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Thanatos's Stephan Gebédi: "Every day I see so much shit going on in this world; organized religions of course, but even worse, the manipulation and indoctrination via the media which turns people in mindless sheep…"

Interview with Stephan Gebédi from Thanatos
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 12 February 2020, 10:58 PM

Never say never. It might appear as a phrase of Grey, yet it also shares a glimpse of hope, at least for some people. Being against the grain, living on a certain edge artistically, not giving a damn on what is trend or what is cool, that sensation has its elements. Not every artist is a salesman after all, but also a source that spreads its true belief upon its followers. Returning with a blast in 2020, the Dutch Death / Thrash Metal Thanatos, are in with vengeance, going through changes, displaying their new offering “Violent Death Rituals”, proving that delivering the goods is in many forms. Steinmetal had a talk with the band's guardian and leader, Stephan Gebédi, about the paved roads towards the new album and beyond…

Hello Stephan, it is such a tremendous honor to have you for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine. I guess that things got busy with the upcoming Thanatos album right? How have you been?

Hi there, thanks for your nice words. Yeah, it’s getting quite busy now, especially since I have to do most of the interviews, but it’s always good to see there’s still so much interest in the band and maybe even more now than before!

I will be honest with you, it was quite the wait, nearly six years, for the next Thanatos release, and out of the blue, an email landed in my inbox with the news. Where have you guys been since after the support for your previous “Global Purification”?

Yes, it has definitely been a long wait…too long I guess, but as always, things never go smoothly with Thanatos. After the last album we were not even sure whether we wanted to continue or not, there were lineup changes, people were really busy again with other bands (Asphyx and Hail of Bullets) but somehow we managed to crawl up, get new inspiration and start working on new songs again…

The arrival of your newly token of Death and Thrash Metal appreciation, “Violent Death Rituals”, brought with it a few changes in the Thanatos’ surrounding camp. First, the signing with the French Listenable Records, after being part of the wide Century Media, which released your previous album. Now, I know that throughout your history, you have been shifting between labels, yet why not continue with such a juggernaut as Century Media? How did you come across to sign with Listenable?

When we first signed to Century Media, the initial idea for them was just to re-release our back catalogue, only the old albums and nothing more. When our A&R guy Philipp found out we were working on new songs and heard some of those he got really excited and wanted to sign us for a new album as well. Before the release of "Global Purification", already our drummer Yuri was having problems with his knees and ankles because of an injury. After the release of that album it got worse, so we just did some shows but didn’t think of writing new songs for a while.

When Century Media asked us if we were going to do another album anytime soon, we had to say no, so unfortunately the deal more or less expired. When we started working on new songs in 2018/2019 there had been many changes at Century Media, they had started a partnership with Sony and it didn’t work out to get a new deal, so we had to look for another label. Listenable Records were very enthusiastic and offered us a good deal. Plus, they have the best looking promo-girl in the business 😉 So far they have been doing a really good job promotion-wise so no complaints so far

“Violent Death Rituals” is not merely a title for an album in order to sound cool, or brutal, it has an attitude, a strong will accompanied with it. With the ongoing changes within the Metal scene nowadays, what makes Thanatos to remain adamant and persistent in its Metal approach? How do you find Thanatos efforts, in particular “Violent Death Rituals”, as relevant to the boiling changes going on?

Well, that’s the idea; our music, lyrics and approach is not just an act, it’s the real thing. The music and the lyrics reflect our views on metal and the world in general. Thanatos has always combined elements of both thrash and death metal. Some albums may sound a bit more death metal and others more thrash, but it will always be a combination of both. The music must be aggressive and dark but also have hooks and things you can remember after a few listens. I think with "Violent Death Rituals" we managed to bring back the darkness a little bit that was missing since "Realm Of Ecstasy"; the aggression is always there on every record, but this one feels a bit darker to me.

In the album’s press release, you stated that in the early 80s, when Thanatos began its journey, it felt like “Us Against The World”. Is Thanatos, and you as its leader, still the antagonists of the mainstream, or better recognized, the current trends?

Yeah, definitely. For some reason we will never become the flavor of the week, even if everybody seems to like the new album. Maybe we don’t fit into any little niche because we’re not 100% death metal and not 100% thrash. I don’t know why, but somehow things always seem to be a bit of a struggle for Thanatos, whether it’s labels, booking agents or whatever. And when I look at today’s scene I see a lot of cool bands of course, but also a scene where money and marketing have become more important than ever and sometimes that kills the true spirit of metal for me… But I’m not complaining; we’re still here after almost 36 years now; releasing new albums, playing shows, doing interviews and that’s really cool.

