Active since 1988, the Belgian Black Metal band ANCIENT RITES needs no introduction being a true beacon of inspiration within the scene. Having gone through many difficult moments and tragedies over the years, the band remains firm and their leader Theys Gunther shows himself to be a true giant, not letting himself down and managing to inspire through example. On the eve of playing for the first time in Latin America and doing two concerts in Brazilian lands Gunther had a chat with us from Black Metal Terror. Check it out.
Dear Gunther Theys, How are you? For Black Metal Terror Magazine it is an honor to be able to talk to you !! We are very happy with the news of Ancient Rites coming to Latin America and in our case specifically Brazil. That said, how was the invitation and the tour arrangement process done?
Greetings Wotans Raven, mi Amigo. Muchas gracias, the pleasure is mine. I Can’t complain. I’ve been through another operation three weeks ago, as I am fighting chronical health issues and a tumor at the brain ( hypofyse ) but my fighting spirit is always up, humor intact. I have no time for self-pity, I prefer to motivate myself and focus on my passions. Things seem to be under control. I’m used deal with difficult situations, I can take it. Tomorrow back to hospital for post-operative checkups. People sometimes say they would’ve given up if they had been in my situation. It isn’t always easy and not practical but I plan my operations between tours, I never cancel and try to recover as fast as possible through self-control and by focusing on positive matters. The adrenaline and passion of our work are powerful weapons and sharing our work with kindred spirits, in live situations, always are like energy boosts. It takes discipline, self-control and a bit of luck to keep it up but I find it worthwhile and rewarding in spirit. We are looking forward to come over and finally play Brazil and Latin America. There have been talks about it for decades but always something went wrong. Promoters were dealing with financial problems to finance an underground tour, or there were too many gaps between the dates or that the planned concerts didn’t fit the agenda of the involved clubs etc. Nelson Varela from Colombia tried to bring us over for decades and this time he, our booking agency and the local promoters of the different countries, managed to set up a tour. Flight Tickets are booked, it is finally happening. Let us hope fate doesn’t strike last minute because as you know, Ancient Rites always had to deal with a lot of bad luck, numerous deaths within our ranks, boycotts, state security investigations, bans by local authorities and of course a lot of negative press, even on national TV and newspapers. The price one pays for being an old school and pioneering band and becoming more known. In the past one didn’t understand our work because BM was very underground, today the world has changed so much they heard about the style but don’t get it either because it doesn’t fit the moral modern majority standards, so there’s the censorship. I never take things for granted but we will always do everything possible to make it happen, no matter if the world is with or against us. A Spanish tour was cancelled years ago, anonymous bomb threats by people who were against our historical lyrics, we wanted to go but the promoters didn’t dare to take the risk. Recently our US show was cancelled; we did all the necessary paper work, went to the US embassies in Belgium and Holland, paid a 1000 euro for our passports and waited for the approval of our visa. We waited for months for the US authorities to finalize the documents. We never got the approval or any answer, not even a “no” to enter the US. We lost the money, our following expected to see us there, many had booked tickets (also plane tickets) and we weren’t allowed to go. This is what I mean that luck never was on our side, things beyond our control. But we keep on fighting. Always. I am not intimidated by threats, boycotts, misfortune, and investigations as I never broke laws and believe in what I do, I will not apologize for A.R. to please the mainstream and masses. Anyhow, it seems that this time Latin America finally will be happening. Looking forward!
Ancient Rites is turning 35 this year – if I’m wrong please correct me. In this way, many things have already happened in the band, which for many Black Metal fans is a classic band. I would like you to comment on topics below:
-Your vision of Black Metal today and then: Has anything changed?
Correct. Ancient Rites was founded in 1988, I have been playing in bands since 1980. It wasn’t easy back then to find people who had an interest in playing the style. I was going through old interviews and found this answer, I gave many years ago. In a way what I said back then, still stands and in my opinion became true: “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 built 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 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, ANGELWITCH, 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.” So far an answer I gave many years ago when I noticed the style was picked up by the music industry. I think it changed the character of the scene, nowadays there’s more censorship to please the mainstream and bigger business is involved. It is a general phenomenon in society in general, times changed drastically. But still, there’s also a big part of the scene who sense things are taken too far and that B.M. shouldn’t be a “Disney like product”. What I did notice from recent shows was the respect we received from the old and new crowds, perhaps people realize we are survivors of the old scene who didn’t bow for commercialism? Despite the boycotts, our last show in Belgium sold out within three hours so a second show had to be added the next day. This was repeated when we played last time here, sold out and an extra show was added. Also during our recent shows in and outside of Europe we received a very warm welcome everywhere. Could be that people appreciate our perseverance but the atmosphere and response were absolutely great. Also the current line up is very motivated and gives it a 100% because the younger members grew up with our work, came to our shows as young Metalheads, respect the A.R. legacy and want to keep the Flame burning. People pick up on that “motivated” vibe. We don’t play out of routine, for quick money or became a shadow of what used to be. On stage we really feel that fire burning within, adrenaline pumping, believe in what we do and bond with our loyal Hordes who never cared for commercialism, just like we never did.
