These times can be rough. Though tours get cancelled or postponed, the artists behind the music we all love are still out there. We got a hold of one of the greats: extreme and avant-garde metal pioneer, Tom G. Warrior. He’s best known for CELTIC FROST, TRIPTYKON, and HELLHAMMER and he lent us his time to talk about his upcoming release, “Triptykon with the Metropole Orkest – Requiem (Live at Roadburn 2019)”. Along the way we also discuss his HELLHAMMER-themed tour under the name of TRIUMPH OF DEATH, CELTIC FROST, and the future of TRIPTYKON.
Hello, how are you doing?
I’m doing fine, except that we’re all stuck here in the house. Like everybody else…
Yeah, we’re all saddened that the TRIUMPH OF DEATH tour got postponed to next year.
So are we! But I’m really glad that it wasn’t cancelled – it was simply postponed. I was looking forward immensely to playing in Finland and Norway, actually.
It’s hard for us but it must be way worse for you guys! All the moving parts.
Well of course, it’s a huge thing. With the crews, the logistics, organizing with all the venues… but what can I say. The issue at hand is much bigger than all of us. We are by far not the only ones. As long as it’s not cancelled – as long as we can play for our audiences.
You’re still excited to play some HELLHAMMER for us next year, though?
Very much so! I do not see an end to this. We are enjoying this immensely; the new line-up of the band is absolutely perfect. We have grown into a true family and we are enjoying this deeply; very purely and honestly. So we’re going to play this for a while, I think.
That’s awesome to hear! Is the idea with TOD to get as close to the original sound, or has it grown legs of its own?
No, the band isn’t actually HELLHAMMER; we never claimed to be HELLHAMMER. We are not the same people. We are talking about something that was 35 years ago. Of course it’s going to sound different. You can not just recreate this. Other than that: yes. We are trying to be as authentic as possible to the sound that HELLHAMMER had – this is the entire idea. I don’t want to modernize these songs or make them current. I want to recreate these songs as close to the original, because HELLHAMMER was never on stage. We’re really enjoying playing these. Just proto-black metal, proto-extreme metal, punk influenced, radical heaviness. It works very well!
Nice. Moving on to “Requiem.” I’m not sure how to summarize this for our readers.
Neither am I.
In essence, this is “Rex Irae” (originally from “Into the Pandemonium,” 1987), “Winter” (“Monotheist,” 2006) and the previously unreleased “Grave Eternal.” All recorded together at Roadburn last year? Did I get the gist of it?
Yes, that’s pretty much correct. It was already the idea in the mid ’80s when Martin Eric Ain and I were in CELTIC FROST. We had the intention to finish the “Requiem” in, maybe, 2-3 years. We had plans to play it on stage in its entirety and maybe release it as an EP. As it happened, the band fell apart not long after. It would take many, many years until we could reform the band and record the next part. There again, we had the full intention to release it and perform it on stage. Then, typical CELTIC FROST, the band fell apart again! This time for good. Martin Eric Ain even died… Then it was left to me to finish the “Requiem.” I did it because I really wanted to finish it. Not least out of feelings of duty to Martin Eric Ain.
I’m wondering why this new part, “Grave Eternal,” is the second part, whereas the continuation on “Monotheist” was “Winter,” the third part.
It’s a mere coincidence. We just felt, the last part, “Winter,” fit perfectly on the “Monotheist” album. We didn’t really care which part of the “Requiem” we did as long as it fit in the context of the album. Shortly after we reunited in 2001, I played Martin Eric Ain my early demos of “Winter.” He really liked them and we thought it would be a perfect conclusion to the “Monotheist” album. There wasn’t a larger reason behind it. It was simply by our intuition. Then all that was left to finish was the second part. It wasn’t that important because we knew we couldn’t record the entire “Requiem” in the correct order anyway.
Because the context of the album is what matters, right?
Yes, exactly! Before that, they were all just individual songs. The order of the songs only exists when you play them as the actual “Requiem.”
So, you always wanted to have a full orchestra. All the way back in “Rex Irae”?
