Guitarist Oliver Amberg about his Coroner and Celtic Frost years
Talking about the heavy metal scene of Switzerland, Krokus, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Messiah and Coroner come to mind in the first place. During the 80’s several outfits popped up from that small country, such as Carrion (changed their name to Poltergeist later on), Calhoun Conquer, Excruciation etc. but they never managed to reach such a popular, cult status that Celtic Frost did. When the band released the Cold Lake record back in 1988, they divided their fanbase and seemed to have turned their back on death metal. Guitarist Oliver Amberg answered my questions.
Oliver, do you still remember how and when you discovered hard rock/heavy metal? What did you find so exciting in this music?
When I was a kid, I discovered Kiss. I listened to Alive and was blown away. For many years Kiss was the only band I was a fan of. Later Judas Priest, Iron Maiden etc. joined my growing record collection.
At which point did you decide to play an instrument and to become musician?
Ace Frehley was back then my guitar hero and Gene Simmons was the ultimate bass player.
Did your choice fall right away on guitar?
No, I started with the bass.
Do you play other instruments as well, by the way?
I play all kind of guitars, bass, keyboards, mandolin and blues harp.
Were you self-taught or did you take regularly lessons?
I had a couple of bass lessons when I was a kid. But actually I taught myself how to play all the instruments.
In the late 70’s/early 80’s in Great Britain the N.W.O.B.H.M. emerged. Did it somewhat influence your musical taste around those times? Did you start to entrench yourself in the underground scene at this point?
It was a big influence for sure. Iron Maiden, Saxon, Judas Priest etc. were important and most of my friends were listening to those bands.
Would you say that in Germany also a great metal explosion happened at the same time?
I never gave too much attention to the German metal scene. Me and most of the Swiss musicians were focused on the UK and the USA.
How about the Swiss scene as a whole? What were the bands that put Switzerland on the map of hard rock/heavy metal and so latched on the country to the international heavy metal bloodstream?
The Swiss scene was and still is very small.
Do you think that Switzerland has had a profound influence on the history of metal?
Hellhammer/Celtic Frost is probably the most important band in this genre. Coroner had a cult status but were never as big as they deserved to be.
After a number of successful Swiss rock and prog bands were popping up in the 1970’s like Gotthard, Krokus, Toad, Krokodil, Swiss metal really began with the legendary Hellhammer/Celtic Frost in the early/mid 1980’s. Do you agree with it?
Most of the Swiss bands were copy cats of big international acts.
Other Swiss hard rock bands to emerge in the wake of Krokus included Killer, Black Angels, Crown, Steve Whitney Band, Stormbringer, Witchcraft, Bloody Six, Paganini as well as China, Satrox and Alison. Does it mean that the Swiss scene was dominated primarily by hard rock, melodic heavy metal outfits?
I really never paid much of attention to the Swiss bands. They never excited me too much. And yes, we had tons of hair bands.
Was Zürich the center of Swiss metal or did any scenes take their shape in other towns such as Lugano, Geneve, Luzern, Basel, Lausanne, Winterthur etc.?
Winterthur (where I lived for many years) was the place where many bands hung out and got drunk back then.
Did Swiss metal have a strong background? I mean, did any metal magazines, fanzines exist, were there any venues, clubs, that started opening their doors for metal etc.?
No, as far as I know there weren’t any really important magazines in Switzerland. I remember we always were paying a fortune for Kerrang and Raw Magazine back then.
At which point and how did your musical career begin? Have you been in bands, together with Dominic Steiner, such as Junk Food, Baby Steel, Lick’n’A Promise to start with?
My very first real band was VoltAge what became Coroner. Afterwards I joined Junk Food (who changed their name later into Baby Steel. I formed also a band called Amberg (how original and unique… 🙂 ). Dominic Steiner and Steve Priestly were in the band, too. Then came the mighty Celtic Frost. After I was fired I formed the band Lick’n A Promise. Dominic Steiner was once more in the band.
What type of music did these bands play? Did you record any materials with them?
LNAP was a classic rock band. Aerosmith, Whitesnake, Free… that kind of music.
Then you appeared in an earlier incarnation of Coroner formed between 1983-1985, but the band started as VoltAge and used this moniker only for a short time, correct?
