HATE ETERNAL “Faster Than Hell” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

Erik Rutan is a good example of a man whose personality seems to be the exact opposite of his creative output. As the guiding force behind one of the world’s most extreme metal bands Hate Eternal, he produces music that hits like a white-hot cyclone of aggression…a high velocity wall of complex and angry sound. But to speak to Erik in person, you find yourself conversing with a thoughtful, very well spoken and articulate guy who seems anything but angry. Which is good, because if his personality was like Hate Eternal’s music, it would be a deafening scream of rage.

Fortunately, that’s not the case and it was a pleasure speaking to one of the busiest men in the metal underworld. Erik’s production credits are staggering and he has lent his sonic stamp to over 80 different metal releases. The one-time Morbid Angel member has had a strong hand in molding the death metal scene even without taking into account the music of his main band, Hate Eternal. But with Hate Eternal’s knee-buckling new record “Infernus” scorching up the racks, it’s time for Erik Rutan the musician to supplant Erik Rutan the producer.

In the following candid interview he explains how he keeps those two identities separate and healthy. It’s a very deep and personal conversation where he touches on the effect that death and loss have had on his creative process. I was really honored to get this chat with one of the luminaries of death metal today, Mr. Erik Rutan…

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Hate Eternal. What was the trigger that made now the right time to return?

ERIK RUTAN: Really, it comes down to my producing schedule. That’s a big part of things. Trying to balance owning a business and my producing schedule and just finding the right time to really do the album. I write music constantly. Me and J.J. have been writing new songs for years. It took longer than usual this time around because we needed to find the right drummer. That took us some time because Hate Eternal is very challenging stuff to do. We found Chason, who did a fantastic job for us. If I had my way, I’d probably do Hate Eternal records every two years. But in between each record, I’m producing about 15 albums. To me, spending the right amount of time to write a record is worth it. Some bands get caught up in a cycle of having to release albums every 18 months. It’s more important to me that the record stands the test of time with quality and integrity rather than pushing it out there. I’ve always had that credo. Good art takes time. When I listen to “Infernus”, you can tell that a lot of work’s been put into it.

WC: Are the songs on “Infernus” recent or have they been floating around for a while?

ER: I wouldn’t say “floating around”, but as soon as we finish one album, we start the writing process for the next one. There’s definitely a couple of years of writing to get the record where it’s at.

WC: Is there any quality that makes “Infernus” different than the other Hate Eternal releases?

ER: We worked on this record for longer than any other record we’ve done and certainly put in more work than I can ever remember doing. The diversity of the songs and the dynamics and the amount of time we put into writing the record…I think we started with 15 or 16 songs but chose these 10 to finish with. From beginning to end, these felt like the perfect set of songs with the perfect flow. One of the big highlights of the record is the production. I think the production on the new record is probably my favorite of all the records I’ve done with Hate Eternal and is a big part of what makes this one stand out.

WC: You work with so many other bands as a producer. I know they learn a lot from you but is there anything you’ve ever picked up from them that you could incorporate into Hate Eternal?

ER: No. When I’m producing records, I use a different mindset. I’m not Erik Rutan the musician, I’m Erik Rutan the producer. They go hand in hand, but when I’m doing other records, I’m focused on their record and their record entirely. When it comes to producing, engineering and mixing, I learn a ton of things from every band I work with. But musically speaking, I would say no. Producing-wise, engineering-wise, I learn a million things from every record I do and that only helps to improve everything I do from here on out. I can certainly apply that to Hate Eternal on the production end.

WC: Has there been one band that you’ve worked with that’s been difficult to get their sound nailed down?

ER: I would say that out of all the records I’ve done in my career, Hate Eternal records are the hardest because of all the hats I wear and responsibilities I have, like playing the rhythm guitars and the solos and doing all the vocals and then producing and mixing. People have asked me what has been the hardest record to do and I always say it’s been the six Hate Eternal records that I’ve done. Just because it’s so much work, there are so many responsibilities I have and I have to keep balanced and keep my mindset right and make sure I don’t get burned out. Plus, Hate Eternal being as extreme as it is, I like to get great performances and keep a certain vibe and integrity and organic clarity to it. The way I record is really about capturing great performances and Hate Eternal is certainly very challenging music.