Well, that was the general idea but I don’t think we could have done this in the 1980s. I don’t think we had the right connections, the right logistics, the right financing. Even thought that was the ambition back then. It helps, of course, that in the meantime I’ve had 39 years of experience as a musician. I have had a career and I’m connected to the right people. It was a huge undertaking. I don’t think CELTIC FROST, with its members, barely older than teenagers, could have pulled this off. We would have tried but I think it would have been far more difficult.
After this, do you feel like doing more shows with live orchestras in the future?
No, I’m actually pretty glad it’s behind me. It was a very complex and laborious project. I’m really glad I did it, that it came out, but it’s not something I need to do every year. The logistics and the finances of such a thing are huge! I don’t know how realistic it is to do this kind of thing elsewhere. Maybe there will be another performance, a single, other performance one day. But I can’t imagine anything more than that.
I have to touch on Safa Heraghi, the featuring artist on “Requiem.” Is this just a one-and-done for her or do you think you’ll have her feature on something again later?
Well, first of all, I think she’ll have quite the career. She’s a very, very talented singer. We had actually talked with her about having her on the next TRIPTYKON studio album. Then the “Requiem” album commenced and we asked her to do more than just recordings with us. So, the studio album will still happen. I’m very happy to work with her – she’s a good friend of mine. We will definitely utilize her again, there’s no question.
Phenominal! I was blown away by her.
Me too! Her vocals near the end of the second part of the “Requiem” are so emotional. Even after, I don’t know how many rehearsals we did, but every time we all had tears in our eyes. Every time she sang this, it was amazing.
Since TRIPTYKON has its own distinct sound, when playing “Requiem” or CELTIC FROST, in general, how would you say it changes the music?
The TRYPTIKON sound is, of course, derived from CELTIC FROST. The TRIPTYKON sound is based on the last CELTIC FROST album, “Monotheist.” It’s the fulfillment of things I wanted to do after “Monotheist.” So it’s extremely closely related to CELTIC FROST in every way, including everything behind the scenes: management, concert agency, road crew, and so on. I started it as a way to continue the musical development of CELTIC FROST. I personally don’t see that many differences between late-CELTIC FROST and TRIPTYKON. Other than the people in the band…
Yeah, I’ve always felt “Monotheist” and the two TRIPTYKONs are sister albums.
Yes, exactly. “Requiem” is, of course, less heavy with the orchestra, but that’s intention. The project had a different goal. The next TRIPTYKON album might be the heaviest of all of them.
Before I ask you more about that, let’s finish on this topic. The classical arrangements are by Florian Magnus Maier and I would be remiss, as a Finn, if I didn’t mention that the conductor, Jukka Iisakkila, was Finnish! Tell me everything.
Jukka was an extremely important part of the whole project. I can’t even recall who originally suggested him, whether it was Florian or the orchestra, but he was perfect. A very crucial part of such a large project that bridges two worlds together. Jukka had the exact right horizon to combine the classical with the extreme metal sections. He also had the perfect personality to guide this. It was extremely interesting and constructive to rehearse with him. I don’t think we could have found a more perfect conductor. I’m still friends with him. I look up to him immensely. I hope to work with him again some day. It was a huge pleasure. He will also be feature in the forthcoming video of “Rex Irae” that we will release to promote the “Requiem.” It will begin by showing Jukka, which we did on purpose as a sign that we are honored to have worked with him.
We’ll be looking forward to that. So now that the “Requiem” is out of the way, will you be getting to work on the new TRIPTYKON album?
We haven’t actually started yet. We had intended to when Roadburn Festival approached us to collaborate; we came to the conclusion to do “Requiem” together. The effect of this was that we did an interesting project together but the new TRIPTYKON album had to languish for 2 more years. We are, now that we’re finished with all the stuff behind the scenes: the mixing, the artwork, the concept of the live album; only now are we going back to work on the proper studio album. This will be our main occupation this year – to finish this album that’s been overdue for years. I’d really like to see it finished this year. If not, hopefully we can release at least an EP before it comes out.
I remember reading when the last album, “Melana Chasmata,” came out that you had drawn a lot of inspiration for it from your personal life. To the point that you didn’t feel comfortable playing some of those new songs live.
