CELTIC FROST is without any doubt one of the most influential Metal bands there has ever been. Albums like “Morbid Tales”, “To Mega Therion” and “Into The Pandemonium” have hugely influenced entire generations of bands and have become classics over the years. At the end of October, an impressive boxset – “Danse Macabre” – was released which collects the early years of the the legendary band. It was the perfect opportunity to ask frontman Tom G. Warrior tons of questions we had been wondering about for many years.
All of CELTIC FROST’s old work has already been reissued once in 2017 by BMG with lots of bonus material and extensive liner notes. Two years ago, there was also the cassette boxset “The Sign Of The Usurper” with lots of extra material. What do you think this new boxset adds to all the previous versions of the CELTIC FROST albums and all the EPs that have been re-released in recent years?
“This boxset was not my idea. Martin Ain and I don’t have the rights to the music we released with CELTIC FROST early in our career. BMG in London has the rights, and they can basically do what they want with it. This is an unfortunate situation and the result of the contracts we signed back then in the 80s. BMG is fortunately a professional company. Every time they plan a new project with CELTIC FROST as far as old material is concerned, I am approached and asked if I want to work together with them. They are not obliged to do so at all. In November 2021, they contacted me with the idea for a boxset and asked if I would like to follow it up as art director. I agreed to that. “Danse Macabre” is based on the reissues released in 2017, I was also involved in that. All the material was then remastered by TRIPTYKON guitarist V. Santura. We took great care of all the artwork. All this material was used for the boxset, something that I think makes “Danse Macabre” a high-quality product. We did our best to make it something very attractive. I am a collector myself, having quite a few boxsets of bands like LED ZEPPELIN and BLACK SABBATH among others.”
The vinyl versions of the albums in the boxset have been released in a variety of colours. Personally, we prefer black because this colour has the best sound quality. Why did you go for coloured versions?
“Those coloured versions was a suggestion from BMG. They made sure that the colour of the vinyl also matches the album every time. So they definitely thought about it. I think the coloured versions look very cool, but I also prefer the colour black, just like you. I know the public loves coloured vinyl, and I think they’re going to like it. When I buy a boxset myself, I mainly focus on the artwork and the booklet that comes with it.”
There is also a cassette in the boxset with a rehearsal which was recorded in your rehearsal room in 1984. Is that the same recording that is included in the boxset “The Sign Of The Usurper”?
“Yes. As far as I know, that’s the only recording that survived. We used to record a lot of rehearsal sessions to work on the music at home back in the days, but most cassettes are lost or have a very bad sound. This recording, however, survived and sounds pretty good.”
“Danse Macabre” also includes an extensive booklet with new interviews with Reed St. Mark and you. Will those interviews also be used for the revised version of the book “Are You Morbid?” that you have been working on for a few years now?
“No. I have so much material for that book that it’s probably going to be impossible to put it all in there. I’ve talked to a lot of ex-band members, as well as people who used to be part of our crew or who were involved with the band. Reed St. Mark and I are still very good friends, we speak to each other regularly. So there is definitely no shortage of material for the book.”
You can see the very first promo photo of CELTIC FROST in the booklet of “Danse Macabre” which was taken in June 1984. You had Isaac Darso as a session drummer in the line-up back then. Isaac was only in the band for a short time, you never officially recorded anything with him. What kind of person and drummer was he?
“Isaac is still a good friend of mine, we still see each other from time to time. He lives in Switzerland, Russia and Israel. So we don’t see each other all the time, but we are still in touch. Isaac was a very good friend of ours and a die hard Metal fan who was very familiar with obscure Metal at the time. When we founded CELTIC FROST, we were desperate for a drummer. Isaac then suggested to take on that task. He really wanted to learn how to play the drums. We did one session with the three of us, but it became clear pretty soon that Martin and I were much better musicians. We had to go into the studio three months later to record “Morbid Tales”, and we needed someone who could play well. We didn’t have the time to rehearse with Isaac to see if he could keep up with us. The three of us then decided that it would be better to look for another session drummer.”
There are several recordings of old CELTIC FROST rehearsals in circulation. On one of those recordings made in June 1984, you guys open with a cover of ANGEL WITCH’s ‘Extermination Day’. Were you guys toying with the idea of recording that song for “Morbid Tales” at the time?
