Celtic Frost – Tom Gabriel Fischer
Interviewed by Simon Lukic
Transcribed by Mike ”Fucking Hostile” Holmes
Live Pics by Arto Lehtinen
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Celtic Frost. The name alone demands respect and it’s exactly that which has allowed the band the opportunity to resurrect themselves in such a glorious manner. MONOTHEIST may not be the album everyone was hoping for but when one looks at the history of the band it fits in perfectly with their adventurous nature and honest approach. I had the pleasure of chatting to Tom Gabriel Fischer near the end of the MONOTHEIST world tour and here is what we discussed.
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It’s a huge emotional thing – this whole period of time for us has been extremely unique. This album has been unique and it’s been a ‘gigantic’ piece of work to finish. It’s by far the biggest tour we’ve ever done and it’s taken us to countries that we’ve never played before. This whole thing is very emotional and it probably will take quite a while, probably even years to sink in.
So the reformation has exceeded your expectations.
Umm…to be quite honest with you I didn’t have any expectations. What I wanted to do was an album with Martin (Ain – Bass) purely for musical reasons and it’s not a statement to ward off criticism or anything like that. The album has been very successful and I have nothing to hide. But the thing is that I got back together with Martin after 10 years of hardly being in contact with him. I got back together with him to do the Celtic Frost reissues in 1999 and our friendship completely rekindled. As we began to write music together, we started talking about the possibility of doing Celtic Frost again and the whole thing was truly about music. We wanted to do a true Celtic Frost album and anything past that we were basically mute to. We really didn’t care how the album would be received like, or if we would tour or not. We wanted to do an album that would be a true Celtic Frost album, one that was very strong and very unique. I think we accomplished that but everything else wasn’t of importance to us.
What has it been like connecting with your listening audience again?
It’s been fantastic. We wanted to do a good album and everything after that we simply let happen. So going out on the road and playing shows and doing this as a headliner for almost all of the shows has been mind blowing. It’s something we could have never planned. It’s something we didn’t plan and the reactions have been amazing. Speaking from someone in the band, I believe the band is stronger than it has ever have been before. I know what the band sounded like in the old days – even though there’s a huge myth attached to it but I believe the band is much stronger now. We are heavier, with much more force on stage and I think that’s because we all are men in our forties. We have more experience and much more power now than when we were kids.
So would you consider that the main difference from the band now to the band in the eighties? Like you said there’s a huge ‘mythical’ element attached to the early years of Celtic Frost.
Yeah, I mean the cuts we did in the early days were good, but compared to how we sound like now, they were lightweight. I’m very proud to be the age I am, I have absolutely no problem with ageing. I think it’s fantastic to have – in addition to the power of Celtic Frost, to have that life experience, and that ‘radicalness’ that I didn’t have as a kid. When we were teenagers in Celtic Frost we basically had to be contrived because we simply hadn’t lived a life from which to draw from. Now we are adult men and we have all had ‘fulfilling’ lives. The anger and the power we draw from now is real. It’s not contrived because the life experience actually exists.
Has this maturity and experience brought you closer to your true vision of the band in any way?
No, I think we’ve always worked very hard on realizing the vision we had, otherwise an album like INTO THE PANDEMONIUM would have never taken place. It’s simply that we have now become much more of a force as musicians. We are simply stronger, and it has added an additional dimension to the vision.
This vision has had a great effect on the Metal scene. Do you feel that the genre has finally caught up to Celtic Frost’s ‘avant garde’ nature’?
I don’t know if that’s up to me to judge, quite frankly and I don’t really care what the scene is in relationship to Celtic Frost. We are fortunate enough to be one of those few bands that can actually say we have our own musical style. We sound like Celtic Frost. We sound unlike any other band and I am very proud of that. My work with Celtic Frost is in terms of Celtic Frost and nothing else.
What about the black metal scene and what’s happening there? There does seem to be a connection between the bands past and these current artists.
