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Quest for Redemption - An Interview With Celtic Frost's Thomas Gabriel Fischer

By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, May 23, 2006 @ 9:47 AM

"Itís flattering to hear peopl

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Celtic Frost frontman Thomas Gabriel Fischer (aka Tom Warrior) likens the band to ďan insane rollercoasterĒ ride. Truer words there never were. The Swiss avant-gardists have seen some of the highest highs, most precipitous falls and gravity-defying twists and turns imaginable during their tumultuous career, which began as primal death/black metal progenitors Hellhammer some 25 years ago. Yet when it ended, they got back on line to do it all over again.

Granted it took them ó or more specifically guitarist/vocalist Fischer and bassist/creative partner Martin Eric Ain ó a decade to get back on said line, but when oneís been through what these guys have been through, the wait is understandable.

During a three-year stretch from 1984-1987, Celtic Frost destroyed the mold of underground metal convention, concocting in short order the ground-breaking Morbid Tales, To Mega Therion and Into The Pandemonium albums that made even the most adventurous thrash metal bands, save for maybe Voivod, seem like kidís stuff. Despite budgetary constraints and the commercial pressures of their record label minders that forced the band to compromise some of their lofty artistic vision, Celtic Frostís use of electronics, orchestration and industrial elements, and affinity for wild fits of experimentation, was years ahead of its time ó especially with the landmark Pandemonium ó and made them utterly unpredictable. The bandís unique sound and styleó from Fischerís death grunts and buzz-sawing riffs to the overall bombast, grandiosity and monumental air of everything Celtic Frost did ó quickly became an influence among would-be underground up and comers. And then it all went to hell.

Nearly continual roster strife saw the influx of more mainstream-minded band members whose influence eventually won over as Fischerís interest began to wane and Ain departed. The result was the 1988 hair metal horror show called Cold Lake, one of the most disastrous careers moves ever, which effectively destroyed Celtic Frostís credibility and forever tarnished the once proud bandís legacy. While Fischer managed to right the ship, at least musically, by bringing back Ain for 1990ís respectable Vanity/Nemesis, the magic was gone and and Celtic Frost was done, or so it would seem.

Fischer quit music entirely, emerging after three years of traveling and soul-searching with the electro-metal band Apollyonís Sun. Ain, too, eventually left music behind. But the pull of Celtic Frost ó and the bad taste of the way things ended ó remained. After Fischer issued the diary/autobiography ďAre You Morbid? Into the Pandemonium of Celtic FrostĒ in 2000, he and Ain got together for the first time in a decade to work on a series of re-issues of Celticís back catalog ó save for Cold Lake. Soon there was a reunion in works and the bandís influence had grown stronger than ever with the rise of black/death metallers like Dimmu Borgir, Emperor, Nile and Obituary.

It would take four years of studio toil, all done without the benefit or interference of label involvement, for the reunion ó which ended up just being founding members Ain and Fischer, along with new drummer Franco Sesa ó to bear fruit with Monotheist. Recalling the brooding, sinister histrionics of To Mega Therion and the anything goes daring of Into The Pandemonium, the album is sure to delight or alienate, depending on oneís personal tastes.

Beginning with festival dates in Europe, Celtic Frost will return to the road this summer. U.S. tour dates kick off outside Washington, D.C., in late September, and run for nearly two months. What happens after that will depend largely on how the band is received out of the gate. Still bearing the scars from his previous ride with Celtic Frost, Fischer remains cautiously pessimistic about whatís to come, as he phones in on a Sunday from Zurich, Switzerland.

KNAC.COM: This is some way to spend your weekend, answering the same questions over and over.

FISCHER: (Laughs) This is what we have to do. Thereís so much stuff going on at the same time. Itís becoming almost impossible to do everything that is required of us right now. Weíve never done anything in this capacity before, even during the height of the bandís so-called popularity. There is so much more going on with the release of this album than there ever was before. Itís quite overwhelming.

