By Justin M. Norton
Hellbound’s two-part interview with Celtic Frost and Triptykon founder Tom Gabriel Fischer continues. Today, Fischer talks about his signature guitar sound; composing several tracks on the new album; his relationship with Martin Eric Ain and what will be included in Triptykon’s set list.
When you were working on Triptykon’s debut what was it like to be writing without the friction of your last band, which caused a five-year wait before an album was released?
When I left Celtic Frost it was intimidating to think of doing the album without any friction. I didn’t know if I could pull it off. The last time I created an album on my own that was important was 1985 with To Mega Therion. I soon found out that I could do it, that abandoning the friction helped my creativity immensely.
In Celtic Frost, every idea was dissected to a point that it was counterproductive and stifled creativity. In Triptykon, every conversation was more constructive and to the point. It allowed us to create this album in under a year whereas Monotheist took five-and-a-half. A lot of good material went down the drain because it was discussed to death.
To be free of these shackles was an immense benefit. It made me feel liberated. I feel totally unfettered now when I’m approaching an album. With Celtic Frost there would be a fight about every single riff, every single arrangement. That’s not constructive.
How downtuned were you when you recorded this album?
We actually haven’t changed our tuning in about 15 years. At the very end of the original Celtic Frost we had already downtuned. We basically used the same tuning when we reformed the band.
I don’t think downtuning is as much of a factor as the attitude of your playing. I didn’t know this when I was younger. I thought it was the equipment and the strings that make your sound. As I got more experience I realized it was your playing style. I’ve had other players use my equipment and it sounds completely different even though it’s my setup.
When I play a guitar I manhandle it. I don’t caress it like other players. I’m not a technical player. I’m a primitive player. And that’s more of a factor than any tuning or equipment.
Yet when someone hears your guitar sound it’s instantly recognizable. Is that achieved just through emotion or passion?
A signature sound isn’t dependent on technical issues. It can be, but it’s usually secondary. Music is art and it shouldn’t be created by technical, sterile means. It should be created by feelings and emotions and imagination.
I don’t think I’m technically talented. I’m not trying to put myself down, just trying to be realistic after being in this business for 30 years. If I do have a talent it’s to bring my emotions out.
So you’re right, that has become my signature sound. I’m very happy that I still have a career even though I’m not a flashy player. I have the utmost respect for these players but it’s not me. I need to focus on what I have which is my perception of the world.
Do you think that’s why your music continues to resonate?
I’m hesitant to analyze my music. It’s not my place. I’d much rather write intuitively and record my music as I see fit. If my emotions are shared by my audience I’m very happy. It’s more a duty of the media to look into this. I’m uncomfortable analyzing my music . I try not to think of that part.
Is it the same with lyrics?
The lyrics are if anything even more personal and difficult to analyze. Some of them are painfully personal. When I write them I wonder what people will think of them, people who have no way of knowing how I feel or perceive things. I have to wonder, will they understand? Will they think it’s ridiculous? Will they be able to have any connection to what I’m writing? It might be extremely important to me and seem ridiculous to someone else. I’m aware of that. But it’s better to be honest and write according to your own intuition.
There’s so much in this world that’s according to formula, not just music. Most things are produced according to formula to achieve maximum commercial success. I’m hesitant to contribute to that. There’s enough of that.
On “Abyss Within My Soul” are you using songwriting to work through some of those darker emotions?
This particular song is rather self-critical. I wrote this album before, during and after my departure from Celtic Frost. I was riddled with feelings of darkness, of pain, frustration, outrage. Feelings of being betrayed. This went into some of the songs.
I also have to look at myself and see if it’s good to have all these radical feelings. Everyone is a human being and everyone has their own opinion. Even the person I accuse of destroying Celtic Frost (drummer Franco Sesa) has a right to his own opinion. I couldn’t help but ask myself if it’s good to carry such hatred for him. Trying to find what’s appropriate in my own mind led to “Abyss Within My Soul.”
How about the song “My Pain”? After the first two-thirds of the album it’s a different approach.
The original demo was written in 2003 or 2004. I approached Celtic Frost with it but it was voted off the album.
(When I wrote the song) I didn’t see the way out of a valley and felt that I was in the final station of my life. I had come to terms with it. I didn’t think I would live to see the completion of Monotheist for various personal reasons. One of the things that arose was “My Pain.”
When I found myself outside of that valley I proposed the song to Celtic Frost. It was painful for me to see it voted off. I played it to the rest of Triptykon and they instantly said it had to be on the album, even though it was significantly different than the rest of the songs.
Touring will start pretty soon…how will you balance the new material with other material from your career?
It’s going to be half Celtic Frost and half Triptykon.
It feels right. It sounds perfect. The songs from the two periods integrate perfectly. The playing time is pretty much evenly divided and I hope the fans appreciate it. I formed Triptykon because I wanted to keep playing these songs, because they are very important to me. When I left Celtic Frost I could never imagine not playing “Circle Of The Tyrants,” “The Usurper,” or “Synagoga Satanae.” I wanted to keep playing them. They are part of me.
Will it be strange to be play something like “Procreation of The Wicked” and not look over and see Martin?
If you would have asked me that years ago I would have said yes. But the way Celtic Frost was at the end, no, I’m relieved. The band in the end wasn’t even something you could call a band. A band is like a substitute family, a band of friends. That’s not what we were anymore. It’s much more enjoyable to look around and to see friends.
We’ve also been practicing these songs as Triptykon for two years. We’ve done it almost every night. I look over to Vanja, who has been my closest friend in Switzerland for many years, and it feels perfect. And V. Santura has played these songs all over the planet. He was part of Celtic Frost for 65 concerts. So it will be new for the fans but not for us.
So the chemistry between you, Vanja and Norman is also good?
Well, I’m not the youngest anymore (laughs). I know things are always changing. I have no idea what happens years down the road. But right now the band feels amazing. The rehearsal room is the opposite of the end of Celtic Frost. We’ll all do our best to maintain this relationship. We’ll do whatever we can to keep this a band of friends.
Do you still speak to Martin anymore or are you out of touch?
We are pretty much out of touch. We’re not in a fight or anything. But when things became really drastic in Celtic Frost he didn’t get involved. Had he involved himself Celtic Frost would still be together. It’s difficult for me to digest. So our friendship has cooled tremendously. But we’re not enemies.