One of the finest individual to interview within the metalscene is Ancient Rites’ Gunther Theys. Regardless the topic, Gunther always delivers lengthy and detailed answers filled with information which is interesting for every reader with a soft spot for the Belgian Horde. In the years of Vampire Magazine (1997-2008), we have interviewed the Ancient Rites 3 times (2x Gunther, of which the first interview was in the Dutch language in our xeroxed fanzine early days, and 1x Raf) and 2 of them are featured here as well. But at first a new interview about the new album “Laguz done by Fredde. (Ricardo)
Hello Gunther, welcome back with Ancient Rites in the music scene…happy to be active again, or did you in the meanwhile had other projects running (may also be something outside the music business)
Thank you. Actually Ancient Rites never split up but was working behind the screens on new material with intervals. We did play a few concerts over the years. But I can understand it appeared to the outside world as if we no longer existed. Personally I have been playing and recording with Lion’s Pride, the others were involved in other projects too. Personally I also picked up pen, brush and pencil again.
Well, I guess this will be the most frequent asked question in most interviews…what’s the reason you’d wait so long to record a new album?
Several internal and external factors caused this situation. Many obstacles to take, including financial and practical ones. We had to deal with line-up changes and some of the band members had private obligations. At the same time we were without a record deal and lost our rehearsal room. We wrote new material spread over the years waiting for the tides to turn in our favor. The music industry had changed and labels didn’t offer any or decent studio budgets any longer. We did not want to release an album of lesser quality. We always took every recording very seriously and keep on fine tuning the material. Even in studio the last moment everything is checked and some parts even altered for maximum result as we work with producers who are classical musicians, who keep a close eye on everything. It is always hard work but rewarding and we always aim to write songs that can withstand the test of time, no hasty job. It always is a wait for a new A.R. record but we take the matter at heart.
Was it a difficult task to reform the band? Are there some new members to discover in the line up in comparison since your last album from 2006 titled ‘Rubicon’? Because in the past there were at a moment even 7 members active in Ancient Rites…attached in the download link for Laguz there’s a band picture added where I can only see 4 members posing…why the reduction of members? Perhaps these are 2 different questions, but fire away…
There was no real reformation but there indeed was a reduction. And members switching instruments. At one point Domingo was playing the bass (years ago he played keyboards for us) but when Erik Sprooten was the only guitarist left Domingo took on the guitars again, his original instrument. Of course that means studying the material again. The reduction was caused by the typical elements causing line-up changes: different views, internal conflicts, other priorities…Our band exists since the late 80’s, these situations are inevitable.
After checking some internet sources I’ve noticed that all released albums, except ‘Blasfemia Eternal’ had very positive reactions, and all had high scores in the scene. Have you ever noticed those statistics about the former albums, and could you think of a reason why ‘Blasfemia Eternal’ has a lower score/appreciation from the media/fans?
I don’t know if that is a correct view though. Because I remember positive reviews at that time and to this day I receive requests to order the album which sold out. Quite possible negative reviews are circulating on the net but it wasn’t perceived as a less popular album when it was released. There are A.R. fans who still hold on to the two first releases, others prefer the later albums and the most part evolved together with our catalogue and appreciate each album on its own. In a way the different reactions are natural because we do not release two albums in a row sounding exactly the same so people always have to let the new work grow on them. Still I believe that all albums, despite the differences, sound very recognizable as Ancient Rites, the “essence” is similar in matters of concept but approached in a different way.
Now after a silence of about 9 years, the new album has been released titled ‘Laguz’. Can you give us more information about the album title, and the cover artwork you’ve used?
The „Laguz“ symbol is a less known an darker rune. In mythology the symbol is connected to the moon and tides. But also to the tides of life. Laguz stands for water, the beginning of life but also renewal and initiation, dreams, travel in mind and flesh and a darker side. When our ancestors read the runes the „Laguz“ rune warned for hard times but through perseverance the storms could be taken, the reward awaits afterwards. Ancient Rites had to take many obstacles since the very beginning of our career and especially these last years when so many different factors on different levels where preventing us to release a new album or to work in normal situations. In a way the “Laguz” concept was fitting to the situation. Storms and obstacles had to be taken. I reflected this on my personal situation as well. I was and still am fighting chronical health situations that had escalated and I had to face several operations in order for infections not to turn into lethal cancer. Sometimes when I was facing another operation or was in pain and exhausted I smiled to myself thinking „Laguz is striking but the storm shall be taken and the Rune rewards afterwards“…I am not a religious person but I related to the ancestral symbolism of the Rune. I took a personal liking to the symbol and its symbolism. Apart from that it stands for many things fitting tot the universe of ANCIENT RITES. Concerning the album cover: Back in 1939, British archaeologists made a 1.300 years old discovery. Inside a grassy mound at Sutton Hoo (Suffolk), they unearthed the remains of an Anglo-Saxon ship, possibly the tomb of a 7th-century nobleman. The wood had rotted away, but its outline, and some of the treasures buried with it remained intact. Gold, silver and iron were found, there also was a sword, a shield and this warrior’s helmet. It was found in small pieces and it took years of hard work in the British Museum laboratory to restore this magnificent piece. The fact it took years of work, meaning there were obstacles to take, before one could finally behold the final result also fitted the Laguz concept. But more importantly, it was found inside a burial ship and this creates a direct link to the Laguz symbolism of water and travel. Apart from that the object is a part of ancient European heritage, just like the world of Laguz and perfectly fits the universe of Ancient Rites.
