...and You Thought Frost was Heavy?

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Tom Gabriel Warrior has much to celebrate. It’s been a busy and productive few years since the return of Celtic Frost ended in a storm of animosity and a lack of shared vision. But Warrior has before seen one band dissolve only to give way to something greater, and as he graciously gave a good, long block of his time from the road (after I’d been lucky enough to see Triptykon’s New York debut), he spoke—as he often has—about the dissolution of Frost… but he also made it clear, both in stated terms and in the tone of satisfaction he’s experiencing at the moment, that Triptykon, while rooted in his past, is a band of the here and now—and of the future.

Triptykon played some festivals in the spring and summer, but this US tour is really the first concentrated block of performances, isn’t it?

Warrior: Yeah, we’re pretty much up to concert number thirty or something like that right now. As is the usual practice when I’m in a band, I don’t play live shows before I have an album—so, we started playing live in April of this year, and we’re still basically forging ourselves into a live unit… but I think it’s been working very well, even early on. It has a lot to with the fact that this is a band and not an assemblage of enemies.

How does the onstage chemistry feel, and how early in forming the band did you sense that this lineup would work for what you wanted to do?

Well, I knew it when I assembled the band. I approached people that I was very certain about. Celtic Frost broke apart not because of musical or creative differences but because of personal differences on a human level, and of course I wanted to avoid such problems in my new band. I didn’t want to have people in the band who had a gargantuan ego and had absolutely no control over said ego. I went in the opposite way: I approached close friends of mine to be in this new band, approached people that I know have no ego and are simply passionate about music just the way I am. So, I was very careful in assembling this band, and what you see on stage is the result of this. We have a fantastic chemistry. We don’t have to act like a band; we are actually a band, and it’s evident that this is a unit that pulls in the same direction, that we’re having a blast onstage, even if there are technical difficulties, which, for example, was the case in New York.

Those problems weren’t obvious at all to this audience member…

Well, that show was actually plagued by severe technical difficulties, and it was made even more difficult because this was our first show with our American crew. We have a crew in Europe that has already worked with me for years in Celtic Frost and now Triptykon. But we came over, and this was our first show with a brand-new crew that had not done a single concert with us; we didn’t even get to do a production rehearsal. I actually am very glad to hear that it still came across very well because at the end of the day, that’s what counts. People came, they paid for a ticket, they wanted to see a good show, and it’s basically our duty to try and accomplish that, no matter the difficulties that exist.

Did a lot of rehearsal precede this tour, or was the prep for the summer festivals enough?

Quite honestly, this is a very under-rehearsed band, and we’re quite lazy in rehearsals (laughs). We rehearsed quite relentlessly for the album, but after that we’ve done far less rehearsal than Celtic Frost had done. I would actually like the band to do more rehearsals, but on the other hand, it’s possible to play like this because this is actually a band. I come back to the same thing: when you play with people who wait for the first chance they have to put the knife in your back when you turn around, it’s of course much more challenging than when you actually play with a band where you know beyond any doubt that these are your friends and that they’re going to stand behind you no matter what. It makes playing together—it makes being tight together musically—much easier. And that certainly is the case in Triptykon. We have, of course, played all kinds of festivals in Europe, and we played a Japan tour, so the band is quite honed, but in my opinion Celtic Frost was far better rehearsed, and I still think there’s potential to get a little more professional. On the other hand, I don’t want to come onstage with a band that sounds like a studio product. I’d like our shows to be very lively—it’s heavy metal after all—and it’s supposed to be dirty and heavy.

I loved Monotheist and then mourned the end of Celtic Frost. So, I was eager to hear Eparistera Daimones, which I think is hugely satisfying. Soon after it came out, however, I wondered how the hell the band would pull off this material live…

Well, first of all, how do you think I felt? Celtic Frost was my life, and Monotheist is probably one of the most accomplished albums I’ve ever been a part of. And it killed me to lose all of this. Celtic Frost was synonymous with my life, and my life was synonymous with Celtic Frost. It was a very difficult thing to walk out of my own band, and I would not have ever done that if there wasn’t a valid reason for that.

As far as Triptykon is concerned, we’re not a studio band. Everything we do on an album, of course we want to be able to reproduce live, and given time I think we will have eventually have played every song on our first album. I love playing live as much as I love being in the studio, and it’s very important to me to be able to take these songs onstage. The only difference I see is that I’m going to add even more heaviness onstage than we already have on our album.

Good luck—I don’t know how you’re going to do that!