“No. CELTIC FROST was literally formed on the night of May 31, 1984. In the beginning, we didn’t have enough of our own material to play during practice sessions. However, we had to practise a lot to become a real band. In the beginning – before we had written the material for “Morbid Tales” – we played songs by HELLHAMMER, as well as covers of ‘Extermination Day’ (ANGEL WITCH), ‘Breaker’ (THE HANDSOME BEASTS) and ‘Black Ice’ (ARAGORN). Those were NWOBHM songs that we liked. Those songs are definitely part of the early days of CELTIC FROST in themselves, but we never even considered recording those songs for “Morbid Tales”.”
“Morbid Tales” was produced by Horst Müller. You had worked with him before on the HELLHAMMER EP “Apocalyptic Raids”. There was only a good six months between the two recording sessions. Nevertheless, you knew much better which direction you wanted to take on “Morbid Tales”. Horst also helped you a lot with that.
“Horst Müller was a fantastic engineer and producer. I don’t think CELTIC FROST would have become the band we ended up being without his help for “Morbid Tales”. He was an essential part of the whole process, and he was open to any idea we had. HELLHAMMER was a very radical band, we were not at all interested in what he had to say at the time. Martin and I were the only ones who knew what HELLHAMMER was supposed to sound like. When we left the studio at the time, we realised that “Apocalyptic Raids” could have been much better if we had listened to Horst. When we were back in his studio six months later, we proposed to produce “Morbid Tales” together. His contribution was phenomenal back then. Horst helped us find a female vocalist, as well as a violinist. Horst also helped realise the very experimental song ‘Danse Macabre’. There were no limits, everything was possible.”
“Morbid Tales” was recorded in October 1984 and released just a month later in November 1984. It is remarkable how fast an album was released back then. Nowadays, many bands have to wait several months or even almost a year before a recorded album can be released.
“Nowadays, you have to count on at least three to four months as a record company has to take time for promotion and distribution. Such a way of working shows that a record company handles things in a professional manner. Noise used to be absolutely unprofessional. The fact that a record was released just a month after it was recorded shows that they didn’t give a damn what happened to it. They just wanted to release albums and make money from them. Noise never thought about the long term, they just wanted to make as much profit as possible in a short time. The owner of Noise also told me at the time that he didn’t think any band on his label had a future. He also once literally told me that Noise was just a tax deduction for him.”
When drummer Reed St. Mark joined the band in February 1985, you recorded the EP “Emperor’s Return” with CELTIC FROST. Is it correct that the EP came about mainly at Noise’s request?
“That’s right. Switzerland had no Metal scene at the time. The handful of bands that were active all wanted to sound like KROKUS because KROKUS was the only Swiss band that had any impact at the time. It was enormously difficult to find a suitable drummer for CELTIC FROST. Stephen Priestly helped us out when we recorded “Morbid Tales”, but he preferred to make more commercial music. When “Morbid Tales” was released, we had to go on tour, but we just couldn’t because we didn’t have a drummer. It took months to find Reed St. Mark. Noise became increasingly impatient, and they practically forced us to record an EP. We weren’t ready for that at all as a band back then. However, we just took the songs I had written during the months before.”
Reed had a very different musical background compared to Martin and you. Did you show him – besides the material of “Morbid Tales” – albums like “Heavy Metal Maniac”, “Welcome To Hell”, “Show No Mercy” or “Kill ‘Em all” back then to give him an idea of how your music should be played?
“In the beginning, it was extremely difficult for each of us to bring all our different styles together. I showed Reed exactly the albums you just mentioned. Martin and I had a considerable Metal collection and we showed all kinds of bands. Reed did like Heavy Metal, but he had never played that music himself. At first we thought it would be a disadvantage that he had a different musical background, but in the end it turned out to be an advantage because he had a very distinct and unique way of drumming. Reed had a very strong groove in the way he played. That’s something you don’t easily find in Heavy Metal, and that helped CELTIC FROST tremendously at the time.”
In February / March 1985, you wrote four new songs: ‘Circle Of The Tyrants’, ‘Suicidal Winds’, ‘Journey Into Fear’ and ‘Visual Aggression’. Three songs ended up on the EP “Emperor’s Return”. It’s remarkable how quickly you came up with that particularly energetic material.
