at New York City's BB King Blues Club.
Read on for the complete reviews of both shows!
Ryan Sparks: Swiss metal visionaries Celtic Frost recently kicked off their first North American tour in 17 years and when they descended upon Montréal at a mid size club called Le Medley on 9/16 it was a homecoming of sorts for the band. It was in Montréal almost twenty years ago that the group made their North American debut, sharing the bill with Destruction, Nasty Savage, Possessed and Voi Vod at the legendary WWIII festival on November 30th 1985. Touring behind their absolutely stellar Monotheist CD which was 5 years in the making, the band has brought along some truly formidable talent as support acts which makes for one hell of an evening of music. The first leg features a pair of Norwegian up and comers, Sahg who have just released their debut CD and features ex-members of notable deviants Gorgoroth, and the lethal black metal assault of 1349 (a band which features some time member Frost behind the skins when he's not busy with his other project Satyricon). Having 1349 in the middle slot is the perfect choice to stoke the flames of hell before the emperors hit the stage. As the tour progresses through the States Sahg and 1349 will be replaced with Sun O))) and Goatwhore respectively, so no matter where you catch Celtic Frost on this fall tour you cannot lose.
Sahg kicked off the night with a pretty solid and tight 30 minute set of doom metal. However due to the show commencing at 8:00pm the crowd was still pretty sparse as patrons were only just beginning to file in. Nevertheless the band made the most of their time and played a large majority of their debut CD and tossed off a Pentagram cover as well.
After a quick set change the anticipation level went up a notch, not only was 1349 about to hit the stage but at this point the audience was only about an hour away from the return of one of the most influential metal bands of all time. As the crowd thickened in front of the stage, the lights darkened and an ominous intro blared out over the PA as the members of 1349 arrived onstage with their hands flashing the devil salute as they waited for the instrumental to play itself out. As soon as their taped introduction finished the band ripped into a 35 minute set of some of the most potent, lethal black metal I've ever seen. 1349 didn't just kick things up a notch; they flat out came to annihilate the place. Vocalist Ravn chose to let the bands music do the talking rather than address the audience between songs as they delivered a good portion of material from their latest and 3rd release Hellfire. The audience was just enveloped by the bands crushing speed and power and it was quickly clear that 1349 are a force to be reckoned with live. Noted session drummer Tony Laureano of Malevolent Creation and Nile fame filled in perfectly for the absent Frost. If I'm not mistaken these dates with Celtic Frost are the bands first ever shows in North America, so if you have tickets for these shows you should wear a helmet 'cause you're in for one hell of a ride.
After a break of about 20-30 minutes, the stage lights dimmed and as the chilling sounds of "Totengott" off of Monotheist played out over the PA, Celtic Frost took their place onstage and assumed their positions for battle. The opening number of the evening, "Procreation (Of The Wicked)" kicked their set off perfectly as vocalist/ guitarist Tom G. Fischer, looking very serious with his now trademark black knit cap pulled down just above his eyes, slashed out the power chords on his guitar. The main thing I noticed about this track, is the bands arrangement is slightly different, they slowed it down somewhat and it came off heavier than the original. This song set the tone for the evening and quickly reminded everyone in attendance that they were about to witness history in the making. Bassist Martin Ain thrashed his head like a man possessed all evening and newest member Franco Sesa proved he is a worthy successor to original drummer Reed St. Mark behind the kit. The bands roughly 90 min set was absolutely punishing and featured a lot of material from To Mega Therion, (no surprise) like "Circle of The Tyrants", "Jewel Throne" and "Necromantical Screams". Touring guitarist Anders Odden filled out the sound perfectly, even getting a chance to get in a few solos of his own on "The Usurper".
Both Martin and Tom were in fine form on this their 5th show in as many nights, and took turns addressing the crowd throughout the evening. Franco was a wall of sound behind the kit all night and he plays a lot like someone larger than his stature. The band has apparently employed 2 different set lists for their North American trek and I believe their choice of material was very similar to what they did opening night at Jaxx in Virginia. "Dethroned Emperor", "Return to the Eve" and an even faster than on record "Into Crypt of Rays" were delivered with such urgency and power it was downright frightening. 3 tracks off of Monotheist were performed, "Ground", "Ain Elohim" and the set closer "Synagoga Satanae". Monotheist is such a strong CD, it would have been great to hear more material from it but the band has a lot of ground (no pun intended) to cover from their first 3 classic albums. I actually was hoping the band would return after "Synagoga Satanae" to deliver an encore (I was secretly hoping for a Hellhammer track), and the crowd chanted the bands name for a good 5 minutes afterward, but alas it was not to be.
