Interview with Stephan Gebédi, bandleader of Thanatos
Thanatos is famous about being the very first extreme metal act in the Netherlands. The band was formed in 1984 in Rotterdam and they were alone in their home considering the extreme scene. Only 2-3 years after the start of Thanatos started popping up extreme metal band in the Netherlands, such as Asphyx, Pestilence, Sinister, Delirium, Sempiternal Deathreign to put the Dutch scene on the map of international extreme metal. Thanatos’ second effort, “Realm of Ecstasy” celebrates this year its 25th anniversary and the bandleader, guitarist/vocalist Stephan Gebédi answered my questions about the birth of the record.
László Dávid: So Stephan, let’s start with some other subject: what about Feyenoord? Was Dirk Kuyt the man of the match on the 14th of May? Since when are you into the team?
Stephan Gebédi: Haha, yes of course he was! It is great to finally have the championship again after such a long wait! But there was huge tension with the 2 final games but “we” made it, hell yes! I have been into Feyenoord as long as I can remember; I was born in the South of Rotterdam, in a hospital that’s only about 500 meters from the Feyenoord stadium and I’ve lived in that part of town for most of my life, so yeah I have always been a big fan. I don’t go to every match (mainly because I’ve been on the road with my bands in most weekends the past 30 years, but I always try to visit a few games every year.
L. D.: If I tell you József Kiprich, Stanislav Griga, Gaston Taument, Simon Tahamata, Wijnstekers or Pierre Van Hooijdonk?
S. G.: Yeah I know all those names of course except for Griga maybe. Kiprich was called “the magician from Tatabanya” over here. 😉
L. D.: Thanatos was formed in 1984 as the first extreme Dutch metal band. Do you still remember how the band get together exactly? What made you to form an extreme metal band?
S. G.: Yes I do. At my school there was a small group of metal fans and me and 1 or 2 other guys were into Venom and Hellhammer and started searching for the most extreme bands we could find at that time. One of those guys, Remco de Maaijer, also played guitar and the other, Robert van Arnhem, had 2 brothers who had both started out on drums (Marcel and Remo). We didn’t like the local bands in Rotterdam and the Netherlands in general, so we decided to form our own band to become the fastest and most extreme band of the country. So Remco and me got together with Marcel van Arnhem; Marcel was not a big metal fan (he liked more styles of music) but he was really fast on drums. We started rehearsing at his attic room and got in touch with his younger brother, Remo, who joined the band a few years later.
L. D.: What were your influences as a whole? Was Thanatos the very first metal act for all of you, in you were involved in?
S. G.: The band that got me into metal was definitely Kiss. I think in the early days bands like Venom, Raven, Anvil, Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Venom were our main influences. In 1984 Remo and I got heavily involved in the tape traders scene and we discovered bands like Death/Mantas, Master, Possessed, Carcass; we were in touch with most of these bands and exchanged demo tapes and rehearsal recordings. And yes, Thanatos was my first band; we were originally called Whiplash, but then we discovered the American band Whiplash through tape trading. I was 16 when I wrote the first couple of Thanatos songs and in the beginning of 1984 we actually got together as a band.
L. D.: What can you tell us about the Dutch extreme metal scene of those times, when bands started popping up, such as Asphyx, Pestilence, Sinister, Monastery, Delirium, Gorefest, Beyond Belief, Mourning, Sempiternal Deathreign, Pentacle, Phlebotomized etc.?
S. G.: Pestilence started a few years later, in 1986 if I’m correct and bands like Sinister and Gorefest a bit later than that again. We were in touch with most of those bands, played shows together and our drummer Remo even played drums on the Sempiternal Deathreign album. In the early nineties, death and thrash metal was pretty big business in the Netherlands; we headlined the bigger clubs (selling out 500-800 people clubs was no exception and the scene was pretty much exploding. We got along with most bands except for Pestilence and Asphyx; especially between Pestilence and Thanatos there was huge rivalry, which is funny when you consider me hooking up with Van Drunen in Hail of Bullets later on and being good friends with Bob Bagchus now. But back then we pretty much hated each other, haha.
