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Necromancy Magazine Issue 1, Philippines, 2002
Text © Norman Trinidad/Necromancy Magazine
Another gruelling tour was etched on your repertoire, How does it feel now that physical rest is at hand? Do you often find yourself reflecting on the wild moments of every tour? How's your energy level on live situation compared to several years back when Ancient Rites can still be considered as "young"?
Somehow my life has become even more hectic as I play in four (!) bands nowadays. Two of them tour on a regular basis and the other two bands are recording artists as well one of them preparing for an album which results in intensive rehearsals, two bands recently releasing an album which results in more interviews. I often deal with a lack of sleep. It occurs that I have to take a plane immediately after a concert to fly to another country to appear there with one of my other bands. And since musicians usually are the ones who earn the least on their work (labels, promoters, stores, distributors cash in the most, if not all!) I had to take a normal job which results in even more hectic schedules.
Pressure increased, so did my blood pressure, doctors got worried with my 19,8 result but what can I do? Music is my life so the idea of quitting it all never crossed my mind, one band is not enough as I wish to express different musical/lyrical instincts and I need a job to survive so I have no choice...
Tour life is as hard as in the old days, we just returned from a European tour and conditions were horrible. The heating in our bus broke down and for days we were living in a place with a temperature of 19 below zero, our drinking water on board literally was frozen. We all got very sick but we continued the tour as we did not want to let our fans down. And because we are stubborn :-). One of our support acts went home. That was not an option for us, after all "Never Surrender" is printed on one of our shirts, in difficult situations one has to live up to it as well! Secretly (in order not to bring down the morale) I cursed the situation because I suspected the bus was not repaired simply to cut down extra costs, whose decision that was I don't know (Bus company? Tour agency? Label?). Point is every lousy excuse was used to keep us going in a bus that was sinking like the Titanic. The longer the journey took the more the bus broke down. In the end there was not even electricity on board and one of the windows close to my bed could not be closed completely, probably this caused the fever I got (do not forget we were touring when Europe was plagued by snow storms). It frustrates me to experience again and again that in this business only money matters. But like fools we continue our struggle, for the love of music...
Your music has obviously changed starting on Fatherland isn't it? I must say it is a rather a bold attempt of dissapointing old fans and as well winning new ones? It seemed that the new facade of your music appealed to both side of your large fanbase?
Surely there are people who do not accept any form of evolution who stick to our first two albums. But our "progress" is not too drastic nor is it planned in order to reach a wider audience. One shouldn't forget since Fatherland a new line-up is presented. New, more technical, musicians joined the band and technical skills have improved in general. Each musician has his own style/approach (how it should be!). Originality is highly appreciated within our ranks. Every band member has a long tradition in Metal. We already were into the Metal scene even before Black/Death Metal was created. We obviously take part in that scene but our roots and approach differ from the other bands in our style and older (traditional Metal and first generation Black/Death) and other influences shine on trough as well. Also we ignore what is popular or fashionable at the moment and go our own way. We play what we instinctively feel without ever considering what the press/audience might think of it. We try to achieve a ballance between aggression and melancholy, brutality and atmosphere.
Unlike most other bands in the B.M. scene we want to achieve a clear, tight and heavy sound/production. Surely we respect primitive Black Metal but because of our ancient Heavy Metal roots we settle for a tighter sound. We try to improve with each release and wish to avoid stagnation. It is our aim to grow without selling out and evolve in a natural way. We have a natural 80's Metal touch to our music because A.R. started in that era but at the same time we have a modern approach. Our sound contains different aspects of Metal and even elements of Classical, Medieval and Folk music can be detected in our music. We play what we feel, there is no real A.R. recipe, just emotions, dreams and visions we try to put to music. A classical musician once told us that the structure of our songs (including the more extreme Metal parts) is similar to the way medieval musicians composed their music, I can't think of a better compliment. We never analyze our music, we try to achieve a ballance of different atmospheres that fit to the concept of the band.
What would you consider the Ancient Rites element that you managed to retain and hold together amidst this in-beween changes on your musical character? Is it something both cultural and sinister in origin? can both facet be mixed on one single band concept?
The essence of our work still is the same. There is a gloomy, obscure occult touch to our work, also the historical/cultural aspect is very obvious. Both facets can be mixed perfectly in one concept. Reality often is stranger than fiction. History provides many examples: think of Vlad Tepes who was a historical character but on whose life the legend of vampire Dracula was based, think of Countess Bathory who used to take a bath in the blood of children in an attempt to gain eternal youth, remember Gilles de Rais a famous medieval Field Marshall who was executed accused of slaughtering many children in bestial rites, think of the cruel ceremonies to praise the horned God Baalberith in ancient times. List is endless. History and the Sinister often walk hand in hand.
