Interview: Tom Gabriel Fischer (Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, Apollyon Sun, Triptykon)
Tom Gabriel Fischer, also known as «Warrior», a name that he supports really well throughout his musical career, has been reborn for the third time from his ashes, this time with Triptykon. We had the chance to talk with him, in a break from his live appearances, and he didn’t hesitate to answer to all our questions for the past, the present, and the future, always with a friendly tone.
What are you doing now with Triptykon? Are you preparing anything? When should we expect new material and a tour?
Well, we are absolutely working on new material and we are still touring for the first album as we have done for one and a half years. Βut we have also been working for the same amount of time on a new album with the rest of the band. We hope to go to the studio still this year and finish this album this year. It’s much sure that we can’t make it that the album will be released this year, but it won’t come out until probably in February next year. There is a number of other projects that we are working on. We are working on a concert film which should be very special, it’s not just a live DVD, it should be a full concert film. We are working on other things. I am working on three books and so on. There are plenty of things going on and throughout 2012 we are going to play concerts of course as well.
Which are your ambitions for Triptykon? Are you satisfied with the band’s status?
I’m extremely happy with being in Triptykon. I don’t know if people would believe this, but in reality I didn’t form the band because of success or anything like that. I am extremely passionate about music, music is my life. When I lost Celtic Frost, when Celtic Frost fell apart, it was personally a very difficult time for me, I couldn’t imagine being without the band. I couldn’t imagine not continuing my musical work, I wanted to develop the material that I had started in Celtic Frost. So, I formed Triptykon simply to make music and I had absolutely no perception of whether Triptykon would be successful or where it would go. That we have been so successful is a surprise and also an immense honor, it’s very flattering. I’m very happy about that.
Given the difficulties that you always encountered in finding band members, and getting along with them, now in Triptykon have you found the lineup that finally suits you?
A very difficult question. Of course you always hope that you will find an ideal combination of human beings when you form a band. We hoped that too in Celtic Frost, especially when we reunited the band in 2000s. I really hoped that the band would be together for a very very long time. The drummer that we added wasn’t my choice, it was Martin Eric Ain’s choice, and I was opposed to the drummer. As it turned out the drummer was the reason the band fell apart. So, I was extremely careful when I put together Triptykon. I wanted to make sure that this is not just a band of musicians, a band of egos, I wanted to make sure it’s a band of friends, it’s almost like a substitute family. I wanted to be able to focus entirely on the music and not spend all my energy on ego probes by certain members. So, in Triptykon I’m fortunate that I’m playing with my friends. Two of the members of Triptykon have been friends for many many years, the only person who is new is Norman, the drummer. So, for the time being I’m extremely happy and I hope we will continue like that for a long time.
When Triptykon formed, Mark St Reed was the initial drummer. Why was he replaced and is he in a position to play drums today?
Well, I wanted to play with him again for a very long time. We had been friends in the 80s and we had recorded some of the most important material of Celtic Frost together. Unfortunately, we tried to play together in Triptykon, but he simply wasn’t able to play the material that we had written. It’s a very private thing and in a way I feel it’s not my business to announce this publicly. Let’s just say he lived a very rich life and he didn’t always pay attention to his body and his health. When we played together in the beginning of Triptykon I could see that it had left some damage and that he wasn’t able to perform drums the way he used to. We only played together for like four days though and he said that he couldn’t do it, so it was a very short time in the beginning of Triptykon.
Do you feel that Celtic Frost fans follow Triptykon or did you feel that you had to start a new fan base from the beginning?
I think that in the beginning a lot of fans were very skeptical, because, of course, Celtic Frost had always been Martin Eric Ain and me, and I think a lot of fans wanted to see if I could do this alone and what the band would sound like. I totally understand, I wanted to see the same thing, I wasn’t sure either if I could do it alone. But as we have been touring now for one and a half, almost two years all over the world, I’m very very happy to see that we have most of Celtic Frost fans on our sides and that we also have gained a lot of new fans. There are so many young people at our concerts. We have just finished an English tour and we were astonished by how many teenagers were at the shows who couldn’t possibly have been there when Celtic Frost existed. So, I think we have both the majority of the Celtic Frost fans and a lot of brand new fans as well, which is astonishing. Again it’s a huge honor, it’s not something you can plan.
Do you ever get in touch with Martin or has this chapter closed along with Celtic Frost?
Well, Martin and I live very different lives, simply because I’m in a band and he owns restaurants and bars and clubs, he is in a completely different scene, he is not a musician, he is a businessman. We do talk very rarely, but there is no fight or anything like that between us. It’s just that we live in different worlds and what united us was being members of Celtic Frost. Once Celtic Frost no longer existed we no longer had a common basis, it’s simply that.
