Interview with Tom Warrior conducted by Bill Zebub
This interview was initially conducted from my radio show. A friend told me that she heard that the new album was going to be poser, so I called Tom to confirm or deny that “Cold Lake” was going to be a change in style. Bear in mind that I had not heard the material yet.
You have an album coming out on Halloween, called “Cold Lake” I think.
Yeah, it’s the most straight-ahead album since Morbid Tales. I don’t know how familiar you are with us or if you listen to us. But we dropped almost all of the orchestral things and all the opera singers and all the overloaded arrangements – all the 10-minute songs for the benefit of much straighter Celtic Frost material like we did it on the first two albums especially. We thought we can’t go any further with this orchestral stuff. It’s also going by the fan’s taste. A lot of fans complained. We couldn’t play the stuff live. And also I think we went a little too far on the last record. So we were really happy to cut back on all those things and make a really straight-ahead heavy metal record. But nevertheless, in many things, it’s very typical Celtic Frost.
Vocally, do you do more of what you did on Morbid Tales, or are you going to do what you did on Into The Pandemonium?
It’s more Into The Pandemonium type singing, but it’s not the type of singing that I do in Mesmerized. It’s not a new wave singing. Absolutely definitely 100% heavy metal singing, and it’s very heavy in places. But I guess I never made such a big step forward on a record as far as vocal performance. We really worked on vocals this time. In places you can even say I’m singing instead of really just shouting. I had some vocal training some years ago after my first tour because I had some problems with my voice. But I’ve been working with the band on my vocals because I wanted to improve as a lead vocalist since we have two guitars now I can be more of a vocalist.
You lost a lot of fans with Into The Pandemonium. They said that you sold out, and they were outraged at what they heard. It was second best to disco. You said that this new album is going to be heavy again?
I think it’s true that we lost a lot of fans with this album. But how we felt about it was not that it’s second best to disco or anything. A lot of fans told us that they just could not put up anymore with all the avant garde stuff or the half opera. That just wasn’t what the fans wanted to hear from Celtic Frost. That’s the reaction that we got on the tour last year. They were really disappointed that we had overloaded the record with violins. They only liked the metal songs on the album which, of course, there were too few. On the new album there’s material that in heaviness can probably be compared to Mexican Radio which probably is a little more on the lighter side, but nevertheless it’s really heavy and powerful, I think. But there’s also a couple of songs that are at least as heavy as the material on Morbid Tales. We tried to get the best from the three albums before and concentrate it on one album without overdoing anything.
Your first attempts were definitely gifts to metal. You did offer something to metal. Are you familiar with the term “poser”?
You’ve been called a poser by the people who have heard the new album. They object to the hairspray.
I’ve had to answer this question quite a lot… especially the hairspray thing. We’ve been using hairspray since years and nobody ever objected. If you ever had a look on the cover of To Mega Therion, which is probably the heaviest album we ever done, and you see how much hairspray that Reed or Dominic used, or even I, or if you look at the back cover of Tragic Serenades and you see Martin’s hair, you know that we used hairspray since early ‘85. Nobody ever objected. But after Mexican Radio everybody started to say, “You guys use hairspray!” I can’t see anything that is against the law in using hairspray. As long as the music is right I think that we can try to look OK on the cover too. We use hairspray on the new album too, and if somebody calls us a poser, I can understand it. I want to be open-minded enough. But I think it’s wrong. It’s as wrong as fans calling us black metal or speed metal. I think it’s the same category of giving us wrong trademarks. I think that Celtic Frost is always a band who tried to be different. And we’re different again on this new album. You never know what to expect. People who are calling us posers are judging a little too fast. I used to be a total hardcore thrash fan once, before I was even in a band. And I always had a hard time to figure out a record of a band I loved when they really changed. But I always felt that being open-minded and being willing to pay more than one listen to something helped me a lot in this area.
Was the song “I won’t Dance” sort of your middle ground?
We recorded the song and when we did it we started to have shaky legs. We wanted to try this experiment and we thought we went too far. This is not Celtic Frost. We weren’t really sure about the song. So we didn’t know if we would play it on the tour. Then we played in England and the States, as you know. We tried out the song, and it was one of the songs being appreciated the most by the crowd. The first few nights I tell you I couldn’t believe the reaction. Everybody sang along. And to us, the song seemed almost too commercial, but the fans seemed to like it so much. Now on this album there’s not one song with backing vocals or something like that. There is songs that you could call commercial thrash, but there’s not one thing being close to backing vocals.. This album is a lot heavier than we wanted to do even.
What is the lyrical quality like?