I honestly have to admit that I hadn’t seen it coming…meaning suddenly I woke up, opened my email, and I’d received a download link for the new album from Ancient Rites…have you kept it as some secret/surprise for the fans, or is it just my fault and did I overseen the news about a new release? Because in my opinion, normally a band can’t keep such news hidden that easily…
It wasn’t your fault. It was not kept deliberately as a secret either but we felt there was no reason to talk about the new material before practical yet important matters such as a record deal and a decent studio budget were in our hands. Also we kept working on the material until we found it worth releasing. Once these factors were taken care of and finalized, we worked fast and efficient: we went to studio and within a couple of weeks the recordings, artwork, a clip and an album was ready for release which came as a surprise to many who had mistaken our public silence for a final split. Another factor that contributed to the surprise is that we are a band who do not release albums as a routine, we do not have to answer to big managements or labels to release work within a certain time limit. We do not have to take in consideration trivial elements such as current trends or hypes to keep sales going. Our audience is built up throughout the years on a “Do it yourself” basis via underground contacts. In the old days through tape trading, self-financed releases, intense correspondence in letter form because keep in mind these were pre-internet times. Our following know more or less what to expect from Ancient Rites and are used to our way of working. But it is true that many by now believed we had suffered a silent death.
Laguz will be released through the ‘Massacre Records’ label…satisfied about the cooperation so far? I’ve also noticed that the last albums were released through different music labels (Season of Mist, Hammerheart records,…) can I seek that explanation because you only had contracts for only one album with those labels, of are there other reasons for that recurring label switching? Perhaps some struggle/different opinions with some labels?
We’ve been picked up by a German investor who always liked our work, who did several underground releases and who works with Massacre Records. They were interested in Ancient Rites. He also connected the band to German based Gordeon Music for the PR/publicity. Thus several parties are involved with this release. The budget came from different origins. I’ve heard Massacre is satisfied with the press response when they introduced one of the new songs to the gathered press on a Scandinavian Metal fair and the general interest from the audience towards the band, Gordeon are content with the response of the press regarding interviews and the man who picked us up is happy with the release and the way things are going. So far we already received concert offers to play festivals in France, England, Holland, Germany and Belgium. True, our discography has been released through different record companies which makes it a bit complex in matters of re-releasing the entire back catalogue as the old albums sold out. Our debut for instance was released through After Dark Records and then licensed through Osmose records. Later the album was re-released through Mascot Records with a bonus track. With Mascot we recorded “Blasfemia Eternal” and “Fatherland”. After the “Fatherland” album was released, Hammerheart bought the band from Mascot Records who wanted to focus on Blues and through Hammerheart we released “Dim Carcosa” and the live album “And the Hordes stood as One”. Hammerheart ceased to exist and we were picked up by Season of Mist for one album which was “Rubicon”. I contacted the label for a possible 20 years celebration release a few years ago. Like Mascot released “The First Decade” compilation to celebrate the first 10 years of the band. I thought it was a good idea as the old albums sold out. Season of Mist said they were only interested in new material with a bonus live dvd to honour the 20 years which we couldn’t offer at that time, we didn’t have enough new tracks ready to release a full length. We were picked up by a German underground label who linked us to Massacre, this was the best deal. It is always best to work with labels and people who approach you instead of approaching labels, the approach indicates their interest.
How long were you working on the new album? Can you give us some kind of guideline about the creation of Laguz?
One could say we worked these past 9 years on the album with intervals. Pre-production demos including the orchestration were recorded and exchanged between the band members. October 2014 we entered the Spacelab studio’s in Germany to actually record the album and to finalize the production. Every layer and note of the music thoroughly checked by our demanding producers who are schooled in classical music. Then I received the basic files and altered and changed my lyrics for a last time where needed in order to make the entire puzzle fit perfectly together. The music is complex, so are the lyrics and thus the whole creation is a rather complex process. We all focus on the own work and only when the recordings, producing and mastering is finished we have a complete and detailed view of our work.
After several listening sessions of the new album, one thing has stuck with me…the great uptempo drum work from Walter Van Cortenberg…it seem his rhythm improves by age hehe…do you agree with my point of view? In general this album fits perfectly well according to me…I may say this is the result and combination of skills and experience from the different members…what do you think?
I agree. The intensity but also musical level increases on every front with each album. Wo don’t make it easy on ourselves. It is a demanding approach. I think the listener has to take time to “investigate” the album as the whole grows with each listening session as a lot is going on at the same time. From complex drum patterns to different layers of complex riffs and an intense variable orchestration. Also vocally different styles are used and the lyrics are not the easiest to perform in a high tempo, especially the verses. Glad to hear you noticed that. The majority of people don’t listen in a detailed manner so from this point of view we could have made things easier on ourselves but I think the essence of art expressions should be the expression of one’s personal and authentic views, no matter if one is rewarded, appreciated or completely understood.
