Interview with Gunther Theys
(Ancient Rites, Lion's Pride, Iron Clad)
Georgius: Ave Guntherius Rex! As You told us in early days of July on a social network, while the world (including the police) was busy watching the World Cup you took the throne in Gent. Would You be so kind to tell your experiences about that trip? As a king or emperor, what will be your first rules and orders?
- Ave Georgius J Ever since my childhood I loved travelling to historical places and in July I decided to take a city trip to the medieval city of Ghent. This was happening during the World Cup which seemed to have the world in its grip so there were only a few tourists on historical sites which was fine by me, I prefer to discover ancient worlds in tranquillity. Even the police were glued to the screen. I went into the medieval Gravensteen castle and sat on the throne there as a joke and posted a picture of it on facebook thinking if someone takes over the throne now no one will notice since everyone’s too busy wearing wigs, getting drunk, watching games ;-) I wouldn’t last long as a ruler because my soul is too ancient haha. I would glorify ancestral traditions and culture and since I have no heart for the modern games of world politics and its greedy scheming or corrupted intrigues my reign would not last very long. I wouldn’t fit in. I would strive for harmony between all ancient European lands on an equal basis of mutual respect preserving our ancient cultures, a collaboration of the heart and soul without brother wars/conflicts/exploitation, the dream of an ancient idealistic ruler which would make me not fit for the game of politics. In my Imperial Court each country would be represented and each identity preserved and mutually protected. Ancient Europa in a unity how it never existed. Unfortunately reality (and human nature) is different ;-)
Paul (United Sates) : Are there any new albums in the works for both Ancient Rites and Lion's Pride?
- Lion’s Pride has released a new album now entitled “Vlaanderen”. It is a double cd/dvd containing new and old tracks and video clips. The release had to deal with many problems over the years. There were line up changes just before entering studio. Discussions about the artwork as our label wasn’t impressed with our choice and we didn’t like their choice so the artwork had to be done all over again. When everything was finished the label had the album printed abroad and a few copies had reached us but then we received the news that the authorities had confiscated all the material at the printer, including our albums. We don’t know what the reason was for this: financial trouble or censorship? Our album did not contain any forbidden elements though but fact remains the authorities did not release our confiscated albums. Meanwhile another label contacted our label and proposed to re-release the album again. Since a few weeks now the album is finally available to the public. As for Ancient Rites, we have have been working hard on the pre-production of a new album and will enter the German SPACELAB studio’s in October.
Paul: I know you've been dealing with health issues as of late, though I am curious if Ancient Rites will be touring again or simply playing gigs at home?
- True, I have been in and out of hospital many times these past years, had to face several operations and am fighting chronic conditions. But my spirit always has been unbroken, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In other words: I will play anywhere when the album is released. I wasn’t supposed to fly to the USA where Ancient Rites were scheduled on a festival just after I had been operated and the wound had to be cleaned every day by professionals but I went anyway. I went to a hospital there once to get the job done. In Holland I appeared on a festival after a kidney surgery with the tubes still inside my body but I did the gig. Only when being in intensive care I would cancel a gig J
Paul: I've always classified Ancient Rites as 'Early Black Metal / Late Extreme Metal', though I've seen Ancient Rites placed in the 'Viking Metal', 'Death Metal', and once in the 'Epic Metal' genres. In what genre would you place Ancient Rites?
- I think it is difficult to label our style because we always tried to achieve an own identity which comes in a natural way. Personally I grew up with different styles but I never wanted to sound like a certain band I liked. Probably there are elements of different Metal genres within our style plus we sound different on each album but still the style is recognisable as Ancient Rites. Our audience is rather mixed one could say but one has to keep in mind this is how things were in the 80’s when we started. I was listening Punkrock, NWOBHM and Hardrock in the 70’s, meaning I never limited my collection to one style. I can understand why people of different sub genres consider us a band in their style and that is fine of course but we do not sound like a typical band in a certain genre, never did. Labels find bands like us difficult to sell I think, we have been asked by interested specialized labels to play more like this or that in order to get a contract but I always refused to play that game of hypes/trends and being dictated by labels or managers. It is more rewarding to do your own thing anyway instead of running behind trends. Ancient Rites was founded in the 80’s when certain newer subgenres didn’t even exist or were labelled as such and from that point of view we are not a hype type of band, we do re-invent our sound with each album but one can tell our musical roots are more ancient. Our following is a rather loyal one because of the fact we always had an own identity and I have no problem with the different labels people use to describe us as long as we can’t be compared to anyone else that is fine by me J.
