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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Celtic Frost

By: Justin Donnelly

Immediately following the dissolution of Hellhammer in 1984, vocalist/guitarist Tom Gabriel ‘Warrior’ Fischer and bassist Martin Eric Ain quick put together a new project together under the name of Celtic Frost, and in a little under three years, helped redefine metal history.

After a couple of well-received EP releases (1984’s ‘Morbid Tales’ and 1985’s ‘Emperor’s Return’), Celtic Frost released their ground breaking debut full-length album ‘To Mega Therion’ in 1985. The album was unanimously hailed as a landmark release, with the band forging into what was then completely uncharted territory in the musical sense, which in later years would influence countless other groups within the black metal scene.

By 1987, Celtic Frost was undoubtedly at their peak with the release of the high experimental ‘Into The Pandemonium’. Forward thinking, difficult and downright strange at times, ‘Into The Pandemonium’ was anything but a straightforward metal album, and probably a little ahead of its time, but a classic none the less.

By 1988, it was all over for Celtic Frost. Never one to stick to one sound or direction, Fischer decided to try something completely new following the release of ‘Into The Pandemonium’, with ‘Cold Lake’ blending some of group’s unique sound characteristics with melodic ‘80’s hard rock. While experimentation had worked in Celtic Frost’s favour in the past, the backlash from both fans and critics alike for ‘Cold Lake’ was blow that the band wouldn’t recover from.

Celtic Frost did try and make amends with 1990’s slight return to form effort ‘Vanity/Nemesis’ and 1992’s compilation ‘Parched With Thirst Am I And Dying’, the band simply couldn’t recover from their past disasters, and eventually slit up in 1993.

In the years that followed, Fischer busied himself with Apollyon Sun (Who released ‘God Leaves (And Dies)’ EP in 1998 and their debut full-length album ‘Sub’ in 2000) and released an all encompassing biography on all things Celtic Frost in 2000’s ‘Are You Morbid?’, but it paled compared to the announcement in January 2002 that Celtic Frost would make their return to the scene.

Although originally slated for release as far back as 2003, Celtic Frost’s comeback album ‘Monotheist’ finally saw the light of day in May 2006, which once again polarized fans with it’s distinctly dark and modern approach, but eventually put Celtic Frost at the forefront of the avant-garde metal scene.

A year after the release of ‘Monotheist’, Celtic Frost announced their first ever tour of Australia. Without hesitation, I caught up with Celtic Frost front man Tom Gabriel Fischer relaxing at home to find out just how successful the tour behind ‘Monotheist’ has been, the future plans of the band and just how ‘Monotheist’ measured up to expectations after a lengthy fifteen year absence.

“I’m very happy with the reaction to ‘Monotheist’, as well as very honoured and flattered. In all honesty, ‘Monotheist’ is probably our most successful album ever. That’s not something that we could have planned. Celtic Frost is a very controversial band. We’re not a band that has made it very easy for the fans to follow, so it was a very unpredictable situation for us to bring out an album out after such a long absence. On the other hand, I can honestly tell you that, I really didn’t give a shit what the fans and the press thought about ‘Monotheist’! (laughs) This album was a deeply personal thing to make. I was very unhappy with some of the last couple of Celtic Frost releases in the late ‘80’s and the early ‘90’s, and Ain and I were determined to make an album that would be one hundred percent Celtic Frost. That’s what really counted for us. And it took us four and a half years to do that. We didn’t set any limits. Whatever it took in time and money, we were going to do this album right. In the end, we came out of the studio with an album that we were really happy with. Anything beyond that fact was something that we didn’t really care about. Even if the whole world ripped apart ‘Monotheist’, we were still very proud of the album, because it really is a true Celtic Frost album. And let’s face it, we can’t say that about all Celtic Frost albums can we?”

Almost immediately, ‘Monotheist’ was ripped apart from both fans and critics. But as time has passed, both parties have hailed accepted ‘Monotheist’ as a legitimate follow-up to ‘Into The Pandemonium’.

