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Celtic Frost    
Celtic Frost

Passionate. Mysterious. Brutal. Misunderstood. Pompous. Brilliant. Volatile. Artistic. Underground. High-Brow. Raw. How many other adjectives could I string together to describe the legacy of Celtic Frost? Plenty. On the heels of reading his fascinating new Frost tell-all book 'Are You Morbid', I rediscovered Mr. Thomas Gabriel Fischer's back catalogue for about two weeks solid. I then set up this chat with the author who was gracious enough to clarify and expand on the book's incidences and themes, as well as some tentative plans for Celtic Frost's forthcoming, yet still nascent, revival.

Metal Update: What possessed you to write a book about Celtic Frost?

THOMAS GABRIEL FISCHER: Well, actually, it's not too farfetched. Frost was a highly controversial band. Whenever we did something, it caused headlines. Because of that nature of the band, there were a million questions posed to us whenever we did something. There were always so many discussions. A lot of, of course, misunderstandings. There were many times when we felt really frustrated by being misunderstood, and by having some of our projects misunderstood. But we always kinda thought - there was something in the back of our minds that one day we would probably tell our own story in one way or another. When we decided to terminate the band, I found myself incapable of just going on into another band. Frost had been such a rollercoaster ride that my mind was just not freeing up to join another band. I just decided to retire from the music industry entirely. I decided to do my own amateur home psychology by writing the book. And I involved the whole band with that, 'cause, of course, I couldn't remember everything.

MU: When did you finish writing?

TF: I wrote the book in the mid-nineties. I finished the book in the mid-nineties, but I re-wrote it twice because I didn't like the format and I wanted to make it a little better. So I basically finished it in the late nineties.

MU: Why the delay in getting it out?

TF: Because I was in the studio for a long time working on the Apollyon Sun album. I mean, I wrote the book, I knew I had the manuscript there, but it wasn't an absolute priority to release it. I first needed to get my new career underway, and it was a lot of work to get the 'Sub' album done for Apollyon Sun.

MU: Was it difficult to find a publisher? Was it something akin to going around and shopping a record and having to explain yourself to these various corporate entities who don't understand anything about what you're trying to achieve?

TF: It is exactly the same. It's one and the same. It was actually much easier because Apollyon Sun was already operational by the time I went shopping for the book. I had full management and everything, so that helped a lot. But it is basically exactly the same as going out with a demo.

MU: Is this book merely the Celtic Frost story, or is there some larger message you wanted to convey?

TF: I don't want to sound conceited, but I think that the Frost story actually pretty much is the message. It happened long before there was even a book. The book is simply the result of Frost's existence. The Frost story itself is a message. The Frost story itself is the message that you should have the guts to be creative, and you should not just be a follower. You should be a creator. You should go out there and stand behind your own ideas and fight for your own ideas if necessary. Believe in your ideas no matter what is pitched against you. Of course, the book follows up with that.

Celtic Frost

MU: Is your overall message meant to be a positive one? Can the true artist survive the clash with commercial reality?

TF: To all of us ex-members of Frost, it's definitely a positive message. 'Cause Frost has succeeded. The mere fact that we are talking about Frost in 2001, ten years after the band's demise, is proof that it is positive. The band is being quoted by so many other bands as an influence, and almost every metal fan knows the band's name. So why wouldn't the overall message be a positive one?

MU: Absolutely.

TF: That the recording industry is a pool of sharks - that, everybody knows anyway. It's just reality. It's like that everywhere in the world whenever you form your own business. Had I become a business man and opened my own shop, I probably would have had the same experiences with banks. It's just our system. The western world is just like that.

MU: Do you think all bands get treated like you describe Frost getting treated by Noise Records in your book?

TF: If you form a band - especially if you try to do something slightly unusual - if you do your own thing and don't just jump on the bandwagon, it's pretty likely that that is going to happen to you. It's pretty much up to your own guts and your own persistence to navigate through that stuff.

MU: Are you into the Internet?

