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Are You Morbid?: Into the Pandemonium of Celtic Frost Paperback – 29 Jun 2000
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"A headbanger's must" -- SMUG Magazine
"Consider this book mandatory reading." -- METAL EDGE
"Intelligent, humble, questioning, insightful - the cultured side of extreme metal." -- Record Colector
Written by their front-man, this is a witty and frankly honest account of the life of a rock outfit. Fischer's story is full of facts and anecdotes, some unflattering, many trashy, some embarrassing, many senselessly funny but all putting right the band's reported notoriety.
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Its a really good read about this unique band with a unique creative sound (some would call noise) and you cant help feel for Tom with his struggles.
Very well written and prompted a Frost fest whilst decorating the house recently just to please the neighbours.
I love Celtic Frost and the fact that Mr Fischer is such an obdurate contrarian. For example, they ripped off the layout of the inner sleeve for 'Cold Lake' from Prince associated artist Jill Jones. You wouldn't get that from Exodus or Overkill.
It's a shame that this book is so clunky. Definitely an opportunity missed. The world needs a serious analysis of this band's catalogue and its influence. I'm afraid this isn't it.
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I read this after reading T.G. Fischer's other book "Only Death is Real", which I liked much better. Where "Only Death is Real" comes across more as an inside look at the history of the legendary Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost with insights into the author's background leading up to the founding of these bands and the record industry, this book "Are You Morbid?" instead is a bit more like a tell-all book, airing some of the band's dirty laundry, and I think the author seems to be much better at (and more comfortable with) writing insightful history and personal memoirs than he is with describing his arguments with bandmates, and music industry people and lurid accounts of the excesses of rock musicians.
Editing in "Are You Morbid?" is a bit rough, too: Fischer writes in English much better than I write in German, but I should mention that barely a chapter of the book went by without a typographical or grammatical error of some sort (to be fair, though, the errors were not so bad that they rendered the text unreadable).
With the bad out of the way, though:
The book was a brisk, easy, and usually fun read. Fischer is an entertaining story-teller, and Celtic Frost seems to be a magnet for larger-than-life stories for Fischer to tell about the ups and downs of leading a band that did virtually everything the hard way while flying by the seats of their pants, and which had a habit of swimming against the current and of being in all the wrong places and the wrong times.
Any illusions a reader might have that becoming a legendary rock band is easy, fun, and a quick and easy way to fame and fortune must surely be shattered by the end of this book: we catch a glimpse of a band that balanced precariously on the edge of poverty and disaster from its earliest, humblest beginnings, through its rise to fame, all through its greatest triumphs, through its most humiliating catastrophes, until it collapses under the weight of changing times, changing audiences, and a changing economy. Fischer emphasizes on almost every page that keeping a band like Celtic Frost afloat requires dedication, sacrifice, superhuman stubbornness, a willingness to subject one's self to criticism and humiliation at every turn, a willingness to try to succeed even when failure seems to be the only option, and to meet surprise failures even when you are succeeding like never before. One certainly gets the impression that Celtic Frost were doing what they were doing mostly for the love of making this music and for the art, as it seems unlikely that they could ever have persisted for the meager amount of money this career represented. I understand that people in the music industry have been known to lend "Are You Morbid?" out to aspiring new extreme metal groups, and it seems to me that this book would certainly provide a much-needed dose of reality for any naive and idealistic new musicians: Fischer's writing comes across like an older brother gently passing on advice and wisdom about the things he learned the hard way to someone about to follow in the same reckless footsteps.
The book includes many excellent photographs documenting virtually every step in the band's career, from the naivete of their earliest days in Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost, through their more sophisticated work during "To Mega Therion" and "Into the Pandaemonium", into the dark ages of "Cold Lake", and through their best attempts to recover before the band finally lost traction, and Fischer appears to have kept meticulous notes through this time of times, dates, and places - one suspects he referred to a journal, diary, or log of some sort while writing the book, and the detail paints a vivid picture of many of the often outlandish events of the band's day-to-day life.
It's also interesting to see the human side of the often reclusive and mysterious members of this band: behind the morbid stage names and outlandish makeup and costumes, you find human beings... insecure, neurotic, obsessive. I could almost feel the humiliation of the member who had to tell the band he couldn't help them because he had to go shopping with his mom... the crushing self-doubt of the member who fired himself repeatedly for not being what the band needed, and so on. Fischer is outspoken with his opinions of everyone and everything that served as an obstacle to the band's success, but one finds the most harsh and constant criticism in the book seems to be be directed at himself.
