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Interview: Stephan (Thanatos)

Pure metal...interviews

Even though they "emerged" from the Netherlands in 1984, Thanatos have only managed to released four full-length albums. The title of their latest effort is "Undead.Unholy.Divine", and the band’s founder Stephan Gebedi is here to explain not only about the real meaning behind it, but also on his vision for Thanatos and about the rest of todays Death Metal scene.

Stephan, let me just say that it is a great pleasure to be making an interview with the founding member of one of the first European Death Metal bands ever. Thanatos have quite recently released their fifth studio album "Undead.Unholy.Divine". How does it feel to still be active after almost twenty years?

Stephan: Well, thanx for showing interest in the band. How does it feel to still be active after 20 years?! It makes me feel old when you look at it that way, haha... I've seen a lot of bands and trends come and go, but basically we're still doing our own thing; we still try to combine aggressive thrash metal with brutal death metal. Of course the scene has changed a lot since the early days, there are more imitators now than originators and of course we're being flooded with releases so it's getting harder and harder to stand out from the masses of bands these days...

Since the band was originally formed back in 1984, there have been quite a few line up changes. What’s the reason behind this constant movement of musicians in the band? Can you introduce us to the members of the current line up of Thanatos?

Stephan: If a band goes on as long as we have, you always get people who get bored with the thing they do; they lose interest or they're not motivated anymore. If you want your band to survive you simply have to replace those people. I'm not some sort of dictator and most previous members left the band because they wanted to do something else, but to me it's important that everybody puts his energy in this band, if you're not motivated, please leave. The present line up has been together for 3 years now, and things are still going fine.Lead guitarist Paul has been with me since the re-formation of the band in 1999. Yuri (drums) joined the band shortly after the release of our previous full length album 'Angelic Encounter'. I wasn't happy with the drumming on that album, so when our old drummer left I was more than happy to welcome Yuri to our ranks. He's a great drummer and he's also active in Dutch black metal outfit Liar Of Golgotha. Our bass player Marco, who is originally a guitar player has been playing together with Yuri since many years so when our former bass player left he was an obvious choice...

The band was put on ice between 1992 and 1999, I assume for the same "good" reasons like many other Metal bands during that era. Were you involved in any musical project during that period, and what made you decide to re-form the band in 1999?

Stephan: Yes I played in another band called Church Of Indulgence in the years 1994-1995; the band also featured former Thanatos guitarist Erwin de Brouwer and Elegy-drummer Dirk Bruinenberg (who has since played on many prog metal albums). We played a mixture of Slayer and Pantera but we never really recorded anything. After some time I realised I wanted to play heavier stuff again and decided to dig up my undead baby again....

"Undead.Unholy.Divine" is being released through the Greek Metal label Black Lotus. Knowing of your previous band experiences with record labels, I would like to know the reasons that made you choose to work with that specific one. Do you find it easier to protect your band’s interests having been though "Hell and high water" so many times before?

Stephan: I think every label will put you through Hell and high water in the end, haha... Of course we were hoping to get signed by a label like Metal Blade or Nuclear Blast, but unfortunately that didn't happen. Black Lotus simply made us the best offer so we agreed to sign with them. They might not be the biggest label around but on the other hand they seem to have proper distribution and they do their best to promote the album. Unfortunately we haven't had any interesting tour offers yet, but we'll work on some mini tours ourselves next year...

Ok, let’s focus a bit on the new album, starting with the album cover. It probably sounds funny to you, but I was sixteen years old when "Emerging From the Netherworlds" was released, and I still remember the impact that the album cover had on me! What about the artwork of the new album? Who was the artist who created it, and how relevant is it to the music of the album?

Stephan: Ha, let me tell you about the impact that album cover had on me when I first saw it! We didn't see the final result until the album was finished and shipped to us... we'd only seen the previous concept that was rejected by the record company because it looked like shit. I was really blown away by that album cover, man!

The artwork for the new album was done by Jacek Wisniewski who also did covers for Vader and many other bands. I really like the way it turned out. Actually Black Lotus came up with this piece of work. Some of the guys in the band were a bit sceptical at first, but personally I liked it from the start...

When I first came across to the title "Undead.Unholy.Divine", I assumed that it was a statement of what this band is all about (Unholy), and also of the fact that you are still here with us, regardless of all the difficulties that you had to face (Undead). Was I right in my assumption, or is there a different meaning to it that I didn’t understand?

