ANCIENT RITES

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TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE

This interview with vocalist/bassist Gunther Theys of Ancient Rites was done by instant messenger by Carlos Martin Cuevas on December 29th, 2005.

Ancient Rites are one of the most longevous black metal bands. Since their first demo came up in 1990 they have never stopped releasing new material quite regularly. Its Alma Mater Gunther Theys is a quite prolific musician, always involved in a large number of bands and projects, as well as many other personal hobbies. We talked about all this in a quite long interview conducted by instant messenger. Neither he nor I had never participate in an interview via msn, so we were not sure if it would work or not.

Thursday 29: It is 00:00 and Gunther connects to MSN messenger. We talk a little bit and decide to begin with the interview. It will be a long, long night...

Well Gunther, how are you?
I'm fine thank you. Quite busy times actually. A split cd of IRON CLAD/LION'S PRIDE (two of my other bands) will be released any moment on Nepherex Records. And we are recording the new AR album in Germany's Spacelab studios which shall be released on Season of Mist. Meanwhile I play with Lion's Pride and Les Vilains all over Europe. Wish there were more hours in a day...

Wow, I did not know about that split, hehe, we'll talk about it later, now let’s continue with Ancient Rites. When do you consider the album could be released? Could you advance us some approximate date?
I believe Season of Mist scheduled the album for spring. Dates in Belgium, England and Germany are already confirmed. Look forward to that as I missed playing live with Ancient Rites. We were too concentrated on the new album. That is why I played many gigs with my other bands. I do like to tour and perform live, it creates a stronger bond with the audience (let's hope Spain will be included) I keep the best memories from playing Madrid and Barcelona, also the Metalfest we did more South. Enthousiastic crowds in Spain and that is always heartwarming. A funny anecdote: once we played in Spain...Just before our gig would start a Spanish older lady walked on stage with a brush to clean it! The crowd were cheering to her. Nice surprise, unusual.

Haha, yeah, a woman with a brush, typical Spanish, nice! Could you reveal some exclusive news for Tartarean Desire? Album title? The picture on the cover? Any song titles? Whatever exclusive news would be nice!
I missed the castagnetas though. Anyway, we do not have a defenitive album title yet. But some song titles are "Galilean", "Cheruscan", "Rubicon", "Templar", Mithras"...I decided for short titles with a big story behind them. As usual I spent a lot of time on historical research and symbolic meaning. It takes a lot of work and effort but I like to offer a deeper meaning to the lyrics.

They sound quite inspiring titles! Maybe we will hear of Julius Caesar's legions transcending the Rubicon?
Indeed! But with a double meaning. It took bravery to cross the Rubicon at that time as it was against Roman Law, plus Caesars legions were outnumbered. So it has this historical touch but I gave it a philosophical touch, metaphorically saying that everyone in life should cross his own "Rubicon" in order to achieve his/her goals.

Yeah, so you will deal both with the historical and symbolic meaning, that's great. What can you tell you about the structure of the new songs? I mean, I guess they will share this mix of black heavy metal, is there anything new that you could comment with us on this topic?
As a matter of fact, while I am speaking to you, I am practising the lyrics on the new songs at the same time. I must organise! Well, I think the new album will not disappoint the old Ancient Rites listeners but again all is pushed to a higher level, as with each Ancient Rites release we will sound different. I think the new compositions are more dramatic, one can feel the ancient times even more because of the atmosphere created by classical music elements and at the same time it is more extreme from a Metal point of view too. More technical as well. More of everything one could say... Curious now?

That makes me just to increase my expectations! Yeah, I am! You said before that the new album will be released through season of mist. If I am not wrong, Dim Carcosa came up under hammerheart records, didn’t it? (I cannot speak about the live album, sorry), what's the reason of this label change?
We were disappointed by the way Hammerheart dealt with our live DVD. They had proposed and convinced us to make a live CD/DVD . We spent a lot of our own money on the production to have the best result possible. The DVD would have been a collaboration between a Finnish company and Hammerheart. They had financial disagreements and Hammerheart refused to distribute our dvd. I think that was not correct to the band/fans. The DVD cannot be found easily in the shops. Only through underground distro, high import prices or by ordering directly through us. I think a label should stand by its bands even if the profit would be less. We never gained a penny on our releases. That's ok because we are not into it for the money. But when we work hard, spent our own money it is not pleasant when your own label refuses to distribute your dvd. They proposed to make a new one, with less cameras, less good sound but that is not our way of working.

