|by Gunther Theys
After being active in many underground acts since 1979 finally in 1988 a very early version of the band was achieved. For the first time the monicker ANCIENT RITES was used to refer to our work. The band consisted of a drummer whose name I never knew since it was a guy introduced to me by guitarist PHILIP with whom I started ANCIENT RITES. The drummer only remained for a short while. On bass there was a bloke called WATTIE who later became a gig promoter who organised gigs for bands such as THE EXPLOITED, COCKNEY REJECTS etc. PHILIP took care of lead guitars and strangely enough in the early version of A.R. I became guitarist (guess I was the lousiest solo guitarist one could possibly imagine!) and vocalist. All was in a very early stage but the root was planted.
After playing together with every metalhead who could handle an instrument finally a defenitive line up was achieved when PHILIP and I ran into two other Metal musicians who also wanted to complete a band. We brought together the songs we had writen with both bands separately and a setlist was composed this way. The line up consisted of PHILIP (guitars), JOHAN (guitars), STEFAN (drums) and I, GUNTHER who returned to the old bass and continued as vocalist. 1990 was a year of hope and tragedy. The "DARK RITUAL" demo was recorded. Quite an achievement back in those days! No one cared for Metal connected with Occult/Dark lyrics but slowly we build up a local underground following consisting of all Metallers who did not relate to crossover, AOR or glam. The recordings we payed by selling A.R. T-shirts we sold at free gigs we played all over the region. We rehearsed at a cellar and those rehearsals turned each time into minor underground gigs. At a certain time the drummer opened a small bar in the rehearsal cellar where beers were sold on a non profit basis. Days and nights of Metal and lager and 30-40 people hanging around calling themselves the A.R. DEATH MILITIA who followed the band everywhere. The first two official headline gigs which took place in small clubs sold out! There was still an interest for our kind of music!!! The third gig we played was some kind of a contest we did not care for (people had to chose their fave band of the day) but strangely enough we won the contest! We were invited to play on a Metal festival and started to gain recognition.
Problems did rise though and drummer STEPHAN had to be replaced. He committed suicide later on because of problems in his personal life. Tragedy did strike again: on the 31st of august 1990 guitarist PHILIP died in a car accident. I lost my companion and co founder of the band. Miss him to this very day. JOHAN left the band since he could not relate to the concept any longer. It looked like the band was like a sinking ship. However I refused to give in, I had to remain loyal to the fighting spirit of the beginning. At least I owed it to PHILIP and to myself. A.R. continued with drumroadie WALTER who replaced STEFAN, guitarist BART and guitarist PASCAL as new members. A more radical musical course was picked which costed us early local fans but we gained fans all over the world instead. Black and Death Metal were far from being popular those days so we decided to create an own "label" called FALLEN ANGEL RECORDS on which we released the self financed "EVIL PREVAILS" ep. The first pressings sold out rapidly. Slowly we build up a worldwide underground following. Even before our debut was released we toured Europe intensively which forced us to fire guitarist PASCAL who suffered from a lack of time because he had obligations in the Navy. As a trio we were often playing in clubs and places were Black Metal were badly accepted. On the other hand our pioneering work opened roads for others. We were the first foreign B.M. band to play in countries such as Hellas, Portugal, Italy. A.R. were at the right time at the right place, even big names such as MOONSPELL (amongst many others) opened for us and I remember the members of CRADLE OF FILTH waiting in a cue outside the club to see us play at London. Different times indeed! The mayor of Lisbon and Coca Cola sponsored the first big Metal fest in Portugal were A.R. were booked as headliners. We toured a lot and saw the interest in Black/Death and extreme Thrash Metal increase again.