TF: Absolutely. Apollyon Sun was formed at the end of 1994, and from 1995 on we were on the Internet. Way before we even had the demo. We are very enthusiastic about the Internet and very interested.

MU: Do you think it changes the equation and put more power back into the hands of artists?

TF: Oh, absolutely it does. Absolutely. It gives you an unbelievably powerful tool if you handle it the right way. For example, in the early eighties when Frost started out, you were so dependant on the whole . . . circus. Now you can get so far if you do it the right way. The whole computer thing - as an artist you are so much more independent now. You can record your own albums now without having to beg a record company for funds and studio time or whatever. The whole computer revolution has changed the landscape for music.

MU: What do you think of Napster?

TF: That's a very good question. I personally think that Napster's a good thing, and I say that very carefully. Of course, I want to get paid for the work I'm doing. If you read the book and see how much work I put into creating these albums - I think that it is necessary that you get some money back for it or every band is going to disappear. But I think Napster's a good thing. I think there's absolutely no way around the Internet and there will be a revolution coming from the Internet in music. I myself don't know what is the perfect format. Maybe we've found it, maybe we haven't found it, but it gets difficult if you try to take the Internet out of the equation.

MU: You have a unique perspective on the heavy metal side of the music business. Yet throughout the book, you seem sort of troubled by your metal roots and labels which have been placed upon you. You seem to not want to be "limited" by the genre.

TF: That's a very easy question to answer. It has nothing to do with heavy metal. I myself loved heavy metal and I still love heavy metal. I have tons of metal records and I listen to them frequently. I wouldn't have been a musician if it weren't for my total, absolute fanaticism for heavy metal. I become uncomfortable whenever I'm limited. It doesn't mean metal alone. This is true in every aspect of my life. I hate to be trapped. I hate to be limited. I hate to be told what I'm supposed to do, and, of course, that includes music.

MU: I guess that's what Celtic Frost stands for.

TF: Exactly. If metal fans feel uncomfortable, they should consider that it's absolutely not a metal issue. It's an issue of being creative. It touches every aspect of my life.

MU: Does Celtic Frost relate to heavy metal? If you had to categorize Frost, would it be metal?

Celtic Frost

TF: Of course. I would never hesitate saying we were a metal band. We tried to expand on heavy metal. We tried to incorporate a lot of unusual ideas. But our power and our enthusiasm came from metal. There's no way - why should I hide it? We all love metal.

MU: In the book you often refer to Celtic Frost as avant garde. What does that mean to you?

TF: It always meant, for us, that we were always trying to be at the forefront of what's happening, and that sometimes we even tried to see a little bit of what was beyond the horizon. Sometimes it worked, sometimes we fell flat on our faces. But I just thought at that time that it is important that you stay alert and awake to what else you could do with this music, where else it will go, and what could rejuvenate this music.

MU: And that translates into adding classical musicians and operatic vocals?

TF: Anything. It doesn't necessarily mean that all of these things are going to work. It's a matter of trying out and experimenting. Some of the bands will have to do it for the benefit of the whole music.

MU: You would rather fall flat on your face than not take a chance.

TF: You see, a lot of people criticized us for being so experimental. They said, "Why don't you just play straight metal? You're heavy and everything and that's what we like!" That's what we like too, but the thing is, it is detrimental to the existence of heavy metal music if it is always turning a circle. Eventually, if any musical style just repeats itself, it will die. It will not stay competitive. As much as it puts some people off, it is as healthy on the other side for the music - for the entire industry. Music stays young, it stays competitive and it stays fresh and aggressive if you try to incorporate other things and you try to be a little ahead of other forms of music.

MU: Do you hear Celtic Frost in any of the modern bands, and if so, which ones?

TF: Well, you see, there are two answers. First, I'm not really into the bands that copy Frost, the bands that incorporate the exact same elements, 'cause that's exactly not what the bands was all about.

MU: Are you aware of any bands who fall into that category?

TF: I try not to be!

