THANATOS is without a doubt one of the oldest Death Metal bands from the Netherlands, if you just look at the fact that their first songs were already written in 1983!!! In the beginning of the nineties, they released 2 fine Death Metal albums, "Emerging From The Netherworlds" and "Realms Of Ecstacy" (which got both re-released through Hammerheart recently with a lot of demo-material as a bonus), but unfortunately the band fell apart shortly after. Luckily, Stephan Gebédi decided last year to resurrect THANATOS in a new line-up and the result of this is the excellent output "Angelic Encounters", which just got released. I hooked up with Stephan and had a very cool chat about the past and the future of THANATOS…
When exactly did you form THANATOS?
"That was in the beginning of 1984, the first THANATOS songs were already written in 1983 though, but in 1984 I had the first THANATOS line-up together. I went to school with most of the other THANATOS members of the first line-up, for example Marcel van Arnhem who became the drummer later on and Remco de Maaijer who became our guitarist. Next to our songs, we also played a couple covers at that time like CELTIC FROST’s ‘Dethroned Emperor’ and SLAYER’s ‘Black Magic’."
When did you record the first demo "Speed Kills"?
"That was at the end of 1984 under very bizarre circumstances. We recorded that demo in an attic room of our drummer using very lousy equipment. We used a kind of sound-mixer, we also filled the drums with pillows and tape, to make sure the neighbors won’t complain about the noise. We just put 2 microphones in the middle of that room and that’s how we recorded that demo. It was recorded through a shitty recorder, but nevertheless we sold about 1000 copies of that demo. I copied each copy at my home on my cassette-recorder, just imagine…"
Which songs were on that demo?
"Let me see, that was ‘Speed Kills’, ‘Voyage Of The Dead’, ‘Blind Obedience’, ‘The Howling’, ‘Thanatos’ and an instrumental song. What really astonished me later on is that that demo was voted "6th demo of the year 1985" in Metal Forces, next to demos of for example DESTRUCTION and all real famous bands. First, we thought that maybe it was another band called THANATOS, but it was us. Things were going also really good for us at that time, because we were somehow among the first bands who played really brutal music, in those days you just had DEATH, POSSESSED and NECROPHAGIA and that was that, it was a very small scene. When that demo came out, it made its journey around the world pretty fast. Before we realized it, we were present in many fanzines from all over the world."
In those days you still lived in Rotterdam. Later on you moved to Utrecht, why?
"It’s not that I really moved to Utrecht, I never lived there. It’s just that I went looking for people for a new line-up and got a reply from two people from that city, a bass-player and a drummer, and so we practiced in Utrecht a couple of times. But we were all still very young, none of us had a driving-license already and so in the end, this practicing in Utrecht became a bit difficult for the band. So I decided to start looking for members again, but a bit closer to my home."
In 1986, you recorded the "Rebirth" demo…
"Yeah, that was the first time we were in a real studio, we recorded that demo on 8 tracks. The strange thing is that we worked with two drummers on that demo, Remo van Arnhem and Rob de Bruijn. Remo played the fast songs and Rob drummed on the slow songs. It was a pleasant experience but not much more to be honest."
Rob also left the band shortly after the recordings.
"That’s right, Rob couldn’t keep up with the rest of the band, he couldn’t play the fast stuff. In the end, it turned out that Remo was a much better drummer. It also was a pretty strange situation live, because we changed the drummers in a live situation. We kept Remo because we wanted to have one steady and tight drummer in the band."
Did you already play many gigs at that time?
"Well, we mainly started playing quite some shows in 1987. In 1987, we finally had 2 guitar-players, finally a good line-up and we started to play live shows much more. From 1987 until 1992, we played quite an amount of live shows. When we had released our other 2 demos, "The Day Before Tomorrow" and "Omnicoitor", things started to get really rolling."
