APRIL 5th 2015

Welcome to Metaltitans, Guardians of Metal Entertainment Worldwide, we are here today with Gunther Theys, vocalist for Ancient Rites. Thank you for doing this interview.

Thank you. My pleasure Rita.
1. The band was created at the end of the 80’s, and since then you have gone through so much in the your career with the band, do you think this has made you stronger, more determined ?

It sure did. That is the way how I always reacted to difficult situations. No matter what the odds: get on with it. Ever since the beginning there always have been many obstacles on our road. Few people believed in our work when we started, this was years before Black Metal became popular in the underground. We recorded the “Dark Ritual” demo but the majority in the scene didn’t know what to think of our style and lyrics. On one side glam was big, on the other alternative looking bands writing about environmental and political issues. We did not fit in. We realised there was no one to count on if we wanted to take things a step further. So we paid for the recordings of our debut EP “Evil Prevails” ourselves and had to create our own “label” (Fallen Angel Records) in order to get the vinyl out. Next step was a full length, again financed by ourselves: the debut album “The Diabolic serenades”, which the official Metal distributors initially refused to distribute because we were “unsigned” and not a part of the “official” channels of the music industry (After Dark Records only paid for the pressing and had no ISBN number). Anyhow, those were the least of our troubles. We had band members dying in car accidents, another band member took his own life. We had to deal with boycotts, bomb threats, rip offs, had to start from zero again several times. Two different cells of the secret police were on our backs, tapping our phones. One cell was investigating the band regarding Satanism/Occult sects, and a political cell was on our tail as we had publicly spoken out our concern regarding the rise of Islamic fundamentalism/terrorism, years before the current IS terror. Also it was considered as an undermining of the state because apart from writing about foreign history (which was no problem) we also wrote about our own, the medieval pre-Belgian history of Flanders. The media jumped on it, blew things out of proportion or simply twisted facts, invented their own stories to sell copy and national TV fabricated gutter press styled programs to compromise us. As a result we often got banned or weren’t allowed to play in this country. Since we never were involved in any criminal activities police had to let go and we simply ignored the press. It isn’t always practical and a bit tiring but since we never were into this to become mainstream artists (not even in Metal) the whole charade had little effect on me personally. So here we are today talking about the new album. I ignore the circus. And focus on what matters despite the storms and blah blah/boycotts surrounding the band.   

2. Your new album “Laguz” , the 6th, is about to be released at the end of this month, can we expect the distinct sound of Ancient Rites or will there be some changes ?
None of our albums sound the same, yet all are recognisable as Ancient Rites. On “Laguz” all Ancient Rites elements have been pushed further, in music (both the Metal and classical/orchestral elements), vocals and in lyrics. All different aspects of our sound have been intensified, are more complex, contain more layers, from the grim to melancholic complex riffs as the drum patterns (even in speed), different vocal styles are handled and more layers of variable orchestration and medieval elements paint an even more intense dark and historical (“filmic” as it were) atmosphere.
3.  Who wrote the lyrics for this album ?

 I did.  

4. How did you choose to write about the dark/historical, fierce civilizations, what was the inspiration behind this ?

Ever since my childhood I am fascinated by history in its different facets, from the cultural aspects to military history, theology to philosophy, art to politics, mythology to architecture, literature to daily life. Like a neutral observer. As it contains so many facets and layers, history is a re-occurring theme in the different “art” forms through which I express my passion: from writing, to drawing/painting to music. I also prefer to reflect on lesser known or darker histories. Away from Hollywood or fiction. It is a passion beyond music. All my life I travelled to historical places, visited museums, collected historical books (including original medieval parchments). As for the inspiration behind the album title: the ancient Laguz rune is associated with the element of water (the ocean) and therefore connected with life energy and its origins, travel (in spirit and in the flesh), dreams, occultism, initiation, evolutionary process. Its gender is female and its colour is dark green. Its planet The Moon (connected to the tides of the sea). It is a rune with a darker side, but after daring the sometimes treacherous and stormy waters, symbolically speaking, growth and reward awaits, as in life itself. 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. This is where history, mythology, ancient religion and timeless philosophy meet. Laguz stands for many things fitting to the universe of ANCIENT RITES and the band situation. The band had to struggle for survival since the very beginning and these past years have been extra difficult for the band but we took the storm and here we are, talking about a new album. I reflected Laguz on my personal, private situation as well: I have been fighting chronicle health conditions these past years. The treatments continue to this day to prevent the growing of cancer that would end my life path a bit too soon. Sometimes when I was facing different operations 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 travelling under the Sign of Laguz”. 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. It is important to keep a positive attitude during the darkest moments, no room for self-pity and keep feeding the mind with passions, the healing of the body will go faster this way. Of course death wits us all, but it’s rewarding to keep one’s head up while walking from the cradle to the grave. Our latest albums are given a title/name with historical, traditional, mythological and philosophical meanings containing several layers. So, although they might be rooted in a certain tradition/history, they also can be projected on a larger scale outside that history/tradition as well when learning/exploring the different meanings and projected on philosophies in life. Anyhow, those who bother reading the liner notes and lyrics in combination with the music, will find themselves on a journey to forgotten worlds and obscure histories.

