Ancient Rites Interview Part II: Gunther Theys Talks Recording Process & Composition Of Laguz, Hobbies & Favorite Albums Of All Time

In this next part of the interview, Gunther discusses the recording process as well as the vast variety of sources that go into crafting an Ancient Rites recording. He also discusses several of his favorite albums and why they’re important to him and the structure of the band. Finally, Gunther discusses his love for all things historical, medieval and like myself; he also seems to rather enjoy a bit of black humor and comic reading. Once again, this interview has been published completely unedited for your reading pleasure.

Let’s talk about the writing and recording process for the album. Obviously there two major portions here, which would be the metal side and the more symphonic/orchestral side. Which of these did you record first, or were they recorded simultaneously? What are the difficulties of recording highly symphonic pieces in addition to black metal.

When recording “Laguz” the metal side and the symphonic side were recorded separately. The Metal basis first. However, before going to studio during the pre-production and on the demos we recorded before, the tracks already had a filmic character and orchestration. We think this soundtrack aspect in our sound is an ideal way to enable the listener to feel and visualize the old worlds we describe. And you felt that right again, I consider our songs to be of course Metal based but at the same time like a soundtrack that illustrate what is described and evoked. Whenever I write a lyric I actually visualize everything, like films that were never made. Historically correct and far away from Hollywood popularity/fantasy. The reality is larger than life as it is when one digs into detail in history. Through my numerous visits to historical sites and museums and my studies through books (even regarding the mentality, life and style of clothing) in detail, I can re-create these eras and people in my mind. On stage I’m often locked up in my own world during the songs. When I can believe in what I describe or see I know the song was a success. Not in matters of popularity or sales but to satisfy my soul and the longing for the travel beyond the gates that normally are closed by time and enshrouded with the dust of centuries. Each song therefore is like a movie existing in my head. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a technique to project what I see and feel on a screen? As for the actual final process when we recorded “Laguz” the Metal parts were recorded at the Spacelab studios in Germany with producer Christian Moos. The vocal and classical/orchestral parts were also recorded in Germany at the studio of Oliver Phillips, he’s a classical musician and vocalist himself. The last track of the album “Fatum”, which is a complete classical track, was a collaboration between him and me. Then the files of the classical and vocal recordings were sent to Spacelab where Christian Moos mixed the complete album. We were presented a rough mix and we could express our thoughts or ideas to change matters where we felt this was necessary. As a final step the files were sent to the Eroc’s Mastering Ranch studio’s in Germany for the mastering of the album. The difficulties of combining highly symphonic pieces with our Metal sound, which on its own also contains many musical layers, is that every note played has to be a perfect match. A lot is going on at the same time and musically it has to blend in with each other perfectly or the whole structure collapses. That is why I find it important we work with classical musicians as producers because they have a perfectly trained ear for the smallest of details. No slightly off note, no matter how minor or even almost undetectable, can pass the test. Sometimes parts are changed the last moment to make everything fit a 100% to avoid any disharmony, the more layers, the higher the risk. On “Laguz” there are many layers both in the Metal as in the symphonic parts but all match. It is a harder job to get things perfect but the end result is what counts in the end, not the hard work…

Throughout the record, it almost feels as if you’re narrating a tale. Essentially, the listener is taking part in what feels like a truly epic journey of sorts. What sorts of material did you use as inspiration for the work here?

