Thomas Gabriel Fischer, also known as Tom G. Warrior, is an unsurpassed extreme metal stalwart who is not too fond of tooting his own horn and gets visibly shy if someone else tries to do it for him. A truly all-or-nothing musician, he had gone through the downfall of his most cherished band, CELTIC FROST, just to arise with a new endeavor called TRIPTYKON. Tom’s musical merits are indisputable and the newly-born band received critical and public acclaim upon the release of their first record, “Eparistera Daimones.”
We spoke with Tom briefly about about the fall and rise of his career, his collaborations with various musicians, and shed light on some of his standpoints in life.
TRIPTYKON’s first full-length album, “Eparistera Daimones,” is out now. How would you describe this record?
The album has a very complex history due to the demise of CELTIC FROST. It’s a very personal album because there’s a million feelings that are captured on it. It was a very important album creatively and personally. I had to restart my entire career at the age of 44-45. I basically wanted to settle in CELTIC FROST and record albums with them. I lost everything and had to rebuild my career, rebuild a new band, get new recording deals, get a new rehearsal room, get new equipment – basically start from scratch like a young musician and see if I can continue my career. In addition to that, CELTIC FROST meant everything to me. CELTIC FROST was my life and yet I lost it. So there’s a million emotions on TRIPTYKON’s album, there’s a lot of history on there. It’s very complex, there’s a lot of darkness, but also a lot of hope, a lot of energy.
Where did the name for the album come from?
It’s from an old spell, but the occult meaning of it is just one side to me. It’s of course also a statement on the situation in CELTIC FROST at the end. And to me yet another meaning, it’s a comment on the behavior of human beings on this planet. All my life I’ve felt unhappy with how human beings behave on this planet, the ignorance, how we destroy this planet, how we destroy each other, how we destroy the environment, the animals. All we do on this planet is provoke destruction. And the title of the album is basically an observation of human behavior.
Out of all the bands that you have been a part of, would you say that you feel the most content now with TRIPTYKON?
I feel very content, but it would be unfair to say that it’s the most content. There were moments in CELTIC FROST when I was very happy, and of course I was very happy being in HELLHAMMER. I formed HELLHAMMER during an extremely difficult time in my life. HELLHAMMER was the replacement of a family that I didn’t have; HELLHAMMER was the replacement of an entire youth that I didn’t have. So even though my life was extremely difficult, having my friends around me in HELLHAMMER made me, for a short time, very happy. And it was the same then for CELTIC FROST. So I am extremely happy in TRIPTYKON now; I am happy to leave behind the ego-fighting that was a part of CELTIC FROST at the end. But I felt happy in other bands before; it would be very unfair to say I’m happiest now.
People are fond of classifying music into genres, so how would you classify TRIPTYKON?
It sounds like CELTIC FROST [laughs]. That’s how I classify it. TRIPTYKON is a continuation of my past that started with HELLHAMMER and then went on with CELTIC FROST. I’m continuing exactly that path. But if you really must put a label on it, I just always say we’re a hard rock band or heavy rock band, I don’t even like to go any further, you know. There’s so many things that are part of TRIPTYKON‘s sound, it’s impossible to say whether it’s black metal, or thrash metal, or death metal, or doom metal – there’s so many things in there. I’ve played this music 30 years before all these tags even existed, so should I label it? I think not.
Can you tell us more about the video for “Shatter,” as it seems to be one of the most successful and artistic metal videos of the last year?
The main idea is derived from the German expressionism of the 1920s, not only the black and white movies and the silent movies, but also the graphic design after World War I when the artistic scene in Germany was beginning to flourish. I’m a big fan of it. It’s amazing! The photography of that time and the graphic design are fantastic. And the logo of TRIPTYKON is also derived from these expressionist designs. I paid especially good attention to finding a good director for the video, and of course, it’s a German director from Leipzig. He completely understood where I wanted to go and he even contributed with his own ideas, which fit perfectly. The whole video was a 5-month piece of work. There are tons of detailed concepts behind it; I drew the whole video. I had a very definite concept of what I wanted, and with all the respect towards the other bands, of course everybody can do whatever they want, but I personally thought there were enough videos of a band standing in an empty factory headbanging. I’ve done all of those headbanging things, I wanted to do something very different.
When you started your career with HELLHAMMER, nobody accepted you or your music, and now you are such an influence to many people around the world. What has kept you going through all these years?
