One of the more unique and rewarding releases of 2020, Tom Warrior’s long-gestating Requiem finally comes to fruition on this beautifully rendered live recording from Roadburn 2019. Thanks to the sponsorship of Walter Hoeijmakers (founder of the Roadburn festival) and the collaboration of the Metropole Orkest, this piece of music finally makes its full debut over 30 years after the release of the opening segment.
To fully appreciate the genesis of this piece we need to briefly time travel back to 1987 and revisit a very controversial underground metal album. The infamous recording in question is Celtic Frost’s Into the Pandemonium, a release that caused many an ’80s metalhead to ponder; “what the ever-loving f-ck?”
Celtic Frost were the standard-bearers of extreme metal in the mid-’80s, their doom-laden, buzzsaw sound seemingly conjured by Mephistopheles himself. Coupled with Warrior’s tortured vocal delivery, dark occult imagery and corpse-paint stage makeup, they were essentially the blueprint for Black Metal. But bandleader/vocalist/guitarist Warrior was also an adventurous soul with a progressive creative bent and he let it all hang out on Into the Pandemonium. While a few tracks did deliver the expected Celtic Frost sound, the album also included primitive EDM, orchestral sections, Baudelaire poetry and a straight-faced cover of Wall of Voodoo’s Mexican Radio. The album’s stature has grown considerably over the years and is now widely considered a classic recording, but at the time of release it confounded a large section of their fanbase and infuriated their record label (Noise, Germany).
One of the more successful progressive moments on Into the Pandemonium was a dirge entitled Rex Irae (Requiem), which featured a classical female vocalist and full orchestra. The song was conceived to be the first segment of a larger work and Warrior intended Celtic Frost to tackle the remainder of the piece on their next album. But the fiasco with the record label intensified, the band splintered and Warrior made a commercial about-face into pop metal instead. Now fast-forward to 2006 when the reformed Celtic Frost released the final symphonic segment of the Requiem, entitled Winter, on their album Monotheist. Again the band planned to tackle the as-yet-unwritten midsection on their next album, but again the band splintered and Warrior struck out on his own and formed his current project Triptykon instead.
Listening to this new live recording of Rex Irae, I noticed two things: 1. The arrangement has changed very little in 30 years and it holds up so well it just proves how ahead of it’s time this piece was in 1987. 2. The drastic improvement in production quality and Safa Heraghi’s superior vocal performance make the original version sound like a demo in comparison. As the most song-oriented segment of the Requiem it aptly sets the stage for the deeper dive to follow.
The main event of the performance is the thrilling, 32-minute Grave Eternal, the long-missing second section of the Requiem written in 2018. It lumbers out of the starting gate at funerary pace with a simple repeated guitar drone, but the dread is tempered when the strings and brass enter, adding a lush melodic underpinning. The intensity builds and then subsides, creating a space for a lovely melodic guitar solo from V. Santura; at the conclusion of the solo, Safa Heraghi’s inviting vocals return as the orchestra increases intensity behind. This brief moment in the sun is eclipsed by a brooding darkness ushered in by low strings and brass, then fades to silence ominously.
The next section continues to explore that dark path and is primarily driven by percussion stabs, extremely low brass notes and a mantra-like vocal duet between Warrior and Heraghi. The orchestra holds court on this section as the band sits out. The intensity of mood created by the brass and drums gets washed away when the string section reenters, giving us a brief respite
The band re-enters one by one during the final movement, first Slajh’s tuned-down bass rattles away, joined then by Hannes Grossman’s drums which are intensified by the orchestra’s percussion section. The guitars come next, one clean, one grinding menacingly and then the piece slowly builds as more and more orchestral elements are layered. What I admire about this composition is how expertly the diametrically opposed moods are handled; it’s a very beautiful piece of music, while being simultaneously unnerving and tense throughout. The primary influence seems to be the work of György Sándor Ligeti (1923-2006) and while the Requiem never goes quite as far “out” as his works, there’s a definite kinship to how the varying tonal colours of the instrumental ensemble and the choir are applied.
Winter, the finale of the Requiem, is performed solely by the orchestra and choir. This piece made its debut as the final track on Celtic Frost’s 2006 album Monotheist, but it’s more fitting here and provides an emotionally-satisfying conclusion.
I would be remiss not mentioning the incredible recording and mix on this album, it’s truly superlative. The band recorded both the dress rehearsal and the performance itself and the final version was seamlessly compiled from both sources. Sadly, the press packet didn’t provide the identities of the engineering crew, but their work should be lauded here.
In closing, I believe this album should be of interest to anyone appreciative of avant-garde classical or progressive music in general, whether usually a fan of metal or not. It’s a singular achievement, a mature and rewarding work and deserving of wider recognition.
01. Rex Irae (Requiem, Chapter One: Overture) (6:34)
02. Grave Eternal (Requiem, Chapter Two: Transition) (32:28)
03. Winter (Requiem, Chapter Three: Finale) (6:54)
Total Time – 46:00
Tom Gabriel Warrior – Voice, Guitar
V. Santura – Guitar, Vocals
Vanja Slajh – Bass, Vocals
Hannes Grossmann – Drums, Percussion
Safa Heraghi – Co-Lead Vocalist
Jukka Isakilla – Conductor, Dutch Metropole Orkest
Florian Magnus Maier – Orchestral Arranger
Record Label: Century Media
Country of Origin: Switzerland
Date of Release: 15th May 2020