Dennis Jernberg of the Swedish webzine Critical Mass recently conducted an interview with CELTIC FROST founders Tom Fischer and Martin Ain. A few excerpts from the chat follow:
Critical Mass: Now that "Monotheist" has been out for almost a year, it's pretty safe to say that the album is a success — the fans like it, and many metal publications voted it "Best album of 2006", etc. How do you feel about the reactions and the feedback the album has received?
Tom: Uhm, I'm very flattered, but in all honesty, what was more important to me was that I could live with the album. To me, it was a deeply personal album, and I wanted to walk out of the studio with an album that I knew I was gonna be able to live with, and be proud of 'til the day I die. And that wasn't the case with every CELTIC FROST album. What was gonna happen afterwards, I didn't really care for. I knew that I could back this album, and I was very proud and it was exactly the album I wanted to make with CELTIC FROST, whether a million fans would buy it or one was of no concern. The only thing I wanted to avoid is to do another misstep with CELTIC FROST, to have my name on another bad album by CELTIC FROST — that was not gonna happen and that is why we took the time we took. Whatever the reactions are afterwards is basically none of my concern. As much as I'm flattered, I'm proud about it but this album was very personal.
Critical Mass: Yeah, sure... and when "Into The Pandemonium" (1987) was released, CELTIC FROST were in many senses ahead of your time. Now, twenty years later, has the world caught up with CELTIC FROST?
Tom: The world is never ready for CELTIC FROST! But the controversy that bounds every time CELTIC FROST releases something — whatever it is — that shows that the world is never ready for CELTIC FROST. I believe we have fans that truly understand what we are doing, that are into much more than just headbanging — as much as I like that too – but that really understand the full essence of CELTIC FROST. But there's a huge mass of people that need to be converted. And that's a lot of work because CELTIC FROST is not an easy band to understand, but so be it. We always knew it was like that. We never wanted to do easy albums — there's plenty of bands out there to do that for us, we don't need to be a part of them.
Martin: I think that you cannot compare "Into the Pandemonium" with "Monotheist". I mean, they are two completely different entities, just like CELTIC FROST back in the Eighties and CELTIC FROST now, are basically two different entities. Of course, it's the same name, it's Tom and me, but we're in a different place in life, at a different place with CELTIC FROST right now, and the same goes for the metal scene — it's also in a different place. I think "Pandemonium" was really adventurous and was really avant garde — for the metal scene at that time — we did a lot of things that the scene had not done at that time...
Tom: But we didn't do it because of that. We did it because we liked these musical directions. We didn't do it to be pioneers or anything like that. We did it; what you and I liked (looks at Martin)...
Martin: That's true, but we became pioneers. Nowadays it's a different ball game. With "Monotheist", I don't think we have been pioneers for the metal scene. We didn't do "Monotheist" to be pioneers, just as we didn't do "Pandemonium" to become pioneers, but our goal was to become CELTIC FROST again, to become what we think CELTIC FROST was all about in the '80s, or even what HELLHAMMER was supposed to be about. We wanted to get in touch with our past, but be able to live with it now as more mature and more experienced people. We didn't concern ourselves with "it has to be adventurous" or anything like that.
Tom: It has to be a CELTIC FROST album, that's it. It is deeply a CELTIC FROST album, because I can't see other extreme metal bands do such a variety of music, whether it's pioneering or old fashioned doesn't make a difference, but I can't see other extreme metal bands make such a varied album like "Monotheist".
Martin: Well, I don't know...
Tom: I can't see SLAYER playing like a gothic song, or KREATOR, or even METALLICA when they tried classical music, it's just like... hiring an outside guy putting some classical strings on existing songs, whereas we actually write classical music.
Martin: Then again, you get bands like OPETH, or TYPE O NEGATIVE, or...
Tom: But those are not extreme metal bands...
Martin: Well, they're considered to be a part of the extreme scene, or coming from the extreme scene. OPETH was a classic death metal band, and they're as progressive as death metal can get, you know — and they really mix that progressive style with the death metal style. The same goes for DIMMU BORGIR, who've become really commercially successful with their black metal plus classical instrumentation that they have put in, and their more power metal-like high vocals which remind me more of NIGHTWISH in a way than any other record by a black metal band, but they still retain their black metal credibility, you know? I think that the heavy metal scene is in a different state. We weren't concerned with what the state the metal scene was in, we were just concerned with what state we were in. In the beginning, when we were in the writing phase for "Monotheist" — when Tom and me got together with Errol — we were writing a lot of material that is not included on the album, but we realized that it wasn't CELTIC FROST, and it didn't have anything to do with heavy metal, let me tell you. We were experimenting with different styles. The album could have been much much more radical in experimentation but this wasn't our concern.