Barbara (Northern Ireland): What I would would like to know is did you study art at school or is this an natural ability of yours as your drawings are excellent? ( and of course witty )
- Thank you Barbara. I have been drawing all my life. People who know me from my school days remember me as someone into art and often ask if I am still drawing/painting, usually they don’t even know about my bands. I only started being a musician in my early teens so earlier contacts connect me to my first practiced passion, not music. Later when Ancient Rites became known people didn’t know about the other side of me. Those always inform about my work as a musician when running into them, never about my earlier life. However I made the first demo cover, created the drawing for the “Dark Ritual” vinyl picture disc and made the lay out for the 2 versions of the “Evil Prevails” ep and the “First Decade” compilation cd. For years my passion for drawing and painting was in the shadow of my music “career” but these past years I took up pen and pencil again. In the 80’s I had a job designing/drawing prints for chain stores but I also still worked free-lance designing for Metal/Punk underground shops. I went to art school but I already started drawing in kindergarten, I remember my teacher saying “Did you do that?” So the technics I use are mostly self-taught. I did create a few graphic novels in the 80’s from comical to realistic style. They always had a dark touch though. Only recently I started creating short gags which I post on my FB profile (short gags consisting of only a few strips or 1 drawing suit better to the FB concept), in the past I only made long full length stories. But I still experiment with different styles. I always loved graphic novels, even before I could read for hours I was “reading” them trying to understand the stories by the pictures. This country has a strong tradition in graphic novels, I was not influenced by American comics and the typical superhero concept, I always preferred a different approach. Heroes of flesh and blood and even anti-heroes. With all my respect but my personal influences are the European, graphic novels I grew up with. Still I go for an own style of course. I am very critical when it comes to my own work. I plan to release a compilation book containing different drawings, short stories, gags, sketches. And plan a full length story again but I still must decide in which style, comic, semi realistic or full realism. I love working in different styles. I will let fate decide :)
Ingv (Norway): What was the last book you’ve read? Recommend us please a book, what you wish that people can enjoy to read!
- Ah books! Another passion of mine, Ingv. The last books I have been reading are historical ones. I have a rather big collection. I love reading ancient authors like Herodotes, Plato, Tacitus, Aurelius, Seneca who often offer an interesting insight of the era they lived in. Every now and then I read fiction but usually based on historical events. Authors like Steven Pressfield (“Gates of Fire” is a masterpiece), Iain Pearse (“The Dream of Scipio” is brilliant) or Steven Saylor know how to re-create the vibe and mentality of long forgotten times and they know the historical background on which they set their epic novels very well. The last one I read must have been “A instance of the Fingerpost” by Iain Pearse. Great captivating work. At the moment I am reading diaries of soldiers of my region who had to serve in Napoleons cavalry after France had conquered our lands. Fascinating! That is why I usually read historical (non fiction) works written by eye witnesses or people who lived and experienced a certain era. One grasps the mentality of that age better and often is surprised by both the differences and similarities with our world. I also have a few authentic medieval parchments, maps and books in my collection, it is fantastic that these documents survived the centuries and have reached me in this modern times, like testimonies of the past. Some contain handwriting (by quill) of the medieval owners or even artwork. This often makes me curious about the persons who lived all those centuries ago and to whom the books belonged to before they found their way to my library. One can’t get closer to history than that (apart from visiting ancient/medieval sites of course). I am happy to have a 16th century Latin-Greek dictionary in my possession written by Nicholas Cleynaerts who was a language professor at the universities of Leuven (Flanders), Paris and who taught in Spain and Portugal. He also worked for the relatives of Columbus to compile their library. He even risked his life to travel to North Africa short after the Spanish Reconquista to search for ancient Greek documents in Arabia. He had to flee from there as his life was endangered him being a Christian in a hostile Muslim world. He knew Arabic and the Koran and his life was not safe as he didn’t convert to their religion but also the Spanish Inquisition was negative towards him because he gathered ancient non Christian works. Also a slave trader living in Morocco who wanted him out of his way (Cleynaerts had saved European slaves) had spread rumours in Spain Cleynaerts was a bad Christian working against Spanish interests which actually was a lie. His love for literature made his position impossible in both worlds. Nice personal detail is that the man was from my hometown. He disappeared in the Alhambra in Spain after his return from Arabia. No one knows how he died, his letters just stopped. His original goal was to become the main priest in the medieval Begijnhof abbey where I live but his adventurous soul and passion for the written word made him a world traveller. I received one of his books as a present from a friend who studied at Oxford who found it in an antiquity shop somewhere in Italy I believe. I also have an arty handwritten parchment of a Flemish medieval monk in my collection, the lettering this man did was pure art with precious paint. I love treasures like that, they belong in a museum actually…
Sierra (The Netherlands): Have you ever thought about writing and publishing a book yourself? And what would the subject be?
