Celtic Frost Celebrate The Early Years with “Danse Macabre” Box Set (Tom G. Warrior Interview)
Although legendary Swiss metal band Celtic Frost disbanded in 2008, a new expansive vinyl box set entitled Danse Macabre will see the light of day on November 25th, 2022. The release encompasses Celtic Frost’s early material from 1984 to 1987 and includes the band's classic albums alongside a handful of rarities and goodies.
Front-loaded with the albums Morbid Tales, To Mega Therion, and Into The Pandemonium, the 7 marble color vinyl box set (also available as a 5 CD box set, released last month) also includes the Emperor’s Return, Tragic Serenades and I Won’t Dance EPs, along with The Collectors Celtic Frost 12”, a 7” of Visual Aggression and a cassette of rehearsals recorded at the band’s Grave Hill Bunker. Some of the releases are back on vinyl for the first time in 30 years. Other goodies include a 40 page book, a Danse Macabre woven patch, and a double sided poster.
During a recent Zoom chat, Celtic Frost co-founder/guitarist/vocalist Tom Gabriel Warrior discussed the epic box set, the disbanding of Celtic Frost, his current band Triptykon and his upcoming plans.
This new massive Celtic Frost box set encompasses your material from 1984 through 1987. That was a great productive time for the band. What do you remember most about those years and the recording of those first few seminal albums?
The thing that's most important during these years that stuck in my mind is the camaraderie between us. Reed St. Mark, Martin Ain and me; the three of us traveling through Europe playing concerts, working very hard on the band fanatically and developing these albums. It sounds very nostalgic, but it was really a magical time.
The package is issued through Noise Records, which was your first label. Did they come to you with the idea to release the box set? How did this come about?
Noise Records of course by now is just a name; an imprint. Noise Records folded some 20 years ago and the rights for all the music went through various hands. Now they're with BMG in London who decided to resurrect the Noise label name. Working with BMG these days is like day and night compared to the old actual Noise Records. As is known from uncounted stories from uncounted bands, Noise Records was a label that made it very difficult for artists to be creative and to work with any kind of strategy. Noise was a very short-sighted, money-oriented label with no artistic touch whatsoever. They ruined a lot of what bands brought to them, unfortunately. And for us, it was pretty much the same. So working with BMG on this is great because they are incredibly professional. They are very interested in what the artist has to say. It was their idea to do this box set and they could have done it without my involvement. They have all the rights, but as usual with BMG they contacted me and they said do you want to be involved, we would love to have you on board. So they hired me as an art director and conceptualist for this album.
It also comes with a 40 page book full of rare photos that not many people have seen before. Did you go through all your old photos? Were you involved in curating it?
Absolutely; together with MIles Hackett from BMG. We really wanted it to be an interesting book and show as much rare photos as possible. I had also prepared for this anyway because I'm working on my third book, which is basically the history of Celtic Frost. So this all came together and we have plenty of good material. And of course the interviews in the book for the box set, they're brand new. My friend Calum Harvie from the UK made brand new interviews about that particular period of Celtic Frost with me and Reed St. Mark, the surviving members of the lineup.
There's also the recent box set in 2020, The Sign of the Usurper. It has some of the same albums, but I think this one seems a bit more comprehensive.
The Sign of the Usurper came about because I collaborated with BMG once again in 2017 for the reissue of the original Celtic Frost albums, which was also a very pleasant and professional experience. There was this tiny little label from Germany who specialized in cassette boxes and cassette releases, and they asked if they could use the material from these reissues in 2017 and make a cassette box. BMG asked me if I was okay with this, and I said, “Of course I am.” So they gave the rights for this release to that little label. But I have to say, I love it. It was done with so much love, so much dedication, as are all these cassette boxes that label does.
Vinyl orders have been hard to come by these days ever since the pandemic because of the manufacturing plants being backed up. Most bands have to wait about a year for their recent release to be on vinyl. Did you also run into this problem and how far in advance did the label order them so that the records were able to come out on this release date?
It was pretty much like this. I was contacted by BMG about this box set almost a year ago, and the very first thing we worked on was the actual vinyl because of the backlog at pressing plants. And since we also used the 2017 reissues we could go pretty quickly to ordering the vinyl, and then focus on all the artwork. Personally, the 2017 reissues are the best sounding Celtic Frost releases ever. I remastered them at the studio of Triptykon’s guitar player V. Santura in Germany. And he took great care to make them sound fantastic without altering the characteristics of the trademark sound. So I'm very happy with the 2017 reissues, and as those already existed, we could order the vinyl immediately.
Whose idea was it to name the box set Danse Macabre? Obviously, it’s a track off of Morbid Tales/Emperor's Return.
That was actually one of the first things that BMG asked me when they hired me to do the concept and to do the art direction for this box set. One of the very first things of course was to discuss with me what the title should be. And I submitted a list of titles that I thought would be appropriate, and I really was also curious to hear what they had to say from outside of the band. But we narrowed it down to three titles and from those titles I personally felt, given what the content of this box set is, Danse Macabre would best represent it. The very unique character of Celtic Frost I think is best reflected with this title.
One of the tracks, “Messiah,” is actually a Hellhammer track. Was there any modification to this track for this box set?
What you are referring to is… there's some rehearsal recordings from the time when we wrote and rehearsed Morbid Tales before we went into the studio to actually record it in the summer of 1984. And those tracks were already the bonus songs on Morbid Tales in 2017. We all loved those songs and we decided to also keep them even though there's some Hellhammer material among them, but we decided to keep them for this box. The reason why we played Hellhammer music in Celtic Frost at the time was because we had just formed the band and there wasn't enough material to fill a full rehearsal. But we all wanted to become better musicians. We wanted to improve our technical abilities, so we added quite a few Hellhammer songs and a few covers; Angel Witch and things like that to actually have an evening full of rehearsals. And these cassette recordings of our rehearsals captured that.
