Before we start talking about Celtic Frost I would like to ask you a few things about Triptykon. Things have been rather quiet lately. Are you up to something?
That is correct. We have been rather quiet and played only a few shows this year. However, it is quiet by design. In the past we did quite a lot and we really don’t want to be in a situation where we’re all burned out. We are taking it a bit easier now and we’re working on the next album. Incidentally, we are looking for a new drummer as well. After 9 years of working with us, our drummer (Norman Lonhard) has indicated he would like to pursue a different style of music, more in a prog direction. Therefore, we are in the middle of a friendly line-up change. He will be playing with us until we have found a replacement. Currently we are looking for a new drummer and as soon as we have settled that we will continue working on the new album.
It must be hard to work on a new album with a drummer that is about to leave the band.
I don’t see the point of working on the album right now. I would like the new drummer to be fully involved in the new album. It’s pointless to write with the present line-up.
Have you already started looking for a replacement, and do you have a few candidates shortlisted?
Of course. We had a few sessions with people but we’re currently quite open. We are going through a few possibilities. It’s quite difficult to find a drummer who fits our line-up, because the band has grown together as a family. Replacing our drummer is more than just hiring someone. We don’t want to have a mercenary, but a full member of the band. That will take some time.
It sounds as if this has a big impact.
Of course it is, but it is first and foremost a friendly change. We discussed it in detail, so it’s all okay.
Another thing that almost slipped under the radar, was that last year there was a reissue of ‘Monotheist’, at the album’s tenth anniversary. How was that for you, and how do you look back on that album ten years later?
Well, ‘Monotheist’ is, unsurprisingly, one of the most important albums of my entire life. I’m very proud of it… I’m wording this very carefully, because it’s preposterous if I end up rating my own albums, but for me personally, it’s a very important album and I’m very happy with the way it came out. We put five and a half years of work in it, and I’m glad we did, because it’s exactly the album we wanted to make. It was enormously important for Celtic Frost and it was enormously important for my own path; as you probably know, I based the entire existence of Triptykon on that one album.
I guess that makes you very proud to see this anniversary edition being released.
I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I transferred all my rights to Martin Eric Ain. He is behind this re-release, together with Century Media. I had no involvement whatsoever. I don’t really need these anniversary things. If anything, anniversaries make you look old. To me it’s just an important album, just like ‘To Mega Therion’ for example. Anniversary or not, it doesn’t really make a difference to me.
That’s a nice bridge to the most recent set of reissues. Anyone who has been reading your blog or has been on the internet, basically, should know that you are not too pleased with these reissues. Can you give a short overview of the reasons behind this?
I was involved in this reissue project for many months. Actually, BMG and I had a very good working relationship. The point of separation came earlier this year, when the legal department of BMG/ Noise rejected the liner notes I had written for each album, detailing each album’s history. As anyone knows nowadays, Noise Records had conflicts with a number of their bands, such as Helloween, Kreator, and also Celtic Frost. These conflicts were very crucial parts of the history of each album. I tried to write the liner notes very professionally; there was no name calling or anything like that. I simply detailed how we had to work, sometimes, in conflict with the label. However, according to the legal department these liner notes still opened BMG to the possibility of a lawsuit for slander, by the owners of Noise Records. They sent me their proposed revisions for the liner notes, essentially censoring me. They erased about three quarters of the liner notes I had written. As I wrote on my blog, I fully understand where they are coming from, and I fully understand their objections and their position, but there is no way in hell I will be censored! For a few weeks we tried to come to a solution, but at the end of the day neither side wanted to, or could, retreat. Eventually, I withdrew the liner notes and left the project. Therefore, I was not a part of this project when it was finished, but I was a part of its gestation.
Let’s go back to that very gestation. How did it happen? Were you approached by BMG?
