For anyone who has a special place in their hearts for heavy metal, Thomas Gabriel Fischer needs no introduction, though many will know him as Tom G. Warrior. The man who fronted the pioneering Hellhammer and Celtic Frost is as much of an icon as the extreme metal scene ever had and this year he is releasing a new record under the banner of Triptykon; the live recording of the Requiem, performed on stage during Roadburn 2019, together with the highly esteemed Metropole Orkest. This once in a lifetime performance was recorded and now will be released. We had the distinct honor to speak with the man himself about this record, the performance, the emotions attached to it, but also his future plans with Triptykon, Triumph of Death (his Hellhammer tribute) and a new project. Obviously, the COVID-19 outbreak was also part of our chat.
Written by: Guido Seger / Photography: Justina Lukošiūtė & Paul Verhagen
Tom is an easy person to talk to. Every word is carefully formulated, and he let’s no opportunity pass to thank those who’ve helped him realize his musical ambition of performing the Requiem, a piece that took over 30 years to create and complete. Polite throughout the interview, you’d hardly imagine this man to be the guys who sort of crashed a Venom press conference to proclaim they were going to outdo them (more on that in the book Only Death Is Real).
How are you doing, Tom?
”Doing alright, I had some issues with my health two months ago and some of it is still lingering, but basically I’m doing alright. Pretty much recovered.”
How are you dealing with he current situation?
”Well, there’s not that much to deal with as it is not up to my personal decision. It is as it is and I have to adjust to it. All the concerts that we had scheduled for Triptykon and Triumph of Death have been cancelled. That of course means that also my livelihood has been very much impacted. I have invoices to pay like everyone else. I simply have no income from this, so we’ll see what happens. For musicians it is a challenging time. We were looking forward immensely to playing live. There’s a lot of concerts this year we were very much personally involved in and looking forward very much to play with both bands. It’s very difficult to know that these will not take place or in a year at the earliest.”
”We felt very refreshed in both bands, so it’s not easy to see everything get cancelled if you have a good connection with your audience. You go on stage with a lot of honesty and enthusiasm, so then it is very hard to let go of all these shows.”
I can imagine that feeling, you’re personally and emotionally invested in this endeavor, so it is difficult. But it seems that there’s some shift now taking place. How is that in Switzerland?
”There is some indication that things will open up slightly quicker than we anticipated. But I’m very careful with this, because there are only very small events that are permitted and there’s still a lot of social distancing required and various measures in place. So I really don’t know. When we are talking about bigger concerts and festivals, there’s nothing right now that indicates when everything will restart. We are basically in unknown territory still. But it’s, like you say, a glimpse at the horizon that certain clubs and restaurants can open again. That’s something we didn’t expect a month ago.”
Let’s hope for better days. I suppose you can’t really plan anything in this situation?
”No, we can’t. The entire year will now be focused on working creatively. Working on new material, recording new material, working on live recordings. We have some live material from Triumph of Death to mix. We have material to write for Triptykon, and so on… But even that is hindered right now, because we record everything in Germany and right now the borders between Germany and Switzerland are closed. Half of Triptykon is German, half is Swiss, so we can’t even meet at the rehearsal room right now. We can’t go to the studio in Germany, so everything is sort of up in the air right now.”
There’s a lot you can do online though…
”Well… we send files back and forth, but I’m not a huge fan of rehearsing or playing concerts over the internet. I’m a bit old school in this regard.”
There is a release coming up, the live at Roadburn recording of Requiem with the Metropole Orkest. What can you tell me about this?
”Well, that’s a broad question. That’s a project that took over 30 years to finish, I could talk like… a day.”
I wish we had time to do that. But I mean the release itself, as It was clear from the start you wanted to record it, correct?
”Well, of course, if you do a project of that magnitude with so many special people involved… the conductor, the orchestra, the female singer, of course you want to try and preserve this forever. It was clear from the beginning that if we were going to do this, we needed to record it. It’s a very complex project and a very expensive project, and it is in no way given that this will ever be performed again. In other words, it would have been very neglectful not to record it.”
Has it become what you expected it to be?
”I think so, yes. It was really complex on every level. Starting with the songwriting, then the arranging for the classical musicians, the preparations, the rehearsals… even the performance itself. And then there’s the mixing of the uncounted tracks that we recorded, with all the individual musicians, cleaning the tracks from all the background noise. It was all very complex. But having said all of that, we are quite happy with the result. It’s a live album, so you don’t have the perfect studio conditions for a regular album. I think we did what we could, it is as perfect as it can be, while still capturing the live spirit that you really hear. We’re really happy with the result.”
I was present during the performance at Roadburn and got to listen to the final record, so I can kind of compare and it is really capturing that experience. What I would like to know, having completed this, what did it mean to you to do this on a personal level?
”First of all, it was an incredible honor to be invited to Roadburn to complete Requiem and not do it on my own basically. It was an extreme honor Walter gave us this platform and all the people who work with him, but also to work with such an incredible orchestra. Walter suggested to work with them, the Metropole Orkest. Jukka Iisakkila, the conductor… Like I said, a complex project, but all these people made it as easy as it can be, because all of them were very experienced and professional. So I felt it was a big honor to be granted these people.”
