Celtic Frost / 1349 / Sahg

The Vic Theatre
Chicago, IL 9/23/06

Review by Dr. Abner Mality

And now the circle is just about complete. Celtic Frost is just about the last of the bands I needed to see before I die. Bit by bit, they have all fallen into place. The "original" Kiss. The "original" Black Sabbath. The mighty Venom. Halford back in Judas Priest. Overkill. Slayer. Death. Testament. And now, Celtic Frost. Never thought I'd get the chance.

The Gods have smiled upon their humble servant, Dr. Abner Mality, and so in this year of their glory 2006 (by the reckoning of the Crucified Nazarene) and on the date of September 23, 2006, I hustled into Chicago on a grey and gloomy day which saw the heavens open up with a torrential downpour. My concert companion Mistress Hydra said "Bet the Frost guys are loving this!" and I had to agree, even though it was a hair-raising experience navigating Chicago traffic in a thunderstorm.

We got to the Vic Theater a little late after gorging ourselves on Mexican food at nearby Mi Tierra restaurant. My burrito was the size of a football and packed with tasty steak while poor Hydra was only able to finish half her Chile Rellenos. Thankfully, neither of us were hit by Montezuma's Revenge during the show or its aftermath. After a minor mix-up regarding our passes to the show, I managed to snag a very pleasant Mr. Archaon from Norwegian hellraisers 1349 and we had a nice chat at the nearby Cosi coffee bar. Keep checking the interview section for the results of my discussion with him!

When Hydra and me made it into the Vic (security is more relaxed and not as anal as House of Blues), Norwegian doom band Sahg was wrapping up their first track. This is one band that is better live than on record. Singer Olav's voice was extremely rich and soulful and not so much a blatant clone of Ozzy or Bobby Liebling as on the debut Sahg record. He had real presence, as did the rest of the band. The sound was clear and excellent as they pounded through their crushing doom metal with purpose and confidence. The Chicago metal crowd, which can be both tough and appreciative, gave a good response to Sahg as they played tracks like "Godless Faith", the Kyuss-y "Repent" and a hard-driving cover of Pentagram's "Live Free or Die". This live set went as well as it possibly could have for Sahg and makes me eager to see what they do next.

1349 certainly makes for quite the contrast to Sahg. It might just be that these Norwegians are the fastest band in the world right least, among bands that have human drummers. Their recent album "Hellfire" lives up to its apocalyptic name and delivers aggression and speed almost beyond comprehension. It takes a very steady hand at the live mixing board to make sure such material doesn't turn into mush in a concert environment. Alas, that hand was not in evidence tonight. It seems that 1349 is just too much live. Their set sounded like somebody attached a microphone to the space shuttle's engines after take off...white noise, almost impossible to pick up a riff in some places. This is what I had feared. Their inhuman drummer Frost was not with them, but a suitable replacement in former Nile skinsman Tony Laureano was found, so rhythm was not a problem. The guys came out with energy and threw all the black metal poses, but the sound just was not there. I could make out "Chasing Dragons" and "I Am Abomination" but it was exceedingly hard to discern what other tracks were being played.

The crowd was well into it and there were more than a few present just to see these guys. But the sound must be
PERFECTLY balanced if 1349's music is to be anything other than mud in the live setting. We didn't get it tonight. It may be blasphemous to say this, but sometimes, you can be TOO fast!

Speed was never the forte of Celtic Frost. For 20 plus years, the gloomy Swiss masterminds have dwelt in their own domain, apart from the rest of extreme metal. They have influenced countless bands, but no one has ever managed the mixture of crushing sludge and adventurous experimentation that Frost has. Sailing into Chicago after an absence of 18 years, the question was: can these guys still hang?

Is George Bush a liar? The faithful partook of a rapturous crusade tonight. Frost has got to be the HEAVIEST band on Earth...still! Not heavy in terms of the insane speed we saw with 1349 or the overdone noise of goregrind, but with sheer musical WEIGHT! Oozing with a pulverizing groove and incredibly down-tuned malevolence, we heard the band at their thickest and crustiest tonight, in a set heavy with classics from their first three albums and some goodies from their strong new release "Monotheist".

The beast lumbered on stage to the thunderous sludge of "Procreation of the Wicked" of my all-time faves that shows Frost mastered hypnotically heavy groove better than anyone. Martin Eric Ain, once an effeminate vampire in frilly shirt, is now a big bear of a man with a wild mane of hair and a bushy beard you could hide a racoon in. Dressed in dark monk robes, he ferociously stalked the stage headbanging like a madman. He was definitely the most active of all the members of the band.

The set leaned heavily on old classics. "Visions of Mortality"..."Circle of the Tyrants"...the Hellhammer-penned "Necromantical Screams"...all put in their appearance to grind our ass to dust. Hollow-eyed Tom Gabriel Fischer, wearing his black beanie and with jaw set in a perpetual angry grimace, made for an ominous master of ceremonies. For a couple of fleeting seconds, he was seen to actually grin at the rapturous response from the crowd, but soon enough returned to his stern mask of morbidity. I didn't catch the session guitarist's name, but he had to be a good 15 years younger than Ain and Fischer. It certainly wasn't Erol Unala. This face painted ghoul was restrained in his stage presence, but wow, he could certainly shred with that patented Celtic Frost "warbling" guitar solo. He captured that sound PERFECTLY! As for new drummer Francesco Sesa, he proved his chops with a bludgeoning attack that was completely unassisted by triggers or trickery. Celtic Frost 2006 matches the best of any past era of the band.

More killer classics erupted from the stage. "The Usurper" and "Jewel Throne" made for an awesome dual assault. "Dethroned Emperor" and "Dawn of Megiddo" demonstrated the doomier side of the band...this is truly heavy shit. They dipped into "Into the Pandemonium" for the Goth-tinged "Mesmerized" and "Triestess de la Lune", which gave Fischer a chance to show his emotionally anguished moaning. I was hoping they'd play "Mexican Radio" and "Babylon Fell" but alas, it was not to be.

From "Monotheist", they raged through "Ain Elohim", the fastest number and the simplistic but unforgettable "Ground", which Tom described as a song he both loves and hates.These cuts fit right in with the Frost standards, though I was surprised they didn't do "A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh", which is getting a lot of exposure. Some wag from the crowd yelled for something from "Cold Lake", the band's disastrous "glam" album but no "Cherry Orchards" was forthcoming.

Celtic Frost had the crowd in the palm of their hand as they wrapped up their set with the epic "Synagoga Satanae"
from "Monotheist". Packed with more feedback than a million garage bands, this is extremity that can go head to head with any of today's younger acts. But it was a prelude to the night's biggest disappointment, as the band simply left the stage without an encore. Most of the crowd stood around confused until it was obvious there would be no return. I was rather miffed and so was Mistress Hydra. After so many years, you think they'd play an encore for Frost-hungry fans. But no, that was all.

I have to say almost all of my favorites were played. It was truly an experience to see "Into the Crypt of Rays", "Procreation of the Wicked" and others pounded out on stage by a Celtic Frost at the top of its game. Overall, a pretty good show, but I sure would have liked to hear a few more from C.F. Maybe we won't have 18 years to wait for the next visit...