CEREMONIAL OATH – Revisiting the Metallic Oath
Melodic death metal is one of this guy’s favorite sub genres. In fact, it definitely is. The roots of this genre are very important, however, a good number of people haven’t a clue about some of the originators. Ceremonial Oath is one such band.
The names involved, most metal aficionados surely know. Jesper Stromblad, Anders Iwers, Oscar Dronjak? Ring a bell? If not, you’re way behind the eight ball!
These guys were and still are innovators, and have all had major success in other bands. Ceremonial Oath, however, is where they got started, and one of the earliest examples of a genre that took the metal world by storm in the early to mid 90s.
Now, with the band having been broken up since 1996, they’re back, albeit in a limited capacity. They’ve played a show or two, and re-released their landmark album "The Book of Truth" with a ton of bonus content.
We had the pleasure of having a quick chat with Oscar Dronjak himself, who is also the driving force behind HammerFall. A good amount of topics were discussed, to the band’s historical significance to the chance for more gigs. Enjoy!
To begin, how did the idea of a reformation of sorts come about?
We were approached by the organizers of the Gothenburg Sound Festival about a year ago. They wanted to know if we were interested in a reunion show. All four of us said "Hell, yes!" immediately, and so the decision was made.
How did the show at the Gothenburg Sound Festival go?
It went remarkably well! We had rehearsed a lot for this occasion, making sure we wouldn’t go out there and make fools of ourselves. The reaction was surprising from some people – I think they had expected us to sound old and out of shape. But like I said, we had practiced a lot, and the cumulative stage experience everyone in the band have at this point helped us tremendously. We tried to recapture the old magic as much as we could, and had two huge upside down crosses on stage, just like 20 years ago. I dug out the old guitar I hadn’t used since then and had it brought back in shape, and played a couple of songs with it hanging from a huge chain. Just like in the old days!
You’re also set to play at Hellfest in France. Are there any other live dates that are planned or in the works?
We are available for booking all through the summer, but as of right now, Hellfest will be the only show we do. Might be the last. Who knows?
I know it would be difficult with you and the others involvement with your main bands, but are there more long-term goals for this, like a new album perhaps?
Nope, there are no plans for a new album. I’m not sure there’s time for that in either of our schedules. But, you never know. I’m having so much fun playing death metal again. Something unexpected might come out of it.
The re-issue of "The Book of Truth" is absolutely loaded with cool stuff. Are there plans to re-issue "Carpet" as well? If so, what kind of extra inclusions could be thrown in?
Yeah, I went through the archives and brought out everything we ever recorded with Desecrator, which eventually became Ceremonial Oath. The CO 7" is also included, obviously. I am one of those people who rarely throw anything away, so I had quite a bit of photos and memorabilia, which we included in the booklet. Century Media did an awesome job of recapturing that old school feeling, even now, 20 years later, and I am extremely happy with the way the re-release turned out. Not to forget, also, I had the master tapes from the original recording, and since this was the first death metal album Fredrik Nordström ever recorded, we thought it only fitting to have him do a remix of the material. He did a great job of touching up the old tracks!
As far as "Carpet" is concerned, I don’t even count that as a Ceremonial Oath album. Maybe in letter, but not in spirit. I know I am biased since I didn’t play on it, but the difference between that one and "The Book of Truth" is staggering to me. Everything that made the first album special is gone, and you’re left with a directionless mini-CD comprised of two demos with two different vocalists. I’m not sure if they ever will release it again, but I doubt it.
Ceremonial Oath had a large part in forming melodic death metal. How does it feel, many years since the formation of the band, to see how important that sound became?
We didn’t know what the hell we were doing! No one could have anticipated the effect bands like In Flames, At The Gates, and Dark Tranquillity would have on the music world. What we did know, though, was that we were following our hearts and being very passionate about what we were doing, and that always yields the best results. It feels great, but also very natural, to have been a part of this movement, since we were only doing what we loved.
How do you think things would have played out for yourself if Ceremonial Oath hadn’t broken up?
That’s a very good question. I left Ceremonial Oath before the album was even released, because we couldn’t agree on the direction the band should take, both musically and aesthetically. I had already written a track called "Steel Meets Steel", which I hadn’t shown to the others yet, so I just took that and formed HammerFall straight away. If you look at the music of CO, how it evolved, you’ll find that the more melodic songs like "Thunderworld" and "Hellbound" were the last ones to be written for the album. I was doubtlessly heading in that direction, drawing more and more on the heavy metal that continuously has inspired me throughout my life and career. So I think I would have ended up with HammerFall regardless, one way or another. It probably would have taken a little longer, is all.
What do you think Ceremonial Oath’s place is in regard to the history of the scene it helped create?
We were among the very first to use heavy metal melodies in death metal music, and the first band ever to record in Studio Fredman. So we definitely have a place. But since CO fell apart gradually after I left – I wrote about 90% of the music and lyrics and was the driving force in the band – I’m not sure what impact we really had. Ceremonial Oath is more a cult band than anything else, remembered more for the stuff the band members did afterwards than for what we were before. Having said that, we did help create or at the very least push the death metal scene further in Göteborg since we started out so early.
What were your primary influences in starting a band in the unique and new sound that Ceremonial Oath helped spearhead?
Our main influences were Slayer, Possessed, Venom, Death, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Master’s Hammer, Infernal Majesty, Mercyful Fate, and Grotesque, but also heavy metal bands like Judas Priest and Accept played an important role. I was into black metal in the beginning. I loved the energy and conviction with which the bands performed, but couldn’t get around the fact that it was supposed to sound like you recorded it on a two-track in a rehearsal room. It made it difficult to listen to some of the albums, despite the fact that they contained a lot of great songs.
Do you have a favorite song to play live?
Just being on stage growling again feels fantastic, but one of my faves has always been "Only Evil Prevails".
Conversely, which song would you rather not play?
We do the entire album from start to finish, so the answer to that question is none of them. If we felt like we didn’t want to play any of the songs, we wouldn’t do it.
Tape trading and whatnot was a big part of the Gothenburg scene, and the whole world of metal in general, at the time of Ceremonial Oath’s run. How do you think that differs from the heavy social media and electronic file sharing that goes on now?
It’s basically the same thing, isn’t it? It just goes a million times faster and equally much easier for people involved. There is something to be said for waiting for the mail to arrive, though, when you are expecting something great to land in your postbox. The excitement and anticipation can’t be recreated by clicking on a link online. The trouble that went into that whole thing made everyone involved that much more dedicated, and that’s a good thing. If it’s too easy, you never have to ask yourself if it’s really worth it.
Any chance of coming to North America for a show or two? One of the metal cruises – 70,000 Tons of Metal or Barge to Hell – would be a great one off. And you know how fun they are, since you were on one with HammerFall!
I had a blast on last year’s cruise, and would definitely want to do it again with Ceremonial Oath! Tons of great bands on a cruise, beer, sun, what’s there not to like?
Here’s an idea – A HammerFall, Tiamat, The Resistance tour. Then you’ve got most of the members of Ceremonial Oath in one place, and thus can conveniently add that to the billing. Good idea? Make it happen! Please?
Haha, apart from that tour being nothing but double duty for everyone involved, it’s a great idea, I love it! Not so sure the others would, though, and unfortunately it will forever be only a pipe dream. I’m sorry, but it was a great suggestion! 🙂
Anything that you would like to add?
Thanks for the interview, and if anyone reading this is interested in a bit of old-school death metal history, you could do worse than checking out the re-issue of "The Book Of Truth".
And follow us on Facebook: http://facebook.com/ceremonialoathofficial