“I wrote those songs during the months following the recording of “Emperor’s Return”. So it’s not like those songs came about in a week. The hardest part was getting Reed to understand the music. We were literally practising with the band for several hours a day at the time. During the first practice sessions with Reed, we got to a point where we wondered if it would work. And then all of the sudden, there was a rehearsal where everything just clicked and the pieces seemed to fall into place. We were extremely happy about that because we realised that we could go to the studio to record the EP, despite the fact that it was actually too early.”
You thought the song ‘Journey Into Fear’ wasn’t good enough, it remained on the shelves for years. The slow middle section was used for ‘Fainted Eyes’ on the album “To Mega Therion”. Why did you not like that song after you recorded it?
“Noise said there should be three songs on the EP, and we thought ‘Journey Into Fear’ was the weakest song of the four. We didn’t know then that Noise would eventually add two songs from “Morbid Tales” to the EP. They never told or asked us anything about that beforehand at the time. We just found out when we saw the EP in the shops. When you listen to ‘Journey Into Fear’ nowadays… that’s just classic CELTIC FROST material.”
At the time, a friend of ours wanted to sew a large back patch with the artwork of “Emperor’s Return” on his vest, but his parents wouldn’t let him because of the women with the large and naked breasts. Did you ever consider that the artwork of that EP might be offensive to some people?
“It was obviously a controversial drawing, but we didn’t care at all. It also depicted the literature we were reading at the time somehow… writers like H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. We thought that the drawing fitted the EP very well. We already knew back then that we could use H.R. Giger’s work ‘Satan I’ for the next album, and that image is even more controversial. Not that we cared about that.”
The “Danse Macabre” boxset includes a single containing the songs ‘Visual Aggression’ and ‘Journey Into Fear’ and a picture of Martin Ain on the front sleeve. Why did you include those two songs as a single in the boxset?
“That was my idea. Those two songs have never been released in a proper way as an official CELTIC FROST release. I love singles immensely myself, I always get a nostalgic feeling from them that takes me back to the early days of NWOBHM. I suggested to BMG to release those two songs – which are actually extras from the sessions of “Emperor’s Return” – as a single, and they were totally won over by the idea. That single is also a tribute to Martin somehow who passed away in 2017.”
In May 1985, you did a performance with CELTIC FROST on a television show in Switzerland. You had never done a concert with CELTIC FROST back then. On the day the Swiss television was going to broadcast the show – May 29, 1985 – there was the Heysel drama, one of the biggest disasters in Belgian football history in which 39 people were killed and some 400 injured. The television show was eventually cancelled on the day in question and aired a few weeks later.
“That’s right. That television show was the very first public presentation of CELTIC FROST and was recorded right after the recording of “Emperor’s Return”. That show was therefore incredibly important for us as it was the first time we presented ourselves as a band on a stage. We didn’t play live in that television studio then, but it was the first time we were in front of an audience of fans as a band.”
Due to personal circumstances, Martin Ain was not in the band when you recorded the album “To Mega Therion” with CELTIC FROST in September 1985. The bass parts on that album were done by session musician Dominic Steiner. He also helped arrange the songs ‘Innocence And Wrath’ and ‘Dawn Of Megiddo’. Did Dominic have much experience in arranging music that went in the classical and rather bombastic direction?
“Martin had some personal problems at the time. Martin was still very young back then – he was only 17 – and he was struggling with problems with his parents among other things. We then called on Dominic because he was a very technically skilled bass player. We took advantage of the fact that he could write classical scores. I couldn’t do that, and when you work in a studio with classical musicians you obviously need scores. Dominic converted my songs for them and I’m still grateful for that, as it allowed us to experiment with elements of classical music.”
‘Innocence And Wrath’ is, in my opinion, still one of the most impressive intros to an album ever.
“I just wanted to try something completely different at the time. As a teenager, I was always hugely impressed by Rock bands that used Classical musicians like EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER or DEEP PURPLE for example. There were a few bands back then who filled the gap between Classical music and Rock, and I was enormously curious to see if the same could be done with extreme Metal. I clearly remember being hugely impressed when I heard the final result for the first time. I was immediately totally convinced that the intro had to be on the album.”
The song ‘The Usurper’ is based on ‘Hear The Ballad Of The Swords’ and ‘The Sign Of The Usurper’, two manuscripts which were both written by you but never officially published. Are those non-fiction novels?
