Interview with vocalist and guitarist Stephan Gebédi
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: April 1, 2020
From the land of tulips and clogs, The Netherlands, come pioneering deathrashers Thanatos. The band was formed back in 1984 and during their first period of existence, they recorded a couple of well-received albums, Emerging from the Netherworlds (1990) and Realm of Ecstasy (1992), which really smoothed the way for other Dutch Death/Thrash bands to follow.
As happened with many rising Death Metal forces in the underground scene at that time, Thanatos called it quits in 1992 only to make a comeback in 1999, stronger and more determined than ever. The third album, Angelic Encounters, released in 2000, proved to everyone that nothing can kill these Dutch Death/Thrash Metal monsters. Evil always wins...
The comeback album was followed by three more studio albums, Undead. Unholy. Divine. (2004), Justified Genocide (2009), and Global Purification (2014), all released on different labels, yet still successful releases from a band reclaiming their throne as pioneering and noteworthy Dutch Metal veterans.
The band's latest studio effort, carrying the title Violent Death Rituals, will be released on March 20th by France's Listenable Records and we here at The Metal Crypt headquarters wanted to get a sneak peek so we contacted Thanatos' only original member, vocalist Stephan Gebédi, for more details about the album plus much more...
ABOUT BRINGING BACK DARKNESS AND EVIL FEELING
Luxi: First off, my sincere congrats for making this new album, Violent Death Rituals, Stephan! I have been privileged to spin your new record quite a few times prior to its official release date and I honestly have to say that I have this gut feeling it is your best album to date. Ultimately, that must always be the goal for you; to beat everything you have done on each of your previous releases, right?
Stephan: Thank you very much, very nice words. We really did our best to make it our best album. It doesn't always work that way, because in the past we did some good albums, we did a few albums that I liked a little bit less but my favorite has always been the second album, Realm of Ecstasy and in my humble opinion, we never managed to top that. Maybe the previous one, Global Purification, was really close. I think this time as I look at it now, we maybe, finally did it and topped that album, as I think we brought back some of the darkness and the evil feeling that was present on Realm of Ecstasy and we combined it with the aggression and the sounds we have been making progress with from the previous album. This album combines both the aggression, good songwriting, if we say so ourselves, and that dark, evil atmosphere that has been missing a little bit from our sound since the early '90s. In that way, I think this might be our best album. Maybe in six months or even a year I'll think differently but at the moment, I am really satisfied with the album and we all think it's our best so far. Let's keep it that way.
Luxi: What kind of process was the making of this album compared to your previous album, Global Purification? Since that record, you have a couple of new guys that have joined the ranks, Martin Ooms on drums and Mour Mirer on bass.
Stephan: After the Global Purification album, our drummer Yuri unfortunately had to leave the band and in came Martin Ooms. He was already the drum tech for Yuri. He was a logical choice for us and Yuri said we should take him because he's a great drummer. He fits in quite well. He learned the sets in 2017 and then in 2018 we started writing new songs. As a matter of fact, Martin, who is also quite a gifted guitarist came up with two songs for the new album. He fits in really well in that way as well. He has played guitar in bands like Melechesh and Liar of Golgotha in the past. He switched back to drums six years ago, but he still plays guitar obviously. That was Martin. Just before the recordings of our new album our bass player, Marco decided to leave because he had other plans. He wanted to get back to playing guitar instead of bass. In came a Mous Mirer, who is actually Martin's cousin. We've known both Mous and Martin for many years. In both cases it was a logical choice to ask them to join the band. Mous came in just four weeks before recording the album so he had only a short time to learn the songs and lay down his bass lines, but I think he did a great job. He joined the band too late to add anything to the songwriting. Maybe that happens on the next one. To compare to Global Purification, there's not a big difference, we got some new guys but the process is more or less the same. A year before we start recording, we really start writing the songs from the riffs that we have, and most of the riffs are still written by me but this time, Paul also wrote quite a few songs and Martin wrote two. It was more of a team effort this time. We collected the stuff we had, we started working on it in the summer of 2018 and by the summer of 2019 we were more or less finished with the songwriting. Of course, I already told you Mous and Martin are cousins. They've known each other for years, their whole lives, of course. They also both played in bands together like Melechesh and Liar of Golgotha, so they form a really good team and I think with these guys, we have a really strong rhythm selection. They definitely click.
NEW THANATOS WARRIORS: MARTIN AND MOUS
Luxi: What are some of the best assets of Martin and Mous as musicians? Do you believe they have breathed some new energy into the band?
