[Cover artwork: The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymous Bosch]
1. Mexican Radio [3:29] (Wall of Voodoo)
2. Mesmerized [3:25] (Martin Ain, Thomas Warrior)
3. Inner Sanctum [5:16] (Ain, Warrior)
4. Tristesses de la Lune (Sorrows of the Moon) [3:00] (Ain)
5. Babylon Fell (Jade Serpent) [4:20] (Warrior)
6. Caress Into Oblivion (Jade Serpent II) [5:15] (Warrior)
7. One In Their Pride (Porthole Mix) [2:51] (Warrior)
8. I Won’t Dance (The Elders’ Orient) [4:33] (Warrior)
9. Rex Irae (Requiem) [5:59] (Warrior)
10. Oriental Masquerade [1:15] (Warrior)
1987 was an extraordinary year in heavy metal for a great number of reasons, chief amongst them related to the seemingly endless succession of bands that found new ways to push the genre’s boundaries with regard to speed and ferocity. Yes, of course there were umpteen examples of bands with releases that maintained the course and mostly offered subtle upgrades to the melodic punchiness thrown down by the NWOBHM and USPM, and to great effect, but humankind’s enduring propensity to challenge limits and blaze new pathways resulted in kicks to the head such as Killing Technology, Under the Sign of the Black Mark, Scream Bloody Gore, Scum, and Monolith that all managed to find new ways to dial up the intensity for thrash, black metal, death metal, grind, and crust.
No one, however, threw a more fearless curveball to the music world in 1987 than Celtic Frost with their revolutionary second full-length, Into the Pandemonium, and that might actually include genres outside of metal’s beloved confines. To fully appreciate the spectacle at hand, consider the following tidbits concerning the year in question (written from the perspective of an American) to help set the stage.
Ten popular movies that debuted in 1987: RoboCop; The Lost Boys; The Princess Bride; Spaceballs; Lethal Weapon; Beverly Hills Cop 2; Good Morning Vietnam; Hellraiser; Prince of Darkness; Predator.
Ten popular video games that debuted in 1987: Final Fantasy; Double Dragon; Zelda II: The Adventure of Link; Contra; Punch-Out!; Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest; Street Fighter; Mega Man; Bases Loaded; Rastan.
Endless amounts of fun, and all strong indicators that riding high on good times was certainly the order of the day, despite the eventual stock market crash that occurred deep into the year. As a whole, the mid-to-late 80s were a house party waiting to happen; neon colors, big hair, cuffed acid-washed jeans, and a delightfully rudimentary first dip into the digital age governed the land, and the biggest splashes in music largely followed suit.
Five popular glam / hard rock albums that debuted in 1987: Whitesnake’s eponymous smash hit; Mötley Crüe’s Girls, Girls, Girls; Faster Pussycat’s self-titled debut; White Lion’s Pride; Def Leppard’s megahit Hysteria; Great White’s Once Bitten.
Five popular alternative records that debuted in 1987: The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me; R.E.M.’s Document; Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses; Jane’s Addiction curious live album debut; Faith No More’s Introduce Yourself.
Five popular rap albums that debuted in 1987: Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush the Show; Eric B. & Rakim’s gamechanger Paid in Full; LL Cool J’s Bigger and Deffer; BDP’s Criminal Minded; Ice-T’s Rhyme Pays.
So, yes, monster records were flying in from every angle, and a significant portion of it parroted the carefree spirit of the times, none more so than the flourishing pop scene ushered by Michael Jackson, George Michael, Madonna and the like.
On the opposite end of the spectrum and thriving in the underground, even metal felt weirdly optimistic—or at least spiritedly energetic—as most of the innovators focused largely on speed and power. Attempting to put a tidy bow around just a handful of critical metal albums from ’87 is a herculean task, however. From a personal standpoint, if forced to name, say, five records outside of Into the Pandemonium from 1987 that made the most lasting impact on yours truly, that list would include: King Diamond’s Abigail; Candlemass’ Nightfall; Overkill’s Taking Over; Testament’s The Legacy, and Metallica’s $5.98 EP. Holy hell, does that ever leave a massive stack of incredible records just outside the doorway, which only serves to strengthen the point that 1987 offered up an overabundance of crucial music to detonate brains.
Released on June 1st, 1987 through the notably reliable (from a listener’s standpoint) Noise Records (with help from Combat here in the States), Into the Pandemonium wouldn’t make an entrance in my life until July 4th of that same year. Like a number of my closest friends, I was cramming as much new metal into my ears as a modest allowance would allow a kid back then, but attempting to keep up with everything offered by record stores actually willing to feed the addiction was damn-near impossible, so we all relied on one another and dubbed cassettes. I was already familiar with Celtic Frost after scoring copies of Morbid Tales and Emperor’s Return during a trip to Pittsburgh that included a massive vinyl warehouse, but it was one of my close friends who managed to land Into the Pandemonium first, and it was that record that provided part of the evening’s soundtrack as he and I sat out on his roof with the speakers pointing out his bedroom window as we waited for July 4th fireworks to kick in.
