Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Longing for the Ancient Kingdom... Interview with Gunther Theys of Ancient Rites

This interview was done way back in the late 90's or early 2000's from memory. It was featured in the  Singaporean zine - Dark Legions, issue #3 back in 2000. The layout has been maintained from my old Geocities site back then and obviously the discography is a reflection of the time

Hello Gunther! What's the latest news on AR? Any new plans for a new album?
Greetings. Latest news of course is that we signed to HammerHeart. Currently we are preparing for our tours in Belgium, Holland, Finland and Germany in November/December. After these gigs we will enter studio in December/January to record the new album. Busy times ahead of us, indeed.

Could you briefly describe the history of AR?
ANCIENT RITES was created early '89. All members used to play in other bands before. The line up consisted of JOHAN and PHILIP (guitars), STEFAN (drums) and GUNTHER (bass/vocals). One year later the "DARK RITUAL" demo was released and spread throughout the entire underground worldwide. Soon after the recordings PHILIP died in a car accident, problems forced the band to replace STEFAN by drum roadie WALTER (STEFAN committed suicide a few years later) and JOHAN decided to leave the Metal scene. PASCAL and BART (guitars) joined and the "EVIL PREVAILS" ep ('92) was recorded and released through their own label FALLEN ANGEL RECORDS and later on through several other record companies such as WILD RAGS (USA) and Colombian WARMASTER. PASCAL was fired because of a lack of dedication. As a three piece ANCIENT RITES released several split ep's (Belgian AFTER DARK RECORDS and Greek MOLON LAVE RECORDS), a split lp and appeared on several compilation albums. 1994 The debut full length album "THE DIABOLIC SERENADES" was released through AFTER DARK (CD version) and MIDIAN CREATIONS (LP format). Licensing deals were signed to guarantee a worldwide distribution (OSMOSE, MORBID NOIZZ). AFTER DARK turned out to be a total rip off and eventually ceased to exist leaving no penny for the band that had invested its own money in the recordings, artwork and photo sessions. In 1995 a deal was signed with Dutch MASCOT RECORDS and "BLASFEMIA ETERNAL" was released January '96. The band toured Europe and the U.K. several times playing with acts such as DEICIDE, MOTÖRHEAD, CRADLE OF FILTH, METALLICA, DISSECTION, MORBID ANGEL, S.O.D., MERCYFUL FATE, IMPALED NAZARENE, MANOWAR, BEWITCHED, VADER, SEPULTURA, MALEVOLANT CREATION, ROTTING CHRIST to mention a few. Throughout the years of A.R.'s existence the band had to deal with a lot of misfortune (boycotts, bomb threats, violence at concerts, ripped off for large amounts of money by labels and promoters, members ending up in hospital or dying), however anger can be turned into power and all the hardship can be an inspiration. May '96 BART left the band which made A.R. a duo (WALTER & GUNTHER) working with session musicians. Guitarists of bands like PENTACLE, ABSU, KATATONIA, SWORDMASTER, LUCIFERIAN volunteered to give A.R. a helping hand. Although strongly rooted in Flanders (Belgium) ANCIENT RITES slowly turned into an international act. On the third album entitled "FATHERLAND" (recorded February/March '98) musicians from Holland, Suomi-Finland, Germany and Belgium made their contribution and the current line up is presented. Today A.R. are ERIK (ex-INQUISITOR, guitars), JAN "ÖRKKI" (ex-PRESTIGE/TWO WITCHES/ LACRIMOSA, guitars), DOMINGO (ex-AGATHOCLES/ RENAISSANCE, keyboards), WALTER (drums) and I, GUNTHER (bass/vocals). Recently a compilation album entitled "THE FIRST DECADE 1989-1999" is released to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the band. After a negotiation and business transaction between the labels ANCIENT RITES moved from MASCOT RECORDS to HAMMERHEART RECORDS recently for which the fourth full length album shall be recorded this winter.

