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IMMOLATION

 
 

IMMOLATION

"Tattered Remnants of a Glorious Epoch"

Interview by Dr. Abner Mality

Strange as it may seem to say it, Immolation has one thing in common with the great Frank Sinatra: they did it their way. Much like Ol' Blue Eyes, these icons of classic death metal never capitulated to any popular fad or expectation. They have stuck to their guns through some very lean times...long enough to finally see things come back around and for well-earned respect to be given them.

Now Immolation stands on the cusp of a new era. Their latest effort "Majesty and Decay" is their first for independent mega-label Nuclear Blast, giving them more support and exposure than they've ever had. The timing is exquisite, because "Majesty and Decay" is the best, the gloomiest, the most brooding and the most focused example of the band's epic death metal yet unleashed.

Ross Dolan is the voice that roars over Immolation's blasting tides of doom...no mean feat at all. The garrulous and intelligent vocalist hardly sounds anything at all like the demonic croaker you hear on "Majesty and Decay" but there's no doubt that the guy lives, breathes and excretes brutal American death metal. It was a real pleasure for me to speak to Ross recently and I can confirm that the scene could hardly ask for a better representative and frontman.

Here's the interiew. Prepare to rot...

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: Thanks for the interview, Ross, I really appreciate it!

ROSS DOLAN: No problem! Where are you located?

WC: I'm in Northern Illinois, in Rockford, Illinois.

RD: Oh, Rockford! We played there a while back with Six Feet Under!

WC: I was there!

RD: Cool, cool! I remember that show. There was a lot of problems, one of the opening bands didn't get to play because things were fucked up. I remember that specifically.

WC: It was in an old warehouse, it was one of the first really underground death metal shows I ever attended. It was Six Feet Under, Internal Bleeding and Immolation.

RD: Yup, yup! It was a big concrete room! It was actually a great show! I guess we started you down the dark path of death metal! (laughs)

WC: I'm an old man in this genre!

RD: Yeah? How old are you, man?

WC: I'm 47 now...

RD: Wow, you got some years on me! (laughs) I'm only 40!

WC: Everything changed for me in the early 80's when I bought the first Venom album...

RD: Oh, please! "Welcome To Hell", dude...a fucking classic!

WC: I couldn't believe what I was hearing at first, but after a while, I realized there was something really twisted in me that kinda likes this stuff...

RD: I was the same way, man. All that early stuff..."Welcome To Hell", "Black Metal", even early Mercyful Fate like the E.P. and "Melissa'...it was so dark and creepy, I loved it.

WC: I'll bet you could have never imagined that you would go on to influence other bands the way that you were influenced by those older acts.

RD: No, it's something I still can't grasp. (chuckles) Even if I'm talking to somebody and they tell me that I've inspired them, I've inspired their band, ...it is something that to this day just doesn't click with me. Because I'm still the same fan I was in 85 and 84. I'm still the same guy, but now I'm playing the music, too! I don't look at it like that. It's something we do more for fun and that we're passionate about. We take it seriously but I just don't realize the effect that it has on other people. It's nice to hear! I'm glad that we were able to be inspiring! (laughs)

WC: I'm friends with a guy who's a producer and who sings for some up and coming death metal bands and you are one of the guys he is always trying to emulate.

RD: See, it's crazy for me to even hear that! I just do what I do, there's no rhyme or reason to it. This is what we do and that's it. It's cool, though! (laughs)

WC: The thing that makes your vocals stand out is that they are very deep and growling but also very articulate. That's something we don't hear a lot of in this genre.

RD: I try to articulate what I'm saying because it's important for people to understand. We spend time on the lyrics so you can understand them! (laughs)

WC: For the most part I like extreme vocals but I'm not big on the guys who sounds like crickets or pigs being slaughtered...

RD: Yeah, I hear ya.

WC: You just got off one of the most high profile, if not THE most high profile tour you've ever done, with Nile. Would you say that's been the most successful you've been involved with?

RD: Right now, I would say this has been a very strong tour considering the times we are in and everything going on. It was definitely one of the most successful U.S tours we've ever done as far as response and the acceptance we got from the crowds. The shows were very well attended but they were also very excited for all the bands. Not just for us, but for Nile and Krisiun and Dreaming Dead and Rose Funeral. The crowd was fuckin' supportive and they bought a lot of merchandise from the bands, which is important, because ultimately that is where we get the money to tour. The tour was very successful for everybody, not just us. It was very refreshing to see that NOW, if you know what I mean.

WC: Things are rough out there...

RD: Things are rough. With the economy, that's a big factor. But there's a lot going on besides that. There's a lot of choices for kids today. It's not like back when we started in the late 80's, when it was a very exclusive scene.

