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This review is dedicated to the memory of The Celtic Frost, one of the forerunners of basically anything metal invented since the beginning of the 80's. The band is dead, and should you see it walking around, playing gigs or simply existing, it is not the real Celtic Frost, but a zombie-like animated corpse; only the return of Tom G Warrior can bring it back to the kind of unlife today's metal needs. Rot in Pieces, oh beautiful one.
When asked, people's opinions on the location of the low point of Celtic Frost's career point invariably at Cold Lake, but whether or not there's a wider depression around the single glammy sinkhole is a matter of serious discussion. Depending on whom you ask, the slump may contain either Into the Pandemonium, Vanity/Nemesis, or even both. There are those of us who beg to disagree, and while Vanity/Nemesis certainly has its share of fans and also more than token respect among the less-fanatic fans of the band, Into the Pandemonium is a definite opinion-splitter of epic, Opethian scale. The album is a classic, a graphite grey granite tombstone to things that once used to be avant-garde, but the teeth of time have been gnawing it like a schoonerful of black rats.
The 80's was a decade of metal, synth pop, exceptionally ugly clothes (save for stone washed jeans, of course), Miami Vice and humongous silicone tits. Since Celtic Frost is definitely metal and not synth pop, the clothes on the non-hair metal crowd have always been rather sensible, and comparing Into the Pandemonium to Miami Vice would be unfair to both sides of the equation, we are left with silicone tits. And we are not talking about any tiny, cosmetic 2 dl additions that shape the bosom to a fuller hemisphere. No, Into the Pandemonium is comparable to those enormous, 80's silicone bombs that looked like a pair of overfed spherical piglets, have probably killed a few of their owners by blunt trauma to the forehead, and are most likely called, from left to right, Misters Wilson and Spalding, respectively.
The comparison is not a bad one. The enormous silicone boobs installed on starlets of the 80's have probably gone through a process of erosion similar to Into the Pandemonium, and both were children of their times. Both took things forward (a full foot, measured from the breastbone). Both have suffered, both are out of fashion in the way they were made in the 80's, and both still have their fans despite the opinion splitting. Both have also been unsuccessfully augmented later, and the results are worth lamenting. Let us take a closer look at the analogy, and dive deeper both Into the Pandemonium and into the cleavage.
To call Into the Pandemonium avant-garde by today's standards is a stretch. Any band trying to emulate the songs found on it are followers, not the advance guard of the art as real avant-garde is supposed to be. The album is 20 years old. But it certainly was avant-garde back in 1987, and Celtic Frost, upon releasing it, slammed a bold, brave manifesto on the centerfold for everybody to see. The hindsight of two decades can be a cruel way to measure the success they had, but to really see if they were the advance guard back then, the influence of the album must be examined.
What were the new ingredients Celtic Frost brought into the metal kitchen in 1987? Well, the most obvious one is of course the use of classical instruments and clean female vocals in their songs, both to add doomy grandeur and to bring into the mixture a measure of beauty. Rex Irae alone shows so many new elements, with the distant horns echoing in the great caverns of Hell, the violins licking their ominously devilish sharp tunes, almost like riffs from a rack-stretched guitar, and the alto voice sounding like a pissed-off, voluptuous angel of retribution hovering above a procession of doomed souls staggering into Tartarus.
The other things, the original way to compose their songs and the intentionally and arrogantly pseudo-sloppy way to play their riffs, the vocals that are either whiny or tired depending on the listener's interpretation, and the simultaneously excellent and unrefined production that has certainly had its own tiny effect on the later black metal standards, are lesser, but had they been the only items on this album, they would have been big enough details to mention. They play the second fiddle to the glorious avant-garde here, however. And of course, there's the bizarre misstep, One in Their Pride, which was probably intended as a hardcore avant-garde shock item in the same sense as Danse Macabre on Morbid Tales was, but failed in a spectacular way. But to be on the leading edge means taking risks, and sometimes it means terrific failures, be they implants so heavily encapsulated in scar tissue that the mammaries look like WWII-era naval mines, or a whopping whole of two versions of One in Their Pride on re-released versions. Trial and error, and sometimes a pair of trials and errors.