The foremost thing I remember about that first encounter was confusion. I leapt in without the service of To Mega Therion beforehand, so the surprise was magnified greatly because I’d missed that ’85 tour de force that won Celtic Frost the earliest tag of “avant-garde metal,” thanks to the unprecedented use of operatic vocals and French horn. Into the Pandemonium was clearly next level, though, as Warrior, Ain and St. Mark’s principal goal in 1987 was to take risks with zero boundaries. But opening the record with “Mexican Radio” was more confusing than the Quadratic Equation, not only due to the fact that…well, who the fuck opens a record with a cover song, but also because the label didn’t bother citing the original artist, so the record kicked off without much knowledge that anyone other than Frost was responsible for the opening notes. Sure, it was of course feasible that a metal-obsessed teen in the 80s might know Wall of Voodoo, but it certainly wasn’t a given. Reed St. Mark reportedly fought Warrior and Ain about including the song, but the two were so pleased with the result that it was launched as the album opener.
The beauty of throwing such a big wrench in the cogs right from the jump is that it also manages to make anything that follows seem like a return to form, so long as it flashes even a modicum of the band’s classic face. Compared to the opener, “Mesmerized” marks a re-entry into Frostier lands with its icier grip and doomier strut at its outset. But the song also introduces Warrior’s “tragic” vocals, which, if you weren’t at all familiar with the likes of vocalists such as The Cure’s Robert Smith, certainly did fine work of raising eyebrows. Warrior’s curious moans and distressed crooning delivered yet another blindside, but something about the way it crept alongside those seemingly random guitar plucks and Martin Ain’s adventurous bass play made it all work, especially once that classic Frost riff hits about a minute-and-a-half in. With the arrival of “Mesmerized,” Celtic Frost established gothic metal long before the fabled Peaceville Three, and it was equally apparent that the band was drawing significant influence from bands like Dead Can Dance and Sisters of Mercy, both of whom also delivered classic records in 1987—Within the Realm of a Dying Sun and Floodland, respectively.
It takes Into the Pandemonium precisely 7 minutes and 39 seconds to deliver Warrior’s first trademark “OUGH,” landing 45 seconds into the first true head-knocker of the record, “Inner Sanctum.” The placement of this song is perfect, as we’ve now experienced a total head-scratcher opener and a cut that by all accounts begets a completely new offshoot, so the third track accomplishes the noble task of reminding the listener that Celtic Frost isn’t at all done crushing skulls. Reed St. Mark’s drum fills at the outset lead the listener directly into hell’s mouth, then it’s 100% dark thrash built expressly to whip anyone within ten feet of the stage into a total frenzy. Warrior’s wild leads jump in and out like snake strikes deep in the song, and the authoritative “R… I… P…” barked out by Warrior at the close puts a perfect period on what stands out as the record’s most aggressive cut.
“Tristesses de la Lune (Sorrows of the Moon)” follows, and again: a brilliant decision by the band to place this cut directly after 5 minutes of unbridled aggression. Written by Martin Ain, who perhaps doesn’t always get enough credit for flexing a significant portion of Celtic Frost’s avant-garde face, “Tristesses” blusters through the window like the soundtrack to a lost 60’s European horror film. Dark strings (Eva Cieslinski – violin; Wulf Ebert – cello; Jürgen Paulmann – viola) swirl and dart under the direction of conductor Lothar Krist, and the overall mood generated finds a fresh way to deliver a similar sense of dread fans had come to expect from the band that coined “Procreation of the Wicked.” Guest vocalist Manü Moan (from The Vyllies, who also released a record in 1987) provides the suitably gothic narration of Charles Baudelaire’s poem of the same name, and her passionate delivery definitely amplifies the song’s sentiments of grim romanticism.
Things shift back to a peerless balance with the arrival of Side A’s last song, “Babylon Fell (Jade Serpent)”—another wonderfully bleak marriage between Frost’s riff-reigning years and their more elaborate gothic face. Warrior relies mostly on his gravelly bark with a moment or two granted to a crushed groan, and Ain’s energetic bass play coupled with all the gruesome riffing makes it clear that those who expected Frost’s trip to forlorn gothic waters to be completely toothless were in for a grim surprise.