Absolutely. I’m going to be 57 this year. When I was a teenager starting my path in music, I hadn’t lived a life yet. I was dependent on writing about fantasy. Of course, now I’ve lived a very varied life with some very challenging portions. Nowadays, the music I’m writing is based on a lot of these challenging emotions, these experiences. I think it’s a normal process of life.
So for the forthcoming album, would you say you are still keeping that course?
That’s all I can do. Anything else would be an act, a lie. When I write I write very honestly according to my emotions, for better or for worse. It can be very revealing. It can be very painful, sometimes joyful. It’s very much my insides. I have nothing else.
The artwork for the first two TRIPTYKON albums (you know where I’m going with this) were by the late H.R. Giger [ed: the artist who designed the xenomorph in the Alien franchise]. Didn’t you know him personally?
Yes, of course, I knew him for 35 years or so.
I don’t suppose he left you any extra artworks to use for the next album?
Yes he did. We designed three artworks together with his input. We collected all the artwork, he approved everything: the booklets, the posters… we said “let’s do a triptych together”; it was actually his idea. That was the studio albums. This one was different to me, because this was a live album; it’s not part of the regular triptych. So the next studio album will have the last album booklet where Giger was personally involved and approved every single component of it.
Going forward after that, do you think there will be more TRIPTYKON albums?
Of course, I hope so. TRIPTYKON is my life and my passion. As long as people will want to have new music by us I want to keep going. We enjoy being in this band very much. I think we have a very strong line-up. We’d very much like to continue with this as long as I’m on this planet.
We would also like you to continue as long as you are on this planet.
Thank you, that is very good to hear!
There’s this one question I’ve always wanted to ask you. “Into the Pandemonium” sort of got me into the more avant-garde metal. It’s a fairly serious and Gothic album… why the WALL OF VOODOO cover (“Mexican Radio”) as the opener?
Why not? Martin Eric Ain and I were very open musically. We listened to a lot of music from jazz to classical and metal to new wave. New wave was one of the musical styles where we both felt very passionate, we had a very strong connection. Back in the late ’70s very early ’80s when new wave was very adventurous, very innovative music. Because CELTIC FROST was so open, so experimental, we really wanted to cover a new wave song. We debated back and forth which song to take. We had heard the Wall of Voodoo song before but we didn’t really think of it until one day: I was alone at home and it came on the radio. I said, “Hey, why don’t we do this song?” Of course, we wanted to change it, we didn’t want to copy it, we wanted to do our own thing with it. So I wrote about five different versions of it and I showed them to the band. We selected the version we thought was most CELTIC FROST-like. We thought it would maybe be like a B-side or something at the end of an album. Then we recorded it and we were in the spirit of abandoning all censorship, all limits. So we listened to the recording and it sounded really good. So we thought, “Let’s use it as the first track. Let’s be audacious, let’s be adventurous! Let’s do something that nobody expects.” That’s exactly what we did. It was very spontaneous. You know, every band tries to start their album with the fastest or heaviest song. Which is understandable – we’ve done it ourselves. But we thought, “Let’s do something different.”
What would you say is today’s new wave?
That’s a very, very good question. I don’t know if there’s anything that measures up to it. There are some experimental, doom-ish, sludge-ish, stoner-ish bands… but I don’t think they can replace what new wave used to be. I think we have moved into a completely different age of music, where so many things have been done that it’s difficult to come up with something artistic. Something truly new, truly innovative, especially if you’re talking about a whole movement. That’s pretty difficult to find, unfortunately. When I started out rock ‘n’ roll music was maybe 15 years old. Now it’s many decades old. A lot of the things are just said and done.
We still have a lot to look forward to. There’s a new TRIPTYKON album on the horizon, the new live album comes out May 15th, and hopefully we’ll get to see TRIUMPH OF DEATH next year.
I literally can’t wait. I’m not just saying that. I really love Finland. I think playing there with TRIUMPH OF DEATH closes a circle in many ways. We’re all looking forward immensely to that concert.
I can’t speak for everyone in Finland but I’m certainly excited for it.
Well then let’s hope time passes quickly.
…And that we don’t all pass before then.
Okay, I’ll let you move on. Thank you for your time.
Thank you. This was a pleasure.
Interview by Vincent Parkkonen