Album Review: TRIPTYKON Melana Chasmata
Thomas Gabriel Fischer has always been a reluctant ringbearer. Though fiercely proud of his artistic legacy, he's often seemed on unsure footing when he finds himself in the position of following up a career milestone.
In that regard, Celtic Frost is clearly his bête noire. After releasing the groundbreaking 1987 album, Into the Pandemonium, a record that is arguably the most forward thinking and prescient work that heavy metal had produced to that point, Fischer and cohorts struck while the iron was cold the next year with the limp, confused Cold Lake (this stunningly inept attempt at a cock rock sellout bid is the sole Frost album never to be reissued… kind of a cross-Atlantic counterpart to Pantera's mythical-for-all-the-wrong-reasons Power Metal).
Frost rebounded strongly with Vanity/Nemesis two years later… only to promptly break up. Fischer sat out most of the 90's, then re-emerged with the band Apollyon Sun, a project that – especially considering the amount of time that had lapsed – had many thinking that Tom G. "Warrior" (no relation to the recently passed Ultimate W.) had lost the plot, the industrial machinations of the new act striking some vocal opponents as callous trend chasing (for perspective: 1998 also marked the year Fear Factory's Obsolete and www.pitchshifter.com came out).
The reign of Apollyon Sun was mercifully brief – only one full length album was ever released – but after another half-decade in the shadows Fischer shocked everyone by getting Celtic Frost back together and recording the improbable masterpiece, Monotheist. You see the pattern here, right? Yep, Frost imploded yet again after only one album.
This time, fans only had to wait a mere four years before Fischer had enough songs for both a full length album as well as an EP from his new band, Triptykon. While some have positioned Triptykon as a break from or reaction to the (seemingly permanent) demise of Fischer's favorite son, Celtic Frost, really Eparistera Daimones reads as a pretty direct continuation of Monotheist's ethos: song structures tweaked to the breaking point, monumental low end crunch on the guitar chords, generous nod to the bass player, crashing cymbal-heavy drums… everything you liked about Monotheist was validated and then some through the creative outlet of Triptykon.
One of the most heartening aspects of Eparistera Daimones is that it appeared to break the post-1987 cycle of Fischer being incapable of releasing two truly stellar albums in a row. And with this year's Melana Chasmata, he goes for the hat trick.
"Tree of Suffocating Souls" gives off weird vibes with its opening notes, distant string bends sounding a lot like Triptykon may have jumped on the blackened shoegaze bandwagon. This is quickly revealed as deceit, an intro which almost immediately shifts into a raucous, dare-I-say catchy bit of accessibility from an artist hardly known for such. The track retains the huge sound and barked vocals of typical latter day Fischer songwriting, but there's a palpable sense that the man has come to a point where he's willing to play to his crowd from time-to-time, rather than always working against them.
Such concessions are hardly omnipresent, however. "Boleskine House" lays down a malignant stench, punctuated occasionally by palm muted power chords and wispy, goth-leaning female vocals. "Aurorae" is a more consistently atmospheric interlude, not really breaking out into big guitars until the finale, and if Fischer had a hankering to play around with shoegaze this track would be the perfect place to do it. Nope, he plays it pretty straight, if anything maybe mining a late-90's Anathema sound if comparisons must be drawn.
"Into the Sleep of Death" represents the biggest challenge to listeners, bearing the most insistent (read: monotonous) chorus that Fischer has composed since Monotheist's "Ground", while also reviving his love-it-or-hate-it moan/croak that made some of Into the Pandomonium's songs so teeth grating to listen to.
"Black Snow" seems to be a deliberate attempt to replicate the album-ending track "The Prolonging" from the Triptykon debut: it's long as hell and has a (slightly neutered) take on that song's ear shattering guitar sound. But in a rare misstep, Fischer chooses to end this record not with that song, but with a piano-driven number called "Waiting" that wanders in and out of lifelessness between plaintive vocal duet and acoustic noodling. It reads as a second, drawn out outerlude, even after "Black Snow" wrapped up with several minutes of winding down in its own right. At a 67-minute run time, Melana Chasmata could have afforded to lose the 5:55 that makes up "Waiting" without damage.
On the upside, "Tree of Suffocating Souls" is not the only fist-pumping, easy to digest nugget here. "Altar of Deceit" and "Breathing" both feature winning choruses and upwardly mobile energy levels, the latter in particular representing about as close to a blast beat as Fischer is willing to entertain these days. "Demon Pact" even finds the band flirting with sludge to resounding, "fuck yeah" inducing effect.
If Eparistera Daimone represented Tom G. Warrior putting on the daddy pants once again, Melana Chasmata is every bit its father's son. In fact, if there's any criticism aside from the occasionally wasteful sequencing, it's the fact that this represents the third record in a row where Tommy boy has "neglected" to reinvent himself. The bar needn't be so high, though; this is still highly compelling material from a mind hellbent on rigorous, uncompromising self-expression, and with the chops to pull it off. If Thomas Gabriel Fischer didn't exist, we'd have to invent him.