“Those manuscripts are part of a series of ten fantasy books I wrote at the time. Those books are in my mother’s house, but I haven’t been in touch with her since 1995. Therefore, I think the originals unfortunately no longer exist. Those two books were the only novels I had finished, I had also made drawings and designed maps for them. I had also made sketches for the books that would follow them up. In terms of style, those two books were very much going in the direction of the works of Robert E. Howard. I would describe it myself as a mix of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Conan The Barbarian’.”
It’s interesting that you cite Robert E. Howard because a part of the chorus of ‘Circle Of The Tyrants’ was inspired by his poem ‘Cimmeria’.
“Indeed, that poem describes the fictional country of Cimmeria. Martin and I were also hugely inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s work at the time. So it’s only natural that those influences crept into our music too. We were both still very young, and we still had our whole life in front of us. We didn’t really have much life experience or things to write about yet.”
The lyrics of the song ‘Sorrows Of The Moon’ are a translation of Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Tristresses De La Lune’. ‘Inner Sanctum’ was inspired by the work of Philippe Ariès. For the song ‘Mesmerised’, Martin Ain was inspired by the works of Philippe Druillet and Gustave Flaubert. I have always had the impression that if you look at the artwork of “To Mega Therion” and “Into The Pandemonium”, the topics in your lyrics and the books Martin and you read and used as an influence, CELTIC FROST was somehow on a ‘higher intellectual level’ than most Metal bands who were also active at the time.
“I’m not going to comment on that because that would be very pretentious (laughs). Martin and I were just very influenced back then by things that interested us in our private lives and that made a deep impression on us at the time. We also often discussed all that and then put it into our music, artwork and lyrics. It was all very personal. We didn’t want to be a pretentious band at all, even though we sometimes were. We literally talked about art, literature and music for nights at the time. And you can see that on our albums as well.”
Why did you re-record ‘Circle Of The Tyrants’ on the album “To Mega Therion” at the time?
“We were not completely satisfied with “Emperor’s Return”. The engineer we were working with in Switzerland at the time had no experience with Heavy Metal, and we felt that ‘Circle Of The Tyrants’ had much more potential. We knew we could put down a better version. That ended up being a very good decision, because ‘Circle Of The Tyrants’ has become one of the most important and well-known CELTIC FROST songs.”
The lyrics of ‘Eternal Summer’ deal with a possible nuclear attack. Since the Iron Curtain still existed in 1985, that was a very relevant topic. How did you approach putting that theme in an old Middle Eastern setting at the time?
“There is a lot of symbolism in the lyrics of ‘Eternal Summer’. It might be very difficult for young people to imagine, but the world was divided into East and West and separated by a physical wall at the time. The constant threat of a possible nuclear war coming from the US or Russia, that gave the population a very apocalyptic feeling that really dominated everyday life back then. Any world leader had the power back then to press a button, launch missiles and start an apocalypse. We were still young then and at the same time we were very aware that life could end at any moment. If you look at a HELLHAMMER song like ‘Messiah’, that theme is also present in that song.”
You were often ridiculed by others at the time when HELLHAMMER still existed and when you took your first steps with CELTIC FROST. Would you say that attitude had changed by the end of 1985? You had released two albums and two EPs by then and you were playing in foreign countries with CELTIC FROST. Did your parents and people close to you finally start to have some respect for CELTIC FROST as a band by then?
“No, that only changed in the 90s when HELLHAMMER was starting to be viewed differently. It changed for CELTIC FROST as a band when we had made two albums. We were then on our own path and the HELLHAMMER connection was no longer so important. Our own parents never really changed their minds. My mother never believed in me and never gave CELTIC FROST a chance, even when I was successful. My father did take it seriously up to a certain level, but that was it. It was the same thing for Martin. His parents first started taking him a bit seriously when we released “Monotheist” and headlined concerts all over the world. The whole HELLHAMMER story really hampered CELTIC FROST during the 80s, which made it extra difficult for us to come to terms with our past. It took a lot of years before we could look at HELLHAMMER in a neutral way like the fans do.”
In March 1986, you partially re-recorded the songs ‘The Usurper’ and ‘Jewel Throne’ and completely re-recorded ‘Return To The Eve’ when Martin Ain returned to the band. Those recordings resulted in the EP “Tragic Serenades”. Would you say that EP served the purpose you had in mind at the time?