L. D.: You released five demos, two live albums, appeared on the “No Slow Thrashification Vomit I” compilation and you had a lot of member changes, too. Can you sum up these period?
S. G.: Well you just mentioned the reason for the amount of demo tapes yourself already; we had many line up changes, some people were not serious about being in a band, sometimes musical differences, sometimes people just couldn’t play well enough etc. So every time we had to start all over again and record a new demo tape that was kinda representative for the new line up. We did 2 live tapes, yeah, but the first one “Live at the Lede” was actually recorded in our rehearsal room; we simply played the songs live, invited a handful of friends and inbetween those guys including the band members started cheering etc, haha. But it sounded cool and I remember Ken and Bill from Carcass asking us where we recorded it because it sounded so loud and the crowd sounded so wild, haha.
L. D.: Were all of the demos shopped around to attract labels interests? Did it succeed in drawing the fans to the band? I mean, could you make a name for Thanatos with the help of the demos?
S. G.: Thanatos became a pretty big name in the underground scene because of the demo tapes and the official live tape 1987; we literally sold thousands of copies of our tapes. And yes there was some interest from labels, but most of them were shitty labels who wanted us to pay for the recordings ourselves, so we decided to wait for better offers.
L. D.: In 1987 Erwin De Brouwer joined the band as bassist, but shortly after he switched to the guitar, because Ed Boeser became the new bass player. How did that happen?
S. G.: Erwin was originally a guitarist in a band called Killer Force but when Thanatos kicked out their bassist he decided to join the band. We already had 2 guitarists back then, Mark Staffhorst and me, so he started out on bass. A year later Mark moved back to his hometown which was quite far from Rotterdam, so Erwin switched to guitar and we asked Ed Boeser from local band, Killing Elevator, to join us on bass… And that’s when all the craziness started, haha.
L. D.: Do you still remember, how were you signed by Shark Records? Were there other label’s interests in the band as well?
S. G.: We had already been waiting for a long time to get a proper record deal so in 1989 we had a bit of a “now or never” feeling. There were more labels interested but Shark was one of the few who offered to pay for recordings, production, artwork and promotion, or at least that was what they told us.
L. D.: How was „Emerging from the Netherworlds” received? Were it cashing into its expectations?
S. G.: Well, we definitely weren’t satisfied with the way the album turned out; we hated the weak production and the lack of brutality in the sound. We were not allowed to have any influence on the final mix and mastering, that was all done by the “producer” who didn’t want any involvement from the band. The only thing we really liked was the album cover which looked great. On top of that it turned out that Shark Records were very bad at promoting their albums and they had a really bad relationship with the German press (because they did not pay their advertising bills etc). Later on we would find out they would neither pay royalties to their bands… But quite a few people liked the album, although it wasn’t the success we had been hoping for…
L. D.: In 1991 you recorded a five songs promo demo. What kind of goals did it serve? Was it a kind of pre-production material for „Realm of Ecstasy”?
S. G.: Yes, exactly it was pre-production.
L. D.: At which point did you enter the studio to cut your second effort titled „Realm of Ecstasy”? Were you prepared to record the material?
S. G.: I think we entered the sudio again at the end of 1991. This time we were better prepared because of the pre-production and we had also demanded to be involved in the mixing process this time.
L. D.: How did the recording sessions go?
S. G.: Chaotic! And that’s an understatement; we demolished the car that Shark Records had supplied to us for driving to and from the studio, and the apartment they had “rented” for us for 2 weeks. The apartment was a bit of a shithole so we also partly demolished the place. There was some heavy drinking going on those 2 weeks and I even think our bass player was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and insulting a police officer. Despite all that chaos, we managed to record the whole album in 9 or 10 days so we had a few days to work on the mix.
