Celtic Frost - A Biography
By Alex Trunnan, 2005
Formed from the ashes of seminal death/black metal pioneers Hellhammer in June 1984, with every one of their releases both in the Billboard and UK charts, the Swiss-American Celtic Frost were a pivotal influence on both the metal and goth genres, establishing many of the musical elements that have since become synonymous with bands such as Sepultura, Pantera, Therion, Emperor, Melvins, Paradise Lost, Cradle of Filth, Foo Fighters, Darkthrone, and uncounted others.
The primal fury captured on Celtic Frost's first album, 'Morbid Tales' (1984), and the subsequent EP, 'Emperor's Return' (1985), have been widely emulated and are cited as influences on such recordings as Nirvana's 'In Utero' (1993). Co-founders and co-writers Tom Gabriel Fischer (a.k.a Tom Gabriel Warrior, voice and guitars) and Martin Eric Ain (bass) created stark and compelling vistas reminiscent of the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Charles Baudelaire. Fischer's trademark nordic warrior vocals and Celtic Frost's odd combination of a primitive and yet highly intricate sonic assault immediately made the group one of the leaders of extreme metal. Lyrically, Fischer and Ain depicted civilizations crumbling into decay, capturing the parallels between the corrosive and dark nature of a year's concluding seasons and the recurring collapse of human empires. The addition in early 1985 of US drummer Reed St. Mark enabled the group to take a quantum leap both in the studio and on stage.
The group's second full album, 'To Mega Therion' (1985), was an epic evolution of its concept, adding orchestral instrumentation to increasingly heavy songwriting. Swiss surrealist artist and Oscar-winner H.R. Giger's mentorship yielded visually brooding counterparts to Fischer/Ain's artistic vision, with Giger's paintings 'Satan I' (1977) and 'Victory III' (1981-83) gracing the album's cover. 'To Mega Therion' would become a landmark for an entire scene.
The 'Tragic Serenades' EP (1986) with its legendary Isolde Ohlbaum cover artwork, and the subsequent successful world tour set the stage for the milestone experimental album 'Into the Pandemonium' (1987), often regarded as the band's most pivotal release. Merging extreme metal with their passion for the scene dominated by acts such as Bauhaus, Sisters of Mercy or Siouxie and the Banshees, the album included sheer brutality ('Inner Sanctum' and 'Babylon Fell'), Goth/New Wave vocals; Hip Hop/dance fusions ('One In Their Pride'); melodic metal ('I Won't Dance'), and bombastic orchestral pieces ('Rex Irae' and 'Oriental Masquerade'). Foreshadowing complex neo-classical metal artists like My Dying Bride and Apocalyptica, 'Into the Pandemonium' received raving critical reviews, but Celtic Frost's original line-up disintegrated at the end of an extended and highly successful UK/US tour, in late 1987.
More than twelve months of legal disagreements with record company Noise Records, who had repeatedly tampered both with the album and the group's artistic freedom, had exerted too much pressure on the line-up and also taken a devastating financial toll. Celtic Frost had defended the group's paramount principle of artistic integrity virtually to the point of total destruction.
Urged by its American music industry associates and backed by a new recording contract with CBS/Epic, Celtic Frost regrouped and began tentative work on a new album in mid- 1988, initially with Ain and drummer Reed St. Mark, then with a new line-up that Fischer would later find unsuited for Celtic Frost's conceptual vision. Failing to complete his magical trilogy with a rumoured 'Necronomicon' album, Fischer instead released the dysfunctional and radically controversial glam rock album 'Cold Lake' (1988), and the complex melodic metal album 'Vanity/Nemesis' (1990). The first virtually alienated Celtic Frost's fans, whilst the latter - widely regarded as a strong comeback album featuring Ain
returning to the fold - contained mainstream appeal and an homage in the shape of David Bowie ('Heroes') and Bryan Ferry ('This Island Earth') covers. Promising a continuation of earlier dark visions with the double album 'Under Apollyon's Sun', which had been in development for some two years, the band decided to terminate all work and dissolve in early 1993, having released the unique career retrospective 'Parched With Thirst Am I And Dying' (1992) instead.
Several bands evolved from the ashes of Celtic Frost: Ain formed the female-fronted Soul Dawn, guitarist Ron Marks founded the satirical 'Subsonic,' and Fischer co-instigated the highly regarded industrial/EBM project 'Apollyon Sun,' which continued his unique personal vision. Considered the 'elder statesman' of innovative metal, Fischer has seen his uncompromising conceptual framework and intricate instrumental orchestration blossom into many cutting-edge genres, while Celtic Frost have been name-dropped by fellow artists from Metallica to Marilyn Manson.
By 1999, an overdue modernization of the Frost catalogue became possible in cooperation with a now significantly transformed Noise Records. Working together with various members of Celtic Frost for the first time in years, Fischer oversaw the reconstruction, re-mastering, and release of the five key Frost albums in Berlin during 1999 and 2000. These luxurious official re-issues were released to overwhelming acclaim by media and fans alike and also featured the restored original artwork, EP covers, conceptual packaging, unreleased photos, individual liner notes, and lyrics. This project coincided with the publication Fischer's much-lauded first book, a Celtic Frost autobiography titled 'Are You Morbid?' (2000).
The creativity resulting from work on the renovation of the band's back catalogue was far more than the re-issue project was designed to absorb, and Fischer and Ain eventually began work on an actual new Celtic Frost album, the band's first in over a decade. Joining them are Fischer's long-time partner in Apollyon Sun, guitarist and producer Erol Unala, and highly renowned drummer Franco Sesa. In late 2004, Fischer partially opened the secretive realm of Celtic Frost to the outside world by beginning to chronicle the making of the album on his high-traffic blog 'Delienation'. Titled 'Monotheist' and scheduled for a release in spring 2006, Celtic Frost's new album is extremely dark, inventive, and radically heavy. The album will be followed by Celtic Frost live concerts all over the globe, the group's first in over 15 years.