Tom Gabriel Fischer
Interview By Lord of The Wasteland
(Transcription by Duke)
There are many perks to writing for a heavy metal magazine. One of the most obvious is getting to speak to musicians who have been admired for years and hold a special place in a writer’s heart. When it was announced that interviews were available with seminal black/thrash/avant-garde Swiss metallists, Celtic Frost, the e-mail had barely even settled into my inbox before I replied back with an urgent “YES!” Understanding that it would be a difficult chore to keep my fanboy-ism in check, I kept it in the back of my mind to maintain a professional attitude during my hour-long chat with vocalist/guitarist Tom Gabriel Fischer (AKA Tom G. Warrior) about the band’s first album in sixteen years, the gargantuan MONOTHEIST. We also touched on the legacy of the band, Internet rumors, the band’s first-ever sprawling tour of North America, the trademark “ooh”s and the difficulties that came with putting together the long-awaited new album.
***The interview ends abruptly because Tom had a guest who he politely kept waiting for over twenty minutes while I went over my allotted interview time. In fact, I still had about 15-20 questions surrounding the early days of the band, but they will be saved for another time. Once a fanboy, always a fanboy… Thanks Tom.
MONOTHEIST – 2006
I’ve listened to MONOTHEIST about forty times without exaggeration and I’ll admit it took me a few listens to really get into it, but I’m really impressed by the album as a whole. You guys did a great job.
Thank you very much. It’s an album that I realize might take a little longer to get into. It’s an album and not a collection of hit songs or something like that. You really have to listen to it as a whole album, a whole concept.
Is this a one-off project for Celtic Frost or is the band back for the long haul?
I’m the wrong person to ask that. You have to ask the audience and the media whether they want more of this or not. We cannot possibly continue if everybody thinks that Celtic Frost is superfluous in today’s world. We would love to do more. We feel creative enough to release more. Martin [Ain, bass, vocals] and I are actually writing for a new album and the material we’re writing now is much darker and much heavier than MONOTHEIST.
So if everything goes well, should we expect another album within a year or two or are you going to hold off?
I’d rather say two. To create albums like that, you don’t do it in five minutes. It’s hard even for a band like Celtic Frost. As you can see, it took four years to create this album. But we would like to release an album before too long, it’s not going to be four years anymore. We definitely want to do it a bit quicker this time around.
Since MONOTHEIST took so long to complete, I haven’t really read or heard what it was that actually took up the time.
The reason is almost a cliché: we wanted to do a good album. We had suffered so much record company interference in the 1980s with our former label, Noise Records, who interfered with every aspect of the band’s activities that we weren’t going to stand for that anymore. Celtic Frost has come back now as a much more confident, stronger, seasoned and controlling band. So we formed our own record company and financed the album ourselves to have absolute utter freedom to do whatever we want. First and foremost in our minds was to create a true Celtic Frost album, something that wasn’t bound by a release date, or a budget, or studio availability, or something like that. The main focus had to be to create music that is Celtic Frost without question, no matter how long it would take. Given that Martin and I hadn’t worked together or even seen each other in over ten years, it proved very difficult at first to accomplish that. We came to the rehearsal room but we couldn’t flick a switch and be Celtic Frost again. It was a process of finding ourselves and defining what Celtic Frost is in the 21st century. Where are we? What kind of people have we become? What does Celtic Frost sound like with these people? We recorded a plethora of material, a lot of which was recorded to album standards or at least demoed and we threw out so much material because it just wasn’t Celtic Frost. Some of it was very good material, I believe, but it was simply not Celtic Frost. So we took our time until we felt the album was ready and sounded like Celtic Frost and corresponded to what we had in our minds.
Celtic Frost – 2006
A couple of years ago, a tracklist for the new album even showed up. I think it was something like 14 or 15 tracks complete with song titles and everything…
I suppose Blabbermouth took it upon themselves to release information that…Blabbermouth always knew better than we did (laughs)! It’s got its advantages and its disadvantages but during the making of this album, they released so much information that had absolutely nothing to do with reality, so we can laugh about that. But I know which list you refer to.
So “Dark Matter Manifest” and “Probe” were never going to be titles?
“Dark Matter Manifest” was simply the title we released because we didn’t want to release the actual album title for quite a while. We knew we were not going to release the album tomorrow so we wanted to keep it confidential at the time. “Probe” was actually the work title when we first started with the album. It was what Martin and I referred to when we first sat down talking about the album in 2001.
You mentioned earlier about when you and Martin first got back together after not talking for ten years. Was it that difficult to get back into Celtic Frost mindset again after being away from each other and even from that type of music for so long?