Well again, there is a lot of myth attached to that, but we do have a very direct connection to that scene and obviously we share a lot of common history with a lot of black metal bands, not just because they refer to us (as black metal), but because of the attitude in many of those bands is very related to the attitude we had in Hellhammer or early Celtic Frost. That’s why there is a substantial amount of friendship between us and many of those black metal bands that are operational nowadays. That is something that I value very much.
What about thrash metal? Even though the band stood alone back in the day Celtic Frost did co-exist with many bands of the time.
I can only speak for myself, but I have to say that I am far more distant from thrash metal than I am from black metal. It’s a strange thing. Thrash metal has become a very conservative genre of music, there is a lot of self repetition and I really don’t know what to think of that. When we were involved in thrash metal it was all about being revolutionary and as much as I like thrash metal as a musical direction, I think that it has lost that spirit. And I think that is terrible.
So is it harder today to be as groundbreaking as it was in the past?
Oh, it’s radically harder yeah. Nowadays and we are talking about some 40 years of heavy metal history here, everything has already been done. I think it has become closer to impossible to be truly innovative and do something new. What you still can do is try to be original and try to be honest and emotional in your music, but to actually do something truly new has become nearly impossible.
Is that why the album took so long to develop?
You have to realize that Martin and I worked together up until 1988 and briefly again in ’89 before getting back together in late 2000 or 2001, which meant a break of 12 years that we had not worked with each other. I had written a book and he had opened clubs here in Switzerland. We had completely different lives and we couldn’t just go back into the rehearsal room, turn a switch and out of the blue Celtic Frost would exist again. Celtic Frost has always been a product of our friendship and first we had to find our friendship again and let it grow. We didn’t want to do a quick shot reunion album – we wanted to do something very special. We wrote material for maybe three albums until we were happy with the music we recorded. If we were going to bring Celtic Frost back it had to be the right way and the right way takes time.
Now that the friendship between you and Martin has become stronger, do you see the problems of old resurfacing?
I cannot make any predictions of Celtic Frost, it is too volatile of a band. I’m not only talking about Martin, I am also talking about me and Franco (Sesa – Drums). Martin and my friendship with him nowadays is much stronger than its ever been, it’s a friendship that has been lifelong now with interruptions, but its much stronger than its ever been. Even if the band would split up, I am very confident that our friendship would persist, but as far as the band is concerned, it’s a very volatile band and its very difficult to work with each other. I really don’t know how long we can maintain that.
MONOTHEIST – 2006
You consider the first three albums as the true Celtic Frost releases. Did you have that blueprint in mind when writing for MONOTHEIST?
I don’t think in those terms and I’ve never approached it like that. What I wanted to do was a true Celtic Frost album, I wanted to do an album that could stand along side these albums. I don’t look at it as a direct connection, I mean if anything it is probably somewhere in between ‘To Mega Therion’ and ‘Into the Pandemonium’ but that’s going out on a limb. I think the new album is a true Celtic Frost album and that it approaches the ‘Celtic’ of Celtic Frost differently again. But other than that, I think the new album is just as unique as the other 3 classic Celtic Frost albums are unique in their own way.
So how difficult was it to get that true Celtic Frost sound after so many years between ‘Pandemonium’…
(Cuts in) It was very difficult. We all heard the album in our heads, but to actually get there and record it was very difficult. Martin and I discussed that exact album when we first sat together in late 2000. We knew what the album would sound like and we knew that we were going to do whatever it took to get there, but to actually get there was very difficult. Step by step we came closer and step by step our friendship grew again and we wrote material that came closer to what we heard in our minds. It was anything but easy.
Did controlling the album, its finances and eventual licensing assist your efforts? It was obviously a big change from the past.
I think it was the most essential change, I think it enabled us to accept the album that we wanted to do. It was 100% different from how we operated in the 80’s and its probably the key ingredient to the album.
Can I also ask you about Hellhammer and how you are finally starting to acknowledge its existence? In the past you did your best to distance yourself from the band.
That is an extremely complex topic and almost impossible to answer in one question.
