Think of a band that you once loved. Now imagine said band turning into a steaming heap of no goodness after a few albums. Wouldn't you rather a musical ensemble disband and get day jobs instead of soiling their legacy? Isn't it better for musicians to know when the magic's gone and call it quits, rather than trudge ahead and embarrass themselves because they seemingly have nothing better to do?
Well, you've stepped into the Celtic Frost Zone.
These guys were almost as responsible as Metallica, Megadeth, and the Pointer Sisters for the slew of heavier-than-depleted uranium bands that came out in the late 80's-mid 90's. Kurt Cobain was a fan, almost all of those evil Norwegian black metal acts owe their existence to the Frost (as well as Bathory, Venom, and Mercyful Fate), and I can even hear their influence in the music of Clay Aiken, though that's probably the drugs of my younger days talking. You get the point- these guys were important to the development of an obscure, primarily European metal sub-genre that most of you couldn't give a shiznit about.
I trashed their first album recently, and I'm truly sorry. I rediscovered my love for it after reading Tom G. Warrior's autobiography, and purchased their remastered catalog. Well, the first three albums, anyway. Nothing short of God threatening to ram a lightning bolt up my rump would prompt me to buy "Cold Lake", and even then, I'd try to argue my way out of it first. Celtic Frost in Bon Jovi's wardrobe was a disaster that ranks up there with anything nature could create, and I wish they'd had the sense to break up before taking such a hideous detour.
But hey, why dwell on the bad? The year is 1987, and the three members of Celtic Frost were a-slavin' away in a German studio. The record company may have treated them badly, but plenty of people were anxious to hear "To Mega Therion"'s follow-up. The underground metal press had built them up into the next big thing, and the pressure was already creating friction between Martin, Tom, and Reed (especially between Tom, the ugly Swiss guy who wrote most and sang all of the songs, and Reed, the American drummer who got the chicks). Kick in a stingy record label, looming financial catastrophes, and problems finding a suitable producer, and you have an idea how close we came to never even hearing this album.
Tom G. Warrior knew that Frost's third album needed to be big and ambitious, so he called in a composer, some orchestra musicians, and a fellow guitarist named Andreas Dobler. When Celtic Frost finally emerged from the studio with "Into The Pandemonium" in hand, they had finally created the album they had always threatened to make (to the four or five people who were interested). I, for one, am exceedingly pleased with the results.
Choosing to open the album with a fiery, punkish cover of Wall Of Voodoo's "Mexican Radio" was not a bad decision. It sounds nothing like the original, but that's far from a con in this case. Reed's drumming kicks serious gluteus, Tom "UH!"s and "HEY!"s his way through the song as if he's trying to lay an egg, and they even remembered to emphasize the "eating barbecued iguana" line. Fa-a-an-tastic!
Then it's into the doomy power chord intro of "Mesmerized", which turns into something even more gloomy. Written by Martin Ain about a Carthaginian priestess named Salambo (see Gustave Flaubert's book of same name), this was one of the first Frost songs I ever heard. Tom tries out a new vocal style here, one that makes him slightly resemble the guy from Christian Death, or maybe Hugh Grant in the car with that hoochie mama. There's a harp or something plucking during the verses, a female backing voice during the chorus, and dang fine poetry like "you, who like the moon at night/haunted my mortal heart". A masterpiece, even if the vestal heroine dives into a deep blue sea and meets her ending there.
Very similar to the heavy grunting Celtic Frost of old is "Inner Sanctum". Tom goes back to the growl, the music reminds me somewhat of Megadeth, and the guitar solos are as sloppy as ever (but neat sounding!). I think Martin wrote the lyrics (he apparently was the secret genius), which have to do with damp earth covering desolate breasts, and other things grave-like in nature.
"Tristesses de la Lune" is just creepy strings, eerie "ooh ahh"s, and a sexy-sounding woman reciting a Baudelaire poem in French. How weird is that? It's every bit as spooky as you'd expect, and further reflects the band's passion for nineteenth century French literature.
Back to the heavy sound again for "Babylon Fell (Jade Serpent)". They must have realized that this metal stuff is so much easier to bear when you break it up with orchestras, techno, and foreign poetry. Anyway, the ghostly female vocals are back, Tom goes into the moan again, and the lyrics address the fall of some civilization (possibly the one of which Babylon was a part, though that seems way too obvious).