After the show Denis Belanger a.k.a. Snake from Voi Vod was seen milling about and I heard that Morbid Angel / Terrorizer drummer Pete Sandoval was in attendance as well, although I can't say that I saw him personally. As I left and ventured out into the night, there was no doubt in my mind that the band had delivered the goods. While they may not be as cutting edge or avant-garde as they were in the 80's, just the fact that they are back creating their art on their own terms and without compromise (see Monotheist for further proof of the bands validity in the new millennium), that is something that has certainly not changed.
Pete Pardo-The second night (9/15) of Celtic Frost's two night stay at New York's BB King Blues Club proved to be the most attended, as nearly 700 hungry metal fans packed into the club for a night of doom, black metal, and the return of the "great ones". Anticipation was high among the many in the audience, and the night would not leave anyone dissappointed as there were three excellent bands on the bill.
Kicking things off were Sweden's Sahg, a new doom band whose sound owes a lot to, you guessed it, Black Sabbath, Pentagram, and Trouble. They tore through roughly 30 minutes of kick ass sludge metal, with riffs that recalled classic Iommi and vocals very much in the Ozzy vein. The crowd was very into them, as the band played songs from their Sahg I album on Candlelight Records.
After the Sahg set, and a short set, Norway's black metal upstarts 1349 hit the stage to a rousing rush from the crowd. This was the band's first visit to the US, and the audience sensed that something special was about to happen. The band came out in black metal corpse paint and garish get-up (one of the guitarists had the sickest set up arm spikes I've seen in years), and from the photo pit the band was pretty intimidating to say the least. Playing songs from their Hellfire and Liberation albums, 1349 were a juggernaut of black metal ferocity onstage, yet for the first half of their set it was just a wall of noise, until the sound engineers got things settlled, which made all the difference in the world. While their regular drummer Frost (Satyricon) could not make it over for the tour, fill-in Tony Laureano did a damn good job with tremendous blast beats throughout the set, and the twin guitar attack from Tjalve and Archaon layed down plenty of furious tremelo picked mayhem and fast, brutal riffs. Lead singer Ravn screeched from the bowels of hell, and combined with the savagery from the rest of the band this was one of the most brutal and heavy metal sets I've seen in some time. 1349's music is epic, brutal, complex, and scary-check 'em out if you get a chance.
To the into of "Totengott", out comes Celtic Frost to a huge applause from the New Yorl faithful. As the band ripped into a slowed down, almost doomy version of their classic "Procreation of the Wicked", it's apparent that the band have not lost a step. With new members Franco Sesa on drums and second guitarist Anders Odden in tow, founding members Tom Gabriel Fischer and Martin Eric Ain seemed reinvigorated and ready to once again take their spot in metal history. With their trademark mix of thrash, doom, and black/death metal styles, Celtic Frost rampaged through a great set list of favorites and new pieces from Monotheist. Many classic pieces were played, such as "The Usurper", the speedy "Into Crypts of Rays", "Jewel Throne", "Inner Sanctum", and of course the standards "Circle of the Tyrants" and "Necromantical Screams". The surprise of the night was the inclusion of the excellent "Dawn of Meggido" as well as "Return to the Eve", but the most bruising piece of all the older songs turned out to be the raging "Dethroned Emperor", which contained some of the heaviest guitar riffs from Tom and Anders of the evening. We were treated to a few songs from the new album, and they rocked just as hard. "Ground", "Ain Elohim", and "Synagoga Satanae" fit easily into the set, the latter a slow and crushing extended doom piece that ultimately ended the show (no encore, which was a surprise), but it would have also been nice to hear "Progeny" as well from Monotheist, as it is one of the strongest tracks from the new album. Throughout the set Martin thrashed around like a man possessed, while Tom stood menacingly at center stage with black coat and black hat barking out the lyrics and pummeling the audience with plenty of heavy riffs. New drummer Franco did a great job, and although his style is perhaps less intricate than original drummer Reed St. Mark, he added his own personality to these songs quite nicely. Anders basically stayed true to the original solos on the songs he was choosen to play them on, and his beefy guitar tone worked well alongside the "warrior".
The Classic Three-Tom, Reed, and Martin
After a short break, the audience was cleared out save for some media and friends (Nuclear Assault's Dan Lilker was in attendance) for a lengthy meet and greet with the band. Former drummer Reed St. Mark was in attendance, and it was great to see he and his fellow band mates together sharing stories and hugs with each other, some fans, friends, and the media. All in all it was a great night of metal with the mighty & returning veterans, plus some promising new blood.