MU: Fair enough. I'm talking about avant garde hard rock and heavy metal bands. There are many bands who incorporate layers of atmosphere and additional elements like strings and female vocals.

TF: That's exactly not the point. The point is to keep looking for new things, not to get focused on one new thing and then to keep repeating it until it is not a new thing anymore. The point is to continuously keep searching for new things, not to stop at one level.

MU: Isn't that what you conclude in your book that your record company didn't understand?

TF: Very much so, yeah.

MU: One of the messages I take away from the book is that record companies should stop setting bands up just to rape them of all they're worth. They shouldn't hold onto them until they dry up after a few years and then discard them and move on to something else. Record companies need to nurture the artist on which they feed.

TF: You're totally right. In the early days, Noise Records basically operated on the premise of bands being a tax write off - bands being a short-term investment with quick return. Then they burn out and you can write them off the taxes until you go on and find a new band.

MU: That's why those companies found it so difficult to embrace the kind of artistic risk Celtic Frost seemed to thrive upon.

TF: Yes. Absurdly, record companies jump on every new trend because they want to make money out of it, but there have to be artists to create new trends. It's really absurd. They don't really want their artists to be innovative, but if an artist is innovative, everybody jumps on them. It's absurd.

MU: What do you think of nu-metal? All of these bands are signing to major labels and the whole pimp-rock trend is probably already over anyway.

TF: That's mankind for you. There's a whole larger picture behind all of this. We're just all humans and we follow these idiotic patterns sometimes, and nobody really knows why.

MU: In some famous psychology study, they asked subjects to rate photographs of people by how attractive they were. The study found that the people with the most average features were the ones other people found most attractive overall. The least different equals the most attractive.

TF: Probably because it takes the least effort. It is the easiest.

MU: Things that are different take time for people to absorb.

TF: Exactly. That's what makes them the most interesting and most challenging things that will bring you furthest in your life.

MU: Let's shift gears. Tell me something about some of your contemporaries from that Noise Records era. What do you think of Kreator's most recent material?

TF: It's very hard for me to judge 'cause I was very good friends with Kreator. I personally enjoy it when a band goes more experimental, even though at the same time I crave power in music. I don't think that power excludes being experimental, or vice-versa. Actually, I really thought there was a lot of creativity in Kreator, even in the old days They could have been much more experimental, much more modern without forsaking their power. For some reason or another they decided not to do that. I knew the people in Kreator quite well and I still know some of them quite well. They have a bunch of ideas. They are very intelligent people. They could have gone much further with those ideas without losing all their fans.

MU: I'm expecting them to come back with a straight- ahead thrash record.

TF: I don't know about that. Last time I heard their records was when Tommy from Coroner played with them. Even though it wasn't very powerful, there was quite a fresh air about the music, which I found quite intriguing actually.

MU: Have you heard anything Destruction has done with Schmeir back in the band and all.

TF: Yeah, Schmeir has been bugging the shit out of me (laughs) to do something with them. I'm basically like personal friends with them but I don't like Destruction's music as much as I like, for example, Kreator's music. Kreator I really, really dug because they had such a raw power. Actually, all of us in Frost were really good friends with Destruction. We used to tour with Destruction, but their music we never really liked too much. We found it too wimpy. Kreator had this serious evil power. Destruction were a little bit weaker and we didn't like them so much. We actually were really close friends though, especially with Schmeir.

MU: Back to the book. Brutal honesty abounds. Did you worry about saying all that stuff in print? TF: Oh, of course. (laughs) Believe me. It's very toned down. First and foremost, I was brutally honest about myself. That has to be the basis. If it is a tell-all book, you cannot exclude yourself. I made plenty of mistakes, sometimes grave mistakes, and these have to be in the book or else it is not honest and it is not a true book.

MU: How hard was it to admit to and expose some of the interpersonal stuff? The first time you kick Martin out of the band comes across as so cold. How could that have been so nonchalant?

