Answering Dagon's Call
CoC chats with Tom Gabriel Fischer, Martin Eric Ain and Franco Sesa of Celtic Frost
by: Jackie Smit
"If the new album inspires anything", offers Thomas Fischer, "I hope that it inspires one of our fans to go out and kill Gotthard."

Celtic Frost's creator -- a man known for being sullen and reflective of the atmosphere his band evokes in more ways than one -- is in a surprisingly good mood, and he has every reason to be. Sitting backstage at the London Astoria, his band -- his lifework, as it were -- are about to do what was unthinkable to most four years ago by taking to the stage and playing their first UK show in well over a decade. Added to that is a new record that, while painstaking to create, will likely dominate many year best lists come the end of '06.

He isn't the only one in good spirits, for joining us is long-time partner in crime Martin Erin Ain, as well as new addition to the ranks Franco Sesa, who are quite rightly very proud of their achievement. As Martin explains at the start of our chat:

Martin Eric Ain: _Monotheist_ has done the rounds now and the response has been great, but I think that it's all still sinking in. It took us four years to become Celtic Frost again and to create this album, and I'm curious to see what people will think about it years from now. Otherwise, it's been a great couple of months; a lot of great experiences.

CoC: Certainly the biggest compliment I think you received as a band for this album is that most of the reviews were quite implicit in their opinion that while a lot of bands make a comeback seemingly for nothing other than money, _Monotheist_ really was the album that one would expect from Celtic Frost in 2006. Was that a worry that you had while you were creating this album -- that people would misinterpret the band reforming as an excuse to make money?

Tom Fischer: Well, they can think whatever they want. We turned down every offer that was put to us in the Nineties from promoters and festivals for us to reform to do like a "golden oldies" show. The finances got higher and higher to the point where it became insane, and believe me, we could have used that. But we always turned them down, and when we reformed out of our own free will and because of our friendship, we didn't take any money from a record label either. We decided to finance the album ourselves and we all had to work day in and day out to do that for four years. So if any asshole says we did this for the money, then fuck them.

Franco Sesa: I think that one thing about a lot of bands and the music industry in general is that they all have a distaste for taking risks. When bands make these comebacks, most of them don't take risks; they end up doing albums that are just a repeat of stuff they've done previously. When we got together to do _Monotheist_, this was going to be a new album in every sense, and when we released it, we braced ourselves for the fall-out because we knew it would come from all sides -- there would be good reviews and bad reviews, and some people would love it and some people would hate it. This album was a risk, it wasn't _To Mega Therion Pt. 2_.

TF: That's what art is all about: creation. I hate the thought of playing it safe, and I hate the thought of photocopying something.

FS: There was a drummer from a certain power metal band we played with in Spain recently who came up to me after the show and he said: "I was watching you guys on stage; this is art." And I was stumped. I mean, was this guy a musician or not? I wouldn't even think of asking such a question, but I realised when he asked me that -- not to talk badly about him -- he's like a lot of people who make music because they want to make a living from it. They reproduce themselves from album to album, and play it safe and get their pay-off, and if that's the way that they want to do it, then that's fine.

TF: We've put our careers on the line with each album, starting with _Morbid Tales_. We had a record deal with Hellhammer and we had an established name with Hellhammer, and what did we do? We dissolved it to form another band, because we had other ambitions artistically. With Celtic Frost we wanted to create something now, and we've always taken risks and we've always put everything on the line. Once we nearly lost everything also, but it was worth it one way or another. There's one out of the seven Celtic Frost albums that I hate with a passion, but the thing is -- I'm still extremely proud that I had the guts to do it. I don't think any other band would have had the guts to do something like that; such a radical departure. Coming back, we never wanted to play a greatest hits show with songs that are twenty years old. We wanted to do another album, we wanted to take the risks again and there's definitely more to come on top of that.

CoC: It's interesting that you mention artistic integrity, because it does seem that there's a large contingent of certainly many of the newer bands for whom that doesn't really mean anything. They're just happy that they're able to play in a band.

FS: It's just a job for them. We have heard one rumour though and it sounds very risky: Judas Priest is going to make a musical. <laughs> I'd like to hear that.

