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Interview

Deutsche VersionInterview mit Ancient Rites (06.05.2015)

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HH: Hello and greetings from Franconia / north of Bavaria! I really was surprised when I noticed that a new Ancient Rites album would be released. The last sign of life was very long ago. So, why did it take so long to hear again from Ancient Rites?

Gunther: Greetings from Flanders. I think you weren't the only one being surprised. I can imagine that people started to believe the band had ceased to exist. Several internal and external factors caused this situation. Many obstacles had to be taken, including financial and practical ones. One after the other. Also we had to deal with line-up changes. On top some of the band members had other private obligations they gave priority to. At the same time we were without a record deal and lost our rehearsal room. We have been writing new material over the years though, 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 wish to release an album of lesser quality. Without a decent contract or deal there was no reason to announce any news regarding the new material anyway. We always took recording very seriously and kept on fine tuning the material. Our own critical mind did not speed up the process either. 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. The moment the obstacles were taken and a studio budget and record deal were in our hands, we immediately started the procedures and within a few weeks the album was recorded, the artwork made and completed, including the liner notes, the songs were mastered, a video clip was made and the album was ready for release. So here we are, discussing a new A.R. album the moment the world believed to be rid of us *grins*

HH: As I saw, the most of your companions remained the same. Eric, Domingo und Walter have also been active on your last release Rubicon from 2006. Have you all been involved in other bands or musical projects during the last years?

Gunther: Guitarist Erik has been playing with his Hardrock band Plusminus and recently his old Extreme Thrash band Inquisitor was reformed. Drummer Walter worked as a session musician and did some studio recordings with bands and artists. One being the new Metal band of former Ancient Rites guitarist Bart Vandereycken. I was asked to participate but I thought it would be somewhat strange to have a new Metal band going containing all three members of the classic Ancient Rites line up while Ancient Rites needed a new record. Walter also recorded with North American underground Metal musicians. He also recorded with solo artists from the Ukraine as guest drummer. Guitarist Domingo was active with his bands Gracefallen, Persephone's Blade and a project with his wife. I recorded albums with Iron Clad, a Heavy Metal band that was founded in the 80's and with Lion's Pride. And I helped out several underground bands on bass, with some we toured Europe.

HH: Have you ever been afraid that the fans might have forgotten Ancient Rites?

Gunther: Of course the music scene changes over the years and situations become different. But on the other hand we never were a band that jumped on any trends or had to answer to managements and big labels forced to release albums like a routine in order to not miss the latest hype. Throughout the years we built up a rather loyal following worldwide who look forward to it whenever a new A.R. album is released. They appreciate we are a band doing our own thing, and although we evolve on each record, they more or less know what the A.R. ingredients will be although the "accents" might differ. They are familiar with the historical and dark universe of the band which we try to bring across through music and lyrics. The fact Ancient Rites has this "independent" status means we do not have to rely on the latest tastes of the mainstream masses, not even within our scene.

HH: I think the waiting has been worthwhile. Laguz stands in the tradition of your last three albums and deals with historical events of ancient Europe. Can you give me a short cross-section of the topics on the album?

