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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Celtic Frost: Into The Pandemonium


1) Mexican Radio; 2) Mesmerized; 3) Inner Sanctum; 4) Tristesses De La Lune; 5) Babylon Fell; 6) Caress Into Oblivion; 7) One In Their Pride; 8) I Won't Dance; 9) Sorrows Of The Moon; 10) Rex Irae (Requiem); 11) Oriental Masquerade; 12) One In Their Pride (Re-entry mix).

It is on this album that Celtic Frost offer us the first reason why we should actually allocate a special cell block in our memory for their music, rather than just lump them in together with the myriad of black metal bands that preceded or followed them. I cannot even vouch for certain that Into The Pandemonium is a good album — but I can vouch for certain that it is a fairly bizarre album for a black metal band, or, in fact, for any metal band. On most of these songs, Tom Warrior and his pals take risks — sometimes rational ones, sometimes completely baffling — so that the word «pandemonium» should not be taken as a direct reference to Milton's Hell, but rather as a metaphorical reference to the chaos and unpredictability of the musical choices that the band has made on this record.

I mean, it might make some occultist sense that for the first song, Tom chose to cover a band called Wall Of Voodoo — but the song itself is ʽMexican Radioʼ, a late New Wave hit from 1983 that celebrated pirate radio stations rather than rivers of blood and the Four Horsemen. The cover is done in classic style, with deep-fried black metal guitars, thrashing drums, and barely discer­nible demonic vocals, yet the lyrics are left intact, so at best we might suggest that here before us is evidence of Satan possessing a wicked sense of humor. Or, perhaps, a veiled hint at pirate radio stations as products of Satan's interference into human affairs? My guess is that they just threw a dart at a list of pop hits pinned to the wall, and proved to their loyal followers that any music may be reinvented as black metal — actually, this is a fairly early implementation of the trick, fairly pervasive today if judging from the number of Britney Spears metal covers on YouTube.

The second surprise arrives with ʽMesmerizedʼ, an epic composition that slightly slows down the tempo and puts more emphasis on the melodic aspects of the deep-fried guitar than on the thrashy rhythm — but, most importantly, introduces a different vocal style, with Tom's «constipated demon» growl swapped for a «dying Tristan» tone, one that has more in common with the incu­rable world weariness of Robert Smith than anything properly metallic in origin. This singing style, further supported by the backing Valkyrie vocals of Claudia-Maria Mokri and also reappea­ring on several other songs, will hardly make anybody think of Tom Warrior as an evocative soulful vocalist, but it is a refreshing diversion from the constant growling, even if it is certainly not enough to make me take this music more seriously than before.

After the more traditional black metal rocker ʽInner Sanctumʼ (whose slowed down mid-section probably contains the most Sabbath-like and memorable riff on the entire album), we get our third surprise — ʽTristesses De La Luneʼ, an orchestral song, conducted by Lothar Krist and sung in French by guest vocalist Manü Moan (from the Swiss Dark Gothic band The Vyllies). The composition, nearly completely dependent on paranoid violin trills, actually sounds highly interesting — although so utterly unpredictable that it was only used on the extended CD, rather than basic LP, edition of the album. Both the CD and the LP got its English equivalent, though: as ʽSorrows Of The Moonʼ, it reverts to its black metal roots, sung by Tom in his ʽMesmerizedʼ vocal, and is honestly far less attractive, because the violin arrangement is much more compli­cated and dynamic than the simple metal riffs that dominate the «common» version.

Surprise #4: ʽOne In Their Prideʼ, continuing the tradition of Celtic Frost's dark psychedelic in­strumentals, but this time with heavy electronic percussion, sampled orchestral passages, and sound effects that have more in common with Art Of Noise than with visions of Bosch's Hell. (There is yet another mix on the CD edition, twice as long, even more electronic and danceable). Is it a good piece of music? Well... Art Of Noise certainly made these things more fun. But again, what really matters here is the baffling factor than sheer quality. On an Art Of Noise record, ʽOne In Their Prideʼ would count as passable filler. On a Celtic Frost record, ʽOne In Their Prideʼ raises questions — for instance, about possible thematic and artistic links between black metal and futuristic/experimental electro-pop.

Surprise #5: although ʽI Won't Danceʼ shares the usual set of keywords with Celtic Frost's earlier black metal anthems ("martyr's scream", "turn to dust", "wicked world", "ring of death", etc.), it actually represents a big leap forward into the realm of barely decodable, wickedly fragmented symbolism, and its chorus, with Tom taking the lead and another female backing vocalist provi­ding a multi-tracked response, has an oddly pop ring to it: "GUY: I won't dance! — GAL: I won't dance within despair!" Again, a fairly weird approach to genre-melding; whether it has any meaning at all is left to each individual listener to decide.

Finally, the album's magnum opus is ʽRex Iraeʼ, an early example of symph-metal, with strings, horns, operatic female vocals, Tom's dying-Tristan tone, and several different sections that range from more generic thrash to slow epic power metal. Once more, I am not exactly a fan, but the more I think of how so many other metal bands would have approached this — probably laying on thick levels of ugly synthesizers — the more this particular sonic approach appeals to me. The grossly overdone vocals are probably the only part that still prevents me from taking this whole thing seriously: a purely instrumental mix of distorted guitars, strings, and horns (perhaps with some wordless Valkyrie vocals in the background, at most) might be preferable. But then again, it might not be worth the struggle to even begin to take «progressive black metal» seriously, so thank you, Mr. Warrior, for ultimately keeping things on the comic book level.

The final judgement? Unquestionably a thumbs up. It is one of those records to which the criterion of «liking / not liking» is barely applicable — it is more of an instructive example of how, having locked oneself up in the strict confines of a formula, it is possible to implode the formula from within without sacrificing your base values, yet still managing to think out of the box, no matter if that thinking gets you nowhere in particular. Of course, it might also get you caught with your pants down in certain circumstances (as Celtic Frost's subsequent career would actually show), but nothing about Into The Pandemonium is truly embarrassing or laughable, provided you are one of those to whom the entire world of heavy metal (or «extreme» heavy metal, at least) is laughable by definition. And, just to make sure: large parts of the record do actually rock — quite mercilessly. If you got the impression that this is all about dying vocals and electronic beats and symphonic arrangements, just start with ʽInner Sanctumʼ and ʽBabylon Fellʼ before proceeding to the truly weird parts.

1 comment:

  1. I don't blame Warrior for doing what he can to shake up orthodox's just when using new technology, you're going to sound limited by that technology later. 30 years later I limit my listening to what doesn't remind me of Paul Hardcastle.