Stephan:You’re not the first one who interprets the title this way, and in a way, yes, you could address it to the band. We simply like to use contradictions in titles. The title track however is based upon an Italian horror movie called The Church, where (un)holy crusaders slaughter an entire village of non-believers. On this very spot a huge cathedral is built. In the basement of the cathedral there’s a passage in the shape of a crucifix (divine) that serves as a passage to the underworld from which the undead can enter the world of the living…

In my opinion, the first wave of European Death Metal bands (yourselves included) were pretty much influenced by the Thrash Metal movement (Sodom, Kreator, Destruction) which was at its peak during that era. On the contrary, most of the Death Metal bands that appeared in the music scene after the 90’s were less influenced by Thrash Metal and musically moved towards a different direction.

How would you describe the band’s sound and musical direction nowadays, and which are the main differences that you can detect with the way you sounded in the mid 80’s?Stephan: I think we still play a mixture of death and thrash metal, just like we did in the eighties, and we still draw our influences from Possessed, Slayer, Frost, Death and Morbid Angel to name but a few, but over the years we also incorporated some influences from `newer` bands like Nile, Angel Corpse.

Stephan: Most people won´t hear these influences but they´re definitely there - We´re not a retro band. We have tried to transform our original influences and our original sound to the present and I think we succeeded. Our sound has become a bit more brutal and faster but we didn´t drift tof ar away from our original sound.


Your previous full length album "Angelic Encounters" was released in 2003, which means that you had two years to prepare yourselves for your new release. How long did it take you to compose the material for this album?

Stephan: Personally I thought ´Angelic Encounters´ was a small disaster. The production sucked, the drumming was weak. There was a lot of work to do after that album. We got a whole new rhythm section ans it took us quite some time to compose the material for a new album. Meanwhile I had to search for a new record deal and since I´m the main composer who also has a daytime job and a family, plus an extra job as a writer for Aardschok magazine, you could say I had a pretty hectic period after the release of our previous album. Besides that we´ve never been the most productive band when it comes to songwriting…

Stephan, you are the only remaining member from the band’s original line up. Does that mean that you are also the main composer in the band? How much did the rest of the members contributed to the recordings of "Undead.Unholy.Divine", and where did you draw your inspiration from this time? Is there a specific song-writing formula that you use?

Stephan: Yeah, like I said I´m the main composer, but I must say that both Paul and Marco also came up with a song for this album and Yuri worked on the intros and outros. For most of the songs I came up with a rough version of a song recorded on a small 4-track recorder and a drum machine. Then the whole band started working on the arrangements. For the new album Paul and I are working on songs together. There´s no specific song/writing formula, but in most cases the music comes in first and the lyrics last, but there have been exceptions…

Apart from handling the guitar duties, you also do the vocals for the band. Now, some of the compositions that you have created, past and future, are let’s say not that easy to perform. How easy is it for you to handle both duties while on tour? Have you ever considered focusing on only one duty, and if yes, which one would that be?

Stephan: Sometimes it´s pretty hard to combine the vocals with certain riffs, but hey! I´m a tough guy, I can handle that, haha… But seriously, sometimes I notice that my voice is more vulnerable than a couple of years ago, so if I ever decide to focus on only one duty it would be playing guitar.

What are the lyrics of the album all about? Being the singer of the band, you have to be responsible for most, if not all, of them. Which is the message that you want to spread to the world with this new album?

Stephan: Basically there are two different types of lyrics on this album. We have fictional horror-gore stories inspired by my favorite Italian horror movies from the eighties, but also more serious stuff, where we try to warn people for the dangers and stupidity of organised religion in general and the Islam in particular… Now we finally seem to have shaken off most of the crap that Christianity brought us, we get these other clowns trying to take over the world and tell us what´s right and what´s wrong…and I really think it´s already too late to stop them…

I would like you to make a short introduction to every song of the album, starting with the opening track "Lambs to the Slaughter".

Stephan: Ok, well I already talked about the lyrics to "Lambs to The Slaughter’ in my previous answer, cause that’s the one about destroying the soldiers of Allah…the intro to the song is a reversed Muslim prayer mixed with some noise and samples from the Exorcist…the song itself starts off in a mid paced double bass tempo before it explodes into a fast song with many blast beats and five guitar solos… there are some guest vocals from Melechesh’s Ashmedi on this one…

I also talked about the title track already, which is quite Slayer-esque musically. This is pure old school thrash metal, period.