WC: It’s almost like you have to separate yourself into different people…

ER: I do, a little bit! It’s hard to do that, especially in my case, where Hate Eternal records are so important to me. There’s a lot on the line when I’m doing these albums. I’ve been working for years and years on how to separate myself from certain situations. I take little moments off to clear my mind. I’ve worked on about 75 to 80 records at this point in my career and I’ve been figuring out as I go along all the necessary steps in order to do my best work. There’s always so much more to learn, I can always get better at my craft and I’m always trying to improve what I do, so I’m very open minded to learning new things. I learn something new every day. As I’ve been building my career as a producer, I’ve been learning more on every record and it just helps me improve at my job.

WC: Hate Eternal is one of the most extreme and physically demanding bands out there. Nobody is getting any younger. Is there any kind of regimen you use to keep your energy up?

ER: You know, I like to ride a bike, I like to work out, I like to eat healthy. Those are things that are important to me. I practice a lot, guitar-wise. Luckily for me, anyone who knows me knows I’ve got a high motor. I’ve got a lot of energy, man! I’m very fortunate in that, that really helps me out a lot, considering my age. It’s funny, because my actual age and my “energy” age, there’s a 20 year difference between them because I still feel like I’m in my 20’s. I’m actually 44. I just happen to have a lot of energy. When I look at what I’m doing with my career, I’m doing  everything I’ve always dreamed of since I was a teenager. Obviously that enthusiasm and excitement carries over into my energy. I try to keep a positive outlook. All of that keeps me very energized.

WC: It may be that this kind of music tends to draw that sort of person.

ER:  This music comes from deep inside. There’s reasons why I started playing it, there’s reasons why the music I play is what it is. The more I’ve been able to express my emotions from deep inside in my music, the healthier I’ve become as a human.  Music for me has always been therapeutic. 

WC: If you can spend your life doing something you really enjoy and that you’re drawn to, it really makes a difference all the way around.

ER: It sure does. It keeps you young. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I recorded my first album almost a quarter of a century ago and it’s just been a great ride. I don’t really have much to complain about. It’s a lot of hard work, though.

WC: Let me move on to the cover art of “Infernus”. It’s pretty intriguing. It looks like book burning or destruction of knowledge. What’s the inspiration for it?

ER: Eliran Kantor, who did our artwork, did an amazing job on the cover. I could not be more happy with it.  Once I knew we were gonna work with him, I talked with him about what was going into the record and I would share with him some pre-production, some lyrics and the sentiment behind the lyrics. We’d discuss some of my favorite artists and painters from the past. I wanted him to know the concepts of some of the songs. I believe in letting the artist kind of run with his ideas and giving the artist some freedom helps them come up with their best work. He was inspired by something he had heard at one point, about the sun coming to an end and that history, music, art and literature, all man’s achievements, would be lost forever. Eliran had this concept where mankind had built an artificial sun and everybody was trying to get close to it. The central character was ripping pages from his books to make wings for himself, so he could fly to the sun. It was basically a metaphor for art being used by authors to achieve immortality. (laughs) It’s pretty deep! Eliran is a very deep artist and working with him was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had. He’s a very in-depth artist. He worked so hard on the cover and I couldn’t be happier.

WC: I’m glad I asked because that actually seems to be the opposite of what my first idea was. This guy seems to be trying to save creation instead of destroy it.

ER: He’s not destroying it. He’s just basically trying to survive. It’s pretty intense. I think when you look at that artwork, it’s pretty dynamic. I think it represents the album as well.

WC: It’s very baroque looking.

ER: I’ve always loved the Renaissance era of paintings. Certainly that had something to do with the inspiration when we discussed the content.

WC: Hate Eternal has done some of the fastest songs to ever be played. Is “La Tempestad” from the new album the fastest Hate Eternal song ever?

ER: I don’t know if it’s the fastest but it’s one of the fastest for sure. The thing with Hate Eternal is that we don’t ever go out thinking that we want the song to be the fastest. It just happens that when I’m writing the riffs, it happens to be that certain tempo that feels natural. That song definitely from beginning to end is non-stop. It certainly is one of the fastest we’ve ever done but still quite a catchy tune even with the speed.

WC: It also shows how you laid the album out. It’s the fastest song but then it’s followed by the title track, which is the slowest. That gives the impression of an album, instead of random songs stuck together.

ER: You’re right. I really worked hard on that, the structure of the album and the flow it had from beginning to end. We wanted the right balance of dynamics. “Infernus” the title track to me represents the end of Side A if you’re listening to the vinyl. “Locust Swarm” and “The Stygian Deep”, those two songs go together like one flowing song. They are very different dynamically as well. I think the whole album flows that way, because I’m trying to craft it that way. I think this album is laid out exactly the way it should be from beginning to end. It all felt right…we spent a lot of time figuring out the flow of the record.