When the events in the Norwegian B.M. scene happened (church burnings, killings) we suddenly saw Black Metal gaining attention from the international gutter press. This suddenly had an effect on A.R. as well. Our sales increased and since we were one of the very few bands linked to that scene who often were playing gigs it made us an easy target. Bands such as BURZUM, MAYHEM or EMPEROR did not perform live because of imprisonments and casualties, acts such as ENSLAVED or DARKTHRONE refused to play gigs. The Hellenic scene was developing but also B.M. bands there (ROTTING CHRIST, VARATHRON, NECROMANTIA etc) did not play abroad yet because of their isolated position. Elsewhere the scenes where slowly developing. First bands to go out on tour where the likes of SAMAEL, IMPALED NAZARENE, BLASPHEMY and us. Later ROTTING CHRIST and IMMORTAL hit the road. But at this early stage A.R. were the perfect scapegoats and the easiest to reach for the anti B.M. brigade. It happened more than once that icognito people hidden in the crowd try to harm us physically by throwing glasses or burning projectiles while we were on stage. Clubs that booked A.R. received bomb threats and death threats (coming from religious organisations and anti B.M. minded people) reached the band. Indeed the Scandinavian scene supported A.R. but our approach was different since we never participated in any satanic terrorism. Not out of fear but simply because we prefered a symbolic approach. In our book everyone was entitled to believe in whatever he/she wanted as long as dogmatic views we could not relate to were not forced down our throats. No dogmas of any kind: an attitude we hold on to this very day. Although we praise a warrior spirit we always felt the pen to be mightier than the sword. Stores refused to stock A.R. and our gigs ended in fights. The more everyone was trying to grind us down the more fanatic we became.
Unfortunately we were not only facing external problems also our own label proved to be a total rip off and this defenitely harmed the bands position. We played sold out gigs but no one could find our albums anywhere due to bad distribution. Big record companies discovered the scene and slowly turned the underground cult into a major selling trend. Our position remained rather underground since we never had any big manager, major label or tour agencies behind us to push to band. Our realistic lyrical concept (historical/occult FACTS instead of fiction) and our different (wider) musical approach which seperated us from the rest of the B.M. scene the major labels found difficult to sell. Our approach did not appeal to 10 year olds who fell for plastic vampire teeth or huge fake swords. Contradictory exactly because of these very same commercial "disadvantages" we were able to build up a worldwide following consisting of malcontents who could not relate to the manufactured major acts, thousands who wanted a more adult, less sloganesque approach.
"BLASFEMIA ETERNAL" our second album was a step forward since we signed to MASCOT RECORDS a label with a better reputation than our former one, who ripped everyone (including each other) off. Just before our first European headline tour guitarist BART decided to end his music career: disappointed and disgusted with the business aspect of the scene, the Dollarsign even ruling our so called underground. Too often we saw our position on festivals or tours bought away by labels who payed tons of money to the promoters for their bands to replace us. It made him furious to see everyone (labels, promoters, agencies) gaining cash on our work while our bank account remained on zero (a position which hasn't changed to this very day!). BART's departure was a decision we could understand but we felt very disappointed because of the timing (ten days before the headline tour!) and the fact it happened so sudden, almost leaving us no time to search for a replacement. After the desastrous phone call which brought the news of BART's final departure (he played his final concert in Athens!) I immediately went into action and phoned to guitarists of bands we were close with. Several musicians volunteered to study the A.R. setlist in a crash course and to play parts of the tour since none were capable of playing the entire tour. The Euro tour was a constant coming and going of guest guitarists (which costed our last penny on plane tickets but at least the tour was saved!). This is why the audience in Holland saw a different line up than the audience in Italy, or the Spanish public heard a different A.. than the people who attented the gigs in Portugal or Germany etc. At one gig the audience even saw three guitarists appearing on stage! Gratitude to MIKE (PENTACLE -Holland) Blakkheim (KATATONIA, DIABOLICAL MASQUERADE -Sweden), RAPHAEL (CRUCIFIRE -Belgium), CHRIS (ABSU/BLOODSTORM, USA) and ERIK (INQUISITOR, Holland).
