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Morbid Tales: 25 Years Later

by Chris Rowella

It’s impossible to surf the Internet this time of year without running into “best of” lists. As I get older, their appeal has waned. With releases growing exponentially each year, listing favorites has become a pain in the ass. I find myself returning to records that have transcended annual rankings to become the “Best Albums of All Time.” Celtic Frost’s Morbid Tales definitely holds that title.

Just as it has influenced countless bands since its 1984 release, Morbid Tales played a large part in my own history. As a high school sophomore in 1997, I didn’t think music could get any heavier than Pantera. I had heard of Obituary, Entombed, and something called “black metal,” but had no idea what it was all about. I got a crash course on the drive to my first metal show — Overcast at The Tune Inn (RIP!) in New Haven, CT — when the older guys I went with cranked Morbid Tales, Sepultura’s Morbid Visions, and Cannibal Corpse’s Tomb of the Mutilated.

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The latter two are still favorites, but that raw intro riff from “Into the Crypts of Rays” really hooked me. As the album flows, you can hear the foundations of modern metal being built. While most people classify Celtic Frost as black metal forefathers — a quick listen to Darkthrone’s Panzerfaust will validate that — their influence on doom, death, crust, and thrash is not to be underestimated.

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Obituary practically built their career around the riffs and dissonant solos from “Visions of Mortality” and “Procreation (Of the Wicked).” Universal favorite “Dethroned Emperor” has been covered by dozens of bands; Goatwhore’s “Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult” comes the closest to providing a modern equivalent. Both songs center on a simple, brilliant riff before kicking up the tempo. A slow, methodical bridge builds tension before the powerful coda. A perfect example of Celtic Frost’s legacy, Goatwhore keep what created black metal in the first place in the forefront of their songs.

Obituary – Threatening Skies (live)
Goatwhore – Alchemy of the Black Sun Cult

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Tom G. Warrior’s “Discharge via haunted mausoleum” vocals and existential verses conveyed a world misanthropy that would inspire black metal acts like Satyricon and Craft. Grandiose, symphonic bands are missing the point: keep it simple, aggressive, and scary.

Satyricon – Angstridden

Other groundbreaking albums of the same era, like Venom’s Black Metal and Diamond Head’s Lightning to the Nations, haven’t stood the test of time like Morbid Tales has. They’re almost classic rock to metal fans today, but Morbid Tales‘ sound is still prevalent in metal. I find new things to like with each listen, and I have never tired of it. Are there any better criteria for ranking music?

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