-Loss of members: how painful were the losses and how did the Ancient Rites overcome it all??
When I look at old pictures of the early days, I realize that most of the people involved are no longer alive. None died of drugs, none of those typical rock star clichés. Ancient Rites members and crew died young in traffic accidents, health failures, suicides, one crew member was found dead with a rope around his neck in a car on a train track. Since my brother in arms Walter died two years ago, there’s no one left, besides me, who lived Ancient Rites from the beginning until now. It is a strange feeling, sometimes a bit lonely when thinking of that. It makes you feel a bit like an old veteran who saw all his comrades die. Of course I will always remember them and the times and friendship we shared. They somehow became a part of me. Guitarist Erik and I go back a long way too, he joined us as a session guitarist on our first European headline tour and became a permanent member soon afterwards. He is now the fellow veteran. I am not complaining, I am grateful for the dedicated people involved who keep the A.R. tradition alive and I will keep on honoring those who are no longer with us. Forever they are a part of our Legacy. I often had to start from scratch. Many times people believed it was the end but as long as I can, I’ll keep on fighting, keep on crawling back up after the received blows, no matter the circumstances. And this is why we can finally play Latin America after decades, when no one expected it to happen anymore. Fate was never on our side but perseverance against all odds can make a difference, my friend.
-The importance of history as a theme within the band, as you were probably one of the first bands to seriously talk about historical facts as a theme within black metal.
Ever since my childhood history has been a passion of mine. I take my inspiration from historical literature, travels to historical locations, museums etc. My first love as a child were the Ancient times. Ancient Greece/Rome, Gallia, Germania etc and World War II. I also developed an interest for the middle-ages as a kid. As time passed by my interests grew wider and wider. Recently I was reading about the Nordic Renaissance in the Lowlands and explored the 16th century writings of Erasmus, Pieter Gillis, Nicolas Cleynardus (who was born in my hometown, I have an authentic 16th century work of this scholar in my collection). These past months I’ve been reading historical documents, official reports and eye witness accounts about “The Beast of the Gévaudan”, and several books on the matter. I first heard about this strange phenomenon when I was six years old. Between 1764 and 1767 a man-eating animal or animals terrorized the isolated and rough Gévaudan region in France, undermining the economy, devouring countless victims. People were terrified to go out and work on the fields or take out their sheep, cows and goats. And with reason, if you check the official death certificates and testimonies. Different theories exist about the nature of the beast or beasts. I believe one of them was a Wolf Dog hybrid, as the dissection of one of the beast corpses revealed characteristics of both breeds. There are also theories of human involvement, because at the same time of the killings, there were suspicions about an animal tamer called Antoine Chastel, who had worked with exotic predators in the colonies. He lived in the forest looking after a nobleman’s domain. He held big dogs and had contact with wolves. Some people at that time suspected he was a serial killer (perhaps his father, brother and the nobleman he worked for took part in it too) and also committed murders and/or that one of their animals was responsible (or even trained by Antoine) to kill. The father of the animal tamer was named Jean. He killed one of the suspected Beasts, after a girl he was close with, had been devoured. He promised the villagers and local priest he would end the terror. Isn’t it strange that he could find the animal instantly and managed to kill it without the animal running away or attacking him? Eye witnesses said it sat there, waiting; Jean was reading the bible, than aimed and shot the animal. I find that strange. Others were trying to hunt and find it for years. Jean and the church claimed it all was with the help of God. I have a suspicion he knew where to find it and that he could kill the animal and wasn’t attacked because the animal knew him. Several strange things were going on at the same time, which increased the mystery and made the whole story a puzzle of events. Fact is that the official records show that many people came to an horrible end and that the predator (or predators because two corpses have been identified as the responsible animal) was/were extraordinarily “talented”: smart, fierce and increasingly dominant, even entering the villages taking people. For years the Beast(s) were outsmarting all specialized wolf hunters, even a cavalry unit, also literally thousands of people in mass hunts chasing them with trained dogs, avoiding all traps. That is why many people at that time believed it to be supernatural and how the legend was born. But reality was already strange as it is, without supernatural explanations. This is my approach on historical topics I’m interested in, I always dig deep for details and compare sources to get a better overall view. I like to “cross read”, for instance at the same time I’m studying about the American Civil War, I dive into eye witness accounts of World War I, read diaries of Flemish soldiers serving in Napoleon’s cavalry, or about the ancient Tungri of my region, recruited by Rome and who were stationed in Brittany at Hadrian’s Wall etc. The Victorian era I find fascinating but also prehistoric times or reading about ancient cults or philosophy. My interests are very wide, I love to “jump” from century to century, endless worlds to be discovered constantly…History can be stranger than fiction. I like to write about less known histories, one doesn’t need to invent phantasy in order to achieve a dark atmosphere. I find history fascinating because it is rooted in reality and often very obscure and inspiring. I like exploring details of lesser known histories too. It is a source of lyrical inspiration for Ancient Rites, or for my artwork, comics, drawings, writings in general. It always has been a part of me; this passion shows in everything I create.