Thank you  You really understand the vibe I wanted to create with my vocal style and lyrics. I approached many parts not as a typical vocalist but as a narrator who shares historical facts. The music is the medium to catch the listener’s interest. My inspiration is my lifelong quest for historical knowledge. My travels to historical sites all over the world, my visits to museum, studying and collecting historical books, even collecting authentic medieval manuscripts, there is where my inspiration is coming from. My mind never stops. It is a bit like an obsession perhaps. And the urge to express and share what I’ve learnt through different forms of art. I’m not calling myself an “artist” but I like to use different forms of “art” to express this passion. Ancient Rites is one of them. Apart from history also personal experiences and my view on life is being expressed through the lyrics. With a song like “Under The Sign Of Laguz” I write about history, mythology, heathendom, mysticism but I also connect it to a philosophy connected to the symbolic meaning of the rune, taking the storms in life and come out stronger afterwards. A positive message of perseverance during difficult times. I like different layers in a lyric. It is not only a historical tale I am telling but there is a philosophy behind it as well. Some critics said I should have grunted or screamed constantly but they did not understand how important the contents of the lyrics and meaning of the words are to me, to me personally they are not just a Metal sound effect. You understood that well. One could say “go write a book instead, do your paintings but stay in line when it comes to music. Follow the “vocal” rules.” Fact is: there are no rules. If I like to express my interests and thoughts through music as well I can do that exactly the way I feel things instinctively, no matter the standard “music” rules. That is the beauty of creating when one can do so according to one’s own taste, invent your own rules. I don’t care about sales or fame. The “Art” itself is the goal. And of course it is a bonus when we do reach the individuals who get it. Like you. And that makes it all worthwhile from an artistic point of view…Why be a walking cliché?

Your music is truly uncanny and comparable to no one, but what would you consider your top five favorite record albums of all time? How did these help you to develop your sound?

Thank you, much appreciated. That’s all I ever wanted. I don’t really have favorite albums because I think in terms of favorite songs. And often they are spread over different albums. I seldom listen to albums from beginning to end. When an album has a few classic tracks I really love I’m content. I pick out my favorite tracks. Also I have such a wide taste in music it is difficult to compare some of my favorite works. Some albums I find important because they altered the face of music history. The debut album of Ramones for instance. That minimalistic and loud approach combined with vitriol/sarcy lyrics set the standards for Punk Rock as we know it. The first 2 Venom albums were important for our subgenre because the term Black Metal was used for the first time. The debut album of Iron Maiden for setting standards for NWOBHM. The debut of Bathory for taking the Black Metal style musically further. Early Black Sabbath for building the foundations for what later would be called “Doom” Metal. “The Piper at The Gates of Dawn” by Pink Floyd for writing the blueprint for psychedelic/weird music. “Sgt Pepper’s” by the Beatles for mixing rock music with classic music. “Machine Head” by Deep Purple for writing a classic Hardrock album just like the classics of Led Zep, AC/DC or Uriah Heep. Motörheads’ “Ace of Spades” for mixing the energy of Punk with the skills of Hardrock. That album got me started playing Metal. “Never mind the Bollocks” of Sex Pistols for being the most notorious Punkrock record hitting the charts despite the boycotts. “Unknown pleasures” by Joy Division for setting standards for dark melancholic music long before Goth existed and without the theatrics of Goth. I have a soft spot for pioneers. Of course there are many more albums and artists I appreciate but they are personal favorites that probably had less impact on the history of music. The ones I mentioned now are albums that performed a pioneering role. Still I forget several artists who never received the attention or recognition they deserved but who helped pave the way for certain new genres.

What do you guys do when you’re not playing music and what would you recommend as far as your hobbies are concerned? Lastly, what is something about you that we would never guess?