Procreation of the Wicked
Visions of Mortality
Circle of the Tyrants
Dawn of Meggido
Return to the Eve
Into the Crypts of Rays
Tom G. Fischer, Pete Pardo, and Reed St. Mark
Ken Pierce: It has become evident to me that Metal rules when it comes down to the venue B.B. King Blues Club. If you merely judge what has happened there over the past year you will find that a literal who's who in the vast and varied Metal genres have appeared, hosted reunion or even final appearances on that stage. Tonight we could count on more of the same as for the first time in almost 17 years in New York City would be legendary Black Metal pioneers Celtic Frost. The group would be supported on this first leg of the tour by both Sahg and 1349 and according to research this would be the first time those two bands visited as well. I arrived shortly after Sahg had begun but caught enough of their set to explain what they were all about. Sahg is an almost Black Sabbath meets Hard Rock Doom and Stoner music that is quickly enjoyable and on the catchy side. Their singer has many Ozzy Osbourne inflections in his voice and he really holds up live. The only bad part was that since they went on a bit early the room was not yet filled to its capacity. The group also has a member of Extreme Black Metal's Gorgoroth on the bass. Yes, King Ov Hell is part of the band minus his truly frightening corpse paint. Good players all around and a band that will have a certain lock with the audience if they are on a show that best suits them. I did not personally think that this was the one for them. Their album "Sahg I" is available on Candlelight Records and is something that fans of the Doom/Stoner style will go for.
1349 would be next and I was totally not expecting what was going to be onstage when they would hit it. The crowd was there now and it seemed that many already knew what to expect regarding the level of intensity that this band would deliver. Soon amidst the smoke and dramatic lights came perhaps one of the most brutalizing bands that I ever had the opportunity to see perform. A mass of corpse-paint and arm spikes along with sinister scowls at the audience while buzz saw levels of Extreme Black Metal were presented would be the best description of this group. I found that being up close to take pictures both a little dangerous and that it ruined the sound of these guys. You could better appreciate them from farther back as they truly knew what they were doing in the live sense. Focusing on their "Hellfire" album, the band was clearly in command as if they were the headliner and not Celtic Frost. Sadly, the bands drummer Frost (also of Gorgoroth and Satryicon) had not been able to gain access to the US and was filled in for by the capable Tony Laureano. If non-stop brutalization if what you expect from your Metal, then I feel you should check deeper into what 1349 offers. They are also a Candlelight Records artist and perhaps the heaviest of the lot.
A short break time would ensue and soon everyone in the place would be enjoying Celtic Frost, one of Black Metals true legends. There are many who dispute who exactly started this genre and without beginning any arguments, I will have to toss my opinion on Frost being one of the pioneers in this form of music. The crowd for the venue was holding comfortably at about 700, which I understand was a higher number than the preceding show. I expected two sell-out nights as we saw with Emperor but it would not be the case tonight. The original Celtic Frost was Tom G. Warrior, Martin Eric Ain and Reed St. Mark and together the trio delivered such epic Metal albums as "Morbid Tales". These shows would find Warrior and Ain reunited and supporting their newest Century Media Records release "Monotheist". They would be joined by second guitarist Anders Odden and drummer Franco Sesa. Overall the lineup sounded very full as they performed a very encompassing set of material, which while focusing on their first three recordings, made room for their newer stuff. "Monotheist" is a very heavy record and has some modern advances to the original Celtic Frost sound that I think more Metal fans will enjoy in comparison to today's bands. They definitely delivered on the stage and while showing he was in complete control of the audience, Warrior occasionally paused to thank the audience and let them know of the next song to be performed. It's not much the bantering type of music and Warrior was never that kind of a performer. Highlights of the set included "The Usurper" and my favorite from the old days "Into Crypts Of Rays" alongside some of their material. Overall a tight set that thankfully did NOT include "Cherry Orchards".
As an added surprise, we would find the bands original drummer Reed St. Mark present for the show and finding himself recognized by fans. It would have been nice to see him slam out a classic number on the kit but it would not be the case. Instead, he fielded handshakes and even gladly signed some of the memorabilia that they had brought for Tom and Eric to sign at the Meet and Greet. I am sure that while he made some peoples night that the same was done for him. I enjoyed this show but given the difference in attendance levels think that this particular one should have been only one night. I do however love it when Metal legends return to remind us all how it is done.