Stephan: Well, you always hope that new musicians bring in a new energy and I think they really did. Like I said, Martin contributed to the songwriting process as well. Nothing bad against the previous guys in the band. They play differently, of course. Yuri was really a great drummer with a natural talent and Martin is a little bit more of a heart beater. I think his drumming is a little bit more powerful. Yuri was a guy with a lot of surplus and a lot of innovation. Martin is a little bit more straightforward but a little bit heavier, I think. Mous is a real bass player as opposed to Marco, our previous bass player who was more of a guitarist. A great guitarist, by the way, playing bass guitar, so he was maybe playing guitar parts on a bass and with Mous, we have a real traditional bass player who lays the foundation together with the drums. We have a real rhythm section and they lay a thick, heavy foundation which makes the sounds of the band a bit heavier and a bit more in your face.
Luxi: When you started preparing to write the songs for this new album did you want to wipe the slate clean and not really think too much about what you had done with the band before?
Stephan: Well, not really. We always want to stay true to our roots, more or less. I try to guide the direction of Thanatos as much as possible. It always has to be our brand of Death and Thrash Metal. We're still inspired by the bands that inspired us in the beginning like Death, Possessed, old Slayer, Celtic Frost and Mercyful Fate. Those influences are still there but in the course of time you get influenced by newer bands, but we still try to keep the focus on our style without drifting too much from the original plan. When we started recording this album, there were a few points that we wanted to do better this time like getting a bigger guitar sound, getting a bit of a bigger drum sound so the album would sound heavier, but we also wanted to stay with a pure, honest sound, not overproducing it. As opposed to the plastic, overproduced sound that a lot of bands have these days, we want to keep it pure, and maybe if there are some little tiny mistakes, just leave them be. We are not trying to erase every little thing like a swipe of the hand on the strings. We just keep it real like real humans playing and I think we succeeded in doing that. Like I said before the plan with the recordings was to get a darker vibe back into the music and I think it worked really well. We used the same guy to mix the album again Dan Swanö, and he did a great job. People sometimes say Dan Swanö produces so many albums, they all sound alike, but that's totally not the case. We worked with him with my other bands, Hail of Bullets, and now with Thanatos a couple of times. He is very open to the things that you have in mind and he tries to translate that into audio. We're really happy with the recordings and the mixing from Dan. That was basically what we did.
Like I said, we try to focus on real good songs and how they feel and try to make the album sound unified, but every song has some character. Still, we managed to get all the songs to fit together with a lot of dynamics. It's not only fast time, there are also heavier mid-tempo parts but the focus is on fast material as usual but also on a little bit more maybe on the atmosphere this time.
DIFFERENT HOMES DURING DIFFERENT TIMES
Luxi: You have been on several record labels in the past and now you are on Listenable Records. How did you end up making a deal with them and do you believe they might become your long-term home?
Stephan: Yeah, labels always seem to be a problem for us. We started out with a shitty label in the '90s then we went to a Dutch label which was okay but didn't have the power to bring us any further. Then we went to a Greek label that went bankrupt after one album. There was some shit going on, which wasn't our fault in this case. Labels come and go and some of them were good and some of them weren't. Then we landed with Century Media, which was and is a great label, of course. They signed us only for our back catalog and when they found out we were working on a new album, which was Global Purification, they signed us for that album as well. After that album, unfortunately, we had a problem with Yuri, who had a foot injury. A year and a half after that album, he told us he couldn't go on. We had to find a new drummer and right at that time Century Media asked us if we could do another album for them and we were not ready and we said, "We don't have a new drummer yet and we haven't been writing any stuff. Sorry, we have to say no." That's when the contract was more or less ended. When we finally got the new lineup together, we started writing new songs and we sent out three songs that we recorded as a demo tape to a couple of labels. Listenable made us a good offer and they were really enthusiastic. We ended up with them and so far during the promotion for this album, they've been really doing a good job. We hope this will also continue when the album is out. Up to now, definitely no complaints. They're really nice people to work with. Hopefully, this will be a long-term thing.
Luxi: After the album has been officially released on March 20th, you will start gigging intensely. The first show will happen at Metropool, Hengelo, in your home country, on March 20th. Will this show be the official record release party where you will play the whole album from start to finish?