Yeah, in those days you opened for quite some cool bands, for example DEATH, AUTOPSY, SEPULTURA, KREATOR, BOLT THROWER…
"Yeah, some of those gigs were indeed really great. The highlight was a show we played in Portugal. You have to know that we were still a demo-band at that time and we played a headline-show in Portugal in front of over 1000 people and the reactions from the crowd were just astonishing! After the release of the first album, we did a short tour through France and Portugal which was also really nice. One of the coolest shows we played in the Netherlands was without a doubt the "Metal Attack" festival where we played together with KREATOR and DEATH ANGEL. INFERNÄL MÄJESTY was supposed to play there as well, but they had to cancel in the very last moment, something I thought was really a pity. We also played a couple of really good shows with SEPULTURA in those days, they were really cool guys."
Since you already had 4 successful demos out at that time, I can imagine that you must have received quite some offers from record labels at that time, haven’t you?
"Well, actually no, we didn’t get any offers and I thought that was really a shame. I remember that when we recorded our fourth demo, I thought that if we wouldn’t get an offer this time, if there still was a point in going on. Shark Records was the only label that offered us a deal at that time where they would also pay for the costs of the recording and the production. After all the stories we had heard from other bands, like bands which had to pay about 10.000 dutch Gulden themselves and never saw a penny back, we really didn’t want to put any money of our own in those costs. Later on, it turned out that Shark also didn’t pay that much but I didn’t know that at that time. But at that time, we were really happy that we finally got a decent offer."
What do you still remember of the recordings and everything around your debut "Emerging From The Netherworlds"?
"I am not satisfied at all with the way the album came out, the only thing I thought was well done was the cover-artwork which I still appreciate. The production of that album is not really good, to me it sounds like a demo. During the recording of the album we didn’t have any saying in the production. When Ulli Pösselt finished the first mix, we thought the sound was terrible. So, he did a second mix, and the sound was a bit better this time but still far from good, but he left the result that way. I told Shark Records that if we had to work on our second album with that guy again, because he was a sort of house-producer of Shark Records, I didn’t want to go through with it. In the end, we tried it out, and on the second album "Realms Of Ecstacy", the cooperation was much better. We had our saying in everything there, and I think that especially the sound is ten times better than the first album."
When did you actually start with the songwriting for "Realms Of Ecstacy"?
"The songs on that album were all written after the recordings of our debut, except for two older tracks. "Emerging…" was more a sort of a compilation of songs which were written between 1984 and 1990, there was quite a difference in style between the songs. I think "Realms Of Ecstacy" sounds more compact, a real unit. A lot of people think the first album is better than the second one, but I personally don’t agree with them."
In those days, you also started to write for Aardschok Magazine. How did you end up with them?
"Actually through a really furious letter I wrote. I wrote a letter to the editors of Aardschok that they didn’t had any idea about Death and Thrash Metal. All the releases in that genre always got bad reviews, and I told them they should get an editor who knows something about that kind of music. So, I got a letter from Metal Mike, which said that if I thought I could do it better, I should write a piece and send it to them. So I wrote my first article, I think it was something about CELTIC FROST, sent it and that’s how everything started. I kept writing for Aardschok for several years, it was fun, but in the end I couldn’t combine it anymore with the band. Everything I wrote immediately got connected with THANATOS. I really started to get many problems with the reviews of Dutch bands. In the end, I couldn’t write any bad review anymore or one of the members would call me. For example, if I had written that their drummer was not good, they would immediately react in the vein of "Do you think that your drummer is good?". The Dutch scene is also really small, you meet each other all the time at gigs and in the end, I had enough of their yawning and that’s why I quit with writing for Aardschok."
Did you like those days, the early nineties?
"Yeah, those were really pleasant years and we really had a nice scene. I had a good time at many concerts, the atmosphere was also not that tense as nowadays I think, although I must say the atmosphere was really good at the last couple of Death Metal gigs I visited. The atmosphere went down-hill a bit during the Black Metal revival to my opinion, people took everything way to serious at that time, nowadays it starts to get better again."