I can’t remember entirely… somebody informed me that BMG were intending to resurrect Noise Records and that they wanted to reissue the Celtic Frost albums. I had my manager contact them, with the idea of me being fully involved in said project. Martin Eric Ain and I have absolutely no rights to any of these albums, because we signed a standard recording deal in the eighties, which transferred the rights to the record label. Therefore, BMG could have done it without me, but they were very professional and they were very open to the idea. We agreed that I would have the final decision over everything, as far as the artwork and concept were concerned. I worked with BMG’s graphic department and their A&R person on these reissues for many months. Also, I remastered the albums, together with Triptykon’s guitar player, V.Santura. It was a difficult project, because I didn’t work together with my own label, which made it more difficult to achieve a professional result, but it was a very fruitful project. We only came to a point where we didn’t see eye to eye when the issue about the liner notes was raised. Everything else was very pleasant, and well, BMG didn’t even have to get me involved. They own the rights to all these albums. They didn’t need to involve me, but they did, and I appreciate that. Despite our separation at the end, it was a very positive experience overall.
Apart from remastering the albums, how big was your overall influence on things like artwork, bonus tracks, archive footage etcetera?
The entire concept of the reissues is from me. Martin Eric Ain and I had being trying for years to come to a deal for reissuing the catalog, first with Universal Records, who owned the rights to the albums back then, and subsequently BMG when they acquired them. Because we had tried to get these albums reissued for years I had already drawn up a very detailed concept, which included everything from the artwork to the remastering, the song order, and promotion. BMG agreed to this concept and followed it to a point. Unfortunately, I wasn’t part of the project anymore when it was finished. Friends of mine have told me that BMG missed doing the final quality control before sending everything to the printer. I was informed that there is a glaring mistake: the CD-version of ‘Into The Pandemonium’ has the credits of ‘To Mega Therion’ on the back cover. That’s typical record company…What can I say? If I would have still been involved in the project I would have done a final check of everything, just like what we always do with Triptykon. There are a number of people that I trust. Those people and I usually go through everything we do with Prowling Death Records.
It must be very painful to go from a record label that changed song orders to reissues with glitches, only to achieve less than perfection with the current reissues.
To be honest, I don’t really care. This is not my project anymore, and it wasn’t to begin with. Martin Eric Ain and I approached these record companies countless times, first and foremost to strike a licensing deal. We intended to release these reissues through Prowling Death Records, which would have been a huge advantage to them. They wouldn’t have had to pay their promotion office or their graphic design department. We would have given them perfect reissues and all they would have had to do was count the money. However, they refused. Therefore, it was never really my project. I was not involved at the end of the project, and this is the result. What can I say? I already had the remastered files at my home for a year, so I have the music. The rest… I wash my hands of it. I really don’t give a toss.
Please tell me more about the remastering. How did it go?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to remastering. There’s the school of thought of changing everything, to bring it up to modern standards. Some bands even rerecord their early albums, because they feel that they don’t sound the way they should. The other school of thought is that of being very respectful to the original sound and vibe. I subscribe to the latter. I wanted these reissues to sound perfect but I didn’t want to mess with something that has become iconic, including for ourselves. You cannot possibly alter these mid-1980-s recordings. They are something very unique. Therefore we were very careful not to influence the actual signature of the sound. What we did, was to improve the sound quality. In the 80s it was very typical to have tape dropouts. Of course we worked with analogue equipment. Since Noise Records was a very cheap label, they used the same tapes over and over for every band. They would simply erase them and pass them on to the next bands. Eventually these tapes were very flawed and damaged. You can hear that: there were many dropouts and the stereo channels weren’t even on the same level. We addressed these things and made these albums sound as good as humanly possible without changing the actual sound. It required a lot of respect but it was worth it.
How was it from a personal view, to go through these albums again? It’s been over 30 years…
Of course I’m very familiar with these albums. I had already dealt with them in 1999, when we did the Noise Records reissues. However, when Martin and I reformed Celtic Frost, we were very careful not to reform the band just for the sake of inning a cheque from a record company. We wanted to do it the right way and have the right atmosphere, the right vibe. Therefore, before writing, we immersed ourselves into the history of Celtic Frost, literally for months. We didn’t just want to, abstractly, record an album. For five and a half years, while we worked on ‘Monotheist’ these albums were a constant companion to us. Even after Celtic Frost… In Triptykon our concept is to play Celtic Frost songs for about half our set. To this very day, this music is part of my life. There was no rediscovery of such; these are my songs to begin with. They all have a very special history to me.