I guess the same progression was carried upon the conception of Dim Carcosa? How well did the album went as far as outside Europe was concerned? Has Hammerheart Records lived up to fill any void left by your former label?
Hammerheart's distribution seems to be better organised. They should see to it though that our album is also distributed everywhere in Asia, don't know if this is the case yet. I remember our previous label having signed a licensing deal with a Japanese record label which resulted in thousands of albums sold in that country. But generally I hear that our albums released through HHR are more easily available which I find important. I think someone who's interested in our work (no matter where he or she lives) should be able to obtain our album for a price adapted to the local economical situation. In the past our albums where sold in certain places of the world for high import prices or simply unavailable. Recently a Czech fan told me people had to pay half a months wage to buy an album from the West of Europe. This was before the fall of the Berlin wall when they still were a part of the U.S.S.R. (living under a completely different economical/political system). Too unfair and frustrating for the local youth it must have been. I know food and welfare are prior but music should be available to everyone as well...
Since you are the sole responsible for the lyrics, how much does your lyrical content have changed from then until now? Are there any channels were you can elsewhere draw inspiration from? I mean you are often inspired by ancient cultures or historic trips?
It is true that today we focus more on the historical/cultural aspect while the occult element is treated with a more cultural/literary approach. The older a person becomes the more experience on every field is gained. More travels, more knowledge, more literature have come my way and a more complex view on matters are inevitable in the end. I always did strive for authenticity and historical accuracy in my lyrics but today I investigate the topics I write about even deeper and always view things from different angles which of course makes my job a harder task. No matter, I like a challenge. Always avoided fictional "Conan The Barbarian" or cheap "Satanic" gore lyrics as they do not represent any truth. I am interested in history, I am fascinated by the Occult but wish to deal with the matters on a more serious level...
Prior to Dim Carcosa you released a CD entitled The First Decade isn' t it? I believe this is a comemorative of a decade long existence in the scene right? It is quite nice to look back at the old times and remember you having corpsepaint and an inverted cross in the forehead?
Compiling the booklet for the compilation while running through my personal archives and old documents/pictures indeed brought back many memories. It certainly provoked a feeling of nostalgia.
On your perspective do you think that Black Metal have somewhat lost aura it once radiated? Would you agree that one reason for this is certainly the business side of the genre? Where does Ancient Rites stand on this contemporary scene?
I have been active in the B.M. scene since the very beginning back in '81. With Ancient Rites we always had an own identity/approach which separated us a bit from the rest of the scene. But without any doubt we have build a road for the new B.M. generation together with acts such as Mayhem, Beherit, Samael, Sarcofago, Rotting Christ, Impaled Nazarene and a few others. Pioneers hardly ever gain the recognition they deserve. Many new kids in the scene only know the new generation B.M. bands who either sound Scandinavian (primitive and brutal) or Gothic (more commercial, keyboard orientated) and find it hard to accept bands who sound differently as real Black Metal. Yet one shouldn't forget that when we started EVERY band sounded different and original.
Same goes for the originators such as Bathory, Venom, Hellhammer: each band had its own style. Today the scene is overcrowded with copycats and manufactured, hyped and artificial bands who simply profit from the current trend. There are new bands I respect and appreciate but I do not like all these imitations who spoil the scene. This "overkill" of uninteresting releases definitely harms the scene and eventually will bring the style in discredit. The Cult is turning into a Circus, it occurs to me that many bands are more concerned about their corpsepaint and "evil" poses than their music. Also in Heavy/Power Metal too many bands are imitating the 80's Heavy Metal bands without offering anything of their own. It is a general phenomenon. In my book copies NEVER are as good as the originals.
Being a musician myself enables me to have a look behind the curtains of the music industry and I must confess I do not like everything I see. Even our cult is corrupted to the bone and all is about money (even positive reviews, interviews can be bought). Managers, major labels and mainstream press make or break a band, only depending on how much money is invested and spent on the "product (band)". I always have this feeling that the scene was more pure and real years ago. I remember as if it was yesterday that in the early 80's it was very common to be into different styles of Metal. Metalheads were banging their heads to bands like Motörhead, Angelwith, Mercyful Fate and Slayer in the local Metalpubs and went to see groups such as Possessed, Voïvod, Sodom or Celtic Frost in concert and equally loved it! It were different times and all A.R. members belong to this old generation who stood at the cradle of Black Metal and embraced the new child without rejecting the past and traditional Metal that had coloured our earliest youth. There almost was like a brotherly, tribal feeling between Headbangers. Things were less complex and somehow I have a feeling even the most popular bands were less manufactured.