WC: Is the song “Zealot: Crusader of War” inspired by an actual person, living or dead?

ER:  “Zealot: Crusader of War” was sort of loosely based on historical things I’ve heard in the past. But it’s more of a metaphor about a specific person. When I’m writing lyrics, every song has a different influence. A lot of times, what is going on in my life has an effect on the lyrics. Sometimes it can be based on things I’m reading or historical things I’m interested in. Sometimes it’s just the pure emotion of what’s going on my life. That’s why my lyrics have a different approach over the years. Certainly with “Infernus” over the 3 years we wrote the record, a lot of things happened in my life and that played a part in how I crafted lyrics for the album.

WC: Who is the “majestic being” you refer to in “O Majestic Being, Hear My Call”? Is it God, the Devil, Man or none of the above?

ER: It’s none of the above. Once again, it’s kind of a metaphor. One big thing for me is that I’ve had a lot of loss in my life. A lot of very important people in my life have passed away, including two of my best friends. A bandmate tragically died…also many family members that meant a lot to me. These losses affected me in many ways. My fascination with death, the afterlife and things in between has been peaked by these experiences in my life. A lot of times I’m writing lyrics from those experiences. As I was writing this record, I had one of those losses and I used that as inspiration to craft lyrics. “O Majestic Being, Hear My Call” is just a reference to a man dying and looking towards his future and wondering what will be waiting for him on the other side, if anything. Some people are fortunate, they haven’t experienced a lot of death in their life. For me, I have and it’s altered everything in my life. Fortunately I’ve been able to use music and lyrics to express that grief and deal with it that way.

WC: It’s a small world. I’m located in Rockford, IL and that’s the hometown of Jared Anderson.

ER: I know that, yeah.

WC: He was one of the first interviews that we did in the late 90’s. I wasn’t the one who interviewed him, it was another writer who actually went to the same school he did. We talked to him not only about musical stuff but about going to school in Rockford and playing baseball here.

ER: Jared’s always on my mind. He was one of my best friends and he was with Hate Eternal from the beginning on the first two records. He’s an integral part of the band and my life. Jared inspired a lot in the history of this band and there’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about him. He’s in my mind when I’m writing songs and this is one of the songs I’ve written in honor of him. As long as this band exists, he’ll continue to be an inspiration to us.

WC: A long time ago, you were involved with a band that was almost the opposite of Hate Eternal, Alas. Is that something you might become involved with again?

ER: I think so. I’ve written some songs for another Alas record. A lot of Alas comes from my classical background. Growing up, my sister played classical piano and I actually played violin as a young child. There are a lot of people in my family who play classical music. Alas is like this mix of classical and metal. It’s definitely something I would like to do again, but between my producing and Hate Eternal, I’ve just been so busy that I haven’t had the chance to do that. But I’d like to find the time to do another Alas record for sure.

WC: What’s the upcoming live situation for Hate Eternal?

ER: We’re going to be doing a tour in October and November in the US. Next year we’re working on going back to Southeast Asia and Australia, then Central and South America and finally Europe as well. We plan on doing a bunch of touring for this record.

WC: Is there one part of the world where the reception seems more frenzied for you guys or is it pretty uniform no matter where you go?

ER: It seems pretty uniform for us, which is pretty awesome. Hate Eternal is kind of a black and white band. People either love us or they don’t get it. That’s totally cool with me, but the people who love Hate Eternal, they really love us and that seems to transcend all continents. We’ve played some pretty amazing places. We’ve played Dubai…Bali in Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, Mexico, Colombia. We’ve played in Nicaragua and Honduras…a lot of really unique places. It’s really neat to have such a loyal fanbase for so many years in so many places. Hate Eternal fans know one thing…they know when we come out with something new, they know exactly what they’re going to get. And I’m never going to let them down ever. All the people I’ve met over the years, I take that support very seriously and I’m very grateful for that. I certainly never want to let these people down, they’re the best.

WC: If you could have dinner with any 3 people from history, who would they be?

ER: Oh, man! That’s a tough question! I would probably pick Mozart, Beethoven and Bach, because those are the three composers I really enjoy. I would really just pick their brain on composition. All three of them were incredibly talented geniuses.