Let’s move on to ‘Eraser’. I personally think this one’s quite different from the other tracks. It has a bit of a Voi Vod-like chorus I think, and the funmny thing is that Gorefest/Ayreon drummer Ed Warby added some Halford-like screams to this one… ‘

Stephan: ‘Beyond Terror’ starts off with a melody we ‘borrowed’ from Fulci’s classic ‘The Beyond movie’ and the lyrics are inspired by his work in general, but no movie in particular…I think this song is pretty catchy and I like the way Paul starts his first guitar lead; reminds me a bit of classic Testament.

‘The Sign of Sadako’ is the slowest track on the album and - surprisingly enough - has become an instant crowd-favorite. It’s a doomy song with lyrics based on the Japanese ‘Ringu’ trilogy.

‘Servants of Hatred’ was written by Paul; I think it’s the most technical song on this album; great riffing. When I heard the final result , the vocal lines reminded me a bit of Chuck Schuldiner on the later Death albums, but that was totally unintentional. ‘Devour The Living’ is gore all the way, a simple, brutal song with brutal lyrics about eating and getting eaten by the undead. ‘Godforsaken’ deals with the way we’re treating nature and the Third World. I ask myself if it’s right to go out to these countries and try to "enlighten" and "help" these people. Maybe we shouldn’t interfere with ‘Mother Nature’ and her ways…we cannot carry the burden of the entire world on our shoulders anyway…

‘The Suffering’ is an intro for ‘The Sweet Suffering’. Marco wrote the music for this one and he also played the guitar parts on this song including some of the leads. This is definitely the fastest and most brutal track on the album; Dark Angel goes death metal! The lyrics are a mixture of gore and sexual depravity…. The last ‘song’ on the album is simply an inside joke…

Give me a little bit of information regarding the recording process of the album. Which was the studio that you chose for the recordings of "Undead.Unholy.Divine", and what helped you to make that decision?

Stephan: Although we thought our previous album ‘Angelic Encounters’ was a small disaster production wise, we decided to return to the Excess studios in our hometown Rotterdam once again, cause both we and the producer, Hans Pieters, exactly knew what went wrong last time. Fortunately things went much better this time and I think we managed to create a great sounding album this time. The mastering was done by Attie Bauw who already worked with Judas Priest, Scorpions, Gorefest and he added the finishing touch to the recordings…

Normally the time that bands have in the studio in order to record their albums is quite limited. How long did it take you to record the album? Did you manage to enjoy the whole process at all? How would you describe a day in the studio with Thanatos?

Stephan: I really enjoy working in the studio and I like to see the songs growing and and getting their final shapes. We really take the piss out of each other during the recordings and we don’t hesitate to critisize eachother’s performances. If someone fucks up the others immediately tell him to do that part again. If think that was one of the things we didn’t do enough during the recordings of our previous album. This time we wanted everything to sound right. There wasn’t room for any compromises. All in all it took us 13 days to record the album, 4 to 5 days to mix it and one day for the mastering, but we took some breaks between the recording, mising and mastering process…


Ok, now that you guys are back in action, I like to believe that I will finally be able to see Thanatos live. Have you already decided which are the places that you are going to visit? Is the United Kingdom one of these places by any chance?

Stephan: We really hope to visit more countries this time. In the past we played shows in countries like Germany, France, Portugal, but we’ve never been to the UK so far. In January we’ll do a mini tour with Pungent Stench plus –hopefully- a one off-show in Athens. We’re trying to arrange some UK dates in the Spring of 2005. We’ve been in touch with several promotors and hopefully it’ll work out this time, but all help is welcome…We also hope to play some dates in Southern Europe and Scandinavia and hopefully some Summer festivals…

Stephan, you have managed to tour with some really important bands like Autopsy, Kreator and Sepultura in the past. Which one of all was the most memorable gig, and name one band that you would like to share the same stage with. What is it that we should expect to see from the band when they’re on stage?