 5. The recording was done at Spacelab Studio in Germany, why this studio ?

The producers of Spacelab (Christian Moos and Oliver Phillips) always push us to higher musical standards by being very critical. Every layer and note of the music and vocals are thoroughly checked by our demanding producers who are schooled in classical music. First we enter studio with our pre-production recordings including the orchestration. Every detail is dissected. Then everything is re-recorded, altered where needed. At the final stage I receive the basic files and alter and change 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. In the end the pieces of the complex puzzle fit together. This time the Metal parts were recorded at Spacelab by Christian Moos. The orchestral and vocal parts were recorded at the studio of Oliver Phillips. The mixing was done by Christian Moos at Spacelab after he received all files and the mastering took place at Eroc’s Mastering Branch in Germany.

 6.  Who was the artist behind the cover artwork ?

First I selected all the artwork that I considered fitting to the lyrics and worked on the pictures. I picked works from painters and artists from the past as I feel historical artwork fits best to the character of our work. The masters are mentioned in the CD booklet. A few illustrations I painted/drew myself (The illustrations to the tracks “Under the Sign of Laguz”, “Fatum” and “Frankenland”). The lay out of the booklet and technical aspects were handled by Jef Van Laer with whom I had a good communication, I told him which illustration had to go where etc. Not many words needed, he feels our work very well.  

 7. The image for the cover, is it a historical figure ? Why did you pick this one over others ?

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 the warrior's helmet depicted on the album cover. 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…

 8. On the album is there a song that you yourself like the most ?

 Not really. I think they are of a similar level. I do have favourite parts of course spread over different songs. A special “trip” was the last track “Fatum”, which was a collaboration between classical musician/producer Oliver Philips and myself. The style is classical music mixed with medieval/renaissance music.

 9. What was the best thing for you about making this album ?

That all obstacles standing in the way of a new album finally were taken. And the fact we were signed and received a decent studio budget which is not to be taken for granted when being an independent underground act in these times of crisis. On a personal level I loved combining three of my passions on one work: 1. Writing (lyrics and liner notes) 2. Painting/Drawing (The illustrations to the tracks “Under the Sign of Laguz”, “Fatum” and “Frankenland”) 2. Music (recording an album). For the first time three separate worlds that are important to me merged into one.

10.  9 years is a long absence from the music scene, what inspired you to return ?

It is a long time but Ancient Rites actually never broke up. We were just waiting for the cards to be laying right on the table again. Several internal and external factors caused this situation. There were 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 they gave priority to. 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 favour. 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. It is hard work but rewarding. 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 since we take the matter at heart but the past years many factors which were beyond our control caused the extra delay. However, the status of being an independent band like Ancient Rites (without business men on one’s back demanding routine releases to keep the sales going) also works in our favour. Throughout the many years of our existence we built up a loyal following that more or less knows what to expect from us. Our fan base is less influenced by trends, otherwise they wouldn’t be into our work in the first place. That also means that we have the luxury to put quality before quantity. We rather release no album than a record we don’t believe in.
11. What did you do for those 9 years ?

I was involved with other musical projects. Meanwhile biding my time, waiting for the right moment to emerge with Ancient Rites again.  

12. You have toured with some impressive bands, like Motörhead, Judas Priest, Cradle Of Filth, Metallica, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Mercyful Fate, Manowar, Rotting Christ, plus so many more, do you have one that is more memorable than others, and why ?

We even played with mainstream acts such as Guns ’n Roses or Metallica. To be honest it is not that important to me. Sure, there is some kind of recognition in there and perhaps even some sort of personal victory when keeping in mind so few people believed in our work when we started. The very same promoters and distributors who said they were not interested in working with (I quote) “unimportant lil’ bands like you” suddenly started booking us or distributing our very same albums they refused to distribute before. We never had anyone pushing the band or managements to “buy” us a place on these major events. So one could say our place on these events was a bit of a victory for the underdogs/outsiders in the music business. The memorable moments were rather personal: I enjoyed watching Motörhead from the side of the stage with my father who also always liked the band. And a similar moment while playing with The Stranglers. Both bands go back to my childhood years. I remember playing their early records on my old little mono player. It is always kind of special to share the stage with old “loves”. But I’m not a “star struck” type of person. Nor did I ever feel like a “star”, it is all so trivial when one thinks of it. The fact one is on a stage doesn’t make you a more important person than the people watching/supporting you. The interaction counts. If there’s none, fine too. Their choice. But that does not intimidate me either. I recall during our early days we had glasses thrown at us while being on the stage, were cursed at but whenever I invited the anonymous heroes hidden in the crowd on stage to confront in the open they did not show. In the end who is being daft here? I don’t pay to see bands I dislike. I don’t spend my energy fighting artists I don’t like or disagree with, why bother? Concentrate on what you like in life, don’t waste your time on trivial matters, life’s too short anyway. That’s my personal opinion at least anyway. So we’ve seen the two extremes, from being hated and banned or performing in front of a hostile audience to be cheered by thousands on big fests. We didn’t change, external factors often influence how a band is perceived.  Important is to remain with both feet on the ground in either situation. Stay yourself. Don’t base your life on how others perceive you, no matter if that perception is correct or wrong. But dedicate yourself to what you believe in doing, try to improve your work and expect nothing. All positive reactions coming your way is a bonus then…
13. You also have attended some major festivals (Wacken/Graspop plus more), do you prefer the festivals over a month long tour ?

