The Ultimate Warrior
Thomas Gabriel Fischer extends his titanic metal legacy with Triptykon.
Published: October 6, 2010
The Ottobar, Oct. 8
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One of the greatest bands in heavy-music history came to an end on April 2, 2008, in Zurich, Switzerland, at a Starbucks.
Thomas Gabriel Fischer, aka Tom Warrior, the singer/guitarist/songwriter who co-founded legendary metal band Celtic Frost in 1984, had agreed to meet at the coffeeshop with CF drummer Franco Sesa. Fischer and co-founding bassist Martin Eric Ain had brought Sesa into CF in 2002 once they revived the band after an eight-year hiatus; the album the trio had spent years scraping to finance and record together, 2006’s massive, doom-laden Monotheist, had put the vintage act back on the contemporary metal map. But the relationship between Fischer and his bandmates had degenerated to the point where they hardly spoke except to argue. Fischer says his meeting with Sesa turned out to be more of the same.
“The so-called discussion was two hours of insults of the most primitive manner,” Fischer recalls in perfect, lightly accented English, which he frequently delivers in complete paragraphs. “The drummer’s approach to solving Celtic Frost’s problems, to talking about it maturely, was to unload infinite hatred of me over two hours and to expose his manic ego for everyone around us to see. What had been apparent to me became totally clear during that discussion—that this was the end, that I didn’t want to spend one more minute in a band that was poisoned like that.”
Thanks to the particulars of a band incorporation in 2006, Fischer was no more entitled to Celtic Frost’s name and quarter-century legacy than Sesa. So that evening, Fischer informed Ain and their manager that he was quitting.
“I was, of course, not bluffing about something as serious as my own band,” Fischer adds. “I am not a coward. I do what I say.”
Even as Fischer brought to an end a band with a name hallowed on stubbled lips and faded black tour T-shirts the metal world over, a fate that obviously troubles him to this day, his path forward was already clear. Celtic Frost had long since musically “ground to a complete stop,” Fischer says, but he remained eager to play. What he had begun planning as a side project, a way to make music while his primary outlet worked out its problems, became Fischer’s salvation. “I didn’t have to sit there in shock,” he says. “I already knew I was going to form a new band.”
That new band is Triptykon, and as Fischer chats by phone from his home in Zurich, he’s preparing to embark on a North American tour in support of its recent debut album Eparistera Daimones (Century Media). If the new album brings to mind classic To Mega Therion-era CF pummel on “A Thousand Lies,” or sounds like Monotheist Vol. 2 on opener “Goetia,” well, that was kind of the idea. “I was very happy with the direction Celtic Frost was going in, musically,” Fischer says. “I didn’t see the need to do anything different.”
Indeed, those floored by the vast, grinding churn of Monotheist will find plenty to get excited about in Eparistera Daimones and Triptykon in general. With Dark Fortress member and former CF touring guitarist V. Santura, bassist Vanja Slajh, and drummer Norman Lonhard, Fischer advances the brutal simplicity of prime Celtic Frost into an occasionally more melodic form while also throwing in a handful of stylistic curveballs, i.e. the wistful piano break in the middle of “Myopic Empire” and the trip-hop-tinged ballad “My Pain,” rendered not in Fischer’s trademark roar but in the fragile tones of guest vocalist Simone Vollenweider.
“If you look at the history of Celtic Frost, you’ll know that I was never afraid of incorporating different musical styles into Celtic Frost’s music, and the same applies to Triptykon,” Fischer says (see CF’s 1987 cover of Wall of Voodoo’s “Mexican Radio”). He explains that he had started writing “My Pain” during a grueling period of “radical depression” in the early ’00s. He submitted the song to the rest of Celtic Frost for inclusion on Monotheist, but he says it was “voted off because it was not metal enough.
“I later brought it into the rehearsals of Triptykon,” he continues. “I never force my music on the band, I want it to be a democratic process, so I was prepared for any reaction, but everyone embraced the song immediately.” His good mood is evident even over a trans-Atlantic connection. “Triptykon is like healthy ground on which things can grow. And now that I’m experiencing that, it makes me realize even more what I was missing in Celtic Frost.”
The beginnings of a question about fans often being skeptical of new projects are interrupted by a hearty, “. . . and rightly so, in many cases.” But Fischer acknowledges he’s been “positively overwhelmed” by the reaction of Celtic Frost fans to his new band.
“I knew I would have to start from scratch with the new band,” he says. “I’m not a coward, and I can work—I’m a manic worker—but I thought it would take forever to prove myself with Triptykon. But the beginning has been easier than I thought, because I didn’t expect something that means the world to me—to be reassured by the fans that I apparently made the right step and I created the right album. That the fans stood by me and gave me the time of the day to listen to this album, that’s quite amazing. They made the first few steps a lot easier, and I feel blessed by that.”
There have been times Fischer’s fans have been less stalwart; many lost faith in the wake of Cold Lake, Celtic Frost’s ill-advised 1988 foray into hair metal from which the band’s original incarnation never really recovered. But from the proto-CF, proto-everything-extreme-metal band Hellhammer through Celtic Frost’s vastly influential early work and its stunning comeback with Monotheist on up to Triptykon, Fischer can look back on a nearly 30-year career that few in metal can equal.
Asked to what he attributes his longevity, he is blunt. “To only one thing—persistence,” he says. “I’m a mediocre musician. I’m not trying to put myself down, I’m simply being honest. So why did I prevail in a scene that’s filled with technical geniuses? It’s because I was persistent. It’s because I stuck through no matter what difficulties came along. I simply refused to go away and give up.”
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