Tom: That was not the place for this album. We had material that goes much further than "Into the Pandemonium". We recorded about three times as much material than what is actually on the album, but the goal was to do an album that corresponded with our emotions, and not to go out and show off. It was much more important to us to actually reflect upon where we were at, and who we are as persons in our forties. Everything else was secondary.
Critical Mass: What about the album sales? You invested a lot of your own money into making "Monotheist", nearly going bankrupt...
Tom: Well, I'm not going to tell you sales figures, but the album has been recouped, and it's going really good...
Critical Mass: No, the question was more: can we expect another CELTIC FROST album?
Tom: You can expect another album, but the thing is, we invested so much money into this album that even if the album is doing really good, it's a question of whether we'll ever see that money again. That's the difference between this reunion and other reunions. We invested money, we didn't do the reunion for money, we actually invested money to make a proper album, and we didn't set a limit. We said whatever it will take, time or finances, the album has to be CELTIC FROST first and foremost. Everything else is secondary. There was a lot of people in the years that tried to get us to do a reunion for money, but we always turned that down.
Martin: But I think it's safe to say right now that the first statements have come in, with the album sales and the way the tour is going and everything, that this "enterprise" is commercially successful, which means that we can recoup the money; we can put the necessary funds back to be able to finance and work on the next album on our own terms, which was what this was all about for us. We really wanted to be able to be our own masters, and to do it on our own terms, not only artistically, but certainly in business terms – that was something we learned in the 80s, that if you are not in control of the business, then you are not in control of the art, whatsoever.
Critical Mass: There are plans for an upcoming DVD. How's the progress of that project?
Martin: Well, there are several plans for several things. As we speak right now, there is a documentary being filmed about CELTIC FROST by a Swiss documentary director. It is partly financed by the Swiss national television. There will be two versions of it: the television version which will be around 50–60 minutes, and then there will be the long form version, that most probably will be used for a DVD. They have been following us since we started playing live again. It's been in Japan, in the States, filming in Europe on the festivals and of course following up on the background [sic], collecting visual material from the past. That's one thing. The other thing is we've been filming shows from the European tour, the American tour, the festivals etc., that we might use. There's talk right now about a movie. But this is in its very early stages. We've talked about the early draft of a script which will be...
Tom: it will be a dramatization of certain aspects of the band's life. And there's also a quite large project for a concert film. However, that's a very ambitious project, and we cannot possibly finish that without outside partners. It's gonna be very expensive. We're in the stages of talking to potential partners right now. If we can get this realized, it's gonna be a concert film unlike anything that has been done in the metal scene so far. It's an ambitious and exciting artful project, but it's not sure whether we can actually do it.
Martin: There's one thing we can say; you will certainly not see it within the next six months or a year. Just collecting live excerpts from different shows, and other material and release it on a DVD, that is not the way we want to present ourselves. This is precisely why we did "Monotheist" first. We didn't just go out and play Wacken, or With Full Force, or any one of those festivals that offered us ludicrous amounts of money to do a "one-off" gig. We want to do something that is CELTIC FROST to the fullest. It's gonna be our first proper visual release that we'll have, right?
Critical Mass: What about the upcoming HELLHAMMER book you two are collaborating on?
Tom: Well, it's in a quite advanced stage. We have collected pretty much all the material. I've been collecting that for like two and a half years now. We've actually just looked through the photos just before and the text is at a very advanced stage and we hope to finish the book this year or early next.
Critical Mass: OK, what type of book will it be?
Tom: The general idea, which of course depends on the interaction with the publisher, but the idea is to do a coffe table style book. It will be the end all HELLHAMMER rumours, a book that will have the space to showcase some of the extraordinary photos that we have — much of it unreleased – or extraordinary artwork, for example alternate artwork for the HELLHAMMER E.P., stuff like that. At the same time it will contain the biography of HELLHAMMER, which will correct so many rumours, and the book is also supposed to show HELLHAMMER in the context of the time, the revolution of heavy metal in the early eighties and how we fit in there, how it influenced us and so on. Part of it will also be about the birth of extreme metal in Europe. It's supposed to be the ultimate HELLHAMMER book — it's gonna be a gem. We have been able to go through our own archives and a lot of collectors have helped us a great deal. The book will deal with HELLHAMMER, up to the formation of CELTIC FROST and the making of "Morbid Tales" — it's the early days of what is sitting before you right now.
