Triptykon: black is black

There is a form of wisdom in the words of Thomas Gabriel Fischer, aka Tom Warrior, the leader of Hellhammer, then Celtic Frost, and now Triptykon – a band which, as its name suggests, is a kind of final phase in the triptych that was the frontman’s artistic life. It’s the kind of lucid wisdom that allows one to see the reality of the world in minute detail, without trying to run from it – or not right now, at least. “I’m more afraid of remaining on this planet that I’m to choose the other option…”, he says with great honesty. The liberation of death holds a prime place in his thoughts, his music, and his spirituality. And when he talks about it, he does so with incredible softness, his voice controlled, almost down to a whisper, and friendly. There’s something comforting in his speech, but also something heart-rending when he brings up darker, more intimate thoughts.

Dark thoughts are precisely at the heart of his new album, Melana Chasmata, released four years after the band’s first record. The result of “a very complex gestation periode”, the record is all at once deep, carefully thought out, and striking. In the future we might even call it a masterpiece, even if Tom Warrior doesn’t even see himself as “a good musician” and doesn’t give his music “too much importance”

« It’s a daily struggle to remain alive. I really don’t know how long I want to do this… »

Radio Metal: I know that leaving Celtic Frost was very difficult for you. Now that time has passed, that you’re about to release a second album, and that the fans and the press have unanimously followed and praised Triptykon, do you feel more relieved and that you have moved on for good from what happened with Celtic Frost?

Tom Gabriel Fischer: Yes of course, it’s a very good feeling. “Relieved” is maybe not the right word. I did what I had to do, there was no other option. The situation in Celtic Frost was very difficult on a personal level and I didn’t wanted to create music under these circumstances, so whether I would be successful or not in the future didn’t really matter. I had to leave the band to retain my own sanity. I knew very well what I was capable of musically, I knew the album that I was gonna make and I simply did it. But of course, I’m very happy that Triptykon has found an audience.

Just like the first Triptykon album, this new one was recorded in V. Santura’s own studio and produced by both of you. Is it important for you, at this point of your career, to have complete control over your music, in all aspects, whether it’s the recording, the production, the mixing, etc.?

Absolutely. That’s not because of ego reasons, but I’ve made very negative experiences in the 1980s’ with record companies and with people who had nothing to do with the band trying to control my music. At the end of the day, it’s my music, and nobody knows what it should sound like better than I do, or than the band does. So why should anybody else have power to interfere with what we’re doing? I have a very clear vision of what I’m doing as a musician, I’ve been doing this for 32 years, and I really have no patience for anybody from outside to try to know it better than I do. If they know better, then they should do their own band [laughs]!

You said Melana Chasmata is “not an easy album”, and that it “reflects an extremely complex gestation period, musically, spiritually, and, due to certain circumstances in [your] life, emotionally.” Why has this gestation period been so complex, and what are these circumstances you were referring to?

To answer this fully and correctly would take hours! [laughs] I’m not trying to get out of the question, but it’s very complex. There was three members of the band, and I’m one of them, that experienced drastic changes in their lives in the last two or three years. My own life has completely changed. Nothing in my life is as it was three years ago. It took time to deal with that, and to come to terms with it. I had to completely reinvent my life, I moved and everything… There’s nothing in my life that’s still the same as it was three years ago. Two other members of the band experienced drastic changes too. Of course, during that time the music was secondary. We first had to take care of our own problems and our own issues until we could meet as a band again, to just concentrate on the music again. That’s the very short version of something really complex.

« There’s a lot of people who take themselves very seriously, but I don’t. Seriously. I know my limits. I’m an amateur [laughs]. »

Is this where the deep darkness referred to in the title of the album and heard in the music comes from?

Partially, of course, yeah. But my music wasn’t happy to begin with, was it? [laughs] I’m part of the human race on this planet, and I think that what we have done as the human race on this planet in the last 10 or 20,000 years is not very glorious. What we are doing to each other, what we are doing to the environment, what we are doing to animals… It fills me with very dark and sad feelings. It’s not something that I feel is reflected by party music, but rather by the music I’m doing. But that’s just my personal view, and of course my music is reflecting that.

The last song on the album, called “Waiting”, is enigmatic and has kind of a soothing feeling. What does it represent for you?

