On Sunday, May 24th of 2015 I interviewed Tom G. Warrior of Triptykon (and formerly Celtic Frost and Hellhammer). It was the final day of Maryland Deathfest XIII and I had to miss a couple bands that I wanted to see because of it, but it was definitely worth it. Tom’s people had arranged for us to use a small conference room in the hotel for the interview. I basically just sat down in a small room with just Tom, myself and my recorder on the table between us. The following 19 minute interview is the result of that conversation. I hope you all enjoy this interview with one of metal’s legendary pioneers.
You can stream the interview by clicking the orange play button below, download it as an mp3 here, or read the following transcription. My words are in bold.
Hello this is Metal Chris from DCHeavyMetal.com and today, this is the last day of Maryland Deathfest, I’m lucky enough to have with me one of the true originators of underground heavy metal, Tom Warrior, from Triptykon who played yesterday at the festival and people also know him from Hellhammer and Celtic Frost. Thank you very much for talking with me today Tom.
So the first thing I wanted to ask you is what exactly does the name Triptykon mean?
It’s the third occult metal band that I’ve formed in my life and as I’m mildly obsessed with the concept of a triptych it just seemed to fit perfectly. The first part of course being Hellhammer and the second part being Celtic Frost, Triptkyon being probably the bookend.
Triptykon was supposed to play last year at Deathfest. You guys were going to headline I believe at Rams Head Live one night and I know that you couldn’t make the show because your good friend HR Giger had just passed away and you had to go to the funeral instead.
We didn’t cancel lightheartedly but there was just no way that I could have left the widow and the other close friends. The week that we would have appeared here in Baltimore was both the memorial service and the burial which were two separate events and I couldn’t have possibly have left them alone for that. Not only because I was close to Giger but I owe him so much that there was just no question and I counted on the understanding of our fans. That’s why I made a lengthy statement (here) hoping that most people would understand what we were experiencing.
Yeah I think most people did. I think sometimes people forget that, you know we have these big ideas of the musicians in these bands that we look up to that we forget that they’re people too and they have commitments they have to do outside of music.
Well yeah. This was also related to music and it was much, much more than that. Giger was also a very close personal friend, and his wife was a very personal friend. There’s so many connections and I’ve always been there for them. They’ve been there for me. There was no way I could have said, “well goodbye, I’m playing a show” you know?
Yeah, completely understandable. Now [last year] you were supposed to play at Rams Head Live which is an indoor venue though and then yesterday you played outdoors on the big main stage. Which do you really prefer to have Triptkyon in because it was kind of weird seeing you guys with all that sunlight on you I have to admit.
Basically I don’t really care as long as we get a good connection with our audience and yesterday was fantastic. The audience were very exceptional. Of course I prefer Triptkyon in the dark and usually that’s a stipulation that we have but I understand that if you play outdoors here there’s a certain curfew because it’s in the middle of the city and we were the second to last band and it was only like seven o’clock or something. The whole thing is much earlier than like for example a European festival and we have no problem with that. We don’t have to enforce some stupid star trip you know? If it’s not possible any other way here then we do it. The most important thing is that we finally came here and that the people got to see us and we had a very good stage sound, we had a fantastic audience so there was some sunlight, tough shit.
It was a great show anyway. So back to Giger, I think fans know your relationship the most just from seeing the album cover art that he’s done for your bands over the years and I was kind of curious any other ways he may have influenced your music or your artistic development aside from just that that we’ve mostly seen.
Well the album covers, especially the first one of To Mega Therion, those are the visual tokens but the mere fact that Giger believed in us in 1983 when we first contacted him when we were nobodies, we didn’t even have a record deal. We had like two miserable demos. Nobody knew us. The few people who had heard us laughed about us in our own scene. I’m not talking about regular people I’m talking about the metal scene, they laughed at us, nobody gave us a chance. Everybody we approached wouldn’t touch us with a stick, promoters and record companies. The only person that took us serious was Giger who was at the pinnacle of his fame. He had just won the Academy Award and had just done Alien, and it gave us a tremendous boost that somebody of his format would actually believe in us and work together with us when everybody else wouldn’t take us serious. So it had a far larger implication to us than just the cover, which of course was a huge honor but it also made it easier for us to believe in ourselves if Giger, our idol for many years believed in us and he became our mentor. What can I say? That influenced just about everything else that came afterwards. And of course the To Mega Therion album became legendary, not the least by means of the cover so that was the beginning of a very long relationship that has implications to this day.