Yes and no. It wasn’t difficult to know exactly what Celtic Frost needs to be. It was much more difficult to actually accomplish that. Celtic Frost is basically Martin and I. We formed this band. We formed the concept for the first three albums in one night, in detail, which is well known by now. We were the writers on what is now considered the three classic Frost albums, the first three albums. We knew exactly what we wanted and what a Celtic Frost album needed to sound like in our minds. It was just difficult because we had very different lives in the meantime. It was necessary that we didn’t work together for ten years. I think that the splitting of Celtic Frost and the time off was absolutely necessary. But, of course, that causes you to develop on your own and then you come back together. It would have been dishonest to record an album in half a year or a year and release it as a Celtic Frost album. It would have been greedy and it would have been an album that would have been forced. We wanted to take the time necessary to find each other again and grow Celtic Frost into this family that is very unique, very radical and very dark. You cannot do that over night and it took, in our case, one to two years to feel that we were getting to that point where we could actually call ourselves Celtic Frost and be real and honest.
Do you think this is the most important album that Celtic Frost has released as a band, not only because you have been away for so long but because there are so many preconceived notions both in the media and from fans about what they should be expecting with this album?
I never really gave a shit about what people expected from us, as you can tell (laughs). No two albums from Celtic Frost are the same. We do the albums for ourselves. We were extremely happy when people liked them as well, but first and foremost the reason for these songs were our own dreams and aspirations, musically and artistically speaking. It’s the same with this album. I never listened to old Celtic Frost while writing this album. I do it now for the first time while rehearsing old music for the live set, but before that I wanted to be Celtic Frost now. I didn’t want to do a cheap embarrassing pathetic rehash of good old times that were long gone, I didn’t want to pretend that the 40-year old Tom Fischer is the 18-year old Tom Fischer, like no time has past. I wanted to determine what Tom Fischer and Celtic Frost sound like nowadays. So I didn’t care what the old albums sounded like, I didn’t care what people were expecting. I wanted to do a Celtic Frost album now.
Celtic Frost – 1990
That’s one of the things I’ve always admired about Celtic Frost, you never know from one album to the next where exactly it’s going to go.
It’s always an extremely risky thing which has made us famous with albums like TO MEGA THERION and INTO THE PANDEMONIUM and has also almost destroyed us with COLD LAKE. It’s a very risky approach to do what no one else does, to risk your career with every single album instead of playing it safe. But the record company wanted us to play it safe in the 80s. “Do another MORBID TALES, do another TO MEGA THERION!” It probably would have been very lucrative for us to do that. We are a different band. We come from such varied backgrounds that it isn’t possible to force us into a musical concept. We have so many ideas and have such instrumental background that it is impossible for us to be like a photocopy machine.
Since an entire generation basically has passed since Celtic Frost last had a new album out, how are you approaching not only marketing a new album but marketing the band to an entirely different way of looking at things?
Well, we don’t really approach that in a certain way. We are the band and you can only market it as Celtic Frost. If that fails to captivate the nowadays audience’s attention, then we will fail. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think we should adapt to anything, we should be true to what we are. We are Celtic Frost and maybe our music can cut it and maybe our whole concept can cut it or maybe it can’t, it’s as simple as that.
MORBID TALES -1984
TO MEGA THERION – 1985
Do you think the legacy of the band is enough that people will seek out the new album just based on the name itself?
No, I don’t think it’s enough. As naïve as it may sound in this commercialized world, I believe that it comes down to it, the music still needs to be strong and the music must be able to connect to the current generation. I believe that we might generate a lot of interest by the name and that people might give it a listen because they have read it so many times in interviews. But if they listen to it and the music sucks, what good will the name do? All it will do is ruin the reputation of the old albums because everybody will says that Celtic Frost sucks and then the old albums will be in a different light as well.
MONOTHEIST is your first release on Century Media Records. Previous Celtic Frost albums were available on Noise Records and the problems with that label have been well documented both in your book and the media. What made Century Media more appealing than the dozens of other labels that I’m sure were courting the band?
Well, the band is actually signed to Prowling Death Records (laughs). It’s our own label and if you’re an insider you will know that was the organization that Martin and I formed to release the Hellhammer demos. We reactivated it when we said we would form our own record company and do this album on our own. Prowling Death Records licensed this album to Century Media because we wanted to retain full control of everything. We had a number of offers but as I’ve said many times before, we didn’t want to sign to a label just because it was a good advance. We didn’t want to be a band considered just an item on an Excel financial spreadsheet. After our experiences in the 80s with Noise Records we wanted to feel that there was a personal interest and a personal understanding of our music, that people were enthusiastic about the concept and art of Celtic Frost and not just viewed us as just another item that you can tell your stockholder that it makes so much profit. Of all the labels that we talked to, there were actually two that fulfilled this criteria and we eventually settled for Century Media because we felt they also had an extremely good distribution system and fantastic promotional staff. So for us at that time it seemed a perfect match between a personal approach and a business approach. So far it’s been like that and we hope it’s going to stay like that.
Early Hellhammer Promo Photo – 1984
Peter Tägtgren from Hypocrisy did the co-production on the new record. What made him your first choice? Or was he your first choice?