Yeah, I guess it's not a question of money but of having your effort rewarded, and respecting the fans at the same time. It's sad that these things still happen nowadays.
If artistic reward is the only thing you can get you don't want that to be taken away. Over disputes between companies. Hammerheart did have a good distribution which helped the band a lot. And organised a nice tour but we did not feel entirely supported. So we decided it was time to move on.

Aham, now a more technical question,
Oh no!

Hehe, I read 2-3 years ago on an internet forum that Ancient Rites drums on studio albums were not real drums but played by a drum machine. I don’t know till this point this is true or not. Which Ancient Rites albums have been recorded by a real drummer and which have not? Is the drum recording such a really complex and difficult process?
In the 70's/80's albums were recorded in an acoustic way, meaning the drums were recorded with microphones. With Iron Clad and Lion's Pride we still record that old school way. Walter likes extreme sounds and uses triggers which are connected to computer. Most bands in extreme Metal do this nowadays. This creates a machinegun effect. On the new album though he has settled for an acoustic approach again. We like to experiment.

Wow, good luck then, I hope you get a good killer sound!
I just received the recordings and I must say I was pleasantly surprised by his work. Also Spacelab studios were we record are perfectionists. Every beat, every note is checked. The producer is a classical musician and this means he is very demanding. It is not pleasant to record there, very hard work but the result is what matters.

Great then! The rest of Ancient Rites members come from different parts of Europe, how do you manage for recording the album? Do you all meet for the recording period? Or does each musician record his instrument on his own city?
We travel separately to studio. And record there. Everyone owns a piece of a puzzle that will be completed the very last moment. It is a very strange way of collaborating but it always worked. Of course we do rehearse intensely together before entering studio but even there things can be altered the very last minute...It is hard labour and stress but well worth it in the end.

What’s your opinion on the evolution of black metal as a genre since the late 80s until nowadays? What modern black metal bands do u listen to?
None. Well, I do exaggerate of course. I do like Arcturus and Thy Repentance. Bands that offer originality. But I am mostly hooked on first wave of Black Metal, Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer. Old school pioneer stuff. There are many interesting new bands but because I lived the beginning era it created a certain kind of nostalgia in my mind. Today there are many bands imitating each other, I find. On the other hand musical level is probably higher of some, depends on the Black metal sub divisions. I have the same feeling with traditional Heavy Metal, I still prefer the 80's releases. But that is a personal opinion. Domingo and Walter for instance listen a lot of the new stuff.

Yeah, I think that such a variety of tastes within a band is good. Now that you mention Bathory... what was your reaction to Quorthon's death?
True, everyone in AR listens different kinds of styles and I think this is the reason for our original approach...Concerning Quorthon, I never met the man personally so I was not emotionally involved but I do think it is a pity he died so young. And after all he had offered a great deal to the Black Metal and later Viking Metal scene. A loss.

A nostalgic question now, hehe… Don’t you miss your beautiful blond long hair?
Haha!!! Not at all. I like extremities. All or nothing. This more extreme look represents how I feel today. A basic, no nonsense, war look. Of course I don't regret I had long hair and still think long hair is great. But personally I wanted to go back to the essence. Glamour gone! Also it is very practical in sports, combat sports etc. And on the road. On tour you often don't get a chance to shower and I HATED to look like a hippy with hair creating dreads or greasy hair after a few days. I was in the army (paratroops) and I missed the practical aspect of the military look.

Haha ,I know that feeling, I wear long hair now too, don’t really know how long it will last…
Plus this non alternative look scares the drug dealers away :-)

Haha good ! Now let's take a look the rest of your bands apart from Ancient Rites. First of all... What did finally happen concerning “the Danse Macabre affair”? You lost the rights on the band’s name, but, did you finally report the problem to ordinary justice? Honestly, I would not be interested in another Danse Macabre album without its main composer, singer and lyricist…
The DM story is an ugly one. It revealed that in this music industry there is no justice. The world knows I formed the band. Still I lost the rights because I didn't spend money to a company who would have turned it into my trademark. Jan knew that, so he did. If I join a band that exists I would NEVER get the idea to take the name. Some unwritten codes and laws can not be passed I think. For 10 years I lost the name. And Hammerheart did not support me in this case either. Which I found strange as they were there when DM was formed in Athens many years ago with members of Rotting Christ, Septic Flesh and myself. Hammerheart were in Athens to sign bands. There was a new album ready for release, recorded, mastered. Jan Yrlund gave the order to erase my vocals/lyrics. But I hear no label shows interest as people know there is protest against Jans' Macabre. Yrlund and I are enemies, but I would have been sportive enough to release the album as it was. No use in re-writing history.