Most lyrics you write are about historical issues…is there a lot of historical info to find on this new release, or did you chose another path concerning lyrics?
I think the lyrics contain different layers as well. A variety of topics are being handled. Of course the album will take the interested listener on different travels to forgotten times and worlds but there’s a philosophical undertone for those who like to dig deeper. It also contains openly philosophical inspired topics, without preaching, but that could offer inspiration to those who need it. Songs like “Mind Unconquered” or “Umbra Sumus” for instance. International but also lesser known local history is touched upon. To give a few examples: The Rise and Fall of Ancient Carthago while also reflecting on their dark religion. The tragic story of Emperor Julian who tried to restore Ancient Heathendom in a Christianised Rome. He almost succeeded but died in battle while rumor has it he was killed by one of his own men bribed by the clergy. History named him „The Apostate“ which is a negative label for someone who has deserted his goals and beliefs. But history paints him from a Christian point of view, with the song I try to restore his reputation because it took courage to fight for a lost cause, chasing the ghost of the old Rome and Hellenistic philosophies. The philosophical undertone of the song is that Emperor Julian followed his own path regardless the public opinion or mentality of the era he lived in. That takes strong character. „Von Gott Entfernt“ is about the „Bokkenrijders“ cultus that shook parts of the 18th century Lowlands. Apart from its mysterious history it also has a personal meaning to me as direct ancestors of mine were a part of it. It was a peculiar, bizarre and mysterious phenomenon. A track like „Mind Unconquered“ talks about the power of the will and mind. It has a positive message based on my personal experiences, to persevere in difficult times and to fight on without self-pity, no matter how hard life can be at times. „Umbra Sumus“ reflects on mortality and how we all join the Danse Macabre in the end. “Von Gott Entfernt (Bij Nacht en Ontij)” which I mentioned earlier in this interview, reflects on a dark and mysterious, yet lesser known and more regional history: the legend of “De Bokkenrijders” (Bockreiter in German). Hundreds belonged to this Horde and most members eventually got caught, tortured and publicly executed. Many questions remain unanswered. Why was a well-respected military surgeon like Doctor Kirchhoffs leading one of the fractions, how come they used military tactics and ranks? These were times of war and soldiers of different armies roamed the lands or had deserted. Women were a part of it too which was unusual. They were a strange mix of soldiers, artists, butchers etc. The blasphemous rites in chapels at night were an unseen phenomenon back then. Some historians believe it was not about the loot which was often poor but to destabilize society, like forerunners of the Enlightenment. I used Flemish/Dutch and German languages in the song to achieve authenticity, witnesses testified that the Bokkerijders used a mix of Flemish/Dutch, German and sometimes French when communicating between each other, revealing their international character. Also I used authentic Bokkerijder oaths in the song. I have been investigating old documents of the era, read publications concerning the trials, executions and court reports. Old books with eye witness accounts. You see, I can trace back my family roots to medieval times. Interesting is that some of them belonged to this infamous Bokkenrijders cultus. They were like a Black Guild. In military fashion they robbed churches and the aristocracy, they swore loyalty towards each other and the Devil, practiced anti-christian rituals to mock the clergy. One forefather of mine called Johan Theys was suspected of belonging to the first generation of the Horde, he got caught after a church robbery but he escaped from the prison tower. His name appeared in the old files, also in the diary of a local priest who wrote about his escape and who suspects him to have formed a new Horde in another town. Interesting dark family history. Another ancestor was caught and got hanged on the local gallows’ field. Local legend tells he still haunts the fields. What historians writing about the matter don’t know and what the 18th century authorities didn’t know and are questioning in their documents I can shed a light on. They spoke of the Theys family as members of the Horde and a new family appearing on the suspect lists named Boon not knowing where they came from. Fact is that in those villages our Theys Clan was nicknamed Boon. It was the same family using different names. Over there we are still called this way. It was the ultimate proof to me they were talking about my direct ancestors apart from the locations were our family always have been living. I was introduced to this phenomenon at the age of five. I was wondering why the captain of the Horde described and pictured in a novel my family were reading to me was called Theys. Now I understand why. „Leg V Alaudae“ tells about the Rise and Fall of the sole official Roman legion consisting of…Gauls. Their path was a dramatic one with no survivors. The entire legion was wiped out while facing alone a massive enemy force. After first having built up a strong reputation starting with Caesar’s campaigns, they vanished into oblivion never to be re-formed again when they all went down in Dacia. History seldom tells their peculiar story, I felt it was time to share their interesting and tragic tale. They were trapped between two worlds because of their position, as it were. You see, Gallic tribes who had made alliances or peace pacts with Rome before, during or after the wars were obliged to deliver recruits. Some went on a voluntary basis, others did what was expected. They were offered Roman citizenship but remained also Gauls because of their roots. Consider barbarians by most Romans and considered too Romanized by many other Gauls, they were between a rock and a hard place. Which often resulted in strange situations. Whilst visiting Rome they were in constant fights with Roman citizens who looked down on them while they had fought wars for Rome and their own tribes’ pact. It was written that they were not pleased when Caesar had shown no mercy to other Gauls after battle whereas he usually pardoned defeated Romans. So one day they attacked politicians and friends of Caesar who came to watch a battle and offered no mercy to anyone but their own legion, it was said to make a statement against the double measures that Romans sometimes used depending on the origins of the defeated enemy. Their history is less known that is why I felt like writing a song about the Larks Legion (Alaudae comes from the old Celtic word for “Lark”. The Lark wings were a typical ornament for Gallic helmets. They were the only non-Romans equipped in full Roman legion military gear. The wings on their helmet referred to the Gallic roots. I like to offer different layers and meanings when writing lyrics and to reflect on less known histories.