Well, he was one of a number of engineers and producers that we talked to. Celtic Frost was always a band that on every album tried to work with the most modern studio technology and the most modern means in the studio and it wasn’t going to be different this time around. But of course you need an engineer and a producer who can handle this and who is an expert in that. Peter is, of course, such an expert. He’s a cutting edge producer, very much at home in the current scene. We talked to a number of producers but again we felt the personal connection with Peter because he had been a Celtic Frost fan for most of his life, even going back to Hellhammer. It seemed like a perfect combination of technical capabilities and understanding what the band must sound like. And what’s more, when he came to Switzerland to talk to us, there was an instant friendship, an instant rapport between Peter and the band which really biased us to go with him.
How much freedom did he get in shaping the sound of the album?
None (laughs). We didn’t do this over his head. We were really honest from the beginning and told him “Look, we’re not going to relinquish the power. We will keep all the decisions in the band. We know exactly what we want it to sound like.” And he understood and said that he wouldn’t do it any other way if he were in Celtic Frost. He said “It’s going to be the most difficult album of my career and not because you guys hinder me but because I too want it to sound like Celtic Frost.” Of course, everything with Celtic Frost is complex and probably overly complex and it was a very difficult session with him. He had a lot of influence during the recording of the album but there were a number of instances where he made suggestions about very crucial things such as vocals or guitar sound which were simply turned down in five seconds. We just thought we knew better what Celtic Frost should sound like. Of course, he had to pay for a lot of negative experiences that we had in the past. Maybe we would have been more open had we had more favorable experiences, but we haven’t, so we tried to retain our sound by taking control. I think the album profits a lot from Peter’s work but a lot of the time our decisions were better. For example, the vocals on the album are very aggressive and Peter said they were too extreme for Celtic and he got me to sing more the way I sang on MORBID TALES. We looked at each other and it sounded fake. It sounded like I acted a different vocal style for old times’ sake. Of course Peter did not do that because he wanted to mess up the recording. He just thought Celtic Frost had this sound and that the fans want to hear these vocals but in the context of the new material the way I’m singing right now naturally, which is more aggressive and heavier, they just sounded much better.
I understand that three different versions of MONOTHEIST will come out and that each has different bonus tracks. Can you explain what the differences are?
There’s basically two different versions, plus the vinyl for the vinyl collectors, which is, of course, a tiny fraction of the audience. The two main versions are the digipack, which has much expanded artwork plus a poster that shows a lot of the context of the artwork because the front cover is just a detailed piece of a much bigger piece of artwork. If you’re really interested in the whole Celtic Frost artwork then you have to go with the digipack because it’s really elaborate. Martin designed it specifically to showcase all of this. If you’re a more casual listener, then you’ll be fine with the normal jewelcase. The digipack because it is expanded has a bonus track called “Temple of Depression,” which is a very cold, almost industrial-style song. It’s not synthetic, it’s just played very industrial-like. It has some backing vocals by Ravn from 1349.
Yeah, I read that Ravn was on the album and…
Satyr from Satyricon.
Is he actually on the album?
He sings a short section in “Synagoga Satanae”. We feel very honored. These two people and their bands are very close friends to Celtic Frost unrelated to the current album. We felt extremely honored that they agreed to participate on some of the sections of the album. It’s probably not the last time that 1349 and Satyricon will work with Celtic Frost. There’s a deep friendship and understanding that transcends what is going on in the industry. It’s based on mutual respect and we are very honored to be part of that.
How did you come into contact with both of them?
Celtic Frost has very close ties to some of the Northern European extreme metal, of course. We’ve been approached by a number of those bands over the years and also when I was active in Apollyon Sun, a lot of the modern black metal bands got in touch with me or we would meet somewhere or a third party would establish contact because there is this tie going back to Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost with a shared vision and approach which makes us feel rather close to these bands.
Martin Eric Ain – 1984
Martin Eric Ain – 1985
Besides Satyr and Ravn, there were rumors that Martin was going to sing a cover song. What cover song was that – if that is a fact?
It is a fact that the recording of that song exists, but it will never be released. There exists about two albums worth of material that has been recorded to various stages, some even to album quality, but we had this vision of an album in our head and it just had to sound like true Celtic Frost. The material we recorded is certainly interesting and I believe some of it was actually very good, it just doesn’t sound like Celtic Frost. That song is one of them. I love that song. I actually listened to it just a week ago but it certainly doesn’t belong on this album. But Martin does sing lead vocals on the album. The song “Totengott” is sung by Martin and “A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh” is sung by Martin until the end where I take over. And the spoken word parts of “Synagoga Satanae” are also done by Martin.
Both of you recorded vocals for “A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh”. How did these two takes differ and why did you decide on using Martin’s in the end?