Critical Mass: Last time we spoke — that was before the "Monotheist" tour began — you said that there was a possibility that HELLHAMMER songs would be included in the set, but so far, I haven't heard any?
Tom: Yeah, and I don't think you will... We tried to do that in rehearsals - we wanted to do it. We both love HELLHAMMER. We tried some songs — it was our feeling that when we played them, they didn't sound like HELLHAMMER — they sounded like CELTIC FROST playing HELLHAMMER songs. And HELLHAMMER is something pretty sacred for us. The older we get, the more we realise how important HELLHAMMER was for our gestation as a band. I didn't feel like going on stage and acting HELLHAMMER, this is not a movie, you know? I just realised that HELLHAMMER was two years in our lives that cannot be re-created. We were teenagers; it was a very unique time. We cannot just flick a switch and say "OK, we'll rehearse that"... that's a time that you cannot rehearse.
Martin: About re-creating the music... we already have a hard time going on stage and playing those songs the way we are [doing] right now. Playing live, songs like "Procreation of the Wicked", or "Necromantical Screams", they sound different than they sounded on "Morbid Tales" or "To Mega Therion", because we play them differently — this is a different version of this band. We certainly wouldn't go and re-record them on a studio album. Maybe you can get to hear them as a live recording, or see them on a DVD or something like that, but certainly not in a studio environment. Playing HELLHAMMER songs is already difficult, it would take the right setting, the right place to do something like that. We're still talking about it, I'm still trying to convince Tom that songs like "Messiah" or "Evoked Damnation" might work.
Tom: We've played those and "Triumph of Death" in rehearsals, but for me, personally, they haven't worked. We play them competently, but they sound like CELTIC FROST songs, and that's not HELLHAMMER. That was completely different. I was in HELLHAMMER for two years, I know what HELLHAMMER should sound like. I'm not going to go on stage and fake it.
Martin: Yeah, that's true. I wouldn't do the same either, that's why we are not doing it, but I think it also has to do with the fact that at the time when we were playing and rehearsing them, we were still trying to come to terms with what CELTIC FROST was to sound like now when we play live. You gotta realise that when we did become CELTIC FROST again, when we wrote the new songs, we never did rehearse, we never ever played any of the old songs! And we did that decidedly so, because we didn't want to fall into the trap of trying to copy ourselves. We didn't wanna go like "Oh wow, this is great, let's do something like 'Visions of Mortality'", or let's do a song that sounds like this and use the same structure. We don't wanna be one of those bands, and we cannot be one of those bands that re-record the same album with a different setting all the time, you know? That is for the RAMONES to do, and there's enough metal bands that do that — and do it quite successfully, and that's OK — but CELTIC FROST is not that band.
Critical Mass: You reformed and got back into the record industry... how would you say that it has changed since the late '80s?
Martin: It's even more fucked up, due to the downloading situation, because they really have not realised what the internet is all about, and they have viewed the internet as an enemy instead of trying to use and work with it. And it's even more ridiculous than it was back in the eighties, in a way. And it's still going through changes. It's still hard to tell what might come of it. Will a company like Century Media exist the same way it does right now in five years? It's hard to tell. You see what is going on with EMI and Warner Bros. right now, sometimes it's Warner Bros. who wants to buy EMI, sometimes EMI wants to buy Warner Bros., you're never really certain what's going on. I think in a couple of years from now, you will only have a couple of massive entertainment corporations and some really small independent ones...
Tom: The mechanics of the music industry are exactly the same. If you ignore the Internet, everything else is exactly the same. You come back as a band like CELTIC FROST and you hear from all the other bands the same horror stories that you heard in the '80s — record companies trying to steal rights from bands — merchandising, publishing, screwing them over, giving them a bad percentage and making decisions behind their backs — it's all the same! The twenty years in between hasn't really mattered, it's exactly the same — it's human beings.
Martin: I think it has gotten worse, in a way...
Tom: The only difference is the Internet...
Martin: I think it has gotten worse because since you sell less and less records, you have companies releasing more and more records. So, instead of having twenty records to check out in a month, you have like three hundred nowadays. They are trying to milk the cows...
Read the entire interview at www.criticalmass.se.