CoC: Recording _Monotheist_ was a very lengthy process and it's something that you mentioned earlier took you an extraordinary amount of time to put together. How much of the material that you came up with in the sessions leading up to the record actually made it on to the final product?

TF: Maybe one third. That's a realistic assessment. A lot of the other material was actually quite good; there's a few songs that I think are very good, but they're just not Celtic Frost. The amount of time it took -- especially in the first half -- was down to us having to redefine Celtic Frost. It would be very dishonest to go out and pretend as though we could hit a switch and you'd just have Celtic Frost back. We'd never be able to do that. We wanted to do an album that deserves the name and it took a long time to do it. It took a long time to form this band again.

CoC: What was the inspiration behind it all -- from the point where you had the thought to give it another try up to actually finishing work on the new record; what was behind your will to push it that far, for that long?

TF: Our personalities, our feelings, our emotions at the time.

MEA: I guess our will, and necessity. We all realised that this was of utter importance to us. You can make up several reasons for it, but in the end it was total dedication from us all, and without it this record would never have happened.

CoC: There's a much darker atmosphere on _Monotheist_ and it comes especially to the fore, and the record's more experimental songs and on the sequences that aren't particularly commonplace on previous Celtic Frost records. What were some of the main ideas and themes you were looking to convey this time around, and how does it differ to where you were when Celtic Frost left off previously?

TF: I believe that the word "idea" is probably not quite right in this context, because it's less of a created idea than it is a necessity that's reflected on this album. We didn't have an idea to create a record like _Monotheist_; it just happened to turn out this way. In my case, my life has gotten a hell of a lot darker. I mean, it defies description all the shit that's gone on in my life since I dissolved Celtic Frost. I think that the music that was created reflected that and I think I speak for these two guys as well; I've worked very closely with them for five years and I think that we all felt it.

CoC: Between the time that you dissolved it and the time you got back together, did you miss Celtic Frost at all?

TF: No, not at all. I was glad that it didn't exist. When we were together in the Eighties, I couldn't imagine my life without it, and that’s probably why I took so long to dissolve it in the first place. When it happened that the band broke up, I felt like I had to find a new meaning to my life. But I had burnt out musically and personally, and what we'd been doing was a disgrace to the Celtic Frost name, and I realised that I had made the decision and I had absolutely no intention to reform the band. The notion of reforming -- and I hate that word, because we created a new band if anything -- came from my friendship with Martin. I know that might sound like I'm pandering for publicity, but that really was the spark. When we were going over the discography together, doing the re-issues, we discovered that we had an enormous amount of things in common still. We had the same basic ideas about music, and we both thought in the same unconventional way about music; we both wanted to create art. So from being there to actually talking about making new music was a small step.

CoC: Using Peter Tägtgren to work on this record with you raised a number of eyebrows when it was first announced. What made you decide on him?

MEA: We wanted somebody who was knowledgeable about our past -- where we were coming from and what we wanted to do. We wanted someone who understood our position as creators and musicians. Of course, the difficulty of doing this after such a long time -- we also wanted someone who knew how to work with the latest studio technology, and give it a sound that made it sound modern. It needed to be Celtic Frost, but it also had to sound modern. Peter Tägtgren embodied all that criteria, and that was why he was perfect for us. Plus, he's one of the nicest people you'll ever meet. He was able to outlive and outlast our mood-swings and the pressure that we were under.

TF: He knew that from the start and he actually said that this would be his biggest challenge. It was a challenge for us as well. One thing to realise is that out of the four years that we worked on this, he was only with us for four and a half months, and the final mix isn't actually his. I mean, don't get me wrong -- we benefited greatly from working with him and we all left the sessions being friends. But we weren't happy with his mix and we went back to the studio and actually remixed the record ourselves twice; both times from the ground up. This is the reason why you don't hear Peter's guitar sound on the album, but ours. Myself and Martin did the mixing with an engineer friend of ours in Switzerland. Other than that, it was fantastic working with him, and like Martin said, he's one of the nicest guys in metal.

CoC: Is it a relationship that you may pick up again in the future?

MEA: Maybe in one way or another.

TF: I think that we're confident enough now that we'll probably take more control with the next album. We've mixed a Celtic Frost album now, so we'll definitely do that again next time as well.