After 10 years of AR, what's your inspiration for keeping on doing AR? Do you have any side projects?
DANSE MACABRE, IRON CLAD and LION'S PRIDE are perfect channels to express different musical and lyrical instincts. DANSE MACABRE was created a few years ago in Athens together with M.W. Daoloth (NECROMANTIA) and Sotiris (SEPTIC FLESH). A 7"ep was recorded but never got released because the label DANSE MACABRE was on (MOLON LAVE) ceased to exist. For two years the project was put on ice because Sotiris had to fulfil his military service and M.W. Daoloth did not find enough time to continue with DANSE MACABRE. I did not wish D.M. to end this way so the moment I got introduced to ex-LACRIMOSA guitarist JAN YRLUND I asked if he was interested in joining DANSE MACABRE. We became a duo working with session musicians. We recorded a full length album in Holland and added the "Greek" songs as bonus tracks. This way the different periods in the band's history are represented and the roots and early years of the band are presented to the listener as well. "TOTENTANZ" was released in April '98. Meanwhile DANSE MACABRE turned into a real transEuropean act (like ANCIENT RITES) with members from Suomi-Finland, Holland, Germany, Serbia (Yugoslavia), Greece, Austria and Flanders (Belgium). The line up consisted of Merijn Mol (drums), Arik Politi (keyboards), Milos (bass), Jan Yrlund (guitars), Antoinette (backing vocals) and I, Gunther (vocals). Recently keyboardplayer ARIK moved to the States and was replaced by Tom Slegers (known from OBLIVION/CANTAR). DANSE MACABRE already played a few headline shows in Belgium and Holland. "TOTENTANZ" sounds like a compilation album, each track has a different approach. "TOTENTANZ" is a journey through medieval music, classical, Gothic Rock, Dark Wave, Folk, Industrial etc. Recently I also founded a third band called LION'S PRIDE (formerly known as DIVISION 99). Music is like a tribute to my earliest youth and is ranging from old school Punk, to extreme HateCore and Oi!. Punk and Skinhead music always have been important in my life and the "Do it yourself" street mentality made me decide to form a band, already in the late 70's. Several labels already offered LION'S PRIDE a contract. Lyrics are misanthropic/ not political and often deal with everyday life issues. I'm also involved in a fourth band named IRON CLAD, it is a band consisting of Metal veterans who still hold on to their old roots, it is not just another retro band. Music is Heavy Metal and lyrics are rather epic (specially dealing with medieval history). These different bands give me the opportunity to use my voice in a different way and to explore topics which wouldn't fit to the concept of ANCIENT RITES. A way to show different aspects of my personality.

I read in your homepage that you're doing an Oi! band as well. Do you think that the metal community can accept you, Gunther Theys in an Oi! band? Do you feel that a metaller is stereotyped into liking just metal and be in a metal band only?
I realise there are people who dislike the fact I work on different musical fields but I refuse to limit myself. Metal will always be an important part of my life but why should I be narrow minded? I have a huge record collection in which many styles can be found: from the most amateurish noise to the most divine music. A person carries so many different emotions and feelings inside, to each one exists a different kind of music, depending on the actual mood. Jan and I are not the only ones who have the need to express ourselves on different musical fields. Our drummer Walter formed a Death/Grind band with our keyboard player Domingo (who plays guitars in this band) and I heard that our other guitarist Erik plays in a Hardrock combo together with local friends. I guess these projects harm our band only when it comes to narrow minded fans who do not accept the fact we are interested in other styles. We, from our side, always gave A.R. top priority and do not let all our side projects get in the way. And indeed a metaller often is stereotyped as someone who only likes Metal. Truth is in many cases that is the reality, even more extreme: I know many Black Metallers who only listen B.M. or Heavy Metallers who dislike any other form of Metal etc...I always listened all kinds of Metal. Recently a few A.R. fans were angry on me because I was talking to a few Punks and Skins who were at our gig. Being a Metal frontman they felt I had broken the rules. Others were upset because backstage I was wearing a blue jeans instead of a black one, once I had a discussion with a Heavy Metal fan who couldn't understand I was wearing a TANK shirt as he hated my band and B.M. in general, he considered it impossible that someone who likes H.M. played in a B.M. band. I must say that not only in Metal one can find close minded people, EVERY music style has those kind of individuals. For instance in the Hardcore scene one can find many subgroups that hate each other as well (straight edge, vegan etc etc). Once a Danse Macabre fan (dressed typical in a Gothic way) was very sad when I told him I liked KATE BUSH as I find her voice quite "witchy". Narrow minded people are to be found within every subculture. So imagine when these people will find out about my other bands! I will be crucified! No probs, I'm used to a lot of criticism after spending so may years in different underground scenes and it doesn't interest me much. Also being a musician one is more easily interested in different styles. I think we look at music in a slightly different way, from a technical point of view, we analyse music and in that process one can detect interesting/appealing parts in other genres. Also a lot has to do with age. When I was 20 I mostly listened Metal only when I became older I opened my mind to other music as well, normal I guess.