Gunther: Thank you, always nice to hear. Much appreciated. A variety of topics are being handled on Laguz. 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. Take the album title "Laguz" for instance. The title combines different aspects: history, mythology, ancient heathen religion, philosophy. The rune stands for water. Also for initiation, renewal, the beginning of life, the rune is connected with the moon and tides, travelling in mind and body, the occult, mystery, dreams. Its gender is female. Our ancestors regarded it a darker rune predicting the storms and obstacles in life. But regardless of its darker character, the rune also symbolizes reward through perseverance. The band had to take many obstacles before the new album could be realized and also on a personal level I have been fighting serious health conditions and underwent several operations, one of these operations included the removal of a big part of my intestines to avoid a malignant cancer to grow. The treatment continues to this day and I must regularly go to hospital for check-ups and infuses. I always kept a positive spirit, even learning from the ordeals and seeing beyond the pain. Perseverance and humour are powerful weapons. Cultivate inner strength. When having the right mind set one gains strength during these ordeals and learns to see life in perspective and it speeds up the healing process. I reflected Laguz on my personal situation as well, 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..." Although I am not a religious person I related to the ancestral symbolism of the Rune, the "message" as it were. I took a personal liking to the symbol and its symbolism. Apart from that it stands for many things fitting to the universe of Ancient Rites. So I felt the title fitting for several reasons.
The album also contains obvious philosophical inspired topics, without preaching, but that could offer inspiration to those who need it. Songs like "Mind Unconquered" or "Umbra Sumus" for instance. Even "Under the Sign of Laguz" if one digs deeper and looks beyond the initial historical/mythological aspect, as I've explained just before when talking about the band title. 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. 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)" refllects 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 my direct ancestors 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.

HH: And we know it, too. Beside this there is an latin title called "Led..."

Gunther: "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. Considered 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 helmets referred to the Gallic roots. I like to offer different layers and meanings when writing lyrics and to reflect on less known histories.

HH: What does an old story need to become interesting for you writing a song about it?

Gunther: The topic has to appeal to me on several fronts. Also many of the histories I decide to write about are larger than life but seldom told or not even known outside of their regions. Events and characters that got a bit lost in bigger and more popular history. Many of the interesting historical characters I write about are overshadowed by more successful historical figures. I like to share their stories or reflect on the events the public usually doesn't get to hear about or of which they get to hear the usual cliches. I like to dig deeper and try to present an interesting view as a neutral observer offering different sides to the story.

HH: And what are the sources that you use? Are you a bibliophile or are you also inspired by TV documentaries or something like that?

Gunther: I use several sources. All my life I have been a collector of books. I have a big library, even containing original medieval manuscripts and books. The internet is an interesting tool as well to gain information. It is a source of information people didn't have access to years ago. I was born in the pre-internet age and of course I had to gain my knowledge through books. But to this day I still buy many books, despite the info that can be found on the internet. I use modern technology but in my heart I am "old school" still preferring "physical" material, I love expanding my collection of books. Another important source are my travels to historical sites and museums: to go out and actually feel the vibe and behold the architecture of those ancient and medieval places. Even the surroundings/landscapes are an inspiration while being "on the field". To catch the atmosphere of the place every aspect matters. One also has to try and forget the 21st century way of thinking while trying to understand the past worlds, reflect on the mentality of the era, culture, the architecture, political or cultural climate, the art, the religious situation, social aspects, clothing and daily life, the warfare... If one looks into all these aspects it is easier to evoke the past in one's mind, to actually "connect" with what is no longer visible, one gets a completer picture. And this I try to express through different art forms. Books or tv documentaries do inspire me and are a good basis before I travel to a certain destination where upon arrival I will dig deeper in local history but usually I'm already roughly prepared. All these different "sources" interact constantly in my mind and are translated into the different forms of art that I practise, from writing to drawing to painting to music. Sometimes a book or a program or a film or a simple "glimpse" can suddenly awaken my interests to dig deeper into a certain historical era or aspect, this passion of mine can suddenly be triggered, while walking on the street and noticing a certain statue, or noticing a book in a window shop, a historical building... And then my journey begins and I travel in flesh and mind, I investigate, I "lose" myself in the matter and somehow it emerges again and all I learnt or felt is being expressed again and shared, through one of the art forms I find fit at the moment. It is a rather fascinating matter. Like a muse colouring my life, passions that make my life worth living, make me feel rich even in moments when I don't have a penny. That is the beauty of "art", that "drive" to explore, learn, express that no money can buy. That is why commercial success is not important to me, different "higher" matters push me forward in which I find happiness.

HH: What needs more of your time - the composing of the songs or writing the lyrics?

