He’s one of the heavy underground’s most principal figures. As the creative force behind Hellhammer and Celtic Frost, Tom G. Warrior helped spawn the black metal genre and his experimental will (not without some missteps along the way) has helped push the creative boundaries of metal as a whole. When Celtic Frost reunited with the 2006 Monotheist album, it was as though the band—Warrior as principal songwriter/guitarist/vocalist alongside bassist/vocalist Martin Eric Ain and drummer Franco Sesa—had returned not only to claim their legacy, but also to drive it down darkened new avenues yet unexplored by the band. They toured alongside acts they influenced like Type O-Negative and Watain, and were arguably the best received they’d ever been.
…And then, in 2008, they broke up.
Flash forward two years and slack-jawed in front of the stage, I watched this past April as the same Tom G. Warrior stared down the entire 013 Popcentrum in Tilburg, Netherlands, at the 2010 Roadburn Festival. It was the first show for Warrior’s new band, Triptykon, and Warrior curated the entire day of the event under the banner of Only Death Is Real. Triptykon’s debut full-length, Eparistera Daimones had been released the month before to massive international fanfare, and as the set list featured 50 percent classic Celtic Frost, there was plenty of material to round out their two-hour headlining slot.
As Triptykon—Warrior in his usual rules alongside guitarist/vocalist V. Santura, bassist Vanja Slajh and drummer Norman Lonhard—prepares to release their new Shatter EP and launch their first American tour at NYC’s Gramercy Theatre on Oct. 6, I’m thrilled to be able to present the following conversation with one of heavy music’s true originals.
How do you feel about the response the Triptykon record has gotten?
Quite frankly, I’m blown away by it. Leaving Celtic Frost was not only an extremely difficult decision, but it was a decision that I thought about in great, great detail. I didn’t do it in haste or in anger or anything like that. I knew I was going to give up a lot with Celtic Frost. Celtic Frost had quite a status and it was quite a comfortable situation, to be in Celtic Frost.
So when I left Celtic Frost, I knew I would have to start from scratch, regardless of my name. I didn’t assign so much importance to my name. I knew I would have to start from scratch. I knew I was giving up a huge platform, and I was prepared for many years of work. I’m not afraid to work, I don’t shy away from work, even at my age. So I was blown away at how positively the album was received. It still is a huge path ahead of us, and it still is a lot of work, but it’s nice to be able to start with an album that’s largely well-received. It’s something I didn’t count on, and so it’s a very nice surprise.
How is it for you playing Celtic Frost songs with Triptykon?
It’s fantastic. It’s a release. It’s been overdue that these songs are played honestly again. During the last period of Celtic Frost, we went on stage and acted like a band and projected something that we weren’t anymore. I hated that situation. I hated it passionately. I’m not an actor, I’m a musician. And to be able to go on stage now with a band who loves music and is as passionate about these songs as I am is a huge difference, and it feels fantastic to play these songs honestly, and to feel the fire again in these songs and not have the feeling that somebody or several people in the band are faking it. We are also playing these songs probably closer to the album versions, as far as the tempo is concerned. That’s not a decision we made consciously, it simply happened, and maybe that has to do with what I just explained before. Maybe because we are much more neutral on a human level towards these songs than fighting a destroyed band was. Anyway, the mixture. We said from the beginning we were going to mix Celtic Frost material and Triptykon material 50/50, because all these songs are my songs anyway, songs I’ve written and songs that are important to me. This blend works perfectly. It has worked in all the concerts we’ve played so far.
I was fortunate enough to see Triptykon play at Roadburn. What was that experience like for you, curating the day and headlining?
It was intimidating and fantastic at the same time. It was intimidating because Triptykon had not played live on stage before, and we only did two very small-scale warm-up shows beforehand. It’s intimidating to take your new band out and go on a festival that has an outstanding reputation and know that the press from all over the world, including you, is there, and when you know the band is by necessity still cold and not as well-rehearsed as you are after a US tour, for example. Having said that, though, I think the show was quite alright from our point of view. There was a few things that later went much better at subsequent concerts, but for such an early show, I think it went alright. I certainly wish that you will have the chance to see us and what we sound like now, and you probably will be able to see the difference.
Curating Roadburn was of course a gargantuan honor and something I never thought anyone would bestow on me. That Walter [Hoeijmakers] chose me blew my mind and I tried to do justice to the opportunity. It is amazing to be able to put together one day of a festival that is musically very close to my passion anyway. Walter, who organizes Roadburn, is an amazing person. Very easy to work with. Very passionate about music, just as I am. I only have the best things to say about that experience. As early as it was for Triptykon, it was also as huge an honor. You have to also know Walter booked us as a headliner before he heard a single note of music from Triptykon. He simply trusted me. He didn’t know if Triptykon could live up to Celtic Frost, he simply booked us as a headliner and bargained a little bit with his own reputation in doing so, which to me at the time, when I really found out who are my friends and who are not, meant a lot to me.
You said, “Living up to Celtic Frost.” Do you think of it on those terms? Is that a goal for you, or are you trying to move on from Celtic Frost to something new?
I have to say it’s both. Of course, I was the main songwriter in Celtic Frost and I’m the main songwriter in Triptykon and I have certain demands regarding the quality of my own songs. And having been in Celtic Frost for seven albums, I don’t want to fall below that standard. I have my pride and my professional pride, and yes, I do want to live up to Celtic Frost. I know in certain ways it’s impossible, because Celtic Frost has become this legend—I mean what fans think of us, that has nothing really to do with the actual Celtic Frost. We were simply humans, but the media and the fans have made this legend, and you cannot possibly reach that level with a new band, but as far as musical quality’s concerned, as far as courage is concerned—musical courage—as far as attention to detail is concerned, as far as the bandwidth of musical influences is concerned, yes of course I want to live up to Celtic Frost’s standards, and more, I want to develop it further, like I would have done had Celtic Frost prevailed.