Looking back thru the 10 years, which song/album and gig/festival was/is the best that you've done? Would you change anything that has happened to you in the band during the last 10 years? Do you prefer playing in a small club or at a festival? Would you play every corner of the earth to spread AR's name?
We have toured throughout Europe and the U.K. many times. Life on the road is like an adventure, very unpredictable: one day all is going perfectly, the next nothing seems to work. Once we stranded in England with all our equipment and without any money, food or a place to stay. Even that one we turned into an interesting experience, often larger than life, and continued touring in an alternative way in order to gain money to get back home. It is kind of strange to see we draw larger crowds nowadays while in the past only very few individuals were interested in our work. Guess this new Black Metal explosion must have got a lot to do with it. Since (specially in the beginning) we received way more appreciation outside our own country, we preferred to concentrate abroad. Nowadays our status also improved within Belgian borders. Most of the bands we toured with we already knew personally, which of course improved life on the road together. When mutual respect is shown we get along with everyone, no infantile rock star attitudes. We toured as headliners several times but also with major acts such as DEICIDE, CRADLE OF FILTH, MORBID ANGEL, METALLICA, MERCYFUL FATE, MOTÖRHEAD, S.O.D., MANOWAR etc. Highlights in our career were playing the legendary Marquee in London, the famous Thorns club at Athens, the very first big extreme Metal fest in Lisbon (sponsored by Coca Cola and the mayor!) and appearing on mega Metal festivals such as DYNAMO OPEN AIR or GRASPOP to mention a few. I like playing both in small clubs and on large festivals as both have their pro's and contra's...It is fascinating to see how crowds differ from country to country, city to city even. Whenever there is some free time available (after the sound check for instance) I leave the venue to taste a bit of the local culture. I'm thrilled when I have the chance to visit museums, monuments or ancient/medieval remains. All this keeps touring interesting. It often is hard and stressful but there's a certain charm involved too. Intensity, positive or negative, is what we seek. Let's say personally I do not only tour to spread the band's name. Since I like adventure all these tours enable me to taste a bit of the rest old the world. It's true that in the old days we consumed large amounts of alcohol every day and didn't bother about rest or sleep at all. Today we often are on tour for a longer period, our music became more complex plus there are higher expectations from both press and public therefore it is important to keep a clear head. None of the A.R.. members are into drugs and alcohol abuse is not received positively (when it happens before a gig). Each member has to keep control and a task to fulfill. Change anything in our history? If I could turn back time I would never sign to our first record company as they ripped us off and made us lose a lot of time and money. But then again there was no other choice as there were no labels around to sign a B.M. band (even the bands were very few!!!) since it was long before the style became fashionable again, OSMOSE RECORDS were still only a tape label called STRANGULATION DISTRIBUTION and were focussing on Grind with blasphemous lyrics...I think history would repeat itself. We did a pioneering job but the time wasn't right nor was the scene ready for the style we did. When we appeared on stage with paint and blood most people in the audience didn't know what was going on, labels found it too extreme and others who weren't impressed compared us to KISS while we did not do it out of entertainment! We opened the road for others. By the time the music industry and more people became interested in B.M. we were stuck to this crap rip off label without a decent distribution and new better labels were created and they picked up new bands. A.R. were not surrounded by the right people, we offered something else and different but there was no record company to cultivate it or enough fanzines around, we were quite isolated and therefore never completely recognized, this is our biggest tragedy I think: all those lost chances but we did always the best we could.

