Triptykon is an unusual gothic / doom metal band that rose from the ashes of Celtic Frost, another unusual gothic / doom metal band. The latter came out with two rather unconventional albums in the mid to late 1980s. To Mega Therion featured a cover by H.R. Giger that is suitable to its bombastic riffing, horns, and timpani. Into the Pandemonium followed and was remarkably varied. It contains a version of Wall of Voodoo’s Mexican Radio, a danceable cut about the moon landing, a dark classical interlude with female vocals, and of course extreme metal stylings. Guitarist / vocalist and leader Thomas Gabriel Fischer’s growling was omnipresent, even through the more tongue-in-cheek sections. Celtic Frost changed lineups and styles, disbanded, got back together, then broke up for good. Fischer went on to form its logical successor, Triptykon. Fischer also served as a personal assistant to Giger for a number of years.
Why spend so many characters on Frost? Well, context matters. Requiem (Live At Roadburn 2019) is a 46-minute piece recorded live last year with the Metropole Orkest. The first part is Rex Irae (the classical vocal piece from Into the Pandemonium) and the last part is a similarly-themed track, Winter, from Frost’s second incarnation. The majority is a 30-minute new work, Grave Eternal. Put this together, and you have a metal quartet (guitars, bass, drums) with both male (Fischer) and female (Safa Heraghi) vocals accompanied by a full orchestra.
Orchestral/metal hybrids have had mixed results at best. What is different here is how the orchestra is integrated into both the older and the new parts from the outset. The string and brass sections accentuate the heavy riffing, while Fischer and Heraghi trade off lead and backing vocals, employing call-and-response techniques from time to time. The pace is often deliberate with droning and doomy textures, while Heraghi’s soaring leads are accompanied by sawing violins. In addition to these elements, drummer Hannes Grossmann plays slowly-evolving patterns accompanied by subtle orchestral percussion. Bassist Vanja Slajh sticks with distorted rhythms that fit together with swells of horns. There is more than a little similarity to earlier Univers Zero, though without the latter’s overt complexities. Grave Eternal ends with a return to slow riffs, chanted vocals, and a funereal march, which naturally segues into the cinematic, gloomy, and string-heavy Winter.
Perhaps what is most remarkable is how this album ties together over 30 years of compositions, from an oddball crossover classical track on an old metal album through a modern and professionally-arranged epic. Sure, in the period between then and now, other groups such as Nightwish have raised the bar for orchestral metal. But Fischer and company begin and end in a darker place, and work in a deep partnership with the Metropole Orkest to combine nostalgia with powerful emotions. Well done, all.
For a taste of Requiem, check out the official video.