So that recorded album we could say that is "lost forever"? Condemned never to come up?
I wanted the album to be released as it was. It really was a nice piece of work. Yrlund wanted it to be released without my vocals and lyrics but still under Danse Macabre's name. They did gigs in Finland with another vocalist, I received mails from people who asked where I was. It is like announcing Ancient Rites on the bill and you see another person on stage. These lyrics are very personal. Dealing with death of my relatives etc. How can another person/singer "feel" what I wrote? Hammerheart had the tapes, they should have released it as it was, not pay more to erase my work. And now they're surprised I didn't sign a new contract?

Haha that's ironic.
It was not a smart move of the guys.

Absolutely not,
I did not have financial means to fight this in court but the protesting fans made a fuss Which scared the other parties. Yrlund is talented. He simply should have formed his own band. Would have been more honest and honourable.

The best way of supporting you would be not buying that new album, now I’d like to ask you about Lion’s Pride. I have no experience on Oi! Music, so maybe you could give us a brief introduction to such a musical style...
Well, I think as Ancient Rites is not a typical Black Metal band LP is not a typical Oi! band either. There are diverse influences to our music. One could say that Oi! is the sound of the streets. Straight forward, aggressive music with a strong chorus for the crowd to shout along. Lion's Pride has a mixed crowd: Metalheads, Bikers, Rockers, Skins...Most of our gigs are banned because the authorities fear these kind of shows... So gigs take place in a very underground way. Secret locations with invited guests.

Wow . Concerning this topic, I would like to ask u about the “skinhead” movement. As Lion’s Pride is considered a Skinhead band I’d like you to explain what does “being a skinhead” means. I thing this point is quite important because for many people, Skinhead = Nazi. I know that within this movement we can find from Nazi Skinheads to Redskins, though you do not seem to belong to any of those extremes. So the question is, what does the skinhead movement mean for you? And what is your opinion on both nazi or redskins? Don’t you think that there is too much idiotism within the most radical branches of this movement?
Well I think Lion's Pride somehow fills a gap in that scene. On one side you have bands with Communist lyrics, on the other bands with racial lyrics. In between you have the non political bands who sing about beer, football, working class topics etc. To each his own. But I did not find many bands focussing on cultural identity, history etc. Media and Hollywood usually only present the most shocking individuals or clichés. Once I was interviewed by the national Belgian TV. I declared to be patriot but with an impulse of appreciation and love for ancestry and tradition without hating people who have a different background. Of course this was never broadcasted, instead they showed a drunken guy who spoke about bashing everyone's head in. The media and masses want shock and cheap sensation.

Yeah, we sadly come back again to what we were talking before, the sensationalistic media.
Same happened to Black Metal. State security offered me a visit after people I knew from Norwegian bands were sent to prison. The secret police had been following me and then realised I am not involved in criminal activities. The masses like the cliches. And of course, you do find those people in every scene. What I appreciate in the Oi! scene is the fact it is very underground. No rockstar attitudes. And a big sense of comradery. Unfortunately too many fights between the crowd which confirms prejudice, that's why I wrote a lyric "Unity is the approach of a clever crew" and when I talk from the stage the conflicts usually stop. It's nonsense to bash each others' heads in. I know many people with a friendly attitude in that scene but it are the idiots who make it to the news. I was approached by a Belgian TV series to play a part in a crime series. I had to play a violent Skinhead or something. No thanks. I believe in fighting back when being attacked but not in mindless violence.

Yeah, that's the problem, just one idiot can ruin the reputation of a whole innocent community.
I guess it's the tragedy of every scene.

Yeah, that's the problem, just one idiot can ruin the reputation of a whole innocent community.
I guess it's the tragedy of every scene. I don't have a problem with a persons views, as long as they respect mine. That's my major rule. I can agree to disagree without a problem.

This mentality would help to solve many problems between people. “Europe united in diversity”. A beautiful statement and one of your ideals. What can you tell us about it?
I like to travel. I have for instance visited your beautiful Andalusia several times. It differs a lot from my homeland in matters of tradition, culture, food, climate, landscape but still I felt at home. It is a part of our ancient Europe just like Flanders is. And as such I relate to its history, people and custom. Many people mistake Nationalism or Patriotism as only loving the own tribe. I have a different approach. I would give my life to defend my land but I don’t consider our tribe superior to another. Europe is a beautiful place with a large history. I hope there never will be again brother wars amongst the European Nations. Therefore I wrote this ode "United in diversity", a display of mutual respect. If tomorrow a war would break out between for instance my country and Spain. What a terrible situation. Must I shoot at people I used to play gigs for, at whose tables I dined? I am not a hippie or pacifist but it would trouble me. I dream of a Europe, each nation keeping its own identity but bonded by respect and European ancestry. I would be a bad politician, my dreams are too naïve. Europe is not united enough. We should be able to make one fist against those who try to hurt us.

