'zine interviews ANCIENT RITES
by Steven Willems © 1996
Belgian warriors are back ! I'm very proud to be able to present once again an
interview with a phantastic band from my very own country ! These men have
recently released a great new album 'Blasfemia Eternal', as a follow-up to
their excellent debut 'The Diabolic Serenades'.
The new album has an excellent sound and phantastic songs which should be heard by everyone. It's not the typical ultra-fast shrieky black metal, it's much better ! I had these madmen already in issue 2, which seems to me like ages ago, so I got in contact again with Gunther to hear all the latest news and bomb him with questions. For all those who haven't checked them out, this is a black metal band way above the average concerning music, life and attitude in general. Gunther is also one of the greatest and friendliest people I know. Support them with all your might, they deserve it !
Gunther, when you compare your new album 'Blasfemia Eternal' to your debut 'The Diabolic Serenades', what's the biggest difference between them do you think besides the far more better production ?
We record our albums in a very professional studio where usually classical orchestras record their symphonies or soundtracks are being made. We felt this would only increase the originality of our sound. We have been assisted by our sound engineer who is a classical musician himself. He understood perfectly the essence of our music and added classical parts to our infernal mayhem whenever asked. We used two different musical styles to express the same dark visions / thoughts / dreams. Black metal and medieval music fit perfectly together because they are both bombastic and can have a very dark approach. Interesting experiments are tracks such as 'Last Rites (Echoes Of Melancholy)' or 'Fallen Angel' which we first recorded with our usual equipment, afterwards we replaced the modern instruments by medieval ones. I know some new bands / fans prefer a 'bad' sound and that's fine by me, but we always followed our own path regardless any trend. We are still satisfied with our debut 'The Diabolic Serenades' considering the time and the budget we had available, and we even believe in our very old releases for they have been important steps in our band's career, nevertheless our second album 'Blasfemia Eternal' is our most professional effort this far. We have progressed as musicians and there was a bigger budget available which has a very positive influence on matters like sound / production. Time could be spend on details.
In our earlier interview, you said that some people played flute on the new album, but I can't really hear it (I only had a promo-tape at the time we did this interview, I know it's indicated on the CD booklet, so I'm really not blind !). Do you think these instruments are really necessary since you are not going to use them on stage anyway ?
On 'Saeftinge', a medieval flute (performed by a classical musician) can be heard. Medieval instruments fit perfectly to the concept of Ancient Rites and increased the melancholic atmosphere connected to the history of Saeftinge, a forever lost medieval place. Live, we hold the attitude as the first generation of black metal bands : pure mayhem ! In the studio, we prefer to use different means to achieve atmospheres we require. Studio and live situations are different matters as far as we are concerned. And who knows we might use classical musicians on stage in the future once ? There are no limits !
I have the impression that you are very proud of Belgium, considering the songs 'Obscurity Reigns' from your debut about the Satanic Bokkerijders horde, and now the songs 'Vae Victis', a tribute to the tribes of ancient Belgium and 'Saeftinge'. What's your main reason for being proud of Belgium ? Since you're fascinated by ancient times, I wondered if you would have preferred to have lived a few ages ago ? Do you actually believe in reincarnation ?
Too often people deny their ancestors blood which is running through their veins. Afraid of being labeled a fascist if showing any pride. A strong passion for times forever buried by time and dust and politics are two different things. I do respect other countries but find interesting topics hidden in our own history a big source of inspiration. Flanders' history is unknown to most people and underestimated. Unfortunately too many new black metal bands imitate the Norwegian sound and write about Nordic landscapes even though many of them live on the other side of the world. I know most Norwegian musicians personally and they tell me how much they disrespect those who follow them like blind sheep. Every country has it's own background and culture to be proud of. For instance why pretending to be Norwegian while living in Mexico and having strong Aztec ancestors ? Indeed often I wish I had lived in other centuries. However everyone's a child of his own time and I think our bodies are not conditioned to live in another epoque. So, even if someone would find a way to travel in time still major difficulties have to be overcome. It does not prevent me from dreaming tough ... . Ancient as well as medieval history have a strong impact on me, therefore do not ask me to choose one particular period to have lived in. Reincarnation could have been an explanation for my strong hunger for lost empires and civilizations but my views are rather atheist on that matter. Maybe it simply is a part of my genes knowing that one of my ancestors belonged to the Satanic Bokkerijders Horde, two centuries ago.
I already received several flyers to watch out for After Dark Records, your earlier label, and the warning not to send them any money because they would be rip-offs. Is this true, and if yes, what went actually wrong because I had the impression that you seemed very pleased with their work ?