For one year we battled on with session guitarists and decided to use a keyboardplayer in live situations as well. At a certain point finally a permanent line up was achieved and new material was written. With JAN "ÖRKKI" YRLUND (ex-LACRIMOSA/ex-TWO WITCHES/ex-PRESTIGE, Finland) and ERIK SPROOTEN (ex-INQUISITOR, Holland) on guitars, WALTER VAN CORTENBERG on drums, OLIVER PHILLIPS (session, EVERON, Germany) on keyboards and myself on bass/vocals the third A.R. album "FATHERLAND" was recorded. The album was a big risk since it showed a clear musical/lyrical progression although the essence of the band remained the same. It was a symbolic new start. Never before we achieved such a tremendous response from both press and public. "FATHERLAND" was voted "album of the month" in several major Metal publications. Appearances on mega festivals such as DYNAMO OPEN AIR, GRASPOP and FIESTA DU ROCK certainly contributed to the band status. What a long way to travel from the basement of our old rehearsal room to the major stages of the biggest Metal fests. All without help from anyone, the place on the bill was not bought by any label or manager but earned by intensive touring and building up a name in the scene.
While at the same time A.R. gained popularity new forces were gathering against us. While in the past religious fanatics focussed on our band today the boycotts are of a political kind. Certain people conceive it as a threat that in our lyrics we cultivate the achievements of Ancient and Medieval civilizations and translate it as a political incorrect move. Suddenly clubs refused to book the band and youth clubs were refused subsidies by the local authorities because they organised A.R. gigs At one particular show the youth center was allowed to book A.R. ONLY when extra security with guard dogs were hired because attacks from Islamic immigrants were expected because of the medieval European flags on stage and because of our symbolic criticism on Moslim fundamentalism.. Instead of recognizing the intolerant as a threat the boycotts from the authorities were focussed on the band itself, again us being blamed for so called extremism. In the past state security payed us a visit to investigate about A.R.'s place in religious terrorism (of which we were cleared!) now the accusations were of a political kind. Rather unfair since our position within the B.M. scene as a band always was a tolerant one from both religious and political point of views, specially compared to many other bands in the scene who openly propagate their roots and religion to be the only good one. It is often seen that Northern bands are opposed to any other form of culture while on the contrary A.R. always respected other cultures and their achievements as long as mutual respect is shown (check out the lyrics of "Mother Europe" and one can see that every countries history is praised). Indeed cultivating the own roots but respecting the other, concentrating on what unites the North and South, East and West instead of what divides us all. A.R. turned into a transEuropean act and on "FATHERLAND" musicians from Finland, Germany, Holland and Flanders contributed to symbolize our quest for unity while at the same time preserving diversity. The other project DANSE MACABRE I participate in containing even more nationalities (Serbian, Hellenic, Austrian, Dutch, Flemish, German) obviously proved the hysterics (like if we would only appreciate our own land) wrong but despite these facts the boycotts continue. Always found it rather peculiar that of all bands specially A.R. always was under "flak" while our approach always was rather diplomatic and far from dogmatic/despotic.
In the year 2000 we left Mascot Records and signed to the Dutch Hammerheart label. Due to the changed label politics of Mascotl, we felt there were no more chances left for the band to grow on this label. Everything has happened in a friendly co-operation between the former and the new label, Hammerheart. The choice for Hammerheart was obvious: it is one of the fastest growing black/death metal record companies and we are convinced they will get us all the attention and promotion we deserve. The new record "Dim Carcosa" has been recorded and will be released at the end of May 2001. You can find a studioreport online at this webcave. The first reactions from insiders are stunning, some say this will be our big breakthrough...
So my friends, this leads us to the present. Still dealing with internal and external problems, boycotts and accusations. Major labels knocking on our door offering contracts while at the same time being banned from many places . Contradictive reactions towards us all the time making the battle more hard, typical A.R.. Nevertheless I wouldn't have wanted to miss one single day in these past ten years of madness and chaos. Because of A.R. I was able to travel the world and find many interesting people sharing my interests (not only musical). So many individuals one way or another contributed to the A.R. saga. Ten years is a long time, still fighting windmills like in the tale of Don Quichotte but no one can prevent us from continueing the battle. After these ten years I would like to take this opportunity to thank EVERYONE, including those who always appreciated and supported us but also those who hated and sabotaged ANCIENT RITES because both groups were and are (in a different way of course) fuel to our motor, an inspiration to carry on. The world is not rid of us yet! Forever Longing for the Ancient Kingdom.
Source: Ancient Rites official website [http://www.ancientrites.be/]