I saw you had the bio-mech guitar that you were playing yesterday as well. That was pretty cool.
Of course. It’s the best sounding Iceman, it’s actually a coincidence. When we brought back Celtic Frost in the early 2000’s and we were working on the album, of course I’ve been playing Ibanez Icemans for forever, but just around that time Ibanez collaborated with Giger and created this Iceman model. And Martin Ain gave me one of those on my birthday in 2005. He surprised me with one of those and we played it during rehearsals and it turned out to sound better than any other Iceman I had. I had pretty much every Iceman model in my life and this one sounded so aggressive that we knew we have to have more of those. I’ve owned four of those in addition to the other Icemans and the other Icemans cannot compete. And of course its highly symbolic. It’s the Giger Iceman. It’s the best sounding and suits our sound perfectly. But there’s no design behind that, it’s just mere coincidence.
That’s a cool coincidence.
It fits perfectly, what can I say?
Cool. So have you written any songs to commemorate or as in a tribute to Giger at all?
No… I don’t know if I could write an appropriate song for that. What I intend to do is dedicate the next Triptykon album. The first one after his death, dedicate that to him. And the fact of the matter is that we designed three albums together while he was still alive. The cover, the booklet and everything for the third album from Triptykon, it has been designed, it has been approved by him. So it will be a memento to him at any rate and we plan on dedicating it to him. It’s going to be the very last cover that he was ever actively involved in. That’s basically our tribute, to realize that album that he was still involved in.
That’s really cool. During your live set you guys play a lot of the old Celtic Frost and Hellhammer songs as well.
It’s just about half/half. We always try to have it roughly half/half.
Do you prefer playing the older songs or do you like playing the Triptykon stuff more or is it all just kind of the same to you?
It’s exactly the same to me. If I had my way Celtic Frost would have existed for many more albums. Unfortunately certain people’s grand designs on their own fame and certain egotistical stunts interfered with that. And eventually the band became so unworkable that I personally said the only option that was left was leaving it. I formed Triptykon but in essence it’s exactly the same thing I did with Celtic Frost. It’s simply minus the egotism and the personality stunts. Even though it’s younger people, behind the scenes Triptykon is far more mature than Celtic Frost ever was. But musically the whole infrastructure around the band and my approach and the way I produce and everything it’s exactly the same. It’s basically what I would have done had Celtic Frost persevered. So to me the Celtic Frost songs merge perfectly with the Triptykon songs. I really don’t see a difference. We try to strike a balance because Triptykon is not just me, it’s four people and I don’t just want to be a Celtic Frost cover band. I think it’s fair enough to play half/half. Half newer songs, half older songs, but I think we’re doing fine with that.
So here’s one thing during your set also, you guys introduced yourselves [as being] from Sweden. Now I thought you were from Switzerland.
We are but just about maybe 70% of all Americans say, “well you’re from Sweden” so we said, “yeah, we’re from Sweden.”
So it’s sort of a joke on the audience then?
It wasn’t a joke on the audience. Nobody in the audience has any responsibility for that but it’s just, I’ve been playing, for the first time in North America in ’85, and ever since then I’ve been named a Swede uncounted times so yesterday yeah, we were Swedish.
Well a few of us around me, we all noticed for sure.
Pete Beste, the famous black metal photographer, [was] standing right in front of me when I said that and I saw his puzzled face because we are friends and he was looking at me like, “what the hell?”
Do you think there will be a full US tour from Triptykon any time soon?
It remains to be seen. I really don’t know. I’ve been becoming a bit of a recluse in recent years. I’ve toured so much and I’ve played so many concerts in my 33 years as a musician that I don’t want to endlessly repeat myself. I’d like to keep it, this is a really overused word, authentic. I’d like to still be excited when I go on stage and not just play a conveyor belt set. I’ve been shooting down so many things in New York and elsewhere when it doesn’t seem right. I want to play concerts that are still honest and I don’t want to do it like a job. I don’t want to come on stage and just be a routine. As for the United States there’s even more ??? Since I first played over here in 1985 the bureaucracy to obtain the necessary visas has multiplied and it has become very difficult, very expensive, the whole process and also [some] parts that are very humiliating for a 52 year old man who doesn’t really have to submit to all this stuff. So if we get a reasonable offer [then] yes of course we’re coming over but it really has to make sense for us to go through all of this. This time for 60 minutes on stage we went through months, months and months of visa petition process and interviews and payments. There’s no relation to the actual show time so next time if we come over here we would love to do that. It’s always been a high point for me for every album to come to the states but it’s got to make sense on some level given the time you invest and the nerves and bureaucracy and everything.