TF: Especially if you are talking about the first split from Martin, it was a very difficult situation. You have to also realize that in the book I have to deal with this in one or two pages. This book covers fifteen years of my life in 250+ print pages. I have to shorten the whole process, and it's very complex. Especially that first split from Martin which was entirely due to personal incompatibility between him and I. It's very complex to describe this in a way that the fan will understand. I tried to do the best job I could. I gave Martin the manuscript way before it was published. He read it, and he felt very happy about it. That's all I can say about it.

MU: So nobody was against this? Reed, Martin, everyone was on board?

TF: Well I involved the band when I wrote the book. I interviewed Martin, for example, a lot of times. Obviously, I could not remember every single detail, so the book in many places reflects the view of the entire band, not just the view of Tom. It was necessary for me to incorporate the band in order to tell the whole Frost story.

MU: Who is Celtic Frost?

TF: To me, Celtic Frost is Martin, Reed and me. That is the core of Frost. There are a lot of people who are extremely important in the history of Frost - Curt Victor Bryant, who played guitar on 'Vanity / Nemesis'. But the foundation of the band, the lineup when we first stepped out into the international spotlight, is Reed, Martin and me.

MU: Was 'Cold Lake' a Celtic Frost album?

TF: In my mind, it certainly is not. 'Cold Lake' is not even close to the quality that makes Celtic Frost. 'Cold Lake' is very far away from that, and that's why it hasn't been reissued.

MU: Before I read the book I thought you were a defender of 'Cold Lake'. I had heard you hadn't really yet come to terms with how much the fans really didn't like that record.

TF: Absurdly, Martin at the time told us that he liked most of the songs on 'Cold Lake'. That he just didn't like the production. I basically hated the album already when we went into the mix down period. We played some of the stuff live, and we played it with the true Frost power, especially when Martin was back in the band. The songs went down very well live, but even so, I felt very uncomfortable with that material 'cause it wasn't really true Frost. This album came about because of a very unique state of mind that just couldn't ever really be recreated. It's good that it couldn't.

MU: What is your relationship with Martin and Reed like now in 2001?

TF: It's a very good one. I see Martin very frequently. We live in the same town. We meet very frequently because we're talking about doing some Frost stuff again.

MU: And Reed?

TF: Reed and me have been the closest of friends since Frost, and every time I see him we're still the closest of friends. Every time I'm in New York we hook up.

MU: What is Reed doing now?

TF: He's a bodybuilding trainer in New York. He still plays drums, and he will most definitely be involved with the new Frost project.

MU: If you had had the perfect record company situation, what would have Frost become?

TF: Just a creative entity. We would have continued on with albums like 'Into the Pandemonium'.

MU: Would you have broken up?

TF: Most definitely.

MU: (laughs)

TF: No seriously. Frost was always going to be self- destructed.

MU: I think your original outline for the band as printed in the book described a clear beginning and an end.

TF: Yes. Frost was always going to be self destructed. That's half of the fun of doing a project like Frost, it is a very volatile project. But we could have done more creative albums.

MU: How popular do you think Celtic Frost might have been able to become?

TF: It's not about superstardom to me, it's about expression. It's about getting a platform for your ideas. It isn't about us driving Rolls Royces.

MU: Yet you moved in a more commercial direction in the late eighties! At a minimum, you moved away from that raw, underground "Procreation of the Wicked" type of heaviness.

TF: I just re-recorded "Procreation of the Wicked" two weeks ago with Apollyon Sun, by the way. (laughs) How's that for stepping away from that track? But I know what you mean, and it's probably an age-related thing. On the other hand, we just hated to repeat the same thing. The record company would have loved us to do 'Morbid Tales' over and over again. That's all they ever told us.

MU: A lot of bands feel the pressure to commercialize. Your record company was telling you not to deviate from your core sound because that was the more fiscally sound approach for a band in Celtic Frost's position. You wanted to wear hairspray and make 'Cold Lake'. Ironic.