These flyers are not made by us but unfortunately reveal the truth. We trusted After Dark Records since we knew the people behind the label for many years and considered them as close friends. Obviously we were wrong and all codes have been shattered. After ripping off countless people (other labels, distributors, fans, bands, us and eventually each other) they had to leave the scene. We confronted After Dark Records with their deeds and they admitted that they were wrong but didn't seem to be very upset about it. We broke contact immediately and realized we would never get our money since also others already took one of the people of After Dark to court. Far too many people are waiting for their money. Prison would be the ideal home for frauds like them. Those flyers have been made by victims of After Dark who were tired of their lies and practice.
The distribution of your albums is for sure much better organized now, because you can find 'Blasfemia Eternal' in almost every decent recordstore. I never saw 'The Diabolic Serenades' in any store, so I guess you must be very happy with the way things are working out ?
Mascot truly deliver great work and I do appreciate their modesty. Unlike After Dark and many other labels, they don't talk much but act instead. They collaborate with major distributors, offer tour support, advertise in major magazines, but still understand the importance of the underground scene and give us total artistic freedom. We are their only black metal act, but this is not a disadvantage, we do not 'drown' in similar releases on Mascot, they have less bands on the whole to take care off. In the past, the owner of Mascot used to work for Roadrunner (Holland) in times when this label was very strong. He also worked as tour manager of Venom. They relate to our music / sound for it contains strong elements of early basic and black metal.
(Het Verdronken Land Van) Saeftinge is a song with a Flemish title and also some parts in Flemish. Did you actually do this as a reaction to all these Norwegian bands who start to sing in their mother tongue all of the sudden ? Is it a matter of re-discovering your roots ?
We never do anything as a reaction to other people's deeds. We simply follow our own path regardless anyone or anything. My (Germanic) Flemish language is as strong and true as any other and specially when referring to my ancestor's history we feel it is the ideal way of expressing ourselves. English is a universal language but often a bit poor to express deeper emotions. Of course when using less known languages like mine the majority of people will not understand the essence, therefore I included extra background information in the CD booklet. Using Flemish is not a matter of rediscovering my roots since I always was very much aware of them. On the new album, there are parts sung in Latin, French, Greek, German, Italian and Dutch.
How far goes your knowledge of these languages, do you speak them fluent ? Do you have a 'favorite' language and in case yes, why ? What do you think is so fascinating about languages, the culture that goes hand in hand with it ?
I speak Flemish (Dutch), English, German, French and a bit Greek. When reading Portuguese, Italian or Spanish, I'm able to understand a big part of it. I find it comfortable to be able to express myself in different languages since I often travel to places which aren't touristic at all. Also it makes it difficult for others to talk bad about me in their language while I'm present, often I surprised people who believed they were smart this way. A language beholds a lot of the culture and since I'm always eager to learn, I like to study different ones. Since we wish to offer variety with Ancient Rites, the use of different tongues increases this effect because of other sounds and intonations. We tour a lot and blasphemies (and other expressions) exist in all countries which are taught to us by local people. The use of these on stage and on our album can be seen as a sign of appreciation towards those people all over the world who supported us. I do not have one particular fave language, I wish I could speak them all ! Arab language is not that interesting to me tough, since it does not touch my soul or sound nice to my ears.
Why don't you tell us something more about your gothic project, Danse Macabre, that you do together with Sotiris (Septic Flesh) and Morbid (Rotting Christ, Necromantia) ? What kind of music is it, is there anything you can compare with it ? Did you choose the bandname after the Celtic Frost song 'Danse Macabre' ?
Dance Macabre's music differs totally from our main metal acts. The three of us relate to gothic dark wave but want our main bands to remain metal. It is a way to express the same dark emotions with a different language (music style). We have recorded two songs in Athens last year. One of those tracks will be included on a compilation CD released through Greek metal hammer. Several labels already showed interest but we will sign to Mascot for a full length album. The lyrics are inspired by Edgar Allen Poe and Lovecraft. The music is very dark and dreamy. Some people compare my voice to the one of Nick Cave on one track, others hear Andrew Eldritch (The Sisters Of Mercy) on the other. I simply tried to use my voice in different ways as I do with Ancient Rites but in another style. The bandname was suggested to us by Magus Wampyr Daoloth, so I cannot answer where he took the inspiration from. In November, the recordings for the CD will be completed.
I believe you have a tattoo of a bird on your right shoulder. What does this tattoo mean to you and do you have others ? Are you also interested in piercing ? Have you already met people who had the Ancient Rites logo tattooed on their body ?