When we come to "Realms Of Ecstacy" again, I remember very well that when that album came out, I searched for it, but you couldn’t find it anywhere.
"You’re not the first one who tells me this. The promotion for that album was almost none-existing, there was no promotion at all, no advertisements, simply nothing. The album was very difficult to get, also in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium… We had to do everything ourselves which was really a problem. See, we had built quite a good reputation in the underground, and then you expect that you will be able to get on a higher level when you release real albums. This didn’t happen at all, we didn’t reach new people, new fans, we just stayed on the same level, we didn’t get more popular through the albums that came out which I thought really was a shame. During the years, many people came up to me, and kept asking me where they could get that album, that’s also one of the main reasons why the album got re-released through Hammerheart recently."
When "Realms…" got released, there were some plans to tour with CANNIBAL CORPSE and later on with EXHORDER, but nothing became reality.
"No, it didn’t work out for both tours. The tour with CANNIBAL CORPSE got cancelled 4 weeks before the tour would start, because the band had to go into the studio to record their next album. The thing with EXHORDER is that that they had a fight within the band and so, they didn’t come to Europe. So, two full European tours got canceled, there were hardly any single gigs booked, and there were also quite some problems within THANATOS and the record company. So, when looking at all that, I decided to split THANATOS up at that time because things really didn’t work out in any way."
In 1994, you started a new band, called CHURCH OF INDULGENCE.
"That’s right. In between 1992 and 1994, I didn’t do anything special. I still kept following the scene closely, I went to gigs and bought a lot of albums. But after I had been busy for over 8 years with THANATOS, and since things didn’t work out the way I had expected or hoped, I wanted to have a break. But in 1994, I wanted to make music again and that’s how CHURCH OF INDULGENCE got together, the band was actually first called AGE OF PANIC. The musical style was a bit different from THANATOS. It was still quite aggressive and pretty technical, musically maybe like a mix of old SLAYER and some PARADISE LOST-like parts, the vocals were also more in the Thrash Metal vein. I had a lot of fun with it, but it wasn’t totally what I was looking for. Our drummer, Dirk Bruinenberg, was also playing in ELEGY and he was quite busy with his main band. We had written 10 songs but nothing ever happened with that. I think I used one riff for a THANATOS song later on but that’s it. You see, after a while, I started to get a feeling like ‘why put so much effort in this, when there will probably not happen anything again in the end?’. That’s why I also quit that band again later on."
In 1998, you bought the rights of the 2 THANATOS albums yourself, was that pretty difficult?
"Well, in 1998, I heard from Henri Sattler of GOD DETHRONED that they bought the rights of their album "The Christhunt" from Shark Records. I contacted Henri and asked him how I could contact Shark Records. I got an address, got in touch with them and succeeded in buying the rights. I thought it would be really difficult but it only cost me a couple of 1000 Gulden. When I accomplished that, I thought the time was right again for a resurrection of THANATOS. I absolutely wanted to have those first 2 albums available again before I would come up with a new THANATOS album and that’s what happened."
Do you know how many copies of each album were made for the re-release?
"I think about 2000-3000 copies of each album. The re-release of "Emerging…" is as far as I know almost completely sold out already, "Realms…" is also doing good, but sells a little bit less than "Emerging…". Why, I don’t now. We didn’t change that much concerning the sound, the albums got both re-mastered, the artwork also changed a bit, but that’s mainly it."
Was it for you already clear from the very beginning that all these bonus tracks and demo tracks had to be on the re-release as well?
"Yes, I thought that was a good idea, since I always got quite some remarks from people that they liked the demos more than the actual albums. You will always have these kind of people (laughs). Since we released quite some demo-stuff, I thought it was a good idea to put those tracks also on CD."
When exactly did you get the idea to resurrect THANATOS?
"That was pretty soon after CHURCH OF INDULGENCE fell apart, but at that time I didn’t have that much inspiration to write new songs. But that’s when I got the idea, and eventually in 1998, I realized it."