Ancient Rites is back…and as most bands there are lovers and off course haters…if I can recall, sometimes in the past Ancient Rites was some kind of banned from some podia/organization because some people thought a wrong message was spread, also because sometimes there were fascists fans among the crowd that didn’t hide their statement (in some people’s opinions)…how do you look back at that kind of ‘boycot’ as it can be called? Do you think this might happen again, and do you think there’s some kind of solution/reaction towards those haters? (perhaps a difficult question, but I take the risk)
I take things as they come. There are no solutions. Actually it’s not really worth talking about it all because we are not a band connected to any organization, nor do we preach. But I will try to answer your question. Those who support, will support and like you said: haters will be haters. No matter what. Some already mentioned on the net how bad our new album is and how horrible the album artwork and shitty the “new” vocalist (it was difficult replacing myself lol!) while only the label, producers and band could have heard the music, the comments were ready. The same old story. I feel no need to defend myself or join the discussions. Life is too short to care. Those who lived the early days of Black Metal will remember it was a scene full of controversy and not at all directed at pleasing the masses or trying to fit in with the moral majority. Individuals doing their own thing, some holding political views, left or right, others non-political in a philosophical way, anti-political or combined, some inspired by anti-religion, others inspired by the darker types of religion, some only into it for the symbolism while others joined cults or dived into the occult through self-study. Some liked to shock, others were serious about their views regardless what these views were. Others were only in it for the music. All walks of life were represented in the scene but no one cared about it, one wasn’t easily shocked in that scene. It all was highly individualistic. Bands were not held responsible for their crowd either. I’m not into preaching or telling people what to think. Our scene wasn’t exactly Woodstock either haha. When black Metal was picked up by the mainstream music industry the thought police arrived as well and one had to answer to the moral majority. We never cared about who thought what, we did not preach to the B.M. audience or expected certain “profiles”. Anyone interested in our work was welcome, if he or she worshipped Donald Duck at home was his/her own business haha. I’m not a Guru. Don’t expect me to be a prophet either, I’m not a self-declared world savior. My attitude is one of minding my own business and everyone who is correct towards me I will respond to in a similar way. It was generally accepted and socially acceptable to criticize Christianity but I voiced my opinion regarding Islamic fundamentalism as well which was considered not politically correct. That is when the boycotts started. Why should I handle double standards not to step on toes, because everyone else did? It caused us a lot of trouble, banned tours by the politically correct, bomb threats, hate mail. Articles regarding the matter were placed online but out of context. We were supposed to stay safe within the Black Metal boundaries, well, we didn’t make distinction regarding religion. If I can state that I do not relate to the prophet Christ, why can’t I say the same about the prophet Mohammed? I wasn’t supposed to mention the fact I do not like the rise of fundamentalism here by Jihadists imposing their views in my back garden? Well, I don’t like these forces who try to install a new imported inquisition and who hide behind beautiful sounding arguments to reach their goal. On my travels in Asia and Africa local people already warned me for these tactics and actions decades ago. Our governments sugar coated it all. Politicians trying to gain votes excused everything. Recently Jihadists killed cartoonists/writers in Paris with machine guns who made joke comics about fundamentalism. Even in my country shops received death threats who sold the comic paper with the illustrations of these murdered artists. There were fights happening over here recently between the police and Jihadists who were planning terrorist attacks in police uniforms. Pork meat is forbidden at certain schools now in order not to offend religious feelings, same at certain factories where friends of mine work or sports clubs. I think that is reversing the situation. I adapt to where I travel. If I settle somewhere I will accept the local ways. Now we can’t read or draw what we like anymore? Freedom? Don’t let me laugh. I am a painter/drawer myself and I also made cartoon jokes about religion. I even take the liberty to make jokes about things I like or myself. That’s how I deal with life and this used to be accepted in the Western world, more or less. Now I could be a possible target myself. I have warned for these type of situations since decades. I wasn’t allowed to voice my concern, it didn’t please/fit the public opinion. It’s all so hypocritical. Now the authorities and press in the West are shocked by the killings and explosions. What did they expect from Jihadists? Flowers? Volunteers for Jihad Wars were recruited right under our noses here, guys holding Belgian passports, double nationalities. I had to deal with many boycotts and was demonized through gutter press articles and TV programs for speaking my mind about the situation. Terrorism spread by those living amongst us, like a fifth colon. The horse of troy who want to undermine and change our culture. When you think of it: how selfish is that to expect an entire world to change to your views because you moved in and to resort to violence to achieve that aim? I love tradition but I don’t expect someone else to adapt to mine when I move to the other side of the world. I am not a politician but I have a free critical mind, away from any political party and think everyone is entitled to his opinion but so am I. Thus if this means less sales by making no distinction between the different forms of fundamentalism so be it. I am who I am. Perhaps many of your readers will dislike my opinion and of course that is their good right but I experienced in my hometown how a Metal pub located in an area where fundamentalists moved in was closed down, a converted fundamentalist was going around