KNAC.COM: At least there seems to be a lot of interest.

FISCHER: Weíll see about that once the album is heard by all the fans. It could get quiet rather quickly, who knows. I guess weíll see how much of this is based on our old work.

KNAC.COM: Have you been able to gauge any reaction yet?

FISCHER: Itís been absolutely amazing so far, overwhelmingly so. We spent four years locked away in rehearsal rooms and studios and we did this album first and foremost for ourselves. We didnít count on this, nor did we expect this or anything else. We did this album for ourselves because we felt that Celtic Frost had been mistreated by the music industry massively and a lot of things had been left unsaid by the band. Even though for a long time we didnít think about reforming the band, we just always felt there was a lot of unfinished business. So we formed our own record company and we controlled everything and we only formed a licensing deal once everything was finished. So we controlled the ads, the artwork, everything. Itís the best itís ever been, from that aspect. Weíve never felt so strong or confident before.

We never had anywhere near this control before. This is a completely new era for Celtic Frost. We wouldnít have done this new album any other way. When Martin and I got together to talk about this at the end of 2000, beginning of 2001, we knew that, No. 1, we wouldnít leave the studio until the album sounded exactly the way we wanted it and, No. 2, we werenít going to do it on anyoneís terms but our own.

Given our relationship and the history that we have going back to Hellhammer, this was the only option we felt was plausible for a new Celtic Frost project.

KNAC.COM: Doing it all with your own resources, did it take its toll on you financially?

FISCHER: Money was always an issue. Neither Martin or I are rich, far from it. And in the final analysis, yes, we did pretty much bankrupt ourselves. We intended to release this album after a year and it took four years because we simply wanted it our way. We gave ourselves this time but that didnít mean we were able to just reach into our pockets and pull out bills. Quite the opposite, recording so long, with all of the determination that was there, it was very difficult financially, the album cost us a lot of money, which we consider it was worth. But even if the album is very successful, I doubt we will ever see that money again.

KNAC.COM: I guess you just gotta hope you sell a lot of T-shirts when youíre on tour.

FISCHER: (Laughs) Weíll see about that. It also costs money to produce all that, plus thereís four of us in the band and management, and we all have live off something, too. That doesnít even begin to cover the expenses that we had with this album. Itís a monster album and it was a monster recording session.

Who knows what it will do, who knows whatís the future of Celtic Frost. Itís all going to depend on the reaction of the audience. But we had to do this. This album is a very unique opportunity for all of us, so we had to do it. We didnít shy away from any risks or any outlays, in opposition to many other bands, we care about the art and not about the commerce.

KNAC.COM: There were a couple monumental concepts that were kicking around earlier in the bandís existence (Necronomicon and Under Apollyonís Sun) that were never able to get fleshed out. Does Monotheist carry any of those ideas forward, or is this a whole new thing?

FISCHER: Itís starting from scratch. The only thing that is a common thread to the early work of Celtic Frost is that the very principle at the bottom of this album is to not accept any limitations, to do just whatever we want to do. To disregard anyoneís comments about ďYou canít do that in heavy metal.Ē Just do an album the way we feel it should be done, to ignore all borders and limitations and all these things. That goes through all Celtic Frost albums. But this is totally fresh, this shows us as we are right now.

KNAC.COM: How hard was it to actually get the ball rolling once you decided to bring Celtic Frost back to life?

FISCHER: It was very difficult. We knew it was going to be difficult, we didnít know it was going to be that difficult. It was not just a matter of flipping a switch and having things the way they were in the old days. Far from it.

Martin and I had not collaborated on anything musically in 10 years and we didnít have much prior contact either, we talked like maybe twice in intervening years, not because we had a fight, be we had been together in bands since we were teenagers, playing together and creating every day. At the end of Celtic Frost everyone was burnt out musically and personally and everybody was glad to be going on their own path. It was time for something new and Martin had an entirely different life and career than mine after Celtic Frost.