Perhaps it’s completely absurd to ask, but could you name any favourites among those albums?
It’s almost impossible for me to separate the first three albums. They are all extremely important to me, for one reason or another. I see ‘Vanity/Nemesis’ as a very flawed album, and it aged very badly. Personally, I wouldn’t have reissued it, but BMG insisted. But the first three albums… if I had to choose one, it would probably be ‘To Mega Therion’… but how can you not say ‘Morbid Tales’ is as important… or ‘Into The Pandemonium’, as far as the experimentation is concerned. All three of them are hugely significant for my own path in life.
The bonus tracks of the ‘Morbid Tales’ reissue are really cool. There is even a Hellhammer song on there. A few years ago that would have been unthinkable! Can you comment on that?
We played ‘Messiah’ for quite a long time in Celtic Frost. I would say up to 1986. It was a part of our live set back then. Martin and I took a very critical stance towards Hellhammer but we loved that song. It was an integral part of early Celtic Frost; we played it at the World War III festival in Montreal, for example. That’s why the version rehearsed by Celtic Frost is a bonus track on ‘Morbid Tales’. We played ‘Messiah’ frequently while we were working on ‘Morbid Tales’. To this day, we play it with Triptykon. It is true that Hellhammer appeared to be a huge roadblock for us in the eighties. At the time we were by far not the only ones to feel that way. The legend of Hellhammer only started growing in the nineties, with the second wave of black metal. In the eighties everyone, including the press and fellow musicians, ridiculed Hellhammer. We found it extremely difficult to attain record deals or management deals whenever it was managed that we were the Hellhammer guys. It turned out to be a huge disadvantage. Therefore we had quite a biased view of Hellhammer. Nonetheless, certain songs from that period followed us for quite a while. ‘Necromantical Screams’ was based on a Hellhammer song, and so was ‘Dethroned Emperor’. Behind the scenes, Hellhammer was of course always a part of the band.
You already mentioned ‘Vanity/ Nemesis’, describing it as a flawed album. It took me quite a while to figure out what made it sound so different from the rest of the reissued album, but I think I figured it out; to me, mainly the guitar solos are extremely atypical for Celtic Frost. Would you agree that this really makes the album stand out from the rest of the discography.
It is one of many, many things that make it a very different album. It’s by far not the worst thing though. I think that the band had long lost the plot by that time and was no longer Celtic Frost. We tried to find the path again, but we didn’t. We had been badly burned by the experimentation on the previous two albums, not least by the abomination that was ‘Cold Lake’. Because of that we tried to make a simply straight metal album, and of course Celtic Frost is not a simply straight metal band, so it was a bad idea to begin with. We also struggled to work with Roli Mosimann. He was a very experimental producer, but he encountered a band that was extremely reluctant to experiment. In addition to that, he was very inexperienced with a heavy metal sound. All of these components led to an album that is hugely flawed in every respect. I personally think it has aged really badly. ‘Morbid Tales’, for example, which is of course an older album, sounds much fresher. I view ‘Vanity/ Nemesis’ as completely irrelevant. It’s better than ‘Cold Lake’, but that’s not that difficult, is it? Even if I had farted on a tape, it would have been better than ‘Cold Lake’. When I am selecting songs for our live sets with Triptykon, I never even consider any of the songs off ‘Vanity/ Nemesis’.
I agree that ‘Morbid Tales’ and ‘To Mega Therion’ have aged very well. The album that came after that, ‘Into The Pandemonium’ was the one that was the furthest ahead of its time. Even by today’s standards, it’s quite a radical album. I cannot even imagine how this album was perceived at the time, because I was way too young back then to take notice of it. Can you give me a bit of an idea of the response you got by both press and audience?