In any case, in 1987, Into the Pandemonium was a bold album. It was the biggest pair of implants ever, and boy, did it catch the eyes of a few casual passers-by! The originality was unparallelled, the music was new, and the concept arousing. The two decades since have had their effects on the album, but still, a similar work has not been released. Knowing for a fact that a huge fraction of old-school metalheads have at least heard the album, and that a considerable part of that fraction has found it enjoyable, it's unbelievable that it still inhabits the niche it carved virtually alone.
But to get back to the issue at hand, the silicone boobs. The enormous rubber udders of the 80's have most likely lost their shape, and I bet that most of them have met the scapel a second time, becoming small, scarred titties again. Alternatively, they may resemble a pair of cantaloupes packed in the legs of a pantyhose, the said pantyhose being stapled to the owner's ribcage through the crotch part. Yup, they are paired pendelums of flesh, fat and synthetic joy for the truly depraved. Is that what Into the Pandemonium has become? Have we witnessed the gradual downfall of an enormous rack over the years, until the navel is located where the cleavage is supposed to be?
The answer is a definite "No". Into the Pandemonium is not the end result of two decades of wrinkling, stretching and aging on an artificial pair of funbags. It's more like the forgotten pin-up calendar from the year 1987 on the back of a garage: it shows its novel dating muscles in the shape they were when they still vaguely resembled the idea the scalpel-wielding insane architect had in mind when he cut the first incision and began forcing sacks of polymers between the real thing and the ribcage. It's a frame from the year it was made, and whatever has happened to the jugs in it afterwards, the picture is still there ...and, incidentally, most probably available for download somewhere on the internet for those who wish to find it again.
Is it possible to enjoy the album afterwards? Can the younger long-haired dude appreciate the still picture of what once was, the virtual boobage that was new, insane and enormous back in the day, but now, even as a frozen, preserved moment in the musical pin-up calendar, looks so 80's? Perhaps. No one can force a young metalhead to look upon the mountains of yesteryear with appreciation, but there will always be a minority that finds audial or visual pleasure in vintage things.
Perhaps the two oddities discussed here can only be enjoyed by those who were around when they were, for the lack of a better word, erected. But tits never go out of fashion, just the ways they are displayed, covered and manipulated change. The metal evolution has had its share of dead ends, but the silicone monstrosities of Tom G Warrior were not one of those; Into the Pandemonium has influenced many things from behind the curtain in the strip club: there are doom bands with strangely familiar, grandiose songs that nod humbly to Rex Irae. There are symphonic black metal bands that owe something to the arrangements found on the album. Hell, there's Therion, playing covers of both Celtic Frost and Manowar, both live and on their albums, just to show their immense respect to the great old ones. Somewhere, right now, a bedroom musician is secretly trying on a custom-made faithful copy of Tom G Warrior's EEE-cupped bra, just believe me.
Into the Pandemonium was and is a classic, and a construct different from anything done before it. Enjoy it or hate it, it had an enormous influence. Those of use who enjoy it will keep on finding new angles to view it from. Those who hate it... well, you just might be wrong. Just avoid the re-released versions, this album is one of those that have been spoiled by later editions; the original order of the tracks is perfect, and the additions on later versions do not fit the whole.
What about the relationship of the reviewer and the silicone wonders of the 80's, you may ask? Doesn't, in the words of Josef Stalin, "quantity have a quality of its own?" Well, they never were my thing. Sometimes being natural beats any artificial enhancements. And in case you haven't noticed, the letters in "melon" can be rearranged as "lemon", and organically farmed lemons can be very, very good. Just don't tell my wife I told you that on the internet, she'd kill me.