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CELTIC FROST: The Emperor's Return

December 20, 2006

The evolution and development of extreme music would not be where it is today without the revolutionary, forward thinking of Switzerland’s CELTIC FROST. Not only did they help shape death and black metal in its earliest stages as well as provide a profound influence on hardcore, they arguably created the blueprints for which all avant-garde metal would follow years later. After a decade plus in perpetual slumber, CELTIC FROST made a mighty return in their darkest album yet, Monotheist. However, the return of the band was a very tough and hard fought road as APESHIT learned after meeting up with vocalist/guitarist Tom Gabriel Fischer (a.k.a. Tom G. Warrior) before one of their shows during the first half of their U.S. tour.

APESHIT: Thanks for taking the time to do the interview. How’s the tour going so far?

Tom: Oh Jesus…being in CELTIC FROST, you cannot answer that in a reasonable time. If I was an American band I would say, “The tour’s been going great!”

APESHIT: That’s the answer we get from a lot of bands!

Tom: I mean, it’s a 47-day tour, and as you can imagine, that’s quite some work. It’s quite a challenge because you sit on a bus for two months with the crew and the band, and you have no privacy. You play every night. It’s the most ambitious thing we have ever done as a band. And before this, we played all over Europe, and then sometime after this, we are going to Japan… It’s a great thing, but it’s hard. What can I say? Just trying to be honest!

APESHIT: Have all the dates been pretty good so far?

Tom: Yeah, with the exception of two dates, which I hated, it was fantastic.

Well there were some fantastic shows, such as last night in San Diego, in Chicago, Montreal…they were amazing, really amazing! Like magic!

APESHIT: Well the sense we get is that everyone is happy CELTIC FROST is back, and the support is really there for you guys.

Tom: It’s been a long time coming.

APESHIT: Monotheist is a great album. It adds another dimension to the CELTIC FROST sound with each album being different from the other and adding something new. It’s very dark and doomy. What inspired that kind of tone and atmosphere?

Tom: That always strikes me as a very odd question because it’s natural–the music that you create comes out of yourself. And I don’t listen to doom metal albums thinking I’m going to do something [like that]. The album is just us. That should be the natural answer for anybody. The album reflects Martin [Eric Ain], me, and Franco [Sesa] at a certain given time period, and it’s not contrived, and it’s not inspired by any other thing. The music that you hear–the darkness–is us…our state-of-mind right now.

APESHIT: Was it difficult to get back into writing together after spending…

Tom: It was difficult. It was extremely difficult. That’s why it took four-and-a-half years. It was difficult to find a writing style that was CELTIC FROST, and it was difficult to write with these people. Because we haven’t worked together in ages, and we are all not very simple people. It’s a very complex band…with a lot of creativity, a lot of potential for explosions. It was a time where the situation with the band was very grey. But we love what we are doing and we got our shit together eventually. But, I mean we are talking about four-and-a-half years. So there’s like a million stories about this path. And there again, it’s impossible to describe this in a simple entry answer. It’ll take a book of mine to actually describe what went on in the actual making of this album. It was very drastic. That’s why the album is the way it is.

APESHIT: Throughout this long period when you guys were creating this album, it’s amazing to hear the consistency within each song. It really feels like a complete album. Was that a big challenge as well…on top of just writing it?

Tom: Well, yes and no. We wrote material for about three albums. We kicked out tons of songs, and [some] just didn’t sound like CELTIC FROST. On the other hand, we knew exactly what a CELTIC FROST album has to sound like. We had a very clear vision of what kind of album we wanted. So basically it was just getting there was a difficult process, but we knew exactly we weren’t going to leave the studio before the album would sound like the way we here it now. We wouldn’t [make] any compromises. We didn’t bring the band back to make a half-baked album or try to rehash old glory or to pretend that we’re still young.

We wanted to do an album that reflected us right now. We had it in our minds what it would sound like. It was just very difficult to actually get there from zero basically after 10 years of not working on CELTIC FROST.