with a petition collecting autographs because the music was an insult to their faith. I am sorry but I absolutely disagree with changing our life style because a new imported Inquisition demands it. I am a musician, I am a cartoonist, I think it’s logical that I am not willing to drop what like to do under pressure to please religious fanatics. I don’t agree with the Western authorities, press, politicians and masses who go on their knees for them. People can believe in whatever they want but don’t tell me what to do. Not in my house or world back home. If that makes me unpopular so be it. In essence I didn’t say anything different than the murdered cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo. Now the moral majority shouts “we are Charlie”, now when it’s too late. They never were Charlie because that same press and their followers were the first to organize boycotts against our work or to fabricate tv programs regarding my bands with my voice dubbed by a cursing American shouting threats, manipulated photo shopped fake album covers of our band displaying concentration camps projected on big screens and underneath the screen politicians and analysts debating how they could ban a band like ours. Only last week I was phoned by the national TV again to testify about Western radical youth or normalized Western radicals because there had been a program about Islamist radical terrorist youth. First of all I’m no longer “youth”, unfortunately haha. Thanks for the compliment though. Second I don’t consider my independent views radical and third I have nothing in common with terrorists and neither do I belong to any political group. I’m an individual occupied with making music, writing lyrics and painting and drawing. I use a bloody pencil or a bloody microphone. Do not compare me to that circus of violent lunatics. When I agreed to an interview of the national TV in the past my testimony was cut as it wasn’t sensational or radical enough. From then on fake articles and programs have been made or statements placed out of context from old interviews. Did you know I was asked to play a bad guy in a crime series? I had to dress like myself. Of course I refused to participate. I’m not a walking cliché. Another time I was asked to participate in a TV program about “rebels” and had to defend my views against a crowd. I don’t feel the need to prove anything to anyone and I’m not a rebel in the sense as how they see the concept, a marginal against society. I am an old soul who often doesn’t relate to the modern world and disagrees with many things in society but I’m not a modern rebel, rather a voice longing for the positive aspects of the past that have vanished. Concerning the whole circus, there is nothing one can do about it, the press loves sensation, gossipers love the gossip and haters will be haters. I only feel indifference or contempt. Base your views on what I write, sing or draw/paint. It’s ok to hate me for what I do, I’m not a saint, but do not invent matters, twist or re-write my words and don’t believe everything that is said in the press or written on the net. Best is to directly base one’s judgment on my work by reading the lyrics, listening the music or by watching/reading my graphical works. Those are direct sources. That is all I can say. I always have been an independent thinker, free from any organization. People sometimes find that difficult to handle, especially when certain opinions don’t match those of the majority who walk in line to fit in. I don’t have to answer to anyone. Also I don’t have answers but I have the right to question. In the end I think there’s too much credit given to us by these paranoid “holier than thou” gossip types who ironically preach a free spirit, but only as long as it suits them, they can teach many dictators a lesson in dogmatic thinking. Because in the end, let’s face it, we hold no power over anything or anyone and merely are a bunch of underground musicians doing their own thing. I guess there’s an unwilling compliment hidden in their exaggerations to which they gladly add and invent wild tales because I don’t live up to their ideals. I’m used to it and don’t care. Apart from that, what I say doesn’t necessarily represent the band. And no, I don’t expect things to be different in the future but I will not drop on my knees for anyone or anything. And this is what makes certain people furious. It’s a bit bizarre how much time and energy they spend on someone or something they hate.
I’m fan of Ancient Rites since the first time I’ve heard the album ‘Fatherland’…but the beginning of the band I’ve missed unfortunately…you think there are still some demo’s out there people can buy…or do you have knowledge about albums/EP’s/demo’s that nowadays are rare to find from Ancient Rites?
We often receive propositions to release the sold out material. Ideal would be if one label could re-release the entire back catalogue which is a bit difficult from a practical point of view as the release rights are spread over different labels of which some don’t even exist anymore or moved on to other musical fields. I did notice that our “Evil Prevails” ep sessions, which we initially released on our own “label” Fallen Angel records (since no label wanted to touch our band back then haha), and soon after released on the North American label Wild Rags as ep and in split lp format on Colombian Warmaster Records for the South American market, were recently released on cd in South America. Also vinyls of our sold out albums were released in Europe but I have only seen those on photos posted by fans. These are bootlegs…
What about promotion? Any shows that are booked already that you can share with us?
Interviews are We have been approached to play concerts in The Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium and England. Dates that are confirmed are: Leeuwarden (NL) on the fifth of April, Genk (B) on the 30th of May and the Motorola festival in France on the 15th of August. I heard other dates are confirmed but I must receive the details yet. Promotion is going great, I receive tons of interviews via Gordeon Music and also directly receive interview requests. The latter is a bit risky as my e-mail inbox, my facebook private inbox and band pages are quite flooded.
Well, some people will say this is a new start for Ancient Rites…you also have that idea? Will there be more releases in the future you think or is it to early to answer that question?