TF: You realize, that playing a straight thrash record is what would have been commercial. At a time when Exodus and Slayer and Metallica and Anthrax all were big - that would have been commercial to just continue with something that had been proven already. We'd rather try something new with every album. Of course, the downside is that we faced a new risk with every album. That risk backfired when we tried to do 'Cold Lake', but at least we can say that this band tried to do something new with every album. I'm extremely proud of that.

MU: So you're talking about a new Frost chapter. Maybe the book isn't finished.

TF: Well we're going to do some tentative rehearsals in America later this spring. We're gonna play some new Frost material, we're gonna play some old Frost material and see what that sounds like. If it sounds good we are going to continue writing new material and eventually go into a studio in America to record a new Frost album.

MU: Do you have a tentative time when that might happen?

TF: It's very difficult to pinpoint an exact time frame when that might happen. We'll try to record it still this year if everything goes well.

MU: Are you guys exchanging tapes in the mail and writing things right now?

TF: Yeah, we're writing things now. That's the reason why we're doing these rehearsals later this spring.

MU: What is the new material sounding like?

TF: It's very dark. And it goes into a direction that I'm very happy with it. I 'm kinda hesitant to talk about it before anybody has heard anything because I don't want to have any prejudice arise.

MU: Is it in the true spirit of Frost?

TF: To us it is, but it is something that Frost hasn't done before either. That makes it Frost. It's dangerous for fans to think we're gonna do another 'To Mega Therion' or 'Morbid Tales' because that ain't gonna happen. We've never copied our own albums. But it's very true Frost in that it is going to sound very new yet again and that it is something that Frost hasn't done with an album before.

MU: Don't you think true Frost fans would actually be disappointed to hear another 'To Mega Therion' at this juncture?

TF: I certainly hope so, but there's a lot of people who approach me and tell me to write another 'To Mega Therion'. I love 'To Mega Therion' and I can totally appreciate why they say it. I mean, if we do a new Frost album, there's going to be elements on it that are very typical Frost - very heavy and very dark - but it is certainly not going to be a rehash. Otherwise, if we feel in the studio that it is going to develop into another rehash, we're not going release it. The last thing we want to do is to destroy the Frost reputation in the year 2001.

MU: Will the new lineup be a three-piece?

Celtic Frost

TF: No, it would be a four or even a five piece. If Frost is working nowadays, there is a lot more maturity in the band. It would certainly be an assembly of the people who were most important for Frost and that goes beyond the mere three-piece. The three-piece would be the core, but there were a few more people who were absolutely essential for the Frost story.

MU: Who are you thinking about?

TF: It's certainly going to be Curt Victor Bryant, who played on 'Vanity/Nemesis'. I might actually also work with the guitar player who is my partner in Apollyon Sun because he and I have been producing everything that Apollyon Sun does. It's hard to imagine doing anything without him involved because we have become such a competent production team as far as our own music is concerned. I think it would benefit the new Frost album if we would work together on it.

MU: Do you have a name for the record?

TF: I actually have the name for the record, we've talked about it in great detail, but I really don't want to give it out.

MU: It's not 'Under Apollyon's Sun' is it?

TF: No.

MU: Will that record ever get made?

TF: No it will not. Well, a lot of it has been made. All of it still exists. It will never come out that way. That would be a rehash. You cannot possibly release an album from 1992 in the year 2001 or 2002.

MU: But wasn't that supposed to be the final album?

TF: Not really, it was just supposed to be the follow- up to 'Into the Pandemonium'. After that, we really hadn't decided. 'Necronomicon' was supposed to be the final Frost album. 'Necronomicon' never got made.

MU: And this wouldn't be 'Seed of Tranquility'?

TF: That was once a title for Frost and that is a title that has been shelved so far.

MU: Tell me how the name of your new band relates to the similarly titled, never released Frost record.

TF: The name Apollyon Sun for my new band came out of my own personal frustration that that album never got made because, I think, it would have been a landmark album for Frost.

MU: The idea of such a lost, great record almost takes on this mystical status like The Who's 'Lifehouse' project or something.