The media reaction was extremely divided. In England the media hailed us as avant-garde and being totally innovative. In Germany the reaction was far more critical. Can you imagine how the album would have sounded with the ears of 1987, when female vocals and classical instrumentation weren’t household things in metal? These things were completely unheard of and a lot of people had to get used to it. Initially, the album sold very slowly, which confirmed the huge reservations that the record label had. However, as the year progressed, and we hit the road again, the album started to sell really well, and it eventually became our breakthrough record. It established us as an experimental band rather than a thrash metal band. It took a while for the album to catch on but then it became, at least at that time, our most important album.
Indeed, the album was very radical. However, nowadays I sometimes find it hard to associate the word ‘radical’ with metal. Most of it is actually really conservative. Would you say that contemporary metal is radical enough?
That is a very difficult question. I have lived through very significant periods of the hard rock and heavy metal scene. Having experienced our scene back in the late seventies, when it was full of innovation… and when every album was a revelation… and then again having lived through it in the early eighties when our scene took the entire world by storm and there were numerous albums that completely changed the landscape of our scene, such as Venom´s albums… how can I not miss such a vibe nowadays? Then again, that may be unfair, because nowadays there is such a bandwidth of bands and styles. I wouldn’t say it has become less radical, but it has become more common and household. That is probably why it is perceived as less exciting. However, in reality all those styles have become an integral part, which is fantastic. Of course sometimes I have very nostalgic feelings and I wish we would go through another reinvention of metal like it happened in ’80-’81. It was a very fruitful scene and it gave our music such incredible creative power.
A few years ago you announced that you wanted to revisit and rerelease your book on Celtic Frost, ‘Are You Morbid?’. Has there been any progression on that recently?
Yes, I have been working on it. I am planning to release a revised and much expanded version of my first book. It will not just be an expansion of information and text but also in terms of photographic content. I have much more material on every level nowadays and I have a fantastic publisher, who supports the project enthusiastically. Actually, the wealth of material is so much that we will probably split it into two books. The first book will probably cover the time span between ‘To Mega Therion’ and the first breakup of the band. The second book will start with the reunion of Celtic Frost, up to the formation of Triptykon and up to today. They will be large, lavishly illustrated books, just like ‘Only Death Is Real’. I hope to finish that sometime next year.
We talked so much about Celtic Frost that it is inevitable to discuss the demise of the band. How is your contact with Martin Eric Ain nowadays? Are you still in touch?
We have a friendly contact. I mean, we have known each other since 1981. I think this connection will always last. We don’t see each other every day; at best, we see each other every few months, but I’ve seen him a few ago and we will probably meet again shortly, because I have to give him some copies of some records. Our contact is very friendly and professional, but we live completely different lives. Celtic Frost was really the world that has united us. With the demise of Celtic Frost, there is really nothing that connects us directly anymore. He is running his empire of clubs and bars, which he is doing fantastically, and I am still a musician. These are very different worlds. He has completely subscribed to capitalism, which is of course completely his prerogative. To me it is the idealism of the arts and music, which is the guiding light in my life. But there are certainly no disagreements of fights between us nowadays.
Well, I think it’s time to wrap it up for now. Hope to see you on the road with Triptykon in the near future.
Indeed, this is what I expect to happen. As soon as we have the next album finished, we will tour extensively. We took it rather easy with the second album, but right now we are in a position in which we really want to step it up.
With a new drummer and an album in the works it definitely feels like there are some changes coming up… which raises the question of the artwork, now that H.R. Giger has passed away.
We have one more Giger album coming up. H.R. Giger and the band designed three albums when he was still alive. Of course, I want to honour that agreement. The next album will be the conclusion of the Triptykon-H.R. Giger triptych. After that I will be happy to explore new angles. I like to do new things, and three similar album covers is about as far as I want to go. I say this with all due respect to Giger of course. I’m very proud to have worked with him.
It will be a beautiful way to honour him with one more album cover.
It’s a huge honour and this will be the very last album by anybody on which Giger was personally involved in every step of the way.