Something that Celtic Frost fans still cannot comprehend is why the split of the band depended on a non long-term member. Why didn’t you just leave him out and decided that you would leave instead? What really changed?
Well, that was what I suggested to Martin. I told Martin that we should take a new drummer. I made a number of suggestions, I suggested three drummers that we could approach, and Martin didn’t want to have a lineup change. He said no, we are going to keep the drummer in the band, so the only option I had was to leave. There was no way I was gonna play in Celtic Frost, in my own band, with a person who constantly lied to me and put up intrigues against me and undermined the band and my work. So it was gonna be either he or me, and since in Celtic Frost I was not a dictator, all the decisions in Celtic Frost were taken by Martin Eric Ain and me together, and since Martin disagreed with me I had to leave my own band. It’s definitely the very last thing I wanted to do but there was no other option, I had to do it.
Yes, we didn’t want that either.
I reformed Celtic Frost in 2000s, I thought “Monotheist”, the comeback album, was only the first of many albums. I was very happy with the musical direction of Celtic Frost and I wanted to continue that for a very long time. Leaving Celtic Frost was probably the most difficult thing I had to do in my entire career, in 30 years, in the music industry. Celtic Frost was everything to me, that band was my life, and leaving my own band was incredibly difficult and it showed how serious the probes were at the band.
How do you feel when you see people still wearing Hellhammer T-shirts and listening to Hellhammer’s music after 28 years of the band’s split?
It’s a huge honor. I’m very proud of what Hellhammer had done. It had been difficult for a number of years in my life because of many circumstances in my youth that were connected to Hellhammer. But Hellhammer’s music and Hellhammer’s legacy made it possible for me to live my life the way I do, to become a musician and tour all over the world and record albums, which was my dream when I was a teenager . So I’m very happy, proud and flattered that people still after such a long time listen to Hellhammer. We never expected that when we were in Hellhammer. It was a very difficult time for us all at the time and we never thought the band would become famous one day. That it did become famous is a very big thing for all of us.
There were many times when you released an album that received nihilistic reviews, as with “Into the Pandemonium” for example, while in fact now are considered classic albums. How did you feel about this then and how do you feel about this now?
Well, “Into the Pandemonium is a good example. Outside of the band no one liked it at the time. The record company ran to court against the band to try to stop the album, they hated the album, they wanted us to record a different album. A lot of the reviews were very critical or at least surprised about the album. Eventually, that album became our breakthrough album and it made Celtic Frost what Celtic Frost is. After half a year of being released, it started to sell really well, and people began to understand it, but it took a while for people to understand. But Celtic Frost was never an easy band. None of the bands I have been part of have ever been easy, either Hellhammer or Triptykon, and I’ve learned to be very patient. I do the albums that I think I need to do and I cannot do any other music. I’m playing very honest music, I’m playing the music that’s inside of me and so what else am I gonna do. I’m doing the albums that I need to do and when they come out it sometimes take people quite a long time to understand them, but I have that patience. I do what I need to do.
All the difficulties you faced while growing up shaped your view towards life and people? Did they prove you wrong at any point or did they keep proving themselves wrong, as it is depicted in your lyrics?
Well, I think it’s both ways. A life, at least my life, has been give and take. I have made many mistakes in my life and I have been proven wrong many times. As I said at the beginning, even though I’m in a band that doesn’t make me any different. I’m a human being and sometimes the outside world is right, sometimes I am right, sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes they are wrong. My life has been many radical ups and downs and I think that’s ok, it has made me who I am. It has given me a lot of life experience and it has made me maybe able to write a very dark, very heavy music. If my life had been very easy and had always been in agreement with the rest of the world, I don’t think that my music would have become the way it is. I think it’s perfectly right to sometimes be against society. The other thing that has made me the way I am was that my youth has been very difficult and I had been a total outcast when I grew up. That was why I formed Hellhammer, to create my own world and be with my own friends and to justify my own universe and not have to deal with the universe of the people that I hated so much.
To paraphrase the famous expression, do you agree that “Only Music is Real”?
Well, yes, music is my life and I think music saved my life many times. You know this sounds very deep and I don’t want to sound whiny or something like that. It’s simply reality. My life has had a lot of ups and downs and sometimes I had very dark, very difficult periods of my life. Of course, music has been what has given me the strength to still be here, to survive all these somehow. Music is my life, music is my passion. Without music I would probably go insane. My friends, the friends that are in my life, I have met them all through music, including my girlfriend. Without music I would be nothing.
What music do you hear and is there a band that you listen to that people wouldn’t expect you to?