Other than smashing to pieces everything in its path musically, what is the steering wheel fundamental philosophy of “Violent Death Rituals”? How do you find it related to our ordinary lives in the present? Does it have any connection to you on a personal level?

To me it’s totally connected to everyday life and my personal views on life…unfortunately. Every day I see so much shit going on in this world; organized religions of course, but even worse, the manipulation and indoctrination via the media which turns people in mindless sheep who believe and absorb all the bullshit they’re being fed. And there is that ridiculous label of ‘political correctness’; people are offended by a word or a joke and start ‘reporting’ and branding other people just because they cannot deal with someone’s opinion or choice of words. Fuck that shit; freedom of speech and freedom of the mind is one of the most important things for me and it’s definitely something worth fighting for. And yes, of course being pissed off about the establishment, religion, whining wimps and people in general is perfect fuel for my lyrics; "If you mean what you scream, it always sounds better!” 😉

As I mentioned earlier, Thanatos is quite an adamant band, never really stirred from its bewildered mixture of Death and Thrash Metal, serving its place in Extreme Metal with finesse. Nonetheless, I bet that there is a kind of development in your perception of your music, perhaps enhancing your abilities in the process of making “Violent Death Rituals”. How do you see Thanatos going forward musically with this album? Are there blinks of evolution or simply yet another offering?

One of the best compliments we got from fellow musicians and fans, is that since our ‘second start’ in 2000, we seem to be getting better with every album and this also means people don’t just like us for our first albums but also the newer stuff, which rarely happens with older bands and is really cool to hear. Apart from the aggression that’s obviously always present in our music, "Violent Death Rituals" sounds a bit darker and more ‘evil’ than the previous albums. I also think the songs are structured a bit better than before and the album has a really good flow. Last but not least I think the production and the mix (by Dan Swanö) is better than ever.

While the world was waiting for “Violent Death Rituals”, the second change surrounding Thanatos occured with the recruiting of ex-Melechesh members, Martin Ooms (Drums) and Mous Mirer (Bass), with the latter joining just recently. What is your appreciation of these guys’ abilities as musicians? How do you find their integration with the band’s musical approach and direction? Was it a “fits like a glove” situation?

I’ve known both Martin and Mous for many years already. Martin was our drum tech when Yuri was still our drummer and when Yuri told us he wanted to quit the band because of his injury, he told us to try out Martin. Bass player Marco left the band just before the recording of our new album. I think he wanted to do some other stuff after 18 years of Thanatos and he wanted to be a guitarist in a band again. Mous was the obvious choice for us. First of all we already knew him on a personal level. He’s also a cousin of Martin and they played together in Liar of Golgotha and Melechesh before.

The Melechesh-connection is pretty weird as our former drummer Yuri and bass player Marco have also been part of Melechesh in the past, but it’s easy to explain. When Ashmedi (Melechesh) moved to Holland he wanted to build a new line up over here. He recruited Yuri on drums and they started rehearsing in our rehearsal place in Rotterdam, called Dynamo. There were many talented local musicians there playing in small bands so every time he needed fresh live musicians for Melechesh he started fishing in this ‘Dynamo-pond’. So all those poor bastards ended up in that band sometime, haha.

With the new members joining in the lineup, how would you describe the songwriting process of “Violent Death Rituals”? Did you find it different in comparison to your previous albums? Would you argue that Thanatos is a sort of democratic band, enabling all the members to contribute other than performing their given roles as directed?

I might be the band’s leader and more or less the ’guardian’ of the band’s style and direction but I’m not the only songwriter. For this album, our drummer Martin (who played guitar in both Melechesh and Liar of Golgotha) wrote 2 songs, Paul wrote 3 songs and I wrote the other 5. So it’s quite a bit of a team effort this time.

Thanatos is more or less a democratic band, we all have our say, but usually I’m the person who takes the final decision if necessary and I also take care of most ‘behind the scenes’ work. "Violent Death Rituals" was a difficult album to make. Not musically, but we had quite a bit of technical fuck ups and several band members were going through pretty hard times on a personal level during the recordings. So I’m really happy the album turned out so good in the end.

Just recently, Thanatos celebrated its 35th anniversary. These milestones can also be times of soul searching, where one sits down thinking of regrets, and stuff that could have been done differently. Do you have such regrets? Perhaps particular moments that would have been better off or calls that should have been made?