“I personally think “Tragic Serenades” is the CELTIC FROST release with the best sound. Harris Johns was a very experienced producer and you can hear that. We were dissatisfied with the mix of “To Mega Therion” and we wanted to remix the entire album but Noise didn’t agree. It was too expensive. As a compromise, they did allow us to pick three songs, which eventually resulted in “Tragic Serenades”. Martin was back in the band at the time and took the opportunity to re-record the bass parts, something that made the songs better.”
“Tragic Serenades” has a very atmospheric cover, a photograph taken in Martin Ain’s so-called ‘black room’.
“Indeed. The material on “Tragic Serenades” has a bit of an occult character. We felt that photograph suited the songs perfectly. We also wanted a cover somewhere along the lines of the New Wave bands we really liked at the time and listened to a lot such as BAUHAUS, CHRISTIAN DEATH, THE SISTERS OF MERCY and SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES. At the time, Martin had a hidden room in his flat. That room had no door, you had to remove a panel from a wall in his living room which gave access to a tunnel that no one knew existed and which eventually led into that room in question. Martin had painted that room completely black and made an altar there with bones and crosses.”
What is actually the story behind the EP “The Collector’s Celtic Frost” for which you recorded ‘In The Chapel, In The Moonlight’, a song that was quite popular in Dean Martin’s version but was written by Billy Hill in 1936?
“SLAYER had released an EP at the time, “Haunting The Chapel”. Martin had stumbled upon that Dean Martin version of ‘In The Chapel…’, and he thought it would be a nice idea to record a cover of that song since the title was so much like a SLAYER song and it was the complete opposite musically. I slightly rewrote that song, and then we recorded it with CELTIC FROST. However, since it was so distinctive, our version didn’t fit on any album, and so we released it as a 12″ single later on. I have always loved crooners and music from the 60s and 70s. Artists like Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones. If you listen to certain songs by Tom Jones, there’s a lot of power in there, something that makes the bridge between crooners and Rock not so strange.”
In the spring of 1987, you recorded “Into The Pandemonium” with CELTIC FROST. The album opens with the song ‘Mexican Radio’, a cover of the band WALL OF VOODOO. I have always been pretty familiar with the popular songs which were in the charts in the 80s, but I had never heard ‘Mexican Radio’ before your cover version. Was ‘Mexican Radio’ a big hit in Switzerland at the time?
“It was a modest hit, but that’s not why we picked it. Martin and I were – as I mentioned earlier – big fans of New Wave. One of the New Wave bands we liked was WALL OF VOODOO. At the time, we were keen to record a cover of a New Wave song. I remember very well that I was at home, the radio was playing and that song suddenly came on. I got the idea quite spontaneously to do something with that, since it was so far away from what we were doing with CELTIC FROST. And so that’s what we did.”
Did you ever get a reaction from the band?
“Someone told me once in the 80s that WALL OF VOODOO had heard our version, but that’s all I know.”
When you recorded “Into The Pandemonium”, you also recorded a new version of ‘Necromantic Screams’ – a reworked version of the HELLHAMMER song ‘Buried And Forgotten’ – which was never released. You also tried to re-record the HELLHAMMER classic ‘The Third Of The Storms’, but you eventually abandoned the idea after several unsuccessful takes. Were those new versions intended to sound very different in terms of arrangements?
“We wanted to record some extra material to use for EPs or the B-side of a single. We recorded a ‘live in the studio’ version of ‘Return To The Eve’ during the recording of “To Mega Therion”, and that had worked out incredibly well. Something like that doesn’t take that much time, and it often makes a song sound more powerful. We didn’t finish ‘The Third Of The Storms’ because the feeling we had with it wasn’t quite right. I can’t quite remember the exact details because we worked on it for maybe an hour about 35 years ago. But since we soon realised that the result was not going to be what we had hoped for, we quickly dropped the idea.”
The image you can see on the cover of “Into The Pandemonium” is a detail from the right-hand panel of ‘The Garden Of Earthly Delights’, a triptych painted by Hieronymus Bosch. Was it difficult to get permission to use that work at the time?
