The significance of Martin Ain’s (real name Martin Stricker) influence on Heavy Metal today cannot be understated.
Famed for being a member of Hellhammer’s classic line-up and a founding member of Celtic Frost, Ain is at least, partly responsible for influencing not only a myriad of bands but also can be credited with helping kick start what are now, huge sub-genres of metal as well.
Born in the United States but raised in Switzerland, Martin Ain joined fellow misfit, Tom Gabriel Fischer in the obscure Swiss metal band Hellhammer. Hellhammer were ridiculed, laughed at and victims of some of the harshest music critique in existence. They released 3 iconic demos in 1983, “Death Fiend”, “Triumph of Death” and “Satanic Rites” before securing a crippling and corrupt record deal, resulting in one highly significant E.P, “Apocalyptic Raids” in 1984 (This E.P needs a re-release more than ever, with copies online going for stupid amounts of money). Martin Ain not only brought a raw, powerful edge to the music with his bass playing, his interest in the occult influenced the lyrical and conceptual elements of both bands.
Hellhammer pushed against everything in their way, determined to achieve their dreams of being professional musicians. They never gave up. They crossed the iron curtain into Berlin in the former East Germany to record “Apocalyptic Raids”. The producer didn’t understand who they were, what they were trying to be and more importantly, what they were even trying to do. So, it’s fair to say, even after they secured the coveted record deal, it was certainly not the beginning of things getting any easier for them. Nonetheless, they pressed on with executing their vision. Until they called it quits.
Ain and Fischer wasted no time however, they simply ditched the tarnished Hellhammer name and formed a new band, with a new philosophy called Celtic Frost. Only, at least at first, critics, journalists and even ‘fans’ almost immediately wrote them off as Hellhammer under a different banner, therefore not worth their time.
Celtic Frost went on to achieve heights that those same people a few years previously would have only thought possible in their wildest dreams. Celtic Frost, along with Hellhammer are as important to metal as any other big names you want to think up. There is also the distinct possibility that those other bands you may now be thinking of were influenced by Celtic Frost or Hellhammer themselves.
Ain was a shy, yet intelligent man. Suffering with confidence issues as an adolescent, girl trouble (lack of) and everything else that underdogs go through. He grew up in a fairly affluent environment with his family, in Zurich. Ain knew that the plans his parents had for him were certainly not the direction he felt compelled to travel in however. His band mate, Tom Fischer had a somewhat different background. His mother was a troubled soul, mixed up in the diamond smuggling underworld, leaving a young nine-year-old home alone for weeks on end, toys in the toy box floating in cat piss being the tip of the iceberg. When two people like this get together to make art or music, the expected result is anger, aggression and darkness. And this is what was created. So much so that the world was simply not ready for Hellhammer. They were too much and people couldn’t handle it. So, through a lack of understanding, the band was simply dismissed as a bad band with no hope. David Johannes of New York Dolls fame was quoted on his band saying something along the lines of “Punk rock, the term, did not exist in our day. People just called us shit”. This serves to demonstrate the troubles a band can face when trying to do things differently.
The two bands mentioned in this article have left a lasting impression on the world of metal. With Black Metal legends such as Darkthrone, Mayhem and Immortal citing the bands as significant influences. Fenriz of Darkthrone often describes certain riffs of his own as “Hellhammer riffs” or “early Celtic Frost riffs”. Two band members from Mayhem, Euronymous and Maniac took their stages names directly from Hellhammer songs. The drummer simply called himself ‘Hellhammer’. You can hopefully see where I’m going here in trying to convey the influence these bands and their members had on a lot of people. Hellhammer’s influence became apparent years after they split, when a number of bands stated the band’s influence on their own sound. Similar to The Velvet Underground in a lot of ways where the classic saying goes that not many people saw the band live, but those that did formed bands of their own. Not many people saw The Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester but members of the Buzzcocks and Joy Division, along with a few others took inspiration away from that gig to start their own hugely successful projects.
Death Metal legends also cite Celtic Frost and Hellhammer as influences on their approach too. Early bands such as Morbid Angel, Obituary and some from the Swedish scene all mention these bands having an effect on them. In the current scene of today, a favourite of mine, “Young and In the Way” certainly have a dash of frost in their sound.
Even Kurt Cobain went on record stating that “Into the Pandemonium”, Celtic Frost’s third album was one of his favourites of all time.
To conclude, Martin Eric Ain has left his mark on this world. His art and music will live on for as long as music does. At just 50 years old at the time of his death, it is fair to say that he has been taken far too young but his art is immortal and that is something truly special. R.I.P Martin Eric Ain and thank you.