Well, everybody has told me the same thing. After every Celtic Frost album, not least Monotheist, everybody is always doubtful when I say that, and then they’re all blown away when I come out with something heavier. You know, it’s called heavy metal, and I’ve gotten into this music because of its heaviness, and I always was looking for heavier bands. At the end of the ‘70s, I was attracted to Motorhead because they were so heavy, and the punk band called Discharge, and, of course, Venom… for me it was always about that radical heaviness that made this music attractive to me.

This bill is both challenging and rewarding for the audience, the ground covered by Yakuza, 1349, and Triptykon immense. To what degree is the bill is your design?

This bill was put together very much on purpose… and I agree with you that it’s not the easiest route to go. It’s very challenging for, probably, the more conservative part of the audience, but to me that’s fine. You know, we’re not in the business to make things easy. This is not a commercialized “Wal-Mart” product; this is heavy metal, and at the end of the day, in the English language we’re called “artists,” and art is not something easy or simple; art is something challenging, and art sometimes steps on your nerves and makes you have to work and think, and I think that’s what this lineup of three very different bands does. The combining factor is, of course, the darkness of the music and the ability to bring across not just technical abilities but a certain atmosphere, and all three do that. And I have the utmost respect for Yakuza for being so courageous to go their own path, regardless of the scene conventions.

It was disappointing to hear folks who were not open-minded, yelling things whenever Bruce Lamont (Yakuza vocalist) picked up the sax, yelling for 1349, and…

It’s because they’re at a concert of the band that was derived from Hellhammer, and people reacted exactly like that when Hellhammer came out. Hellhammer became the myth that it is nowadays only in the 1990s, ten years after the band had dissolved. When Hellhammer actually existed, people laughed at us and said, “You cannot do that” and “It’s not music” and “It has nothing to do with heavy metal,” even in the metal scene—I’m not talking about people outside; I’m talking about both media and fans who ridiculed us as much as they could, and it also happened to Celtic Frost in the beginning. I mean, Morbid Tales, which is now considered a Celtic Frost classic, got “one” out of five stars in several huge publications. So, you know, people should be a little careful with what they’re saying. Acts move on, and things reveal themselves later.

Speaking of Hellhammer, Only Death Is Real is a great music-related book for two reasons. First, you have so much material to document the growth and trajectory of the band. Second, the reader has to be stunned by how much you reveal of yourself in the book…

Well, what’s the point if I don’t? If it’s autobiography and, much more so, of a controversial topic—even for myself “controversial”—what if I don’t reveal the reasons for all of it? It wasn’t always easy for me and other Hellhammer members to acknowledge the presence of Hellhammer in our lives. Everybody had individual reasons; mine are clearly laid out in the book. But what’s the point in writing about all of this and detailing the history if I exclude myself? The very reason Hellhammer existed is my fucked-up youth; without that I would have never formed this band, and I would have never had problems later looking back at this band because it was so connected to my youth. Of course I had to have the courage to open up and write about this, and of course it wasn’t easy because these are deeply intimate things. There are a lot of things connected to the circumstances of my youth that are so radical that I will never, ever tell anybody about them. I haven’t told my ex-wife, with whom I was married for sixteen years; I haven’t told her many of the things that happened in my youth because I’m simply ashamed. But to a certain degree I open up in the book because Hellhammer and my youth are connected, and it’s the reason for everything.

Was it a difficult book to write because of that honesty, or was it more of a cathartic experience?

Both! Of course it’s very difficult if you open up to the whole world and you write so intimately AND if you know there’s quite a percentage of people out there who hate you and who will begin to take that information and try to use it against you. But at the same time, of course, it helps you to talk about it and to share it. Behind the scenes of the book, I talked with people who are really close to me many times about my youth before I actually put all this stuff on paper. It was a very helpful experience… it took me until I was in my forties to be able to address these things openly. Before that I didn’t have the self-confidence or the resolve to actually address them. I felt more comfortable pushing it away, and of course that doesn’t help you. It basically just depressed me. But as I said earlier… I mean, there’s people who will abuse you… for example, the bass player of the German band Destruction, who has publicly questioned whether my youth was like this or not, which infuriates me to no end. He has only gotten to know me—and officially know me—when I was, like, in my twenties. He wasn’t even there during my youth, he didn’t even know of my existence during that time, and he actually dares to make a judgment about that and lies about my background? That’s an incredible affront, and my anger is limitless… but if you write the book and you’re so open in a book, then you have to anticipate such things, you know?

Triptykon’s latest statement is the EP Shatter. Many bands release EPs or tour versions of albums that, even if they contain new material, don’t really do much and aren’t of high quality, content-wise. But Shatter, Triptykon’s new EP is as powerful as Eparistera Daimones. So, how did you choose what would go where, and was this EP part of the plan during the recording?