“It certainly wasn’t easy. The internet did not exist yet, of course, and it was quite a job to find out who had the rights to use that painting. Then you also had to find a contact address and you had to negotiate via fax or by writing a letter. It was a process which took quite some time, but I am immensely glad we got the rights back then because Bosch’s painting is simply unique. It also fits perfectly with the music and the album. I am a huge admirer of Bosch and I will always remain enormously proud that his work graces the cover of one of my albums.”
The song ‘I Won’t Dance’ was released as a 12″ EP at the time. The vinyl version in “Danse Macabre” has the artwork as you originally intended and which was rejected by Noise. Why was it rejected at the time, because your idea doesn’t really differ that much from the version which was released back then.
“Noise constantly interfered with our artistic ideas and just about everything we did at the time. That eventually led to a big conflict and a lawsuit, as we felt Noise had no right to do that. According to Noise, the original cover looked ‘too New Wave’, something that was also our intention. Noise definitely wanted the classic CELTIC FROST band logo on the cover, and they changed it without informing us. It may only be a small detail, but we were very offended by that. There was a reason why we had the cover worked out our way. We had given that a huge amount of thought. CELTIC FROST meant everything to Martin and me. When you finally see that EP in the shop, and you see that Noise had changed it just like that… that really hurt.”
The front cover of ‘I Won’t Dance’ features a picture of a sculpture that can be found in the cemetery of Staglieno in Italy. Have you ever visited that place?
“Unfortunately not yet, but it’s something I think about pretty often. It’s also something on my bucket list. I definitely want to see and visit that statue before I go, since it has meant so much in my life.”
‘I Won’t Dance’ sounds almost like a Pop song. The song is very catchy, easy on the ears and – contrary to its title – very danceable. Did that 12” EP open new doors for the band back then?
“The song ‘I Won’t Dance’ is a very strange song in itself. We wanted to try all kinds of things on “Into The Pandemonium”, including a song that was a bit more melodic. I know a lot of people think ‘I Won’t Dance’ is a really good song since you can really sing along to it, but I always felt a bit as if the song wasn’t quite finished. We also only played it live only a few times.”
CELTIC FROST had a very strong visual image during the “Emperor’s Return” tour, the first gigs in Canada and the European leg of the “Tragic Serenades” tour. Take for example the video of ‘Circle Of The Tyrants’ or live photos from that time. Martin had a kind of obscure / esoteric presentation. You had much more the image of a real warrior. You gave the music a visual element that fitted very well with the atmosphere and concept of CELTIC FROST. In the following years – the second part of the 80s – that approach became a lot more sober and the extreme image was less present, a development you also saw in many other bands. Did you feel back then that the live shows for “Into The Pandemonium” required a different visual approach?
“That was mostly a natural development. Our image always reflected how we felt as people in a certain period. That’s also why we looked different on stage. It was very important for us to be honest. We also wanted the clothes to highlight our personalities, a bit similar to a theatre company putting on make-up before a performance. Martin looked very New Wave at one point, Reed looked like a real American and I looked – as you said – more like a warrior. But that’s something that also defined CELTIC FROST.”
You recorded “Apocalyptic Raids” with HELLHAMMER in March 1984. There were barely three years between that EP and the album “Into The Pandemonium”. If you take that into account, it’s simply incredible what a musical evolution you went through in such a short time back then.
“Absolutely. I am amazed every time I think back on all that. I also don’t really know how I was able to achieve all that in such a short time back then. We were hugely fanatical and driven at the time, that’s about the only explanation I can give for it.”
I have a recording of a concert you gave with CELTIC FROST in October 1987. You played two new songs back then, ‘Jihad’ and ‘Barrel Fear’. In the beginning, you had the idea of recording a trilogy with CELTIC FROST: “Morbid Tales”, “To Mega Therion” and a third album to be titled “Necronomicon”. “Into The Pandemonium” eventually came in between. Were ‘Jihad’ and ‘Barrel Fear’ therefore meant for the planned album “Necronomicon”?
“No. We wrote those two songs back then without a specific plan. We had an extra guitarist in the band at the time – Ron Marks – and we wanted to see what it would be like to write music as a foursome. Those songs were more experiments with the new line-up. At the time, we hadn’t decided at all what we would do with that material. As for “Necronomicon”… when we released the album “Monotheist” in 2006 and had been touring for almost two years, Martin and I had often talked about how the next CELTIC FROST album should be “Necronomicon”. We really wanted to finish that album, we also had very clear ideas and a vision of what that album should sound like. There’s a big chance that the next TRIPTYKON album is going to be the originally planned “Necronomicon” album, an idea I’ve been walking around with for several decades now. But I can’t say much more about that at the moment.”
“Danse Macabre” focuses on the period 1984 – 1987. “Cold Lake” – the CELTIC FROST album released in 1988 – is not included in the boxset. You are known to reject that album completely nowadays. When exactly did you start hating that album so much? Because surely there must have been a time when you were happy with that album?
“We soon realised that “Cold Lake” didn’t work in any way when we were mixing the album. The record had already cost a lot of money as we had brought in an expensive producer and worked in different studios. Noise was unfortunately unwilling to just scrap that album. “Cold Lake” may have been released back then, but we soon realised that the album had no reason to exist at all. It was very bitter to find out that we could not stop the release of that album. “Cold Lake” was released during a very strange and dark period in my life. “Cold Lake” exists, and I can’t change anything about that. But it’s certainly not an essential CELTIC FROST record, and I’m very glad BMG decided not to put that album in the boxset.”
These days, many people seem to feel almost obliged to make statements on the internet and social media about how bad a particular release is, and seem to really enjoy taking an album or a band down. I’ve always had the impression that the first bad comments about “Cold Lake” didn’t surface until many years after the album’s initial release, and that everyone just took over the idea that the album was so bad because it was a popular statement. I like to compare it to the story with Lars Ulrich. In the 80s and early 90s, no one ever said Lars Ulrich was a bad drummer. Nowadays, however, everyone almost seems to feel obliged to say what an incredibly bad drummer Lars Ulrich is, which is just complete nonsense.
“Lars Ulrich is a good drummer. I have a lot of very negative articles from 1988 in my archives. “Cold Lake” was really torn apart back then. It was bitter to read all that at the time, but when I read it again nowadays, the press was just right. The only country where “Cold Lake” did well was the US, a country where more commercial Metal did pretty well back then.”
There is an interview on YouTube which you did for the show Headbanger’s Ball when you were on tour in the US to promote “Cold Lake”. After the US tour, you planned to return to Switzerland to work on a new album. It was going to be very unusual and avant-garde, and the title would be “Danse Macabre”.
“CELTIC FROST was more or less at its end by then. I hadn’t admitted that to myself at the time. I really should have put a stop to CELTIC FROST after the tour for “Into The Pandemonium”. It was a really bad period then, and I just wasn’t myself as a musician. I have a lot more life experience by now and I see that very clearly nowadays, but I didn’t realise that at the time.”
The year 2006 saw the triumphant return of CELTIC FROST with the album “Monotheist”. A few months ago, you said in an interview that several demos recorded between 2002 and 2005 when you were working on that album are going to be released as a special album in the near future. The release of that album is tentatively scheduled for the first half of 2023. What can you tell more about that already?
“That album is unfortunately not going to be released. It’s all finished… the design is finished, the booklet is finished, it looks great and it sounds fantastic. It’s very interesting material, and it would have been ideal to end the CELTIC FROST chapter with. However, the CELTIC FROST band members who remained and I did not agree on how we were going to realise that album. The guitarist we had at the time and Martin Ain’s brother who inherited Martin’s rights were dismissive of the way my manager and I visioned the album. I put years of work into it and I have financed everything myself so far. The album in itself is totally ready to be released, but unfortunately that’s not going to happen. It’s a real shame, and I’m hugely disappointed that that album will remain on the shelves forever.”
You recently said that you are considering doing one or two special shows in memory of Martin Ain. You’ve already been in touch with Reed St. Mark for that. The plan is to play a full CELTIC FROST set with only ex-band members of CELTIC FROST at a festival and record that concert as well. Has that plan become more serious by now?
“It did indeed seem like a great idea to me and some ex-band members of CELTIC FROST to do one or two shows as a tribute to Martin. I am still good friends with a lot of musicians who used to play in CELTIC FROST, and I would love to be on stage with Reed St. Mark again. We might sit down together for a session next year and see how that turns out. Above all, it has to feel right. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not going to happen. But we will see about all that next year.”
Pics: Fred Baumgart, Martin Kyburz, Ernst Wirz, Sergio Archetti, Peter Schlegel
Interview: Steven Willems