MM: Hi great to meet you how’s the new album "Lagus" been received by the press and fans so far.
Gunther:Nice meeting you too. Before the album was available Massacre released one song as a pre-listening session on the internet and presented the track to the Metal press in Scandinavia. Immediately we receive countless positive reactions from all over the world. It seems as if that during the years we were not publicly active people started to appreciate our work more during our absence. The reactions regarding the track were really heart-warming. I had no idea what people would think as the scene has changed over the years but I wasn’t willing to change the band concept to adjust to modern times. We have evolved but stayed loyal to our concept and were not influenced by external factors. Meanwhile the album is released in Europe and the USA and I have been answering many interviews so the interest is definitely there. I notice more feedback from the States compared to years ago and I am surprised to see our album is being spread through big channels like Amazon or bigger distributions. Reactions of the fans have been positive but we do have a loyal following who know more or less what to expect from A.R. and who appreciate our independent approach away from trends or the mainstream.
MM: Can you tell me about the inspiration for the new album
Gunther: History, philosophy. And often a combination of both. If we take a look at the album title “Laguz” for instance. Laguz touches upon ancestral history. Also Heathendom. Mythology. The Laguz rune has a symbolic meaning. Our ancestors regarded it a darker rune predicting the storms and obstacles in life. The rune stands for renewal, initiation, the beginning of life, is connected with the moon and tides, travelling in mind and body, mystery, dreams. But despite its darker character the rune also symbolises reward through perseverance. The band had to take many obstacles before the new album could be realised and also on a personal level I have been fighting serious health conditions and underwent several operations, one of them to avoid cancer. The treatment continues to this day and I must regularly go to hospital for check-ups and treatments. I always kept a positive spirit, even learning from the ordeals and seeing beyond the pain. Perseverance and humour are powerful weapons. When having the right mind set one gains strength during these ordeals and learns to see life in perspective and it speeds up the healing process. Also that represents Laguz. So here’s where history meets philosophy. Some of the songs on the new album reflect on the power of the mind which can be an inspiration to people when facing ordeals. Our work always has several layers and meanings, from historical to philosophical. I don’t mean this in an arrogant way but I like to share learning and life experiences with those who are interested in the matter, if people only dig the music that is fine by me as well. But like the music itself also the lyrics contain different layers to discover. Consider the album a journey, the portals are opened to long forgotten times but also one can explore the mind and philosophical matters.
MM: You have had a turbulent history with Bomb and Death Threats , what kept you motivated to continue and did you ever feel like giving it all up.
Gunther:Even the national press, tv and authorities always have been on our backs. Gutter press articles, manipulated documentaries full of lies and exaggerations on TV to put us in a bad light causing boycotts. From one side the moral majority condemning us because we openly condemned all forms of religious fundamentalism in interviews, including Islamic fundamentalism, which the press and moral majority regarded as politically incorrect and a taboo. On the other side the religious fanatics on our case. Secret police investigating, two cells: the religious and the political one. All this resulted
in banned shows and our gigs being treated like a derby football game with riot police waiting outside. And of course hate mail and boycotts. What kept me motivated was the fact I am not easily intimidated and can or will not dance to a tune I don’t believe in for commercial success or mass approval. Matters I’m not interested in anyway. Of course we have been limited in our freedom to perform nationally and one doesn’t get good press but so what? It is somewhat tiring and ridiculous. And surprising how far the ones pulling the strings went to complicate matters for us. Like living in the USSR before the wall came down or something. The only thing I sometimes thought was why do I bother when the masses swallow all the nonsense like sheep. But then I reminded myself I never was in it for the masses anyway…Today the press has to (unwillingly) admit there is a problem with terrorism and religious fundamentalism and now all yell “we are Charlie” after the writers and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo were being murdered and the terrorist activities increased and IS is putting the world on fire, heads aren’t enough, even ancient historical sites are being destroyed. Now that their own have been murdered the press suddenly shout “We are all victims/Je Suis Charlie!”. Authorities and press played along with the game, turned a blind eye and rather prosecuted underground musicians who dared to question ALL forms of fundamentalism instead of acknowledging the problem. Now they say “Je Suis Charlie?” Don’t let me laugh. Hypocrites. We haven’t changed, the world has and perhaps now the ones in control realise (partly realise, I don’t have too many illusions) there are far more bigger dangers than a bunch of guys playing Metal who dared to think for themselves. And all those anonymous heroes who came to our gigs to cause trouble while hiding in the crowd or those calling up promoters to not book us or cancel our tours (“or else!)” perhaps understand they are not exactly safe if they would have to live under the Sharia laws. But I mustn’t be too optimistic, I better not grant them too much insight J
MM: I read somewhere you invited these cowards on to the stage did that ever happen and what has been the most scary thing that's happened to you and the band from Religious fanatics.