APESHIT: Why did you decide to work with Peter Tagtgren on the album?

Tom: Because we had to spend four-and-a-half years in studios and rehearsal rooms, and we felt it was very healthy to have an outsider look at our material. We had been immersed in material way too much. Another fact was that we wanted to work with someone who is totally cutting edge like we did in the past as well. We always work with the cutting edge of studio technology, and Peter Tagtgren is an expert in studio recordings. He came to Switzerland, and we had an instant repoire. It was an amazing chemistry between us and him and there was no question that we would do it again.

APESHIT: I remember reading your blog when you guys were thinking about what record label to choose. What made you guys choose Century Media?

Tom: Masochism. No, Century Media actually were among two labels that we felt had the perfect approach, meaning a mixture out of a very good network of distribution and a personal interest. We didn’t want to just have like a corporate feel, where nobody would actually care. We would just be a number. We wanted somebody who’s actually a fan of the music in addition to having a worldwide distribution system. And Century Media, out of the two labels, we felt comfortable with. At the end, Century Media made the better offer so we went with that.

APESHIT: You’ve had problems with Noise Records in the past. Like one example is them reissuing albums on really shitty digipaks…

Tom: Yeah, continuously…

APESHIT: How were you able to get that stopped and have them reissue them properly?

Tom: We are not able to… They do this every half-year. There’s no way we can get the stuff. They have the rights to our music ’til like 75 years after our death. They can do whatever they damn want. We’ve been trying for years to do something legally, but it’s close to impossible. The official reissues that we did in 1999-2000 with the old Noise Records, which no longer exists–Sanctuary Records bought the label. Ever since then there’s been no communication with them anymore.

APESHIT: It seems that CELTIC FROST has been staying in touch with the extreme music scene that’s been going on lately. You guys just toured with 1349. I just saw them last night in LA. It was crazy, sold out. The walls were dripping with sweat. It was great. But, how has it been touring with those guys and SAHG?

Tom: Fantastic. Both bands are close friends with CELTIC FROST. That’s why we selected them. We wanted to tour with them because it was kind of important to us to have a family feel. And Ravn, the singer of 1349, is like a brother to me. That’s why the last show in San Francisco, we invited him on stage to sing “The Usurper” with us. It was amazing.

APESHIT: The song, “Winter,” on the new album is the conclusion of the musical trilogy that started with “Rex Irae.” Do you have part two written? [Note: Part two has yet to be released or recorded.]

Tom: It’s in a raw form. But I think I’ll rewrite it plenty of times before it’s released like with all the parts on the record. It has to be right, and I haven’t set myself a deadline. Maybe it’s going to be on the next album or maybe on the one after that. But eventually, it’ll be released, and we are planning when three parts are released to perform the whole “Requiem” live with an orchestra. And also once we have this in place, to perform some other songs that were written for classical music such as “Synagoga Satanae,” “Dawn of Megiddo.” Make it like a really special occasion and tape it.

APESHIT: What inspired you to resurrect the band knowing it would be such a big task to come back and do it over again?

Tom: Well, we knew it was going to be a big task but we didn’t know it was such a big task. Even for us, with all realism that we applied, it was overwhelming and it was very difficult. And that the album actually saw the light of day, it was a miracle.

But the reason why we did this–and I know a lot of people won’t believe it because everyone is just doing stuff for money–but the reason was actually Martin’s friendship with me. We worked for the first time together again after many years when we did the re-issues, that we talked about before. It was so good to work with Martin again that our friendship that had been totally idle for so many years flared up again. It was clear once we had that level of friendship that it was clear that we would do something again. And if we were to do something together it would be CELTIC FROST. That was the root of this project. We had turned down, both Martin and I, countless offers to do CELTIC FROST for money…insanely lucrative…just unrealistically lucrative because we always said “no.” So people tried to give us more money so we would say “yes,” but we always said “no.” We just felt that was the wrong reason. The reason we actually reformed CELTIC FROST was because Martin and I were talking on a friendship basis again.

