On June 1st, 1987, Swiss extreme-metal pioneers Celtic Frost — at the time, vocalist-guitarist Thomas Gabriel Warrior, bassist-vocalist Martin Eric Ain and drummer Reed St. Mark — released their groundbreaking third album, Into the Pandemonium. Dark, atmospheric and avant-garde, the LP saw the group experimenting with New Wave and industrial influences, surprising covers (Wall of Voodoo's "Mexican Radio") and classical compositions with female vocals.
Shortly before Ain's death in 2017, we talked to Warrior about Celtic Frost's history, and he credited the late bassist — who didn't play on 1985's To Mega Therion, but returned to the fold soon after the album's release — for bringing much of the gothic vibe to the band's more left-field songs. "Martin actually came from a strong New Wave background," Fischer told us. "He liked Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Sisters of Mercy. We merged all of this together combined with our love for heavy metal and the result was ... Into the Pandemonium."
WAS MARTIN REJOINING THE BAND FOR INTO THE PANDEMONIUM AN IMPORTANT ELEMENT OF ITS SUCCESS?
TOM G. WARRIOR Yes, absolutely. Martin came back immediately after To Mega Therion because everybody involved knew we belonged together. We needed to do this together. So, the minute we returned from Zurich to the studio we talked to Martin and we sat down and we did whatever we could to make this lineup work again. And very soon we started working on an even more ambitious album. We had seen that our far-out ideas actually worked most of the time on To Mega Therion. And, of course, there was no stopping us. You have to realize we were young musicians filled with testosterone in a scene that had this "no limits" aura. Every band wanted to go to the moon and we were a part of this so there was no holding us back anymore after To Mega Therion. We simply said we're gonna abandon any kind of limitation and any borders. We just do whatever we want on this album.
DESPITE YOUR SUCCESS, NOISE RECORDS WANTED YOU TO BE A MORE COMMERCIAL BAND AND THEY THOUGHT INTO THE PANDEMONIUM WAS UNMARKETABLE. THAT MUST HAVE BEEN EXTREMELY FRUSTRATING.
That is very correct. We had had conflicts with the record company before. When we embarked on Into the Pandemonium, these conflicts escalated dramatically. We were making a very ambitious record. It was difficult for us to convince the sound engineer to even record it, which made writing the music even more difficult. Almost on a daily basis, Martin was on the phone to the record company trying to stop them from shutting down the production. And when we had a listening session in the studio with some of the half-finished songs, the head of the distribution and the head of Noise Records both came out and said, "Nobody will buy this album. Nobody will listen to this." And they reaffirmed that we should do something like Slayer, Exodus or Anthrax, basically, a certain thrash-metal album. They really didn't believe in it or in us. They canceled video clips, canceled tour support. They basically abandoned the band because they thought this album was not marketable and, as it turned out, it was our breakthrough album.
WAS COVERING WALL OF VOODOO'S "MEXICAN RADIO" AN EFFORT TO EXPOSE THE BAND TO A WIDER, MORE ALTERNATIVE AUDIENCE?
"Mexican Radio" was a complete coincidence. We recorded "Mexican Radio" because we wanted to do a far-out cover version. Martin and I really loved New Wave music and we were wondering for weeks what kind of song we could do as a cover version. I had known the song, of course, because at the time it was a minor hit. But one night I sat there and it came on the radio again and it was like, "You know, let's try this song because it's so far away from Celtic Frost, it would be interesting to try our hand at this." And we basically thought we were gonna record it and use it as a B-side of an EP or something. In the studio we simply, completely spontaneously said, "Let's be completely audacious and open the album with this." It was a spur of the moment decision. There was no concept behind it and no thought of maybe it will go down well in the States or anything like that. It was really honestly spontaneous and of course one could debate whether it was a good idea or not, but I stand fully behind it. As I said, we wanted to abandon all limitations, all conventional wisdom with this album, and we did.
YOU ORIGINALLY HOPED TO DO INTO THE PANDEMONIUM WITH PRODUCER RICK RUBIN.
We simply knew it was gonna be an ambitious album. We needed a highly experienced producer and Martin suggested Rick Rubin, who, at the time, was an up-and-coming producer and I suggested Michael Wagener. We just thought we needed a producer who was in the middle of the current scene, who would be able to translate all our crazy ideas into very good sound. Of course, such a producer would have cost something and the record company balked at that and eventually gave us a completely inexperienced engineer from what was then Eastern Germany, behind the Iron Curtain. The guy wasn't familiar with Western recording techniques, but he was really cheap and they forced us to work with him, which made everything an incredible struggle. Of the first three Celtic Frost albums, the production of Into the Pandemonium is the most flawed. And that's the direct result of the record company not believing in the album and not wanting to invest in the band's career.
DID THE LABEL'S LACK OF SUPPORT CAUSE THE BAND TO IMPLODE OR WERE THERE OTHER FACTORS?
There were other factors, but that was the prime cause. After experiencing these conflicts with Into the Pandemonium, we knew we couldn't go on like this. We were an increasingly artistic and ambitious band. We had found success and we didn't want to waste it. So we obtained new management and we went to get legal counsel and started the proceedings which were very, very difficult. Communication between us and the label completely broke down and it was very hard to get out of our deal. After 40 months, we were able to dissolve the existing contract, but the pressure that we had experienced for 40 months and the complete uncertainty of what lay in the future was simply too much for us. We were still very young. We weren't seasoned musicians. We came from Switzerland without an international scene and after, like, two or three years we were already in a legal wrangle with the label. Our personalities at the time weren't made to survive something like this. And the band fell apart in external and internal conflict. We were finally free of our contract, but the band was all but gone. It's a pity, but that's the history of Celtic Frost.
WAS THERE ONE CLIMACTIC MOMENT BEFORE THE IMPLOSION?
No, it was a slow, continuous process. We went on the road and all the monies for the tour were advanced by our manager and it got us into massive debt. And then at the same time, the legal bills soon amounted to almost $100,000. When we were finally out of the contract we had an offer for a new contract in America with Epic Records. The advance we got to work with went entirely to cover our debts. We saw the money arrive in a bank account and leave the same day. There was pressure on every level: personal pressure, business pressure, financial pressure and it gradually completely ended and destroyed the band. We were too fresh and inexperienced to handle that kind of pressure.
Below, see Tom G. Warrior and Martin Eric Ain discuss the early days of Celtic Frost and their pre-Frost band Hellhammer: