CELTIC FROST is a band that changed the Metal world around and always set new standards. When they started out in 1984, they mainly had the intention to make people forget about everything they had previously created with their former band HELLHAMMER. Their simple and mostly pretty midpaced form of Thrash influenced a whole new generation of musicians. But CELTIC FROST never made a record twice. They constantly developped their songwriting into a more and more obscure and avantgarde type direction and ended up becoming one of the most unique and experimental acts of the 80’s. So, when we got offered the opportunity to talk to Tom Fischer, (better known as CELTIC FROST’s mainman Tom Warrior) we didn’t hesitate for a second. Here’s the conversation, written down in its entirety for your enjoyment (a big thanx goes out to Wannes Gubbels for supplying some of the questions)…
I guess the thing that people are most interested in at the moment is – will there really be a CELTIC FROST reunion or not?
"Yes, it looks like that there’s gonna be a so-called "reunion", even though we all can’t stand the word in itself. You know, we are not old farts in wheelchairs, who STATUS QUO-like will go on the road again. But the thing is Frank, we are all still good friends with each other. Reed is almost like a brother to me and we try to see each other as often as possible. So, there was always the possibility to make some music together again. When that’s gonna happen, I don’t know yet, because most of us have own projects going and we are not interested to take a break with them. So, what we plan on doing is, to consider CELTIC FROST as some kinda side project, not necessarily for one record only, but if we’d get accepted, we would certainly do more. It won’t be based on a release schedule, we could do some new stuff whenever we feel the time is right for it. Right now we are all really interested to do a new FROST album…"
And the line-up will be yourself, Reed and Martin, or…?
"It’s gonna be the "Pandemonium" line-up with Ron Marks – if Martin’s gonna be part of it is still up in the air right now. Martin is a little too complex type of person. You cannot plan anything with him involved, so we don’t know that yet ourselves. We all have the impression that there’s gonna be more problems with Martin involved. Martin said that he would really like to be part of it, but I know Martin way too good to know that he’s lacking too much in real enthusiasm. And I am not interested in a cheap new version of CELTIC FROST. But the real core is definitely gonna be the "Pandemonium" line-up."
Have you already thought about where to continue musically?
"That’s still uncertain yet, but we will just do what we wanna do, as usual. Of course we will try to be as original and unique as ever and we can’t imagine to write any songs similar to our old material. But in which direction we will exactly go with the new album nobody knows yet. We never knew that in our past either, so…"
What’s gonna happen to APOLLYON SUN now – is the band still together?
"Of course! We finished our album three weeks ago, have finished the final mixes and it’s supposed to come out in February / March. It’s just a one year delay (laughs)…"
The first musical piece from APOLLYON SUN was the new version of CELTIC FROST’s "Babylon Fell" on the CELTIC FROST tribute album… Do you really think it was a good decision? I mean, APOLLYON SUN ended up having a completely different musical approach than CELTIC FROST…
"Yeah sure, but it was only a songproject anyway. APOLLYON SUN had only been together at that point for three months and got asked to participate, which we agreed on doing. It was never meant to be a global visiting-card, it was more like… You know, I was in CELTIC FROST and just found it pretty interesting to do a new version of a song with totally different people. The EP is our actual real first sign of life…"
Yeah, right… But in my opinion that song had probably mislead a lot of people’s expectations…
"Yeah maybe, but it was totally honest, cause we just played it the way we liked it. Right now we’re playing two songs with APOLLYON SUN from that era. They sound completely different now of course. We play "Procreation Of The Wicked" in a very very heavy, but also really dark and modern version and we play "Messiah" from HELLHAMMER, also in a radically changed version."
I would’ve asked you about that anyway… You often voiced your negative opinion about Hellhammer in several interviews already, so I was wondering if it really made sense to re-recorded a song like "Messiah" from that period? Wouldn’t it have been a better decision to let the past rest forever?
"I do let it rest! You will start to smile constantly when you hear the new version of "Messiah". Every HELLHAMMER fan is gonna puke when hearing it (so will I, probably – Frank)! I think the result is just sensational and it has a helluva lot of power! But it was radically changed, almost similar to how we changed WALL OF VOODOO’s "Mexican Radio" into a CELTIC FROST version. I would never do a cover and just play the song in a similar way. Just listen to our version of the DAVID BOWIE song…"
But how the hell did you get the idea to "cover" an old HELLHAMMER song if you can’t stand the material at all anymore?
