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Cultivated primitivism and pensive majesty - 95%

Achintya Venkatesh, April 25th, 2014

Thomas Gabriel Fischer – a heavy metal deity par excellence – a man who has seen everything from an awry familial situation, a repressed childhood, to being mocked for his early musical musings to being heralded as a pioneer of his time, meeting success, joy, conflict and downfall in quick succession. The heavy metal world is indeed eternally indebted to Fischer in multiple ways, having been a precursory figure and incredibly seminal on not only black and death metal, but also other divergent styles such as doom metal, death/doom metal, thrash metal, symphonic metal, gothic metal and avant-garde metal. From the Venom/d-beat punk-inspired occultist primitivisms of Hellhammer, to the proto-extreme metal ävänt-gärdist tendencies of Celtic Frost, with the latter ultimately being subjected to (in retrospect) unintended stylistic shifts that led to its first downfall, while human conflicts led to its final demise. A life having been characterized by turbulence across his professional/artistic endeavours and personal relations, the Warrior had the perfect fuel to keep the fire burning in a most genuine and unfeigned manner.

Eparistera Daimones’ was a perfection of the latter day Celtic Frost formula, albeit it was driven by a heightened sense of rage and exasperation than the more brooding and pensive ‘Monotheist’ was, no doubt owing quite a lot of its inspiration to Tom Warrior’s very own experience in Celtic Frost – the destruction of his very own creation. Four years after the band’s last release, the prospect of Tom Warrior and his cohorts returning with another full-length album was nothing short of exciting, and needless to say the expectations for this release were beyond high. Risk-taking is something that has typified the very artistic ethos of Fischer across his long career, and although all his forays into various styles haven’t been successful, it is hard to argue against the fact that his experimentations alongside the basal style he has honed for himself since his return to metal has been nothing short of stellar. Onto the actual music itself, the primary tool employed by Fischer when creating his sound-scapes is the guitar tone, superseding the intricacy of the riff itself. This is not to say that it is lacking in the latter department, as the muscular, finesse-laden riffing and decrepit grooves of songs like ‘Tree of Suffocating Souls’ or ‘Breathing’ (parts of which will certainly make the Hellhammer/Celtic Frost fan in one smile) will attest to. Rather, the less is more formula serves its purpose when it has such a monolithic tone to lean back on, which is precisely why this textural quality make songs like ‘Black Snow’, ‘Altar of Deceit’ or ‘In The Sleep of Death' such suffocatingly emotive experiences, painting utterly morose images of doom and death as opposed to being mere droning chug-fests. Fischer and V. Santura’s guitar work invokes a certain gargantuan majesty that is primitive at heart but cultivated and seasoned in its execution, as if to analogically project Fischer’s journey from both a personal and creative perspective.

It cannot be stated emphatically enough that Fischer is no stranger to experimentation, and his sheer genius in this regard shines through on ‘Melana Chasmata’. To assign a genre tag to this album would certainly do it no justice, as the band experiments with a variety of tones, sounds, samples and textures that run the gamut of everything from extreme metal (doom/death/black) to more gothic atmospheres and even slightly dabbling in industrial, ambient and dare I say post-rock–like elements. It is the juxtaposition of these very elements across the length of the album making for a more rounded experience. In a sense, this serves as a metaphorical expression of the range of human emotions, and in turn adjusting the atmospheres to the fatalistic undertones of the record. ‘Demon Pact’ is perhaps the best reflection of the way Warrior flirts with the industrial side of things and conjures absolutely arcane atmospheres and rendering almost catacomb-like images. In terms of the rhythm section, Vanja Šlajh’s bass work, as brooding as the guitars are especially emphasized when the band considerably slows down its pacing; while Norman Lonhard’s drumming is legitimately dexterous and lucid in its execution, ushering in different paces that in turn establish the dismal moods at play.

What is admirable is that these experimentations are not simply indulged in for the sake of artistic snobbery or as a face-value wow factor, but it instead adds to the thematic explorations, juxtaposition and more specifically, the narrative in a most honest manner. For instance, take for instance the clean chord progression seen on the first few songs, which I believe all share a C♯-driven tuning and recurrent notes, reinforcing a common narrative conveyed through different compositions, in turn manifesting a larger theme. Invoking everything from misanthropy, depression and a dejected sense of yearning, Fischer’s vocals serve as the perfect vehicle for the expressions of these themes and moods, being both hoarse and sludgy in textural quality with the cadenced command and surly, booming quality of a formidable archon; while Santura with his occasional backing vocals, a more harsher voice only further adding to the excruciating ambiance. Warrior’s performance on the vocal side of things is also diverse, with the moan-like vocals one became acquainted with on ‘Into the Pandemonium’ appearing on ‘In the Sleep of Death’, while a more baritonal indulgence is seen on ‘Aurorae’, both calming and disconsolate in its scope. Simone Vollenweider once again makes a guest appearance, having been associated with Fischer since ‘Monotheist’, providing vocals on tracks like ‘Boleskin House’ and ‘Waiting’, which I would like to think mirrors the ethereal ‘My Pain’ from the debut, providing a fleetingly conciliating closure of sorts to this sombre, wrathful and epic journey through these deep, dark valleys of human thought - and what better visual compliment for a masterpiece of an album than a piece by surrealistic visionary and genius par excellence H.R Giger?

Creative profundities and musical intricacies aside, Triptykon’s sophomore is an album that not only stands proud within the context of metal music but as a piece of art in itself. It is a far more pensive and introspective experience than ‘Eparistera Daimones’, an admittedly more outright heavy and furious record. ‘Melana Chasmata’ is cathartic, it is theatrical and full of a poetic sense of existential agonizing and yet has exuberant moments, and as a whole the integrity and sheer honesty of the artists at hand is more than evident in this type of music, which is both otherworldly and fantastical in its purview, utterly bleak in aesthetic and yet so incredibly intimate and personal. May this triptych reign into eternity.

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