Side B kicks off with the second part to Jade Serpent, “Caress Into Oblivion”—a cut that opens with a Middle Eastern flare and Arabic chanting before Reed St. Mark’s bongos (say that without laughing), a notably dreary riff and Warrior’s best Robert Smith impression launch the song into a hazy, narcotized dirge. This piece in particular feels as if it embodies the dark, execrable impression of the cover artwork the best. Sure, another H.R. Giger work would’ve been magnificent, but Noise botched the one requirement of “no logo or album title” covering Giger’s Satan I for To Mega Therion, so the Hieronymous Bosch piece was commissioned for full-length number two. And truthfully, this particular artwork is an ideal representation of the medieval severeness behind Into the Pandemonium. Desperation bristles around every corner, with occasional bright spots coming in quick bursts in the form of Warrior’s wild, fiery leads. Case in point, the chaotic burst directly at the midpoint of “Caress Into Oblivion” that paints a picture of a wyvern suddenly launching from a gloomy castle spire.
Warrior himself allegedly admitted to going too far with “One in Their Pride.” On paper, the idea of wedging a song inspired by rap amidst all this gloom had disaster written all over it, but it… Worked? Did it work? Did Warrior actually find a way to make the grimmest nod to hip hop without falling flat on his face? The song certainly comes across like a peanut butter & onion sandwich when it first kicks off, but by hell, the beat is actually solid, and those crazed violins and the record’s overall gruesomeness still prevails, so it ends up sticking to the ribs despite the clear lunacy of it all. Plus, a thousand blessings upon Warrior’s pate for opting to go with the space-related vocal samples in lieu of (gulp) attempting to actually rap. During a year that also included the complete plane crash that was Anthrax’s “I’m the Man,” Celtic Frost managed to win the metal / hip-hop hybrid trophy literally no-fuckin-one asked for.
Following the eccentricity of “One in Their Pride,” the riffing at the outset of “I Won’t Dance” hits like a brick to the face. It’s a heavy and energetic tune, but the overall construction doesn’t really feel all that far removed from the rock ‘n’ roll that opens the record. Hey, snappy Frost is fun Frost, and “I Won’t Dance” is the one track from Into the Pandemonium that sounds like something Wall of Voodoo could’ve easily turned the tables on and made their own. Adding to the overall mystery: The woman accompanying Warrior on the chorus is simply known as “H.C. 1922.”
The true closer to Into the Pandemonium, “Rex Irae (Requiem),” is also its most risky venture. Three different versions were written before Warrior settled on a fourth and final product, with assistance on the orchestral sections provided by Eloy keyboardist Hannes Folberth and conductor / jazz musician Lothar Krist. The result is a gothic metal showpiece that spins a grim narrative that’s centered around the fevered dreams of a tortured king, all of which is righteously championed through a seamless marriage between furious metal (the lead exchange between Warrior and guest guitarist Andreas Dobler in the second half is bonkers) and exaggerated orchestration—Malgorzata Blaiejewska Waller and Eva Cieslinski on violin, Wulf Ebert on cello, Jürgen Paulmann on viola, Anton Schreiber on French horn, and Reed St. Mark providing timpani. Warrior once again relies largely on his tragic delivery, but the show is honestly stolen by the return of Claudia-Maria Mokri (also featured on “Mesmerized”) as his vocal accompaniment.
The record is brought to a conclusion with “Oriental Masquerade,” a short, orchestral outro involving timpani, French horn and distressed strings. It’s a fittingly dramatic conclusion to the pandemonium, yet one can’t help but wonder if it was added due to “Rex Irae” ending on a fairly straightforward note.
Without question, my first encounter with Into the Pandemonium left me as bewildered as a chameleon perched on a tie-dyed shirt. I don’t recall necessarily loving it at first blush, but I did walk home later that night with a dubbed cassette I obsessed over enough times that it eventually changed the way I said “ancient” entirely (ain-kee-ent). I found a used copy of the Noise / Combat version of the LP (still in my collection today) at my local shop soon after that night, which meant someone else out there was excited to take the dive and quickly found the eccentricities too much to handle. Used copies weren’t terribly rare, if memory serves, as the record absolutely did (and still does) offer up a textbook definition of contentious unconventionality, even by today’s standards.
Into the Pandemonium quite unfortunately resulted in a brief break-up of the band due to the endless hardships the four month recording process stirred between Frost and Noise Records. The label was furious about the band’s direction, citing it as commercial suicide for a group they’d hoped would be “the most extreme band in the world.” (Imagine thinking Into the Pandemonium was anything but extreme.) Celtic Frost was also left to produce the record mostly on their own, thanks to a serious lack of producers willing to step in and spearhead such a peculiar project. And considering the age of the members at the time (Warrior: 24, Ain: 20, St. Mark: in the same neighborhood), plus the level of complexity and originality, the results are honestly quite remarkable. Is the record flawed? Beautifully so, yes. But it also implemented the core principals for countless avant-garde metal bands to come, and it set the bar so high that most everything that’s managed to follow continues to fall short of the record’s numerous heights. In the simplest terms: Into the Pandemonium still stands today as one of the most important avant-garde metal records of all time.
One giant step for the band, one colossal leap for extreme metal.