"Because it’s so absurd! We always had a pretty morbid sense of humor and everything what nobody would expect from us, is exactly what Tom likes to do (laughs). I’m almost manic with those kinda things and "Messiah" has a strange tradition anyway. We used to play the song for a while with CELTIC FROST, simply because we didn’t have enough material at the time. The same happened when we started out with APOLLYON SUN. We used to play one or two old songs and one of them was "Messiah" back then. We did it just for fun. It ended up becoming a highly original coverversion, because it was radically changed. If I wouldn’t have told you about it, you probably wouldn’t even have noticed it! It’s so different to HELLHAMMER, that it’s absolutely fine with me to play the song."
"Babylon Fell" still had a quite typical Metal guitar sound, while the songs on the APOLLYON SUN MCD didn’t sound that heavy anymore. Did you have any plans to change that on later releases or was APOLLYON SUN never supposed to have this Metal sound?
"First of all, I didn’t think at all that we turned away from the Metal sound. It’s just that I didn’t like the production on the MCD, simply because it were mainly demo songs. But the guitars in "Reefer Boy" for example are the darkest I’ve ever came up with. It should be quite obvious that I won’t get on stage with crossed bullet belts in the year 2000 anymore. I try to develop myself, contrary to several other people. It doesn’t interest me anymore, I did that already! I did a lot of things already and there’s no need to repeat myself! The biggest difference between the album and the EP is that the album comes up with a way more homogeneous symbiosis of sampled sounds and really heavy sounds. I’ve never really liked the coldness and sterility of Industrial bands, I’m not interested in doing that. Additionally to our drumloops and bassloops we use live drums and live bass and this way we manage to achieve a warmer sound, which is a lot closer to real Hardrock. In a live situation it also sounds a lot heavier when we’re using real instruments…"
Did you already play any shows with APOLLYON SUN?
"No, but of course we play the stuff almost every day in our rehearsal studio. We want to wait with liveshows until the time is right."
Ok, let’s get back to CELTIC FROST’s early days one more time. Where do you see the main differences in the songwriting between the late HELLHAMMER and early CELTIC FROST? I mean, the musicians involved have still been the same back then, so…
"Well, in the end HELLHAMMER was a fourpiece and then Martin and myself left them to form CELTIC FROST. The songwriting was a lot more matured and it benefited from all the mistakes that were made with HELLHAMMER. For us there was only one solution: nothing to repeat that HELLHAMMER had previously done, which was almost a manic duty for us especially considering all the bad press that HELLHAMMER had gotten."
Was that also a reason for the name change?
"It was no name change! Martin and I left HELLHAMMER and each one of us tried to start up his own project in the first place. After like three weeks we realized that it is really difficult to find the right musicians in Switzerland, so we both ended up getting together again and built something new. This project was totally different straight from the start. It was the total opposite! We didn’t want to be associated with HELLHAMMER in any way anymore!"
Where did you actually get the idea for the bandname CELTIC FROST from?
"It was a co-operation between Martin and myself. We didn’t wanna use the average cliché type Metal name, our name was supposed to embody the apocalypse, that’s part of the reason why we ended up with the word "frost" in it, you know."
I’ve also always wondered who Urs Sprenger was, who got credited on your early albums a couple of times?
"He was a good friend of mine, an illustrator, who was also a member of HELLHAMMER in the early days…"
By the way, did you play in any bands prior to HAMMERHEAD?
"Yeah, I was in two bands in school, but they are not worth being mentioned. But as HELLHAMMER already was of poor quality, you can probably imagine, that those bands were a million times worse!"
It’s an open secret that HELLHAMMER was completely influenced by VENOM, but what about the early CELTIC FROST? Where did you draw your musical influences from then? Was it still VENOM?
"No, no, no – not at all! HELLHAMMER consisted of a bunch of fans who bought themselves instruments, but who weren’t able to play properly enough to come up with some own ideas. That’s why we copied our idols as good as possible, even up to the ridiculous pseudonyms! But as soon as we reached a level where we could play good enough to create something on our own, it was clear that HELLHAMMER was a way too small shape for such a concept. That’s why Martin and myself got away from it immediately. With CELTIC FROST we wanted to come up with our own ideas and incorporate our own influences. We didn’t need any idols for that any longer."
Did you ever hear about a band called WARHAMMER?
"Of course! Everyone’s asking me about that. Just by listening to the press people I would already know WARHAMMER completely, if I would let them speak out, but I don’t give a fuck! Next question!"
So, you’re not interested at all?
Some of the following questions may sound a little silly, but I would still like to ask them from a die hard CELTIC FROST fan’s point of view anyway. Hope you don’t mind?! Why didn’t you use the original CELTIC FROST logo and letters for the album titles for the CD re-issues?
"Because I always considered it pretty amateurish… and also Martin as well. So, as soon as we had enough money we wanted to change that. In our early days we had other things to concern about and also no access to professional people who could’ve done something like that for us. The new "CF" logo was created while we were mixing the "Into The Pandemonium" album, but it was already too late to use it on that record. It was originally planned to use that earlier already. Unfortunately it appeared on the "Cold Lake" album for the very first time."
Why did you replace the original skull in the Heptagram artwork on the "Morbid Tales" re-issue with a different one?
"A year after "Morbid Tales", when we were able to work with professional people for the very first time, Martin gave the Heptagram, which he had created originally, to a professional illustrator, to let it re-design. We were heavily impressed by the result but as it was only used on the strictly limited "Collector’s EP" it was clear that I had to use it for the re-release of "Morbid Tales". You are actually the first to notice that, out of 10.000 journalists that I already spoke to. When I did it, I already expected like ten million questions, but nobody noticed that, except you! That speaks a lot for yourself!"
Has there actually been a deeper meaning in these Heptagrams or was it just that you took the Pentagram symbol and re-designed it your way?
"No, it had a deeper meaning! There’s so much hidden symbolic in it… Martin wanted to express with it, that we represent the good side as well as the bad side, you know, that we are neither Christians nor Satanists… we are nothing but imperfect humans. That’s also why we never used a Pentagram…"
Are you aware of the fact that there’s an American CD digipak version of "Morbid Tales" and "Emperor’s Return" that also features the entire HELLHAMMER studio recordings?
What’s your opinion about that?
"It’s makes me wanna puke… total shit! But it’s typical for old Noise Records…"
Why was "Morbid Tales" actually released in the US back then with two additional songs?
"It was originally planned to release "Morbid Tales" as a mini album world-wide… We had recorded enough material for a full length album, but Noise had already prepared everything for a mini album release… Then it got issued as a mini album in Europe, but according to Metal Blade it was impossible to sell a mini album in America, that’s why they added the additional songs, which was exactly what we wanted! The reactions on it in America were so good, that later on it got released in Europe as a full length album also."
What was the intention of "Danse Macabre" and later on of "Tear’s In A Prophet’s Dream"?
"That was the trial to come up with a musical interpretation of a theater play, kinda like to present something visually in an audio type vein. It was an experiment to find out how it would turn out."
Ok, let’s get back to the CD re-issues once again. What I personally didn’t like about them at all is the fact that "To Mega Therion" is now missing in three of its original versions due to the fact that you decided to include the "Tragic Serenades" EP instead. Why didn’t you just additionally put the EP versions on there?
"No, we wanted it that way! We originally wanted to go back into the studio to remix the whole album back then, but due to financial reasons and also because of lack of time (we were just on tour then), we could only re-work those three songs. And then we already had to go back to play another show in Bochum, Germany. But the original plan was to re-record the whole album with Martin and to remix it with Harris Johns and then to release it again. But for various reasons it wasn’t possible back then. So, what we have now is a part of our original plan, you know…"
Ok, I agree with you that the "Tragic Serenades" versions turned out a lot better than the original versions on the album, but I don’t get it why you decided to use the obviously poorer sounding original mixes of some of the songs on "Emperor’s Return"?
"Yeah, but "Emperor’s Return" is a record that we all didn’t really like anyway. We were kinda forced to go back into the studio to come up with a new product, because "Morbid Tales" was pretty successful. Reed was only in the band for three weeks and we had extreme difficulties to integrate him. It was way too early to return to the studio with this band. So, neither the remix nor the original versions are good. But many fans always asked me to come up with unreleased stuff and some of them even asked about the original mixes… Well, they are on the re-issue now and honestly spoken – I don’t really care, because I don’t listen to that shit anymore anyway. "Emperor’s Return" is such a shitty record that the band didn’t even listen to it once!"
Well, I guess a lot of the real CELTIC FROST fans see things a little different and would probably have appreciated both versions…
"Yeah sure, but I don’t see the need to release songs twice that the band itself considers as their worst. I just put them on there because of the demand from the fans. I personally have no interest at all in this record! I like "Morbid Tales" a lot more!"
Why didn’t you originally use "Journey Into Fear" for "Emperor’s Return"?
"Phh… I have no idea! We probably considered it not good enough, but it makes no difference anyway. To me, "Circle Of The Tyrants" is the strongest tune on that release."
Even though Martin didn’t play on "To Mega Therion", you used his picture for the CD re-issue of that album now. Isn’t that a bit unfair towards Dominic?
"No, not at all! Dominic was never a real member of CELTIC FROST. The reasons why Martin left the band and why he rejoined us after some weeks were pretty complex. Martin was in his puberty at the time, he was by far the youngest member who had several fights with himself… But he wrote and arranged most parts of the album with us. He was with us when almost 90% of the material was written. We even rehearsed the stuff with him. The whole concept of the album and the Giger art was all done with him. Martin was the keyperson when we got in touch with Giger and he helped me on the entire concept quite a lot. That album has so much input from Martin and only 0,5% of Dominic. Plus he also played on the three "Tragic Serenades" songs, so it’s way more effective to put his picture on there, isn’t it?!"
Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned a little earlier that it was pretty difficult to find musicians in Switzerland, so how did you actually find Dominic so quickly?
"We knew Dominic from an opening band that used to play with us. And we just needed a replacement immediately, because one or two weeks after the split-up with Martin we had to go into the studio and needed a bassplayer straight away! There was absolutely no time to look for a replacement, it was impossible! We had to finish the album and then go into the studio. So, we asked Dominic if he would be interested. But we realized pretty soon that he simply didn’t fit to us. It was actually the total opposite! The situation with him was catastrophic! Luckily Martin as well as ourselves found out pretty quick that we had to find a different solution…"
So, I suppose he never played any shows with you, did he?!
"Nooo! He was only with us for a couple of rehearsals and after the album was done, we never spent time with him anymore. We kicked him out as soon as the album was done… by phone (laughs)!"
Why didn’t you produce "To Mega Therion" on your own again and instead worked with Horst Müller once again?
"Because we considered the "Morbid Tales" production as a pretty strong one and had high hopes to come up with something like that once again. Unfortunately we didn’t know that Horst Müller had drifted apart into some weird obscurities… and only found out about that when we worked with him again."
Who came up with the idea to use Harris Johns for the "Tragic Serenades" EP and why did you never work with him again. I mean it is still the best sounding CELTIC FROST release, so…
"Number one: we had the idea, because we needed someone to remix our stuff in Berlin… we produced it ourselves, Harris had only been the engineer and number two: we didn’t work with him again, because all the other Noise bands were using him and we never were like the others. We always tried to be different! For us Harris was too much involved in this Hardcore Metal stuff…"
And you wanted to get away from that?!
How do you judge the big musical step from "To Mega Therion" to "Into The Pandemonium" nowadays? Don’t you think it would’ve been a lot easier for your fans to follow you musically, if there would’ve been another album in between?
"Yeah, but that wasn’t our intention. I wasn’t a member of RUNNING WILD, we wanted drastic changes! You know, that would’ve been a pretty commercial way of thinking, if we would only have done what people expected from us. We always did what we wanted and what felt right for us. There was never a big concept or anything. We just started writing for an album and during the writing process the album developed in a certain way. We never wanted to shock or hurt our fans, we simply had to do it like that. We weren’t able to do things differently."
From my personal experiences I can tell you that I pretty much hated "Into The Pandemonium" back then when it got released. But over the years I got more and more into it…
"That only means that you have become a lot more matured yourself…"
Well, I suppose that the time simply wasn’t right for an album like "Into The Pandemonium" back then and that it was probably a bit ahead of its time…
"It was by far our most successful album, so somehow the time must’ve been right for it. But you’re right. It wasn’t easy for a lot of our fans to follow us with this album…"
Did your musical tastes maybe change completely at the time?
"No, it was always the same. But as soon as we started to play this really heavy music with CELTIC FROST every day, we more and more stopped listening to it in our private lives. And we all had all kinds of different influences anyway, from Jazz and New Wave to Hardrock. So, it wasn’t really a big step. The album just reflects our personal musical faves. We never accepted that heavy music couldn’t be mixed with those radical influences…"
I guess a song like "Inner Sanctum" was already a bit older as it still sounded a lot more like your previous material…
"Yeah of course! We wrote that as well as "Babylon Fell" straight after "To Mega Therion" in 1985."
Did you include them on the album to have a bigger variety?
"They were directly written for this album! They were just the first songs… and we already played them live on tour before they even got released. Of course they radically changed until they ended up on the record…"
For what reasons did you re-record "Mexican Radio" in 1991 and which version do you personally prefer?
"I prefer the original version of course! We often used free time in the studio to jam around a little bit. Often it didn’t get recorded, but a few times it was recorded. Noise should also have a studio jam without vocals on tapes somewhere, but it was never something major."