Have you never thought about putting the old line-up together again?
"No, because we didn’t split up for no reason. The interest of the other members in Death Metal was almost nihil in the end, they started to get different ideas about how the music should sound and all that, so I thought it would be pretty useless to try it again with them. I also don’t have that much contact with them anymore, I just see them now and then. I preferred to work with people who are into this kind of music for 100%. I knew that Aad (SINISTER, HOUWITSER) and Theo (JUDGEMENT DAY, HOUWITSER) totally love this music, so the choice of members was pretty easy."
When we come to talk a bit about the new album, "Angelic Encounters", I must say that the cover-artwork looks really excellent but it reminds me very much on the cover of the first IMMOLATION album.
"Yeah, somebody else told me the same thing today. IMMOLATION also had this concept with the angels that were coming from the sky. We had the idea to put an angel on the cover who would spread death, disease and destruction. I think the cover turned really well."
The guy who designed the cover, Pär Johansson, did he work for other bands as well already?
"Yes, he has an own band called SATARIEL and he already made a cover for that band, also for THY PRIMORDIAL and some others."
All the songs on the album were written by yourself. When?
"Almost all the songs were written in 1999, there are two re-recordings of old THANATOS songs on the album as well, ‘The Howling’ and ‘Speed Kills’ which were both written in 1983. The reason why we re-recorded those songs was that I still really liked those songs and they never ended up on any of our albums anyway. You can also easily hear when you reflect those 2 songs to the others on the album, that we didn’t change our style at all."
Is it actually the intention that the other members will contribute to the songwriting and the material in the future as well?
"I hope so, it’s just the problem with people who play in several bands, that they don’t always have the time for these kind of things. I’m the only one in THANATOS who plays in one band, so I guess I will stay responsible for most of the songs, but I hope I can work some stuff out with the other members as well in the future."
The recordings of the album itself in the Excess Studios in Rotterdam, did that go fluent?
"Yes, we were in the studio for 3 weeks including the mix and we really had more than enough time with that. Also the cooperation with Hans Pieters and Dennis Leidelmeijer who did the production was really nice. I’m really satisfied with the result, there are always some parts which you think that could have done better, for example the drumsound, but all in all, I’m really satisfied."
On "Angelic Encounters", you also put a cover of MASSACRE’s ‘Corpsegrinder’.
"Well, the original plan was that the vocalist of MASSACRE, Kam Lee, would do the vocals on that version, and he was also enthusiastic about the idea. Hammerheart even wanted to fly him over to the Netherlands to do the recordings here, it’s just that he couldn’t get any days off to do this. Then, we had the plan that we would send him the recordings and that he would put his vocals on it at the Morrissound Studio. Kam Lee is a very nice guy, but I think he mixed up the dates of the recordings. Since we thought that the album would be delayed for quite some time if we wanted to put this through, we decided to leave it, which is a shame in a way because it was a really cool idea to have the original vocalist on that song. In the end, Joe Lewis of VITAL REMAINS also did some vocals on ‘Corpsegrinder’. It was more like a coincidence that VITAL REMAINS were also in the neighbourhood for a gig when we were recording our album. But Kam Lee told me that he liked our version very much which is of course great to hear."
I guess you also played already a couple of live shows in the meantime in the new line-up. How did that turn out?
"We just did 2 live shows so far, we played 5 old songs and all the rest was new material. Most of the gigs are planned in February / March, there are also 2 gigs planned in Belgium. We will play in the Frontline in Ghent on 10/03, probably together with SHADOWBREED and on 24/02 in Hof Ter Loo, strange enough on a gothic festival together with ORPHANAGE, TRAIL OF TEARS, AFTER FOREVER and THERION. Well, I don’t why they put us also there, but it’s a nice hall and an ideal occasion to blow those other bands off stage (laughs). I think a big part of the audience will have some difficulties with us, too bad for them (laughs)."