In my mind, very much so. I had proposed the idea to Century Media, and in my mind it was very much a done decision. We did a very detailed pre-production for the album, and we had already gotten rid of all the songs we felt were not worthy of release way before we went into the studio. So, everything we did record in that studio we deemed fit for release. As it turned out, the album had a very long playing-time; there was no way to cram more material on it. We submitted a proposed song list for the album to Century Media, in which “I Am The Twilight,” which is now on the EP, was a part of the album, and Century Media heard “Myopic Empire” and asked us specifically whether we would agree to have that song on the album instead. They felt that the piano in that song would make the album even more diverse. And we could see the point, and we agreed. It’s all our music; we didn’t mind either way. We knew we were going to release the rest of the music, too. We recorded it for that purpose. So, to us Shatter is a very legitimate release; it’s definitely not just designed to publicize the tour. It’s a full release for us, and it’s a very potent release.

That’s made all the more obvious by the video (for the song “Shatter”). There’s probably no stronger statement about both the song AND the EP than to say, ‘Instead of releasing a video for a song from the album, we’ve chosen to release this.’

Well, I am no stranger to going on the unusual path (laughs). Originally we were going to take a track from the album for the video, as is commonly done, but I listened to “Shatter” one night, and it just revealed itself to me as ideal for the video clip. I had a script that I had been working on for months, and I simply could not find the perfect track from the album for it, but when I listened to “Shatter,” I just knew that this was it. I didn’t need to look any further, and I called the band and explained it to them, and they all agreed so we had to go ahead. Then I presented it to our management and our label, and everybody agreed on that. But the video, like everything else in Triptykon, is the result of many, many months of very serious work. Nothing in Triptykon’s career happens haphazardly; everything is the result of quite a lot of dedication.

Well, anybody who knows anything about your career would say that you are both adventurous and a meticulous planner (Warrior planned out virtually all details of that band’s first three albums before actually beginning any recording).

Very much so, yeah… and it’s not so different in Triptykon, actually. We know what the first three albums of Triptykon will sound like. As I said, I don’t like to work haphazardly. I take my work very seriously; whether other people do or not, it’s not really relevant. I work the way I work, and this is the way it has to be done for me. Everybody else can do it their own way, but yeah, I have a long-term concept for Triptykon, and I take the band very seriously; it’s my life, after all, and I definitely want to complete what I started in Celtic Frost with Triptykon.

“Crucifixus” grew in layers online and is one of those signature tracks in terms of your work because it represents, to a large degree, the unexpected…

I agree with you. There have been, of course, more “radical metal” fans, the more conservative ones, who have dismissed it outright as some piece of superfluous ambient sound, but that’s of course a valid opinion. To me personally, however, that song goes extremely deep. There’s meaning behind it and very distinct emotion for me, and I didn’t just sit at a synthesizer, writing it to fill some empty space. The song has profound meaning for me personally, and that’s why it is a proper Triptykon song, whether people like it or not.

And it’s also one of those songs that one can hear as bearing the stamp of the band, even though you are the only member of Triptykon performing on it…

I wrote the song originally in late 2005 when we were working on Celtic Frost’s last album, Monotheist, when, of course, I didn’t know that I would form Triptykon one day. That song was created as part of a cycle of songs, of which “Totengott,” which is on Monotheist, is also one, and that’s why I am the only Triptykon member featured on it.

In preparing these recordings for Shatter, did you have a moment of hearing just how strong the band is and thinking about releasing live versions of Triptykon songs? Will there be live versions of new material in the near future?

It’s certainly going to happen at some point. Actually, the EP was supposed to include the live version of “The Prolonging,” but the recordings we had at the time were deficient: there were tuning problems… We had fantastic audio recordings from Roadburn, but we experienced some problems with the guitar tuning that were, in the studio, unfixable. So, very reluctantly, we had to abandon the plan to put “The Prolonging” on there, and that’s why these two Celtic Frost songs ended up on the EP. Having said that, however, I am very happy about the version of “Dethroned Emperor” because I think Nocturno Culto of Dartkthrone does a very strong lead vocal—in my personal opinion, I think he sings the song better than I do—and I’m very proud and very happy that he’s on there, so I don’t think we’re missing anything. There is going to be Triptykon live material down the road, there’s no doubt about that.

Triptykon is a relatively new act, so in a way it is pretty courageous to share the stage on what is only the band’s second recording, even with someone who has the stature that he has…

It’s the opposite! It was a huge honor for all of us. We all are friends and huge fans of Nocturno. I’ve worked with him before; he has written the introduction to my book, and he has also invited me to sing with his band Sarke at Wacken 2009, and of course we are going to collaborate in the future. He’s a fantastic musician and someone I look up to very much, and it was a huge honor for all of us that he agreed to do this. You know, we have enough attention as it is, and Triptykon is not so ego-driven that we think “Everything has to be about Triptykon!” There’s plenty of room for somebody like Nocturno!