You've played numerous gigs/festivals over the years. How would an AR concert where your headlining would be? Any pigs heads/fire breathing in the show? How about scantily clad women?
We are not a theatrical band. In the past we used paint, fire breathing and were covered with animal's blood but we did it not for glamorous reasons or to shock the crowd, we really FELT it all. Today everyone is doing it so we dropped that concept although I'm proud we were one of the first to use it. Scantily dressed dancing women I leave to other Black Metal "heroes", it is not our style either. We have returned to the basics: our backdrop with logo, lots of smoke, few lights and five individuals on stage banging their heads off who let the energy and music do the talking. The stage is not only ours as we allow the crowd to participate and sometimes I hand the microphone over to the audience who know the lyrics by heart. It can happen that our guitarist or I disappear in the crowd. An intense interaction is created this way, rather unusual for a B.M. band.

You've released a compilation cd of your first 10 years. How difficult is it to choose the songs? I find that the inclusion of intros/outros in the cd making it sound like a whole album. Was this the desired effect?
Personally I also would have liked to include songs from our sold out ep's because from a fan's point of view that is the most interesting. Also that would have offered a more complete view. But the rest of the band didn't find that such a great idea as they are not satisfied any longer with the production of the ep's, specially the old drum sound they find too weak. I think this underproduction had its own charm and was typical for those underground cult days. It's a matter of opinion. They hoped that Mascot would have invested in some live tracks and re-recordings but the label didn't. Still I am pleased with the compilation as all my fave tracks are included and it is a perfect release for those who are not familiar with the band...Indeed the album is like a chronological travel throughout our history and when listening to the compilation it makes a whole.

I really love 'Longing For The Ancient Kingdom'. What was the song about? What is your definition of the Ancient Kingdom? By the way, how's Fatherland doing? I feel that is the best AR album of all, especially the title track.
"Longing for the Ancient Kingdom" is one of my fave tracks as well. The Ancient Kingdom I refer to represent the ancestors, yours, mine...A desire to return to our forefathers ways, ancient pride that often seems to be lost in this modern world. Our latest album "FATHERLAND" seems to have a bigger impact on both press and audience according to the reactions. First time in the band's history we were voted "Album of the Month" in several major Metal magazines (such as TERRORIZER, MIND VIEW), scored very high in established Metal press (95% in AARDSCHOK, 9/10 in METAL HAMMER etc) entered the Metal charts top 10 on national radio and even received a very positive response from non Metal press. Mail has increased and very positive reactions are reaching us. We are on tour in Europe most of the time and headline tours in North and South America are in the works. Concert offers from Asia are received and successful appearances on major open air festivals (DYNAMO, GRASPOP, FIESTA DU ROCK etc) took place. Response is overwhelming. Naturally it is impossible to please everyone (which never was our intention in the first place) and probably there are people who prefer the old work but it remains a fact we never had such a great feedback. I am pleased to know we achieved this without jumping on any bandwagon and by following our own path regardless anyone or anything. We never had a management, major label or a lot of money behind us to push the band. Everything (good reviews, long interviews, tours) can be bought and fixed with money. We build up everything with our own sweat. Of course all these reactions are very nice and flattering but it is important to remain with both feet on the ground. Modesty and keeping a grip on reality never did harm anyone. We simply try to offer interesting music. Also we avoid being satisfied too easily: it is our goal to improve and progress with each release without however betraying the essence of ANCIENT RITES. How much "Fatherland" sold? No idea. I got complaints from distributors though that Mascot Records stopped printing the album and ignore A.R. orders. At this point HHR and Mascot are talking about our back catalogue, I hope Mascot will sell our old albums so they finally will get a better distribution.