“Well, Celtic Frost is very good at doing that aren’t they? If you want to listen to predictable albums, then we are the wrong band. Celtic Frost has always been a challenging band that has attempted to make our audiences think, musically as well as artistically and lyrically. We are a band that never rests. We want to progress. Art is about taking a risk, courage and creation. It’s not about perpetual repetition. So I totally understand what you’re saying, and I have to agree with you. The album really is a challenge, and it’s an album that needs to grow. It needs to be listened to. It’s certainly not an album that everybody will like. Anyone who doesn’t accept accepted ‘Monotheist’ for what it is has to ask themselves what they expect from a Celtic Frost album? I mean, Celtic Frost have done such varied albums. It’s impossible to predict what Celtic Frost will do next. And I kind of like that. That is what art is supposed to be about. It’s not about doing tired old things. You know, art and photocopying are completely two different things, and a lot of bands perpetually copy their biggest album or their most significant release. That has its merits too, but each to their own. I don’t think art should be about that. Art is about being an artist and taking a risk. It’s about going out there and trying to reinvent oneself, and trying to produce something new. You’re not going to find us doing ‘Morbid Tales’ over and over again. I think that would be cheap.”

Although having re-established Celtic Frost after a thirteen-year absence with ‘Monotheist’, Fischer isn’t about to rush the band back into the studio just yet to start work on a follow up. In fact, Fischer isn’t about to guarantee a follow up to ‘Monotheist’ at all at this stage.

“There’s been plenty of talk about working on a new album, and I know the band would like to do another album, but I’m not going to make a prediction as to whether there’s going to be another album. Celtic Frost, musically speaking, is an extremely exciting band to be in, and I think the band right now is at its pinnacle. I think that we could do an amazing new album if ‘Monotheist’ was just a start. We have only just reawaken the band at this stage. If there’s going to be a new Celtic Frost album, it will be amazing. However, on a personal level, I find it extremely difficult to be in Celtic Frost. I have no idea if I have the stamina to sit through, who knows how many more years working with this band. There are certain egos in this band that make it extremely difficult within the context of this band. So at this point, I feel really unable to predict if there’s going to be another album or not. I’m currently writing music for it, but I don’t know if that’s going to be for Celtic Frost or not. I’m just being honest here. The thing that makes Celtic Frost an unusual band, and the reason they’re such a huge influence is that Celtic Frost is comprised of volatile and very unusual characters, with very unusual egos. That’s our strength. It makes everything we do very different from others. On the other hand, it’s also our weakness. It’s very difficult to deal with these characters, and this volatile creative force. I mean these are human beings with egos, and what powers us, also makes us weak.”

While most would consider the creative tension within the band was at its peak during the writing and recording of ‘Monotheist’, Fischer admits that life on the road with Celtic Frost is also a challenge.

“Touring is very difficult, because you are forced to be with each other in very closed confines twenty-four hours of the day on the tour bus, in planes, in a hotel or on stage. You always have to deal with each other. There’s no escape basically. That’s not always very easy. Touring just never gives you the time to recover from that. And the situation never gets any easier with time. When I was a teenager, I simply wanted to make music. I was prepared to go to any lengths to do that. Now days, I’m an adult man, and I know exactly what I am prepared to tolerate, and where my limits are. There are some things I don’t need in my life. Sometimes that’s a very harsh reality. It is very difficult at times to be in close confines with this band. You have to realise that we brought the band back to life at the tail end of 2000, so we have been working closely together with each other every day since we started work on ‘Monotheist’. And then as soon as the album was released, we went on tour. We haven’t had a break from one another since 2000. We have been on top of one another since then. That’s not necessarily an easy thing to deal with. This is a huge topic, and it’s impossible to deal with in a simple way. Don’t get me wrong, we all feel extremely blessed that we have this opportunity. Back in the old days, we were a very little metal band, and we never thought that we would get a record deal. Yet we got a record deal. Then we never thought we would get famous. Then we got famous. We never ever thought that Celtic Frost would mean anything to anyone, but then we became a huge influence on the metal scene throughout the years. We never thought we would get a first chance, but we did. We never thought that we would ever get a second chance at this band, but we have. We never believed that we would ever really tour for any great length of time, but now we can. I don’t want to be ungrateful or sound like someone who is always miserable, because this really is my life’s dream. I’m doing everything that I ever dreamed of as a kid. It’s amazing what we’re doing. We’re all enjoying it while it lasts. We all know that it’s not going to last forever. The music industry changes all the time. Things change, so everything is always volatile. It’s amazing to be doing this. I’m just telling you that it is very difficult at times to deal with the personal side of things, and I really don’t know how long we all have the stamina to do this. If we are strong enough to keep this working, personally I think we could make an album that will top ‘Monotheist’. Eventually we will have to talk about wether we want to do another album or not, and if so, how we will go about these things. We need to deal with these things. I guess by the end of summer, it will be time to do that. Who knows what comes after that.”

While a decision has yet to made as to wether or not Celtic Frost will continue, Fischer does confirm that some new material has already being written.