Tours are harder work. On the other hand one has more control over one’s sound, there are no sound checks at festivals. In the old days when we did club tours as one of the support band we didn’t get sound checks either but now that we often headline we have the luxury to set the sound straight. We allow our opening bands to do a sound check and use all the channels of the P.A. system. I recall how certain bands we opened to allowed us to only use 4 channels so our sound would be less impressive compared to theirs. So when they got on stage and used all 24 channels of course the press would write “what a difference in sound”! It was a disappointment to see these type of tricks used in the so called underground scenes. Pop star mainstream bullshit tactics. Pathetic. On one of the big festivals we weren’t even allowed to use firework because only the top act was allowed to do so. The pyro technicians we had hired travelled all the way for nothing. Our pyro technicians took “revenge” by making a great lightshow for us, they gave it a 100%, and that got noticed in a positive way by the public. Who in the end pays the price? The fans who are deprived of a good sound and show. The fans don’t know this ugly side of the music business. Even in Metal. Of course they like to see the top bands shine but I’m sure they would like to see the acts placed lower on the bill perform under good conditions as well, without subtle forms of “sabotage”. After all they paid expensive tickets and are entitled to an entire festival worth their money. Once our road crew had to fight off roadies of a headliner who were sent on stage by the manager to pull the plug on us because the crowd reacted too positive for their taste. “Don’t steal the show of the headliners!” Can you believe that? No, I’m not telling names. I’m not into gossip. But I always told myself I would never treat opening bands this way. I have no time for the entire rock ’n roll circus and its dirty tricks. It’s not about competition to me. Besides that I consider every show equally important, no matter how big or small, one has to give a 100%...I like tours, I like festivals. Tours are more demanding and there’s the time factor involved, often we just arrived in time to play when travelling across countries or sometimes didn’t make it when the tour bus broke down, we got caught in a storm or police had confiscated the bus as they didn’t like its condition. But that’s a part of it all. One day in hell, the next in paradise. They make good stories. I could write a book of the larger than life situations we encountered during our bands career but I will not bore your readers to death with those stories…

 14. Do you have a tour lined up to support “Laguz” ? And if so will it include North America ?

Concerts are planned in France, Holland, Belgium, Germany and England. More offers are coming in. No USA yet but it would be fun. We were received very well when we played North America. Great crowd. I remember one night in a hotel, the night before the gig: fans had travelled from all over the country and they were staying in a hotel wing next to ours. When they saw us arrive they shouted to come over and have a drink. Our sound engineer was angry on me (for professional reasons) because I stayed up all night talking with every each one of them and sharing a few drinks. “What about your voice! You’ll have none tomorrow” he said. “No worries, no one expects opera” I answered “and adrenaline will do the rest”. It did J The next day when we got on stage most of the people in the crowd were like friends. The welcome was heart-warming. That extra “bond” with the audience will never be experienced by musicians acting like distant rock stars. So yes, would be nice to return to North America…
15. For you what is the most important thing about being in Ancient Rites ?

To express and share my interests/passions with like-minded individuals and to remain loyal to the essence of the A.R. concept while being truly independent, no matter the public opinion or sales.  