I read in your homepage that AR has left Mascot Recs. What were the problems with the label? How is Hammerheart handling AR? Were AR interested in/approached by other labels?MASCOT Records changed their policy and started focussing on progressive Rock/AOR and Blues. We felt rather neglected in that process. Obviously ANCIENT RITES did not fit to that concept. We were not very pleased with the promotion and distribution of MASCOT Records lately as it was way better in the past. We still were signed to MASCOT for one more album but HAMMERHEART bought us from MASCOT. We parted ways with Mascot on a friendly basis. Several major labels offered a record deal but HAMMERHEART Records were interested in signing ANCIENT RITES since many years. They know the band ever since the beginning and therefore are aware of our underground cult status, they do not neglect that scene. Meanwhile HAMMERHEART are a fast growing label and promised to give ANCIENT RITES priority treatment. I think the band would not have been offered that approach on one of these bigger

I don't know if this is true or not... I heard a few years back that you (Gunther) was getting married and your best man was Mikka Lutinnen!!! Is this true? If so, how's your life changed since then?
It was the other way around. I was the best man to Mikka's wedding. I still am unmarried...Ask this question again in a couple of years...

What type of bass + effects do you use? What would be your ideal equipment? I think that AR doesn't downtune the guitars and just use standard tuning, am I correct?
We only downtune on the track "Fatherland". I play B.C. RICH and IBANEZ. Recently I bought a five string IBANEZ Ergodyne (active elements), it is a bit uncomfortable switching to a five string but the sound of the Ergodyne is awesome, a boost! Heavy and crystal clear! I play MARSHALL which is quite unusual for bass players. No effects. I'd like to buy two collector's items: I saw a GIBSON SG Bass ('69) style Angus Young! Very unusual! And a RICKENBACKER build in '70. Both in perfect state but extremely expensive. Being on the road often damages the equipment. I must confess I'd feel a bit uncomfortable dragging such expensive collector "museum" pieces on our underground tours, they would age rapidly. A GIBSON EXPLORER bass would be interesting as well.

Looking in the cd booklet of your 1st 10 years cd, I saw that you have played with numerous lineups, just like Cradle of Filth! What were the reasons for the 'revolving door' lineups? What do you think of Cradle of Filth?
We demand 100% dedication from the band members which means one has to be ready to go on tour ANY time. The band comes first. Job, relationships, family, friends etc are factors which are important but still we require band members to give A.R. top priority. Problem is A.R. is a underpayed "job", millions are earned but WE do not get a penny of those: record labels, promoters, distributors do...Hard reality. Now Most people have a family to look after and after a while are tired of sacrificing everything while they get nothing in return, a person has to live, bills have to be payed...We often have to fight hard to make ends meet, it IS frustrating to see others cash in on our work/sweat but that's how this music industry works...We DID try to make it on our own but all doors remained closed even when we offered our first album (for which we had payed everything by ourselves) to the stores/distributors. Mob rules. Sooner or later people give up or just are fed up with the situation. Only lunatics/fanatics (like myself) continue under these circumstances. Probably because I love to tour and I adore travelling. Both things I am able to do because of A.R. and although my bank account remains on zero I somehow feel rewarded in another way...But not everyone thinks like I do. And at one point I will have to look after myself as well and get a job. For now I only accept jobs that do not last long (daily/weekly contracts) so I am always there when A.R. needs me. What I think of C.o.F.? It really is a perfectly organised business. Everything concerning C.o.F. from merchandise to image, lyrics to interviews, concerts to movies etc is well structured and the kids love it. Who am I to judge? Personally I do not relate or couldn't be a part of it but they do not have to struggle to make ends meet at the end of the day like we do, so who is the smartest? People like us who care for street credibility, being cult and who remain eternally loyal to the underground which makes us respected worldwide but who get no serious recognition let alone any money or manufactured/managed bands like C.o.F. who say "fuck you all, we wanna be bigger than Marilyn Manson and yes we are superstars, fuck your underground credibility" and who lead an easy life giving the young kids the cabaret they want? Do not get me wrong, I know some of the people in C.o.F. and therefore wish them the best, I honestly am not jealous about their success like many people are. But no, I can't see them as a real B.M. band like old MAYHEM were or old BEHERIT or TORMENTOR (Hun), C.o.F. is entertainment like KISS, ALICE COOPER, MARILYN MANSON and everyone knows this sells. Actually my opinion on them is rather irrelevant...