The vocal part of “A Dying God…” really exposes you as a singer. It’s very difficult and it’s far from easy to perform for either Martin or me. There is no ego problem within the band. We simply wanted to have the better version. Martin wrote the song, he initially sang it and we all thought the vocals needed to be better, including Martin. So he said “Why don’t you have a shot?” and I said “Look, it’s very difficult, I don’t know if I can hack it.” So I did some versions and I also sang it to him live in the rehearsal room. We recorded a variety of versions and finally we decided that what Martin had done was frankly better. It was as simple as that. It wasn’t about ego and who was going to be the lead singer. It was about what worked for the song.
Martin Eric Ain (centre) – 2006
He’s got a really interesting voice, sort of like a Peter Murphy (Bauhaus) or David Bowie kind of a croon to it. It’s a very interesting vocal dynamic when you kick in at the end there with the more aggressive parts.
Yeah. I’m very happy about the vocal work on the album by Martin and me. I think it’s the most varied so far and yet it’s always heavy or dark. I believe that is the perfect combination for this album.
I read on your blog that “Drown In Ashes” is an old song that has been reworked for this album. Which album was that originally written for and how has it changed over the years?
It’s not that old. It’s one of the earliest songs written for the new album. The only song that has one riff from an earlier Celtic Frost album, the abandoned UNDER APOLLYON SUN record that was supposed to come out in 1993, is “Domain of Decay.” Everything else was written for this album. The story of “Drown In Ashes” is that I wrote it originally for the band but it got voted down because they thought it didn’t suit the album. I liked the song very much so I kept developing it in private with the intention of using it on a solo album of mine, which is supposed to come out like next year. The song was too good to throw away. I felt really good about this song. Later on, they heard a much more developed version of it and heard me sing it in the rehearsal room and then they requested the song back for Celtic Frost. Which, of course, pissed me off but I eventually did it anyway (laughs).
That’s got a really interesting vocal, as well. I know you’re a fan of Sisters of Mercy and I thought there was an Andrew Eldritch-vibe on that song.
You see, this new wave and gothic influence on Celtic Frost dates back to even 1985. Martin and I have always been followers of the New Wave scene, which evolved into the gothic scene. Bands like Bauhaus, Siouxie and The Banshees, Wall of Voodoo and all that stuff. That’s why we went with the sound on INTO THE PANDEMONIUM with songs like “Sorrows of The Moon”, “Mexican Radio” and “Mesmerized”. Of course, it’s something we still feel very passionate about. I was probably slightly more liberated on “Drown In Ashes” because I thought it was going to be on my solo album and it doesn’t really matter how I sing it because I don’t have to sing it like Celtic Frost. When we took it back into the band, of course on my solo album the whole song was going to be electronic and we converted it back into a band. Only a fraction of what you hear is programming, everything else is distorted guitars, feedback from guitars and actual drums. There’s hardly anything electronic on it anymore but we retained the vocal style from what I did independently from the band.
INTO THE PANDEMONIUM – 1987
One other thing that always seems to be on a Celtic Frost album is the female vocals. Who are the singers on MONOTHEIST?
There are actually three female singers. On “Os Abysmi Vel Daath” there is a modern opera singer, who sings modern opera, which is something we had never tried. She is from Switzerland and she’s a totally extreme person. Her shrieks sound like sirens, which I believe was essential for the very mood of the song. Then on “Drown In Ashes,” the woman who almost sings co-lead vocals with me is Lisa Middlehauve from the German gothic band, Xandria, who was fantastic. She came to the studio on short notice because the singer we originally had approached couldn’t do it. She came to the studio and probably did a much better job than the other singer could have done. All the other female vocals are done by our long time backup singer, Simone Vollenweider, who has also worked Apollyon Sun in the past and who has been on a multitude of demos for this album.
One thing I really liked about “Obscured” is the gothic feel from the trade-offs in vocals between you and…was it Lisa, you said?
That’s Simone Vollenweider.
Is that another nod to Sisters of Mercy? I hear a lot of “Under The Gun” influences on “Obscured.”
Yeah, actually you could say that. I’ve heard all kinds of comparisons for that song. I simply wanted to do something that is much more a unity than what we have done in the past where sometimes the woman would sing completely on her own and then I would follow. I wanted more of a duet, a unity between my vocals and her vocals and this was our attempt at creating this, to actually share most of the verse and the chorus together. And it does approach the system they have used on “Under The Gun.” That’s actually true.
The female vocals seem to be a crucial part of the band’s music. Is that something we will always find on Celtic Frost albums?
Oh, I believe so. It’s been a part of Celtic Frost since the very first album with the female vocals on the song, “Return To The Eve.” Definitely. We are an extreme metal band and the new album is heavier and darker than anything we have ever done but I believe that no matter how extreme metal we are playing, it’s always intriguing to add some fragility to that, to make it more fine and shattered and not just brutal macho music. I think the combination is exactly what interests me.
Are any of the MONOTHEIST songs with female vocals going to show up in the live set?