16. Over the years, have you ever regretted the band business ?

I don’t regret a second. It always was worth it. I must confess I never liked the whole circus around it, the business aspect, the intrigues, the mainstream press nonsense, the tiring unnecessary attention of people who try to get to you for the wrong reasons, the fake friendships, the hostility, jealousy, gossip. Often very infantile matters in the end. Tiring still. The more famous a band gets the less fun it is to be in one because one gets to work with people who use the band as a stepping stone, musicians (strangers actually) who like to join a known band for their own ego’s and career, business men who like to earn cash on the bands back while offering very little or nothing in return. It’s like bleeding “Game of Thrones” on a small scale lol! One has to watch one’s back constantly, over and over again. If one is an observer “not born yesterday” (as the expression goes over here) it is somewhat tiring to see through it all and to fully realise the games that are being played. It turns a person somewhat ironic regarding the whole matter. The reason why I keep on doing it is for the sake of the art (I don’t mean this in arrogant way) itself. And the positive interaction with those who appreciate our work. True friendship is a rare thing in the band business. Of course there are exceptions. But I had to work with individuals who didn’t like me while the feeling was mutual. But the show must go on. Supposed allies of today can turn into bitter enemies tomorrow. When a band starts out with friends with a similar goal while having a good time, those are the golden years. But that doesn’t last. Ironically the bigger a band becomes and one expect things to get easier corruption sets in, innocence lost. People get carried away unfortunately. I don’t mean to sound bitter. I’m not. But I make no illusions, I observe the good and bad. And accept things as they are…Ignorance can be bliss but still I prefer to see reality. Wouldn’t have wanted to miss anything because they are life lessons. Being in a band and the business surrounding it means one often is obliged to work with people who come and go in a high tempo and as in life one meets all types of people but in large numbers in a “fast forwarded” manner. Everything in overdrive. The good and bad aspects are enlarged, intensified. We travel the world and live in small places like tour busses when being on the road, end up in rooms with people one wouldn’t hang out with in daily life and one meets all types of business men, honest promoters, dishonest ones, rip off distributors and labels, better ones. One must think fast. Often my first instincts are correct but sometimes one has little choice but to collaborate for the bigger picture, to live up to contracts, to not let fans down…It is not as glamorous as people often think it is…When I was a kid I often wondered why do great bands break up and throw their “magic” away? But often there can be a perfect musical vibe between musicians while on a personal level things don’t work out, it can be like being in a bad marriage at times haha.      

17. If you could not be in a band anymore, what kind of career do you think you would be in ?

As a child I had to fill in an inquiry made by the teachers. I had forgotten about it but I saw the paper recently and I had to smile to myself. “What would you like to do when you’re a grown up? Your dream job? ” the question went. I had answered in a typical naive childlike manner: “Soldier.  Singer/Musician. Drawer.” In a way I fulfilled all my dreams. I went to art school. After I got my diploma I served in the first battalion Para-Commando when doing my military service. After my time in the military I earned a living as a graphic designer. Since the late 70’s I have been playing in bands. In the 90’s Ancient Rites started taking up more of my attention as the band grew bigger while at the same time I lost my job as a graphic designer, the company I worked for decided to no longer print/sell their own designs. I did my best for both passions but I went with the flow, fate had decided for me, the band got my full attention. So I didn’t paint or draw for years. Since a few years I picked up on it again. I like to work both in a realistic and comical style. I post some of my works on my Facebook profile and so people starting asking for publications. I was asked to contribute a short graphic novel for a publication based on folklore characters and the history of the medieval city of Ghent. The graphic novel will be released in support of the Child Cancer Fund. And soon a graphic novel that I made in the 1980’s will be published in Germany. I translated it to English for the international market and made a coloured version. Originally it was released on a limited edition in Black and White in Dutch/Flemish, the language over here in Flanders (North of Belgium) and Holland. The graphic novel is a dark thriller set in two time periods: ancient times and the 1980’s. The story revolves around unsolved murders, disappearances,  Occultism, ghostly appearances, Heathen Cults and even enters the 70’s/80’s Metal and Punkrock/HC scenes. Scenes I lived. I am content being able to be creative again on different fronts.

18. Tell us something that would surprise us to know about Ancient Rites ?

Once we donated a track for a compilation. The profit went to an organisation helping out stray cats and dogs. We never were a “Save the world” type of band. But I answered this request in a positive way because I do have a heart for animals in general. I would have done the same for a cause supporting elephants or lizards or whatever species needing a bit of support …If it helped or if the money really went to the cause one never knows. Too often causes are being sold to a naïve public while their donations disappear in the pockets of those posing as if they’re mother Theresa  Guess being ripped off in this music industry so many times left me a bit suspicious…I only can hope the cats and dogs actually got their food…

Is there anything you would like to add to this interview that I might have missed asking you, but you want people to know ?

I think everything is said…  

Thank you (Merci) for taking the time to do this interview with us here at Metaltitans, and we wish you much success with your new album “Laguz”.

Much appreciated, Rita. I answer your kind French “Merci” with a “Graag gedaan” (you’re welcome) in my own language. So we end our interview by teaching each other foreign languages, who ever said Metal cannot be educative?  Here in Flanders (Northern half of the linguistic border in Belgium) where Ancient Rites is from, the spoken language is Dutch/Flemish. My French is reasonable enough to help myself across the linguistic border but my English and German are better I must confess when having to use a foreign language. I thank you for this interesting conversation and wish you and your readers all the best.