Stephan: Well, yes, March 20th will be our first show, but the actual release party or release show will be one week later in our hometown Rotterdam on March 28th. That's where we will do our actual release party and the albums will be there for sure. We are going to be doing a nice mixture of four or five songs from the new album and some old songs as well because I don't believe in playing the entire album from start to finish. It's a little bit pretentious. I once went to an Iron Maiden show, I think, when they did Dance of Death and they played the whole album and it was totally shitty because there are only two or three songs that people knew already and everybody was waiting for the encores and the big hits.
I don't think we will ever do that. We tried to make a mixture of new and old stuff and make a good party of it. Yes, that's going to happen. I hope. We played our 25th anniversary show last year in the same venue and it was a real great evening. We hope to get a good crowd as well this time and start playing the new songs for the first time. Then we start going off into other countries like Germany, Denmark, the UK. More staff is being planned at the moment, so hopefully, we'll be out there in Europe and more places.
Luxi: As the festival season is just a few months away, do you try to get as many festival slots booked as they are a great way to reach masses of people and can also produce an army of new fans for bands?
Stephan: Well, the festival thing is a really weird one this time because when we had finished the writing process for the album in September or so, I started approaching the festivals for the summer of 2020 and they had already been booked, most of them. They said, "You're months too late. You have to try and ask us in July, August if you want to play the festivals the next year." It's a bit crazy but that's what happens these days. We managed to slip in one or two festival shows for this year and we're working on the festival shows for next year already, which is quite crazy. Apparently, that's the way it works these days. Yes, we already are in contact for some summer festivals in 2021 and there will be more.
Who knows, maybe we'll even make it to the States next year. We're working on that now. It would be a thing that should've happened a long time before but we're working on that now. Festivals are definitely a thing that we like because, as you say, you reach a lot of new people and a lot of people at once. We like seeing other band's performances and hang out with them. You always meet a lot of friends at festivals. The only bad thing, more or less, is that you can only play short shows, especially with the new album out, you have to make a mixture of like for 45 minutes and maybe play one or two new ones and a few old ones because people want to hear those as well.
Luxi: While we are talking about playing live, as you have plenty of material to choose songs from, how difficult is it to build up a well-balanced setlist so that the fans get what they want to hear? Some prefer your older stuff, some newer and some just want to headband along while the band performs live, without being that picky regarding what they will eventually get, you know?
Stephan: Yes, it's difficult. It's getting more and more difficult to make it a well-balanced setlist. There are always people who want to hear some sort of, what would you call it, hits or classics from the first two albums and we don't mind playing those songs because we still like them. Of course, you also want to play newer stuff. It's always tricky to erase some of the old songs and fit some new ones in because, yes, you never know how the fans will react.
To be honest, in the recent years, it was always good to see the crowd reaction to the newest songs was just as good as with the old songs and not a lot of bands can say that, unfortunately. I've been to many shows where people are only out there for the two, three classics and they don't give a shit about the new songs. In our case, I'm really happy to say that people seem to like the new songs just as much as the old ones. That's cool and we hope this will continue with the new album.
Luxi: How important are these opportunities to play live? I must feel rewarding to be able to go out and perform this new material in front of many people, hoping they will sense how much blood, sweat, and tears you have sacrificed for your new stuff, and so on...
Stephan: Yes. Playing live is, of course, the best thing because I like recording music and I love to see it grow during a mix and get to see the sound get better. It's more fun to be on stage and get feedback from the crowd and see how they react to songs that you've been working on. They get a new life from it. They start living on their own in a live situation. Sometimes they even change a little bit after playing them live for a couple of years. You change maybe a guitar solo or a drum fill and sometimes they get a little bit better by playing them live. More often you see crowd reaction on certain little things that you inserted to the songs and that's good. Yes, like you said, all the effort that you put into the song, it's cool to see people, actually, in front of you liking that song or singing along. That's a great thing, of course.
OF BEING THANKFUL FOR BEING AROUND IN 2020
Luxi: Do you find it incredible that you have kept Thanatos going for almost four decades, despite the hiccups on this long journey?
Stephan: Yes, it's fucking incredible that we're still around after all these years. Of course, there was a gap in the '90s, but still we are here and that's what matters to me most. I started writing songs for this band at the end of 1983 when I was 15. I met this guy at school and a couple of months later, in early '84, we formed a band and started writing and rehearsing. It's been a really long journey. We have had many lineup changes, especially in the beginning because a lot of people think it's nice to play in a band, but when it gets more serious they quit or they just don't have the attitude to go along.
