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CELTIC FROST was a band WAY ahead of its time. Even the music Tom Warrior and Martin Ain released as HELLHAMMER, the precursor to CELTIC FROST, was a heavy and brutal style that had a major influence on the death, thrash and black metal to come. In 1984 CELTIC FROST released “Morbid Tales,” considered by most to be a true metal classic. The band were early pioneers of thrash and death and began to build a following, although they never received the fame they deserved. In 1987 the band released “Into the Pandemonium,” considered, depending on who you ask, as the pinnacle of their creative genius, or a giant step backward that served as the first step in the creative demise of the band. Since you’re asking me—hey, it’s my review—I’ll say it definitively: not only is this CF’s best album, it is one of the best metal albums of all time. There, I said it.
Now, I realize that some of you are reading this and yelling at the screen “Has this guy lost what little mind he had?” and others are thinking that they should go out and pick this up post haste—one of the best metal albums of all time, and such. A word of caution/disclaimer: this album is not for everyone. There are several songs that are consistent with CELTIC FROST’s earlier work. “Inner Sanctum” and “Babylon Fell” are the best examples of classic CF. However, there are several songs that demonstrate significant experimentation and development of their classic sound, and a few songs that are just plain totally different from anything they have ever done.
Rex Irae (Requiem) is a masterpiece that serves as a perfect example of many of these innovations. The song has booming, doom percussion, female co-lead vocals, and strings. Warrior’s vocals include a combination of his usual gruff bark and a technique he uses on several tracks, a clean tortured moaning vocal. The result is magnificent. I’m not sure there is even a category for this sound, the band blends sounds from several categories, many of which weren’t even categories yet. Remember, this is 1987, you just didn’t hear bands using operatic vocals and symphonic arrangements, much less some of the other tricks these guys had up their sleeves. Sampling--in metal--in 1987. Not that nu-metal stuff, but the track about the moon landing “One in Their Pride” contains vocal samples and either a drum machine, or a drum machine impression. Contrast that with another example, the haunting “Tristesses de la Lune” a song that contains strings and female vocals performed entirely in French. The companion track “Sorrows of the Moon” is in English. Also exceptional are the R&B style backup vocals on the otherwise very heavy “I Won’t Dance (The Elders Orient)” and the bizarre cover of the new wave WALL OF VODOO song “Mexican Radio.” Including the song is strange enough, the fact that it opens the album is just plain odd.
Critics claim that “Into the Pandemonium” tried to mix too many genres and add too many new sounds and influences, and as a result the album is just a disjointed hodge podge. No doubt, it took major cajones to release this album, especially when the band was gaining momentum with their earlier stuff. However, the talent, innovation and variation on this album make it worthy of a place in every metal head’s collection and for many, a place as one of the most revered albums in that collection. Pure and simple—“Morbid Tales” got me into CELTIC FROST, “Into the Pandemonium” hooked me for good.