Martin and I were in Hellhammer and I don’t think anybody can understand what Hellhammer meant to us personally. Hellhammer was a gigantic stumbling block when it came out, it was a band that was ripped apart by the media. When Martin and I left Hellhammer to form Celtic Frost, the prior existence of Hellhammer made it nearly impossible to be taken seriously. Everything Celtic Frost did in the early days was ripped apart by journalists who said ‘those are the Hellhammer guys…you shouldn’t listen to them…they cant play…they are ridiculous etc.’ Up to ‘Into the Pandemonium’ people would say ‘those are the Hellhammer guys’. That is the reason why we so dramatically strove to do these albums. In latter days, Hellhammer was affiliated with church burnings, murders with alcohol related violence in Scandinavia and the black metal scene. It continuously made it very difficult for us to look at Hellhammer in a completely unbiased way. Our lives were tied to all of that, and what we wanted to do with Hellhammer was so personal. It had nothing to do with murder, yet we were associated with it continuously I mean every step I took people would ask me about that in the early 90’s, it was absolutely impossible for me to not feel guilty, to not feel responsible for a certain amount of it. It is only nowadays that all of this is in the past and Celtic Frost has truly come into its own that I think that Martin and I are able to actually look at Hellhammer in a completely unbiased way and to approach Hellhammer the way it should be approached.
That’s really great to hear because I’ve always felt that Celtic Frost were somewhat held back by people always bringing up the Hellhammer connection.
Hellhammer for us, was a crucial thing. It has shaped our lives and it has shaped everything we have done. Never before has it been as clear to us as it is now. Hellhammer has now become an organic part of our life, but it wasn’t always like that. It was very difficult at times to deal with having been in Hellhammer and nowadays however I feel very proud of it. I am 43 years old and I am in a completely different place in my life. I am probably much more radical now than when I was in Hellhammer. That too is a personal process that has allowed me to access Hellhammer on a personal level much more than I ever been before.
It must feel like a huge weight has been lifted off your shoulders?
Yes, very much so. If you have a hard time with a very important section of your life, that is another good thing. It is much better nowadays to deal with Hellhammer in a more realistic manner.
So, are there any ideas taking shape for the next Celtic Frost album, or is it too early to say?
There are plenty of ideas taking shape, but I cannot predict that there is going to be another Celtic Frost album. The band is just too volatile on a personal level to make any predictions. We are all kind of worn out on a personal level after working on the album for the past 5 years on a daily basis. We’ve also been touring for over a year now in close proximity of one another, as well as having to deal with each others egos, volatility and personalities. It makes it damn impossible to predict anything about the future of Celtic Frost. I believe Celtic Frost, simply on a musical level, is probably at its strongest right now and can’t go much further. I think it would be very exciting to do another Celtic Frost album, but I don’t know if it’s going to happen.
Back in the old days you used to inform fans about forthcoming releases by letting us know what the next album was going to be called. I can assume that it will be different nowadays?
Well, Martin and I know exactly what its going to be called, we know what the cover is going to be, we know what the concept is going to be, but I’m not going to tell you. Martin and I have spent tons of time working on that, like the old days we approach it exactly the same way. Nothing in Celtic Frost is haphazard or just happens. We are manic about things like that. But in the age of the internet and of 10 million bands who copy one another we are much more careful about releasing such information.
Do you believe that the mystery a band could once create is all but gone now?
I think a lot of the mystery is gone, I mean there are so many levels to that that might sound old fashion to a fan nowadays. I mean the mere fact that if you wanted to hear a band, it was a huge undertaking to hear the music in the first place. You had to find underground record stores somewhere, in some remote town. You had to find an obscure 7” that might have been imported from some obscure record store somewhere in England, and you would buy it and be the only one to have that. You went through a spiritual thing to obtain that music when compared to today, where whatever you want to hear is just a mouse-click away. The whole thing that makes it a ‘brotherhood’ has been affected by that and this makes it difficult for heavy metal to be a mystical.
Celtic Frost’s official site
Tom Gabriel Fischer’s blog