Another cool thing is The Grave Hill Bunker Rehearsals. This one can only be obtained as part of this collection. I like the fact that the rehearsals are included, which allows fans to compare and contrast between the actual tracks and go back and forth and listen. How did you dig these recordings up and were they pretty obscure?
They are pretty obscure, although originally they weren't. We recorded many rehearsals at the time. But of course nobody knew that Celtic Frost would achieve any kind of significance. Nobody knew what was going to be in 40 years’ time. So a lot of these cassettes were either taken by friends of ours, or we were giving them to our crew, or we used them at home to work on the lyrics or guitar solely. And eventually, these cassettes disappeared or were recorded over. As far as I'm aware, there's only one cassette of these rehearsals that has survived. And that's the music that's on these rehearsal tracks.
Technically, Celtic Frost hasn’t existed since 2008, and especially since Martin passed away in 2017. I have heard that you would consider a one-off or a festival gig as a tribute to Martin. Have you entertained that idea any further?
At this point it's simply something we've been talking about. Me and various ex-members of Celtic Frost have been talking about that. Because of course, we all miss our days in Celtic Frost, we all miss Martin Ain. We all feel as long as it's done the right way, as long as we don't go on a tour and bill it as a reunion or something. As long as we keep it to one or two concerts and name it what it is, namely a tribute in memoriam of Martin, then I think it's legitimate. It shouldn't be anything about money or whatever like that. It should simply be a few people who played as friends in a very unusual band, paying homage to probably one of the most important members of this band, Martin Erich Ain. If it's like this, we all would like to do it. But we haven't really yet worked on any of this. We all said before we make this decision, we all meet in a rehearsal room somewhere and play a few of these songs and see what it even sounds like. We haven't done that yet. So at this point, it's simply an idea we're having, but who knows when or if it's going to happen.
I think that would be very special for the fans. And also something that's coming up which is also special is that Triptykon announced that you'll perform a tribute set of early Celtic Frost songs at Hell’s Heroes Festival in Houston, Texas next year. What's your expectations or excitement level for it?
One of the main reasons of course I formed Triptykon after I left Celtic Frost was because I couldn't face the prospect of never playing Celtic Frost music again. From the very beginning, Triptykon when we play live, it's always 50/50; 50% Triptykon music/50% from the Celtic Frost catalog. But we are of course now the Celtic Frost tribute band and we have our own music. And into this situation, the promoter from the Hell’s Heroes Festival in Texas came and asked us if we would be interested in playing the first few Celtic Frost albums in their entirety. And we had never done this. So we talked about this among the members of Triptykon, and I wanted to be sure everybody does it for the right reasons, and nobody's against this. But since everybody said this music is basically our youth and it's our heritage. And on a recent tour, our guitar player was a part of Celtic Frost. It was pretty quickly clear that we were all into this. We agreed with the festival. Yes, we're going to do this. It's not something we do constantly, it’s something totally rare. So we thought yes, it's legitimate that we do it for the right reasons.
With your other band Triumph of Death, a tribute to Hellhammer, are there any upcoming dates for this band?
We are also playing a set at the Hell’s Heroes Festival, which will basically mean; Hellhammer’s music is represented, Celtic Frost’s music is represented and then Triptykon are also there. We have quite a number of concerts booked for next year as well. To my utmost surprise, Hellhammer’s music is in demand in the year 2023. It's an absolute honor to be able to do this and it's a pleasure to share this with our audience.
That’s incredible Tom. I am happy for you that all three bands are represented and it's just really cool that fans are still enjoying it.
It's a very complex thing, this entire package of music. Number one, we were a small underground band originally, and we never thought that anybody would still talk about this; Hellhammer or Celtic Frost 40 years later, or on a global basis. It blows our minds. And then of course, Martin and I had our very complex history, especially with Hellhammer, but also with Celtic Frost. There were a lot of things about Hellhammer that we disowned. As we became a little more mature, we felt it was problematic, and I have to say this still applies. On the other hand, there’s things about Hellhammer that are also extremely pleasant and that reflected a totally magical time, full of honesty and ambition and a close knit circle of friends as a student of early Celtic Frost. So there's so many aspects involved with this, that when you go on stage with this music, this is always on my mind, this entire history. And of course, also the memory of Martin.
You mentioned that you're in the works of writing your third book. I haven’t read your first two, but they're definitely on the list. What do you like about this creative outlet, about writing about your life in these books?
My books are not Shakespeare. It’s not mandatory reading and there's not going to be a test afterwards! You're perfectly fine. As far as what makes me write these books… My second book, the book about Hellhammer and early Celtic Frost, came about because me and Martin sat together and we were reminiscing so often about the early days when we reformed Celtic Frost, that eventually I started writing down some of the anecdotes and stories that we told each other. And Martin read it and said this should be a book. But that time I already had like 30 pages or something. So to decide simply to go on was a small step. I'm very happy that people liked the book, but it was really actually written for us as kind of a memory so we wouldn't forget these stories when we got older.
In closing, is Triptykon working on new material?
It's absolutely overdue. We just finished the last concert for this year with Triptykon, and the next few months we will dedicate to finalizing some of the music. We have written some of the musical sketches the past few years and we are scheduled to go into the studio in 2023 to record the new album. Definitely.
Danse Macabre is out now via Noise Records/BMG (the CD edition released last month).
You can pick up the vinyl edition at the BV webshop.