Hellhammer was a band that only lasted two years, but had a profound impact on extreme metal. Forged in the early 1980's, this was Tom Gabriel Fischer's (aka Tom G Warrior) first band that turned a lot of heads but not quite for all the right reasons.
With their native Switzerland at the time more focused on more traditional heavy metal, Hellhammer was largely shunned by record labels, critics and promoters. As such, the band was never actually able to perform live anywhere in their now storied existence.
In more recent years Tom G Warrior has put together a tribute band, entitled Triumph Of Death, that plays homage to the original Hellhammer songs. The band has been able to play a number of festivals and has finally garnered a great deal of support some forty years after their formation.
The band is poised to release their first ever live album, Resurrection of the Flesh, that was recorded over three festivals in 2023. We spoke with Tom G Warrior about Hellhammer and the legacy of Triumph Of Death.
Can you tell us what bands were you listening to in the early eighties that influenced the sound of Hellhammer?
Well, the immediate influences were bands like Angel Witch, Discharge, and Venom. Mostly bands from the New Wave of British heavy metal, which at the time, of course, represented the complete revolution in our scene. It was a transformation in the 1970s, hard rock into something more aggressive… more modern on the ears of back then. And, of course, it fascinated us. Some of these bands were quite heavy and wild. Basically the prototypes for the later extreme metal. And that's really what we loved. That's what we had a passion for.
How did you get introduced to heavier bands like these in Switzerland at the time. I understand there wasn't a lot of heavy or aggressive music out there. How did you discover some of these bands?
There was like none of it in Switzerland. And it's a good question because it was actually quite difficult to get a hold of these bands. You would sometimes hear about these bands from friends. Friends who had traveled to the UK and found some of the singles. There were a handful of record stores whose owners had good connections to the UK. They would import some of the singles sometimes just one piece at a time, and if you were lucky you were there at the right time, and you would you would see a single a of a band that you had never heard of.
You basically had to look at the at the picture of the band. You would have to guess…this looks like a cool band… this looks like a heavy band… and you therefore discovered that. There was also tape trading, of course, when people would send around lists with bands, and they would say the name of the band, the name of the demo, and then it would say, "heavy," or "melodic," and so on. You would have to go through these lists. It was a much more involved process than nowadays where Spotify is basically telling you "this music is identical to the music you're listening to."
You had to find out everything yourself. And, by the way, probably the most important single 7" single that I found at the time Venom's first single In League with Satan. I couldn't listen to it, of course, in the store, but I looked at the at the photo. It told me "to spend; it must be cool… They look so extreme." So you had to. You had to really trust these things exactly."
So you and folks like Martin Eric Ain decided to pick up instruments and start to play largely because of the music you were listening to? What else was going on that made you say, "Hey, let's start a band!"
We were total music fanatics. Music was really our life. The people who are crucial to Hellhammer's existence… Steve Warrior, with whom I formed the band, and then later, Martin Eric who replaced Steve and then me. We all had a very problematic background in our youth in one way or another. We all carried a certain amount of frustration, pain and aggression in ourselves, and when we found each other we were finally able to devise something to release these feelings and release them constructively. And that was, of course, Hellhammer's music. Once we found each other we were able to take these emotions; these drastic emotions, and write songs about them, and put the aggression, the heaviness, the desperation, into these songs."
Was there any specific reason why you really weren't able to play these songs live back in the early eighties.
Well, there's basically two reasons. One reason is that there wasn't really an extreme metal scene at the time. There was a handful of bands on the global scale. Maybe three that played this kind of music. There wasn't really an extreme metal scene, and for the years of the time this wasn't really considered music, I mean, look at the reviews that Hellhammer received, that early Venom received; all so negative back then. The most popular band, I think at the time was AC/DC. Many other bands tried to match Ronnie James Dio, as far as vocal range was concerned, and so on and there's, of course, nothing wrong with that, but bands like Venom and us, or even Motörhead, didn't correspond to that direction at all, and all played something that was probably much closer to punk.