I’m not quite sure yet, actually. We have been talking about this. We are very hesitant to take a female singer with us for the whole tour. We are not a gothic band, we are an extreme metal band who use female vocals at times but we are not a gothic band. We might do that for some special shows or for the filming of a show that will be released on DVD eventually, but I don’t think we will do that on a regular basis. We will do some of the songs with female vocals – but do them without female vocals like we used to do them originally.
Tom Gabriel Fischer – Live at Sweden Rock June 2006
You had a second guitarist in the band up until last fall, Erol Unala. What happened to him and how much of his work, if any, shows up on the final product of MONOTHEIST?
What happened was that as the band found itself more and more and became Celtic Frost, becoming much more radical, much more violent, much more aggressive, much darker, the more he felt like he was standing outside of that group. It turned out that he didn’t make that process, that radicalization. That’s not something he can be blamed for, it’s not like he had ill will or was a bad person. He simply is a different person to us. Whereas the three of us grew together into a family that has quite radical dynamics and is extremely volatile at points, he is a peace-loving and friendly, family-oriented being. He didn’t make the transition as we did. As a matter of fact, he felt bewildered and disturbed by the dynamics of the band and the dynamics are what make Celtic Frost into Celtic Frost. I believe they are essential. Eventually we just had to sit together and talk very civilized and very openly about that. When we said it was a mutual decision, that was not just a politically-correct statement, it was a mutual decision because everybody knew at that time that this was the reality and no matter how we tried from both sides to act like nothing was wrong, it was in fact wrong. We had just grown apart like it happens sometimes. It was an extremely difficult day and we all came extremely shaken out of this meeting. We still maintain a close friendship with Erol and… What can I say? It’s never easy to lose someone like that, especially after three and a half years of work on an album. But some of the major songs on the album bear the mark of Erol, for example “Obscurity” goes back to an idea of his. Some of the major riffs in “Os Abysmi…” are his. There’s quite a bit of work of his on the album and that’s why we have featured him in the booklet.
Erol Unala (far left) & Franco Sesa (far right) – 2006
You’ve also got a new drummer, Franco Sesa. What’s his background and how did he get involved with the band?
He’s quite notorious in Switzerland due to his personality, which I guess makes him perfectly suited for Celtic Frost (laughs). Of course, it seems strange to me that you say “new”. Of course, for the record he is new but he’s been playing with us for three or four years. He’s been part of a number of stoner metal bands here in Switzerland and he’s an excellent live drummer and he has been a friend of Martin’s. It was very difficult for us to find a drummer. We were looking for like two years to find a perfect drummer for this band before Martin actually thought of inviting Franco. Even then it was very difficult to integrate him into what we knew was Celtic Frost, the very rich framework of ideas and everything that didn’t have tolerance for any change, not after what happened to this band in the past. We really had a very strict vision of what this band needed to be, but Franco actually grew into that vision and became probably more of a band member than any drummer before him.
Martin Ain, your long-time musical partner, is, of course, back in the band. Without any offense to Martin, were you at any time concerned about working with him again because in the past he has been in and out of the band and a less than permanent fixture?
No. What can I say…I am not the most stable of characters either. No, it was actually quite the opposite. I have come to the conclusion regarding Celtic Frost’s history, which in the meantime I have given plenty of time to analyzing in the book and talks with fans and musicians such as Ravn and others who claim Celtic Frost as an influence over the years, that Celtic Frost is only Celtic Frost when Martin and I work together, no matter how volatile that can be. The positive sides are far larger than the dangers or negative sides. I would have never done this album without Martin. I don’t think it’s Celtic Frost, to be quite honest, without Martin and I collaborating in the songwriting. This is the way I feel. It’s probably also a process of maturity that we both have realized that. We actually worked quite well together on this album. There was one major clash which was really severe but we actually managed to turn that around and made our connection even stronger. I feel we have learned a lot from that and from our past. Celtic Frost is Martin and I. We formed the band and we wrote the concept for three albums way back when in one night, so this is Celtic Frost as it needs to be, I think.
Martin Eric Ain – Live at Sweden Rock June 2006
You mentioned in your book, ARE YOU MORBID?, that you were never one hundred percent confident of yourself either as a guitarist or a vocalist. Has your opinion of that changed in the last few years?
I’m confident as far as my abilities are concerned but I’m realistic about these abilities. I believe I am a mediocre guitar player. I probably play a lot of the Celtic Frost stuff like no other guitar player can, but that doesn’t mean that I’m a good guitar player. Since I wrote this stuff it’s tailored to me and I mastered the Celtic Frost style but that just makes me good at my own thing. I think that realistically I’m a mediocre guitar player. I feel very strong about me as a vocalist now. I’ve never been as strong as a vocalist as I am now. I’m much more confident than I’ve ever been in my life. That has really changed. But as far as the guitar is concerned, I use the guitar to express myself and I’m not your typical guitar player who rehearses like every week, day in, day out or that you find sitting in a music store fiddling away on a guitar. I use my guitar only when I create or when I have to rehearse with the band.
