On the Bus with Tom Gabriel Fischer

By Justin M. Norton; Photos by Raymond Ahner

Tom Gabriel Fischer is a different man than the one who toured the United States three years ago. In 2007, he seemed edgy and unhappy. Even an outsider could tell that something wasn’t right with Celtic Frost. Now he seems energetic and rejuvenated. There’s certainly ample reason. His new band Triptykon’s album Eparistera Daimones was a critical favorite. His book Only death Is Real, an omnibus of his pivotal early band Hellhammer, will soon enter a third printing. Triptykon released the Shatter EP to coincide with a co-headlining tour with longtime friends 1349. With Celtic Frost gone for good Fischer says he is happier and more productive than ever. Mr. Warrior sat down with Hellbound on his tour bus in San Francisco near the close of what might be the best year of his three-decade career.

Hellbound: In your first autobiography Are You Morbid one passage struck me. You wrote about your first American tour and how you felt as you saw the Rocky Mountains for the first time. When you tour and go around the country now do you have some of those same feelings?

Tom Gabriel Fischer: I remember those feelings distinctly. We played in Denver a few days ago and I told the band and our tour manager the impressions I had when I first saw the city – the same ones I described in the book. We drove into Denver in the early morning and saw the sun rise over the mountains and I remember it well.

Once you have lived this for a while you are free to have different experiences. Each tour brings a new experience. But I’m a somewhat nostalgic guy. This is my seventh U.S. tour or something like that and there are a lot of memories. We played Portland last night and there was a full moon. And there was a full moon the first time I ever played Portland. I remember looking at the moon in 1986 and making some notes about it. Then I find myself on the first Triptykon tour and there’s a full moon. Certain memories stick forever.

Is that a contrast in your personality…someone who is tied to their past and always moving forward?

It’s dangerous if you only live in the past and it’s dangerous if you only live in the now. I’m not hell bent on repeating mistakes I’ve made. So it’s essential to learn from and analyze your past, just like it’s important to be in touch with what’s happening in the moment. It’s essential to have a mixture of both. Life consists of your past and yet you are living in the now.

Is Triptykon an embodiment of that?

It’s simply a natural extension of Celtic Frost. The fact that we have a different name is honesty because Celtic Frost was Martin and I. I made the mistake once of carrying on the band without Martin and I won’t do it again. But Triptykon is a natural progression. Me and V. Santura fulfilled what we wanted to do with Celtic Frost. We’re simply Celtic Frost, unencumbered by penis and ego problems, if you want to hear it plainly.

Are there items or anything you always bring with you when you are on the road?

The band? (laughs). There are things you’d like to take but space is extremely limited. You are limited to pathetic things like your laptop. You bring your MP3 player and laptop and you are set for tour. If there was more space you’d take more things. But you are forced to think about essentials. The laptop is like our lives.

Does technology make touring easier?

It’s much easier to send hate mail to our concert agency almost immediately whereas in the past you’d have to wait and find a phone both (laughs). It can be overwhelming because I’m on the Internet 24 hours a day, checking out things for the band and for the tour. I wrote an e-mail that took like 45 minutes because there were some important issues to address about the tour. In the past you’d walk around the city more.

I am glad to be more in control. It’s more difficult to screw around with us nowadays. But then others are going to see the city and I’m typing e-mails. Is that good or not? I don’t know.

So there won’t be a situation like in Celtic Frost’s early days when people stole your gear in the middle of New York City and left?

Seriously, you never know. The music industry has so many shady characters. You are never immune to things like that. I’ve heard horror stories from much bigger bands. There’s never a guarantee.

You recently appeared in publication run by the Swiss evangelical church … an article about the nature of evil.

There are a huge number of tabloid newspapers in Switzerland but the church paper is the biggest of all. I didn’t know that until the interview. They drew several personalities from Swiss life, all of them serious except for me (laughs). There were philosophers and attorneys and a state prosecutor, real heavyweights, and people that worked in universities. I’m quite sure they approached me because they probably expected some sensational things. They probably thought “we’ll get some really radical statements from Tom, something about Satan.” Of course they didn’t get that.