I can’t really comment on the hobbies of the other band members. We don’t live near to each other and usually only meet when it concerns the band. I think they focus on music in their free time. I know that guitarist Erik plays the club circuit for fun with a Hardrock cover band called Plusminus and has recently reformed his old extreme Thrash Metal band Inquisitor. I heard that guitarist Domingo started a musical project with his wife. Drummer Walter sometimes works as a studio or session musician with other bands. One of them the new Metal band of our old guitarist Bart. I was asked to do the vocal duties which I thought was kind but I felt it would’ve been be a bit strange to play in a Metal band consisting out of the classic Ancient Rites members that wouldn’t be Ancient Rites. I can imagine it could cause confusion and perhaps divide our following about which band they consider the true Rites haha. I released a few albums with my other bands Iron Clad and Lion’s Pride throughout the years. I contemplate on forming a new back to basics Metal band with the Iron Clad/Lion’s Pride drummer but for now Ancient Rites needs my full attention. Through the “Laguz” album I could combine the different art forms I love to practice. Writing (lyrics and liner notes), music and drawing/painting (I made a few illustrations for the album booklet). As one can see these different forms of art and my personal interests are influencing each other on all fronts and in daily life too. Apart from the graphical work and writing I love travelling, literature , music, horseback riding. I belong to two authentic medieval Guilds of my hometown that were founded here during the middle-ages. Before entering one has to pass rituals and votes. One can only join upon invitation. The Saint George Guild is an official royal Guild who during medieval times and the Renaissance had the military task to defend our hometown, consisting of militia members living inside the city walls. We still practice the medieval dances during gala balls and we still handle our Guild weapon, the crossbow. During those turbulent middle-ages our Guild was involved in several wars between cities or abroad, including the crusades. The participation was based upon treaties and pacts between the old cities and the ruling nobles. When I visit certain other cities I wisely keep my mouth shut when the tour guide mentions how a certain Guild of a certain Flemish city called Diest besieged their city haha! The other fraternity I belong to is the medieval Chamber of Rhetorica called “De Lelie”. They were a medieval Guild of painters, writers, sculptors, actors, representing the artists of the city. They still practice medieval dances at gala balls as well. The known Guild Beer was always prepared in our city for the Guilds each year, each Guild their own Guild beer. During the French occupation the Guilds were forbidden but survived underground. After Napoleon’s fall they emerged again. So they are a direct continuation of century old traditions connected to the town’s history. For our yearly feasts at the city hall or medieval Guild Hall, the medieval chalice, flags and other artefacts are taken out of the museum and used and/or on display, so are the old membership boards containing the members’ names. During the year these boards are in the city hall, next to it the weapon of the Guild. I think like to be a part of cultural groups that date back so long and who keep the old traditions alive. I also belonged to two 15th century re-enactment groups, one depicting the history of Diest (my city), the other one of Flemish Brabant (my province). Armor, clothing, colors, artefacts used, all had to be historically correct. We practiced archery, sword fighting, medieval dances and travelled to historical sites/castles, often were hired to perform at castles, museums etc. It was a pleasant and educational hobby. My cousin and I are playing with the idea of founding a Bokkenrijders group, since direct family ancestors were involved in this 18th century phenomenon like I explained earlier. However for now we are quite busy with our Alaudae/Laguz Bond, a cultural/historical hiking group with whom we organise trips into nature or cultural historically related events/travels. It is an 18 + group for practical reasons and because of the nature of our trips into forests etc it is a bit difficult to include small children. Members of both sexes are a part of this bond. We do have members from all over the country and also several people of The Netherlands (one of them being our guitarist Erik). Also one German, one Sicilian woman and a Hellenic one, my wife hehe. A heart for history, nature and culture of course is a bonus. Our sign is the Laguz symbol on a drakkar (symbolizing travel in mind and body) on green trekking shirts (green foresting shirts are practical in nature and besides green is the colour of Laguz, the whole concept is thought through). We chose the Laguz as concept symbol instead of a national one because we are an international group. There are no membership fees, all members can freely choose between the events we organise. Some participate in the events connected to nature (some are foresters or know a lot about plants/nature, others are former Scouting/Pioneer leaders), others are more into the historical/cultural events (some are into archaeology etc). Many participate in all activities. We organize several events or trips each year which the members can pick from or are free to join. We even organize feasts on historical or strange locations: forgotten fortresses, catacombs, we built an entire setting and leave without a trace, next day no one will know we have been there. Atmosphere is important. To “live” the experience. There are no ‘musts’. This is one of the reasons the Bond is attractive, also the fact we focus on different interests. Usually groups focus on a certain type of activity or hobby while we combine things and are a totally independent group. But as you must have noticed the concept around this bond I founded are topics that appear on our latest album, the name Lark/Alaudae and the symbolism of Laguz. Things are connected in my life in different forms. I wish I had more lives, time is always too short in a human life… . 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 humor”. 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 coloring 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 colored in grey tones and black and white to achieve an old feel. For the 1980’s part of the story I used full color. 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 humor. The main characters are opposites: a police inspector called “Van Roy” (I used the family name of my deceased grandmother, to honor 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 center 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…

Buy directly from the band here: http://www.ancientrites.be/mainnew.htm

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