Gunther: The songs take longer time in general as it is a group effort. But to me personally writing the lyrics take a longer time as this is exclusively my field. The lyrics have to be adapted to fit the actual music because both interact and constantly grow/change before the end result is achieved. But in general composing the music takes the longest time.

HH: There are again some passages in German language on Laguz, just as it was on Dim Carcosa and Rubicon. Is it a kind of gift for your German fans or are you generally interested in speeches? I remember a concert where you communicated in four or five languages with the audience... I think it was in Wacken... in 2003 or so.

Gunter: I find it interesting to experiment with different languages. It increases the authenticity. When quoting a French or German poet I like to incorporate the native tongue of the writer, when describing an event that took place in Flanders, Italy or Greece I think it is appropriate to add a few lines in the original language. Furthermore it creates a special bond with the local fans. So one could see it, as you said, as a little extra gift to the German fans. From an artistic point of view the use of different languages offers a variety in sounds that might work refreshing. And it illustrates my love for ancient Europa. If only I could speak EVERY European tongue. As one can see the reasons to express myself in different languages are plenty...Another reason why "Von Gott Entfernt (Bij Nacht en Ontij)" is partly in Flemish/Dutch and partly in German is because according to the historical testimonies of witnesses who had been confronted with them, the Bokkenrijders/Bockreiter communicated between each other in German, Flemish/Dutch and a bit of French. They operated in border areas and had members of those different linguistic backgrounds. True, I spoke a few languages to greet our fans who were supporting us at Wacken. I saw different country flags so I addressed those groups in their language. It was like an international feast of bonding. Heart-warming to see the Ancient Hordes united.

HH: There is one more song with an German title, namely "Frankenland". It sounds a little bit as a kind of continuation of Dim Carcosa's "...And The Horns Call For War" that also was dealing with the Franks. Just an imagination of mine?

Gunther: It is a song reflecting on personal ancient ancestry. "Frankenland" indeed is German but also Flemish/Dutch which also is a Germanic language. It is a common ancestry/history we share. My ancestors (and of the Flemish population in Belgium) are settlers from ancient Germania. As I explained in the liner notes of the cd booklet the Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes who settled in the Lower and Middle Rhine in the 3rd century AD. The current Flemish population here, are direct descendants of these ancient Franks/Germani, according to modern scientific DNA tests at the university of Antwerp. Also that is a complex history. Some of these Franks were raiders, invading the region whenever the occupying Roman forces lowered their guard over these territories while being occupied in the East, or by civil wars back home. Other Franks became settlers. Probably survivors of the earlier inhabitants were absorbed by these Franks. Also, during the reign of the Emperor Diocletianus, Frankish prisoners of war from across the Rhine from deep into Germania were deported to our regions as well to populate and cultivate the now empty lands, the Romans refer to their status as "Laeti". But as the borders of the Roman Empire were under constant attack, Rome also made pacts with Frankish tribes whom in return for military support received lands in our region. The Romans refered to their status as "Foederati", named after the word "Foedus" (treaty). The "Foederati" fought independently under command of their own leaders who officially received the ranks of Roman officers. Meanwhile the Laeti "POW's" entered the Roman military in large numbers. Emperor Constantius Chlorus recruited Germani in large numbers for the Roman Army. Roman sources also mention "Gentiles", these were individual Germani joining the military. Units such as Cohors VII Francorum, Ala I Francorum and Ala VIII Francorum indicate that also Auxiliary troops were increasingly consisting of Franks. The Scholae Palatinae, who delivered the body guards of the emperors, exclusively consisted of Germani who reached high military functions. Gaining more independence and power the Franks became the largest power in the North. This concentration of Germani tribes set linguistic, ethnic and cultural borders and this is why in Flanders a Germanic language is spoken to this day. We were referred to by the Romans as "Germani Cisrhenani", which roughly meant "Germanic folk living on this side of the Rhine". The song "And the Horns" was indeed about the Franks so there's a connection but it was about a later period of Frankish history, with "Frankenland" I wanted to reflect on an even more ancient heritage, a return to our "basis" and write about a shared historical background. I love digging into "organic" history, to explore the basis and roots of things. It also explains why many words in our dialect are German. And why we Germanic folk all have a strong beer culture haha! I like to write about what we share, there's many links between ancient European tribes. If one understands this a healthy approach towards cultivating ancestry would prevent a war on European soul, if one has a heart for the ancestors and history. I hope never again to see conflicts of war between Europeans, it would be like shooting at ancient family. I know I'm a romantic soul when it comes to this . Without our past there would be no present or future. Thus, Ancient Hordes/Leg I XVIII (A.R.) let us all raise the chalice in mutual respect and unity to all those who walked before us on our ancient lands. Let us honour our "Avondland" in brotherhood/sisterhood...

HH: That would be a good line to close this interview. But after we talked about the lyrics I also want to speak a little about the music. Compared with your former works the synthesizer is very dominant on Laguz, especially during the first tracks. I already read some review that claimed that this takes a bit of Ancient Rites ferocity. And to be honest I share this opinion. What do you think about it? Was it some kind of plan to become more epic with Laguz?

Gunther: If one would erase the filmic orchestration and medieval/classical music from "Laguz", one would hear that the basic Metal tracks are even more intense than before, more extreme and more complex at the same time. What we play is as ferocious than ever. But I can understand that this aspect is less clear because of the filmic elements which are loud in the mix. The production went that way because so many things are happening in the music, details we did not want to be "drowning" in the total sound. Even on our pre-production demos the orchestration was big. All musical elements have been intensified on "Laguz". The Metal aspect and also the orchestral element have been pushed further. I think this orchestral grandeur, the classical influences and medieval elements contribute in a large way to the atmosphere of a song. As if they open the portals to the worlds of the past described in the lyrics even more. These classical/epic filmic elements enable the careful and truly interested listener/reader to understand the concepts/themes of the songs even better and to visualise the described images in their mind. Sometimes we are criticised for this classical aspect but I like our work to stand the test of time. Even on our debut demo we worked with a classical intro and filmic outro. The essence of our work is the same and undeniably Ancient Rites. As I said, if those criticizing the later work would dissect the Metal elements they would realise they are as intense as since the early days, even more, but we have added a musical element that fits our universe. Perhaps they don't understand the whole concept or care less for the lyrics, otherwise perhaps they would understand these elements fit together without contradiction...The "ancient" factor of our band name is actually translated into music. The universe and concept of Ancient Rites would allow us to record a complete classical record or a very raw, vile, under produced album without both albums contradicting each other so long as the essence of the concept remains intact. We like to explore musical boundaries within our own style and offer a difference, we don't really work according to a certain "strategy" that is why every album sounds different and sometimes takes getting used to by the fans. It could be very well possible that on the next record the mix and production put the accents on other factors and that the album will sound more "basic". All is possible as long as the essence remains Ancient Rites.

HH: May your fans reckon with a little tour or some festival appearances? After all the years of absence and now a new album I guess that they might be hungry.

Gunther: Indeed. Concerts are confirmed in France, The Netherlands, Belgium and England. Confirmed dates are: - May 30th, Rondpunt 26, Genk (Belgium) at the Souls of Ancient Warriors Fest - Aug 15th, Motocultor Festival, Saint Nolff (France) - Eggbangers Ball 2015 in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands, on the 5th of April - On the 24th of October we play a fest in Roeselare (Belgium) - August 1st we play London (England). More offers are coming in.

HH: What do you think - how long do we have to wait until we hear again from Ancient Rites?

Gunther: With Ancient Rites anything is possible. There could be a new record in two years, in a few years or never. With the current crisis in the music industry and album sales dropping in general, record companies don't want or dare to invest in underground bands like they did years ago. Budgets to record albums depend on sales. If the sales for "Laguz" are disappointing there will be no offers. And who knows we'll still be alive 5 years from now? When I look at colleagues dying like flies lately. At least we're a drug free band which increases our chances but time waits for no one. At least I can say I believed in what I did and gave it our best .

HH: And what will you do, if there will actually be no further Ancient Rites album? Do you hav some kind of plan B?

Gunther: On "Laguz" I combined three of my passions: writing (lyrics and liner notes), painting and drawing (some of the artwork in the cd booklet are by my hand) and music (recording the album). Talking about passions: another dream will be achieved soon: in a few months a short graphic novel of mine will be published in a compilation album in support of the Child Cancer Fund. It is a story based on folklore figures of the medieval Flemish city of Ghent. The setting are the monuments and castles which I drew in a realistic style whereas the figures themselves are drawn in a humoristic style. The story tells about local legends and history and one sees historical characters connected to the city pass by in the novel. It has a dark touch too but not to the extreme as it is for a wider audience. People of Ghent who saw an excerpt loved it because they recognized so many things which they consider a part of their personal heritage. That is a compliment of course. And another album that will be released very soon is a full length realistic style graphic novel I made in the 1980's. People on my FB were asking if I could publish a graphic novel for them to read. I asked what they would like to see by my hand. The answers were: "historical, adventurous, mysterious, dark and with your black humour". I realized I had made one exactly like that back in the 80's which was released limited on the local Flemish market in Dutch and in black and white. So I started cleaning up these 30 year old pages digitally. Then I translated the work into English so my foreign contacts would be able to read it as well. And thirdly I started coloring the graphic novel. It is a dark thriller, film noir style. Set in two time periods: ancient times and the 1980's. The ancient times I colored in grey tones and black and white to achieve an old feel. For the 1980's part of the story I used full color. The graphic novel is called "Devil's Charm - The Ancient Curse". The ingredients are history, unsolved murders, a supposed cursed ancient artefact, heathen and occult secret organizations, there's a slight supernatural touch and dark humor. The main characters are opposites: a police inspector called "Van Roy" (I used the family name of my deceased grandmother, to honor her but also because it is a name easily pronounced worldwide) who tries to solve the murders and a treasure hunter who is nicknamed "Crazy Sid". They become allies against their will. The search leads to ancient sacred woods, forgotten medieval graveyards, cult caves, the old paratroop historical fortress where I did my military service and...directly into to the 80's Metal scene. Because center of the murders and mayhem is a first generation occult Metal band. The band deals with boycotts, banned concerts, police investigations, gutter press and band members dying. Someone who read the book in the 80's once told me "Do you realize you almost told your future real life story with Ancient Rites? All these things started happening to you after you finished the book. You jinxed yourself!" It is a funny thought. Indeed one year after completing the story I founded Ancient Rites. The graphic novel will be printed in Germany, I expect a test view any moment and then it will be send to the printers.

HH: I see, the work will never run out for you!

Gunther: Indeed! Very busy with rehearsing now for the Ancient Rites dates as well and flooded with interviews. On top of it all my regular job. I'm involved with 2 authentic medieval Guilds of my hometown. I founded an international historical/cultural hiking/travel bond named Alaudae/Laguz with whom we travel to interesting historical places and into nature. A.R. gigs are coming up. I play with the idea of starting a new back to basics underground Metal band with the drummer of Lion's Pride/Iron Clad. I am working on a new graphic novel and think of publishing some of the short gags/comics I made. Busy times ahead of me, many plans. I hope the Grim Reaper will stay away for a few more years but we have no choice in the matter. I'm not being afraid but just realistic. Carpe Diem, life can be over soon. Only 2 weeks ago I had to bury a childhood friend. At least I lived my life to the fullest, my friend. Thank you for this conversation and my best regards to your readers...

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