”On a more personal record, it was quite a significant event to see this project competed that I started with Martin Eric Ain back in the mid eighties. It was a beautiful feeling on one hand, and sad on the other, because I really wanted him to be part of it or at least hear it. Of course, since he died in 2017 that was impossible, but I literally was thinking of him while we were performing on stage. I carried him with me when we played in my heart. I’m not just saying this, he was very much part of my emotions and I hope in some way he would approve of this. ”
Has this also for you been part of dealing with his loss?
”Well, of course, when Walter and I spoke about this whole thing for the first time he had just lost someone very close to him. I had just lost someone close to me, it was shortly after Martin’s death, so we were both mourning someone very close to us in our own individual lives. I think we both carried this in our minds when we discussed this. It was not just a professional proposal, there was much more to it.”
Of the Requiem, two parts were already finished in a sense and ready to be played. The second part, however, is newly created. Can you tell me about its process?
”The basic songwriting was done by me, because the whole Requiem was an idea of mine. But for this third part, I was very open. I was working with people who are on one hand very experienced and professional, but on the other hand were personally involved in it. There were no mercenaries and I know many people involved were genuinely part of it, not just hired guns. So I was very open to suggestions, especially when they came from our guitarist V. Santura, who was also the musical director, and Florian Magnus Maier, who was the classical arranger. Both of them are very close friends of mine and they had a lot of songwriting ideas that they contributed, which I was very open to. We had a million meetings in person and on Skype to arrange this and to improve the piece and a lot of ideas were exchanged. It would have been egotistical in the face of such excellent people, to deny their ideas. I knew that if we combined all those, the piece would be much stronger then if I would enforce an ego. I really don’t have an ego, I was happy to be involved with so many good people so it was no problem to incorporate their contributions.”
That’s good, because if it’s such a personal project, you want to be sure that everyone is in it for the right reasons.
”Of course, but I never had to fear to miss the personal connection, as I wrote the whole thing. The basic construction and all, because at the end of the day it’s still my piece. This has just made the piece better. If you look at it as a memorial to people that have died in our circle of friends, then the better the piece, the better the memorial. It’s not about ego or being a star, it’s about creating something very, very special. If it’s about art, in my opinion, ego should be very far down the list. First and foremost, there needs to be creativity and the will to do something special.
I also wanted to ask you about the vocals by Safa Heraghi. Her vocals in the second piece just really carry it and hit the right spot.”
So how did you get in touch with her and considered her for this piece?
”I first met her when she was playing a concert with Dark Fortress. She had done guest vocals on one of their songs and appeared later at one of their concerts in Zurich, my hometown. I went to see them and her performance that night was absolutely brilliant and moving, so I went backstage and talked to her about one day doing vocals on a Triptykon album. Traditionally, we have always had female vocals ever since the first Celtic Frost album. She was interested and when the idea for the Requiem arose, I called her and asked if she would be interested in doing vocals. But not just backing vocals, but to be the co-lead vocalist in a classical metal collaboration. I’m very happy she said yes and she also contributed many ideas. She was heavily involved in some of the vocal melodies and the lyrics.
You know, we heard the Requiem a million times by now, from the early demos till the final touches, but every time I listened to some of her parts towards the new middle part, we were all really moved to the point of tears sometimes. Even though we had heard it multiple times, this was how much her voice and performance moved us.”
The artwork for this release is the first one without H.R. Giger’s artwork. Giger passed away in 2014, but I understand you still have artwork for the future.
”There is one more album that has been designed with and approved by Giger, when he was still alive. That was always supposed to be the third studio album, and that’s what it is going to be when it comes out. This is the album we’re working on this year. It’s long overdue of course, but when Giger was still alive in late 2013 he approached us after the first Triptykon album and asked if we were interested in continuing our collaboration. Giger and the band, we all agreed on doing a triptych. So I went with him and we selected the artwork and designed it together, and he approved everything. We used one work on the second album, and the third is yet to come.”
”Because the Requiem is a different project and a live album, it has a different feel to it. It is not technically the third of the three studio albums, so it has a different kind of artwork to make it distinct. But the next Triptykon album will have the artwork, which will in fact be the last album where Giger was personally involved in the design and approval of everything.”
But you have now also dedicated Requiem to him.
”Yes, of course, it is dedicated to Martin Eric Ain and H.R. Giger, two of our closest friends and collaborators who have died in recent years since the second Triptykon album. By the nature of the Requiem, we felt we had to make this dedication. However small it may be, we wanted to dedicated this to people who were instrumental to the band and close to us.”
One last one is in the works then?
”Carmen Giger, his widow, has offered me to continue using Giger artwork even after the third record. But I’ve told her I don’t think it’s the right thing to do, even though it would be official, as she inherited it, has all the rights and would approve of it. I felt it was important to only do albums that Giger personally saw, oversaw and approved, so I don’t want to go on using his art past his death. After the third album, we will pursue a new direction at any rate.”