Maybe nostalgia is playing tricks with my mind but at least that's how I experienced and lived the old scene. Of course there will always be great bands that keep the Flame burning. No use to complain about it, I have seen many subcultures turn into a trend. B.M. unfortunately and obviously is no exception. Where we stand in the current scene? Where we always stood: separate from the rest.
Danse Macabre seems to be going on strong as well? By the way, I remember you do have an old-school punk/oi project Division 22/99? What happened to this one and have you released anything with this band?
My other bands 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), 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 and Davy Wouters (known from Oblivion/Cantar). Danse Macabre already played a few headline shows in Portugal, Belgium and Holland. Totentanz sounds like a compilation album, each track has a different approach.
Our second full length entitled Eva opened more doors for us. Eva is a journey through medieval music, classical, Gothic Rock, Dark Wave, Folk, Industrial etc. Again through Hammerheart Records a mini album entitled Matters of the Heart was released recently. The album contains unreleased tracks, electro remixes and video clips.
Concerning Lion's Pride (formerly known as Division 99), my third band: music is like a tribute to my earliest youth and is ranging from old school Punk, to extreme Punk and Oi!. Punk and Oi! music always have been important in my life and the "Do it yourself" mentality made me decide to form a band, already in the late 70's, most probably we will sign to Pure Impact, a label specialized in Oi! 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 real Heavy Metal, lyrics are rather epic (specially dealing with medieval history). We invited Erik of A.R. as a guest in studio as well. Several labels offered Iron Clad a contract but a deal was signed with Good Life Records. The debut album Lost in a Dream was released recently.
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 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.
Time to get personal and up close, Beliefs is always subject to change as time passes by, now I am forced to ask Gunther's thoughts about satanism and the left hand path as compared wayback? Do you still uphold with high regard the two things abovementioned upto now? I asked this because there are too many inconsistencies these days from statements of old Black Metal bands!
Concerning this topic I have to say I relate to certain philosophies of Satanism but in a symbolic (non religious/non dogmatic) way. A code based on knowledge, wisdom, strength and self respect. A down to earth, realistic approach guided by own instincts and principles. I find it important to avoid the same traps one can find in other religions. I do not believe in any higher (or lower for that matter) entities. Personally I relate to ancient traditions, therefore also Paganism catches my interest/sympathy. My views are similar but as with everything in life evolved and more balanced...
After the tour and Dim Carcosa what would be the next in line for Ancient Rites? Any changes in the line up recently?
We had to fire Domingo as we were no longer satisfied with his musical qualities. On Dim Carcosa piano is perpormed by Oliver Philipps who is a classical musician. Live Domingo was not able to perform these parts on a similar level. The general discontent created a bad atmosphere in the band. He, from his part, was convinced he was doing a fine job though. A musician who does not admit his limitations will not improve so we had no choice but to fire him. Not a pleasant situation. We always liked the guy very much, he broke also personal contacts because of our professional decision. Understandable but a pity nevertheless as we had great times together. Still music comes first.
New member is Davy Wouters who is known from Oblivion and live performances with Danse Macabre. He is a born pianist/keyboardplayer and has what it takes to play in the current Ancient Rites where keyboards are not just an instrument on the background any longer. Years ago we got introduced to his work when he opened with Oblivion for Ancient Rites. Jan and I were especially impressed by the performance of both keyboardplayers and I remember writing Davy a congratulating letter. A pity that band never made it as they were ahead of their time. Isn't life peculiar that both keyboardplayers of Oblivion joined Danse Macabre and one ended up with Ancient Rites as well?
Next lined up is a live album. It takes a lot of preparation as we wish to offer a good sounding quality album not a quickly recorded crappy sounding live.
Thanks for the second time around Gunther! My apologies if the first interview failed to be published and if there is any person who understand us, that would be you! Final words before we reach the end while Longing For an Ancient Kingdom!
The pleasure was completely mine, my friend. Of course I understand your situation. Better luck this time. I hope one day to visit your country, if not with the band on my own to taste of the local culture and learn more details about your history. Greetings from the Northern Land of Flanders to the Sons and Daughters of South East Asia...
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