Martin Eric Ain (born Martin Stricker), bass player and occasional vocalist of Swiss extreme metal pioneers Hellhammer and Celtic Frost has died of a heart attack, aged just 50. His recorded output only amounts to a few hours of music, but he remains one of the iconic figures of the metal world and the fact is, whether they know it or not, fans of extreme metal in 2017 owe a debt to Martin Ain for helping to shape the music they love.

Growing up in a Catholic household in Switzerland, the teenage Ain’s life was changed irrevocably when, early in 1983 he and drummer-to-be Stephen Priestly met with the embryonic lineup of Hellhammer at a disco in Wallisellen, a suburb of Zurich and were radicalised by Thomas Gabriel Fischer’s subversive attitude and intense devotion to heavy music. The group immediately became close friends and Ain and Priestly formed their own short-lived band, Shizo, before Ain joined Hellhammer, appearing on the seminal Satanic Rites demo and becoming their bass player with the 1984 EP Apocalyptic Raids.

After Hellhammer had run its course, it was the core of Tom Warrior/Fischer and Martin Ain that formulated the Celtic Frost vision that same night; a unique blend of sound, imagery, symbolism and attitude which would prove to influence the course of dark (and of course black) metal to the present day. While the plan for Celtic Frost was meticulously detailed, the reality of the band was to run less smoothly, but they nevertheless produced a series of releases which remain among the most intense and influential in the extreme music canon. While Tom Warrior was the face/voice and main songwriter of Celtic Frost, the band’s troubled soul depended on the complex relationship between the singer and Martin Eric Ain; and when the two parted ways the band could no longer exist. After the unintentionally fitting epitaph of 2006’s claustrophobic Monotheist, on which Ain performed the lead vocals on ‘A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh’, the two would never make music together again.

Following Celtic Frost’s ultimate demise, Ain retired from performing and ran and co-owned music club Mascotte in Zurich, but he will be remembered for his vital contribution to extreme metal and – to those old enough to remember the ’80s – as a unique and unforgettable presence on stage. Our sympathies are with his family and loved ones.

Martin Eric Ain 1967-2017

Words: Will Pinfold

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