[16 May 2014]
From the apocalyptic raids of Hellhammer’s proto-black/death metal bludgeon to the gargantuan strides and missteps of Celtic Frost, and now in his current incarnation as Triptykon, Tom Gabriel Fischer’s indomitable shadow has been cast across extreme metal music and culture for the past 30 years.
The Swiss musician who has battled internal demons since he was a child is now an unfuckwithable deity to metal musicians and fans alike. However, the amount of worshippers at the feet of Fischer seems to have increased since the release of what became Celtic Frost’s resurrection and insurrection, 2006’s Monotheist. Monotheist brought Celtic Frost out of the mire left by 1988’s much maligned Cold Lake and 1990’s mildly better Vanity/Nemesis, and its success lay with the music itself but also the surprise of how good the album was when compared to the putrid glam rock that sullied Celtic Frost’s great name for many years.
Once Celtic Frost split in 2008 the metal community sided with Fischer rather than his long-time writing partner Martin Eric Ain and Celtic Frost’s final drummer Franco Sesa, both of whom were supposed to release music together after Celtic Frost’s demise yet have been noticeable by their absence ever since. And the shock factor—though not as unexpected—manifested again when Fischer assembled a formidable stable of musicians and returned with Triptykon’s 2010 full-length debut, Eparistera Daimones.
Now that Melana Chasmata is upon us Triptykon have a greater summit to surpass because the element of surprise no longer exists for their second studio album; we know what this band is capable of and where their strengths and weaknesses lie. Eparistera Daimones was a triumph because of its dominant riffs, pulverizing rhythms, and gothic atmosphere, but like all of Fischer’s albums since 1987’s Into the Pandemonium, there was still room to improve. The latter half of the album dragged on excruciatingly, with songs like the 19-plus minutes of “The Prolonging” in desperate need of an edit as the album’s running time needlessly broke the 70-minute mark.
It has to be said that Fischer’s fallibility over the years has been just as intriguing to witness as his patented death-grunts and countless pioneering riffs. As an artist there is a humanity to him that is sadly missing from a lot of younger musicians. And while Melana Chasmata is another success in a career that has influenced many metal sub-genre (death/thrash/black/doom metal), and opened many eyes to experimentation within those sub-genres, there are still some songs in desperate need of a ruthless edit considering how little ground they cover.
This particular issue tends to rear its ugly head more so when bands choose to self-produce their albums, and maybe a hands-on outside producer would have suggested that Triptykon slice and shine some of the arrangements to accentuate the power contained therein. It is sorely needed on the album’s main offenders, “Altar of Deceit” and “Black Snow”, whose static songwriting partly prevents what is an otherwise extremely strong album from being a modern masterpiece. “Altar of Deceit” relies too heavily on two central riffs and it sways and chugs incessantly without any real direction. While one of the main problems with “Black Snow” is that Fischer’s constant gruff moaning of the song’s title becomes more irritating as the track outstays its welcome. Consequentially, “Black Snow” also affects the final song, “Waiting”, because—even though there are some interesting rhythmic charges courtesy of drummer Norman Lonhard—its plodding arrangement drains the merit “Waiting” holds.
The dull portions of Melana Chasmata are in direct contrast with the precision and dynamics on display during the songs that make up the rest of the album, however. Where “Goetia”, the opener off their debut, took its sweet time to reveal itself, Melana Chasmata‘s “Tree of Suffocating Souls” physically slams the listener seconds in with one of the most merciless riffs since the glory days of Celtic Frost’s To Mega Therion (1985). There is an undeniable power to this song as it goes through numerous pummeling riffs and tempo changes—especially impressive when you consider the waning quality of the music released lately by metal musicians who had their heyday during the ‘80s.
Plenty of credit for this must also be given to Triptykon’s younger members not formerly known by the pseudonym “Warrior”, as guitarist V. Santura, drummer Lonhard, and bassist Vanja Šlajh continue to kindle Fischer’s infernal flame, most effectively on the majestic gloom of “Boleskine House” and the morbid march of “Breathing”. Each musician augments the signatures traits of Fischer’s playing style by adding variation to familiarity, whether it is V. Santura’s ability to layer guitars to fill the void; Šlajh’s grinding bass-lines and the sweet alluring timbre of her voice; or Lonhart’s timely changes of pace and orchestral use of the toms to add greater depth to the riffs and overall arrangements.
It has been said before that from great pain comes great art. Thomas Gabriel Fischer—who is as much of a dark romantic as, say, The Cure’s Robert Smith—is a perfect example of an artist who has used his personal suffering to create music that will, for better (Morbid Tales) or worse (Cold Lake), last as long as the Earth keeps pulsing. In particular, “Aurorae” and “Boleskine House” highlight the pain at the core of this enigmatic musician—a contrast to the roaring anger which fuels the heavier fare. The beauty-in-darkness of both songs display the correlation and duality between the masculine and the feminine to stunning effect, as the suppine vocals of Šlajh wraps around Fischer’s baleful baritone while the gothic music beneath turns mournfully but no less forcefully. Both songs are emotionally exposed among the more imperishable tracks that surround them, and their inclusion further elaborates upon some of the ideas explored on Triptykon’s debut and their 2010 EP, Shatter.
As a complete piece of art, Melana Chasmata is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination; but it’s heartening to hear a musician of the vintage of Thomas Gabriel Fischer, a 50-year-old man with few peers (the closest probably being Swans’ mastermind Michael Gira), refuse to dilute his ethos and the heaviness of his music because of the cruel passage of time. Melana Chasmata is vehement in its musical bravado while unafraid to show its introspective and fragile side—especially lyrically. But most noticeably, besides the spectrum of otherwordly darkness and light that permeates the album, it is completely human. And with that comes the burden of imperfections that hunger to offset the moments of true greatness.