TALKIN’ TRIPTYKON WITH TOM G. (WARRIOR) FISCHER
After Celtic Frost’s Collapse, Tom Gabriel Fischer Hopes for a Drama-Free Third Act
As the visionary and front man of Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, and now Triptykon, Thomas Gabriel Fischer – the artist formerly known as Tom G. Warrior – has had his ups and downs. But the hipsters never got their dirty hands on him.
Emo kids do not wear ironic Celtic Frost shirts. Rivers Cuomo hasn’t name-checked the band in a smash single. After 23 years, the avant-garde metal band was an still an underground phenomenon – even though it was on a serious upswing — when they imploded after 2006’s Monotheist. That critically hailed album continued Fischer’s long tradition of mixing blacker-than-midnight extreme metal with unpredictable, sophisticated elements, like the all-strings instrumental “Winter (Requiem, Chapter Three: Finale).”
Celtic Frost went out on top, no doubt. It might be the most respected iconic metal band from the ‘80s. It’s definitely not the most popular act — but unlike Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth, the group doesn’t have a countless contingent of full-time haters.
Granted, Frost made some missteps, real and perceived. 1988’s Cold Lake, the band’s major-label debut, is the heaviest hair-metal album ever recorded. Some fans flinched at experiments from the tail end of the decade, like a French spoken-word piece (“Tristesses de la Lune”), a rap interlude (“Human II”), and a techno track (“One in Our Pride”). But the seminal band helped make corpse paint and symphonic metal part of the extreme-music playbook. They ripped shit up, too, but it drove Fischer nuts when writers tried to classify Frost as part of the thrash movement.
Celtic Frost has few critics more frank than Fischer himself. The singer-guitarist wrote most of the lyrics and music, and was the only member of the band to appear on every release. He spent over three years making sure Monotheist was a worthy continuation of the Celtic Frost legacy. The tour should have been a victory lap, but it turned into a death march. Simmering tensions between Fischer and cofounder-bassist Martin Eric Ain came to a head on the road, and Warrior quit his own band in April 2008.
“I once made the mistake to continue Celtic Frost without Martin,” Fischer recently explained on the Triptykon forum. “It wasn’t Celtic Frost, in spite of the name, and the results were stunningly pitiful (to put it nicely). I will not repeat that mistake…. In 2005, Martin and I also signed an agreement which prohibits either one of us to continue as Celtic Frost without the other one.”
In short order, Fischer announced the formation of Triptykon, which he promised would “sound as close to Celtic Frost as is humanly possible.” Tracks from the band’s debut have been emerging over the last few month, and Eparistera Daimones will arrive in the States this Tuesday, March 23. Fischer and company make good on his promise.
Celtic Frost drummer Reed St. Mark briefly played in Triptykon, but didn’t gel with Fischer’s morbid vision. Frost touring guitarist V. Santura followed Fischer to the new band. The two co-produced and mixed the disc.
The name “Triptykon” sounds like a poisonous gas or a spray for hallucinogenic huffing sessions, but it’s actually a play on “triptych,” a three-panel painting. The first record by Fischer’s self-described “third and final occult extreme metal group” plays exactly like a sequel to Monotheist. And it’s even monothier.
The title Eparistera Daimones means “To my left, the demons” in Greek. For Warrior, the album is an exorcism. The nine-song sludge epic opens with the 11-minute “Goetia” and closes with the 19-minute “The Prolonging.” Like Monotheist, the record is filled with religious and pagan imagery. Some of it’s biting political vitriol. More often, it’s a metaphorical message about the breakup of his beloved previous band.
Warrior is still fuming about the end of his relationship with Ain and other members of his old band — as you’ll read in the interview, he’ll talk about former Celtic Frost drummer Franco Sesa, but won’t say his name. And the venom inspires Warrior to play faster than he has in years on “Goetia” and the all-thrash “A Thousand Lies.”
The surprisingly chill “My Pain” is a complete departure – and a satisfying one — from “Goetia”’s epic shredding and Warrior’s dying-god death rattles. Female vocalist Simone Vollenweider joins him on the track, which sounds like Swans covering Zeppelin’s “No Quarter.” Eparistera Daimones is wrapped in equally visceral artwork by artists including HR Giger, creator of the Alien creature and one of Warrior’s first supporters.
