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Classic Review: Celtic Frost - Into the Pandemonium
Celtic Frost
Into the Pandemonium

Label: Century Media Records
Year released: 1987
Duration: 48:13
Tracks: 12
Genre: Thrash Metal

Rating: 5/5

Review online: January 4, 2009
Reviewed by: Brett Buckle
Readers Rating
Into the Pandemonium

Rated 3.77/5 (75.47%) (53 Votes)

Back when I was a wee lad with nary a pubic hair to my name, I sought high and low for metal. Real metal. This was much harder back in the early 80s than it is today (especially in Australia); in my city there was exactly one store that carried a respectable amount of metal and I had to rely on my parents to buy me music back then. I had some Metallica and Slayer which was the heaviest most lethal shit I had heard until that fateful day when I got back from purchasing To Mega Therion. When I dropped the needle on that slab of vinyl and "Jewel Throne" blasted out the speaker, I was forced to stand up and scream "HOLY SHIT YES! THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT. PRAISE SATAN!" My searching had led me to the ultimate in metal — heavy, fast, grim and EVIL. I fell deeply in love that day (the manly kind of love that involves hearty handshakes and slaps on the back; the kind of love that is expressed through drinking competitions and not asking for the 10 quid you lent to be repaid), and it was a love that did not die until it was drowned in a cold lake on a bleak late 80s morn.

But I'm not here to talk about To Mega Therion. I am here to address its follow up Into the Pandemonium, an oft maligned disc that I do not believe deserves its "Celtic Frost died after To Mega Therion" reputation. Obviously this is a different beast than those early hymns to Satan, but Tom Warrior (I used to wish my name was Thomas G. Warrior) took CF in a bold new direction here while still retaining much of the magic from the earlier albums. Back when this album came out I did not have the benefits of the Internet and the easily available opinions of thousands of other metal heads, so this album was judged purely on my own subjectivity, untainted by the masses. The first thing I noticed was production — much cleaner than their previous output; gone was the wash of white noise that always lurked just under the surface of To Mega Therion, and the primitive wall of sound of Morbid Tales; here you could hear the riffs on the first listen and the thundering sound of the bass.

Then "Mexican Radio" started in earnest; this was...different. This was Celtic Frost telling me in no uncertain terms that this album was not To Mega Therion Pt.2 and I was intrigued. The song still had Tom's trademark death grunts and HEYs, but this was almost fun and not what I expected. Then something else happened — "Mesmerized." Was Tom Warrior trying to sing? Is that what that whining was? The simplistic riffing and morose vocals did not instill in me a sense of confidence. Luckily "Inner Sanctum" brought me back to earth with its old school riffing and pummel pace — this was the Celtic Frost I knew and loved, vicious and unforgiving. From there the album meandered back and forth between the elements established in these first three songs, with more pummeling ("Babylon Fell") and more open chord riffing and singing ("Sorrows of the Moon").

I want to pay particular attention at this point to two songs; firstly "Sorrows of the Moon" (which has since become my long standing favourite Celtic Frost tune) and "Caress into Oblivion." These songs dripped with atmosphere; the opening of "Caress into Oblivion" conjured visions of foreign evil, ancient evil, the kind of languid evil involved in indulgent satanic rites, of ancient mysteries, of opium induced nightmares and genteel horror. This theme of hidden knowledge, of evil lurking below the surface, and the mourning of the loss of this lore carries on into tunes like "I Won't Dance" and "Rex Irae." Tom Warriors indolent vocals and the ethereal tones of some guitar passages (notably the trade-off solos in "Rex Irae") painted a new vista, a new way of imagining the mystery of evil, and over time this music opened my imagination and drew me in like few albums have been able to do since.

I guess at this stage I should address "One in Their Pride", perhaps the biggest single problem most people have with this album. This track is just a bunch of simple drum machine beats played under some sound bites of NASA missions. There is likely very little that could have torn you out of the world of Pandemonium more abruptly than that song, and I consider it to be one of the Frost's biggest mistakes. After taking the time and effort to draw you into their world of ancient magic and mystery, Celtic Frost violently kicked you straight out into the blandness of technology. I'm sure this track was designed to be the "Danse Macabre" or "Tears in a Prophets Dream" of Into the Pandemonium, but whereas those tracks added layers of misty atmosphere to their respective albums, "One in Their Pride" had the opposite effect. My solution was simple — a tape version that simply excluded it and my immersion was preserved.

Musically there was little progression; Tom Warrior's solos in particular were still rambling and directionless (although the guitar tone suited the album a lot better), and the riffs were still simplistic. Simplicity is not a criticism for in this case it facilitated some very memorable riffs and songs; songs that to this day I can still thoroughly enjoy listening to as much as that first time I heard them. Celtic Frost is the one band that has endured for me and it was awesome to see them come back with the incredible Monotheist, but it will always be Into the Pandemonium that defined them to me. Call it progressive, call it avant-garde, call it what you want, but it was different and it was magical. I have no doubt in my mind that it accomplished what it was intended to and realized whatever vision Mr. Warrior had in his mind.

For those who have yet to hear this album, you owe it to yourself to give it the time necessary to sink in before passing judgment. Its simplicity is deceptive and there is a lot happening just under the surface in terms of melody and meaning. For those who have dismissed it I would urge you to listen to it again. Get rid of "One in Their Pride" from the track list and let the feeling of ancient mysticism wash over you.

Other related information on the site
Review: Monotheist (reviewed by Lars Christiansen)
Review: Monotheist (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
Review: Morbid Tales (reviewed by Michel Renaud)
Review: To Mega Therion (reviewed by Sargon the Terrible)
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