A year ago today, Celtic Frost and Hellhammer visionary Martin Eric Ain died from an unexpected heart attack at 50. To honor his massive and enduring influence on the music we love, we are rerunning our obituary. Please listen to some Celtic Frost today and remember a pioneer of extreme music. Thank you Martin — your work endures.
I have never heard his voice
Nor have I seen his form
Yet still he casts his dark shadow
On the light of my being
Death–Negation of being
Wraith of inner sanctum
Apparition of my amorphousness
Solemnity of my disembodiment
Death–decay, creator of corpses
Principle of annihilation
Secret of negativity
When a notable musician dies it’s expected that their influence will be discussed. In many cases, that influence might be modest at best and the praises afforded posthumously to honor their passing. This will not be the case with Martin Eric Ain, also known in his too-short lifetime as “Slayed Necros” or by his birth name Martin Stricker.
As part of the legendary bands Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, Ain transcended influence. He didn’t just create music, he created worlds where listeners discovered themselves or went for respite when the challenges of life became too much of a burden. Former Celtic Frost drummer Reed St. Mark once referred to Ain and his long-time bandmate and friend Tom Gabriel Fischer as conceptualists and the term is perfect. Despite musical inexperience, youth and contempt from anyone that might offer them a leg up they defiantly crafted a sound and vision that will endure long after all of us are gone.
During his late teens, Ain was part of a group of Swiss outcasts who changed metal music with their drive, ambition and uncanny vision. Along with his lifelong collaborator Fischer, Ain formed Hellhammer and, not long after that, the planet-shifting band Celtic Frost. His contributions to the development of metal’s sound and aesthetic are towering, from corpsepaint to the visual appearance and artwork of metal albums to the sound of the music to arcane philosophical lyrics. Before he was even in his 20s Ain traveled with his bandmates to communist East Germany to make records that would change the direction of metal music, if not the entire underground. When Fischer was recording vocals for “Triumph Of Death” Ain was the person in the recording room encouraging Fischer to take it further and more extreme, to make it as dark and uncompromising as possible. The label executives might not have understood, but the rest of us did.
Ain’s lofty contributions didn’t end with Hellhammer. They continued with Celtic Frost’s Hall of Fame certified Morbid Tales, an album cited by almost any extreme musician as one of the sacred texts of metal music. Although he wasn’t present on To Mega Therion his absence loomed, and he rejoined the band not long after that. Ain was also a pivotal part of Into the Pandemonium – which birthed the idea of avant-garde metal – and the under-appreciated Vanity/Nemesis. Unexpectedly, Fischer and Ain reunited in the ’00s and over four painstaking years recorded Monotheist, a triumphant comeback that further cemented the band’s place in metal history. Only two years after that, Celtic Frost broke up and the band was put to rest for good.
Martin Eric Ain died far too young at just 50. But his towering contributions will endure long after his physical form has passed. Ain’s vision of mortality – a half-century-long – may have ended but his spirit and will to create are timeless, a bulwark to lost souls seeking refuge, an obsidian darkness where many first saw the light.