For now, Triptykon has only announced a handful of live dates in Europe and Japan. When the quartet does take to the road, fans can expect new material and Celtic Frost classics.
Fischer called MetalSucks to talk about the new band, its logo, his storied career, the controversial Cold Lake LP, and the bitter end of Celtic Frost. If you’ve read his out-of-print autobiography Are You Morbid? or the new Hellhammer/Celtic Frost document Only Death Is Real (out now on Ian Christe’s Bazillion Points), you’ll see the inflated prose style from the books isn’t an affectation. In a deep voice with a Germanic Swiss accent, Fischer speaks in the same contemplative manner. In turns, he’s dead-serious, funny and self-deprecating. He’s a talker, but he always has a point.
Give me a level check and let me make sure this is rolling?
Satan, Satan, Satan, Satan.
Some of the material on the new album gives me the impression that you maybe felt like you had something to prove.
I have something to prove with every album. I’ve always been challenged. There have always been people who are detractors to what I do. Even though I don’t make my albums for them, I’m of course aware I have something to prove, but I’m not afraid to prove it. This is my life, and I’m not faking this.
How disappointed were you when the Monotheist lineup of Celtic Frost fell apart?
There’s two answers to this. I was not disappointed at all when the lineup fell apart. Because there’s a certain person in that lineup for whom I’m carrying an infinite amount of hatred. I was very disappointed that Celtic Frost fell apart. I will never get over this.
Celtic Frost was my life. And it takes an infinite amount of difficulties until Tom Warrior walks out of his own band. It’s not something that happens because he has a little spat. It’s difficult still to live without Celtic Frost. This band was really important to me. It was synonymous with my emotions, with my songwriting. But there was no other way. I had to leave. The problems were personal, but I’m glad I’m rid of that lineup.
This is such a complex topic, and it encompasses five and a half years of events behind the scenes that become impossible to explain within the framework of injury. In a nutshell, one member had simply lost complete control of his ego. In my very subjective opinion, this person had a gargantuan ego problem.
That’s not a problem if you’re talking about working together for one day, but if you’re working together for five and a half years, first on an album, and then on the road where you’re on top of each other for 24 hours a day, and you have to work together with webmasters and road crew and opening acts and audiences, it causes immeasurable damages to people who have made all of this possible in the first place. There’s a certain limit, and I’m Tom Warrior, and I have my fucking pride.
Before the band split, there was talk of an album of alternate versions of Monotheist tracks. Did you actually do any of that work?
It was a very concrete plan. We worked on the Monotheist album for five and a half years, and there was tons of material recorded – demos and alternate takes and what have you.
We were planning on releasing a companion album, which would probably be interesting to fans, showing the path of the material that we recorded was really out there. There’s material for a full live DVD and for more than one live album. As long as I’m alive, that’s not going to see the light of day. I’m not going to give the person who destroyed Celtic Frost another fifteen minutes of fame on the strength of music I’ve written. I carry infinite, indescribable hatred for this person.
Do you think every band should have an all-encompassing aesthetic? Or is it just for certain bands?
It’s just right for certain bands. I don’t know if most bands can fulfill such an objective. If I look at the metal scene, maybe that sounds very arrogant, but I’ve been part of the metal scene since 1975 — a lot of bands don’t give you the full package. They just focus on, for example, technical abilities, or a fraction of what you can do. I have always been a fan of, for example, of the theatrical aspects of what you can do. It’s additional means of bringing across your message.
Do you have a vision of what your music to be, ultimately – or do you just take it one evolution at a time?
I always have a very detailed list. When we formed Celtic Frost, we planned the first three albums in detail, including “What kind of photos are you taking?” and “What will the song titles be?” It’s the same for Triptykon. I’m working on the second album, even though the first one hasn’t been released yet. I produced a full concept for myself and the band. I don’t work haphazardly.
Do you always see yourself working in metal? Are you building toward something bigger, like full symphonic or operatic productions? This one has a lot of epic songs, and something like “My Pain” is far from metal.