“I hardly ever discuss Celtic Frost material before it comes out. That’s because nobody will understand it, unless they hear it in the context of an album. All I can tell is that a lot of it is a lot darker and heavier sounding than ‘Monotheist’. I believe its very good material. It’s going to be an album that’s stronger, and probably slightly more accessible than ‘Monotheist’. Not accessible in a commercial way of course. ‘Monotheist’ is a very difficult album, so it’s going to be accessible in that sense, but at the same time sound darker and heavier. That’s how I hear it at the moment.”

Not only has ‘Monotheist’ been a huge success, but touring as well, with Celtic Frost spending most of the year since the release of the album on the road.

“We’ve been on the road for like a year, but we’ve had some time at home in that time. I’m at home for the first time in two and a half months. I have a few days off before we head off to Poland. The last tour was quite a stretch without seeing home, so it feels amazing to be back home. I’m enjoying being at home with my books, because I haven’t seen them for quite some time. We all knew that when Celtic Frost returned, we would be out on the road for quite some time. That’s the main reason why we lost the guitar player (ex-Apollyon Sun guitarist Erol Unala) that played on ‘Monotheist’. He was not prepared to do such a big tour. He wanted to do a tour that lasted two weeks, and then head back home. We all knew that when we brought Celtic Frost back to life, there was no way that touring would be over in two weeks. We’ve been out on the road since the last week of May 2006, and will continue throughout the summer here in Europe. We all knew what we were in for. Of course, it’s a huge honour to be able to tour like that. In the old days, Celtic Frost just weren’t able to tour like that, so nobody is complaining right now. It’s very difficult to have the stamina to travel like that, and put up with each other twenty-four hours of the day. But playing live is amazing, and makes up for that stress.”

That last stretch that Fischer is talking about was their month long US tour with headliners Type O Negative and Brand New Sin.

“That was a fantastic tour. Those shows in the US were the only shows where we weren’t the headliners on the entire ‘Monotheist’ tour. We were very spoiled as a headlining act in the last year, so we didn’t really know what to expect as a support act. We had met Type O Negative briefly in the past, but we didn’t really know them as such. It turned out that both bands were very big fans of one another, and we forged very good friendships with one another while on the road. Their crew and their management treated us perfectly, so I only have the best things to say about that tour. I also think that we went down very well with their audience. I believe that every night we managed to convince their audience of the strength of Celtic Frost. And judging by the reactions of the audience and the merchandise and album sales, it has worked very well. I mean we’ve done our own headlining tour of the US last fall, so all in all we have played seventy-one shows in the US. That is by far the biggest tour of North America that Celtic Frost has ever done.”

With the tour cycle behind ‘Monotheist’ almost complete, Celtic Frost have managed to include Australia in their touring plans, with shows in Melbourne and Sydney lined up for the middle of June.

“Touring Australia has been the furthest thing from our minds, but at the same time, it’s been a lifelong ambition. Traditionally, ever since the mid ‘80’s, we’ve wanted to play Japan and Australia. We had many chances to do so, but the company that we were dealing with at the time, and who had full control over everything that Celtic Frost did, managed to interfere with that and destroy those plans and many other things, including our music and our career. When we decided to come back, we decided to take full control over everything, and we can now finally realise all these ambitions. We played Japan, and it was absolutely fantastic. When we were offered the chance to play Australia for the first time, we had to think about it for maybe half a second before saying yes! (Laughs) It was something that we wanted to do for such a long time, and it’s a huge honour to do this. For the first time in our career, we get to play a new territory that we have never played before. Celtic Frost, astonishingly enough, had never played Scandinavia before last year, for the same reasons. We finally got to do that, and realise many of the other ambitions that we had when we were young.”

As for what fans can expect from the show, Fischer is quick to ensure that fans that they can only expect something unique and different from most within the metal scene.

“It’s a very sparse show. Don’t expect explosions or ludicrous props. Celtic Frost is Celtic Frost. What we are bringing out on stage is Celtic Frost and not a travelling circus. What you can expect is a very unique show, with a very unique atmosphere. We have a very unique approach to music, and heavy metal in general. Celtic Frost is a band that lives off an aura, not off simply heaviness or volume. Celtic Frost is something that’s very magic in the right circumstances on the stage, and that’s something that we hope to bring across to the fans in Australia.”

CELTIC FROST Australian tour dates:

June 13 - Sydney, - Manning Bar, Sydney
June 14 - Melbourne, - The Prince Bandroom, Melbourne

Note: The band will appear at an in-store signing session in Sydney at Utopia Records on Wednesday, June 13 at 5:00pm.

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