There is tons of music that people wouldn’t expect me to listen to. I love music. I’m very passionate about music. So I don’t restrict myself just to heavy metal, even though my life is of course the love of heavy metal. But I listen to a lot of other music as well. I listen to classical, to funk, to jazz, to blues, to all kinds of things, to progressive music, even to some pop music. As long as it’s good music, as long as it’s honest music. I don’t like manufactured music, chart’s music, But if I think that a band is actually honest and that they feel the passion, that they feel the music, then it doesn’t matter to me what they’re playing. If they feel that fire, that same fire touches me.
Do you remember the first time that a musical piece “struck” you and made you further keen on music?
Very much so. It was a hard rock album in the 1970s, when I was a very young teenager and there was a certain experience like that when two years later I for the first time heard Black Sabbath’s “Vol.4” album. That album really changed my life. When I heard “Vol.4” at the time, there wasn’t extreme metal, and “Vol.4” was the darkest and heaviest thing I had ever heard. It sounded unlike any other band that I had ever heard. I became addicted to that album. I listened to it every day constantly, and I learned to play guitar form that album. That album changed my life profoundly and is still my favorite Black Sabbath album. All these years later, I still listen to it all the time. I have it on my mp3 player, I listen to it when I go on tour and so on.
Does any one of your albums stand out for you?
That’s a very difficult question, since I have been in the scene for such a long time. There is quite a number of albums, and more than one of these albums are important to me. Of course, “Morbid Tales” by Celtic Frost or “To Mega Therion” by Celtic Frost are very important albums to me. “Into the Pandemonium” because it’s so experimental has also profound impact to me. The two other albums that are really important to me are of course Celtic Frost’s last album “Monotheist” and Triptykon’s first album. I personally think that some of my best work is among these two albums.
Should we expect musical experimentation by Triptykon in the future in any direction? Would you do again something classical as with “Into the Pandemonium”?
Yes, we are working on something like that. You have to understand, musical experimentation nowadays, there are so many bands, and heavy metal is no longer young music. Heavy metal has existed for like forty years or so, so anything you are doing nowadays, probably somebody else has been doing it before you. It’s much more difficult than it was in the 1980s when Celtic Frost started, to do something truly experimental, something truly new. If we do something with classical music, many bands have done before us. Also Celtic Frost has done that in the 1980s, probably before most other bands. So yes, we will do such things but it’s not as pioneering as it used to be. And also I have done radical experiments when I was younger and I am at a different place in my life right now. I’m happy with just playing good music, I no longer feel that I need to experiment on every album. Right now I’m much more attracted by darkness and heaviness and I don’t need to experiment so much. I think that maybe the younger bands should take this over, as I did when I was younger. With Triptykon I’ll probably experiment a little less and simply play high quality and very very heavy, very dark music.
Do you still receive anything from the brand name of Celtic Frost?
I have given all my rights to Martin at the final drama of Celtic Frost because I didn’t want anything to do with it anymore. I completely disagreed with some of the business deals they made. I completely disagreed with some of the decisions and the business practices they used. During all the business meetings we had behind the band I said I was at a disadvantage because we were three people and I was unable to change anything. So I became so frustrated and so angry and I decided that I don’t want anything to do with that anymore. I gave al my Celtic Frost rights to them and I told them if you know everything better then do it. I no longer have any loyalties or something like that from Celtic Frost. Celtic Frost is my musical past, not my financial, business past. I completely started a new life with Triptykon. It’s unfortunate, but for me it was the best way to do it because I simply couldn’t stand dealing with lies and all that stuff anymore.
You are one of the very few artists that support what they do no matter what the cost or the reaction is. How difficult is this?
It’s very difficult at times. You know, I’m a human being. I need to live, I need to pay my bills and I live in a country that is very expensive, Switzerland, so it makes it very difficult. On the other hand, for example, giving all my Celtic Frost rights to the other members of Celtic Frost made me much freer, made me able to finally focus on the future and not always be around negativity and lies and intrigues. I had to do this. I don’t regret my decisions. I take my decisions after carefully thinking about them. Sometimes my life is very difficult because of my decisions but I take those decisions so I’m responsible for it, I’m not complaining at all.
Well, we expect you in Greece again.
I would absolutely love to come there again. The concerts we played there with Celtic Frost and also with Triptykon are among the best I’ve ever played in my life. I’m not just saying that because you do the interview. These concerts have always been very special and it was a huge honor to go there. We didn’t do that, we weren’t able to go there in the 1980s and when we came back and we were invited to Greece, it was a huge honor and I would definitely love to come back. I have talked to the promoters that anytime you want me I will be back.
I would like to thank Tom Gabriel Fischer for his time.
You can learn all the latest news and live appearances of Triptykon here: http://triptykon.net/