How did you answer?

It was a huge interview that was condensed to 200 words. It started with them asking what fascinates you about evil. My answer was nothing fascinates me about evil. I hate evil. There’s nothing fascinating about evil. The only thing that is fascinating to me is love. That alone threw them off. They probably expected me to light a torch and perform a satanic ritual.

I always thought that when you were playing music it was a way to cleanse some of these more negative emotions from your system.

Exactly . That’s spot on.

Your new book (Only Death is Real) is in its third printing.

The second printing is almost out and it’s going into the third printing. The third printing is confirmed. It blows my mind. I’m not Dean Koontz.

I’m in the process of going through my father’s estate. He left an enormous amount of photographs because he was a journalist. We’re talking tens of thousands of photos in his archive. I’m still working my way through them. To my astonishment, I found boxes of slides from the Hellhammer times. I didn’t know they were in my father’s possession. There are some photos that belong in the book and hopefully the third printing can include some of these photos to make it even more complete.

You held nothing back in terms of what was included in Only Death Is Real. Part of a band is image and mythology yet you showed your whole childhood. Was it a difficult decision?

Yes and no. It’s still not a complete record of my childhood. There are some things I will never talk about. I was married for 16 years and I never even told my ex -wife. I feel embarrassed about what happened even though I was a victim. Then you find yourself having to live with this shit the rest of your life. I could write a book about my childhood alone. The most drastic things aren’t in there and will never be anywhere. Having said that, how could you write an autobiography if you didn’t write about it? Hellhammer came about when there was no extreme metal. It happened based on my desperate situation…this aggression had to go somewhere. I wanted to create a parallel world.

I’m frustrated when I buy a magazine and people say there is coverage of something and then there’s a one or two-page article that doesn’t got into any detail. So, my book is very comprehensive.

Someone who is a metal fan could see a picture of you on a skateboard or working on an assembly line and think that their dreams aren’t something they need to let go of.

It is a possibility. Everything you are depends on what degree of control you are willing to take over your life. It takes a huge amount of stamina and courage and luck of course. To a certain degree you can also force luck to bend in your direction. So, the book is also supposed to be an inspiration. I’m sure there are people who have a background like mine or a background that’s far worse and if anything it could be an inspiration.

If you want to find your first book Are You Morbid you need to pay about 100 dollars on eBay.

That’s good because the new book is far better. The original manuscript for Are You Morbid was written in 1992. I’m a better writer now and a lot more experienced. I like my writing style better. I’m working on a massively expanded version of Are You Morbid, which will hopefully come out in about two years. So I’m glad it’s difficult to obtain.

Are you going to use the original book as a base and how will Are You Morbid look?

It will be a new book. It will go up to the second demise of Celtic Frost and the formation of Triptykon. I have a lot more material, both visuals and text. So the book will be more comprehensive and detailed. I’ll also be a lot more explicit in the way I describe things. When I wrote the original in 1992 I tried to be politically correct to protect certain people. But now I’ve decided fuck it I’m just going to be explicit about everything in the new version.

Considering how long it took for Monotheist to come out this has been an enormously busy year for you…the new album, the book and an EP.

And I’ve developed a video script and I’m working on a new album and DVD concept, that’s happened behind the scenes.

Are you more productive because you feel unencumbered?

One hundred percent. I feel unleashed, like the shackles have been taken off. I used two-thirds of my energy trying to resolve human issues in Celtic Frost rather than trying to be productive or creative. I feel incredibly relieved to be working again, to be creating music and not sitting in a rehearsal room talking in circles.

You seem in better spirits than when you were here during Celtic Frost’s final tour.

It’s difficult to describe how good it feels. This band is a dream to work with. We’re on stage and we’re a unit. We’re bonded. The feeling that we have on stage transcends everything. We’ve had a fantastic time.

Reed St. Mark played with you on some of Triptykon’s earliest sessions. Is the reason you decided not to work together that you wanted to cut your ties from Celtic Frost entirely?