CoC: Celtic Frost has had a lot of bad luck with record labels and with the music industry as a whole, so the final piece of the puzzle this time round being Century Media -- why them over the multitude of other labels that were courting you at the time?

MEA: A lot of people were bidding for us, but to be honest a lot of labels were reluctant as well. They wondered what Celtic Frost would do, they were worried that we were too unpredictable, a lot of them wanted younger bands -- probably because they're easier to milk and rip off.

TF: That's no joke, by the way. Some companies really do prefer signing younger bands because they know that they can do anything with them that they want. We went about approaching labels in a totally different way and that put a lot of them off, because they knew that there was no leeway for bullshit.

MEA: Some of the companies that started asking questions, asked them in the wrong way, and we just felt like: "Why bother going on talking to these labels?" Century Media asked them as well. They asked us if we'd be happy to go and tour, because if we didn't tour then there would be no chance of this record doing well. We didn't have a problem with that. Century Media also gave in to a lot of our requests, such as that we'd have full licensing rights to the album.

TF: We control everything about this album -- all the advertising, everything.

MEA: Every piece, every bit of artwork and everything that's tied into this album needs to be approved by us first, and a lot of labels didn't want that.

TF: Understandably, but after our history there was no way that we were going to compromise.

MEA: Because we financed the record ourselves, ultimately we took full risk and we took full responsibility.

CoC: Coming back to a scene where your influence is absolutely indelible, how have things changed and progressed since you left it the first time?

TF: It hasn't changed. There are new bands and there are new riffs, but the mechanics of the scene and the politics of the scene feel frighteningly similar to me.

MEA: Musically there's a lot more diversity in it now. The scene has definitely grown from that point of view: there are many new bands, and genres and subgenres. There's bands now that are creating music that twenty years ago wouldn't even have been considered to be music. The extreme music scene doesn't shy away from using technology as much either. A lot of stuff that we were trying for the first time and incorporating in the Eighties are household now. I think that there are a lot of people out there who are making music and they don't really care whether it makes money. There are some obscure artists like Justin Broderick and SunO))) -- it's not stuff you're going to have on "Top of the Pops" or at the top of the billboard charts. They're not million sellers; they do what they do because they love it. There's a lot of unique music out there, more so than in the old days.

CoC: Given how influential you've been on the scene, do you feel that twenty years from now _Monotheist_ will be seen as having the same impact as a record like _To Mega Therion_?

TF: I don't think in those terms. _Monotheist_ is a very personal album to me, and I don't think I've ever been as happy with a Celtic Frost album as I am with this one. This is what I needed to do for my own sanity, and I'm already thinking of what I'm going to do with the next album. It would be utterly pretentious to think that _Monotheist_ is going to influence anyone. Other people need to decide that. I do this for myself and myself only.

MEA: What we were doing back then... I think what was most influential is that we were doing what we wanted to do and that we were willing fight the politics and fight the labels and not give in. I think a lot of bands are doing it nowadays, and they probably don't need any sort of inspiration like that anymore. Foremost what's important to us is to create what we feel is important to us. If that has an effect besides being understood by people in whatever scene, then so be it.

CoC: So, next album: are we going to have to wait four years to hear it?

TF: No. We've reformed the band, we know how the band works and we don't have to start from scratch. The fire is burning now and we know what we want to do. Being back together again -- sometimes the feeling of being in this family is so strong, it's like a drug. It's fantastic, and it's worth all the trouble. I love these two men that are sitting next to me. They're like family to me.

MEA: <laughs> Sometimes he treats us like family, which isn't very nice. The band comes with the good and the bad, and we all know that, and I think that's one of the differences from the early days. Back then we didn't realise a lot of things that we know now. In the end we're all human.

CoC: Guys, thanks very much for your time. Do you have any last words to add?

TF: No, but we'll have more next time round.

(article submitted 5/10/2006)


CHATS
1/10/2001 A Bromley Celtic Frost: Remembering the Past
ALBUMS
5/24/2006 J Smit 8 Celtic Frost - Monotheist
GIGS
9/20/2006 T DePalma Celtic Frost / 1349 Congregation of the Wicked
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