Thomas Gabriel Fischer is a living, walking legend: a highly decorated veteran of heavy metal music with a career spanning over three decades. Known to most by his now defunct pseudonym of Tom G. Warrior, he was a founding member and driving force between two of extreme metal’s most influential acts: the short-lived but influential Hellhammer and the genre-bending Celtic Frost.
Triptykon has been his main focus musically over the last few years and ‘Melana Chasmata’ (Greek for “chasms as [black as] ink”) follows the band’s universally lauded debut ‘Eparistera Daimones’ from a couple of years back. The cover features artwork by the recently deceased H.R. Giger, a close friend of Fischer’s. Giger’s work has adorned many an album sleeve, including several Celtic Frost releases as well as Triptykon’s previous effort. The artwork featured here suitably hints at the brooding malevolence contained within the grooves of this record…
Mr. Fischer has never been one to stand on convention. Rarely have any of Celtic Frost’s albums been constrained by any particular self-imposed stylistic boundaries and rarely have any sounded similar to their predecessors. The classic proto-black metal of ‘To Mega Therion’ was a world apart from the avant-garde eclecticism of ‘Into The Pandemonium’ which followed… in fact the latter was loved by a few, hated by many and left a large majority left completely confused. For what it’s worth, this reviewer is one of the few.
But what of Triptykon? After 30 years in the game, having shed his alter ego (but kept the eye makeup), is he still able to deliver a challenging and relevant album?
Abso-fucking-lutely he is. The album fires its first shot with the cudgelling double-kick thrash attack of opener “Tree of Suffocating Souls” which in its early stages wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an early Celtic Frost record… until the haunting sitar(!) phrase. Lasting just long enough to snatch your attention and wrench away your preconceptions, said phrase is quickly followed by a Kerry King-esque squall of wah insanity. Yeah this ain’t gonna be your average metal release.
For the most part the album moves at a fairly measured pace. It’s quite doomy and bleak… but never is it boring. Even the 12 minute opus “Black Snow” doesn’t allow your attention to deviate for a nanosecond. The foot-off-the-accelerator approach allows the drums to breathe & resonate and the riffs to really hit you over the head when required. There are a lot of creepy atmospheric parts (especially the intro to “Aurorae”), devoid of distortion whatsoever which build in intensity to epic metallic crescendos. However there’s plenty of high speed action to please listeners with short attention spans. The aforementioned “Tree of Suffocating Souls” and more particularly “Breathe” feature lightning fast tremolo picking and pounding rhythms which will sate the appetites of those with a thrash/hardcore-crossover bent.
Adding to the harrowing mood of the album is the ubiquitous presence of filthily distorted bass guitar which gives the record an indispensable weight. Crashing over the top of the more traditional riffery is some unconventional guitar work which blends notes that don’t really belong together into an uncomfortable whole. Strangling string bends and feedback drenched anti-chords combine to create a timbral dissonance around which entire songs can be built. Among other things, it’s this approach which makes the album fascinating.
Fischer’s voice ranges from a deep baritone to a guttural roar, with the occasional high-pitched shriek thrown in and he certainly hasn’t been ravaged by age in the vocal department. The addition of clean female vocals is an interesting move and a very effective one. I’m not sure who the lady in question is, but she adds some ghostly melodies to “Boleskine House” and brings a dash of colour and happiness to the closing track “Waiting”… the only instance of it on the album.
In terms of standout tracks “Altar of Deceit” features one of the best riffs on the record and is sure to get your head banging with approval. “Breathing” is easily the most up-tempo number present and thrashes away with impressive inertia. “Aurorae” is a real slow-burner but is a great example of the album’s differing dynamics. However, “In the Sleep of Death” is possibly the best track from this offering and possesses some crushingly heavy riffs overlayed with tortured lyrics detailing a spine-chilling tale of estrangement… it’s almost a love song, as weird as that sounds. To top it all off, the guitar melodies are the stuff of nightmares: harrowing yet somehow beautiful.
Yes it’s grim… desolate even: it made me feel quite uneasy upon first listen and this is testament to Fischer’s song writing ability & his innate instinct to create the disquieting. The ebbs and flows of intensity and the contrasts of light & shade are what really make ‘Melana Chasmata’ a great record and a true standout amongst the crop of contemporary metal releases.
‘Melana Chasmata’ out now through Century Media Records.
Triptykon on the www: http://www.triptykon.net/