Please tell us now about that split Iron clad- lions pride. It has been a surprise for me, for I have no news about it. When is it supposed to be released? Any other important info?
I refuse to talk about it. I'm an underground purist! Only want to sell one copy! To my mother! Just joking mate ;-).

That would be true underground! (and better if it is a tape, hehe)
Hehe indeed. Well, the split cd should be released any moment as it is scheduled for december/january. It contains newly recorded IC tracks, a few songs remastered from LP's Stand & defend and a few new tracks and an LP video clip. Nepherex is a small underground label of my country. I think that is why the news hasn't reached you. I do like to keep close ties with my underground roots.

Yeah, it was difficult for me to find good info on both bands, though finally found Lion's Pride Official website. You told me you play in 5 bands, which ones are the other two? I have no info at all about them.
I'm sure the album will be spread through underground distros but I doubt if it will reach the shops. I have joined Les Villains as a bassplayer. It is an old school Oi! band from the city of Bruges with a vocalist from Brussels. Strangely enough the lyrics are in French (apart from the few covers). It is fun to do, we play many gigs all over Europe. Dates in Greece, Finland, Italy and Norway are planned. A pity I can't make it to the gig in Norway with one of my old time faves Misfits as Ancient Rites has a show planned the same day in London. Too busy life. And I have my mind set on a Folk project, traditional music... A Doom Metal band from Brussels asked me to join them recently but I have to draw the line somewhere...

Haha yeah, better you stop joining bands or you'll lose your private life, hehe. That folk project sounds quite interesting, I'll try to keep myself well informed.
My private life is already a ruin. I attend a horse riding school, work out at the gym and combat sports. And I have a regular job to pay my bills. I need 48 hours in a day.

And besides this, you find time to answer 3-hour interviews by msn! Not many musicians could state this, honestly!
I was practising the lyrics to Mithras just before. When I hear the soundtrack like intro my mind travels back to the ancient times and I can see the Roman Legions proceed in eastern landscapes. It all comes very visual to my mind... The classical music elements help to create these visions and the powerful guitars represent the fierceness of these legions... That is my goal with AR: to make people travel with their mind to times buried by dust of centuries. Time travel.

Yeah, I think that's one of music's most strongest powers (and of black metal especially, in my opinion), to take the listener to places/ages "buried by time and dust, hehe". Concerning this topic, I can formulate the following question: You are known to be a enthusiastic traveller. What are the most wonderful places you’ve ever been to? Which place would you like to visit any day in your life?
I think every place has its own charm if one has the eyes to see. Magic can be found in details. The older I become the more ugly I find the human race and the more beautiful landscapes and nature. I can be moved by Northern icy landscapes but also by Southern “summerish” panoramas. Equally beautiful. I like snow but I also love cypress trees. Both cannot easily be combined. So I travel, learn and see the beauty of each place with an own identity, own colours, atmosphere... When I travel, I always take books with me. Often about the place I visit. I search a lonely spot and there I do a timeless travel, absorb the local atmosphere. Alone on a fjord or in solitude under an olive tree. With my book. And it is like if the soul of the past people who lived there travel to me. As if I can catch the history and folklore better. I remember being taken in Asia Minor to an ancient forgotten Hellenic city. It was on a mountain, in the middle of a huge lake, surrounded by mountains, I was sitting on a piece of marble and down I saw graves half in water. No tourism. Taken there by a local. And I think these moments are the most beautiful in life. I believe the forgotten city was also named Heraklion. But it was not the big one on Crete. I remember riding in Spain in the mountains, my horse wandered off and I found myself at the ruin of an abbey. Very nice. I remember my horse was named ringo and he was a bit crazy (like me, maybe  ), running fast down a mountain with an abyss next to me. Adventurous but intense... Or swimming in a big lake where a fisherman took me to by his boat. I had his big half wild shepherd dog as a company. The fisherman was surprised the dog liked me as he was a bit antisocial. The dog and I were swimming together under the shadow of a medieval Frankish castle. No people around. Not open to tourists... There my lyrics are created, on spots like these...

Wow, you can be proud of such having visited such a wide variety of places. I remember having visited the lake Lemman's area (not sure about its spelling) in Switzerland, all that area is beautiful, all white snowy landscapes... you know... travelling more is one of my things to do once I become economically independent, hehe. My father is a great Richard Wagner fan and he asked me to ask u something about him so here it goes. Do you know/like Wagner’s music? What’s your opinion on it? And what about the mythology that it portrays?
I think Wagner is magnificent. Your father has good taste. Wagner’s bombastic music captures the splendour of Northern epic themes very well. Only by listening his work one can see the walkyres and Beowulf come to life...