Tom Gabriel Fischer – 1986
Tom Gabriel Fischer – 1985
Your vocal trademarks, the “oohs” that you put in there, is that something you consciously do as part of the song or is it a spontaneous thing that just comes out in the studio when you’re singing it?
It can be both. Very often it’s to enhance a written change or to give more power to a change in the song. But sometimes it just happens in the spur of the moment or when we all feel it has to be there.
So you don’t have a pre-determined number that has to be there (laughs)?
(Laughs) No, but I think every Celtic Frost album needs them.
I agree. It’s certainly something people look for. As you say, as much as Martin is a crucial part of a Celtic Frost album, I think that these vocal inflections and sounds you add are just as important to be able to call it a Celtic Frost album.
Yeah, I agree with you. I totally agree.
Celtic Frost – Live at Sweden Rock June 2006
You’ve got a big North American tour planned now for the first time in a long time.
True. Are you worried about the new songs translating live because they’re a lot darker and denser?
No, because the band is really at that point. These songs reflect us the way we are right now. We didn’t sit there and say “The album has to be heavier and we have to be more serious” and stuff. These songs arose from our state of mind, so we have absolutely no problem playing these songs right now. They reflect exactly who we are right now. When I was a young heavy metal fan, I was afraid of how I would age and if I could still play heavy music when I was older and now I am older and I player heavier and darker than ever before. It’s not contrived, it’s really honestly who I am. So I’m very glad about that development. If anything, when we play the older material, it will sound much heavier automatically because it’s us playing it now. On PANDEMONIUM, all the experiments sounded like afterthoughts, almost like they had been glued on to the exterior of the song, whereas on the new album I think there are as many experiments and ideas but we managed to make them part of the sound. We didn’t want them to sound like they were played by a different band. We wanted them to sound like Celtic Frost no matter how obscure the ideas would be.
Are you nervous about taking to the stage again? When was the last time you played in front of a large audience?
In 2000 with Apollyon Sun. Since then, I’ve been on stage once as a guest with 1349. But no, I’m not nervous at all, no. I’m looking forward very much to that.
What sort of a live set should we expect? Are you guys going to play an hour, hour and a half, two hours?
I think around one and a half hours, give and take. It’s going to be based on the first three albums and the new album and if we have time to rehearse it, maybe one or two Hellhammer songs.
COLD LAKE – 1988
VANITY/NEMESIS – 1990
So nothing from COLD LAKE or VANITY/NEMESIS?
COLD LAKE wasn’t even up for discussion and we briefly discussed VANITY/NEMESIS but I really don’t feel like playing that. Maybe it will disappoint some fans but, to me, the “real” Celtic Frost is Martin and I and now that we finally play together again, that’s the material that we should play.
Is there going to be a second guitarist coming on tour?
Yes. We have just added a second guitar player who for now is our tour guitar player but who we hope will incorporate eventually as a full member.
Can you name him? Is it someone that we know?
He might be known to a lot of the metal audiences if you’re not just a casual heavy metal fan. I think it’s too early to announce who it is [NOTE: It was later revealed that Anders Odden (ex-Satyricon, ex-Mayhem) is the new touring guitarist]. He’s not a big star. We wanted somebody who actually fit the band, not somebody who has a big name.
You mentioned that you will record a show or some shows for a live recording. Is that going to be CD and a DVD or just a DVD?
I’m really not a fan of live albums and I don’t think Celtic Frost will ever do a live album, if I can help it. I’m also not really into just recording a live show. What we might eventually do is to go to a location to do something really special to do a live DVD like nobody else has. We have some ideas for that but it’s a little bit too early to actually work them out. We’ll do this tour and then we’ll see.
So this won’t be part of the North American dates, it will be after the fact?
I think so. There is simply no time right now.
Tom Gabriel Fischer – Live at Sweden Rock June 2006
Who’s going to be opening the North American dates in the fall? Satyricon was rumored.
We actually talked to Satyricon about that but it doesn’t seem like it will be possible. We might play with Satyricon eventually, maybe on the European tour. I would love to play with them. They are very close friends and I would love that. There are two bands that we are talking to for the US tour but it’s too early, nothing has been signed. They’re still struggling to get the financing so it’s too early to announce who it is.
There were a couple of interesting omissions on the North American dates. I live in Vancouver in Canada and I was kind of surprised that you guys aren’t playing here! Is there any particular reason? We have 2.5 million people in Vancouver but you play in Victoria which is about a quarter of the size and is 20 miles away on Vancouver Island, which you need a ferry to go to. I was sort of curious why.
That’s very nice to hear (laughs). I actually don’t know. Martin was the one in the band who coordinated together with our booking agency, which is First Row Talent in the States. I was concerned with totally other things at that time.
How do you feel about uprooting yourself for such a long tour after having a regular close to home life for so many years?
I’ve had anything but a regular life. My life has been very checkered and let’s say very eventful.
