Innovative. Avant garde. Brave. Brutal. Bizarre. Electrifying. Unique. Just a few of the plaudits earned by Celtic Frost during a career which spanned eight years and produced some of the most powerful and challenging music of the late 20th Century.
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Formed in Zurich in June 1984 by guitarist/vocalist Thomas Gabriel Warrior and bassist Martin Eric Ain with drummer Steven Priestly, Frost created awesomely heavy sounds with an art-rock sensibility inspired by the likes of Roxy Music and Dead Can Dance.
Warrior, now reverted back to his real name of Fischer, explains: "We experimented so much, but it was natural product of the creative process. We never planned it. And to be honest, we never perceived ourselves to be as unusual as the media said we were. We wanted to be different, but we never really set out to shock people."
But this was precisely what happened. The imagination and invention of Celtic Frost was in stark contrast to the narrow scope of so much rock music. Frost even shocked their own fans by evolving rapidly from one album to the next.
The band's recorded output begins in 1984 with "Morbid Tales". Released during the first wave of thrash metal, a grass-roots movement which revolutionised heavy music, "Morbid Tales" established Celtic Frost among an elite of underground metal bands; primarily American and led by Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth.
"We were extremely humble," Tom recalls, "probably because we were from Switzerland and were not part of a big scene. We felt that we had a lot to prove but the media made us feel that we were the equals of the American bands. It's hard to describe now, but the mid-'80s was an extreme, revolutionary time for music, and we wanted to push back the boundaries of metal."
"Morbid Tales" proved a hugely influential hybrid of thrash and death metal, classic tracks like "Into The Crypts Of Rays" and "Procreation (Of The Wicked)" echoing the raw power of vintage Black Sabbath while setting a template for future cutting-edge metal heroes like Sepultura, Paradise Lost and Obituary. The reissue version of the album is repackaged with an additional three tracks originally released in 1985 as an EP entitled "Emperor's Return". These tracks were recorded just three weeks after the band acquired a new American drummer, Reed St Mark. Although uncertain of its quality back in '85, Tom now describes the EP as "an important historical document."
It was on the next album, 1985's "To Mega Therion", that Celtic Frost's sound and vision were truly realised. The music, described by Tom as "unbelievably dark", is perfectly in sync with the gothic artwork of fellow Swiss artist H.R. Giger, creator of the titular monster in the Alien movies. The album's title translates as "The Great Beast" and reveals the influence of notorious occultist Aleister Crowley on bassist Ain, a keen student of religious exotica.
"'To Mega Therion' was a key point in Frost's career," Tom says. "The music and artwork were designed together. That album contains one of our absolute favourite songs, "The Usurper", which the fans also loved and we played right 'till the end of the band. And 'Dawn Of Meggido' is a classic example of the emerging Frost sound with orchestral experimentation."
Frost's innovative nature led them to make what Kerrang! described as "the most avant-garde metal album that will ever be released." The album in question was "Into The Pandemonium", issued in 1987 to universal acclaim from the European rock press. Sounds raved: "Celtic Frost take their art seriously, without a single care for the boundaries of their genre." Kerrang! praised "Into The Pandemonium" as "the record which showed how experimental music could open up new horizons for metal".
Beginning with a startling version of "Mexican Radio" - originally recorded by obscure American weirdos Wall Of Voodoo - "Into The Pandemonium" is a truly eclectic work, its vast stylistic range incorporating strings and spoken-word poetry ("Tristesses de la Lune"), rap ("One In Their Pride") and even a death march which Tom intends to have played at his funeral ("Rex Irae [Requiem]"). A masterpiece, it was nevertheless created at a cost. "Never before or again have I put so much into an album," Tom reveals. "It was difficult beyond description. The title of the album really does describe its making. It is one of the most complex independent albums ever made, so extreme, but I am very proud of it."
Tom pays tribute to American guitarist Ron Marks for keeping the band together for the ensuing world tour. Marks joined Frost during the mixing of "Pandemonium" but was not credited as a full band member on the original release. Among the bonus tracks on the new version of the album is Frost's legendary cover of the Dean Martin standard "In The Chapel In The Moonlight". "All of us liked American swing music from the '50s," Tom explains, "and we were going to do 'These Boots Are Made For Walking' before Megadeth recorded it. We chose the Dean Martin song because its title sounded like something by Slayer. It's a spoof on the whole black metal thing."
After the "Pandemonium" tour, only Tom remained in the band. Steven Priestly returned on drums, joined by bassist Curt Victor Bryant and guitarist Oliver Amberg.
Frost's next album was "Cold Lake", influenced by mainstream '80s American hard rock and released to a mixed reception in 1988. "Cold Lake" is not included among the new Celtic Frost reissues because Tom regards it as a failure. He concedes with a laugh: "If you are a high-profile, avant garde band, a flop is part of the portfolio. But 'Cold Lake' is not a genuine Frost album. Everyone hates it now. Sod it!"
"Vanity/Nemesis" is the album that put the band back on track in 1990. "After 'Into The Pandemonium', this is the quintessential Frost album," Tom says. "We got to work with Roli Mosimann, a producer we had admired for a long time." Equally importantly, "Vanity/Nemesis" saw the return of Ain on bass, Marks on guitar, with Bryant also switching to guitar and Amberg discarded.
Covers of David Bowie's "Heroes" and Roxy Music's "This Island Earth" testified to the band's art rock influences as critics quickly embraced the new and improved Celtic Frost. Sounds raved: "Hail to neo-classical feminist metal! Which other band would represent war as 'Phallic Tantrum'? Who else could crunch guitars this ferociously, call a track 'The Name Of My Bride' and explain that it's about the way the relationship with one's mother shapes the relationship with every other woman?"
The 1992 retrospective collection "Parched With Thirst Am I, And Dying" was never intended to be Celtic Frost's final album, but so it proved. This selection of Frost classics and rarities was conceived as a stop-gap while the band plotted an album more ambitious, even, than "Into The Pandemonium" - a double album entitled "Under Apollyon's Sun". It was never recorded.
Tom explains: "To do an album as wild as that, everything had to be right. After all we'd been though, we either did it our way or not at all, and we didn't feel we were going to be able to make the record we wanted to make. Call it self-confidence or arrogance, we just said fuck it."
And so, in the spring of 1993, this brilliant and unique band broke up. Their career, said Kerrang!, had been "a triumph of art over noise."
The spirit of Celtic Frost lives on in Tom Fischer's current band, significantly titled Apollyon Sun. The band's first album is released in spring 2000. As Tom sees it, "The spirit of Frost lives on in a lot of new bands who are brave."
"The spirit lives outside and inside of what I'm doing." And, he says, a new Celtic Frost album is planned for the future. Tom is currently talking to various ex-members of the band about making new Frost music. "All I can say is that it's going to be extreme," he smiles. How could it be anything else?
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