I mostly see it as a continuation of the band journey but I agree that many might regard this differently, as a new start as it were. It makes sense as we mostly continued working behind the screen these past years with intervals and a limited amount of concerts. The cards were not right on the table for years caused by internal and external factors, obstacles we often had no control over like the financial aspect, the lack of decent record deal, decisions of others. That is why I don’t base big plans on matters that can be influenced by external factors. A band is always a collaboration between people and working with people is always a fragile bond. One has better control over personal decisions in which one has to answer to no one, depend on no one, and even in those cases fate can decide differently.
Do you follow the metal scene these days? Can you give your opinion about it, perhaps some bands you like very much and perhaps styles/genres you nowadays hate or love?
Bands who surprised me in a pleasant way were Thy Repentance from Russia but I don’t believe they are around any longer, and Hordak from Spain. I appreciate(d) their original approach. Thy Repentance had this raw, yet melancholic approach and the vocals re-created this vintage bombastic atmosphere of East European dark novels of the past, also in sound. Hordak convinced me by using traditional Spanish elements in their sound like on the intro of their track “The Last European Wolves” which then flows over into a Metal translation of the approach. I liked their authenticity and the fact they represented elements of their culture. When I complimented both bands it was a nice surprise to see they were into Ancient Rites as well. Nu Metal contains all the elements of the harder genres but does not appeal to me at all…To be honest I’m not much of a scene person. Of course I like the music but I am a bit of a loner nowadays losing myself in my work, books or travels. My closest friends are people I know since my childhood. When I attend a gig I’m approached in a positive and negative way, I appreciate the positive but I’m not interested in endless discussions with strangers telling me what to do or how to think during the concerts of the bands I try to watch. I’m not into this for drama and debates. If I had wanted that I would have become a politician or an actor haha. Probably a bad one too playing evil character roles like I was approached to do in that crime police series lol!
The last years I’m somewhat frustrated that underground bands aren’t that often invited to festivals anymore…in my opinion underground bands must be promoted more by their labels and make a fist! What do you think can be a solution for this problem…if you agree at least. As you are also a Belgian…you also may have the feeling that there’s not really an underground scene in Belgium that gives those bands place and time to perform. At least that’s my judgment.
I agree with your judgment. On all the matters you just mentioned. I remember in the early days certain club promoters talked to us like “you know…little “bandies” like yours are only worth 1000 Belgian Francs (50 euro).” Those very same ones approached us again after we had built a name in the scene abroad and suddenly were willing to pay a fee. We had not changed though! Then on bigger festivals they rather have a less known foreign band playing each year. Certain bigger fests had a “limiter” on how many national bands should be allowed to play. I don’t see that anywhere else in Europe. Or the world. Things would have been easier for us if we had been an English or American band. From day one I knew we had to focus on trying to establish a name in the worldwide underground by playing abroad before we could ever mean anything back home. Not because I think low of our own audience or scene but because the mentality here often is like that, especially by those controlling things in the music industry here. If it’s not exotic, it can’t be decent or interesting. The distribution channels here refused to distribute our self-financed debut album and said I should consider myself lucky I received an answer. Perhaps that is true but doesn’t that say a lot? Those very same channels distributed the very same album the moment it was re-released through the French label Osmose. Our music hadn’t changed on the album you know. Even on a smaller scale it happened. My hometown Diest is a small place. Everyone knows everyone. When a local Rock fest was organized they rather booked a less known Swedish Metal act from our label than us, locals. And this was years before the controversy surrounding Ancient Rites. It is the mentality here. And on an even smaller scale: I have friends who only after years decided to give my work a listen because others had forced them to. “We didn’t know you could do that. You see, we know you well and you are close to us”…That is why they never bothered. When we played on bigger fests they booked us early in the morning. Newspaper journalists wrote the festival field probably was still empty at that hour when we performed and therefore showed up later. There were thousands of people supporting. And during the signing session those organizing the session said they never had seen so much interest for a band playing that early. All I want to say is that again it shows how little credit is given to bands when they are “local”. There are exceptions when big promoters or managements push a band financially and big cash is involved and the pushing of the band is in their own interest but when you’re a local band with little financial support expect no presents, even if your work is highly original or of great quality. Do not make any illusions. I learnt that from the very beginning. Things are not done “for the love of Metal”. Bitter words? Perhaps. But the harsh reality and spoken by someone who experienced the circus going on behind the screen from close by. I remember we were turned down to play on a bigger fest despite the public demand “you don’t have a new album out” but they did place bands from abroad who hadn’t released anything in years.
The new album ‘Laguz’ will be released somewhere in February…how would you describe the new album to our readers to make them curious about it and have to give it a try?
It is an album offering different musical and lyrical layers. It is an intense album that has to grow through repeated listening sessions as one will discover more details. Also lyrically different layers are offered, apart from the lesser known histories described one can project the themes on a philosophical level. The basis of the music contains different elements of grim Metal combined with melodies and complex riffing to offer different moods. The same reason why there are different vocal styles on the record. The aim of the variable classical orchestration is to enable the listener to metaphorically pass through time portals so that the lost worlds, forgotten characters and topics are revived in the mind and become more visual, like personal films or documentaries that were never made. All is up to the individual of how to approach our work and how to best enjoy it. Headbang to our music with a beer in your hands or dive inside books or surf the net to further look up details on the topics for additional information and understand the background even better. Or throw the album away and never think about it again. The choice is yours.