-The importance of the “occult” in a Black Metal band and in a band like Ancient Rites. For you, is there any correlation between the occult and history?
Throughout history of mankind there always has been a fascination for the occult and appeared in different forms: through ancient rituals, expressed through mythology, ancient religions, of course also superstition. It is not difficult to find a relationship between history and the occult when investigating about old cults, secret orders, rituals, alchemy and so on. From the Templar’s Order to the Ancient Phoenician Worship of Baalberith, Gilles de Rais’s quest through alchemy flirting with the Occult or the Bokkenrijders (Goat Riders) phenomenon in my region in the 18th century, a cult denying Christianity, clergy and the ancient regime, swearing Satanic oaths, who robbed churches, the elite and so on. Symbolically using Satanic imagery. Apart from that there’s also another aspect of the Occult, not based on the supernatural or superstition but on philosophies and Life Codes, symbolism. The list is endless and perfectly fitting the concept of a band like ours, mixing both worlds: the Ancient part referring to history, the Rites part to the occult. One doesn’t need Hollywood fantasy to create dark atmospheres.
-A philosophical question (because over the years we’ve talked about various topics) – Does Evil Always Prevails?
That is a difficult question approachable from many different directions, depending on the definitions. We used it as a symbolic statement, questioning the dogmas of world religions and expressing a symbolic allegiance with and an interest in the Occult. Or the concept regarded from a philosophical point of view, a Life Code of cultivating inner strength and seeking knowledge. But there is also another kind of “evil” which is not named that way. What I often consider “evil” in a negative sense, is also prevailing and ironically presented as “the good and benefit for mankind”. Look at the world and those in power (in front and behind the scenes), forcing their agenda upon everyone, limiting freedom, increasing censorship and enriching themselves, while using beautiful sounding slogans that are blinding the masses, creating a new mindset and rules paralyzing the individual, dogmas which in fact often go against all logic and self-preservation. I consider that an “Evil” too, which is prevailing, which I do not relate at all. So indeed, it is a rather philosophical question and depending on the definition of the word different answers are possible.
-How to reconcile “ordinary” life (family, health problems, money, losses…) with the desire to have a Heavy Metal band, in your case Extreme Metal?
It is all a matter of balance and focus. Also in my world, one thing doesn’t exclude the other. I am always being my true self. It is true that on stage I let the adrenaline take over and my mind dives into the worlds I describe in the lyrics, while absorbing our music. Deeper instincts and emotions are released. Off stage I am always calm and controlled. I am not upholding any image because I express my true passions. Difference between on stage and in private is the “celebration” of it all: a physical approach on the stage, mental and investigative off stage, but always creative. My attitude and interests do not change; it is all connected, also in my ways of standing in life. The band always struggles to survive, my life is a struggle too because of situations, my attitude in all this is to not surrender and appeal to the power of the will. Soldiering on, focusing on the possibilities, not on the losses, dealing with it all and regarding everything as a learning process to become stronger.
-You’ve seen lots and lots of waves and trends in those 35 years: the late 80s and its roughness, the emphasis on Nordic metal, female vocal metal, nu-metal (which in my view doesn’t fit the term heavy metal as a derivative ), an extreme metal more focused on the occult among many others that could be mentioned. Talk about it.
If one is active in the music scene as long as we are, it is inevitable being confronted with constant changes, hypes, trends and expectations. A lot of what is considered Metal nowadays I don’t feel as Metal at all. There might be ingredients of the style but the overall feeling I miss. I am open minded enough to appreciate different styles but a lot of those current trends are too manufactured for my taste. They do not speak to men they leave me indifferent or sometimes even a bit irritated, so I avoid that. Once I read a review of our work and this new school reviewer compared us to modern bands I didn’t even know or heard about, he completely overlooked the fact of how ancient our band is. It would be like stating “Sex Pistols sound like Offspring” or that Led Zeppelin imitated Rage Against the Machine! Just to give examples haha. Another one gave us 0/10 because he didn’t like the fact we were not politically correct enough…One English reviewer who likes Nu Metal and worked for a big UK mag wrote we do not dress cool, sound like a wrestling game with the family dog and write about boring European stuff from the past, a place we should never leave. That particular review made me laugh, to be honest. The hate review honestly amused me. I know it’s supposed to be bad publicity but I genuinely do not care as I never aimed to please the masses anyway.