TF: I have used plenty of material from 'Under' during the early days of Apollyon Sun, because during the early days we didn't have our own set. We played quite a lot of material from that album. Over time, some of that material got picked up again and developed into Apollyon Sun songs. Some of them aren't even on the album 'Sub'. We recorded far more material when we did the 'Sub' sessions and there's plenty of material from the 'Under Apollyon's Sun' album which has not been released yet. It will be released one of these days. Some of the material from 'Under Apollyon's Sun' will certainly go into a new Frost album. Similar to like The Who, 'cause 'Who's Next' has a little bit of 'Lifehouse' material. I'm quite sure that most of the material will see the light of day in some form or another. Sometimes developed, sometimes not.

MU: What about the label? Will the record come out on the "new" Noise Records?

TF: The new Noise just got bought by Sanctuary in England. That for me means that I will have nothing to do with that company any more. Even thought the new Noise is a fantastic company. I strongly disagree with the business policies of Sanctuary. Sanctuary nowadays is pretty much what Noise used to be in the eighties. It's a shame because Noise in Berlin is a really good company now.

MU: Does this bitterness toward Sanctuary come from your experiences with this book?

TF: No, the publishing arm has been really good. It's from my experience working with Apollyon Sun on the recording side of Sanctuary.

MU: If there is a Celtic Frost record then you'll shop around for a label?

TF: The plan is now to finance it ourselves and to shop the finished album because we want to have absolute and total creative control. In order to avoid any record company interfering with what we're going to do like in the past, we are going to do the whole album ourselves. We do have the muscle to do it. There is very strong label interest already, but I don't think we want to commit before we have the album done.

MU: Will you be talking to heavy metal labels?

TF: We're extremely open. The main thing that is most important to us is to find an A&R person who really understands what we are doing. It doesn't really matter where they come from. We were always the open party. It was the recording industry who had the problem. We have no problem either way.

MU: So we may get a new Frost record this year?

TF: I think it is more realistic to see it released next year, but we certainly are going to work very hard on it this year. I mean, it's not something we can do in a week or so. A new Frost album is a very expensive and time-consuming process.

MU: What do you think will be the legacy of this book? Are people buying it?

TF: The book is doing quite sensationally. It is going into its second printing already which is quite sensational for a first time author. I wrote the book primarily for myself and for the band. That was really the purpose. I would have been happy just writing it and giving the manuscript to the band. Now it is out and it is doing very well and it's gotten an amazing response in reviews and everything. So it has already gone way beyond our expectations and what can I say? I'm very flattered.

MU: The book is not only a great documentation of Celtic Frost, but a snapshot of that whole underground eighties metal movement which is not all that well-documented elsewhere.

TF: Frost would not have been possible without that frame of the time and that revolution that went on at that time. You're totally right. I think that's a very crucial part of the book, and I tried to incorporate that into the book very much.

MU: In the end, is this book a cautionary tale for bright-eyed young artists? Telling them not to dive into the waters head first?

TF: Yeah but you know at the same time I always tell people it is also a very positive thing. If you take the first three chapters of the book, its filled with problems we prevailed over by doing an album like 'Pandemonium'. It's a very positive story because it shows that you can actually succeed with your ideas no matter how unconventional they are.

MU: Let me leave you with a final question. In the book's epilogue, you make a reference to one of the characters in the film 'Educating Rita', "who was once described as a woman who became too educated to go back and talk to her own people, yet not educated enough to talk to scholars." How does that description relate to Celtic Frost?

TF: That's the story of Frost in one sentence, basically.

MU: Are you forever doomed to that middle ground? Or can you ever get to the place where the scholars are interested in Celtic Frost as well?

TF: Yeah, but I don't know if that interest is justified. I think we are way too humble to accept that. I think that saying that we are doomed to this pattern is pretty much the truth. I don't know if the right word is "doomed," but we're pretty much trapped in it!







Interview: Eric German [ ]
Interview Support: Laura German [ ]
Editor: Brant Wintersteen [ ]
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