I’m holding up a mirror to your past few years. During that time, you officially became an assistant to H.R. Giger; you’ve created and sold your own art; you have nurtured a new band from conception to fruition; you’ve worked closely in the studio with 1349 on two separate albums; you completed and published your second book; you’ve recorded the debut of Triptykon; you’ve taken the band on the stage and in the process, curated that date at Roadburn; and now you are going through the band’s inaugural tour of the States and releasing the EP and video. Three questions: first, how the hell do you do all of that; second, is there anything you’ve wanted to do but haven’t since Celtic Frost’s demise; and as canned as it sounds, what’s next?

When you put it all like that in a list, it actually overwhelms me… I didn’t really realize that it was that much. It’s quite astonishing to hear that (laughs). I’m more surprised than anybody about this. I’ve been told by journalists that I’m at the height of my game right now, but it’s far beyond me to judge something like that myself. I am simply extremely grateful that I’ve been able to live long enough to do all of those things. I could have died at various points in my life and came very close; it’s amazing to be here to do all of this. Most of all I’m grateful to the people who actually make this possible. It’s my audience who make it possible; it’s not me. I could do all these things that you list and if nobody would care for it, I would still just sit in some cabin in Switzerland and do all of this for myself. The fact that I am doing this on a global scale is not because of me but because of somebody being interested. As far as ambitions are concerned, I have absolutely no ambition now. I was this little kid with a very difficult youth from a tiny, tiny farm town of fifteen hundred inhabitants; I was an outcast, I experienced violence—radical violence—in my youth; I experienced very terrible circumstances. And my daydream was to become a musician and, of course I knew this would never happen… but any expectations—it fulfilled much more than just my daydreams, so it would be extremely ungrateful to sit here and say, “I want to do more, more, more”… I’m not a capitalist, you know, I’m not greedy. I’m very happy with what I’ve been granted. Whatever comes now I take basically as a dessert. I am really so far beyond any of my wildest dreams. And so I can honestly tell you I have no ambitions. I’m trying to create intense music, I’m working on a new book, but all of this is basically a bonus track. Of all people, I am most astonished by what’s happening in my life.

Having read what you wrote in Only Death Is Real, it seems as though you got to a fork, maybe not a specific moment, but a crossroads where you could have given up. But instead, you’ve been driven to say, “I won’t let my past limit me.”

Believe me, the option of giving up would have been very easy for me. I’m not some superhuman being; I came very close to giving up more than once in my life. It was just a choice of doing this or finally taking control of my own path, and I didn’t have much choice. Could it have gotten any worse? No. I had a shitty youth, so it could only get better. So, I had nothing to lose. I tried to take control, and I’m really glad I did. It was a moment where I had to take control, and I did, and ever since then, I’ve never looked back.


  1. Commented by: Jodi

    Very good read.

  2. Commented by: DK777

    Hey, thanks! I was starting to think NO ONE had read my interview!!!

    Some cool things about this q&a:

    -As nervous as I was interviewing one of my musical heroes, Tom immediately set me at ease with his willingness to field my questions. Impressive… and very real!

    -Tom could not have been more gracious in terms of generosity with his time or frank comments in his responses.

    -A half hour into this conversation, it became clear to me that this man cares deeply and passionately about music in general… and–not surprisingly–the music HE and his band create even more passionately.

    -My favorite realization: extreme metal legend Tom Gabriel Warrior is, after all, a very real performer/artist/person who, in exceedingly impressive measures, appreciates his audience and recognizes the indescribable role that said audience plays in bringing HIS dreams to life.

    -As much intense darkness and jagged-edged emotion as there is in Tom’s music, he sees and affirms the communal connection between artist and audience in a very positive way.

    Hey, I guess you weren’t expecting all of that! Again, thanks for your concise but unqualified positive (I hope!) reaction to the interview.

  3. Commented by: bast

    Very interesting read indeed, made me comeback for some Triptykon and it makes me feel so Powerfull and Omnipresent…
    Although there´s some postures from Mr. Warrior that feeled a bit forced (for the lack of a better word) to me, this interview reminded me the Man is a Legend and has a very good structural grasp of Metal and a Spectacular Artistic standing point.

  4. Commented by: Clauricaune

    That was an awesome interview. Tom was very open and answered all of the questions in full and in a very personal way. I never really had an idea of what the man was like, so this was a very nice read indeed.

  5. Commented by: Penguin

    It’s great to read an interview with somebody that actually answers the questions, goes more in depth and is thoughtful. That’s not all too common in metal, which is very unfortunate.

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