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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Celtic Frost: Vanity/Nemesis


1) The Heart Beneath; 2) Wine In My Hand; 3) Wings Of Solitude; 4) The Name Of My Bride; 5) This Island Earth; 6) The Restless Seas; 7) Phallic Tantrum; 8) A Kiss Or A Whisper; 9) Vanity; 10) Nemesis; 11) Heroes; 12*) A Descent To Babylon (Babylon Asleep).

In an alleged attempt to correct the shortcomings and wrongdoings of Cold Lake, Tom Warrior fired Amberg, with Curt Victor Bryant assuming both bass and lead guitar duties; later on, tour musician Ron Marks was recruited as a session player to aid in this matter, and Eric Ain also re­turned to add bass to the lead-in track, ʽThe Heart Beneathʼ. In short, it was chaos as usual, yet the final results show no signs of confusion — on the contrary, Vanity/Nemesis is steel-ruled by an even more precise conception than Cold Lake.

What happens here is that Tom completely purges the music of any unhappy «glam» connota­tions, concentrating instead on two primary influences — NWOBHM and thrash, so that most of the songs now sound like the loyal offspring of Judas Priest and Megadeth, combining the not-so-fast tempos and the geometric riffage precision of the former with the brutal guitar tones and the evil-grin attitudes of the latter. The only thing that remains of the band's «black metal» past are the occasional — very rare — occultist streak in the lyrics, and, of course, the constipated Satan vocals from Tom, which sound just as ridiculous on this album as they did on Cold Lake.

True to the baffle-your-neighbor ideology that began with ʽMexican Radioʼ, the album turns more tables on us with Tom's choice of covers — ʽThis Island Earthʼ from Bryan Ferry's The Bride Stripped Bare, and later (only on the CD edition, though) no less than David Bowie's own ʽHeroesʼ. The former song, at least, with its desperate-suicidal lyrics about one man's personal apocalypse, yields fairly easily to a Celtic Frost reinvention, and features probably the best lead guitar work on the album (melodic and shrill in an almost classic-rock manner, with a tolerable minimum of shredding); the latter is an unsuccessful joke of the «Taylor Swift death metal cover» variety that addictive YouTube surfing is sure to bring up sooner or later these days. But that's Celtic Frost for you — no quality control whatsoever, mixing good ideas with stupid jokes until all the remaining Celts freeze over.

As for the original songs, the formula described above applies to them all equally — at best, expect a brief acoustic interlude now and then, sometimes accompanied by haunting Gothic female vocals from one or more of Warrior's mascara-tainted acquaintances. The longest and probably the most memorable of these is ʽNemesisʼ, steered by an unnerving Judas Priest-style chugging riff and slowly hammering the "will death cleanse me of this nemesis?" chorus into your head until you feel like you're ready to obliterate stone walls with your fists. Other than that, I remember nothing whatsoever even after three listens, though I cannot honestly say that I hated what I heard — more often than not, they get a good headbanging groove going on. With better vocals, some of these songs might have amounted to something, but Tom's vocal style really does not agree with this much more clean and disciplined style of playing than they used to have.

Public opinion on Vanity/Nemesis remains split — some take the glam purge as a clear sign of returning to form, others treat it as fairly nominal and consider the record to be just another piece of «commercialized» crap. One thing is for sure: it sounds different enough from Cold Lake to extend Celtic Frost's reputation as heavy metal's greatest purveyors of diversity. The only ques­tion in my mind is why the hell did they not decide to experiment even more, returning to the level of Into The Pandemonium? Changing your formula in between albums is fine, but it isn't really that good when within any given album everything still sounds the same. Strange policy, if you ask me, but then, I've never set foot within a ten-mile radius of the heavy metal community and am perfectly happy with this role of a cautious overseer from afar, so I'd be the least likely candidate to self-confidently poke and prod the brain cells of Mr. Tom Warrior and his pals.

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