The first time we got together to really talk was when we did the reissues of our old albums with our former label, Noise Records, in like 1999 and 2000. Thatís what really got me and Martin back together and back together in a Celtic Frost context. And that really reignited everything between us, everything that happened from our teenage days, that was what lit the spark for this album.

It wasnít as case of ďthis is sounding good, letís rehash the old times,Ē it made it possible to me to release certain music that I had inside of me that didnít fit Apollyon Sun. There was a number of demos that were done for Apollyon Sun which were completely unsuited and sounded a lot like Celtic Frost. And that was always in the back of my mind, but I really didnít have the time or the frame of mind to actually place that in the correct context of doing these reissues and talking to Martin and the other members of the band.

It brought forward this music and it showed me that apparently I still had this kind of writing inside of me. After the end of Celtic Frost I really did not bother with Celtic Frost any more. It had been such an intense part of my life, I, too, was very glad to move on and not think about it. I basically simply ignored anything that was Celtic Frost inside of me, occasionally recorded music that didnít suit the band I was in, but I really didnít think I should reform Celtic Frost for that, it was a non-issue for me.

KNAC.COM: I spoke with you when your book came out in 2000 and you mentioned then the possibility of Celtic Frost reforming and that you were going to get in touch with some of the other former members, Ron Marks, Curtis Bryant and Reed St. Mark. Whatever became of that, since none of them ended up participating on the album?

FISCHER: We talked to everybody, except for the Cold Lake line-up of course (laughs), but we talked to all of the members who were one way or another involved with the ďclassicĒ Celtic Frost. However, it turned out rather quickly that everyone was in a really different place from one another and the only two people who had a very strong common vision were Martin and me. The astonishing thing was that after coming together after 10 years to discover over dinner at a restaurant in Zurich that Martin and I were carrying exactly the same album in our mind. To discover that was a true surprise, and Iím not just saying that for effect.

Whereas everybody else had all kinds of ideas about what Celtic Frost should be like, I believe that what Martin and I had in mind was probably the closest to what everybody rates as the ďclassicĒ Celtic Frost. It was probably a coincidence of a state of mind and probably also a result of the lives we had led and the events that had taken place in our lives, a lot of which were rather dramatic and traumatic, and I guess the other members had had very different lives, which is totally legitimate, but I donít think it would have yielded an album such as Monotheist.

KNAC.COM: Martin seemed to remove himself from music all together after Celtic Frost split, I wonder if that had something to do with that?

FISCHER: Martin was briefly involved with a female fronted heavy band, but that was an abortive project. After Pandemonium, Martin felt extremely burnt out and even though he tried to rejoin Celtic Frost during Vanity/Nemesis, he simply had ignored the fact that he was too burnt out. He really needed to redefine his life outside of this insane rollercoaster that is called Celtic Frost. So he attempted to do another band, but he realized he was not in the right frame of mind and he abandoned that.

But he began a music club that became very successful, so he opened a second one and then he opened a bar and so on, so he was kind of in the entertainment industry, but on the other side. The time away definitely has renewed his passion. This never would have happened without that.

KNAC.COM: How much contact did you have with the other guys, if you only spoke with Martin twice after the band split?

FISCHER: I was in contact a lot more with the other guys than I was with Martin, especially with Curt in Texas and Reed in New York and ultimately with Ron in New York who came there when I was there. I initially lived in the states after Celtic Frost split and did a lot of the work I did with the Apollyon Sun project in the states. So even though Martin and I were to core of Celtic Frost and were the ones who formed Celtic Frost and wrote all the classic material, it was the other guys I was in contact with the most.

KNAC.COM: Reed probably had the longest history with Celtic other than Martin, what became of him?

FISCHER: Reed was in Mindfunk and some other projects, but I suppose some other problems in his life prevented him from pursuing music more seriously, which is also the reason why he doesnít play on this album.

KNAC.COM: Now that the albumís release is imminent and youíre getting ready to tour again, are you excited, nervous, terrified?

