Monday, December 28, 2015

Triptykon's Melana Chasmata

I’m a year late posting a review of this album, but it’s something I need to do.  I realized while perusing through this blog that I never wrote anything about Triptykon’s first album, either, which was one of the best albums released in 2010 (maybe the best – I still have a lot of trouble deciding which album was #1 that year), so I’ll try to make up for it here. 

I can't understate the influence Thomas Gabriel Fisher has had on me. And I know I'm hardly alone. Few bands have crafted a legacy as enduring as the mighty Celtic Frost, and few bands have ever evolved to the degree that Celtic Frost did between Morbid Tales and Monotheist. Morbid Tales embraced a radical style of experimentation in speed and groove that is widely credited as preeminently pioneering extreme metal (black metal in particular). To Mega Therion threw down the gauntlet not only on all the bands intent on gimmicking Sabbath style doom, but on all bands that dared to call themselves "heavy." How many albums have we heard that are thrash/doom? Into The Pandemonium, which, though great in its own right, demonstrated experimentation greater in extent than that of even To Mega Therion (yes, even hip-hop seeped its way in), but had neither the direction or energy of Morbid Tales or To Mega Therion. I think this album sent Celtic Frost in a direction that ultimately wrecked the band and propelled them into the dreaded 20 years that followed the release of Into The Pandemonium that I'd rather not talk about, because, you know, one has been over the Cold Lake fiasco time and time again and honestly it's just not worth going into anymore.

With that said, the linear evolution of the band left long and lasting lines of influence and ideas, and nested nearly all forms of crude, violent, crushing, aggressive (it’s hard to characterize Celtic Frost with just a few adjectives) music under one banner. With Monotheist, Celtic Frost discarded all the failed experiments, trimmed the fat, extrapolated the elements that originally made them so unique, and crafted an album that throned them once again on a precipice of excellence that few bands ever approach, and they did it by reinventing themselves with a style of music that to my knowledge didn't exist before 2006.  Doom metal had existed in various forms since 1970, but Monotheist birthed a different animal altogether.  It was as immense an album as I’ve ever heard, devastating in impact and awe inspiring in magnitude. I'm not sure there's any other instance in metal, or in music for that matter, of a band reemerging with such a vengeance after 20 years of mediocrity to nullify all doubt and lay claim to, in one word, greatness.

Celtic Frost's legacy was cemented when they broke up after the release of Monotheist. Few bands throw in the towel, or ride off into the sunset depending on the way you look at it, after dropping the best album of their career. The Beatles managed to do it with Abby Road, and Simon and Garfunkel did it with Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Bolt Thrower might’ve done it with Those Once Loyal.  Not taking into account single album artists, like Thergothon, Winter, Black Math Horseman, etc., because the real claim to abnormality, and thus distinction, is the production of something spectacular after the passage of so much time.  This is what few bands seem to be able to do.  It's far more common for bands to reach levels of excellence early on in their careers, that they find impossible to replicate after the passage of so much time, and in turn we see bands dilute their discographies with mediocre releases or worse.

In 2008 Thomas Gabriel Fisher and V. Santura formed Triptykon after the disbandment of Celtic Frost due to, and I'll quote Fisher, "the irresolvable, severe erosion of the personal basis so urgently required to collaborate within a band so unique, volatile, and ambitious." And in 2010 Triptykon released album #1: Eparistera Daimones, and to everyone's delight, and perhaps astonishment (considering the company in question had never released two albums in a row that sounded the same), it picked up more or less right where Monotheist left off. It continued in the direction of latter day Celtic Frost, being an aggressive, crushingly heavy slab of doom/death/extreme whatever it is. And Monotheist set a pretty high standard for heaviness, so the fact that Triptykon's debut was even comparable came as a joy to fans that yearned for more Monotheist style extreme metal. And it was apparent pretty quick. Eparistera Daimones' opener, "Goetia," was as devastating as any album opener I've ever heard. I think Fisher realized after Monotheist that he held the recipe for something truly special, and was determined to see it manifest again in a new form.  And with the creation of Triptykon he had unlimited creative license to do just that.

Eparistera Daimones was special. And Melana Chasmata is special. Melana Chasmata is also a continuation in the same direction, and the third album cooked with the Monotheist recipe, only tweeked a little. We have Santura's vocals to compliment Fisher's, which is an amazing addition considering the two go so well together. Fisher has the tyrannical, dark, twisted, barking voice and Santura has the raspy voice. They go hand in hand and add depth to the music. We also have more focus on guitar tone and less focus on riffs. The purpose of Triptykon's guitars are to establish tone and crush, whereas Monotheist was, while equally crushing, more riff filled. The riffs that are present on Melana Chasmata are catchy and heavy as hell. What I like most about this album is that, like its predecessor, it cannot be described by one, two, or maybe even three genres. It's not just pulverizing doom (although there's plenty of doom for doom lovers), because there are occasional bursts of traumatically brutal speed. It's not just death metal or black metal although there are stamps of both throughout.  Fisher is adept at taking all the vile tones of the different metal genres and throwing them together to create a unique package.

This album seems a little more personal than the last, too. There are very sorrowful harmonies, very mournful melodies, and it's even more emotionally depressing than either Monotheist or Eparistera Daimones, lyrically as well as musically, and maybe that's because the subject matter is a little less about Satan and dying gods coming into human flesh and more about how Fisher will never see his children smile and "Emily" - whoever she is. Fisher might've reached somewhere even deeper within himself to extract the content for this album. I don't know who Emily is, if she's a friend of Fisher's or someone he used to know or someone he never knew, but he chants her name over and over in "In The Sleep of Death" and the song is written as though he's crying out to her.

Emily, why don't you speak to me?
Can't you see, I'm not sleeping
Emily, why don't you reveal yourself?
Can't you feel my yearning
Emily, the rays of the golden sun
Touch your tender skin, your frozen skin
Emily, this gentle morning chill
Silenced a voice within, your voice within
Emily, you were the blood in my veins
Emily, why did you abandon me?
Emily, how long may this dismal moment last?
Here in this world was your life
Emily, how can I find serenity?
This is the very ground you walked upon

Then there’s the strange gothic poem he wrote that is “Waiting,” which is soft and creepy rather than brutal, and which some complain is filler music that serves as a weak closer.  But damn if I don’t like it.  I can listen to Simone Vollenweider’s chorus “dying” and “we are the same” for hours.  She has a haunting voice and her vocals add even further depth and levels of melancholy to the music (I’m glad Fisher has always been attracted to female vocals, yet heedful enough not to overuse them).  I wouldn’t want this album to end any other way.  The listener turns off the stereo looking inward, wondering what’s coming.  It has an effect similar to “Winter (Requiem)” on Monotheist, where there’s an ambiance that’s calming but brooding at the same time.   

These tracks are far cries from the prayer to Lord Satan that was "Goetia," or the call to worship that was "Synagoga Satanae," but the music doesn’t miss a beat. This album is as beautiful as it is ugly. It's very melancholic, dark, nihilistic. Writing music is Fisher's outlet the way writing books is Stephen King's. He'll keep doing it because it's his lifeline. If he stops there will be nothing left to keep him going. And as long as he's writing, I'll be listening.