Along with Venom and Bathory, Thomas G. Fischer is a pioneer of the first wave of ’80s black metal. First with the primitive thrash outfit Hellhammer, and then with the more experimental Celtic Frost, he pushed the genre’s boundaries to their limits. Celtic Frost released the essential albums To Mega Therion in 1985 and Into the Pandemonium in 1987 before disbanding; motivated by a renewed hatred for the mainstream and the human race, they reunited for 2006′s colossal, doomy Monotheist, but internal friction promptly tore the band apart and Fischer was left alone yet again.
After taking some time to lick his wounds, he struck back with Triptykon, whose 2010 release Eparistera Daimones mixed the latter-day gloom of Monotheist with the speed and strangeness of early Celtic Frost. It took four years of painstaking introspection for Triptykon to follow up that album, and after hearing Melana Chasmata it’s clear why: Fischer has distilled all of the best elements of his past bands (caustic guitars, agonized screams, orchestral arrangements, female background vocals) into a single release.
Melana Chasmata retains elements of black metal, but not any of its clichés. There are no endless blast beats or rapidly picked trills, and even the vocals aren’t all screamed or roared. You can still hear those unmistakable grunts and “ooh!”s that became Celtic Frost trademarks, but Melana Chasmata folds in Bauhaus-era goth, touches of industrial, and morose melodies reminiscent of The Swans.
Meanwhile, five of the songs are over seven minutes long and nothing’s under five minutes; stylistic concessions are a thing of the distant past, as is any belief in the potential of the human race. “As the plague of humanity arrives/ I drown in this blood contrived,” Fischer groans in “Tree of Suffocating Souls,” as feedback-tinged arpeggios flow into deep, buzzing riffs and thunderous double-bass drumming. “Demon Pact” combines clanging Einsturzende Neubauten percussion with sinister vocals, some sung in Latin, as well as the key line: “I shall deny you entry into my mind.”
The line is telling, and, perhaps the secret of Triptykon’s artistic success. It’s clear that Fischer strives to be creative, it’s obvious he’s not too happy about, well, anything. But he’s channeled his misery into a masterpiece of futility, demise, and decay, one that retains elements black metal but none of its clichés. As difficult as Melana Chasmata sometimes is to listen to, it’s even harder to turn away from.