- I did write a few short novels. One was about “De Bokkerijders” (Buck Riders) for instance. They were a secret organisation in the 18th century and flirted with the occult. They operated like military units and raided churches and rich farms. The name refers to the Devil and people believed they did ride the sky on the back of the Devil in Goat shape to spread evil. This phenomenon was a typical Lowlands one in certain provinces of Flanders, Holland and Germany. There have been mass executions, no mercy when they got caught. Several historians claim there was more to it because some members were respected individuals in society like surgeons etc. Why would they risk death for the often poor loot and why they connected matters with Goat Worship and rituals of sacrilege in chapels and churches. Members had to spit on the cross or soaked the holy bread taken from churches in pigs blood during their initiation rituals or performed a mass backwards in mockery. Some consider it a movement against the ancient regime in which the clergy held the power. Many questions remain unanswered, most were executed after torture. Leaders like doctor Kirchhoffs (who held the rank of Captain in this secret organisation) did not reveal anything after days of torture. Interesting detail is that while studying the phenomenon I discovered some of my ancestors were involved from documents written down by the authorities and church at that time. The reason I am certain ancestors were involved is because of the location, the family name but also the nick name our clan always has been given in those villages. I read in the diary of a priest who was responsible of the perish in Tessenderlo (where my family always have been strongly represented) “someone of the Theys clan escaped from prison at night”. In another document written by the authorities in another village I read “We don’t know the real name of the Boon Clan but one is suspected to have founded a first generation group of ‘Bokkerijders’” (several generations of Bokkerijders have been active in the 18th century). I presume the one escaping from prison migrated to another village. The authorities did not know that the Boon name was a nickname for our Theys clan and lost trace because of the name confusion. In certain novels the name Theys appears in Bokkerijder legends, even in a graphic novel series called Suske & Wiske. I was about five and my father read the story to me. “The captain of the group has the same name as we do” I noticed. “Yes” he grinned. When he was still a kid in his village Tessenderlo he was asked to join the local church choir as he could sing very well, until the pastor found out my father belonged to the Theys/Boon clan, he was no longer welcome On a regular basis I post blogs. The topics I write are often historical but sometimes I also reflect on situations I personally experienced, situations I encountered. I always have been an observer. Publishing a book would be great. Who knows I should write down the story of Ancient Rites because the things we came across on the road, or the boycotts and troubles would make an interesting adventurous read :)
Sierra: If you could talk to anybody (dead or alive or myth) who would that be & what would you ask him?
- That is an interesting but difficult question. Since I am so much fascinated by history there are many characters I would like to catch a glimpse of or even have a conversation with. Of course myths grow stronger throughout the centuries and one cannot forget these grand characters in history were also human and made of flesh and blood with their defaults. Perhaps meeting certain “legends” could be a disappointment. If I could simply take a walk in my hometown centuries ago, like a silent observer, I would be already very grateful. Imagine. Anyway, I would have loved to share a beer with a local writer named Ernest Claes who died a few years after my birth. He captured the people, traditions and the region I live in with so much detail, humour and tragedy it feels like if one knows the soul of the writer by just reading his work. He also expressed a certain melancholy about the lost world he knew during his youth at the end of the 19th century. Some things he write about I still recognize, others are gone forever so I feel that melancholy he describes very well. To be honest I think a modern person wouldn’t last long when travelling to the past. The deeper back in history the more difficult. I suspect we would get ill from the food or drinks or environment with our body system not being used to the lack of hygiene, not as resistant to the bacteria as the authentic population would be who grew up in that environment, who are the children of their times. Also the mentality was completely different, one would immediately recognize by our mannerisms we do not really belong, let alone if we start having a conversations. Not only from a linguistic point of view. Certain rules or laws one would break without realizing it. Only certain classes were allowed to wear certain colours for instance. Often medieval characters in Hollywood films wear green, in reality during a certain era green was reserved only for jesters and the insane. Or if one practiced certain professions which were considered too low one wasn’t welcome in public places, one could get a drink in a glass without a foot while standing up at the doorway (so one would not be able to put the glass down or sit and stay longer). There were cast systems too, those who did the profession of cleaning up sick or died stock (cows, sheep etc) could only marry with people belonging to families of their own profession and had to wear a certain colour of clothes or typical hats so society would recognize them instantly. Same for public executioners. They usually lived somewhat outside of society and were not welcome to marry outside of their “job”. So many “unwritten” laws we would break without realizing it. Let me give you another example of a strange law right in my hometown centuries ago: I read in a medieval document that pubs and taverns in certain streets in my hometown Diest were forbidden for people from Diest (!) because those streets were not considered officially as a part of the town and the pubs didn’t pay taxes to the Diest authorities. At one point Diest authorities burned down the mills who provided the ingredients for the taverns and pubs in those streets. It would be considered a crime like avoiding taxes, bordering betrayal if Diest people consumed outside of the city centre which is only a few streets away! Also peculiar is that these streets had public places with red lanterns indicating they were brothels, it wasn’t considered correct to hang around there. So imagine I travel back in time and simply enter one of those pubs, believing I am having a drink in my hometown, I could get arrested by the authorities simply for that. There was a public bath house in Diest centre. I would go and freshen up there but people would consider it a sign of walking the wrong path of life as the bath houses had a reputation like whore houses. So one would believe to be leaving a good impression smelling nice but people would consider you a dirty character without values :) Or imagine in a conversation the people voice their naïve prejudice and superstitions. If one doesn’t agree one would end up on the pyre before knowing it. But yes, I’d still LOVE to travel back in time despite the dangers. But the world was a smaller place and outsiders would immediately be watched and considered suspicious and if we 21st century visitors would open our mouths we’d better watch what we would be saying :) Fascinating though!
Sierra: What is your fondest memory related to Ancient Rites?
- The worldwide trips, the interaction with the supportive crowds. The adventures, good and bad on the road. Believe me, they are many. The experiences would make a great book with larger than life stories. Whenever I get the chance I travel earlier or stay longer to discover more of the place we played visiting museums, tasting of the local culture and traditions, diving into history…But during the tour that is often impossible because one has to deal with travel and concert schedules. But I always liked the different aspects of being on the road, not only band related.
Georgius: You and Jon Nödtveidt are both my Eternal Inspirations. Would You be so kind to share with the readers some interesting story about your common shows with Dissection from 1995?
- Thank you Georgius. Oh we got along perfectly well. I remember touring England together, sleeping on floors in sleeping bags. Jon was a friendly, quiet chap. I remember him taking a place next to my father on the floor and our guitarist Bart jokingly dragging Jon around in his sleeping bag “That is my place, I sleep next to the band father”, all laughing :) Great times.
Georgius: When and where did you meet your band mate, Erik Sprooten first time? What do you think about his previous band Inquisitor? (I’m very glad, that Inquisitor-stuff will be re-released this year). And what’s your opinion about Erik’s hard rock cover-band, Plusminus?
- I think we first met when we played a concert together somewhere in Holland. I appreciated his band and always thought Erik was a great guitarist. I’m glad for him the Inquisitor stuff will be re-released. I am sure he enjoys the gigs with Plusminus, we both share a love for 70’s Hardrock. When guitarist Bart decided to leave the band shortly before a European headline tour (he was tired of the corrupt music industry at that time and had a job he wanted to concentrated on) Erik was one of the first I called up to save the tour. He agreed and did half of the tour, Mike of Pentacle (Holland) did the other half and also Michael from Swedish Luciferion did a show with us. Later Erik called me up and said he was interested in joining Ancient Rites permanently because although he completely believed in Inquisitor he felt that not everyone had the same dedication. The rest is history. He’s a great lad. Also private we get along perfectly. I founded a cultural/historical hiking/travel Bond named “Leeuwerik (The Lark)/Lagoz”. He’s a member of that too so we regularly meet during trips or meetings this group.
Georgius: As far as I know, Ancient Rites didn’t play so far in Hungary and Ukraine unfortunately. What do You know about Hungarian/Magyar and Ukranian underground and historical persons/events?
- Magyar history is fascinating. There also was the period of the Austrian/Hungarian Empire which had quite an impact on European history. And who doesn’t know Erzsébet Báthory. The band Tormentor I always appreciated. Also the Ukrainian history is fascinating and quite intense/dramatic. To this very day actually. And perhaps you know the band Castrum? Check them out ;-)
Sorin (Romania): Is there any Ancient Rites album that during its recordings you had not a good time or there was a bad relationship between the members?
- The early recordings were the most fun. For several reasons the most spontaneous and relaxing although of course we were very focused for the best possible result. As time progressed both our music and the dynamics in the band became more complex. You know, the inevitable line up changes bringing in talented musicians who weren’t necessarily friends. It became harder work on all fronts. Professionally and musically rewarding but also tensions increasing, higher levels to maintain, more pressure from the outside and inside. Of course the result is what counts. The plug in and play days are over. We always wanted the recordings to sound tight and correct but nowadays the musical level is higher so that is a natural evolution, it is harder work. There is bad blood between certain former members. Tensions on tour, in studio. Not easy. To be honest it isn’t particularly easy playing in a band, especially a band like ours that exists such a long time with several line up changes. Too much dealing with egos and clashing views all the time. Tiring. It’s often a bit like living on a time bomb. And starting from scratch again, over and over again. Usually it is most difficult with newcomers who often bring very different ideas and views and who believe their way is the path to take. They often don’t comprehend the dynamics or essence and see the band as a stepping stone or platform for their own trip or simply their views of how to work or the goals are very different. They don’t share the history from scratch. Those are typical problems of a band that has been around for such a long time as we are, the inevitable line up changes and complications. We had line ups where the magic was there musically but on a personal level we had little in common. But one concentrates on the work until collaboration becomes impossible. When I was a young music fan I often wondered why great bands split and threw away their “musical magic” but it becomes clear the moment you start playing in bands yourself :)
Sorin: What bands from the new generation can you recommend?
- I must confess I mostly listen old school pioneering bands dating back to the 70’s/80’s and 90’s. Of the newer generation I appreciated the albums of Thy Repentance from Russia and Hordak from Spain. But one can hardly call them new bands. Of course interesting bands are of all times but sometimes I have a feeling the pioneering bands all had an own identity even when playing in a similar genre, they all differed a lot from each other. Perhaps nostalgia is playing tricks with my mind but that is an impression I often get. In the end one often plays the albums of bands that made an impression during one’s younger years when things were inventive and new.
Georgius: Dank je wel, Guntherius and create please for the readers a fake history a la Gunther and send your message to your fans of Transcarpathian land!
- A long time ago a child was being born in a stable. He became known as Jesus of Nazareth. Over 2000 years later a professor invented a time machine. That professor had a dangerous crazy cousin who was fanatic about Black Metal who saw everything in the light of music, knowing nothing about history. The guy travelled back in time and crucified Jesus of Nazareth. “Why did you do that” the professor asked. The kid answered I “Unfortunately I only found one of the Nazareth members, Jesus or something! I never liked their hit “Love Hurts”!” now he had to pay the price! True story! ;-) Thanks for this conversation Georgius my friend, my best regards to all the interviewers for their interesting questions and my best regards to all those in the Transcarpathian Ancient Lands who stood by us throughout the years. Ancient Europa in our Hearts, hail the Ancient Hordes.
(Interview has done by Georgius, Sierra (The Netherlands), Barbara (Northern Ireland),
Ingv (Norway), Paul (United States), Sorin (Romania)
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