Flash Metal Suicide: Celtic Frost
"It is the biggest piece of garbage that ever happened to mankind." Tom G. Warrior on Cold Lake
Cold Lake may be the most infamous Flash Metal Suicide of ‘em all. Cold Lake pretty much killed Celtic Frost’s career for good, and believe me, if they hadn’t made this record, they’d be as revered as Slayer is now. They’d probably have swimming pools, and Satanic groupies, and amped-up young ‘uns would carve the “CF” logo into their arms and bleed half to death while blastin’ their tunes. Tom Warrior would make cameos in big Hollywood action movies as, like, the mad Swiss bomber, and Martin Ain would have his own (spooky) reality show. And a new Jeep.
But none of that is ever gonna happen now. Why? Cold Lake. If ever there was an album that aimed so low it cut it's own creators off at the ankles, it was Cold Lake. Ask him, and the album's creator will tell how horrible it is, and grouse about the terrifying lapse of good taste and judgment it took to create such an abomination. But is he right? Is Cold Lake really that bad? Or was it just too far out for anybody to understand?
Let us briefly backtrack. In 1982, Tom G. Warrior (who prefers Tom Fischer now; I do not) was not a Warrior, or even a Tom. Instead, the teenage dirtbag was known as “Satanic Slaughter”, and his band, Hellhammer, shocked the world with a demo tape (Triumph of Death), that was so primitive, so ugly, so inept, that it just had to be genius. And so it was. Hellhammer just wanted to sound like Venom, really, but they had yet to master their instruments enough to play at the triple-speed thrash n’ roll velocity of the super-Satanic trio, so they just aped Venom’s rudimentary riffs at one quarter the speed, and made up for the lack of forward motion by groaning like Frankenstein, wearing more bullet belts than anybody else, smearing ashy make-up on their faces (later on, a kid aptly named Dead started callin’ it “Corpse-paint”, and then the party really started), and convincing everyone that this crazy punk rock nightmare was all being done on purpose.
If they had been from LA, or New York, or even London, they’d have been laughed right outta the fanzines, but they were from Switzerland, and who the fuck knew what the Swiss were about? No one had ever been to Switzerland, man. They could be up to anything up there. They could have werewolves, even.
And even without werewolves, it was still a pretty boss idea. They looked like rail-thin cadavers in the promo photos, and the other dudes in the band were named "Savage Damage" and "Bloodhunter”, and even tho they sounded absolutely godawful, they were so out there that it made you feel like you were part of some weirdo cult just to own their tapes. And then some cats in Germany went along with the joke far enough to actually sign them to their label, Noise, just like a real rock'n'roll band, and in 1984, the Apocalyptic Raids EP was released. They still didn’t know how to play their instruments, really, but they were easily the most infamous heavy metal band on the entire fuckin’ planet by the time the record hit the stores.
And then they promptly broke up. In fact, by the time the first Hellhammer rip-off bands were brewing state-side, Mr. Slaughter and his un-merry men had all changed their names to boring things like Tom and Marty and were now known as the rather uppity sounding Celtic Frost. They came up with the name (or so the story goes) by randomly mixing up parts of Cirith Ungol song titles, and envisioned themselves as the world’s first “avant garde” metal band, which was really kinda getting ahead of themselves, since they still couldn’t play any better than a teenage speedfreak hardcore band by the time their first record, the Morbid Tales EP (1984) was released.
But eventually, they did learn to play, and released a slew of critically acclaimed albums throughout the 80s. Bein’ Swiss and all, they even managed to wrangle Alien designer HR Giger for the cover of the seminal To Mega Therion (1985) album. Their sound developed from an under-produced squall of noisy, punk-ish doom rock to precision-driven thrash metal with baroque flourishes, and even tho it was a little too ‘prog’ for it’s own good, Celtic Frost became one of the most well-respected metal bands on the scene. In 1987, they released Into the Pandemonium, and, despite opening with a jarring drug-metal cover of Wall of Voodoo’s Mexican Radio, it was widely regarded as CF’s masterpiece, and made the top ten lists of nearly every metal critic in print in ’87. Now considered to be geniuses-of-rock, after ITP, the Frost could have done just about anything they wanted, and gotten away with it. Well, except for going glam, maybe. But they’d never do something that stupid, would they?
Sure, they would. In 1988, Celtic Frost released Cold Lake. It was a fuckin’ glam metal record.