Gunther: Bottles being thrown, glass projectiles while we were on stage.
Yes, I invited them on stage but no one came. I did see a bunch of guys congratulate each other and rushing away and the security was not doing anything. I called through the microphone to confront me in the open but they felt their glory was already big enough and preferred to remain anonymous and left fast while cheering and hugging each other. They looked the neo hippie types. Scary? Not for a moment. A pity was that once a Spanish tour was cancelled because the clubs received bomb threats. We said we were willing to come and play but the promoters didn’t dare to take the risks. This was years before IS and came from political inspired anti BM/Viking metal activists who hate bands writing about ancient European history. I don’t believe they would have dared to live up to their bomb threats. IS is a different story, they have recruits in this country and are willing to die for their god but I refuse to be intimidated…Fundamentalists managed to close down a Metal club in my area through a petition but I’m not backing up. If others do or are willing to play their cards I can’t help that but I refuse to change my ways because a new inquisition is being installed here.
MM: Your band lyrics and themes have always been indepth and intelligent. coming from Belgium where so many have lost their lives in two world wars, would you ever consider a concept album about say The First World war ?
Gunther:Thank you. Much appreciated. I always have been a world traveller fascinated by ancient cultures. I try to write about history in a non-biased way, avoiding clichés, history never is black and white and I
try to touch upon topics from different angles. Almost like a neutral observer/narrator. I like to reflect on lesser known histories and historical characters as well. Far away from a cliché Hollywood approach. Offering an insight on the sign of the times, mentality and people and their situations I describe. Art, philosophy, architecture, mythology, culture, literature, thousands of years of history to draw inspiration from. Forgotten and gone Worlds I wish to evoke for a few minutes in a song. Hence the filmic aspect to our Metal sound. The orchestration and classical music function like an extra soundtrack which should enable the listener to travel through the gates of time and catch a bit of the atmosphere of centuries buried by times and dust. I did touch upon the topic of WW1 through our song “Ypres”. This site in Flanders became the grave of thousands dying in the trenches. Or in the field hospitals. On a New Year’s Eve I left the city centre, passed the monuments and walked to the nameless graves. And there the inspiration to the lyrics came to me. I was reflecting on the fate of these lost souls. I could vision the ghost of a fallen soldier, in rags standing at the edge of the forest near the fields as the wind was blowing. Unknown and without a voice. So I decided to write a song for all of them. Regardless the side they were fighting on because all shared the same fate of doom. And I pitied them.
MM: Bands plans regarding festivals and tours in 2015
Gunther:We will play concerts in France, The Netherlands, Belgium. We have been approached to play Spain, England and Germany.
MM: You guys have a hell of a history, have you ever thought about doing a in depth band autobiography ?