About the decade cd, I noticed a change of your vocal style throughout the years. Was this just experimenting with your range? Are you going to change the style again on your next album?
I try to offer vocal variety and I find it pleasant to experiment, on every A.R. release (from demo to ep's to full length albums) my vocals are different. Probably I will continue to experiment in the future.

I saw AR once in London Astoria about 1 1/2 years ago with Deicide etc. AR was awesome! You wearing a Lonsdale t/s!!! If I'm not mistaken, you dedicated a song to Terrorizer Mag? Why? Do you feel mags and especially fanzines/zines important in promoting a band? I was really surprised that you quickly replied my email, only a day! That is really impressive! What do you think of the internet?
Lonsdale, Fred Perry, Doc Martens are my favourite trademarks, I'm a collector of those. Rather British isn't it haha! I dedicated a song to Terrorizer as they voted "Fatherland" as album of the month together with Bruce Dickinsons'. British press never treated us very positive. Kerrang! for instance always wrote extremely negative reviews so Terrorizer made a pleasant difference and surprised us. I think fanzines are very important no matter if they are printed on glossy paper, xeroxed or spread in 50 or 50.000 copies, ALL mags get the same treatment from my part. As far as internet is concerned: it is a curse and a blessing. Very practical for dealing with A.R. matters rapidly but it is an addiction. I'm spending most of my time behind computer nowadays. Enslaved I am!!!

Is AR a black metal band? I can't really figure it out, because your straying away from the usual satanic theme. Do you feel black metal with the satanic theme/corpse paint image is such a trend now? How about the so called Nu-Metal bands Korn, Limp Biscuit, Marilyn Manson etc? Are they metal? Do you feel that when the kids here them, they would turn to more heavier stuff later?
I think we are rooted in different kinds of Metal but B.M. is an important facet. However, we prefer to stay away from the typical clichés and try to present things in a more authentic, intelligent way. Nu-Metal offers nothing to me, I don't even consider it Metal. Strange as the ingredients are there: the music is hard, loud, vocals are screamy etc but I cannot FEEL it as Metal. The screaming boring voice and that typical guitar sound (with loud repetitive uninspired guitar riffs) annoy me. Do not get me wrong: nothing against simple and groovy music but the Nu-Metal sound seems uninspired and empty, without feeling. Ancient Black Metal was simple and badly produced, the lyrics were cold and dark and negative but there was a feeling to it, same goes for the worst Punk, even the most talentless noise band has more feeling and music is about feeling...Nu Metal I find empty, boring and a bit irritating, of course it has the right to exist. I simply do not relate at all...

I feel that that's enough for the interview. What's your last words to end the interview? Further promote the band?
Hope we will tour Great Britain again in the near future (good opportunity to meet some of my old pals as I have many friends in the U.K.). Hopefully with a better distribution more people will discover the band. Thank you for this conversation. Cheers! Hail to England! Cheers to my brothers in Wales, Scotland and Ireland... When I arrive take me to the nearest Lonsdale shop!

II must say, this was a very well answered interview from Gunther. I think even local (Malaysian) bands can't do a better job! Some local bands think that they're superstars or something, not answering interviews and not replying my mail! I really have a lot of respect for Gunther and co.! Keep up the good work! Longing for the ancient kingdom..... 

Contact Gunther @ gunther.theys@planetinternet.be
The Ancient Rites homepage is at http://www.dma.be/p/ar
Ancient Rites discography
1990: "Dark Ritual" - Demo
1992: "Evil Prevails" - 7"
1992: Split 7" with Renaissance1992: Split 7" with Uncanny1992: Split 7" with Enthroned
1993: Split 7" with Thou Art Lord
1994: The Diabolic Serenades - CD/LP/MC1996: Blasfemia Eternal - CD1998: Fatherland - CD1999: The First Decade 1989-1999 - CD

No comments: