Greetings Gunther, congratulations about your new album “Laguz”. What can you tell us about the recording of it?
Greetings Petar. Thank you. The material for the album was written spread over these past nine years, with intervals. Before entering studio we recorded pre-production demos, including the orchestration. But the actual final recordings took place during October 2014 at the Spacelab studio’s in Germany with producer Christian Moos. I did my vocal recordings at the studio of producer Oliver Phillips, also in Germany, same place where the classical orchestration was recorded. After the recordings Christian Moos mixed the entire album and then it was mastered at the Eroc Studio’s in Germany. Our work as a band was done in October.
This time it seems like Ancient Rites experimented a lot in the studio with the sound of the album. How did it come to it?
It was a natural process. Whenever we entered studio with Ancient Rites we always wanted every detail to be right. Even during the demo days this was the case but on “Laguz” the fusion of our Metal sound and the classical orchestration and medieval parts, which in the earlier years were limited to intros and outros, became one whole. Also I think that on the new album every musical layer and each individual instrument can be heard in a more transparent way so that details don’t get lost. Since “Fatherland” we always work at the Spacelab studio’s in Germany. The producers are demanding classical musicians expecting the maximum of our and their own work. The whole band contributes to the writing process. The actual pre-production demo recordings are made by our guitarists including keyboards and orchestration. Guitarist Domingo started out as a keyboard player in our band years ago which is very useful when it comes to the orchestration on the pre-productions. When we take our demos to the studio to finally record the album every layer and note of the music and vocals are thoroughly checked by our producers who, as I mentioned before, are schooled in classical music. 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. Sometimes the lyrics I wrote or concept I have in mind inspires the others to write the music in a certain style or vibe. The “Carthago” concept existed before the music for instance, hence the Eastern vibe and mysterious character of the music. On other occasions I let the music inspire my lyrics and I work around the vibe of the song. 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 during the final recordings and only when the recordings, producing and mastering is finished we have a complete and detailed view of the whole. In the end the pieces of the complex puzzle fit together.
This is also your first album which is released over Massacre Records. Why did you change the label and are you happy so far with the work of your new label?
It is true, throughout our career we changed labels often. Sometimes because labels ceased to exist or that we were transferred to another with mutual agreement because the label we were on started focussing on a different style. We were signed to our previous label for only 1 album. The last time we had contact was to inform if they were interested in releasing a compilation album to celebrate our 20th anniversary. In the past when we celebrated our 10th anniversary the compilation cd “The first Decade” was released. I thought it was a nice idea as most of the old albums sold out for years. But they said they were only interested in new material with perhaps a bonus dvd to celebrate the 20th anniversary. We didn’t have enough new material ready at that time and in between time passed. There was little reason to approach a label for a release until all the internal and external obstacles were taken. While still working on the new songs, the band was approached by someone of who was involved with German underground labels, an old AR fan, who works together with Massacre Records. We were free of contract obligations and Massacre were interested in working with Ancient Rites. After the man who picked us up established a deal with Massacre, he linked the band up with Gordeon Music for the promotion of the album. Actually several parties were/are involved in the new album. The studio budget came partly from this investor and partly from Massacre Records. From what I’ve heard Massacre were pleased with the interest the new album received and the positive reactions from the gathered press when one track « Carthago Delenda Est » from the upcoming album was presented on a Metal Convention in Scandinavia. It is a pleasure working together with Gordeon Music Promotions, interviews are coming in and also the main investor is pleased with the response. And Massacre Records seem to be doing a great job. Actually different parties are involved regarding “Laguz”.
The album is called “Laguz” which is the name of a rune. This rune stands for water but also for the unconscious. Is there a deeper meaning in it that you choose it as the name of the album?
Correct. : 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: line-up changes, losing our rehearsal room, financially broke, no record deal, the music industry changing meaning no budgets for underground bands etc Many obstacles to take caused by external and internal factors. 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 chronical health conditions these past years. The treatments continue to this day to prevent the growing of malignant 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. Our 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.
I noticed also some kind of a pattern in the Ancient Rites albums. Your albums are mainly about history, but there is also a song on each of them about religion like it was the case with “Gotterdamerung” on “Dim Carcosa” and “Galilean” on “Rvbicon”. Also, there is always a song about inner strength on them. Is that something that is done on porpoise or did it just turn out so?
It is funny you mention that. And actually it is a good observation. I also noticed this “formula” after the album was recorded and compared it with previous work of ours. It happened subconsciously though. I think that I like to include the different thematic elements that paint the universe of Ancient Rites. Sometimes I mix these elements in one song as well. With “Von Gott Entfernt” for instance, I touch upon the topic of religion and the darker aspects but at the same time it is a historical topic referring to the occult Fraternity of The Bokkenrijders who left their impact on the 18th century lowlands which resulted in a new inquisition and mass executions. At the same time I reveal personal historical/ancestral history as direct family forefathers were involved in this outlawed Guild that connected itself to anti-Christianity and occult blasphemous rites. Over the years I also had to face obstacles on many fronts, professional, personal, health etc so the concept of inner strength has become a philosophy I practise in daily life which helps me to deal with matters, to survive, literally. The topics I express through the different forms of art I practise: writing, music, painting/drawing are inspired by personal passions and experiences. They reflect my interests, thoughts, attitude and are very instinctive, natural and a part of me as long as I remember. Some of the lyrics can be seen as a possible inspiration for daily life struggles. Take for instance a track like “Mind Unconquered”. The lyrics are based on personal experiences. Or I should better say: based on my attitude in life because of “negative” experiences which I turned into my benefit. Because one’s mind cannot be conquered if one builds up an inner strength. If one rises above it all. As a child I had a teacher who beat me up on a regular basis because I was bad at mathematics. I didn’t speak to anyone about it because I expected he would resort to psychological torment and humiliation when his physical attacks would be discovered. I had learnt this from a previous experience, when I was 6: our teacher of sports sometimes hit the kids and he had hit me with my head against a bench. When I told this at home my mother protested at school so from then on he made me run “punishment rounds” alone in winter on the school yard. “Who likes me” he asked us kids. Of course everyone raised his hand. “Not you” he said pointing at me “I’ve got a surprise for you, because you think I’m a bad teacher. Go outside and run punishment rounds until I say you can stop”. Because his secret got out he took revenge in another way without using his hands. So when I was confronted with another sadist school teacher a few years later I kept my mouth shut. The truth came out when my mother one day thought I had been into a fight at school. She saw bruises and that I had hair all over my shirt, it was my own which the teacher had pulled, he had pulled me off the ground by the hair before hitting because I had made a mistake in mathematics. He also made me kneel on bare knees on a sharp edge and I had to hold an iron container in my neck and the kids had to put their school bags in it so the container would get heavier and the weight would cut my knees. This is only one of his torture techniques I’m describing. So mother went to school to protest so the teacher resorted to psychological torment as I expected. Sending me out of the class for no reason, excluding me from everything, verbal humiliation. I was about 9 years old and faced the horror every day without shedding a tear. During later years when I was about 13 years, I was targeted by teachers because of my looks. I wore leather and jeans. They tried to break me, accused me of writing hate mail to kids but had to let me go when my handwriting didn’t match with the one of the person who really did it. But of course they found other ways. Messing with my test results, I wasn’t allowed to answer in class when I knew the answer. When I didn’t know the answer, which they could tell from my expression, of course I had to give the answer so they could humiliate telling in class how useless and dumb I was, only good to listen loud music. I developed a whole tactics: when I put on a face as if I didn’t know the questions the teachers were asking, they would make me answer and to their surprise I could. When I didn’t know the answers, I raised my arm in self-confidence, pretending I did know the answer, so they wouldn’t ask me. It worked J You should see how the grin on the face of my geography teacher’s face changed into disappointment when I tricked her, and gave the correct answers. Or I was punished for stuff I did not do. The teachers sent me to psychologists who declared me “cold, not normal, indifferent” in their reports. This was because they had asked how I felt about my teachers “They can fall off a cliff” I said “I will not lift a finger.” All because I showed no emotion during their tactics to try and break me, no emotion when they humiliated, didn’t say a word when I was punished to stay after school, when they confiscated my band buttons I simply replaced them by new ones… I did not want to give them the pleasure to see me troubled. And the good thing was that I honestly did not care for the whole circus after a while, I did not care for them, did not care about their actions. The saying is true: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The last day at that school all kids were present in a big hall. I was called forward and the head of the school said to the kids “This is our worst pupil ever, look at his clothes, the worst pupil but yet he’s the most decorated one” (referring to my band buttons). So instead of turning red, I turned around and made a bow and saluted the entire school. They all started cheering and applauding which of course the teachers had not expected. See how one can turn something negative into something positive? When my band received boycotts, bomb threats, when national TV was making gutter press programs spreading lies and manipulating things to make us look as bad as possible, when police investigations started to happen and we got banned etc of course I was already hardened by life itself not to be intimidated. The entire world can spit at me but I will not change my course. So when I was facing cancer and other health problems and operations I simply fought on without self-pity, without complaining. It is a life time attitude of cultivating inner strength. This reflects in the lyrics I write because I express what I feel, who I am. I am not interested in pleasing the masses or write about matters that I know will sell well. There is no pose involved in what I do because life is too short to prove anything to anyone. I am an observer, I learnt from everything in life, remember everything and make no illusions. But I am not bitter. Perhaps all the bad things that happened to me in my life where to my benefit because I never considered giving up. I often see others break or give up when things get a bit difficult. They get down over matters I find trivial and unimportant. It is as if I’m conditioned and trained to deal with all kinds of ordeals in life from a very young age. I pluck the fruits of these bad experiences and came out stronger each time. Because I learnt as a kid I had no physical means to defend me from adults hitting me, adults who represented the authorities: my teachers. At a later age, in my early teens, I learnt it was no use to care about the unjust attitude the teachers had towards me, they had the official power. You can’t win in their system or on their field, one has to resist in a clever way and build a protection shield, cultivate inner strength. Grow larger than their shit from within. The same when the national press and media jumped on my work painting me as a walking cliché dangerous to society for thinking independent. Of course their vitriol manipulated programs/articles made it almost impossible for us to play in this country. Secret police on our back investigating, questioning us. But we are not involved in any crime, the lyrics I write are not forbidden. Sure, those holding power can make someone’s path difficult and use all kinds of tricks but what none of them, those child beating teachers, the psychological tormenting teachers, the press, authorities and masses could not achieve was to control was my spirit, my mind. My inner strength. My contempt that turned into indifference to those who wish me harm. They have no control over my happiness either because I am not a bitter person and see the beauty in little things that matter to me. I simply don’t waste time or energy on those who are against me. And conquer your own fears. My great great grandfather loved music. He was afraid of horses. What did he do? He joined the cavalry and became their trumpeter. He mixed his love with what he feared and became good in music and a good horseback rider, he combined both. We have a strong military tradition in our family. My father served in a para-commando battalion and saw several wars in Africa. I joined the same battalion. I had family members in several wars from WW2 to Korea to wars in Africa. We are not the type of family to sit down and feel sorry for oneself in difficult times. I think I inherited their spirit.
Would you like to speak a bit about the lyrics from the new album?
Our albums are a journey into different historical periods and worlds, often lesser known histories, sometimes exotic and sometimes even very regional ones. Each track can be considered like a separate travel containing several meanings. Through the combination of the lyrics, our variable Metal sound evoking different moods mixed with the epic orchestral and filmic soundscapes, we wish to offer the listener/reader means to pass the portals into the forgotten, strange, dramatic or ancient worlds/situations we describe. Each track creates visions in my mind, as if I’m beholding movies that were never made, reading books unwritten, evoking individuals and worlds from the past buried by time and dust. And reflect all this on my personal journey through life. I like to offer different layers in my lyrics, to offer a complete view as it were. Like a neutral and fair observer touching upon different aspects. Describing the Rise and Fall of Ancient Carthago for instance, while also reflecting on their dark religion. Pointing out what is known, also mentioning the negative rumours regarding their culture but at the same time pointing out that those negative sources were written by their enemies and how historians to this day disagree on certain matters. I like to dig as deep as is possible within the time limit of a song. The tragic story of Emperor Julian who tried to restore Ancient Heathendom in a Christianised Rome. He almost succeeded but died in battle while rumor has it he was killed by one of his own men bribed by the clergy. History named him „The Apostate“ which is a negative label for someone who has deserted his goals and beliefs. But history paints him from a Christian point of view, with the song I try to restore his reputation because it took courage to fight for a lost cause, chasing the ghost of the old Rome and Hellenistic philosophies. The philosophical undertone of the song is that Emperor Julian followed his own path regardless the public opinion or mentality of the era he lived in. That takes strong character. „Von Gott Entfernt“ is about the „Bokkenrijders“ cultus that shook parts of the 18th century Lowlands. Apart from its mysterious history it also has a personal meaning to me as direct ancestors of mine were a part of it. It was a peculiar, bizarre and mysterious phenomenon. Or as I mentioned before: a track like „Mind Unconquered“ talks about the power of the will and mind. It has a positive message based on my personal experiences, to persevere in difficult times and to fight on without self-pity, no matter how hard life can be at times. „Umbra Sumus“ reflects on mortality and how we all join the Danse Macabre in the end. “Von Gott Entfernt (Bij Nacht en Ontij)” which I mentioned earlier in this interview, reflects on a dark and mysterious, yet lesser known and more regional history: the legend of “De Bokkenrijders” (Bockreiter in German). Hundreds belonged to this Horde and most members eventually got caught, tortured and publicly executed. Many questions remain unanswered. Why was a well-respected military surgeon like Doctor Kirchhoffs leading one of the fractions, how come they used military tactics and ranks? These were times of war and soldiers of different armies roamed the lands or had deserted. Women were a part of it too which was unusual. They were a strange mix of soldiers, artists, butchers etc. The blasphemous rites in chapels at night were an unseen phenomenon back then. Some historians believe it was not about the loot which was often poor but to destabilize society, like forerunners of the Enlightenment. I used Flemish/Dutch and German languages in the song to achieve authenticity, witnesses testified that the Bokkerijders used a mix of Flemish/Dutch, German and sometimes French when communicating between each other, revealing their international character. Also I used authentic Bokkerijder oaths in the song. I have been investigating old documents of the era, read publications concerning the trials, executions and court reports. Old books with eye witness accounts. You see, I can trace back my family roots to medieval times. Interesting is that some of them belonged to this infamous Bokkenrijders cultus. They were like a Black Guild. In military fashion they robbed churches and the aristocracy, they swore loyalty towards each other and the Devil, practiced anti-christian rituals to mock the clergy. One forefather of mine called Johan Theys was suspected of belonging to the first generation of the Horde, he got caught after a church robbery but he escaped from the prison tower. His name appeared in the old files, also in the diary of a local priest who wrote about his escape and who suspects him to have formed a new Horde in another town. Interesting dark family history. Another ancestor was caught and got hanged on the local gallows’ field. Local legend tells he still haunts the fields. What historians writing about the matter don’t know and what the 18th century authorities didn’t know and are questioning in their documents I can shed a light on. They spoke of the Theys family as members of the Horde and a new family appearing on the suspect lists named Boon not knowing where they came from. Fact is that in those villages our Theys Clan was nicknamed Boon. It was the same family using different names. Over there we are still called this way. It was the ultimate proof to me they were talking about my direct ancestors apart from the locations were our family always have been living. I was introduced to this phenomenon at the age of five. I was wondering why the captain of the Horde described and pictured in a novel my family were reading to me was called Theys. Now I understand why. „Leg V Alaudae“ tells about the Rise and Fall of the sole official Roman legion consisting of…Gauls. Their path was a dramatic one with no survivors. The entire legion was wiped out while facing alone a massive enemy force. After first having built up a strong reputation starting with Caesar’s campaigns, they vanished into oblivion never to be re-formed again when they all went down in Dacia. History seldom tells their peculiar story, I felt it was time to share their interesting and tragic tale. They were trapped between two worlds because of their position, as it were. You see, Gallic tribes who had made alliances or peace pacts with Rome before, during or after the wars were obliged to deliver recruits. Some went on a voluntary basis, others did what was expected. They were offered Roman citizenship but remained also Gauls because of their roots. Consider barbarians by most Romans and considered too Romanized by many other Gauls, they were between a rock and a hard place. Which often resulted in strange situations. Whilst visiting Rome they were in constant fights with Roman citizens who looked down on them while they had fought wars for Rome and their own tribes’ pact. It was written that they were not pleased when Caesar had shown no mercy to other Gauls after battle whereas he usually pardoned defeated Romans. So one day they attacked politicians and friends of Caesar who came to watch a battle and offered no mercy to anyone but their own legion, it was said to make a statement against the double measures that Romans sometimes used depending on the origins of the defeated enemy. Their history is less known that is why I felt like writing a song about the Larks Legion (Alaudae comes from the old Celtic word for “Lark”. The Lark wings were a typical ornament for Gallic helmets. They were the only non-Romans equipped in full Roman legion military gear. The wings on their helmet referred to the Gallic roots. I like to offer different layers and meanings when writing lyrics and to reflect on less known histories.
I remember an old interview from around 6 or 7 years ago in a magazine where you already mentioned that the next album will have a song dedicated to Emperor Julian the Apostate. Does this mean that this is the oldest song here on this album?
You have a good memory my friend. True, I already had the plan to write about Julian The Apostate many years ago. No, this doesn’t mean “Apostata” is the oldest song, I was simply waiting for the right track/music fitting the lyrics. My intent is older than the song 🙂
It’s been now 9 years since your last album “Rvbicon”. Why Ancient Rites did had such a long pause?
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. 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 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 since we take the matter at heart but the past years many matters which were beyond our control caused the extra delay.
Your band also had some line up changes since your previous release. What happened?
When a band exists as long as we do line-up changes are inevitable. But this was a natural selection long before this album was realized. You know, the typical factors causing line-up changes such as different musical opinions, personality clashes or musicians choosing a different path or ending their music career to concentrate on their private life. It is a situation I am used to. Soon after the recording of our debut demo “Dark Ritual”, one of our guitarists died in a car accident, together with another guitarist I used to work with. Our drummer committed suicide. Those were tragic dramatic reasons. I had to start from zero all over again several times.
What happened with your side projects? Are they still active and when will we hear something new from them?
At the moment my focus is on Ancient Rites. With Iron Clad we recorded a full length album and a split album with Lion’s Pride. It was a band founded in the 80’s and since I appreciated their authentic vintage sound I was asked to join and through me they got record deals. The idea was to record their stuff, mostly as a tribute to the old scene and the band’s past. A bit of a nostalgia trip and to leave a “testimony” behind as the co-founding guitarist was moving to the USA. After his immigration to the States and the releases were received well in the Metal underground, we did receive concert offers to which the guitarist did not object but it meant finding a new guitarist, more rehearsals. And since I was not a founding member and neither would be the new guitarist, I thought it would be the most fair to not continue. After all, the general idea was to make a tribute to the past. As far as Lion’s Pride is concerned, the band was facing similar problems to Ancient Rites, perhaps even worse. The latest Lion’s Pride album (a double album containing old and new material including a dvd) finally was released recently. It took years for it to happen. Line-up changes, our rehearsal room burnt down, the band was banned from every stage in the country after national TV had made a program in which they had overdubbed my voice by an American one who was shouting death threats. They had photo shopped our album cover and pasted it on a picture of concentration camp corpses which they projected on a big screen. Underneath the screen politicians and journalists were discussing how to stop a band like ours. They had filmed the house of our label owner at night, placed some horror music on top of the footage which was a camera sneaking up to the house with a shaking hand. They described us as a band spreading hate towards people and religion and of being opposed to any other culture apart from the Flemish one. The tone was set: banned everywhere in the country. Promoters who liked us didn’t even dare to book us. I did receive a phone from a journalist of the national TV apologizing for his colleagues because he knew his colleagues had not shown the truth. Him and I had talked for hours so he knew that his colleagues had twisted the truth and damaged the band, I had refused to go on TV because I don’t trust the mainstream press. Already before they had not broadcasted and cut recorded interviews of mine because they were disappointed I didn’t live up to their cliché view they wished to show of me to the public. Since I didn’t offer the sensation they wanted they created their own, manipulated, untruthful program. Meanwhile the new Lion’s Pride album finally was ready to be released on the market. Then the record label received the news that the entire stock was confiscated in Poland at the printing factory. Rumor has it that the factory owed money and went bankrupt, thus the entire stock including our release was lost. So was the money of our record label. Recently the album was re-printed and re-released. I sometimes think how all of this is possible. I mean, for years Ancient Rites could not function decently because of so many obstacles, the same concerning this Lion’s Pride release, nothing worked out and then my graphic work came to a halt due to changes in the companies I worked for who no longer wanted to produce their own designs which I delivered. And