Changing direction will always cause a section of a band’s fan base to recoil in horror.
Said changes often bring in newer fans and they can often outnumber the ones alienated by change.
Nothing new or noteworthy there.
But when the change is so drastic (or just plain bad) and most of the fan base deserts you, that’s a story. How was this allowed to happen? Who was responsible? Why did they do it?
And will they claw back their reputation?
More importantly, what if the band had already done it before? Brave, or suicidal?
Celtic Frost are one such band. We all know about their disastrous attempt at going glam. But what about their nu-metal attempt?
Don’t let revisionist thinking tell you otherwise: the early 2000’s were terrible for mainstream metal.
Aside from the obvious dross like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park topping the UK charts, bands like Coal Chamber, Static-X, Papa Roach, and P.O.D were also getting in on the chart action.
And then there was Apollyon Sun.
Apollyon Sun was Thomas Fischer’s first band after the dissolution of Celtic Frost. He has stated that it became “impossible” for him “…to go a rock concert without feeling total pain, seeing these people play…”, so the offer of working together with friend Erol Unala was greatly welcomed by Fischer.
Generally forgotten about nowadays, Apollyon Sun were quite prominent in the mainstream consciousness for a while, soundtracking shows like City Central and being raved about in metal magazines. Having Iron Maiden’s manager Rod Smallwood on their side was a major factor in all this, of course.
Listening back, their sole LP is very much a product of it’s time. It’s mixture of abrasive guitars and various electronica trends would have sounded futuristic in 1999/2000, but sound a little too “bandwagon jumping” in 2017, a relic of that period where various metal bands attempted to weld electronics into their sound.
Reuniting with Martin Ain in 2001, the three began work on a demo which was completed in 2002, but never released. And for good reason. The story goes that these were songs earmarked as being on the next Apollyon Sun album but, with Ain entering the threshold, it was decided to rebrand as Celtic Frost.
Of course, Frost are no strangers to experimentation. Nor are they strangers at testing their fan base (as ‘Cold Lake’ demonstrates all too well). So the idea of them taking the basic sound of Apollyon Sun and moulding it into Celtic Frost is something that could have worked.
Unfortunately, this demo proves otherwise.
It opens with a downtempo, almost glitchy, trip hop take on The Beatles ‘Helter Skelter’ with spoken/rapped vocals by Ain.
There’s a smidgen of guitar buried in the mix during the chorus, which makes you wonder why they bothered.
As a stand alone song, it’s subdued vibe is quite moody and puts the listener in a certain frame of mind.
As an opener, it’s a strange one because it really doesn’t go anywhere, sticking to the same tempo throughout. Maybe, because Fischer’s a big fan of the Beatles ‘White Album’ and the association with Charles Manson, it was intended as an ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here’ type opener. Who knows?
‘Totgetanzt’ (translated as “Dance to Death”) has a real Nine Inch Nails/Coil feel to it with the brooding synths and minimal drum programming. If worked on further, it could have been a really strong, sinister sounding piece of abstract music.
Inexplicably, however, it samples ‘Danse Macabre’ from ‘Morbid Tales’ and all sympathy a metalhead may have had at that point evaporates.
Seriously, what was the point: an attempt at iconoclasm, humour or experimentation?
Who knows, but the end response is to feel rather bemused. Having said that, when I played the track to people unfamiliar with Celtic Frost, they really enjoyed the sample, saying it reminded them of Kraftwerk!
For those who know ‘Danse Macabre’ all too well, the use of the sample comes across as rather crass and a kind of attempt at creating a gothy dance floor staple. Bad. Bad. Bad.
‘Beautiful End’ gives the listener plenty downtuned guitars and hazy, post grunge style vocals. This, alongside ‘Dying I’ and ‘Deep Inside’ are the songs that sound like they were meant for Apollyon Sun.
Under the Celtic Frost banner, they’re bland and insipid pieces that could have fitted on any “best of 2001” compilation issued by Kerrang at that time.
However, we finally hit gold with ‘November’, which is an early version of ‘Obscured’ from ‘Monotheist.’ Having been one of the lynch pieces of ‘Monotheist’, it’s no surprise that this early incarnation is easily the best song on ‘Prototype.’
The power and drama that was on show in ‘Monotheist’ is all too evident here, despite being held back somewhat by drum machines and a less oppressive atmosphere.
Having said that, the drum programming and swooping synths remind me of Joy Division’s more heavily keyboard laden pieces. A fascinating insight into Fischer’s songwriting.
Although previously mentioned, ‘Deep Inside’ does deserve an special mention for using the same drum break as ‘Loser’ by Beck as well as the synthesised orchestra break two thirds of the way in. Otherwise, it’s another bland number where Fischer seems to be singing about getting it on with a fine young lady, but no ‘ugh’ in sight. Sadly.
‘Get Wicked (Dagger & Grail edit)’ is an interlude that inadvertently set the template for Sleaford Mods. Not good.
Saving the most notorious for last, ‘Hip Hop Jugend’ sounds like Fischer is doing a comedy Till Lindemann impression, while singing over a muzak Laibach backing tape. Worse than ‘Too Extreme’ by Morbid Angel.
Overall, it’s easy to see why this demo has never been acknowledged by Fischer and Ain in any shape or form.
It’s clearly, in context, a transitional moment between Apollyon Sun and the magnificence of ‘Monotheist.’ and obviously there will be an awful lot of ill advised ideas with this process.
Taken purely as a demo on it’s on merits (and bearing in mind it comes with the name Celtic Frost), it straddles a fine line between attempted commerciality and mid life crisis. If it had have been the second Apollyon Sun record, it would probably have been written off as more of the same, with scorn being reserved for ‘Hip Hop Jugend.’
And is it more than coincidence that the cover uses the ‘Cold Lake’ logo?
Christopher Owens ::: 24/09/17