FISCHER: Iím extremely calm, Iím much stronger and much calmer than Iíve ever been in my life. I guess life experience probably does that to you. Iím looking forward very much to going on the road with this band. The only thing that concerns me is that we are lacking serious rehearsal time because we are all over the place doing promotional stuff for this album. And weíve got all new merchandising to put together and weíre in negotiations with HR Giger for some collaborations. Thereís all kinds of bullshit that really shouldnít concern us but there is no way around it.

Weíre going to fall far short of the required rehearsal time and I hate that feeling, other than that, though, Iím very calm and looking forward to it. This was always at the top of the intention when we recorded the album, we wanted to go out and play this material live and also the older material.

KNAC.COM: You could play it safe and play the older, simpler songs, but something tells me youíd never take the easy way out?

FISCHER: Itís funny that you would say that because I got so many reunion proposals, a lot the them quite lucrative, insanely lucrative, and I always turned them down because to me it seemed completely inappropriate for a band like Celtic Frost that always broken all the limitations and ignored all the borders to just go out and just rehash old material, wheel ourselves out on wheelchairs onstage and be like ďyeah, weíre young again, hello!Ē That would have been completely embarrassing.

We never thought it was legitimate to just go out and play old material. If we were going to come back it would have to be like any other band, with a new album that contains a risk, that can ruin your career if itís not accepted, but go out and promote the new album and play the old material in the set like any other band. The live set will be centered around the first three albums plus the new album. And if we actually have time to do some proper rehearsals weíre going to include one or two Hellhammer tracks as well.

KNAC.COM: You mentioned earlier when you and Martin first started talking about all this that you had the same album in mind, is what Monotheist turned out to be what you were envisioning then?

FISCHER: This is exactly what we had in mind, thatís why it took four years. We werenít going to release this album unless it corresponded to the ideas that we had. Thatís the whole reason behind forming our own record company and staying in the studio so long. We had compromised too many times in our past and we had interference too many times, so this time we were going to do it our way or no way. And this is what it is.

And this thing with feeling this album in our heads, this goes back to the early days, as is commonly known by our fans, we wrote down the concept for the first three albums during the first day of Celtic Frost rehearsals, so we always have this mutual feeling.

KNAC.COM: What is the overall concept behind Monotheist?

FISCHER: It is a very personal album, itís probably the most personal and intimate album we have ever done. It reveals a lot of our personality in the lyrics, music and the artwork. The common thread behind the lyrics is unusual, the observation of human behavior on this planet and certain comments about religion and the abuse of religion and so on. But it all comes down to very personal views and very personal feelings, which, of course, will open it up to interpretation and misinterpretation by the people who listen to it.

There was an abundance of things taking place the past 15 years, 16 years, since Celtic Frost last released a studio album and even our drummer Franco hasnít been spared from rather extreme drama. Iím convinced all of this has found its way onto the album whether we wanted it to or not.

KNAC.COM: The album seems as cathartic as the book was, thatís a lot to get off your back.

FISCHER: (laughs) Yeah, the book was definitely a cathartic experience as well. I believe it was very necessary for me to write the book to be able to move on, as it was to have such an extended break in the Celtic Frost story. I donít think without the break and without the book and without Martin completely detaching himself from Celtic Frost that this new Celtic Frost incarnation would have ever been possible. Thereís always the danger of just hanging around releasing one mediocre album after another and I believe at the end Celtic Frost was already dangling in that area. Weíd done enough damage with Cold Lake and while we were able to get back some respectability with Vanity/Nemesis we didnít have the same passion. Iím very glad we pulled the plug when we did, Iím very glad we didnít do more and we came together again when we felt OK, that we had Celtic Frost in our veins again. Anything else would have been even more destructive.

KNAC.COM: Now that Celtic Frost is up and running again, are you looking at this as square one again and moving forward from there, or do you still look at things like Cold Lake, smack yourself in the head and go ďwhat the hell was I thinking?"

