[24 March 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Of all the comebacks that we have seen in the last ten years, few if any come close to equaling the astonishing return to form by Celtic Frost in 2006. Nearly 20 years removed from alienating legions of fans with the notorious Cold Lake, the Swiss metal innovators returned with Monotheist, and you could practically hear the collective jaws of the metal world hit the floor. This was not just the sound of a veteran band getting back together and knocking out a respectable album that could be followed by a nice victory lap tour; this was a complete reinvention of one of the most influential metal bands of the 1980s, an album that sounded vital, driven, passionate, and most importantly, mind-bogglingly heavy. Immaculately produced and mixed, and down-tuned to a ferocious degree, it felt directly linked to such great songs as “Dethroned Emperor” and “Procreation of the Wicked”, yet at the same time Monotheist had a distinct identity of its own, an artistic rebirth that so rarely happens this far into a band’s career.
However, the renewed optimism changed dramatically in April of 2008 when founding member/guitarist/vocalist Thomas Gabriel Fischer announced in typically eloquent fashion, “Tom Gabriel Fischer has left Celtic Frost due to the irresolvable, severe erosion of the personal basis so urgently required to collaborate within a band so unique, volatile, and ambitious.” Considering Fischer’s extremely crucial role in the band (his voice and his riffing style is one of the most distinct in the entire genre), there was absolutely no hope for the band to go on, so two years later, instead of feeling like a fresh new beginning, Monotheist now came off as one of the greatest one-offs of the last decade.
Little did we know that Fischer had other plans. All along he had been working on a proper follow-up to Monotheist, and he promised his new band Triptykon (featuring Fischer, guitarist V. Santura of black metal band Dark Fortress, bassist Vanja Slajh, and drummer Norman Lonhard) would continue right where that record left off, both in song structure and lyrical content (which, as with Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, deals primarily with the occult). Hearing Eparistera Daimones now, we have to give credit where credit is due: Mr. Fischer is a man of his word.
For those, including yours truly, who marveled at the colossal sound of Monotheist, Eparistera Daimones comes off as even more impressive sonically. This is an all-out beast of a record, as Fischer takes the crawling, monolithic doom of the previous album and makes it even more bludgeoning, the mix a lot more claustrophobic this time around. Much of what made Monotheist sound so refined, which in some cases was the input of Fischer’s longtime Frost collaborator Martin Ain, has been trimmed in favor of an approach that’s for the most part much simpler, more direct, and as difficult as it is to imagine, even darker. It’s rare that we get a debut album by a band that sounds this fully-formed already.
You know you’ve got an ambitious album on your hands when it starts off with an eleven minute track, and “Goetia” is one hell of a mission statement by Fischer and Triptykon. Fluidly alternating between rampaging passages dominated by Lonhard’s double-kicks and doomier sequences that lumber along menacingly, it’s the most sonically intense song we’ve heard from Fischer in ages. Yet at the same time there’s a familiarity to the composition that’s welcoming, all thanks to Fischer, whose wickedly effective growl keeps getting better with age, while his new cleaner delivery continues to bear a strong resemblance to Peter Murphy. As far as his guitar sound goes, not much has changed either, as his trademark string bends that sustain for as long as possible take us back to the days of Morbid Tales. If that wasn’t enough, “Goetia”‘s repeated line, “Lord have mercy upon me” can be seen as a direct link to Monotheist‘s “Bound”, which contains the refrain, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Devastating as Eparistera Daimones‘s doomier moments are (the nine minute, even murkier “Abyss Within My Soul” is the album’s second track), Fischer does toss in some variety. “A Thousand Lies” is an unexpected blast of pure thrash (without ever abandoning those down-tuned riffs), while “In Shrouds Decayed” builds up a strong gothic atmosphere for four minutes before launching into some well-timed, crunching rhythm riffs. The creepy “Myopic Empire” and the much more languorous “My Pain” follow the example of Monotheist in using dulcet female vocals as an angelic counterpoint to Fischer’s decidedly demonic persona.
Still, it always comes to that doom-based sound that Fischer is so comfortable with these days, and Eparistera Daimones steadily builds up to a shattering denouement in the form of the 19+ minute “The Prolonging”, as exciting a 19-minute metal opus as you will ever hear, Fischer’s guitar hitting tones that sound ungodly low, as he delivers an inspired, multi-faceted vocal performance, highlighted by a truly schizophrenic moment when his dual personae exchange refrains of, “as you perish, I shall live.”
If this album wasn’t great enough, it also marks the first time since Celtic Frost’s Into the Pandemonium that surrealist artist H.R. Giger has provided the artwork for one of Fischer’s albums. The two have always been kindred spirits, and not only does Giger’s incredible 1978 painting Vlad Tepes serve as a highly provocative cover image, but it suits the music therein perfectly, finding a perfect balance between the sublime and the utterly horrifying. Not only is Eparistera Daimones a continuation of the great Monotheist, it’s every bit that album’s equal.