(Laughs) Is that due for another book?
Definitely. But it’s simply another form of my life. My life has been unplannable to begin with for many years. I’m looking forward very much to going on the road.
Going back to some of the difficulties you guys faced with the new album, it’s been well documented in your book the problems you’ve had with labels and producers and pretty much everything else. When you started working with MONOTHEIST and having some difficulties with that, did you ever think “here we go again”?
That danger was always present, yes. But that’s why we took control of everything. That’s why we formed our own record company. That’s why we controlled everything beginning with the songs to the production to the artwork. Every concept needs to be approved by the band, even the ads and the flyers, everything.
Are we ever going to see a Celtic Frost box set or another retrospective?
I don’t know. I don’t want that, but I don’t have the rights to our old material, so they can do whatever they damn want to and if the album is successful, I’m quite sure they’re going to jump on the train and cash in on that, which I loathe and we will make that clear on the web site. We will do our utmost to counter-promote that and to advise everybody not to buy it.
So it’s not something you would endorse?
No, I would not. We have done the re-issues in 1999-2000 and that was it for us. We don’t see the reason of perpetually repackaging our old material. We’ve done that officially as a band in cooperation with the label – that’s it! If the label actually thinks that they’re so smart and will release that to make a lot of money, we’re going to promote everywhere we can that you shouldn’t buy it. They have the rights but they cannot stop us telling our opinion about it.
PARCHED WITH THIRST AM I, AND DYING – 1992
Will the unreleased album ever see the light of day?
No. No way.
Is it because you don’t want to look back to the past or are you not happy with the material?
That’s one of the reasons, but it’s also incomplete and we have no intentions of going back to something that was written in 1992 and try to recreate something. I’m not that person anymore, it’s not that mood anymore, not that time anymore. I couldn’t do it. It would be some kind of hodgepodge. Maybe the album would have been good, maybe not, but I don’t think it would have been as strong as MONOTHEIST. There’s always a reason for everything. I think it was very good that the band split up and didn’t do anything for a long time. We now have a new album and we are working on an even heavier and darker album.
I’m going back to Blabbermouth again here but former Celtic Frost guitarist Ron Marks appeared from out of nowhere and did a thinly veiled attempt to get back into the band a few months ago. Did it surprise you that he showed up?
(Sighs) I don’t even know if I should get into this. It’s not just me, we all feel kind of tired that somebody who was in the band for five months on a tour, who didn’t even write anything for the classic three albums and who left Celtic Frost at the end of those five months by his own wishes, then spends his next twenty years promoting himself as ex-Celtic Frost…I find that kind of sad, for lack of a better word. He’s not a bad person and he’s a guitar player who blows me away technically. I think he undersells himself with this ex-Celtic Frost tag, which is based on nothing. The only time he recorded with Celtic Frost was a few riffs and a few solos on an album that’s not considered one of the classic Celtic Frost albums. Does that warrant his twenty year conquest of claiming he’s ex-Celtic Frost? He’s written a letter to me in response to my reply about that: “I will damn well continue to promote myself as ex-Celtic Frost for as long as I want to,” which made me feel that, all right, if it has to be, that’s sad. It’s like I would walk around saying “I’m ex-Hellhammer, I’m ex-Hellhammar, hello!” I mean, I did more in Hellhammer with one EP than he did in Celtic Frost! (laughs)
CELTIC FROST – 1987 (Reed St. Mark, far left; Ron Marks, far right)
What about some of the other band members? Like Reed St. Mark, he was certainly on the classic albums, was he ever considered to come back into the band again along with yourself and Martin?
He was the drummer we wanted to work with. But I went to New York and encountered a drummer who, at the time, was definitely not able to play with us for a variety of personal reasons, which was a huge shock to me and Martin. Eventually we turned it into an advantage, but at the time it was shocking and sad. I just talked to him before, we’re in regular contact and he’s still a very good friend to us. As far as the other members are concerned, I really don’t know and I really don’t care.
So besides Ron Marks, nobody else has come out of the woodwork?
They’ve all come out of the woodwork but I really don’t give a shit (laughs). You know, after Celtic Frost I did Apollyon Sun and if I hadn’t bumped into Martin and we hadn’t developed this chemistry and these ideas, I wouldn’t have had a problem going on without this ex-Celtic Frost all the time. I have new creative ideas. I don’t have to rely on that for the next fifty years or come out of the woodwork every time I know there’s a project that I think I can capitalize on. I think it’s cheap. I have quite a few friends in the industry who occasionally do something and I don’t have to call them and say “Hey, remember we’re friends?” That’s so fucking pathetic.
Are you surprised that Celtic Frost has held such a cult following? Not only have you been inactive for such a long period but you were active for such a brief period, really only about seven years.
Of course we’re surprised. It’s something we could have never contrived. But that’s out of my hands. That’s a dynamic that the media and the audiences have created.
