Martin Eric Ain embodied the emptiness and the promise of zero. The bassist saw the void of metal, how it could be fulfilled and destroyed, and forged the extreme metal bands Hellhammer and Celtic Frost with guitarist and vocalist Tom Warrior. At just age 50, Ain died Sunday of a heart attack, confirmed to NPR by Century Label Group publicist David McDonald.
Born Martin Stricker, the U.S.-born and Switzerland-based musician took the stage name after dissolving Hellhammer and starting Celtic Frost in 1984, "Ain" meaning zero in Hebrew numerology. "Zero could mean everything as a whole, as a circle, or as something that has been accomplished," Ain told Decibel in a "Hall of Fame" feature on Celtic Frost's Morbid Tales, "but at the same time it could also mean that something has been nullified."
Hellhammer was formed in 1982 by a group of teenagers in Nürensdorf, Switzerland. The band's extremely rudimentary musicianship and muffled recordings were filthy, unpolished and throttled by Warrior's (then known as "Satanic Slaughter") unconventional guitar work and theatrical grunts, not to mentions Ain's ("Slayed Necros") thwacked bass. Inspired by Venom, Hellhammer took that early black-metal blueprint and made it bloodthirtsy. If what happened next hadn't been so crucial to the evolution of metal, who knows if we'd still be talking about Hellhammer today — but just listen to the Satanic Rites demo and you can hear where G.C. Green took his ungodly crunchy bass tone for Godflesh. The roots were set.
Celtic Frost was born the day after Hellhammer died, a clean slate from teenage rage. It was here that Tom Warrior and Martin Eric Ain, along with a revolving door of drummers, turned metal into something surreal, splaying shades of black across three decades. Ain appeared on every Celtic Frost album save 1985's To Mega Therion and 1988's divisive Cold Lake, his bass a thumping foil to a dark music that reached across doom, death, black, thrash, Gothic and avant-garde metal, sometimes in the course of a single album, as in the case of 1987's Into The Pandemonium. Everyone from Anthrax to Marduk to High On Fire to Opeth have covered Celtic Frost, including Sepultura, whose version of "Procreation (Of The Wicked)" was the benchmark by which the band reformed in the mid-2000s.
"I am deeply affected by his passing," Tom Warrior writes on his Facebook page. "Our relationship was very complex and definitely not free of conflicts, but Martin's life and mine were very closely intertwined, since we first met in 1982."
The bassist would come in and out of Celtic Frost. The '90s were Frost-less as Warrior sought out different musical outlets, but the two would reunite for Monotheist in 2006, a radical reset not just for Celtic Frost but for all of metal (which also functioned as a preview of Warrior's future band, Triptykon). In addition to contributing much more lyrically, Ain's bass playing, in particular, rumbles from a primordial wound, nearly at the same frequency of his musical partner's newfound vocal warble — when the two met, their force redoubled, as heard in the psychedelic gloom of "Drown In Ashes."
Ain would go on to co-own a music club and a DVD shop and bar in in Zurich, but there's little mistaking the realm that he carved and collapsed with Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. To call back to that Decibel feature, Ain truly made something his own, "rather than a name predefined by somebody else."