Celtic Frost – “To Mega Therion”

Decibel Hall of Fame No. 123

Label: Noise Records
Release date: October 27, 1985


story by Justin M. Norton

To Mega Therion is Greek for “The Great Beast.” It’s a pseudonym for the Antichrist in the Book of Revelation and a nickname for every metal musician’s favorite mystic, Aleister Crowley. And it’s the very fitting title for Celtic Frost’s first real full-length album.

When Celtic Frost finished their breakthrough Morbid Tales EP in 1984, co-founders Tom Gabriel Fischer and Martin Ain immediately considered bigger aspirations. Morbid Tales let them distance themselves from Hellhammer—then very much a sore spot for the pair—and showed that two outcasts from farm villages could deliver on their promise to become a much better band. But what if Celtic Frost could take it a step further and write an album that was not only competitive with the best thrash metal coming from the United States, but also radically reimagined what was possible with heavy music? What if they incorporated classical music and vocals and wrote songs that deserved to be paired with art by famed Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger? What if their music could finally match their vision? It seemed impossible, but Fischer and Ain had already done so much with little more than their dreams.

These were the lofty goals Celtic Frost had in the earliest days of writing the record that would become To Mega Therion. Yet these goals were soon obstructed by something that would become a perennial issue for Celtic Frost for the rest of their on and off career: internal problems and band drama. First, Stephen Priestly—a holdover from the Hellhammer days—decided he wanted to play commercial metal and quit the band (he would return for Cold Lake). After scouring Switzerland and even making inquiries in the United States, Fischer and Ain found jazz drummer Reed St. Mark, who had never played heavy metal, but possessed a power and virtuosity they knew would make their music much more imposing.

Soon, Celtic Frost lost a founding member as well. Ain—who was as responsible for the ideas underpinning Celtic Frost as Fischer—was dealing with personal issues and family disapproval. He grew disinterested in the band and was let go. Fischer and St. Mark found a replacement from a Zurich club band: Dominic Steiner. Although Steiner wasn’t a kindred spirit like Ain, he was a talented bassist. Steiner was literally in Celtic Frost long enough to record a metal classic. He’s never discussed his time in the band and hasn’t been heard from in three decades until this Hall of Fame interview.
Despite these mind-boggling obstacles, and a producer who seemed more interested in reading on the job than working, Fischer marshaled his personal resources, stuck to his vision and almost singlehandedly finished To Mega Therion in two weeks. And what an album it is. While Hellhammer and Morbid Tales gave black metal its grime and its ugliness, To Mega Therion gave black, thrash and death metal grandeur and scope. It also gave Celtic Frost an even greater sense of menace; in many American stores, the record was delivered with a black piece of cardboard to obscure Giger’s Satan I painting, nearly a decade before Cannibal Corpse artist Vince Locke was forced to draw “alternate” covers for albums like Butchered at Birth.

Without the risks taken on To Mega Therion, there would be no Darkthrone, no Dimmu Borgir, no Mayhem and no second wave of black metal. It also provided to be a linchpin in Frost’s career; the leaps here fueled the even wilder experimentation of Into the Pandemonium. And the memory of his time alone in a Berlin studio for two weeks in September 1985 convinced Fischer he could do it again on his own when Celtic Frost imploded in 2008. With a chorus of “hey” and “ooh!” we are happy to induct one of the most towering records in metal’s five-decade history into our Hall of Fame.

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