One thing I noticed seeing Triptykon live—and it was true in Celtic Frost too—you have this intense look on your face on stage. What do you feel when you’re playing these songs?
It’s a different world. I’m careful to word this, because it probably sounds like a huge cliché or some kind of act to a lot of fans, and I understand that, but in actual fact, for me at least, personally speaking, it is a different world once I enter the stage, and much more, once I touch my guitar and this vibration, this sound, fills my body. It’s not like anything else in my life, and it’s a different world. You’re in a different state of mind, most definitely. It’s a very extreme, very intense music, and if that’s your own songs that come from your own emotions and you’re performing them, you feel the vibrations in your fingers and in your body, that transcends everything and touches you deeply. Playing these songs is an intensely intimate and transcending experience. Several of these songs reflect certain periods in my life that were very significant for one reasons or another, and these feelings come back. Songs like “The Prolonging,” or “Synogoga Satanae” or “Procreation of the Wicked,” from all the periods of my work, they have certain personal significance, and that’s resurrected every time you play them.
It’s just interesting because you see people smile on stage, people who are clearly having fun, and it looks like a much more visceral experience when you’re playing.
It can have all of these effects. We occasionally smile too. Just because these songs touch you deeply doesn’t mean you have to look fierce all the time. They evoke a variety of emotions. We’ve played now many more shows since Roadburn and we’ve experienced a whole bandwidth. The fact of the matter is it’s extreme music. It’s not background music, and if you’re playing these songs honestly, not just as routine, yes, they do touch you deeply.
How did the Shatter EP come about?
We selected the material that we personally felt was good enough for the release before we went in the studio. We did a very professional pre-production with Triptykon, and we didn’t go to the studio and then say, “These songs are not fit for release.” All of these songs were recorded and we wanted them to be released, but of course the album already has a playing time that’s insane, so we didn’t want to cram any more on the album. The idea of an additional EP arose very early on, and of course what sealed it was we came away from Roadburn with some amazing live recordings, one of them with Nocturno Culto singing the lead vocals to Celtic Frost’s “Dethroned Emperor,” and in my opinion, his vocals far surpass anything I’ve ever done with that song. So when we received those recordings, we decided we would include them, and that’s when the EP became reality. I think it’s a very strong product. Even though it’s labeled and EP, it’s 30 minutes of playing time and it’s got detailed liner notes and so on. I think it’s a very valid product. An EP’s mostly geared toward the hardcore fans of the band, I think the hardcore fans of Triptykon will be well served. It’s a very dark and heavy EP.
Is there new Triptykon material you’re working on now?
We are focusing on touring, but I’ve been working on the new album since we left the studio after the last one, and I know V. Santura has done the same. My head right now is filled with ideas and inspiration much more so than it’s been in many years. It’s a fantastic feeling and a fantastic band to be in. The band is a circle of friends, which makes creating music much, much easier than it was in Celtic Frost. It’s a very fruitful ground for new songs to exist. I’m working on it constantly and I’m hoping after the US tour I’ll have a month or two of free time to sit down with these songs and also create new ones.
Are there goals for Triptykon you have that Celtic Frost either couldn’t do or are separate from what you tried to accomplish with Celtic Frost?
That’s almost an impossible question, and maybe it sounds pretentious, because I associate Celtic Frost with myself. And that’s not because I have a huge ego, but because about 90 percent of Celtic Frost’s music was written by me and more than 50 percent of the lyrics were written by me, and I had a huge share in every other decision—for example, artwork and concepts in Celtic Frost—so Celtic Frost was predominantly my creativity, and as I said before, I view my creativity as a continuous development. I see the whole thing much more personally. I see it as my contributions to the band, and not Triptykon sounding like Celtic Frost. It was more like Celtic Frost sounds like Tom Warrior and so does Triptykon. Celtic Frost did not give birth to me, I gave birth to Celtic Frost, and I gave birth to Triptykon. What might arise in the future, who knows? Having said that, of course Triptykon also has different characters in it than Celtic Frost, and they are all very welcome to contribute music, and V. Santura already has done so, and all arrangements are done by the entire band, all decisions are taken by the entire band, so there might well be little elements that might have been atypical of Celtic Frost, but by and large I think Triptykon is very much a development of the path Celtic Frost had begun, and I think it’s good that way. Celtic Frost would have done a few very unusual things in the future and I think Triptykon will do so too.
Will you do more touring behind this album, or is this US tour the last?
Yeah, there’s still a European tour scheduled to be played in early Spring 2011, and we’ve already received numerous offers for festivals next year, and most of them will probably take place before we begin recording the next album. But I think the prime focus once the European tour has been played is creating this new album. There’s a lot of pressure from the Celtic Frost legacy and there’s a lot of pressure because Eparistera Daimones was received quite well by the media and by the audiences. That increases the pressure for the second album, and we are very aware of that and we would like to uphold the quality standard. It will not be easy to record this album. It will be quite a lot of work, and we’re very eager to get some time next year to actually do that.
Triptykon’s Shatter EP hits stores Oct. 26. Triptykon hit Gramercy Theatre in NYC Oct. 6. Info at myspace.com/triptykonofficial.
JJ Koczan will see you there. email@example.com.