I don’t want anything bigger. Unlike that person we talked about before, I don’t have an immeasurable ego. I’m really happy in metal. In fact, I feel slightly more happy in Triptykon because this band is more underground than Celtic Frost was. Celtic Frost became very big at the end, and I became uncomfortable with that.
But of course, I have a very big inspiration dating back to my youth. I was into jazz and classical music. All these elements are part of my songwriting, and that explains things like “My Pain” or “Necromantical Screams” or “Mesmerized.”
I’m an extremely open person musically, but that doesn’t mean it has to be something bigger. A band like Triptykon cannot get onto the charts just because we have “My Pain” on an album. “My Pain” is just such a personal song – that’s the story to it. It comes from my emotions. There’s nothing else behind it.
Who is the girl who sings on it?
Simone Vollenweider. She worked with me on my ambient electronic project, Apollyon Sun, and the last Celtic Frost album.
The bigger, longer songs like “Goetia” and “The Prolonging” – is Led Zeppelin an influence, or is that a coincidence?
Probably coincidental. I, of course, have gargantuan respect for Led Zeppelin, but they have never been a main influence to me. I grew up with Black Sabbath. I learned to play guitar from listening to Vol 4 and trying to play these riffs. And if anything, every album, I can hear these early days in my current riffs. Tony Iommi has had massive importance in my life, as far as my songwriting is concerned. The slow songs are this stomping thing – that’s exactly what I liked on Vol 4 and other Black Sabbath albums, too.
What does the Triptykon pentagram logo mean to you?
I’ve long been fascinated by silent movies of the 20s, and the European silent moves of the 20s, the horror films that were created in Germany after World War I. Some of those movies are amazing; they’re very modern in certain aspects.
I loved the graphic design of these films, as well. When I was looking for a logo for Triptykon, I really wanted to pattern it after the writing used in the Weimar Republic, the post-World-War-I Germany, before the Third Reich was installed.
Do you have name for it, like the Morbid Tales heptagram?
I personally call it “The Weimar Logo.” Germany was in complete disarray.
Does it symbolize that chaos?
It’s plainly a graphic matter. I have a huge collection of books form the period, the writing and advertising for cinema. At the time, after being completely desolate, the art scene in Germany was starting to thrive again. And that’s what fascinates me.
The album has themes of religion and the supernatural. After 30 years, do you think metal’s anti-religion message is getting through? In your work, is it correct to call it an anti-religion message?
I don’t really care what others are doing. To me, religion, history, and occultism, and the point where all of these things merge, have been a lifelong interest. I met Mark Ain, my longstanding Celtic Frost songwriting partner, over these topics. We spent nights and nights talking before we started playing music together. These topics have a huge significance for me and for the world. If I don’t want to sing about beer cans and bikes, I have to delve into what interests me.
Do you see religion as a corruption of that universal interest? How, on a level, it offers mysticism and myth and magic, but what it gives you is “sit there and be quiet?”
It does offer that. It uses it as tools to gain power over you. Religion is not a corruption of something. It is corruption itself. It’s a man-made scheme to gain power over others. I’m extremely critical and cynical of religion all my life. It’s reflected a lot in my lyrics.
On this particular album, the lyrics are far, far more personal than any other lyrics I’ve written. I’ve simply used some occult or religious imagery to bring across a certain message, because I didn’t want to delve into a primitive way using language. I didn’t want to have an album full of cuss words, so I tried to use the hatred in a more sophisticated manner. But the album is personal to me and deals with the breakup of Celtic Frost.
What did it mean to you early on — and now — to be supported by HR Giger? To have somebody established like that say, “Hey, kid, I think you’re good?”
It meant the world. It’s not only that. It’s that everybody else in Switzerland hated us. We, as outsiders, they pushed us away. The entire so-called “scene” here – bands, promoters, journalists, record companies in Switzerland completely ridiculed early Celtic Frost. They didn’t give us a chance. They sidelined us and treated us like a piece of shit. And Giger was one of two persons in Switzerland who actually believed in us and became a mentor to us. And we were lifelong friends. We worshiped his work. The significance of that cannot even be described.
What was the origin of the name Celtic Frost? Celtic paganism?