APESHIT: What’s the status of APOLLYON SUN?

Tom: It’s dead. I worked in APOLLYON SUN together with Erol Unala and the split with Erol with CELTIC FROST means that the band is essentially dead. But it’s okay. I have plenty of electronic music that will be released as a solo album in the near future. I’ll finish it this year or early next.

APESHIT: I always thought those releases were really interesting, showing a new side of you…

Tom: I thought so too. There’s plenty more where that came from. But it’s not going to be APOLLYON SUN.

APESHIT: CELTIC FROST is one of the few handful of bands that has inspired every genre of extreme and heavy music–from hardcore, every kind of metal… There are so many bands that have been inspired by CELTIC FROST. How do you feel about that?

Tom: That’s very difficult for me because it’s not something I want to deal with on a daily basis. I would feel it’s rather pretentious to sit around thinking I influence anyone. It seems strange to me anyway because I don’t rate myself as a great guitar player or a great singer (for that matter). And it seems a trip that anybody would be inspired by me. I am very closely in touch in how I began music with like no money. We couldn’t even buy guitar strings. And we were like absolute nobodies–everybody laughed at us. The so-called scene, at the time, made every step for the band so difficult. We were total outcasts. Before that I had been an outcast in my little life. So it seems very strange that anyone would take us seriously and actually cite us as an influence. So it’s something I would rather not deal with. I’d rather just think of CELTIC FROST and just create more music. It’s strange to me. It’s an honor…but strange.

APESHIT: We interviewed Max Cavalera from SOULFLY and SEPULTURA recently, and we asked him “what are your favorite bands?” He said his favorites are always old school thrash and death metal, and he named HELLHAMMER as one of the bands he never stops listening to no matter what–and you can hear the influence in his music. Speaking of SEPULTURA, what do you think about their cover of “Procreation of the Wicked”?

Tom: At the time I thought it was the best version–best cover version–of any CELTIC FROST song ever. It was better and heavier than the original…and I was very envious of that. Now, ten years later, I know we are playing it as heavy or even heavier than them. But for a long time that, to me, was the scale by which to measure CELTIC FROST. I thought if we bring back CELTIC FROST and we cannot match that heaviness, that power, then we should not resurrect the band. I think their cover version is absolutely, truly excellent. They actually got the essence of CELTIC FROST better than we did when we were young. We played that song with them on stage in Switzerland, you know that? When they came touring Switzerland in ‘96 they asked us to join them on stage for that song, [so] we did–Martin and I.

APESHIT: Speaking of your heavy sound, the guitar and the bass sound on the new album is excellent, and is very distinct. Did you guys have to work very hard to achieve that sound?

Tom: Yes, very much so. What you hear is actually how the band sounds in rehearsal. It’s probably the closest we’ve ever recorded [of] our actual sound. As much fun as it was to work with Peter, we were very unhappy with his mix. And we took the mix back to Switzerland. First we did a remix, which was just trying to fix some of the deficiencies. But we were still unhappy so we remixed the whole thing from scratch. So what you hear on the album is actually not Peter’s mix but the mix I did with Martin. I mean, Peter was very open about this. He said it was very different for him to really understand CELTIC FROST the way we understand it. And he always knew it was going to be a huge challenge so I don’t think he has a problem with that–us remixing. But we knew if we do this huge album and we took four-and-a-half years, it has to come out and sound like CELTIC FROST. So that’s why it cost an arm and a leg to remix it twice…and it took even more time. But we wanted to have the album the way we pictured it.

APESHIT: What are the immediate plans, beyond touring, that you have?

Tom: Well…touring (laughs). We have an offer to go to Mexico. We have already confirmed Japan for January. We are supposed to go on a European tour in the spring. Then hopefully we’ll come back to North America. It just never ends. And now I’ve heard that Australia is somewhere in the pipeline. And then we will do a new album.