Immolation: the kingdom spreads darkness
I just had the privilege to catch up with Immolation on a string of local dates. They opened for Carcass at the Gramercy Theatre in NYC to a sold out crowd. Immolation ripped through a set of mostly new material including "God Complex", "Spectacle of Lies", the title track plus a few older ones. This band seem truly invigorated and offered their finest compositions to date. After repeated listens their new album "Kingdom of Conspiracy" reveals itself for the Orwellian inspired leviathan is is. Never settling for mediocrity this band always gets the best foot forward. Lets pick it up now.
Greetings Ross. Hope life finds you well. How did these shows with Carcass come about? Had you been in touch with the band long?
We were approached by both our agent and our label around the same time to see if it was something we would be into doing. I met the Carcass guys back when they supported Death on the “Spiritual Healing” tour here in the US back in 1990. They played at a club we used to always go to called G Willikers in south Jersey, and this is the first time we all met face to face. Our original drummer Neal was in touch with Bill Steer when he was writing his fanzine Phoenix Militia back in the late 1980’s, so we were all fans of Napalm Death/Carcass back then and everyone kind of knew each other through tape trading and letter writing. I recently ran into Jeff at the Neurotic Deathfest in Holland earlier this year and we talked briefly, so it was very cool to get the offer to support them on the only two NY shows they were doing this year. It was nice to know that they actually requested to have us play the shows with them, and at the end of the day both shows sold out, we had an amazing time and got to hang out with them briefly during the two shows. They were really great people, very humble and very happy to be here playing in the US, so overall it was a really great time.
Do you have any other touring plans this year? Is it hard to work a touring schedule for all your members?
We play a festival in Costa Rica in a few weeks which we are really excited about playing, but other than that, we start up the touring cycle again in Jan/Feb of next year when we head over to Europe to start a headlining run with our good friends in Broken Hope. We don’t have the full line up yet, but we are hoping to make an announcement within the next couple of weeks. We are scheduled to play the Maryland Deathfest once again this year, which will be our third appearance at, in my opinion, the best festival here in the States. Then we will travel back to Europe during the summer for some festival appearances that are in the works now, and hopefully between now and then we can do another run here in the US to follow up the very successful Decibel tour we did this summer. As far as working the touring schedule into our already chaotic lives, it’s really not an issue. We are all in situations that allow us all to leave for touring and return to our jobs, which really takes a lot of stress out of everything and usually allows us more flexibility when planning out the year’s schedule.
Immolation also finished an extensive US tour with Napalm Death and Cannibal Corpse this spring. Decibel tour sponsored this package, and the buzz and reaction was strong. How was this tour with two other metal veterans? Ever think you would reach the point where so many others cite you as an influence?
This tour was probably one of the best US tours we have done in a long time. Not only was it one of the most successful US tours we have ever done, but it was one of the coolest because of all the great people involved. Not only did we get to share the stage with Cannibal Corpse and Napalm Death every night for a month, but these are both bands that we are tight with as friends and bands that we highly respect because of their talents, attitudes and longevity. It was a fun tour that was nothing but a great time with no drama or egos, just three old-school bands going out there and doing their thing each night. As far as being cited as an influence, this is all new to us and all very flattering. It’s nice to know you have in some way inspired others to follow along on this musical journey, but it’s also a bit surreal to consider this since we never look at ourselves as more than just fans playing the music we love to play.
New album "Kingdom of Conspiracy" is out now and gaining lots of praise. Some have cited the production on this album is a cleaner, sharper sound in contrast to past releases. How did you approach this recording and was anything different this go around?
The new album has received very positive feedback from both the fans and the press, and judging by how well the newer songs went over live, it would seem the fans, both old and new, are really digging it. Once again we used the winning combination of Paul Orofino and Millbrook Sound Studios for all the actual tracking, and once again had Zack Ohren on board for the mix and mastering. This was the winning team for both the” Majesty and Decay” album and the “Providence” EP, so it only made sense to go with what works. We were extremely happy with the final result of the new record. It is a bit more polished, but still heavy, dark and very dynamic. It allows the listener to hear all the instruments but at the same time allows everything to work together as one cohesive piece that is just unrelenting, dark and heavy. The approach this time around was the same as the last two, allowing Bob’s pre-production to really help us tweak and fine tune everything before we get into the studio, which is a big help time wise and moral wise, hahaha.
The album artwork features zombie like people in chains looking basically mindless to the world that enslaves them. Immolation's lyrics range from Anti-religious topics, to Orwellian prophecies. Where do you find inspiration? How many beers must one buy you before engaging this kind of conversation? haaa.
Hahaha, most people who know me know it doesn’t take me long to get chatty and start talking about the ills of the world! True, the lyrics this time around are very Orwellian in their look at the ever changing world around us and how it negatively affects so many people around the globe. It talks about so much of the inherent corruption that is so embedded in all of our power structures and follows along that path throughout the album. We have always focused in on the darkness that exists all around us and all the many forms it takes, and that’s what it has always been about, the darker side to human nature, our hidden destructive side and the terrible effects it has had over the centuries. As for inspiration, I just simple take a good hard look at the world around me and draw all of my inspiration from my life experiences.