L. D.: Do you agree with, that the songs are full of memorable moments and great riffs?
S. G.: Yeah I think it’s a really good record; songs like “And Jesus Wept”, “Terminal Breath”, “Tied Up, Sliced Up”, “Mankind’s Afterbirth”, “Human Combustion” and the title track are really good. And the production is good as well. It has been my favorite Thanatos album for a long, long time and has only been surpassed by “Global Purification”.
L. D.: In your opinion, is every track high quality, from the relentless tracks like „Tied Up, Sliced Up” to the slower and awesomely heavy tracks like „Perpetual Misery” and every song has something to offer and always manages to keep the listener’s attention?
S. G.: No, not every track. I think “Reincarnation” is one of the weaker songs for example, but overall it’s a really strong album.
L. D.: Would you say, that the structure of the songs became more complex compared to the previous album?
S. G.: Yes definitely. “Emerging…” was a compilation of old songs and newer songs written between 1984 and 1990 and most songs for “Realm…” were written in 1990 and 1991. We also had played a lot of live shows in with the same line up so we had become a tight band and we had grown as musicians.
L. D.: I think so, that your voice, growls is very similar to Martin Van Drunen.What are your views on it?
S. G.: Really? I don’t think so. To be honest, I think the vocals on “Realm…” are the weakest point; I had a serious cold when I had to record the vocals and I could only do the low growls and not the higher screams I wanted to do. I also think there should have been more aggression in the vocals. But when I listen to “Perpetual Misery” I see what you mean…but no, I don’t think we sound or have ever sounded similar, but obviously both Martin and I have been influenced by the same singers like Jeff Becerra, Chuck Schuldiner, Cronos, Tom Araya etc.
L. D.: What about the cover artwork?
S. G.: It sucks, haha. I seriously think it’s fuck-ugly and one of the reasons why the album didn’t become really big, although it got better reviews than the first one and sold a decent amount of copies. I think the idea for the cover was too difficult and the artist did not succeed in getting our ideas across in the final artwork.
L. D.: Were there any shows, tours in support of the record?
S. G.: The original plan was to do a 32-date European tour with Cannibal Corpse/Thanatos and one more band as opening act. Shows were already booked, tour support was agreed on but at the last moment the tour did not happen ‘cause CC’s record company wanted them to start work on a new album first. Then 2 small tours with Exhorder (2 weeks) and Carcass (8 days) also didn’t happen at the last moment. So we just did some headlines shows in the bigger clubs of Holland and Belgium and that was it. Then some tension arised within the band and at the end of 1992 I decided to pull the plug on Thanatos.
L. D.: Unfortunately it’s a shame, that Thanatos never really went anywhere, and it was because your label was sucked, since the band got little promotion and/or attention as a result, is that correct?
S. G.: Well, yeah that definitely were some of the reasons, but we also made some mistakes ourselves and we had a bit of an attitude problem. We also had bad luck with the cancelled tours.
L. D.: If you would have been by a bigger label, such as Roadrunner, Nuclear Blast etc., could you have been a bigger, more known act?
S. G.: Yes I’m pretty sure that would have happened. Shark Records and the cancelled tours meant stagnation whilst other Dutch bands got better record deals and promotion and did more extensive touring.
L. D.: What are still your memories and opinion about „Realm of Ecstasy” these days? Would you something change on it? I read, that in your opinion, this is the best Thanatos effort.
S. G.: I still like it very much, but since 2014 I think “Global Purification” is our best album, followed by “Realm…”. If I had a chance I would re-record the vocals and have other cover art though, haha. But re-recording vocals is not possible ‘cause the 24-track tapes have been erased.
L. D.: Thanks a lot for your answers, any to add to this feature?
S. G.: Thank you for this interview. I’d just like to add that we will announce our new drummer in June or July and that we will start working on new songs soon! Follow us on Facebook.com/Thanatos333 and cheers!