Waiting for death, which to me is not a negative thing. I feel terrible telling you all this, you’re a young woman at the beginning of life basically, beautiful and everything and you should enjoy life, but this is the result of 50 years of living on this planet. I’m not really good at blocking out reality, I’m somebody who’s interested in reality, and unfortunately, there’s a lot of negative things in reality. I don’t want it to be like that, but it is. So I’ve come to the conclusion that death is not necessarily something bad. It’s almost like a sanctuary, a release… “Waiting” is about dying and embracing that.

We can hear some mystical incantatory vocals on the album, like in “Waiting” or “Demon Pact”. Did you want with these to get closer to spiritual chants, a little bit like shamanic incantations?

I am not really part of these things. But yes, it is very spiritual, but spiritual on a very personal level. I think everybody must find their own connection with these things but personally, I’m not into shamanism, or anything like that. My spiritual level is very much inside of me, and based on my feelings and my thoughts. I don’t need to go to an outside source. I’ve tried to make sense of my life, and my life in the context of the world, for the past 50 years. This is a very personal process, so I don’t need anybody else, whether instruments they use. It’s a very difficult process, but I think it is the ultimate intimate process.

Melana Chasmata once again features an artwork by H.R. Giger. How would you define or describe the link and affinities between H.R. Giger’s graphic art and your music?

He’s a very different person from me. He’s lived a very unique life and so have I, but we have lived it completely differently. And yet I feel there is a very strong link between us. We are very close friends, and that’s based on our emotions, not on that we have lived the same life. I feel that my music, in a very small way, reflects the same things that his paintings do. Of course, he’s a genius and I’m simply a musician. I look up to him, he’s a true artist. He’s the greatest surrealist painter of our times, and I would never put myself on the same platform. But we have both felt that we have tried to express the same emotions with our work, and that’s why I think we connect perfectly the music and the paintings. The first two times, I approached him with Celtic Frost and with Triptykon, and because he feels the same way, this time he approached me to work on this album. So it’s a mutual thing.

Eparistera Daimones and Melana Chasmata’s artworks are presented in a similar manner, featuring a painting by H.R. Giger, both have a two words Greek title and feature nine songs. Does this mean that, with Triptykon, you want the albums to somehow be tied in together in a bigger and coherent artistic vision?

Very much so, absolutely. This is very important to me. I don’t work just haphazardly, just by coincidence. Everything to me has a large connection, and the albums of course tell a continuous story. It’s also important to me that you can put the albums next to each others and that they yield at one joined work, actually.

« Walking around at night or feeling the rain on your skin… It’s a million times more important than running after money, careers and all kinds of stuff. »

On your blog you often give a lot of environmental details, such as the light or the weather, for the scenes and memories you’re describing. Would you say that you are particularly sensitive to the environment, the mood and atmosphere surrounding you?

Extremely so, but it is a shame that one has to mention that, because if somebody’s truly alive, then isn’t that normal? If you look at the living dead people out there that make most of the world, maybe they miss all of that in their pursuit of money… But if you’re alive like you are and I am, of course that’s a part of your perception. That’s more important than anything else. Walking around at night or feeling the rain on your skin… It’s a million times more important than running after money, careers and all kinds of stuff. You know that as well as I do…

You also often refer to your past, to your time with Hellhammer and the beginning of Celtic Frost. You even wrote two books about it. Is it important for you to look back and recall the past, maybe in order to move forward in the right direction?

Absolutely. That doesn’t mean I live in the past, but of course history, whether it’s the general history of the world you’re living in or your personal history is extremely important in the way you proceed into the future. I could not imagine being disconnected of history, outside of History or outside of my history. Of course, you need to reevaluate your own history all the time in order not to repeat the same mistakes and in order to grow, mentally and emotionally. It’s sometimes very difficult, but I think it’s absolutely essential.

You did some exhibitions for your death mask sculptures. Can you tell us more about these? What are they made of and what do they represent?

It’s just a very personal thing… When I was a teenager, I did very primitive death masks with clay, and through all my life I’ve always wanted to do it, I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to do it more professionally. Later, I had this idea that I could do these masks of my own face, so when I was in New York in 2007, I got in contact with people who can do a cast of your face. I had this done and ever since then, I’ve been experimenting. Initially, it was a very private thing just for myself, then somebody wanted to buy one and it became something much bigger. But it’s just a very private thing, using my face as a canvas, painting my emotions… I didn’t think anyone would like it, I thought everybody would think it’s crazy but apparently not [laughs].

You once said in an interview that certain parts of you were eager to die because you were sick and tired of this planet, and that death is the ultimate escape. But then, what actually keeps you alive?