I know you saw Goatsnake today.
I interrupted the interviews today because I love Goatsnake.
I was supposed to interview you earlier today. They moved it back. It’s ok, I don’t mind.
That’s why I told you I’m grateful for all your understanding, your commuting and everything. I don’t take that for granted.
It’s no problem.
I saw Goatsnake in 2010 at the Roadburn Festival. They were monumental. I went back stage and I told them its one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, and I really meant that. So we were all dying to see them today. Today it didn’t sound as good as back then for probably many reasons. But they’re still friends of mine and I really wanted to see them and I’m very, very glad that you made this possible by being so flexible.
No problem. Were there any other bands that you caught at Deathfest this year that you really enjoyed?
I don’t really listen to so much metal. I’ve been listening to metal since 1973 and I… I find that I fare much better if I listen to some of the other music that I passionately enjoy such as jazz music and old hippie music and all kinds of stuff. Because I’m doing this every day with the band and I’ve listened to 45 years or whatever it is of hard music and I don’t want to get tired of the music. I don’t want to get saturated to the point of not being able to be creative any more. You need some other horizons too and that’s not me blasting metal. Metal is my life and my life has been lived as part of the metal scene but as somebody who’s creative you have to have some other input as well and there’s so much good music out there. I love 70’s or late 60’s swing and so there’s just so much music that moves me, you know? After so many years I listen to that a lot because when I’m with the band or when I’m on stage we play very loud, very heavy and that’s already saturating enough.
Sometimes you need a little break, you know?
Well that’s just how it works for me, you know?
No I think it is for most people to be honest.
I listen to a lot of heavy rock but it’s mostly heavy rock from the 70’s and the first half of the 80’s.
Well that sort of leads into my next question anyway. Now you’ve been a big influence on, I don’t even know how many metal bands and musicians over the years, are there any newer bands that have come out in the last maybe five years or so that are any kind of influence on you?
Well maybe not an influence. I think I’m too old for that. I have crafted my style and I play the music that is inside of me. I don’t really need an influence. But there’s bands that I honestly look up to. Portal [who are] from Australia I believe.
They’re playing tonight, yup.
They’re sensational. Or the Wounded Kings from England. I’ve found that the albums they did with their female singer, they’re sensational. So there’s the occasional band that catches my attention, of course.
And I’m guessing from some of your earlier comments that there will probably never be any kind of Celtic Frost reunion or anything like that.
I’m afraid that’s impossible, yeah. I mean there’s no more animosity between me and Martin, we just met actually a few weeks ago as we do from time to time but I think that window has closed. Even though Martin once said, “yeah we’ll play music together again” but after that gargantuan disappointment I don’t think I want to set myself up for yet another one. Celtic Frost was my life and losing that twice wasn’t very easy. And I don’t trust these people any more. I invested so much time and so much of my personal money and effort and my songs and my production and everything into the Monotheist album and I did this because I believed the band could exist for many years and I felt betrayed and stabbed in the back and I really, if I would ever get involved with that again it would probably end the same and I don’t want to do that. Triptykon is a circle of friends and I prefer that. And you know anything I want to do creatively I can do in Triptykon.
I am actually also a big 1349 fan and I know you worked with them on some of their albums. How did you meet up with those guys? How did that get to the point where you were, I think you were producing a couple of their albums right?
I got to know 1349 through my friendship with Frost, their drummer, who back in the early 2000’s was far more involved with them than he is now. I heard 1349’s first album after reading a review in Terrorizer magazine and I thought it was fantastic. To me it was really a black metal album that really caught my attention. At that time there were so many black metal bands out there, many of them copying another one and 1349, their first album really hit me. It was fresh and it was aggressive. It was just right. And I knew Frost was playing in there and we had talked to Frost as a possible drummer in Celtic Frost.
That would have been really cool I think.
It would have been much cooler than the drummer we had eventually, I tell you that. So there was already a friendship so when 1349 toured and came to Switzerland we went to see them and that’s when I also struck a friendship with Ravn, the singer, and we just have so many things in common [that] we became very close friends and we visit with each other in Norway and in Switzerland and made trips together and everything before so eventually it ended up being a musical collaboration as well.