What do you think when you hear a band like Usurper from Chicago, who have obviously named themselves after a Celtic Frost song, or Darkthrone, who cite you as an influence for their own artistic vision? In your book you described yourself as this Swiss boy who came from difficult circumstances and now you’re looked upon as an influence. Is that humbling?
Yes, it is humbling. Although I hardly know any of the music of the two bands you mentioned, I know other bands that have a similar thing. It is humbling, but it is also something I try not to deal with. I don’t want to sit here and think, “I’m Tom Warrior and I’ve had this huge influence, blah blah blah.” I just think that in my place that would be kind of pretentious. I just want to be a musician who does albums. I cannot possibly sit here and think of all the people I have influenced. How sad would that be?
Hellhammer – Early 1983
Given the critical bashing that Hellhammer got at first, do you find it ironic that the band now is such an influence on so many black metal bands?
Yes, of course. And a lot of people don’t understand why me and Martin had such a hard time with Hellhammer for such a long time. Hellhammer used to be THE negative band of the 80s and was bashed everywhere and it only much later became that myth that it is nowadays. I’m much happier nowadays that Hellhammer is actually appreciated and it makes it possible for me to look at it much more neutrally instead of having to hide myself every time the name Hellhammer is being mentioned. I can look at it now in what I think is a realistic manner and stand for the good and the bad sides of Hellhammer. But this gargantuan myth that it has become and this influence was certainly not around in the 80s. That was created much, much later.
What are your thoughts on the black metal scene today? Celtic Frost obviously had a lot of influence on many of those bands. Are you a fan of that type of music?
I am now. I had a hard time during the nineties when the black metal scene, or some people in the black metal scene, in Northern Europe triggered quite a lot of violence and excess that, to me, had nothing to do with music anymore. I had a very hard time with black metal at that time and I distanced myself massively from that. Nowadays, I believe it is a quite different black metal scene, a scene that is attempting to incorporate true art into extreme metal, which is exactly what Celtic Frost does, too. When I listen to some of the albums from Satyricon or Gorgoroth or Dark Fortress, these bands actually don’t play at 100 miles per hour from start to finish. They have varied sets, they incorporate classical musicians and so on. They play very dynamic music, which is totally different from the early black metal. This is music I enjoy greatly. There are lots of bands like that, like Khold.
After Celtic Frost broke up in ‘93, were you still involved with music between then and the time Apollyon Sun started?
No, not at all. I left the industry entirely.
What were you doing?
I actually worked on the manuscript for the book. This is actually when I wrote the first draft of the book.
You mentioned you have a solo album that may or may not be out next year. What direction are the songs going to be? Is it going to be vastly different from Celtic Frost?
Martin, who has heard a lot of the material from it, says it sounds like Celtic Frost played electronically. It’s extremely dark electronic music. It’s like rave music but much darker than you usually hear it. Of course you can hear who composed it probably, but it’s all electronic with very few real instruments. I certainly will try to release it in 2007. I actually wanted to release it this year but with Celtic Frost absorbing all my time, I haven’t been able to work with it. I would like to finish it later this year and release it next year.
With both Celtic Frost and Apollyon Sun you’ve done a lot of different kinds of music and not only metal. There’s been electronica and rock and thrash and black metal and classical and…pretty much everything. What other types of music do you want to explore as a musician before you decide to leave music for good?
None. I feel very at home in heavy rock and in electronic music. These are the two music styles that I’ve listened to all my life. Of course, I’ve experimented in heavy rock and classical music and new wave and so on, but I think that’s the field I want to stay in.
Apollyon Sun – SUB (2000)
Is Apollyon Sun dead?
Yes. With the separation from Erol, I don’t think there will be more Apollyon for the time being. I’ve learned to never say never, but right not I cannot imagine doing another Apollyon Sun. I have my solo album as an outlet for my electronic urges.
How successful was Apollyon Sun in Europe? I know in North America, apart from the Internet, we didn’t hear much about the band. Why do you think it didn’t really take off?
Because the week that the second Apollyon Sun album came out, we ran into such difficulties with our management and our label, which were owned by the same corporation that any further collaboration became impossible. It all ended with lawyers, as usual. It completely hurt the career of Apollyon Sun and it ruined three years of work on an album. Maybe one day I will get to reissue that album, who knows? But for the time being, Apollyon Sun is dead.
Will there be a follow-up to your book ARE YOU MORBID? or any other books penned by yourself?
I’m writing on two books. I’m writing a book on Hellhammer together with Martin, which is going to be very detailed. There will be tons of unreleased material in it, photos, artwork and historical fact. In the long term, I’m writing on a sequel to my book.
Will it be a new edition with additional material or a whole new book entirely?
No, it’s going to be an entirely new book, but it’s going to take years.
***Thanks to Heather at Century Media Records for setting up the interview.
***Read my review of MONOTHEIST here.
Celtic Frost’s official site
Tom Gabriel Fischer’s blog