We are approaching to the end, just 3-4 questions are left. Are you a good music-collector? How many original albums do you own? What different musical genres do you enjoy listening to? Mmm, please, give us some surprise, tell us about any band that we would never expect you to like, I don’t know, Backstreet Boys or something similar, hehe
I am a true music collector. Always going for the originals. Same with dvd's. The only copies I make are compilations of different albums I bought, to listen to while I'm at work. I think almost all styles are represented. But I do not listen modern r&b and MTV trendy stuff as I do not relate? A song which is probably very uncool to admit but that I really love is "Some Velvet Morning" of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood. Epic in its own way. I couldn't find the song on cd yet, someone got it for me from Kaza but I will continue my search...

So, concerning this topic, what's your opinion on downloading music from p2p programs (emule, soulseek, old napster…)? What do you think as a music fan about these tools? And as a musician?
Downloading is killing music in a way, budgets always become smaller for artists as sales are going down. Only mainstream artists still get big budgets. On the other hand the music industry kept the prices too artificially high for far too long. With so many releases out it's impossible for kids with a small budget to find the right records as well in that case downloading music is a solution to find music they really like and get the originals...

We are at Christmas now. This Christian festivity has deep roots on European pagan tradition. Do you live these days in any special way? Do you stay with your family/relatives, make presents, or anything special? Do you have a kind of “pagan approach” towards these days? Or just don’t care about it and do your normal life?
I live in a medieval abbey. The past is very much alive here. My cousin came to live in my street. He's involved in many traditional groups, also the Pagan Asatru movement. They organise events to keep the past alive. I attend these meetings. But I also participate in the traditional family feasts because it is a chance to see relatives I don't see often. So we eat, drink, exchange presents. It is a family meeting thing, not really religiously inspired. So although commercially exploited I think it's a nice period. And indeed based on ancient Heathen customs (the tree, the lights in it)...A pity many people don't realise that. Last week a big Heathen Midwinter festival was organised in our abbey.

So it is an old abbey, now made a normal street?
No, It's still intact, and surrounded by the walls. The street is the original medieval. 13th century abbey but the street was paved a few centuries later.

Beautiful, nice to live in such a place. We can go concluding the interview with a kind quest, I'll tell you a proper name (a musician, a place, a person whoever...) and you tell me in a few words your views on him/it, right?
Sounds like fun, shoot!

Martin Luther King!
Hahaha! LOL. I prefer him over Malcolm X who preached Islamism and who seems to be a hero for white youth as well who like to play gangster rapper and live in a rich white neighbourhood. I guess Luther King was a strong symbol for Christian black community. But I prefer Martin Luther Odin as I'm not a Black Christian :-) Martin Luther King! Lol! Who next? Mother Theresa or Ghandi?

Luc Nilis!
Hahaha!!!! He played in the same team as an old friend of my childhood named Bruno Versavel who is also from Diest, like me. Bruno and Luc played for Anderlecht and the national Belgian team. Bruno and I are from the same town. He always beat me at football, because of I him I stopped playing it! I didn't know he would be that good later. I only thought I was very bad!

Haha, nice information! ANCIENT EGYPT.
Fascinating. I respect that ancient culture a lot. But I do not see it as a part of my own as it is very exotic. When I visit ancient European places I see it as an achievement of my own ancestors. When I learn about ancient Egypt, Persia, Babylon, Syria I am filled with admiration but feel like an outsider witnessing it. Different approach.

Great, 2 more names are left and we'll go to bed. Varg Vikernes.
Only two? I always liked Burzum. Still do. But same goes for Mayhem. I never interfered with their inner struggle.

And last but not least, hehe, the crown jewel I might say: JESUS CHRIST!
Oh my! Well, I met him a few times when I was stationed as a Roman Legionnaire in the middle east. I think he was just another hippie trying to undermine our Roman Empire. Never expected his fanclub to grow that big in Europe...

Haha genial!! Well, that's all, nice game, hehe. Would you like to add whatever thing to the interview? Any last words or something for our readers?
I think all is said and done. Many greetings to all who supported Ancient Rites throughout the years. And a nice life to those who hate us, we'll be around to annoy you a few years more.

It is 5:00 in the night and we are both exhausted. However, we both agree it has been a pleasant conversation so we are happy with the final result. Quite tired, I go to bed. Gunther decides to stay for a while practising the lyrics for the new Ancient Rites album...


Links of interest:

Ancient Rites
Season Of Mist
Lion's Pride
Iron Clad