A live performance with a true orchestra behind you…would that be something you’d consider or like doing some time?
With Ancient Rites I’d like to do two things. A complete classical album, perhaps even including orchestral versions of older songs. A composer once told us that our way of writing somehow resembles the method of medieval musicians. I take that as a compliment. And I would like a vile, ultra raw and primitive album on the rhythm of machine guns and explosions with guttural vocals barking out mayhem. And how far apart these both albums would be, both would fit the universe of Ancient Rites as the ESSENCE would be the same. Different musical dialects are possible to express a certain concept and since we always were far from any trend or hype we would have the liberty to do so. One could say it also shows my rather schizophrenic taste in music. Still I see a connection between these two musical extremes so long as the concept and universe of Ancient Rites remain intact. So yes, a performance with a big orchestra I personally would find interesting.
Ancient Rites has been formed in 1988…any great stories to tell during the history of the band that you like to share with us? For example some funny thing happened on a show are during a tour…
We could write a book about larger than life events happening to us throughout the history of the band. One day in paradise, the next in hell. One day at a swimming pool in the South of France, the other stuck with a tour bus on fire around a corner on the mountainous Brenner pass between Italy and Austria. We had to improvise police tasks in the night with flash lights to slow down the drivers so they wouldn’t crash into us. Imagine the looks on the people’s faces when they stopped their cars obeying our lights and saw guys coming out of the fog at night with remains of corpsepaint and blood on their faces dressed in leather, spikes and camouflage military gear while a fire was burning around the corner. It must have looked as if they had ended up on a place where things were going horribly wrong. The police afterwards complimented our action though and were very kind. I remember sharing a cigarette and having a nice chat with a police guy while waiting for repairs on the pass. I don’t remember if he was Italian or Austrian though. One of the worst tours we ever experienced was pure Spinal Tap. Despite the constant trouble I had a great time because things were larger than life, the bad luck was ridiculous and over the top. We went on tour with At The Gates and a few other bands to England during winter. The tour started in grand luxury. We had the tour bus of pop band Roxette at our disposal: warmed beds, nice salon inside, kitchen, tv, games. The whole lot. The tour promoter who was with us on tour did not pay for the rent of the expensive bus though. He said he was robbed on the streets after one of our gigs and therefore could not pay. We never knew if he was talking the truth or not. I have my doubts. The bus driver contacted his company and was told he could continue the tour when he received the money or else he had to return back to Sweden on the spot. The bands on board whose labels paid could stay on board for the ride home. Others had to get out. The other bands contacted their labels and they agreed to pay up for their return. Our label at that time (After Dark records) said they couldn’t help. Soon after it turned out one of the two label owners had ripped us off as we never saw a penny of the debut album for which we had paid the recordings ourselves, in the process he had ripped off his label partner as well and other investors. People ordering our album never received it etc…Anyway, we had to get off the bus in winter with our suitcases containing clothing for a month and all our equipment and merchandise. We had no money as we had paid the promoter our contribution for the tour. There we were, in winter, on the streets. We asked the last club we had played if we could leave our equipment and merchandise there. We were hiding in a telephone box to keep warm and called with our last pennies the London promoter who expected the tour to arrive. We informed him there was no tour left but we were still there willing to play, alone. He would book train tickets for us the next day to play the show in London. Meanwhile on the streets with no food we were given shelter by the kind and eccentric daughter of the founder of press agency Reuters who lived in the area. There was a stranded yacht in her garden. On the wall a picture of her and Marilyn Monroe. She was into witchcraft and spirituality. We slept between her Irish Wolf dogs on the floor. She organized a party with her friends who lived in a strange house where fish were hanging on wires from the ceiling. People covered in mud were dancing around fires burning outside, they said they did so to be closer to nature. It was larger than life like a B-cult film. Madhouse. We walked the dogs on the beach to do something useful waiting for our London tickets. When they arrived we started our travel to London leaving more of our stuff behind at the Witch’s house. During our travel the train stopped and we had to get out. General train strike. We called the London promoter and he fixed bus tickets. We travelled on, then the busses went on strike. So now we were in the middle of nowhere in England. No telephone booth or witches around this time. The London promoter would come to pick us up by car, last solution. Hours later we see a lone silhouette at the horizon. It was the London promoter. His car had broken down! He had been walking to us. Now we were stranded together. I had fun because of my sadistic black humor. Everyone starving and miserable, me too but in difficult situations I always manage to see the humor in it all. Somehow we made it to the Devil’s Church in Camden Town and played our gig. By playing we earned enough to buy a boat ticket home. Meanwhile a part of our merchandise that was left in the club was stolen. More loss. Later we had to return to England to retrieve our equipment and what was left of our merchandise and our stuff from the kind witch…Starting a tour like stars in luxury, ending up like bums on the streets without money and food, nothing to drink and returning home broke and robbed after facing all strikes in England hahaha! I loved every minute but then again perhaps I’m a little mad…
Apparently there will also be a limited version available with extended liner notes/historical background information and artwork from yourself…your idea, or the labels one? And can you give a little hint about what fans may expect from those extra’s? An extra booklet with pictures, or how do we have to see that…in other words said: is it worth to get this special version?