That’s a delicate topic because it involves Reed’s private life. I’m not entitled to divulge anything about it. It wasn’t a decision on my end as much as Reed realizing his playing didn’t fit into the band or this music.

Your musical vision has changed since when you shared he stage with him.

Well, I don’t know. To some extent, yes. No one is the same as they were 25 years ago. But I’m still playing music that’s very identifiable and my style.

During the fourth practice session Reed put down his sticks and said “I can’t do it.” Unfortunately, I had come to the same conclusion. It was an immense relief to hear that he had drawn the same conclusion. He’s a friend of mine and I respect him greatly. It would be tough to tell him it wouldn’t work. It was like the ice was broken then and we could talk openly.

Did you see him during this tour?

No. I heard he’s in Europe until the end of October. But I respect Reed. Look, he’s an immensely important person in my life. Our friendship will last till one of us dies.

Why did you decide to release the EP about a half-year after the album?

It made sense to release it around the tour. I came up with the concept for the EP before the album was even released. Century Media agreed we should do it. I think the EP is an integral part of Triptykon. It’s not garbage material. It almost ended up on the album but we didn’t have the playing time to cram it on. In the building of Triptykon this (EP) is an important brick.

Were you prepared to hear from people who said Triptykon’s live set didn’t have enough of your old material?

I follow the Triptykon discussion forums eagerly. I want to know what people think because we’re here because of them. Funnily enough, there were people saying there wasn’t enough Triptykon material and there were some people saying there wasn’t enough Celtic Frost material. I look at everything as something I wrote during a particular part of my life.

Any more thoughts about breaking out some Hellhammer songs?

We’re working on “Messiah” and will put it in our set soon. Maybe one day we’ll bring out “The Third of the Storms.” We couldn’t have done that with the last lineup of Celtic Frost because people just acted it. But in Triptykon we’ve played it a few times and it sounds fantastic and authentic.

“Triumph Of Death” would also sound excellent live.

Yeah, but if you were to play “Synagoga Satanae,” “The Prolonging” and “Triumph Of Death” that’s one show. That’s about an hour of music

You seem like a private person but you never hesitate to give interviews and always seem forthright with your responses. Can you explain that disconnect? Do you enjoy interviews?

Both of the characterizations you’ve made are accurate and in complete conflict with each other. I’m actually a recluse in Switzerland. I don’t go to parties and I hardly ever go to concerts. I feel very happy that way. But there’s a public side to me I can’t deny. I enjoy giving interviews that have some depth. I don’t like when people have questions like “when is the next tour?” That bores me to death and it’s a difficult to maintain a professional façade. I enjoy interviews where it’s like a discussion and I have to think. But there is a conflict to being exposed and being private. I guard certain aspects of my life as much as I can.

The American writer J.D. Salinger who wrote The Catcher In The Rye died this year. He lived the last 40 years of his life as a total recluse.

I’ve seriously asked my band about becoming a recluse. They witness this conflict on a daily basis. I’ve been a victim of stalking and I’ve been slandered on the Internet. It becomes increasingly difficult for me to deal with. There are people slandering me and they haven’t even met me for five minutes? That’s very difficult to accept. In some ways I have to accept it because the Internet is an anonymous place. People don’t have to have any courage they can just put something under a fake name and a fake e-mail and no one will know.

I’ve seriously thought about completely withdrawing, having the rest of the band do interviews, doing my thing on stage and then disappearing completely. Not to forge a cult or anything – it’s just difficult to stand. Who knows, maybe it will still happen.

Salinger wrote a book that people cared about and identified with…they felt like he owed them something. If you are an artist and give of yourself why do you owe anything more?

That’s the way it should be but it doesn’t work like that. People are accustomed to mass media and the Internet makes it easy to pry into everything. I haven’t reached a conclusion about what to do. By nature, most of my life is public but I’d like to maintain a little bit for myself.

Adam has been a photographer for Hellbound since day 1 and also has a hand in the technical aspects of running the site.