There are people who are very critical of me and don’t believe anything I say. But the reality is, what has kept me going is honesty. Everything I’ve ever created was always honest. Every album, every song I wrote – it was never a routine, it was never done according to a certain scheme or recipe, it always reflected my feelings. Sometimes that yielded very unusual albums, like “Morbid Tales” or “To Mega Therion.” Sometimes it yielded catastrophic albums, but it was always me, it was always my honest feelings. And maybe that’s the secret to me still being around. I see certain bands that, to me at least from the outside, it seems like they follow a routine and I don’t like that. We’re talking about music – music is something that should come from your innermost emotions. It shouldn’t be done according to a routine or a scheme, like because death metal is now the music of the hour – you do a death metal album as well and you have all the solos that you have to have. That’s not the way I write. Whatever is inside of me, I’ll try to convert it with my guitar into music. Sometimes I can connect to my audience, sometimes I can’t, but it’s always honest. It also makes it very unpredictable even for me. I can never predict whether my feelings will translate into good music and whether my feelings will connect with the feelings of the audience. It’s always kind of a gamble; you never know what’s gonna happen. And it also explains why I’ve never done the same album twice.
Do you think that without HELLHAMMER and CELTIC FROST, the modern black metal scene, especially the Norwegian one, would not be what it is now?
I cannot possibly answer that. That would be extremely arrogant, if I, having been in both bands, would say something like that. I don’t know! [laugh] You people from the media and the fans would probably have to judge it. I recorded and played my music, that’s my contribution. But whatever it does to the public is neither under my control nor am I entitled to judge it. It would be totally pretentious and egomaniacal if I’d go, “Yeah, yeah, my music changed this and that.” I’m old enough to view myself very realistically, very honestly. I’m simply a musician. I play music. Some people like my music and some people hate my music, that’s the end of the story.
You’ve never really fit into the parameters of black metal, so why do you think you’ve been so popular among its fans?
I’m not so popular; there are also many people that hate me with a passion [laughs]. I’ve been creating extreme music for over 30 years, and extreme music creates extreme reactions, whether positive or negative. But, you know, I’m not creating “elevator music.” I create extreme metal and the reactions are as passionate as they are extreme. I write my music for myself. My music is me performing an exorcism of my own demons, my own therapy, me dealing with the things that are going on in my mind. And what happens beyond that is neither intentional nor is under my control. Of course it’s flattering if somebody likes your music, but that’s not why I’m writing my music. I’m writing my music for my own sanity.
When you look back at your career, is there anything that you wish you could have done differently?
Oh there’s a million things. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and I am very very far from being perfect or from knowing what to do in every situation. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but I also don’t think like that. I know it’s a waste of time. There’s no way I can go back and change some things, so I don’t think like that. What I do try is when I have made a mistake in the past and I realize it, I try to be honest to myself about it. I don’t try to push it away, but I try to actually think about it, to analyze it – why have I made this mistake, what misled me to do this, and I try to improve. I try to never repeat that mistake, I try to find out what were the reasons and then try to avoid them next time. I try to become a better person. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s the only thing you can do. So if you’ve done something that you feel terrible about, the most positive thing you can gain from it is to avoid it next time, to at least learn from it. That’s my approach.
You have done a lot of collaborations with other musicians. What was your favorite one?
Good question… I’m very proud and very happy with my vocals that I’ve done for Dark Fortress. I’m sure you wouldn’t expect that answer but for some reason, the vocals I did for a song by Dark Fortress 2 years ago came out exactly the way I wanted to sing. It was a vocal track that I like very much. I’m also extremely proud to have shared the stage with Nocturno from DARKTHRONE. Nocturno and DARKTHRONE as a whole – these are people I have huge, tremendous respect for and to have shared a stage with them was amazing.
You recently cooperated with a Norwegian band, 1349, mixing their albums. Why them and what attracted you to this project?
Well, we’ve been friends for many years. I first was friends with Frost – who also plays in SATYRICON – for many years, and then I also became friends with the singer of the band 1349, Ravn. We just discovered that we think exactly alike, that we understand music exactly alike, and they invited me to join them on stage, and I invited Ravn to join CELTIC FROST on stage, and we just became closer and closer. And at the end of the day we were talking about doing an album together and eventually we did two albums. We toured together many times. It’s a very close friendship, and that kind of things happen, of course, between people who think alike.
You have collaborated mostly with extreme metal bands, naturally, but also you’ve worked with Dave Grohl from FOO FIGHTERS.
