Celtic Frost: Parched with Thirst Am I and Dying (1992, Noise International)
A few weeks ago I picked up the vinyl for this 1992 compilation album by the almighty Celtic Frost. I’ve owned the CD of Parched with Thirst for years, but picking up the (slightly abridged) vinyl version prompted me to dig back into this weird and wonderful record.
Even on the surface of it, a Celtic Frost compilation album seems like a curious proposition because the band reinvented themselves, often rather drastically, with each album. It’s a long way from the primitive eruption of Morbid Tales to the more measured and confident Vanity / Nemesis, and there are numerous detours along the way. Parched with Thirst doesn’t attempt to make sense of Celtic Frost’s complicated artistic trajectory, nor does it revel in the band’s eclecticism. As you might expect from Celtic Frost, the selection of tracks and the sequencing is idiosyncratic, at first glance kind of strange, but with some indescribable logic holding it all together, even imbuing it with a strange magic.
While I was researching what people had to say about Parched with Thirst, I encountered frustration from listeners who couldn’t put the record into a particular box. It’s not a greatest hits collection or highlight reel from across the band’s career. Nor is it a “rarities” compilation; while it includes rare and unreleased tracks, there are several previously released album tracks too. It’s unclear what Parched with Thirst is or who it is for, but part of being a Celtic Frost fan—I’d say one of the best parts of being a Celtic Frost fan—is surrendering yourself to the band’s unintuitive logic, trusting them to take you wherever they’re going to take you.
For all of this conceptual and philosophical muddiness, Parched with Thirst is an engaging listen, questioning conventional wisdom about the band’s artistic peaks and valleys. “Downtown Hanoi,” a track from Cold Lake that appears here in a version re-recorded in 1991 (though not drastically different from the original), sits right next to “Circle of the Tyrants,” a classic track from the classic Emperor’s Return EP, and it doesn’t sound weird at all. John Peel famously said of the Fall that they were “always different, alway the same;” perhaps the same statement could apply to Celtic Frost?
Along with the eclectic mix of tracks from earlier in Celtic Frost’s career, Parched with Thirst is bookended by two unreleased tracks, “Idols of Chagrin” and “Under Apollyon’s Sun,” both demos intended for Celtic Frost’s next album, though the band abandoned the project. Original drummer / not-so-secret weapon Stephen Priestly programs the drum tracks for these two songs (more successfully for “Idols of Chagrin” than “Under Apollyon’s Sun”), and the riffing and songwriting are characteristically left of center. “Idols of Chagrin” is an intriguing song, with a grungy main riff and reverb-soaked production held over from the hair metal era, but with a heavy and nasty bridge part that sounds like classic Frost. I’m sure Under Apollyon’s Sun would have been a divisive album, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.