No regrets, but of course we have made some bad decisions in the early nineties and we also had a lot of bad luck with shitty record labels in the early days, great tours that were cancelled at the very last moment. If the 1989-1992 line up had been a bit more serious and had not fucked up some great opportunities, we might have become a much bigger band in the 1990’s… on the other hand; we might have killed each other on the road if we had not split up in 1992…who knows. So no regrets, no apologies but I’m definitely aware of some of the bad decisions and bad behavior back then.

Though “Violent Death Rituals” is your prime concern, especially when it comes to promotion, will there be special shows to commemorate your anniversary while you support the new album? I guess you had requests for such festivities right?

Actually, our 35th anniversary was last year already 😉 we celebrated it with a very special show in our hometown Rotterdam last year on March 16th where we had a lot of ex-band members join us on stage. We filmed that show but due to some technical issues we haven’t been able to publish it yet, but there will be footage from that show online in a few months. We also released a compilation album (Thanatology: Terror from the Vault) with all our demo tapes + re-recordings of 2 of our oldest songs. And of course we signed a new record deal last year which was a cool birthday present. So we simply continue to celebrate this year with the release of the new album! And at our live shows we will play both old and new stuff.

I have always been a type for bludgeoning deathly speeds, with active tremolo machine gun bursts, yet “Corporate Indoctrination” grasped my attention right off the slow tempo first chug. Surely it is heavy merciless tune. It also bears a strong message, which I believe has corruption with it. What can you tell about this track? How do you find its musical direction?

It’s one of the first songs I wrote for this new album and yes, it’s about corruption. On the previous album we had a song called "Feeding the War Machine", which sounds different of course but also had this sort of chugging groove. We had not used those rhythms too often before but we noticed that song became a live favorite; a real headbanger’s song. And we definitely want to see more people headbanging at our shows. So, on this album we have a few songs that start off a bit slower with chugging riffs before the really fast parts kick in. But to be honest, when I start writing I don’t think too much if it’s slow or fast. After 7 fast songs I realize that we need one or two slower ones though, to give the album more dynamics.

What is your perspective of the album’s sound? No doubt that it sounds ferocious, exemplifies the need for murky, down and dirty sound patterns, which actually fit early 90s Death and Thrash Metal. Is that what most Metal albums nowadays lack?

A lot of modern productions sound too perfect; every hit on the drums is equally loud, all little natural noises like a hand slipping over the strings are erased or cut off, which causes the albums sound too clean and too sterile. It becomes kind of ‘plastic’ … like Hollywood movie stars. I like a strong, powerful sound but it also has to sound like real human beings. Of course we fix big mistakes and play the drum or guitar parts again if we fuck up, but you should not try to fix every little thing.

I think the album has a powerful sound, is well played, but if you listen closely you might hear little stiff here and there that’s not 100% perfect but that’s totally fine. It gives the sound a little bit of a raw edge but of course the album does not sound like some lo-fi black metal abomination recorded in a chicken barn either! I think Dan Swanö did a great job on this album; we worked together really well and discussed a lot of stuff so the sound got better and better with every new test-mix. Dan knew exactly what we wanted and totally nailed it sound wise

I can only assume that Thanatos has never been a crowd / audience pleaser, even with the current Metal scene twists and turns. When it comes to challenges, what do you think are the main obstacles that stand in the way of the band in the coming years?

Oh even though we will never become the flavor of the week I am happy with the way things are going. It would be cool to be invited to play bigger festivals more often and to play Southern Europe more often, but hopefully we’ll get some more offers once the album is released.

Where will it be possible to check out Thanatos live for the support of “Violent Death Rituals”?

We have some shows lined up already, but we’re working on some more dates including a few really cool ones that we hopefully can announce next month. No shows or festivals in Greece or other Southern European planned yet, so if some promoter / organizer are interested in bringing us over, please get in touch!

Do you think that we are on the verge of yet another hiatus sort of from Thanatos or is it expected that another album will be dished sooner than thought?

With everything in hindsight concerning Thanatos, I have learned not to think too far ahead. Our main focus is playing the music live now. There are no immediate plans to start writing new stuff, but you never know what happens if new ideas or riffs pop up later this year… I have also learned never say never! 😉

Stephan, it was a pleasure, thank you for the time for the interview. I wish you all the best, and thank you such an iron fist as “Violent Death Rituals”. All the best. 

Thank you for the cool questions! Hope your readers will enjoy the album as well! Cheers!


 



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