”Everybody knows how much of a fan of his work I am, and I feel infinitely honored for having been granted the possibility to work with him. I was a young teenager, many years ago, when I discovered the Emerson, Lake and Palmer album Brain Salad Surgery, and Giger’s artwork on that album impressed me to no end. At that time, I would have never thought I would be a musician and work with Giger. By now, I’m 56 and not only have I worked with Giger but I have done so on and on. It’s been four albums. I’m deeply honored and I don’t want to be greedy. I had these four albums with him, but I’m okay with going in a new direction, also as an artist. I’m not a capitalist in that I want more, more and more. I’m happy to say it’s enough, let’s do something else.”
I want to ask you about the performance, because afterwards you were part of a talk where you spoke with some finality. What you said was: ” I am no longer in tune in this world anymore and I really don’t know why I am still here. Now I finished the Requiem I guess I am free to leave.” I wanted to ask you how this was intended?
”It was intended exactly in the way that I said it. When you discover some finality in this, that is exactly true. I’m not overly attached to the world as it is, given human conduct on this planet. I’ve been granted much more than I ever dreamt of as a teenager, when I had these daydreams of one day being a musician, because music meant that much to me. I would have been happy to play in a local band, but I’ve been granted far, far more. As I said earlier, I’m not greedy, I’m not insatiable. I’ve been granted much more than I ever dreamt of so, I’m basically ready to call it a day whenever it’s the time and perhaps one day I’ll be instrumental in setting that time. There’s really not much joy in this world, giving the destruction of animals, the environment, ourselves and each other. Our ignorance, even after thousands of years of what we call civilization, we are still completely out of control, we haven’t learned anything and we destroy everything in our path, be it human, animal or environment in our endless egotistical narcissism. That’s not really a home I’m fond of, as much as it has given me. I’ve done a lot of things, fulfilled all my dreams, so I feel very free right now. When it’s time, I can go without hesitation, there’s nothing bad to that. I loathe the attitude of never having enough, always wanting more. It’s one of the big problems that us human beings carry with us, and I’m not like that at all.”
Appreciate what you have, be satisfied.
”Absolutely, and I have no problem with that fact that there’s an end to things. There’s no unlimited supply of everything. I’ve had my life and I’ve tried to live my life meaningfully, to try realize all my dreams. I worked on everything I wanted to achieve. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, so there’s really no regrets. I don’t need to hang on and say “I haven’t lived yet”, you know. I’ve always lived, against all obstacles.”
As long as you are here, I do hope you keep creating…
”Well, I’m still here, to my own surprise. And as I said, I’m working on a new studio album for Triptykon. I’m also working on resurrecting my side project that I was working on until November last year, that I left with the drummer, but we are resurrecting it in a new form because the material is fantastic. I’m also working on the live recordings we did with Triumph of Death, which we hope to release some of this year. As long as I’m here, there’s always going to be some new material. And of course, I love being on stage. The moments on stage are some of the most pleasant moments of my life.”
The side project you mention, is that the mysterious Nyrith project?
”Yes, it’s still called Nyrith, but we’re no longer part of it. The drummer and me, we left in December, but I do own the recording sessions, because my label paid for those recordings. I’m going back to the studio to work on this bit, I’m going to add some new music and we have some new songs to add and so on. The Nyrith album, everything was signed and ready for those sessions. The album was supposed to come out on April the 24th, but because we left… That departure was unavoidable unfortunately, but we feel very strongly about this project so we are resurrecting it in a new form and I’m very sure we will manage in spite of the COVID-19 situation. In spite of being blocked from the studio, we very much count on it being released this year. It’s very strong material.”
You mentioned fulfilling dreams you had. Triumph of Death allows you to play the Hellhammer songs live, which were never played on stage in their own time. Is that one of those dreams?
”Maybe not a dream, but it is simply fun. I have a band that is basically my career and is a business venture, which is Triptykon. It has big contracts and big pressure, AR-people, Sony, a label and so on, it’s a serious burden on my shoulders. Triptykon is a serious band. But Triumph of Death is simply fun. We’re playing very early, punkish metal that is simply primitive and powerful and there’s no business pressure or expectations or anything like that. We basically go on stage and have a good time with the audience and that is how we all started and how music should be. It’s punkish, proto-extreme metal and enormous fun to connect with the audience and to play this without the need to promote a new album or satisfy a record company. So far, it’s been fantastic and the audience experiences it in the same way and we’ve grown into a circle of friends. It’s just enormous fun. It’s a privilege to do this.”
I really hope to experience that in the future.
”Well, most concerts have been cancelled, but most have also been rescheduled for next year already. Hopefully we’ll be showering the world with primitive music again soon.”
Triptykon’s new live-album Requiem: Live at Roadburn with the Metropole Orkest is available on May 15th today, on compact disk and vinyl via Century Media. as well as all streaming platforms.