I actually forgot about that [laughs]. You’re right, I did that too.
It was kind of unexpected to see.
Yeah, it was unexpected for me too and for a long time I didn’t know whether I should do it. Because to me, it’s a two-sided thing. Dave Grohl moves in a world that’s very far away from mine. He moves in a very commercial world and I’m not a fan of that. I liked the very first FOO FIGHTERS album that he recorded all by himself, that sounded completely underground. But the rest of his career is in a different universe than mine and I was kind of hesitant to do it. The reasons he gave me sounded very convincing, so I did do it, but it’s not something I think about very often. I’ve never heard the whole album actually. I’m more proud of collaborations with unknown musicians. For example, working with many classical musicians on CELTIC FROST’s albums or TRIPTYKON’s album. Because that’s something that I really wanted to do in my life, it was extremely interesting, and I learned an immense amount of things from working with such musicians. I produced the first CORONER demo, sang on it, and wrote the lyrics. Those collaborations are much more important to me.
Do you have any plans of collaborating with any other bands in the near future?
I will most probably co-produce or co-mix a couple of albums by other bands this year together with the guitar player of TRIPTYKON at his studio. And I’ve just been asked by a Swedish band to do some guest vocals on their album this year, and of course, I will produce the next TRIPTYKON album, we’ll probably have a guest or two in there as well. So yes, there’ll be a few collaborations this year.
Tell us more about your death-mask project and such works as Jesus crucified on a dildo that can be seen in your blog?
Yeah, what about that? [laughs] People hated me doing that to Jesus. I’m not a religious person whatsoever, I don’t believe in anything: neither Satan, nor God, nor anything else. I don’t believe, that’s the end of it. Yet having said that, that little phallus statue, it’s not even a comment on Jesus, I don’t give a shit you know. It’s a comment on human mankind; Phallus I/2011. Because to me, what the Church does with Jesus is using him as a phallus to lead people around. The whole statue is a comment on mankind and their religious patterns. It’s not about Jesus, whether he existed or not, I don’t really care. It’s a mirror of mankind and all the outrage that happened; when I put this on my blog, it was simply a confirmation that they really do threat him as a phallus. He really is a phallic symbol, and that just proved the validity of my little sculpture.
You said you were indifferent to any religion, but why then would you raise this topic so often in your artistic works?
Because it determined the whole history of the world. Human beings have been scared of things ever since the Stone Age, when we came out of the caves and got scared of the big world outside; we couldn’t explain everything. So we always gathered around the leader, whether the leader is a dictator or a god or whatever. We always needed to have some security, a leader that knows everything and takes care of us. And religion is of course an exponent of that. And it’s an endless source of interest.
Another saying of yours was that the combination of beauty and darkness fascinates you – what are the finest artistic and music examples of this combination for you?
To me the pinnacle of the combination of beauty and darkness, it’s probably a cliché and nothing original, but to me the pinnacle and the best example is H. R. Giger’s work. I don’t think anybody alive currently has been able to combine and show the aesthetics of darkness better than H. R. Giger. He has created such utterly dark landscapes, and yet they’re always aesthetic no matter what he shows, whether it’s sexual, or religious, or hellish. It’s always beautiful, and he’s a master at doing that.
You work with H.R. Giger. What exactly do you do there?
Everything! I’m his assistant. I’m there about three times a week and whatever he will ask me to do, I do it. I owe Giger so much. He is a very close friend and an extremely important mentor to me and also, I idolize him as an artist. He’s an artist of a capability far beyond mine and it’s a tremendous honor to have worked with him as an artist and I feel I owe him an endless amount of gratitude for that. This is also why I’m a very loyal assistant to him.
Does working with him inspire your music?
Giger’s work has inspired my music long before I even knew him. I was a huge fan of his work since I was a child and discovered his work in the 70s. My father had two books by Giger, his first books when he was completely unknown. I looked through his books and I was completely taken by what he was doing, by the darkness and the aesthetics of it. And when I was in HELLHAMMER, I discovered that Martin Ain was also a fan of his work.
Do you believe in fate? In the sense that you had to leave CELTIC FROST and deal with everything that followed in order to be the person you are today with TRIPTYKON?