As far as how drastic it was, people initially rejected it. The second thing is that Switzerland was very provincial at the time, and then Switzerland was even more distant to anything extreme. The biggest band at time at the time was Krokus who had just released Metal Rendezvous, and made their first steps into another country. So everybody in Switzerland was worshiping Krokus. All the bands tried to copy Krokus. All the promoters were looking for bands that sounded like Krokus to organize concerts with. Nobody would touch us with a stick. We tried to play concerts, but nobody wanted it.
Now, of course, everyone wants to go see Triumph Of Death. Things are so different now, right?
Yeah, I only had to be patient for 40 years. That's fine. (laughing)
Can you tell us a little bit about the transition from Hellhammer to Celtic Frost?
Well, we were very self-critical young people, and we wanted to become better. I mean, on one hand, we were really into extreme music, Discharge, and Venom, but we also loved sophisticated heavy metal and we knew that we only had a future if the if we improved as musicians. We worked very hard on ourselves and after two years of Hellhammer there was a key moment when I wrote the song, "Visions of Mortality", which was the last song ever written in Hellhammer and Martin and I listened to that song.
We performed it during rehearsals as Hellhammer and we thought this no longer sounds like Hellhammer. It's very heavy. It's extreme, in a way. But it's also slightly more sophisticated. And we decided, that's the kind of direction we want to go in. We wanted to take the heaviness, but put something else on top of it. So we felt that Hellhammer began to restrict us in our pursuit and we decided to start with a clean sheet of paper, literally where we sketched the name of our new band and the concept in one night, May 31, 1984. We formed Celtic Frost that way.
Can you tell us how you came together with the other musicians that you have on this the on this live record?
Well, you know, having been in Celtic Frost for many years and no stranger to difficulties between human beings who work closely together and are very opinionated…have very strong creative opinions and maybe one or two human flaws too, and, of course, I don't exclude myself. So when I formed Tryptikon, and then later, Triumph Of Death, I was very careful to find people who had a certain human maturity and that they were good musicians that wouldn’t take us for granted.
But I wanted to have people I can trust, who are honest people, who are in into this for the right reasons. Not to gain fame or money, but who are into it because of an undying passion for music. I wanted people I can trust on every level. Sometimes it takes a little while to find these people, but I'm extremely happy with it who we are in Triumph Of Death, and the lineup has been has been consistent for 3 or 4 years now. I foresee no changes. I really hope there's no changes. I think it's a very, very strong line up for this kind of project.
Are there any places specifically that you would love to see Triumph Of Death perform?
We've been given a huge gift by the audience…and infinitely grateful for the audiences who make this possible. It would be preposterous to have to have any demands. You know, we've played in South America, North America. We've played in Australia and all over Europe. Of course, Japan is some place that every musician loves to play it because it's a very unusual and interesting area.
So, I mean, Japan is basically the last area where we haven't played. But also in the areas we where we have played, there are many, many cities we haven't appeared at, but you know we are at the mercy of promoters and audiences, and I don't want to be insatiable. I'm very grateful for what we have been given, and that I'm simply letting things happen as they happen.
"Well, Triumph Of Death is an ongoing side project and this is so much fun. It doesn't really consume so much of my time. It's music that exists. It's very simple music, and of course, as I said I would, I will play with it as long as people want us.
The big one lumbering thing that we're all looking at is, of course, a new Triptykon studio album. Right now we're not accepting any other projects. We're not making any other plans. We really we want to do this album. That's the mountain in front of us that we're going to surmount. And once this album is done, then we talk about further things.
Have you been working on anything specifically with the HR Giger estate?
Yeah, this is my other life. I'm still the co-director of the Museum. We also established the Giger Foundation at long last, which is supposed to safeguard the body of his works or the future, even past our own death. Of course, I'm still heavily involved with anything that goes on in on the Giger Estate, which, to me is again a huge honor and it's a way to repay for what Giger gave us when he became our mentor."
Resurrection Of The Flesh comes out November 10 and can be pre-ordered here.