Obviously you're mistaken, no-one in Ancient Rites is tattooed. Since I went to art school, I am very difficult in matters of designs and such. I'm not easily satisfied and I'm afraid if I would choose one, I would get tired of my tattoo after a couple of years when discovering details that could have been done better. I'm a perfectionist. Our road crew is tattooed and pierced (ears, nipples, nose and tongue). I have both ears pierced and used to have my nose pierced twice. The bassplayer of Blasphemy has our logo tattooed on his leg, I know an Italian / French girl who has our logo tattooed on the upper part of her arm with the devil's eyes reflecting when she enters a dark room. One guy in Belgium has our band name near his wrist, a German guy has our goat design on his shoulder, and I also know another Belgian guy who has got the same design on his arm. It is flattering to see certain people appreciate our work that much. If I had to choose tattoos myself, I would get our logo on my shoulder and the Flemish lion within a shield on my arm as a symbol of medieval Flanders. But since the medieval Belgian masters Rubens and Brueghel died centuries ago, I probably will never get one (??? - S.W.). Most tattoo artists I do not find talented enough to create a lifetime piece of art on my flesh. I am not against tattoos, but because of my profession, I am difficult on that matter when it comes to my body.
I read in Viking Force that you went to art school in the past. Which school was that and where ? Which firms or production houses did you work for ? Which art techniques do you prefer ? Which designers / painters do you admire and why ? I know you have drawn the cover for your 'Dark Ritual' demo, so have you never thought about drawing another cover for an album ? By the way, did you draw that goat-skull in your logo ?
I took my degree as publicity designer and painter. I went to a specialized school in Diest but also went to a private school in Zwartberg which is situated in another provence. I worked for factories like Pecetox, several smaller stores, some of them specialized in metal and punk designs and for bourgeois clubs like Rotary and Lion's. I also made a few comic books (three albums in realistic style and two cartoon like). I prefer to work in black and white, using Rotring pen. I also made some oilpaintings but prefer to use aquarel methods when working with pensils. In the world of comics, I see Jacques Martin, Hermann, Pleyers, Hugo Pratt and Serpieri as my biggest sources of inspiration. Medieval Belgian masters like Rubens, Brueghel, Teniers truly touch my soul. Surrealists like Dali and Magritte I appreciate as well. The Belgian painter Huens reigns nowadays for he's able to create this medieval atmosphere in his work which is a very rare quality in these modern times. We used one of his paintings on the backside of the 'Blasfemia Eternal' CD booklet. As I mentioned earlier, I am very demanding when it comes to art and find my own work not good enough to be used as a front cover. Most metal album covers which were painted, I find totally disgusting and kitsch. For example, the 'Fighting The World' album cover of Manowar is pure crap as far as I'm concerned, laughable even. I am very oldfashioned and prefer medieval masters for they truly saw their world through medieval eyes being children of this epoque. Their works behold a certain fear, prejudice, innocence and obscurity typical for middleages. Concerning our logo : I worked on it but was heavily inspired by the front cover of the 'Lord Of Darkness' comic made by Comes.
So far, I only found one photograph of a live-show of yours where someone is spitting fire on stage. Who of the band is it that is able to do this ? Have you never had any accidents with it ? Is it actually very difficult to learn and how do you actually start with something like that ?
When we did it years ago only few were into it. Nowadays almost every band is performing this kind of show on stage so we dropped the idea, it lost it's strength. Specialists who perform in a circus and such are the ideal source to guide someone because there is a degree of danger involved when not using the right technique. On the particular picture you are referring to, it is Peter Helmkamp of Order From Chaos who breaths fire on stage. He was our special guest when he tra-velled through Europe a few years ago.
Which writers do you admire ? Are you also interested in phantasy-stuff with dwarfs, elf's, imaginary worlds and all that, something like Tolkien for example ? Are there novels that we definitely should read, that you can advise to us ?
I admire Baudelaire, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allen Poe, Guy de Maupassant, Nietzche and Umberto Echo, his novel 'The Name of The Rose' is a brilliant masterpiece ! Literature dealing with history and occultism is very inspiring. Tolkien's world of trolls and elf's is great, but does not impress me as much as it does to most people in this scene. It's pleasant literature but not a source of inspiration. The same goes for the famous Necronomicon, a fine piece of literature but not a real guide into the world of occultism as many believe. Fiction remains fiction and it is the truth I seek.
You were best man at the wedding of Mikka of Impaled Nazarene, can you tell us something more about that feast ? Do you actually know Mikka already for a long time ? Do you have a lot of contact with each other since he's also living in Belgium right now ? What do you think personally about marriage, do you think it still has a chance to succeed in times like these ? Do you or would you like to have a 'black female soul' as a wife or a girlfriend, someone who supports and understands you ?