The phrase “only death is real,” what exactly does that mean to you and where did it come from exactly? I’d love to hear the back story to that.
Well it’s basically a line from the song “Messiah” which we wrong in 1983 in Hellhammer and it is probably extremely difficult for young people nowadays to understand but this was written during the time of the Cold War when the Soviet Union and America were basically staring down each other and there was a very real possibility that somebody would press the red button and the world would be obliterated by nuclear war. I mean it was in the media every day. It was in the news and everything and us young people at the time, we grew up with this constant realization that the next hour the world could be eliminated. There was such tensions always between the two super powers and a lot of Hellhammer’s material reflects that kind of aura, that kind of feeling that was in the air at that time and “Messiah” even though it sounds like a religious song but it is very much about the Cold War and this fear of the destruction of the world and “only death is real” hints to that of course it’s also true it’s the only thing that’s guaranteed in life. Death is something that unifies us all. Whether you’re black or white or whatever. Whatever kind of being you are, even a stone on this planet eventually will be ground down to dust. Everything will pass on this planet. Death is the only thing that’s a given, that’s a guarantee on this planet for everything. That’s really, that’s the end of it.
So you’re here in Baltimore for this and I don’t know if you’ve heard any of the news about some of the protests and…
Of course that’s why I said yesterday on stage, “you’re very rowdy tonight, that’s not like Baltimore at all” then everybody had to laugh. It was of course a little joke about that which, of course, it’s not funny at all.
Well I think the police officers that had been involved in that incident were actually indicted I think on Friday or something and I think it’s actually very lucky for Deathfest because what happened in Saint Louis was the day that the police were to be indicted they were not indicted and they were basically not going to be charged with any kind of crime, not even given a trial and that’s what started all those protests that were going on in Ferguson near Saint Louis, Missouri. And I was thinking, man if those guys had not been indicted on Friday if it came out that they were not going to be charged with anything…
Of course it would have…
I mean not only would that have probably called off the rest of Deathfest, but I mean it would have affected a lot of people here in a lot of ways.
Of course, yeah.
And I was just kind of curious if you had any kind of opinion on any of that.
Well who am I as somebody who lives in Switzerland to have a right to comment on an inter-American affair? I’m not somebody who buries their head in the ground but I’m also very respectful of national affairs. Of course we all followed that in the news. I’m an information junkie. I’m a history junkie and an information junkie constantly ever since I was a child. It’s a hugely complex issue that we cannot possibly address just in a few sentences. I understand police officers who are charged with securing a modern American city. It is humongous you know? You don’t have cities like that in Switzerland. And you’re tasked to ensure security of these cities and there’s these masses of criminals and problems and drugs and whatever. I totally understand that you might get trigger happy and in the heat of the moment you might make an irrational decision but I also understand the other side. The people who suffer from this and who feel disenfranchised and in a world that’s governed by mega corporations that don’t leave people without any education any chance to ever achieve anything in their life. I understand both sides and both sides are so complex so who am I to say who’s right, who’s wrong, what’s the solution? It’s a problem that is so gargantuan.
Well thanks a lot Tom. It’s been really awesome talking to you. If there’s anything else you’d like to say…
I just want to say thank you for the audience here at Maryland Deathfest for being so patient and waiting for a year for us and for being understanding. Nobody said anything negative about our pulling out last year. Everybody understood what it was all about and I’m very grateful for that.
Well you know there’s a lot of bands also that have canceled for various reasons and said they will come back the next year and [then] not do it and it was really cool that you made sure the next year you guys were back.
Oh no that was never a question for us. We had decided, we had this discussion, the band, when this all happened and when we decided we cannot do it you know? We said if there’s an offer for next year of course we will say yes no matter what the offer is. There was never a question in [my] mind about coming back. We were hoping that they wouldn’t be disappointed with us, the organizers, we were hoping they would ask us back. So they did and of course…
Well I think [Maryland Deathfest organizers] Evan [Harting] and Ryan [Taylor] are usually pretty reasonable about stuff so.
Yeah but you know, you don’t take anything for granted after a life in this industry and they were very cool, very understanding so yeah of course we come back.
Well thanks a lot. Thanks again for your time Tom. It’s been awesome talking to you here so thank you a lot.