We were looking for a synonym for our civilization. And one of the early civilizations were the Celts. We had grown up in a Celtic area. I spent many nights hiking to a Celtic fortress. Its ruins were buried in the forest next to where I was living. That always fascinated me. Our roots as people were basically Celtic roots, but I also could have taken it to Babylonians or the ancient Egyptians.
Eparistera Daimones is a coherent album. Do you have a preference for how people would consume it? Would you prefer them to sit and listen to all as one piece?
No. Music, to me, is a very individual state of mind, anyway. For example, the album will supply full lyrics and liner notes, but the lyrics and liner notes are optional. I think it’s important that music creates the pictures in your mind that you are seeking. It’s the same for me when I listen to music.
Sometimes I don’t want to know much of the background, because I want to make up my own images in my mind. This album was such a personal work, creating it and producing it. What happens after that, I don’t care. I made Triptykon exactly the way I wanted to make it, and that’s all that matters.
“A Thousand Lies” is the fastest you’ve played for some time. Did you just feel like writing a fast song at that point?
Yeah. I love this kind of music, even though I’m drawn to very deep and slow and heavy music. I started Celtic Frost’s first album with a fast song. And the inspiration for this album was the breakup of Celtic Frost. I was producing an album for 1349 in Norway, and receiving endless negative news from Sweden. I was sitting there, about 500 kilometers away, being completely powerless to save the band. And this anger, this frustration, this pain manifested itself when I sat there and wrote the song.
Do you see yourself updating your biography?
I’m working on it. I wrote the original manuscript for Are You Morbid? in 1993. That was a long time ago. I have masses of new material – photos. I hope I am a better writer by now. I would like to incorporate the [demise] of Celtic Frost and the formation of Triptykon. So what I’m working on is essentially a complete rewrite of Are You Morbid?. A much expanded book, a much more detailed book, and a much more frank book. It will be out maybe in a year or two – I don’t know.
I’m a fan of the Cold Lake album. It’s good for what it is, even though it’s not what fans might want from Celtic Frost. How did that album come about?
You want me to explain that in a few minutes? This is such an absolutely complex process that led to an album so terrible. It’s absolutely impossible to explain.
So you’re not a fan of the album?
I am extremely happy about this album in a way that, at least I have done the absolute worst I could possibly ever do in my entire lifetime – I’ve done that. So no matter how much I’m going to fail in the future, I will never sink that low again. No matter how many missteps and mistakes.
Cold Lake is the absolute lower limit of whatever can come from my mind. So there it is, at least one positive thing that can come from it. It’s probably the worst album ever created in heavy music. I’m not saying that to be cynical. This is my honest opinion. I have to live with this. But I was the only guy from Celtic Frost, so I bear full responsibility, regardless of the facts behind it. And I’m accepting that responsibility. I’m not a coward. It is an utter piece of shit, and that’s not crass enough to describe it.
So what did you learn from that experience?
I have analyzed this album many times, believe me. And I have analyzed myself, why this happened, and what was wrong in my fucking mind? There’s many conclusions from that, and they’re very personal.
In a nutshell, when I’m happy, I guess I cannot write the music that people love me for, that I’m known for. I was extremely happy at the time. I had found a wonderful woman. I had asked her to marry me. She said yes. I was completely detached from the world. I didn’t care what happened in the studio. I let other people run the show. My life was many miles removed from what it had been when my life was sheer desperation. So I think when I create something in happiness, it’s deeply flawed. I am happy when I’m unhappy, I guess.
What will you be doing on this tour?
It will be exactly like Celtic Frost. I’m not a fan of circus acts on stage. I don’t need gimmicks to create a certain mood. We will come out. We will play our music. People will love us or hate us.
What are you listening to lately?
One of the albums that has been on my mp3 player constantly is the new Altar of Plagues album [White Tomb]. I think it’s fantastic. I was completely blown away by this combination of black metal and ambient music. They’ve started, to me, a completely new way that I’m fascinated by.
D.X. Ferris is the author of 33 1/3: Reign in Blood, the first English book about Slayer. Ee-mail slayerbook [ at ) gmail dot com for a free chapter. Follow him daily via Twitter: @dxferris and @Slayerbook.