Perhaps most fascinating to me was a glimpse into how the Celtic Frost albums I know and love evolved behind the scenes: for example, Fischer includes notes to the record company describing what the band planned to do with upcoming albums that include titles of songs that never materialized, concepts and ideas that never got used or which evolved in other directions, albums that never got made, things that were altered in the studio by executive meddling, and so on: there are many pages of this book that suggest what might have been had things happened slightly differently. The centerpiece of the book is how the disastrous "Cold Lake" album happened, followed in the final third of the book by the damage control of the following album and compilation, and some hints at what might the last Celtic Frost album of the 1990's would have looked like had the band gotten the opportunity to finish it.
Almost as interesting to me was the time capsule into the unique perspective Celtic Frost enjoyed at an unexpectedly exciting time and place in history: their journey behind the "Iron Curtain" to record in Berlin, glimpses at life Cold-War era rural Switzerland and life in Berlin as the Berlin Wall came down along with a glimpse at what the Cold War meant to Fischer, the horrors of the dawning of the age of AIDS for a band that had been taking far too many liberties with enthusiastic groupies, a look at a world that is only just being introduced to extreme metal and the way it adapted to bands like Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, what the tape-trading culture was like before the age of the internet, an inside look at what it was like to be an extreme metal band at a time when metal had fallen out of fashion with glimpses at how and why this happened, and so on. Fischer's descriptions of such things were fascinating, and I really wish there were more of them!
Ultimately, "Are You Morbid?" makes a great companion to the later and much better "Only Death is Real" (which covers some of the same ground but focuses on the earlier Hellhammer years, is presented in a nice hardback format, includes quotes from other members of the bands to help provide other points of view, and shows a marked improvement both in Fischer's writing and in editing).
Fans of Celtic Frost in particular are going to enjoy this for the glimpse into the band's history and the stories behind how the albums were made. Fans of extreme metal are likely to enjoy it for similar reasons, and I believe aspiring musicians in any genre are likely to learn a lot from Fischer's hard-earned experience in dealing with sometimes shady and uncooperative record labels and promoters while making a number of crippling but understandable mistakes that any young musicians would be likely to make.
Tom has many endearing words for fans and bandmembers alike, but few nice words for those in a music industry capacity who worked with the band. His sensitivity is surprising in light of the brutality of the band's sound, and the very drive and passion that created a monster that was often out of even his control may be what thwarted any harmony with an industry out of step with such ambitious artistry. I find several amusing points in Mr. Fischer's point of view, particularly his conviction that they were poised on the brink of being commercially successful (he uses the term 'household word' a couple of times) but were thwarted when videos and proper cover art were witheld by the dysfunctional label. I'll admit the world deserved a more accurate representation of their genius, but that doesn't mean a public who thought bands like Ratt and Twisted Sister represented heavy metal would ever embrace their grunt-laden Swiss pummeling. He also tells repeatedly how the band put up most of the funding and went broke while label disputes dragged on, yet only a few pages after complaining of being broke again in the latter part of the book, he tells us of the studio he built in his home. Tom is a very good writer, considering that English is at least a second language, and my only complaint with the content is that very little is said about the songs themselves, and any insight into their mysterious little worlds would have been appreciated. (I guess we'll have to live with liner notes for that.)
Yes, in a perfect world Tom and his rotating cast of bandmembers would be reaping the fruits of their genius and conviction, which becomes apparent both in the music and in the telling, particularly surrounding studio work (where the book begins - mid-career). We who were involved in underground circuits (whether punk or metal) did our part - devouring this material and always hungering for more. When the disastrous "Cold Lake" appeared (which gets a satisfactory explanation and apology in the book) we felt horribly betrayed. The band with the most artistic credibility in the industry had committed the unpardonable sin. Combined with a string of industry mishaps, bad luck, and even worse management and label representation, the Frost -in many ways originators of what would become Death Metal - died a slow, quiet, and ironic death.
This story does have a happy ending, but not in its pages. Mr. Fischer is now fronting an amazing band with former Frost roadie and Coroner drummer Marky Edelmann called Apollyon's Sun which is getting constant play at home these days. What perfect timing - just before I discovered this book, which was a fast and enjoyable read. My interest in Celtic Frost's music (MOST of it, at least) has been rekindled and the classic albums sound as good as ever. (The crucial ones are now available overseas, remastered by Tom in 1999, the way they were intended to sound.) Listen to one of these classics as you look at the picture of him with his bike as a child. Who knew this scrawny kid would one day yield such a mighty axe?