FISCHER: A lot of that happened when I wrote the book and when I really investigated all these things that had taken place. But Iím not a person to sit around thinking, ďOh shit, I should have done something different,Ē because I know itís a waste of time, itís happened already. Iím the type of person who tries to take a lesson out of something and to learn. Iíd rather take it and look forward than have regrets. Iíd rather learn and try to analyze what went wrong and why, and how can I prevent this from happening again.

The thing is, a lot of negative things that happened were of concern to me, but also there were many good things that have occupied our minds. Celtic Frost was real mixed blessing and it has completely shaped and changed our lives. There were a lot of radically positive and a lot radically dark things.

But during the making of this album we really tried to stay away from all that. We only now are concerning ourselves with the older Frost as we are rehearsing for the tour and looking into the older material. We tried to make a contemporary album Celtic Frost album, and album that shows us right now. As I said before, we didnít want to do a sad old rehash of times gone by.

KNAC.COM: Still, the legacy of Celtic Frost is pretty amazing, despite some of the missteps, the band remains influential to this day.

FISCHER: I really try not to concern myself with that too much. Itís flattering to hear people drop our name or mention us as an influence, especially if itís from bands that I personally respect. But how pathetic would it be if I sat around thinking ďOh, Iíve had such great influence?Ē It is really not my place to do that. I try to just be a musician who made good albums and who tried to be creative and do something unusual.

KNAC.COM: You mentioned earlier trying to get something together with HR Giger, what exactly do you have in mind?

FISCHER: Our friendship with Giger is probably better than it has ever been, and with his manager, we are all relatively close now. Thereís been talks and proposals that came from Gigerís side and for the very first time heís going to license an image of his for merchandise for a band. There was a condition to get ďSatan 1Ē for the To Mega Therion album cover that we wouldnít do merchandising and we agreed to that wholeheartedly. And we never did, any To Mega Therion merchandising you see is bootlegged.

But Giger and his manager proposed to celebrate the 20 years since we did that album and our friendship to actually do a common T-shirt together with him. And it looks fantastic, itís beautiful. Weíre also talking about doing some three-dimensional Celtic Frost merchandise together, and some of that stuff looks absolutely astonishing. And it was very gracious of Giger to offer us the use of ďSatan 1Ē as a gargantuan stage backdrop for the festivals, which is also something he doesnít do too often.

We donít want to overdue it, to milk the Giger thing. We are fans of Giger, we respect him, but we donít want to look at him as a commercial entity, we look at him as an artist and we know that he has been exploited and screwed over, as have we. Thereís a common bond and we are using the things that we have already been given by him. The only other thing that we have gone forward with is they were instrumental in me getting some Giger guitars from Ibanez, but I donít want to exploit the Giger connection. Itís a very special friendship and I want to keep it that way.

KNAC.COM: You spoke somewhat fatalistically of the future of Celtic Frost while we were talking earlier. Were you being facetious? Have you given much thought to it, or do you just want to get through all this first, then take stock from there?

FISCHER: It will be determined by the media and by our audience. We cannot be so ignorant that if everybody hates what weíve done that we carry on, regardless. And then there is the factor of having to finance the next album, and if this one doesnít sell there is no way we can do that. But Martin and I actually are writing another album, and once again when I told him how I envisioned the next album he had exactly the same idea, which was totally crazy.

It seems to be the same pattern we had when we did Morbid Tales, To Mega Therion and Into The Pandemonium, but who knows how long that is going to last. But right now the chemistry is amazing between Martin and I, we all know nothing is forever, but right now itís truly astonishing and we are working on material that is far heavier and far darker than Monothiest, for the next album.

KNAC.COM: Really? The new albumís pretty damn heavy.

FISCHER: Martin and I think itís a wimpy little shit album. Seriously. Iím not just saying that for effect. We both think we should have made it much heavier because that is what is inside of us now.

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