-How did you see the Ancient Rites in that period? How and why did Ancient Rites end up on the darker side of the underground?
Ancient Rites always were outsiders and there are periods when we are considered cool, suddenly we fall from grace and are considered wrong in every aspect and now I notice the interest is growing again. The strange thing is that in essence we always remain the same. The world around us changes constantly. Sure, every album of ours sounds differently but the essence of our approach and concept remains similar, away from the latest fashions. How we ended up on the darker side? In an organic, natural way. Because of our interests and lyrical approach, I suppose. We never plan or schedule things, there’s no music industry plan. We play what we feel, I write about matters that even interested me as a child, long before I started bands. Always doing our own thing, without pressure from labels or managers. If people like it perfect, if they don’t fine by me as well. This attitude offered us a lot of freedom, no commercial gain perhaps but another kind of richness: the world might change constantly but we remain ourselves…
-How did you avoid the temptations of the music industry?
Easy. I don’t find them tempting. There are different kinds of “traps”. Many years ago we were offered a production deal by a German company. They had worked with big names such as Accept, Lou Reed etc The contract said that they would have control over all our public activities, even nonmusical ones. They would have a say in with whom we could work, how we would sound, even dress. And following their rules they would build our career. I refused. Then there were offers from the opposite side, from extreme Metal labels. They would give us a contract on condition that we would change our sound into a more Norwegian sound that was common within the B.M. style at that moment. I refused. We are an old band rooted in the 80’s and existed before there was such a thing as a standard BM sound. Why would we give up our own identity to fit in, to please either the commercial labels or the extreme labels? Both offers would have meant selling out our own, old identity and originality. It would have been an easier road to “success” but those who try to change us forget something very important: I always wanted to create what I feel and believe in, something personal and what comes natural to me, no matter any current trends, popularity or standards. I rather have five people understanding and truly appreciating our own style than reaching thousands who only like us as long as a trend lasts while we’re dishonestly imitating others, pretending. I often read that this or that band disbanded because of a lack of success. Others jump from one trend to the other, hoping to sell as much as possible. All for fame or money, ok they can go ahead; it is none of my business. But I can’t pretend, this is why we’re still around, no matter our current popularity or lack of popularity, because we don’t play the rules of the music industry. I like our outsider position because it offers me the freedom of doing what I want, when I want and according to my own taste, not dictated by others, not guided by businessmen. That is why I am close to our public; those who discover and like us are not told to do so. There’s no commercial plan behind us, no managers pushing our work. Quite the contrary actually, when thinking of the boycotts. So people appreciating and knowing about us are individuals who looked further and followed their own minds. Automatically that creates a more genuine and organic bond of understanding.
-How do you and Ancient Rites see the current cancel culture in today’s society with politically correct demonstrations and “social police” even in the black metal scene? How do you imagine that you, among the first guys who made this history along with individuals like Euronymous for example, would see what this movement has become 35 years later? I remember that you was attacked several times for taking the stage with the flag of Flanders, for example.
As I mentioned earlier, we always dealt with boycotts, especially when our name became more known. Press and national authorities didn’t like our approach as our old school concept of history and the occult was considered unfit to their agenda. We had the political and religious cells of state security on our back and the press invented tales to establish boycotts and tell sensational gutter press stories. Meanwhile the current “time spirit” caught up with Metal as well. It became more mainstream and with this evolution the mainstream masses pour in who never knew or can understand the obscure spirit of the genre, of how things were. Viewing and judging everything through 2020’s binoculars from their safe space. In the old scene no one bothered, obscurity was a part of it all and everyone had their own approach, mindset, even within the own band and people didn’t make a fuss or cried over it. We weren’t after getting a noble price anyway. Even the scene reflects the society of today. That is why I prefer to remain an individual, reaching other individuals with an own mind.
-How do you see your first visit to Latin America? As far as I know Ancient Rites has a lot of fans on this continent and they have been waiting for years for the opportunity to see the band perform;
We are looking forward to it all. There always has been a big interaction between A.R. and latin American Metalheads, right from the beginning. I remember Latin American fans in the front rows when we played England or Germany. They always were amongst the most fanatic in the crowd. And judging from the reactions on internet regarding our upcoming Latin American tour I expect a warm welcome and a great, intense interaction between the band and public. I am content we will finally make it after decades.
-Thank you very much for your attention! The Latin American fan awaits you!! And the Necropole Hall is the best place here in Brazil for a band like you to perform! It will be a great honor to welcome you! In the name of Black Metal Terror Magazine thanks for your huge attention!
My pleasure, my friend. Thank you for your kind words. Wishing you the best of luck with BM Terror Mag and my best regards to everyone reading this and who we will meet when the days have finally come! The Old School Flame Still Burning.
INTERVIEW MADE BY WOTANS RAVEN