What was this "CELTIC FROST Collector’s EP" all about?
"It was originally meant as a promotional item for distributors and a couple of magazines…"
Do you still recall how many copies were made of it?
"As far as I can remember there were 1.000 copies of it."
Why was the often announced "Necronomicon" album actually never recorded and released?
"Because "Necronomicon" was supposed to be the final album for CELTIC FROST. But after each new album, there’s been so many new open doors for us, creativity and business wise, that the end just never was in sight at all. But "Necronomicon" was originally supposed to be our final release."
I guess I can answer the following question myself already, but I will ask it anyway – why was "Cold Lake" not re-issued these days as well?
"Because it’s a piece of shit!"
So, you also consider the music as a piece of shit?!
"It is the biggest piece of garbage that ever happened to mankind and I don’t see any needs to annoy mankind with it twice!"
Could you imagine that the negative responses from your fans on that album would have been a little different if you would just have continued to use your old outfit?
"Maybe, but it makes no difference anyway. I just consider the music, with or without photo, as total shit! I don’t care about the photos, but to me as a musician, the music never ever can compete with everything else we have done as CELTIC FROST! It doesn’t matter if we wear black clothes or if we are naked – the album sucks!"
The follow-up album "Vanity / Nemesis" was a lot heavier again. Was that your own decision…?
"(laughs) Of course it was our own decision! Do you really think, that after CELTIC FROST had to fight 14 months at a court for our artistical freedom because of the "Pandemonium" failure, that we would have taken any advice from some assholes outside of the band?! We were so incredibly arrogant and self-conscious concerning our music when we did the "Vanity / Nemesis" album, that Roli Mosimann was incredibly frustrated, because he came up with many good ideas (I know that in retrospect now), but we just weren’t interested to listen to anybody outside of the band. After all our negative experiences, Roli simply had to suffer from that. No, we radically designed the whole album ourselves and did everything the way we wanted it. Our goal was to come up with a straight forward statement, no experiments, it was all just about the darkness and the power!"
So, it wasn’t meant as a favor for your old fans maybe?
"Of course we were hoping that they would like it, but we also didn’t know if they would forgive us the "Cold Lake" album… So, no – we just did what we wanted to do and what we could do best!"
And did the album live up to your expectations?
"Of course! We didn’t expect that it would be this easy to erase the "Cold Lake" album, but especially in the Anglo-American areas it sold like crazy!"
When it comes to CELTIC FROST, there’s obviously two different types of fans. On the one hand those who worship your early, heavier material up to "To Mega Therion" and on the other hand those who prefer the more experimental side of "Into The Pandemonium". So, how do albums like "Cold Lake" and "Vanity / Nemesis" fit in there?
"They fit in perfectly! If you are a CELTIC FROST fan… we didn’t separate the band in two half’s, for us it was an ongoing thing and we learned from each album. If the fans see it that way, then it is their view of things, not ours! When Martin heard the "Vanity / Nemesis" songs for the first time in the studio, his reaction was: This album combines every CELTIC FROST album on one! And I think that statement fits perfectly."
Have there ever been any plans to release the unreleased material from both your 1992 demos maybe?
"I don’t know. They do exist… that have been the demos for the "Under Apollyon’s Sun" record and there’s ten or twelve songs, but if those will ever see the light of day I’m still pretty uncertain about at this point of time…"
So, the chances are bigger that you will write brand new material now?
"APOLLYON SUN already used a lot of elements from those songs and if CELTIC FROST will start writing for a new record, we will probably use some of it also, but if the record ever sees the light of day in the way it was originally intended to be, I seriously doubt. The stuff was written back in 1991 / ’92 already, so…"
CELTIC FROST always had a pretty deep structured concept, but the design of your T-shirts on the other hand was pretty typical for a Metal audience…
"That was a compromise for the fans. In that department we wanted to give our fans what they wanted to see. The Heptagram and the logo… that was the kind of stuff that was best for a T-shirt design. You easily reach your boundaries if you try to put a Giger painting on a T-shirt, that’s why we always designed our T-shirts pretty simple."
Are you aware of all the CELTIC FROST and HELLHAMMER bootleg shirts that are around these days?
Have you ever tried to find out who’s responsible for them and maybe even start legal actions against the people that are manufacturing them?
"That’s almost impossible! Here and there we did react, but in general it’s impossible. But in the near future there will be official CELTIC FROST merchandise again. We just try to put that stuff out again."
Interview and live pics by Frank Stöver