I think the main difference between both releases will be that the regular version comes in a traditional jewel case while the limited edition will be in digipack format, containing a bonus video clip of “Legio V Alaudae” which consists of historical or historical related material I gathered and worked on and extra booklet pages because of the format. It was the label’s idea. Initially they wanted bonus tracks but we did not have extra songs. I suggested an extra instrumental version of the classical last track “Fatum” but they were not interested in that idea. I suggested two more ideas: a free Ancient Rites Laguz patch and/or an extra card print of one of my graphic designs, these suggestions they liked but they said there was no time to produce those as the album was set for the 20th of February and extra separate prints or having patches manufactured could cause extra delays. Fine by me but from one point of view I thought people had to wait 9 years for the album, an extra month I personally wouldn’t have considered a problem. But I think they focused on the deadlines, also regarding the press and promotion. The release has to be simultaneous with the advertisements and interviews in the press, seen from that aspect I understand the deadline. So I worked on a video clip with a friend. For me a limited edition wasn’t absolutely necessary but since it will be available I’m looking forward to it.
In 2003 you made a DVD…happy with that creation? Some plans in the same direction in the future?
To release a live cd/dvd was a proposal of our record company back then. We agreed but only under certain conditions. Quality had to be the major concern. We invested a lot of our own money in this release, hired a professional camera team from Flanders, our video director from Finland, a German mobile studio, our German producers were present, light crew, sound technicians from Holland. We included video clips, video shots from many tours, extra footage. We took care of a professional packaging to offer quality. I am really pleased with the result as the live document illustrated the intense bond between band and audience hence the title “And the Hordes stood as One”. What frustrated me afterwards is that because of a financial dispute between the DVD production company and our previous label the DVD lacked a decent distribution. Our former label refused to distribute it, the DVD company did stick to their financial conditions. Who lost in the end? Indeed: band and fans. Typical of this music industry. The DVD never had been our idea in the first place, we agreed, put hearts and souls and lots of money in it but I feel in the end we were left in the cold. Isn’t it ironic? From what I know the DVD sold well but I think it could have been spread more, as it should, but in the end it all was a matter of money and contracts. From what I recall the difference in money, the reason for the dispute was ridiculous. For Hammerheart to refuse their channels to distribute the dvd of one of their bands I found a bad move…There are no plans to make a new dvd but one never knows, with us anything is possible…
Okay, I think I’ve asked all my questions…any last words for our readers?
The next months will be very hectic. An album coming out, rehearsals, interviews, concerts. At the same time a short graphic novel of mine will be released in a compilation album in support of the Child Cancer Fund. The story is based on folklore figures from Ghent set in medieval monuments of the city and mixed with history, historical characters, legends and legends I invented. It is in comical style but with a dark touch. Also a complete graphic novel I created in the 80’s will be re-released, which I now translated to English, also this time I made a colored version. It is a dark thriller with supernatural elements, unsolved murders, secret cults set in two time periods: the ancient times and the 1980’s. Interesting for Metalfans might be the fact that the murder investigations of one of the main characters directly leads into the 80’s underground Metal scene. Those who lived it will recognize many elements: the equipment, band shirts, styles. My own instruments and clothes stood model for many of the pictures. Shortly after I had finished the album I founded Ancient Rites. Some people told me it is as if I had predicted my own band future with Ancient Rites because the Occult Metal band depicted in the novel had to deal with boycotts, threats, banned gigs and band members dying. Things that all were about to happen to Ancient Rites in real life. The drummer in the novel was called Walter, just like the Ancient Rites drummer. I did not know any Walter back then when I created this novel. It is a peculiar and interesting thought how fiction partly became reality. Anyway, I’m in for busy times on different fronts. Even the latest Lion’s Pride album (a double album containing old and new material including a dvd) finally was released recently. It took years or it to happen. Line-up changes, our rehearsal room burnt down, and when the album finally was ready to be released on the market the record label received the news that the entire stock was confiscated in Poland at the printing factory. Rumor has it that the factory owed money and went bankrupt, thus the entire stock including our release was lost. So was the money of our record label. Recently the album was re-printed and re-released. I sometimes think how all of this is possible. I mean, for years Ancient Rites could not function decently because of so many obstacles, the same concerning this Lion’s Pride release, nothing worked out and then my graphic work came to a halt due to a lack of time or changes in the companies I worked for who no longer wanted their own designs. And all of a sudden here they all are, the albums about to be released simultaneously while during several years nothing seemed to work out because of factors I had no control over. Even privately I was facing one problem after the other: at my job, relationship, then health going rapidly backwards and the several surgeries. Laguz was playing its tricks I suppose, face the storms and emerge stronger afterwards. But the tunnel was long on all fronts at the same time. Life can be strange. The only thing one has control over is one’s mind and how to deal with the hardship/trouble…Thank you for this interesting conversation. Good luck with your publication and my best regards to all of your readers, especially those who appreciate our work.
Thanks for the interview!!