Would you care for some Arab yodeling and a cool bass intro? Well then, cool your heels with a "Caress Into Oblivion", where Tom alternates between growling and wailing, and the power chords parade around as if they're at a job fair. The lyrics, mysteriously, are not to be found in my CD booklet.
Some people have a real problem with "One In Their Pride (Porthole Mix)", since a techno beat and sampled voices really aren't what you'd expect to find on a black metal album. Sure, this belongs more in the Ministry or Skinny Puppy camp, but I salute them for their bravery. The samples, by the way, were apparently lifted from news broadcasts about space flights or something (Tom G. Warrior isn't all about dungeons and demons- he's also into rockets, space, and, judging from the photos of his wife, Hispanic women).
I do feel that the experimentation went a little far on "I Won't Dance (The Elder's Orient)", which is an ugly attempt to fuse metal sludge with some kind of boogie groove. The backing vocals are credited to "H.C., 1922", but it sounds like Aretha Franklin to me. The music's not too bad, and as for the lyrics, they just form the usual soup of confusion.
The same Baudelaire poem recited on "Tristesses de la Lune" is translated to English and moaned out by Tom to heavier instrumentation on "Sorrows Of The Moon". The guitars and drums are typically crunchy, but something is playing spooky-as-hell notes while Tom is doing his thing. For once, the heavier version of something is even freakier than the orchestral. The "ooh ahh"s are there, and though Tom is speaking good ol' English, you'd better consult a Baudelaire collection if you want to know the words. Ends with those weird notes being plucked on a guitar, ukulele, the devil's armpit hair, or whatever.
The haunting, fairly slow, and dissonant "Rex Irae (Requiem)" is what Tom wants to have played at his funeral. For mine, please throw on "Stayin' Alive". There are horns, strings, Tom and Andreas trading off solos, operatic female vocals dancing around Tom's, and lyrics about orgies of fear, dying kings, and buried walls. All the usual images from Tom G. Warrior's dream world, where "death was never a fragment of exalting fantasy".
Not much can be said about "Oriental Masquerade", except that it is very short, weird, and some kind of orchestral epilogue.
"One In Their Pride (Extended Remix)" is exactly what you'd expect- Tom's fascination with space travel, aeronautics, and dance beats stretched out to even longer lengths.
The most recent re-release of "Into The Pandemonium" features a few extra tracks, one called "In The Chapel In The Moonlight", and two versions of "The Inevitable Factor". Once I receive my copy from Amazon.com, I'll give it a spin and append a little review of those tracks as well. Or not.
This album was more creative and bizarre than any metal has a right to be. They really went out on a limb, and I'm glad they did. The Bosch artwork on the front is an accurate reflection of the songs themselves, dealing as they do with ruin, loss, disintegration, and the consumption of rotisseried reptiles in a south of the border town. They toured with Anthrax to promote it, and while I was unable to see the concert, friends of mine reported that Celtic Frost stole the show.
Unfortunately, following the "Pandemonium" tour, the band fractured into four (Tom had brought in guitarist Ron Marks for the tour). In a moment of absolutely heinous misjudgment, Tom decided to resurrect Celtic Frost in 1988 as a cock-rock band, and the resulting album, "Cold Lake", caused myself and everyone I knew to reach for the nearest samurai sword and attempt ritual suicide. That foul album ranks right up there with "being sexually assaulted by petroleum-covered monkeys" on the list of "Most Degrading Experiences", and it caused their fans to abandon them like a sinking ocean liner. Later attempts to come back as a heavy unit were acceptable, but commercially unsuccessful. Alas, the magic, and Tom Warrior's career, was gone.
Get "Into The Pandemonium" if you'd like to have one of the most daring musical experiments in your collection. It is the attempt of a disintegrating band to defy the strict conventions of the metal genre, and while it is rarely pleasant or easy listening, it surpasses most of its contemporaries, in terms of mood, boldness, and originality. Ask any one of the twelve people who bought it, and I'm sure they'd agree.
Celtic Frost includes: Thomas Gabriel Warrior (vocals, guitar); Andreas Dobler (guitar); Martin Eric Ain (bass); Reed St. Mark (drums).