I know both Mikka and his wife before they met each other. Mikka specially liked our 'Dark Ritual' demo and ordered it many years ago when he still lived in Finland. They asked me to be best man at their wedding which I accepted. The wedding took place in Antwerp. Only two other people were invited to celebrate, so a very intimate occasion it was. We do keep contact and meet or phone regularly and when our bands play, we put each other on the guest list. I know he sometimes hates the good relationship I always had with the Norwegian Black Metal Circle, but I expect friends to respect my choices. We differ a lot, Mikka and me, but we get along very well. He's mostly interested in cyber, science fiction and sex, while I am attracted to a forever buried ancient / medieval past and dark romanticism. Different worlds indeed. Marriage might work for certain people but a minority nowadays. There are a few women I am close with, who seem to understand my soul and are able to deal with my insanity. Through this question, I realize they are true soul sisters who only sympathize with the darkness without taking part in it. Our connection is more build on medieval codes of courtesy, respect and warmth. Pure female souls lost in time. Intelligent, calm but with a strong passion underneath often hidden behind virginity. In Portugal, Greece, Italy and France I have a few contacts like these, truly inspiring. Most Belgian women have no soul and are guided by materialism and selfishness, at least those of my generation and younger. There are of course exceptions but they are very hard to find here in the North. Ancient codes have disappeared in these regions, unfortunately.
You once said in an interview that the members of Ancient Rites are not exactly very social human beings. I am a bit surprised by this, since you're one of the friendliest people I know in the black metal scene. You seem to like to talk with the audience after a concert, to have a beer with them and you write very long letters back so, ...
We are not touched by social matters and prefer to live in our own world. Strongly allergic for all social conscious political inspired fake intellectuals. Our somewhat nihilistic attitude concerning world problems does not make us beloved by certain people. However we do not keep distance of individuals who relate to our work or show respect for what we are and stand for. We give everyone the benefit of the doubt when approaching us. Rock star attitudes are a display of little children believing in their rock 'n roll dream and that's far below us. Also I do not try to impress people with a certain 'evil' pose. I carry very dark instincts inside but feel no need to perform a game. My anger and hate are only saved for those who try to harm me. Many bands play an act to impress young fans, back stage different characters / attitudes are displayed. It's so fucking tiring and immature !
Many black metal bands claim that the church and God and everything that has to do with it is responsible for more deaths than all wars together. I understand what they are trying to say, and I'm also not really a christian, but don't you agree that the things they say is just total rubbish ? On your new album, you wrote an interesting song about this subject, 'Blood Of Christ'. I know that many innocent people must have been murdered in the past, for example many innocent women must have been burned as a witch during the inquisition, but don't you agree that accusing religion for the death of people is far too easy ?
Sure, to state religion is the only reason of war is nonsense (although most wars today have a strong religious background). But it is the hypocrisy involved with the religions of light that deserve our wrath. Fundamentalist Christians, Jews and Moslems truly believe they are fighting for the highest cause when blowing up, slaughtering and torturing those who do not follow their pathetic books of lies. The fact that they are convinced that they represent all that is good and strife for peace makes me laugh, strange definition of peace they have. Human nature of course is the reason of all wars but do not underestimate the power of religion. Personally I do not even care if all these sheep slaughter each other in their god's name but it becomes a danger when they try to force their dogmas down everyone's throat, including mine. They do not practice what their bible or koran preaches. Therefore I have more respect for civilizations throughout history that openly claimed that their aim was to destroy all their enemies, at least things were clear (if we agree or not is not the issue here). It is the hypocrisy of 'white' religion that annoys me.
What are your plans for the near future ?
We have just returned from touring Portugal and played a couple of shows in Belgium. Next month a Dutch tour will start and afterwards a concert in the capitol of Greece will take place. In June we will do a European headline tour with Bewitched (ex-Katatonia), Alastis and Enthroned as support, we also have a few co-headline dates with Dark Funeral. This summer, Mortiis, Magus Wampyr Daoloth and I will collaborate on a project of which a record will be released. After the summer, dates with Ancient Rites shows are planned in the U.K., Absu wish to tour with us throughout Europe during harvest. Busy times ahead of us, the way I want it to be. I'm looking forward to these days and nights of chaos and madness. Tour life is addictive ... .
If we have forgotten anything you can say it here, my very best wishes for the future and thanks for your patience and everything. Till' we meet again !
Everything's been said and done Steven. Thank you very much for this interesting conversation. Our paths will cross again in Belgium or Germany for sure. Evil cult reigns supreme !