We went the same way with the lyrics like we did with the music, which means it is typical Celtic Frost. There’s millions of symbols in there, and we tried to write really sophisticated. But what we changed was, we write a lot more modern and contemporary. We don’t only sing about ancient themes that the fans have a hard time relating to. 90% of the record is contemporary, ranging from the Vietnam War to Marilyn Monroe, and what happened to us last year when we had a lawsuit against a record company. But it’s written with a lot of symbols. Martin wrote this song “Mesmerized” which is a love song, and that was a theme we never touched with Celtic Frost. But the fans seemed to like the theme of the song. So we also have a couple of love songs on the album even, but of course they’re written in the typical Celtic Frost way.
Posers write love songs with cliche lyrics.
We tried to cross over or do something new. I never looked at Celtic Frost, except maybe Morbid Tales, as a thrash band. I never denied that we have very strong thrash metal roots. It comes obviously from our backgrounds and Hellhammer and everything. I always thought it was interesting to combine what I listen to otherwise with this background.
Your ancient themes are excellent. Where do you get the ideas?
I have a huge library here in my house about ancient things. That was my background before I started music. I was always into history, especially those centuries before christ’s birth. When I had a band it was obvious that I would search some themes in there.
King Diamond has the same healthy sort of love of reading.
Well I think it would be very interesting to meet him. I’m afraid that we are handled as rivals right now. There’s always been this rival feeling about us and King Diamond. It was from our side when he still was in his band Mercyful Fate because Martin Ain was extremely conscious about occult lyrics. Martin is an expert in occultism to whom I look up to so much. We analyzed some of the lyrics he had in Mercyful Fate and we were aware that the lyrics were really not something that you should sing to the kids. In our opinion he didn’t really think about what he was telling the kids. An adult man singing about killing babies and stuff… so we were really unhappy about what he was doing. It wasn’t our business, but that’s the way we looked at it. But I know by now he has changed a lot. In fact, my fiance just told me about new lyrics he has, and I found them pretty interesting.
The christian Satanism is totally different from the LaVeyan Satanism that King Diamond is a part of.
I know, but we found that he brought that across not so clear. We felt that a lot of fans just scratched on the surface of his lyrics. That’s a very dangerous influence.
What sort of training did you have, musically?
I was in guitar lessons since I was 12 years old, but they fired me. I was too lazy to rehearse. So that really frustrated me. I put the guitar aside until I was 16 years old. Then I started learning it all myself because I discovered all the heavy metal records. I trained myself. Everybody in this band is trained by themselves, as probably a lot of heavy metal bands did. The only actual training that I had was vocal training.
You put Celtic Frost together?
Yeah, it was me and Martin Ain. The basic decision was the frustration we had in Hellhammer. We felt Hellhammer was far too limited as far as lyrics and of course music. We thought that Hellhammer was cliche-loaded and it’s going nowhere. It’s primitive. We had to form some band to make up for this. That’s why we started maybe a little over-sophisticated with the lyrics and all the arrangements. That, of course, carried on until the last album. We always felt that we had to make up for Hellhammer. That was the basic reason for forming Celtic Frost.
So it is like a penance.
Yeah, it’s like a curse following us around. Now I can look back on Hellhammer and say, OK, it was bad, but we proved that we can do something else too. That’s why we wrote classical stuff. I felt really embarrassed about what we did in Hellhammer. I can say that honest now.
I heard that Hellhammer is re-forming as a vinyl project.
Martin Ain is reforming Hellhammer. Martin left Celtic Frost because he wants to settle down. He doesn’t want to tour anymore. He wants to marry and everything. Martin and me are still very good friends. He wanted to leave even before the last album. We always convinced him to stay another month or so. But he finally left. He is more into new wave and punk and stuff like that. So it was an obvious choice to do that as a side project. He’s going to re-form Hellhammer. He’s gonna do it very modern. It’s gonna be probably in the direction of S.O.D. and stuff like that. I met a lot of Celtic Frost fans that are just as satisfied with our new material.
Did Into the Pandemonium sell more copies?
It sold better than all the albums we had before, but it never sold as much as it should have sold. We expect every album to make a big step forward. Into The Pandemonium made a step forward, but not such a big one because it was so far away from what fans can relate to. It was a compromise for us too because we wanted to satisfy ourselves as artists but we still wanted to be a metal band, and it was impossible, of course. What we didn’t make as a step last time, not only in sales but also as a personal step, I hope we did it this time.
Do you have any enemies? Are there any bands you don’t smile upon?
I hope we don’t have any enemies. There’s always rivalry between metal bands going on. We have very good friends in the metal scene. But I bet there’s rivals, and even some bands you can call enemies. I don’t know who it is because we always try to be very professional. I think that if there’s anything bad going on, it might be from one of our former members… to say it very careful, and I think it’s plain frustration and jealousy, and that hurt us very much. It disappointed us very much. We couldn’t understand it because all of us in the new line-up were friends with this person. There’s enough people trying to destroy metal anyway. I don’t think that we need metal bands to destroy metal. O
So you’re sure you didn’t sell out?
Yeah. That was part of the rumors that we sold out for all the girls, which is totally ridiculous. We’re all in steady relationships.