The line up consisted of Markus „Marquis Marky” Edelmann on the drums, you and Tommy Ritter on guitars, Phil Pucztai on bass and Pete Attinger on vocals. How did you get together? Did the other guys have any experience as musicians prior to Coroner?
As far as I can remember VoltAge/Coroner was the first band for most of us. Tommy Ritter used to play in other bands before. He was the oldest in the band.
Who came up with the name Coroner and who designed the logo? Was it the logo that became known later on?
The logo was designed by Marky Edelmann. I can’t remember if we figured out the name in the band or if it was Marky’s idea.
You were playing some sort of Mötley Crüe-style music, weren’t you?
Mötley Crüe, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Queensryche were our influences back then.
Would you say that the whole underground scene was in its infancy around those times?
I guess so.
In 1983 you released the Depth of Hell demo. What do you recall of it in terms of recording, performance, sound, songwriting, cover artwork etc.?
That was a crazy ride. We entered the studio for one day and told the engineer that we wanted to record several songs (I can’t remember if it was 3 or 5 songs) within one day. He said that this would be almost impossible. He didn’t know that we not only wanted to record but also mix the songs in one day. He almost fell of his chair when we told him our plans. We managed to record and mix everything in one long day. The outcome was pretty good.
Was it recorded only for yourselves or was it spread around for metal fans as well?
We sold and gave away the tapes to fans.
According to you, the band played several gigs. Can you tell us more about it?
We played only a couple of gigs. We used to have inflatable sex dolls and medivial weapons as part of the stage show. It was pretty wild.
In 1984, both Phil and Tommy left the band, while you were listed as a member of Hellhammer. Did you join Hellhammer as session musician? How much time did you spend in the band at all?
I never played in Hellhammer. Tom, Martin and I discussed if I would join the band but it never happened.
Did you like the band’s releases Death Fiend, Triumph of Death, Satanic Rites and Apocalyptic Raids? Did they manage to make a name for themselves with these efforts?
At this time I wasn’t following Hellhammer in musical terms.
The last thing planned with Hellhammer was a full-length called To Mega Therion in mid 1984 with new tracks called Beyond the Beyond, Ride on the Wings of Sabbath, Defeat of the Serpent, Demon Entrails and Phallical Tantrum, among others, but the band split up before the songwriting process was finished and none of these tracks were ever formally recorded. What kind of reasons led to the band’s demise? Did you pen any tunes in the ranks of Hellhammer, by the way?
In early 1985 Coroner split up and was reformed by Marky a few months later with a new line-up as a thrash metal band known as Coroner again. What did you do after that?
I joined a band called Junk Food. Dominik Steiner was on board as well.
How did you end up joining Celtic Frost back in 1988?
I heard that Tom was looking for a guitarist. I just sent him a photograph of me and a note that said „how about me?“. Later on we met in a restaurant in Zurich and talked about music and more. I was in the band.
At your request and with the support of producer Tony Platt the band was resurrected in mid 1988 and Tom was convinced to continue with an entirely new line up and an entirely new sound. How did it happen? Whose idea was this at all?
After Reed and Martin left Celtic Frost we needed new musicians. Tom and I checked out a closer circle of friends. Steve and Curt joined CF later on.
The membership consisted of Tom guitar/vocals, you guitars, Curt Victor Bryant bass and Stephen „Priestly” Gasser drums (during his Hellhammer period known as Steve „Evoked Damnator” Priestly). How did they get in the picture exactly? What about Curt’s musical past?
I am really not good when it comes to remembering facts like this. When Curt joined CF we auditioned a New York based drummer called Nicky. He flew in to Switzerland to rehearsals but it was a disaster. Since Steve was the drummer of the former band of Curt called Lady Godiva it was at least worth to try it with Steve. He wasn’t a foreigner to CF anyway.
How do you view that Celtic Frost was one of the pioneering bands of what would become death and black metal, along with contemporaries like Venom and Bathory, their first two albums – Morbid Tales and To Mega Therion – helped to lay down the template for what those styles would become?
Celtic Frost had the whole package. The music, the image. Everything was carefully thought out and they always invested hard work into their career.
Did you follow Tom’s career after you left Hellhammer? Did you remain in touch with him, were you always friends etc.?