No, I don’t believe in fate. That probably disappoints a lot of people who project a lot of esoteric things onto me. I’m a person who lives very much in reality. I don’t believe anything. I either know or I don’t know – that’s my approach. I like to learn: when I don’t know something – I try to find out. But I also have no problem accepting that as a human being, I will never know everything. I’m very aware that my little brain will never know everything in this universe and that’s just the way it is, it’s fine with me. So the next step is, of course, that I don’t believe in fate because that too is just an assumption. I do believe it was worth leaving CELTIC FROST. It was probably the most difficult decision I had to make in my entire creative life. But I don’t think it was good because of faith. I know it was good because of what we’ve done with it. I could’ve left CELTIC FROST and just stayed at home crying. But what I did was put all my energy into a new project and I did whatever I could to make this project good. I worked very hard to find good people, I worked very hard to write deep music and to record a fantastic album. And so with the result of that, I can say yeah, it was good that I left CELTIC FROST; eventually it turned into a good thing. But it has nothing to do with fate for me; it has to do with what we’ve made out of the situation.
Have you ever thought about your own “perfect death scenario”?
[laughs] To me death is perfection anyway. I’m not afraid of death. There are certain parts of me that are eager to die because I’m very sick and tired of this human planet. To me death is like an escape, it is beauty, it’s the final peace from this shit we’ve created on this planet.
What made you write your books, Only Death is Real and Are You Morbid? Did you need some time on your own, to think and explain some things to yourself?
It’s both. Doing interviews like this all my life, you realize what the people want to know, and I thought I could also write it down. Because you often get the same questions and you see that people are really interested in finding out why this and that happened, what happened behind the scenes and so on. I decided to write it up, but of course, I also did it for myself. Once again, it’s like therapy. To see it written down, to talk to the people involved, helps you get a clearer picture of it. For this I interviewed all members of HELLHAMMER and CELTIC FROST, and it was very interesting to hear their points of view, and to find out things that I didn’t even know.
There are quite a few books dedicated to heavy music, where the authors often refer to you and your comments regarding many bands, since you were there from the very beginning as a fan. So, having such a great experience, what is your view on the world of heavy music today? Do we really need another SABBATH or METALLICA as a catalyst to move things forward?
Well, if I had a choice, I would rather have another SABBATH than another METALLICA [laughs]. But in all honesty, of course METALLICA were extremely important for the thrash metal scene and for extreme metal in general. By and large, the music scene is exactly the same that it always has been. Even though record companies have disappeared largely and musicians have far more control, the same mechanisms still apply. There’s still a lot of lies, a lot of deception in the scene, a lot of fake musicians. There’s a lot of copying, a lot of unoriginality, but it’s been the same in the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s, and now. It’s always been the same. What’s different is that there are more musicians than ever before, more bands, and it’s much easier for you to record your albums with your own means, with your own computer; it’s much easier to promote yourself with the internet. It has given the musicians more power. But original bands have always been rare, even when heavy metal was really young in the late 60s and early ’70s, there was always a flood of bands that tried to copy each other or tried to copy whoever was popular, but there was only a handful of bands that were truly innovative, truly original. When I started in 1981, heavy metal was a relatively new kind of music and people were still defining metal at that time. Now there’s been a million bands, a million songs, a million riffs, everything’s basically been done. Heavy metal was created around 1969 or 1970, so we’re talking about a kind of music that is decades old. And it becomes more and more difficult to create something truly new. Also, all the bands are becoming technically better and better, the competition is fierce. So, when a young band goes into the studio, it becomes very difficult to record a fantastic album.
You said that you write your music based on your personal emotions and experiences. Do you ever get any inspiration from positive experiences, or does it always have to be something dark or negative?
Strangely enough, yeah, it probably will have to be something dark. At one point in my life, many many years ago, I wrote an album when I was happy and it was a disaster. The album was neither CELTIC FROST, nor was it me, nor was it good, nor did it have any quality to it.
Which album was that?
“Cold Lake.” An abomination of an album, the absolute low point of my career, and that’s the only album I ever wrote when I was happy. I’ve talked with many other musicians, painters, writers, and the consensus seems to be that you’re the most creative when you’re the most desperate in your life. It’s something I think a lot of artists share for one reason or another and I don’t know why this is. I certainly don’t strive to be unhappy. I wanna be happy like everybody else, but my life has been at times very difficult, very often beyond my control, and most of the time such periods resulted in very good music. I guess when there’s a flood of radical emotions inside of me, there’s a lot of inspiration to write something good, something deep. And when I’m happy, there’s just nothing I guess. It sounds absurd, but that’s at least the mechanism that’s inside of me.
Interview by Tanja Caciur