"Kingdom...." has a very fluid flow for the entire album. Each track intertwines and compliments the next one. What conceptual ideas did you have when writing it?
Well, as much as it seems like the songs were purposely written to flow together like they do, they really aren’t. Bob just writes song after song until we have enough for a full length album. Once that is done, we all decide running order, etc., but not until everything is mixed and mastered. Once we can actually sit down and listen to everything less critically and just enjoy it, then we can decide which songs work together, etc. This album was one of the easiest because we felt all the songs were very strong, and once the lyrical concept was decided and worked out, this also really helped in deciding what songs went where, but this was all after everything was done, and it was actually quite fun. I really think that the proper pre-production really allows us to fine tune each song before its recorded, which is a huge help and it really allowed us this time to create something that was seamless in the way it was executed and delivered, so we are quite happy about that because it was probably the first time in our 25 year history that it ever worked out like that.
It’s said you guys record and exchange files when writing. This due to the fact members live far apart. Can you say what gear is used to do this? Also what gear you use on the album?
Yes, Bob records everything on Ableton Live (guitars and basic drums) and then emails us all the files when he gets some kind of arrangement. He also uses his Line 6 Pod during the pre-production stage. Since Bob and I both live here in Yonkers, I spend a lot of time during this process over at his house listening to parts and helping with arrangements. It’s one of the coolest parts of the process for me personally, so hear the songs come together and shape the new album. For the actual album recording I think Bob used a few different things for the actual guitar tracks including his Peavy Triple X head that he uses live. Steve of course uses his full kit and I use a vintage Ampeg SVT-Classic head that Paul has at the studio.
With respect to your vocal delivery, they are deep and gutteral, and also clear. It’s known many vocalists experience throat issues depending how much strain there is. Any tricks to keep it healthy?
I guess I have been lucky over the years to not have had any major issues with my voice or throat, and I think the trick for me is plenty of rehearsal before we do anything, whether it’s performing live or going into the studio. I usually spend about a month to get things to where they need to be, and this simply means I need to rehearse on my own for about 4 to 5 nights a week depending on my work and personal schedule. It’s always rough for me after we have had some down time and I jump back into rehearsing, that’s when I need to ease into it for a few nights before I am able to sing through a full set. I know my limitations and never try to push things. In 25 years I have only had one issue with my voice, and that was back in 2010 when we did close to 60 plus shows in a row and towards the end of that last run I had a few nights where I was struggling a bit because I think my voice had just been overworked and needed a break. I was able to make it through with no major issues, but I was feeling it and pushing a little harder to keep it together. Other than that, no tricks, just make it happen and hope for the best.
Immolation is a Nuclear Blast recording artist. Sorry my history is a bit fuzzy. I think there are 2-3 titles released by this label now. How do you feel about their treatment and the state of the metal industry these days?
“Kingdom of Conspiracy” is our second release for Nuclear Blast, “Majesty and Decay” being our first with them. The “Providence” EP was an independent release through Scion A/V and not part of the Nuclear Blast deal. We are very happy with Nuclear Blast and everyone at the label. They are all very dedicated and hardworking people and are always there to offer advice and guidance when asked. We have nothing but respect for everyone at the label , they show us the same respect and have really gone out of their way to get the band back on track after a few years with almost no presence here in the USA. The metal scene is great these days with so many classic bands back in the fold and with so much new excitement from the fans, it’s really a good time to be doing this, and believe me, we have seen the ups and downs within this scene for the last 25 years.
During this interview, I went digging into the back catalog again. I know you told me a "Here in After" anniversary show would never happen haaa... Why? Also I rediscovered "Satan’s Fall"; the Mercyful Fate cover. Care to tell why you slightly changed the arrangement? This was the "Failures...." lineup correct?
We have been asked numerous times to do special shows playing only the first or second albums, but we never want to be a band that relies on their older material to keep relevant. We believe our entire catalog is unique and special, and each record has something new and different to offer our fans, and we all feel our newer material is even stronger than our earlier material, so that’s the stuff we are excited about playing, not the obligatory classics. We always try to break out different songs each time we go on the road, just to keep it interesting and to keep the fans guessing what we are going to play. We are very proud of every record equally, and don’t really feel the need to single any one out to highlight a live set. As for “Satan’s Fall”, we had a lot of fun with that, and yes, that was the “Failures….” line up, in fact, that was Alex Hernandez’s first recording with us prior to entering the studio to record the “ Failures for Gods” album. Mercyful Fate was definitely one of our favorites back in the mid-80’s, and when we were asked to be on the tribute, we agreed and immediately decided to do “Satan’s Fall” because it was just one of our favorite MF songs. We stayed true to the original in some ways, but we added our own flavor and style to do something different, only slightly changing a couple of things to make it work for us with our influence added in. It was very fun to work on and record and it was cool to give such a classic song a darker and heavier “death metal” feel.
I know this is a term the band don’t always agree with, but there seems to be some technical aspects to the music. The guitar writing, drum patterns, little nuances. What are the biggest challenges when writing/arranging music?