We have had a fairly stable line up after the Angelic Encounters album, from 2001 until 2017. It was Paul, me, Marco, and Yuri, so the lineup has been together a really long time. It's not always that I change band members more than my underwear. It happened in the beginning a little bit and we have some things that could have been better. In 1992, we had the chance to do a big tour with Cannibal Corpse but it was canceled a couple of weeks beforehand. Then the same thing happened with a tour with Exhorder.
Then things started getting a little bit messy among the band members in '92 so I stopped the band for a couple of years. Apart from that I'm happy that it was still around and still making records and maybe even putting out our best album after all those years. That's a great thing. I think that I'm really thankful that we're still around and people are still interested in the band after so many years.
Luxi: How do you see the Dutch Death Metal scene these days compared to when the Death Metal boom first hit the Netherlands in the late eighties? Obviously, times have changed a lot since those days, both good and bad so to speak...
Stephan: The Dutch Death Metal scene in the '80s and '90s was really good, of course, because compared to the Swedish and the American scene, especially the Florida scene, where people were all using the same producer and the same studio. Those two scenes started sounding alike a little bit while the bands in Holland all have a different identity, I think. I think we started in 1984 and then a couple of years later we had Pestilence, then came Asphyx, and then a few years later there's Gorefest, Sinister, God Dethroned. They all had their own unique style and sound, which is a good thing, and I think it is also the reason why most of those bands have survived all those years and are still making albums. Of course, the intensity and the spontaneous feeling and the excitement of the early days is not there anymore, but Holland still has a good scene and there are new bands coming up like Bodyfarm and Graceless which are really good as well. Holland is still a good country for death metal I think, and still has a really good scene.
MAKING PEOPLE WILD WHEN PLAYING LIVE
Luxi: I am sure you have some cool stories about playing shows. Can you tell us the most memorable event with the band that has stuck in your mind?
Stephan: Well, there are some cool stories and there are some bad stories. In the early '90s, we really behaved quite badly even fucking things up during recordings, demolishing things but there are also a lot of good stories from those times. I think one of the best ones is that we went to Portugal for the first time, in 1989 I think, and we were still a demo band playing small shows in Holland. We played a big sports hall in front of 1,000 people. It was totally crazy. We really felt like rockstars for the first time because the people were really behaving like they were seeing Slayer for the first time. It was really incredible. Those were the things you never forget.
Playing at the Party San festival last year in Germany was also a milestone for us, a really great festival to play. One of the best things was also last year because we played our 35th anniversary show in Rotterdam and the place was totally packed and everybody was loving it. The cool thing is that we invited a lot of our old band members on stage to play one or two songs with us and that was really a great evening. It was a big celebration of 35 years of Thanatos and it couldn't have been any better. It was a night to remember for sure.
Luxi: Alright, we have reached the last question of this interview. What do you realistically expect from 2020 as far as the band's comings and goings are concerned? Any big plans in the works, like a longer tour with other bands?
Stephan: I don't try to think too much about it anymore because you only get disappointed when you plan too much ahead with a band. We, of course, we're planning shows now and we're planning more shows for 2021, and hopefully will do some really cool festivals next summer. There are no plans for a real long tour because we still have to deal with Paul being in Asphyx. To be honest, we don't want to do big tours like in a touring bus anymore because sometimes you have to take the shitty days like playing on Mondays or Tuesdays in small clubs, in small towns where only a few people show up. Basically, the shows that are on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, those are the cool shows.
Sorry, we'd rather focus on weekend shows, little weekend tours that work better for us because we get the good shows, you play in front of more people, instead of going out on tour, and sometimes even losing a lot of money because of having to do those Monday, Tuesday shows where nobody shows up unless you have a really great lineup. The festivals are so important these days that not all the tours are really going well anymore, but we will try to do lots of cool shows, I hope this year and next year.
Luxi: I sincerely want to thank you, Stephan, for your time for making this interview happen—and in the very same breath, I also want to wish you all the best with any future endeavors with the band. Last words are yours, so be my guest...
Stephan: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us as well. I really hope people will enjoy the new album when it comes out. We did our best and everybody should buy it or steal it or get it one way or another and I hope you just enjoy it.
Yes, that's it, I think. We did our best. I hope to see you out there when we play near you guys for the new live show. Please come out and come over and have a beer with us and enjoy the show.
Thank you very much, and all the best.
|Other information about Thanatos on this site|
|Review: Undead. Unholy. Divine.|
|Review: Violent Death Rituals|
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