Stephan: Unfortunately we never did full tours with the bands you mentioned, but I think the Metal Attak festival in 1988, in some sort of old Amphitheatre in Holland, where we played with Kreator and Death Angel was quite memorable. The most memorable show we ever did has to be our first show in Portugal however; we were still an unsigned band but we played as headliners in front of more than 1,000 crazy Portuguese maniacs in a big sports hall; the crowd reaction was really impressive and even insane…Our shows with Sepultura, Napalm Death, Bolt Thrower and Autopsy were also great. We added a little story about those shows on our website ( press the ‘gigs’ button and scroll down). We are quite an energetic band on stage…no props or pyros just aggression and brutality and of course we perform better when the crowd is more enthusiastic…like any other band…

I have quite recently seen Suffocation live, and I was really impressed by the whole experience. Not only was the venue where they were performing packed, but also the reaction of the crowd towards the band was amazing. What I’m saying is that there seems to be a new era that’s rising for Metal music, and especially for Extreme Metal – a genre that Thanatos definitely belong to. What’s your prediction regarding the future of Death Metal music, and do you think that Thanatos will become energetically involved in this new musical "revolution"?

Stephan: Well I certainly hope so. I get the impression that most audiences in Holland are spoilt; they have seen so many shows that they hardly get off their feet anymore; they just stand there watching with their arms folded or drinking their beers… even shows from bigger bands suffer from this attitude. There have been better times in Holland as far as crowd reaction goes…

You come from The Netherlands, a country which has produced some very important Death Metal bands in the past, such as Pestilence and Asphyx, but also many other talented bands like Sinister and God Dethroned. What is your opinion about the Metal scene of your country? Are you following the evolution of Death Metal, and which are the bands that have managed to record an album of your liking?

Stephan: The bands you mentioned all have been very important for the Dutch and European scene in general. I’m afraid the younger generation of Dutch death metal bands have been focusing too much on brutal US death metal bands like Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation and as a result a lot of the newer bands from Holland sound like clones from the bands I mentioned before. Bands like Severe Torture, Monolith Deathcult and Nox definitely stand out from the rest, but on of the best Ducth metal albums of 2004 was released by one of the older bands; Occult… although it doesn’t come close to our new record of course, haha

Name some of the people that have helped you the most during all those years, and also the highlights and lowpoints of your days in Thanatos.

Stephan: I think we have always been very self-supporting. I was really glad when Killjoy (Necrophagia/Baphomet Records) released our 2002 promo MCD (Beyond Terror) simply to keep the name of Thanatos alive until we’d found a new label for our next album. Apart from that we’re very greatful to all the magazines and radio stations that supported us during all those years…

One of the definite lowpoints in our career was seeing the band going nowhere after releasing a great album in 1992 (Realm Of Ecstasy); a record label that didn’t promote the album, band members that were only into drinking and doing drugs instead of working on new songs, two great tours that were cancelled within 2 months ( a full European tour with Cannibal Corpse (35 dates) and another tour with Exhorder), seeing all these bands around us just getting bigger and bigger, whilst we were siimply stagnating… Back then there just seemed no other solution than disbanding the band…

What is the advice that you would like to give to the bands that are now making their very first steps in the difficult world of Metal? Which are the "traps" that they should try to avoid in your opinion?

Stephan: Just quit! Haha! Well there ARE too many bands at the moment so unless you think you are really ready to come up with something special, don’t bother to start recording something seriously. There will always be a need for bands that have their own identity, but I think we really heard enough clones of well known bands now. Don’t expect too much from the music business. If you think you can become a professional musician as soon as you land a record deal then please think again, cause it’s more or less impossible to make a living from playing in a brutal metal band. So unless you’re willing to make sacrifices in your personal life or if you can’t combine a regular lifestyle with all the time you have to spend on your band to get at least some recognition don’t even consider leaving your rehearsal room…

How is Stephan Gebedi in his everyday life, and which other activities does he have outside Thanatos?

Stephan: Well, I have a full daytime job (motivating and helping unemployed people to find a new job), I have a family,and I also write for Aardschok magazine, besides that I write 90% of the songs for Thanatos, I do all the interviews, I handle all the contacts with labels and promotors…So apart from the things I mentioned above I have no social life whatsoever, haha! No really. I’m quite a busy guy and sometimes it’s hard to combine my ‘normal’ life with all my activities for Thanatos and Aardschok, but I really love being involved in the metal scene and I would never give that up because of a job or a nagging girlfriend. Unfortunately I need a daytime job to make a living…Most of my spare time is absorbed by the band and metal in general, but when I get the time I enjoy a cool gore movie or a nice soccer game…

Once again, I want to thank you for making this interview, and wish you all the best for both you and the band. Feel free to end this interview with anything that you feel that needs to be said.

Stephan: I guess most things have been said already. I hope everyone out there will check out our album and we really hope to do some UK shows sometime next year! Cheers!

Interview © 2004 John Stefanis

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