I can see why people see us as a technical band, and on some of the earlier records, especially the 2nd and 3rd albums there were lots of riffs, tempo changes and unusual stuff going on, but I think that was just us trying to fine tune things and find our place. Sure, lots of thought goes into the drum parts to keep them unique and not typical, and there are tons of layers with the guitars that really add a new dimension to some of the parts, but overall most of the stuff is pretty straight forward believe it or not. It’s always been about the feeling, this is really what matters to us. Bob has always had a unique writing style and way of playing, and his vision sometimes takes us to some strange places, but in the scheme of things, it always seemed to work even if it took a while to sink in, haha. The biggest challenges now are making sure we don’t over play parts and keeping the songs dynamic enough to not get boring while remaining unique and not repeating something we did at an earlier time.
Immolations current lineup seems to be the most steady, consistent lineup so far release a handful of killer albums including "Majesty and Decay", "Harnessing Ruin" and so on. How’s the chemistry between you? It’s said Bob is the sole songwriter. Does this add pressure or keep the flow steady?
I would say the lineup we have now is hands down our strongest and most dedicated line up we have had in our 25 year history. Bob and I were very lucky to have Bill Taylor and Steve Shalaty join the band back when they did. They each have over ten years dedicated to the band already and have proven themselves time and time again to us. They are extremely talented and driven, and they both have the right attitude that gels perfectly with Bob and me. The band wouldn’t be possible without their help and dedication. More than anything else, they are good people, honest guys who have good heads on their shoulders and have the same beliefs and values as we do. They are more than friends, they are like family, brothers, and we have all been around the world together multiple times and have been part of something special that Bob and I both hold dear, so it is the strongest Immolation lineup, it is THE Immolation lineup. The chemistry we have together is perfect in so many ways. We work well together both live and in the studio, but also as people and friends. As far as the writing goes, yes Bob has always been the sole writer since day one, and I think it works well that way. Bob is the driving talent behind the band, and each of us has our strong points, and we know when we are needed to add a hand. I don’t think this adds any extra stress into the mix, it just allows us to focus more and pitch in when needed to pull up the slack.
How long you do foresee the band going on? What more do you hope to accomplish? Is there any places you’re hoping to play that you haven’t?
We’ll keep it going as long as we have fun with it and as long as we physically keep it up. We truly enjoy every aspect of what we do, from creating new music, to recording the material, performing live and traveling the world, it is all part of what we do and what we really love about being in the band. I guess we have been fortunate over the years to have met so many great people and played alongside so many great bands, that alone is priceless. We have no long term goals other than to keep creating music that is timeless and music that is relevant. We have much more inside us that is untapped, so we hope to bring it all to the surface in the future for our fans to enjoy. As far as touring, there are a ton of places we would love to play that we have never been to, places such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Indonesia and Russia to name a few, but slowly but surely we are visiting new places each year, so hopefully we get to play everywhere there are Immolation fans that want to see us.
What do you do to keep busy on the road? What’s your downtime like? Hobbies?
The road has so much downtime to offer that each person kind of does his own thing. I personally love to go sightseeing when I am in new places, so we always try to make it a point to get out and about to see some cool local sights. I am a big reader, so it’s not uncommon that I read a bunch of books on each tour, which is a great way to kill lots of downtime. Usually there are lots of movies that get traded around, so it also serves as a good time to catch up on any TV series you want to watch or movies you haven’t seen, since I watch little to no TV when I am at home. That’s basically it, there really is not a ton of stuff to do, so I find these things at least help keep the boredom away.
What are you listening to lately? Any newer bands worth your time? Have your favorites held up to you over years?
I recently just got the new Gigan album which I really like, and in general I am usually all over the map. I jump around from the older classics in metal, to the older classic rock stuff, so more recent stuff. I don’t only listen to extreme metal, I have a taste for so many different types of music depending on my mood and what’s going on at that particular moment. It’s not uncommon for me to go from Rotting Christ’s “Theogonia” to Jane’s Addiction’s “Nothing Shocking” to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” to Type O Negative’s “World Coming Down” to Terrorizer’s “ World Downfall” to a Dr. Shrinker or Necrovore demo, it’s just the way it is for me. All my favorites are always still in rotation and I listen to and respect all the bands that have been with me along the long journey of life.
Has your vision of what Immolation could be, and should be changed since the band first started?
When the band first started, we really had no long term goals, so the fact that we are still here is astonishing to all of us. I think our vision and what the true essence of Immolation is at its core is still alive and very much relevant today, in fact, I would say it is even more menacing and even more of a force today than it ever was. Nothing ever came easy to us, we always had to work that much harder to get anywhere in this scene, and this has made us not only very realistic, but also very strong and focused on what is necessary to move the band forward without digressing. We are at a good place right now, and as long as the journey takes us forward and not back, we will do everything in our power to deliver the goods to our fans with each release.
Thanks for the interview Ross. Now’s your chance to plug anything, throw in sites, etc. and best of luck for Immolation.
Thanks so much Tom for the great interview, but also for the years of friendship. We will be touring Europe in Jan/feb 2014, so we look forward to seeing all of our European friends soon. All the best!!!!