That a big question… It’s a daily struggle to remain alive. I’ve been very close to choosing to leave this planet because I’m not afraid of it. I’m more afraid of remaining on this planet that I’m to choose the other option… I’m remaining alive and playing music… Playing music is beautiful, but remaining alive is a daily struggle. I really don’t know how long I want to do this… I’m not trying to be dramatic, I’m not trying to project an image or anything like that, it’s simply the way it is…

Last year you returned to the Grave Hill bunker, the former rehearsal room of Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, which was under demolition. Would you say that this special place has somehow shaped the artist you have become?

Very much so. I’ve had a very difficult youth, and I’ve had a very strange career, a career that I’d never thought would ever take place… It’s very important to me to visit these places, not just the rehearsal room, but lot of places where I was as a child in completely different circumstances, I do this frequently, every year. Of course, you’re swept by emotions when you do that. A lot of ideas happen when I do that… It’s just a personal thing.

« I’ve waited all my life for love, and I’ve waited all my life for death, which are probably two very close, related and intense feelings… »

You also do a lot of photography that you publish on your blog…

It’s amateurish. It’s totally amateurish. I’m not a photographer; I’m not even a good musician! That’s completely amateurish.

Do you feel the need not to limit yourself to music, and do these different artistic expressions – photography, writing, sculpture and music – somehow feed each other?

This makes it sound so important! This is just my personal little spleens, you know. I don’t think that my photos or my sculptures are so important, not even my music. This is just my own, personal thing. I take a photo of something that I like, I publish it and write something about it, but you know, that’s not meant to be artistic. I’m an amateur. Seriously! I just see things in the world and I write about it, but there’s no bigger context to it. There’s a lot of people who take themselves very seriously, but I don’t. Seriously. I know my limits. I’m an amateur [laughs].

You’ve always claimed your hate towards organized religion. But sometimes, we see metalheads saying that metal is their religion, worshiping musicians and acting as if there were rituals and rules to follow, like a band should not do this or that. And when a band goes off the straight and narrow, it is often shouted down as if they were sinners. What do you think of this? Would you somehow place this behavior on the same level as organized religion?

It’s probably a tendency that’s in every human being. I think it’s dangerous to worship anything so strongly. I think it’s much healthier if you think for yourself. I don’t know why human beings have the need to gather around something, and to follow it. It’s a mentality that’s probably still around from the days when we were living in caves. Of course it’s no longer appropriate in the 21st century, but yet it’s on the rise… There’s more religious fundamentalists than ever before, and you’re right, that also extends into other areas. To me, this is something I’m very skeptical about. This whole hero-worship or god-worship… I think it’s very unhealthy. The key to your life is inside of yourself, not inside some science-fiction creature.

The band Coroner has reformed not long ago. They were your roadies with Celtic Frost at the beginning and you sang on their first demo. What can you tell us about this other very talented Swiss band?

That would take hours [laughs]! It’s a very interesting band, but just like Celtic Frost, they had a lot of internal problems, unfortunately. I’m very proud that Coroner is a Swiss band, and I think they created some extremely important music. Marky of Coroner is one of the most creative and one of the most unusual people I’ve ever known, we’ve been friends for 33 years I think, which is crazy to think about… But he’s an extremely creative, extremely interesting person. It’s a shame he’s no longer part of Coroner now. He just left the band…

With Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, you’re at the origins of extreme metal, especially black metal. How do you see the extreme scene today and how it has evolved from the seeds you have planted?

[Laughs] That’s not really my place to comment, because I don’t look at it that way. I don’t think it has evolved from the seeds I planted… I myself, my music is derived from Black Sabbath, or Discharge, or Venom, or Angel Witch, so you know, I too have roots in earlier bands. And that’s a coincidence… I couldn’t choose the date of my birth. So I think that’s way too much to say I’ve planted some seeds. That’s like I knew it! I simply created the music that was inside of me, and I have no right to comment on that. I’m a part of the metal scene as I’ve always been, and that’s really all there is to it. I’m not worse nor am I better than any of the other musicians. I just do my thing.

Since the last song is called “Waiting”, I must ask: are you still waiting for something to come in your life?

Very much so. I’ve waited all my life for love, and I’ve waited all my life for death, which are probably two very close, related and intense feelings…

Interview conducted in Paris on March, 10th 2014 by Chloé.
Questions and Introduction : Spaceman.
Transcription : Chloé.

Album Melana Chasmata, out since April, 14th 2014 via Century Media Records.

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