Yes, I was most of the time informed what Tom was up to. Tom is one of my best and closest friends today. We had some issues after my departure, but after a while everything was fine.
When did you start working on Cold Lake? How long did it take you to come up with those songs?
We started immediately when I joined CF. I can’t recall how long the songwriting took but I think we were pretty fast.
Despite having the cooperation of Tom he had very little interest in the album, leaving most of the musical compositions to you, didn’t he?
Tom, Curt and I wrote Cold Lake. Tom was interested as anybody to make a great album.
Did the label ask you to do any pre-production material?
We did a demo and showed it to Karl Walterbach from Noise Records. He was pleased.
A 7” single sided promotional flexi disc, featured Roses Without Thorns along with Tankard’s Commandments, came free with the UK Metal Hammer #21 Magazine in 1988. Was it the label’s decision to put that song on that release or was it your suggestion?
I was not involved in this descion. I am not sure if any of us was involved.
Was it a kind of advance song to let the fans know what to expect considering the new stuff?
Were you prepared to record the album, when you entered the Sky Trak Studio in Berlin, during the summer of 1988?
Of course. We rehearsed the songs and we knew how to play our stuff.
How did the recording sessions go?
Tony Platt wasn’t too much into the music and Celtic Frost in general. Not the best starting point.
Do you think that Cold Lake, like the band who gave birth to it, is a species entirely of it’s own?
It wasn’t what the fans expected. But Celtic Frost were always good for a surprise.
What about the guest vocalists Xavier Russell, Michelle Villanueva and Brian Hewett?
Xavier Russell was the director of Cherry Orchards. I can’t recall what his contribution was. But it wasn’t someting really audible. Michelle was Tom’s wife and Brian was an engineer in the studio.
How do you explain that Celtic Frost sacrificed their reputation and this album should not have been branded the Celtic Frost name?
I am pretty sure, that if we had other photographs, a heavier production and would have avoided some words like sleazy, CL would have a bigger acceptance. Fun fact. The album sold solid numbers.
Was it a step down from their more universally accepted efforts?
Maybe a step to the side.
Did the record divide the band’s fanbase? What kind of responses did you get considering the end result back in the day?
Of course, it did. But it’s interesting that after 3 decades more and more fans start to like the album. We faced a lot of angry fans but also gained new fans. But as I said, it was over 30 years ago.
Are there any things that you would change on the album?
Crank Tom’s guitar up, have a more aggressive sound and less hair spray.
A video was made for Cherry Orchards. Any comments regarding the clip?
It was black and white.
What were the shows/tours like in support of the record? What would you tell about the Live at the Hammersmith Odeon 3. 3. 1989 video?
We had good shows and we had some OK shows. Hammersmith was a blast. Saxon and Girlschool visited us backstage. It was an honour to play this stage. Unfortunately it wasn’t sold out.
In 1989 you left the band. What were the reasons of your departure? Did you part ways with them on a friendly term at the end?
I was kicked out the band because I became very unprofessional. Too much rock ’n’ roll attitude. I was more interested in party, booze and other substances. I was a pain in the ass back then.
Can you tell us about your musical involvements after Celtic Frost?
After Celtic Frost I formed a band called Lick’n‘ A Promise. Again with Dominik Steiner on bass. We recorded one album Street Religion. It was never released. We had the same management as Celtic Frost. It was a major mistake.
Do you still follow what’s going on in the metal scenes these days?
Yes, I am still up to date.
Martin Erich „Ain” Stricker passed away four years ago. How do you want him to be remembered?
We have never been close friends. We liked each other, but never met too often. He was a special guy in the best way.
Oliver, thanks a lot for your answers! Please, share your last thoughts with the Hungarian fans, readers!
As much as I am proud to be a part of the Celtic Frost history, my life was and isn’t Cold Lake only. I have released many albums since then. Check out Kissing Lucifer, Sulfur Kings, The Haunted Echoes or The Boris Karloff Syndrome if you want to know how I sounded after Celtic Frost. Celtic Frost fans are a very special kind of fans. I have contact with many of them and they are great people and I enjoy talking to them. If you hate Cold Lake that’s OK. But after more than thirty years, it’s maybe time to move on. There is so much good music out there. Don’t waste your time with music you don’t like.