Gunther:I do. I like to express myself through different forms of art. Not only music. On our latest album “Laguz” I could combine three of my passions: writing (lyrics and liner notes), music and painting/drawing (some of the cd booklet illustrations are by my hand). In a few months a short graphic novel of mine will be published in a compilation album in support of the Child Cancer Fund. It is a story based on folklore figures of the medieval Flemish city of Ghent. The setting are the monuments and castles which I drew in a realistic style whereas the figures themselves are drawn in a humoristic style. The story tells about local legends and history and one sees historical characters connected to the city pass by in the novel. It has a dark touch too but not to the extreme as it is for a wider audience. People of Ghent who saw an excerpt loved it because they recognized so many things which they consider a part of their personal heritage. That is a compliment of course. Also another graphic novel will be released very soon. It got picked up by a German publisher and will be internationally released. It is a full length realistic style graphic novel I made in the 1980’s. People on my FB were asking if I could publish a graphic novel for them to read. I asked what they would like to see by my hand. The answers were: “historical, adventurous, mysterious, dark and with your black humour”. I realized I had made one exactly like that back in the 80’s which was released limited on the local Flemish market in Dutch and in black and white. So I started cleaning up these 30 year old pages digitally. Then I translated the work into English so my foreign contacts would be able to read it as well. And thirdly I started colouring the graphic novel. It is a dark thriller, film noir style. Set in two time periods: ancient times and the 1980’s. The ancient times I coloured in grey tones and black and white to achieve an old feel. For the 1980’s part of the story I used full colour. The graphic novel is called “Devil’s Charm – The Ancient Curse”. The ingredients are history, unsolved murders, a supposed cursed ancient artefact, heathen and occult secret organizations, there’s a slight
supernatural touch and dark humour. The main characters are opposites: a police inspector called “Van Roy” (I used the family name of my deceased grandmother, to honour her but also because it is a name easily pronounced worldwide) who tries to solve the murders and a treasure hunter who is nicknamed “Crazy Sid”. They become allies against their will. The search leads to ancient sacred woods, forgotten medieval graveyards, cult caves, the old Para troop historical fortress where I did my military service and…directly into to the 80’s Metal scene. Because centre of the murders and mayhem is a first generation occult Metal band. The band deals with boycotts, banned concerts, police investigations, gutter press and band members dying. Someone who read the book in the 80’s once told me “Do you realize you almost told your future real life story with Ancient Rites? All these things started happening to you after you finished the book. You jinxed yourself!” It is a funny thought. Indeed one year after completing the story I founded Ancient Rites. I don’t think that until recently many people knew that I was a graphic artist. Mostly I worked behind the scenes creating merchandise prints, album covers, worked for several chain stores who hired me to design prints for their clothing or organizations who needed designs and logos…And to come to your actual question: I also thought about writing a band or personal biography. I like writing. I sometimes post blogs and people ask why I don’t write a book. It would be interesting to share some of the moments we lived as a band, offering glimpses behind the scenes. To share the many larger than life and fascinating stories as they were, without hiding or glorifying anything. It was/is an interesting/intense life. Perhaps I should do so before my time is up. I am very aware of my own mortality and everything can be over tomorrow. It would be nice to tell our story before it’s too late. Let’s hope I have a few more years to actually write that book. One has no control over these matters though…
MM: You have played with many amazing bands , what would you say has been the most memorable tour?
Gunther: I think every gig is equally important. No matter if we play in front of thousands on main festivals with major acts or in front of a smaller crowd in clubs. One owes it to oneself and the audience to give it a 100%. There are two moments that were special to me but they are more personal. I cherish the moment we played with Motörhead and my father and I were enjoying their show from the side of the stage. My father always loved “Ace of Spades”. Another moment I thought was nice when we were playing with The Stranglers on a big fest. I grew up with their records as a kid and I almost forgot to get ready for our own show on another stage. I had sneaked out to the side of their stage while holding my bass guitar while Ancient Rites were preparing for the show. A promoter came to fetch me “Don’t forget you’re on next on the other stage!” J I felt like 13 again when they played their classics. Sometimes at night I still dream I lose my way while hurrying to the Ancient Rites stage and get stuck everywhere with my guitar and I hear Ancient Rites already starting haha!
MM: I love Belgium and have been over many times…of course its famous for the beer do you have a personal favourite Beer
Gunther:So you know that every city and village has its own local beers. My favourites are Westvleteren, Leffe and Gilden. Gilden beer was invented during the middle-ages in my hometown and made especially for our medieval Guilds. I belong to two of these authentic local guilds who survived to this day. One is the Royal Guild of Saint George. This was the crossbow militia who had the task to defend our city. We still practise crossbow shooting to this day. And the other Guild I belong to is called “De Lelie” which in medieval times was the “Chamber of Rhetorica” in which painters, sculptors, writers, poets
and artists were united. At our annual Guild Feasts we still drink Gilden Beer. Gilden beer no longer is only locally available, it is exported. On your next trip here I recommend it.
MM: Three Words to describe Ancient RItes
Gunther: Non-Mainstream. Authentic. Historical.
MM: Final words for your fans and our readers Thank you for this interesting conversation.
Gunther :I wish you and your readers all the best. Thanks for the support, much appreciated. Soul Invictus…