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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Celtic Frost

Into the Pandemonium

Review by Mike Korn

"Into the Pandemonium" remains a watershed album in the development of extreme metal but it has never been properly presented on CD until now. It's hard to figure out why it took so long, but at least it's finally here.

On this, their third album, Celtic Frost decided to veer further away from the pure death metal for which they had become known, injecting elements from classical music, Gothic rock and electronica into their standard ultra-heavy sludge metal formula (which itself was pretty unique in the thrash-saturated 80's). The resulting record hit the underground like a thunderbolt, causing great outrage in some quarters (with Bernard Doe of the late "Metal Forces" magazine notoriously giving it a 0 out of 100 rating) and excitement in others. With the hindsight of 20 years, you can see that "Into the Pandemonium" opened the floodgates of experimentation in heavy metal. Classical music and opera singers accompanying metal is no longer thought outrageous and in fact, an entire subgenre has arisen out of the combination. Nor is it unusual to hear sampling and electronic beats in metal any more. Celtic Frost was really ahead of the curve with this one and "Into the Pandemonium" still holds up remarkably well today.

The CD reissue gives us a remastered version of the album, with tracks now arranged in the correct order and copious liner notes from CF mainman Tom "Warrior" Fischer. Fischer explains that the pressure of recording this album led to the break-up of the classic Frost line-up and numerous record company hassles. "The album's overwhelming and lasting success was somewhat unexpected," Fischer says, "even to us. We were sure we had gone too far with our experiments, especially since we had lost the ability to tell where we were going." But the album did succeed and still stands as a brave monument to musical risk-taking. This CD is recommended not only to Celtic Frost completists but also to anybody who wants to see how far the metal medium can be stretched.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Mexican Radio
You know you are in for something really different right away with this "Frosted" cover of the Wall of Voodoo track. It's a brilliant adaptation, absolutely retaining the thick sludgy metal sound of Celtic Frost while adding a layer of catchiness previously thought impossible for the band. The addition of clean vocals on the chorus is another eye-opener; though Tom Warrior's harsh vocals still dominate. This is one of the best metal covers ever.
Mesmerized
This song marks the introduction of Warrior's "Gothic" vocals into the Celtic Frost equation. This painful moaning is very much an acquired taste, and I confess to not liking it all that much myself, but it matches the mournful heaviness of this track quite well. The track is still pretty heavy but in a more melodic fashion than is usually the case with Frost's music.
Inner Sanctum
This ripping slab of death metal would have been right at home on Frost's previous two albums. It's much in the vein of their classic track "The Usurper", fast and brutal, with the usual "warbling guitar solo". This killer track is definitely for the old school CF fans.
Tristesses de la Lune
If you are like Gomez Addams and love women speaking French, you will love this tune. I can see why this created a furor on its initial release, as it is entirely classical in nature. Performed mostly on strings, this is a "spidery" melody over which a hot and bothered French babe recites poetry in her native tongue. It's not metal at all but it creates a heck of a spooky atmosphere. The track is reprised later in the album as the much heavier "Sorrow of the Moon"(the English translation of the title).
Babylon Fell (Jade Serpent)
It's back to some pounding Frost-style metal with this cut. It's not exactly slow or fast, but hammers away with a kind of staccato feel. You can hear the ghost of female vocals in the background.
Caress Into Oblivion (Jade Serpent II)
There's a strong Arabic flavor to this cut, which opens with the call of the muezzin to prayer. Reed St. Mark's percussion is very much in the Middle Eastern mode, and Warrior's vocals alternate between the Gothic moan and the usual harshness. The tune is heavy enough but not the sort of obliterating metal for which Celtic Frost became known.
One In Their Pride (Porthole Mix)
Here's yet another tune that raised a lot of eyebrows back in the day. It's a simple programmed percussion beat with lots of sampling from the old John Glenn space missions layered over it. The result is almost danceable electronica revolving around the mechanical repetition of the phrases "one in their pride" and "return safely to Earth".
I Won't Dance (The Elders' Orient)
I'm sure many Frost fans never thought they would see the band write a song titled "I Won't Dance". This is actually pretty heavy but much more accessible than the usual CF song, with some very catchy and powerful riffs. The big twist here is the addition of female vocal with an almost soul music feel on the chorus, which I feel works surprisingly well.
Sorrows of the Moon
This is the heavy version of "Tristesses de la Lune", with Warrior's moaning vocals on overdrive here. The guitar parts combine the usual heavy Frost feel with cleanly picked minor chords almost in the vein of The Cure.
Rex Irae (Requiem)
The band's avant-garde and classical influences get out of control here, with this pretentious and overblown epic. A combination of metal with classical horns and strings, the song revolves around a "dialogue" between the male King Wrath (Warrior in his Gothic mode) and the female Dream (an alto tenor opera singer). The vocal styles do not really mesh that well and the result is a mess. However, this track opened the gates to later and better classical/metal mergers such as Therion.
Oriental Masquerade
The album proper ends with this instrumental, which again utilizes classical instruments. It's a lot more pleasing and successful fusion of the two than "Rex Irae" and briefer, as well.
One in Their Pride (Re-Entry Mix)
This starts the extra material on the record. It's a reworking of the original, but a lot sparser and much too long. The band made the right choice when they used the "Porthole Mix" instead.
In the Chapel, In the Moonlight
Yes, this is actually a cover of the song once performed by Dean Martin himself! Old Dino would have surely grabbed for the bottle after hearing this version. The band play it with their usual grungy guitar attack and Warrior's harsh vocals, but the whole thing just sounds screwy and it should not have been attempted.
The Inevitable Factor
We get two versions of this track, which appeared on the "I Won't Dance" EP. Musically, both are pretty identical, with the band dredging up some catchy, sludgy rifferama, but #14 features the Gothic vocals while #15 sports the harsh vocals. I much prefer #15 myself.
 
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