Of course, in the US, none of the hairball kids had any inclination who Celtic First were. Back in the days of Hellhammer, they were rockin’ til they dropped to the sounds of Def Lep and Ratt and Crue, and they could not have cared any less about Switzerland and any of the Morbid Tales it had to offer. So, when Cold Lake was released stateside, these same kids just thought they had a new spandex band on their hands – a little heavier and uglier than usual, but what the hell. When Tom went “Ugh…Ooh!” on cock rockin’ opener Seduce Me Tonight, very, very few US rockers noticed it’s resemblance to Satanic Slaughter’s infamous Death Grunts, ya know? So fuck it, man, let’s just “party”, ok?
A flashy video was produced for Cherry Orchards, a dizzy psyche-thrasher with “additional vocals” (bored sounding spoken-word, basically) from one Michelle Villaneuva, and it managed to briefly lock into regular rotation on then metal-saturated MTV. Villaneuva is reportedly an integral part of CF’s Flash Metal Suicide, as ol’ death metal Tommy had “Michelle” painted on his gee-tar by that point – MV was his girl, see (later his wife) — and insider reports have ‘Chelle pegged as a Nancy Spungen/Yoko Ono-styled pernicious influence on Tom, and that she was most likely the one that convinced him that glam was the next logical progression for CF. Interestingly, if Frost were an American band, she would have been dead-on, as Stateside, the formerly invisible Celtic Frost were now part of the Hairspray Nation, successfully touring the country and selling more records than they ever had before. But they weren’t an American band, man. They were fuckin’ Hellhammer!
At first sight of Cold Lake, European fans openly wept, and many beat themselves about the head and neck. The suicide rate in Scandinavia went through the roof. Sales on pancake make-up and black lipstick dwindled down to nothing. It was awful. Eurobangers saw their grand and noble Warrior Tom reduced to a mess of acid-wash denim and ratted-out puffs of mallchick hair. His bass player, Curtis Victor Bryant, posed on the back cover shirtless, with red suspenders, his acid wash jeans unzipped, revealing a hairy man-bush. They looked like fuckin’ amateurs. Where once the mighty Frost penned songs of brutality and ethereal beauty like Necromantical Screams and Caress into Oblivion, now they had ham-fisted party-glam travesties with titles like Little Velvet and Dance Sleazy. The vast legions of fans that made Celtic Frost one of the biggest metal bands in the world abandoned them en masse, leaving them with only the Yanks for support. And not only do Americans forget about you pretty much instantly, the burgeoning grunge/alternative nation revolution was a mere year away. No doubt about it, man, Tom Warrior was one fucked rock'n'roller.
But, you know, as far as glam metal records go, aside from a disastrous ‘rap’ intro, Cold Lake is really not that bad. In fact, it’s not even glam metal, really, more of a cock rock/thrash metal hybrid. Like Carnivore with Steve Stevens on guitar, or something. Well, not that good, but you know what I mean. Tracks like Once They Were Eagles and Juices Like Wine, while far, far away from the Avant Garde chamber of horrors version of the Frost, are at least as good as the stuff Armored Saint and Laaz Rockit and Overkill were releasing at the time, and even with their horrid dress sense, they still weren’t as ugly as Anthrax, so mebbe those dorky Euro-kids were a little too harsh on CF. To his credit, Warrior really did know this was all gonna explode in his razor-cheekboned face. Fearing the inevitable backlash, he begged his label to release Cold Lake under some other name — any name at all except for Celtic Frost. They did not, and the Frost suffered a lethal blow to their reputation.
The band regrouped a year later for a new album, Vanity/Nemesis that was a return to their heavier roots, with some additional industrial flourishes (it was produced by Swans-man Roli Mossiman). Original Hellhammer/Frost bass player Martin Ain even came back to lay down some thunderous bottom end. The record, released in 1990, was a critical and artistic success, but the Cold Lake wounds had yet to heal for Euro-fans, and Americans were wearing flannel in the Spring of ’90, so sales of the record stiffed. A rarities comp with reworked older tracks, the awesomely titled Parched with Thirst I am and Dying, was released n 1992, and did well; however, Warrior had already moved on to other projects, and the Celtic Frost rock'n'roll machine had ground to a halt. Warrior returned to heavydom in ’96 with the space metal band Apollyon Sun. In 2000, his autobiography, Are Your Morbid? was released by Sanctuary, and in 2006, the band released one final album, Monotheist. They even toured again. But they did not include Dance Sleazy in their set lists. And Warrior still goes bananas when you mention this record.
It's ok, Tom. 1988 fucked us all up. You weren't the only one.
Next week: It's a bust