WC: You used to have to work really hard to be heard. And now there's no effort to it. I talk to bands from the "Golden Age"....there's rewards to doing things today, but it doesn't seem to be as much fun. It's not as much fun putting music on Myspace. You might get 800,000 plays but how much of that translates to sales?

RD: That's it. When you say 800,000 plays, you could have the same kid go on there a thousand times so that doesn't really count. I take that kind of stuff with a grain of salt, that means nothing to me. I come from the old school, where you had to work fuckin' hard. It's always been like that with us, it's been a one step forward, two steps back kind of thing, you know what I'm saying?

WC: I get a feeling now, though, that the time is finally right for Immolation, for you to get the respect you've been due for many years. Do you have that feeling now? You've got probably the biggest metal label on the planet backing you up.

RD: There's definitely something unique going on. I don't know quite how to explain it, it's something we've never really experienced before! (chuckles) Believe it or not! We experienced this a little bit in the very early days with the first record, but then, that's your first record, so you're always real excited about it. The fact that we're on Nuclear Blast now is something that we're all very ecstatic about. It's a strong label, both here and in Europe. It's one of the biggest independent metal labels going. At this point of the game, let's face it, we've been on Roadrunner, we've been on Metal Blade, we've been on Listenable/Century Media...for us to even be a part of Nuclear Blast is nice. It's something we never take for granted, we're very fortunate and we know that. It's cool because they've proven to us that they're very into promoting the band, they believe in the band and they also respect the band. I get that just from talking to the guys in Europe and the U.S. They're good guys, they're good people. Yes, we have the label behind us now, which is something we've lacked throughout our past. It's very disheartening when you work at something for so many years and you find that the label is not really behind you the way it should be. That's something that always worked against us before. I don't feel that now, which is the first time in a long time I can say that.

WC: Did Nuclear Blast seek you out or did you seek them out?

RD: Well, basically, this is how it came about in a nutshell. When we were out on tour with Rotting Christ, we knew a bunch of people in the U.S. office of Nuclear Blast in California. We know Gerardo, he's been a fan for a long time and he's the label manager. We know Charles Elliott because he used to work at Century Media and he was one of the only guys at Century Media who really did a lot for us. He was a hard worker and a good guy from back in the day. I told him, Charles, you do so much for us. So his interest in us was honest, it was genuine. He wound up at Nuclear Blast. Loana Valencia was also at Century Media and wound up at Nuclear Blast. So we knew a lot of the really key people at Nuclear Blast from their past labels. What happened was they came out to see us on the Rotting Christ tour and they pretty much had a feeling that we were pretty much done contractually with Listenable and Century Media. They asked us if we were done, if we were on our last album with them. Yeah, we're pretty much free agents. So we said, if you're interested, let us know, because we don't know where we're gonna go next. We wanted to take a break and see if we could get interest from any other labels. We needed something a lot stronger here in the United States. Century Media just wasn't working as hard as they could for us. Listenable was great for us in Europe...they did more for us over there than any of the labels we were with in the past. We actually thought about working with Listenable further, but when we met up with Nuclear Blast, we were like Yeah! Let us know! And a few months later they got in touch with us. They weren't pushy about it, they just kinda threw it out there. Ultimately, all roads led to Nuclear Blast, let's put it that way! (chuckles)

WC: So far, everything seems to have developed just the way it should have.

RD: It really did. You're fuckin' spot on with that. They made a lot of suggestions to us, like maybe getting somebody different to produce. We were thinking about that ourselves. We love Paul (Orofino,longtime producer--Mality), Paul does a great job, he's a good friend and we love his studio. We compromised. We recorded the album with Paul and then had Zack Ohren mix it on the West Coast. Because of that, I think we got our best sounding record in 22 years. They also suggested we try something different for the artwork. We're also great friends with Sven of Aborted and he did a great job on the last several records and the EP but we felt like we wanted to try something different. They suggested Par Olofsson from Sweden and he nailed it, he did a fuckin' phenomenal job on the cover, it was exactly what we were looking for. So yeah, not only have they done a lot on the promotional end but they had some good suggestions and steered us in the right direction creatively. And not only that. They kept finances in mind,too. For example, when they suggested Zack, he was not only a great production guy, but very reasonably priced. Same thing with Par. He did a phenomenal job and he doesn't kill you when it comes time to pay. That's what I respect about Nuclear Blast. They knew we had a limited budget and they were trying to get the best out of what we had.

WC: One thing I noticed on the new album is that the songs still have that huge feeling to them, but they are actually quite compact and concise. There's no real epics. Is that something that was planned or did it happen naturally?

RD: A little of both. We try not to plan things out too much, we like to go with a feeling. We never know what's going to come out until it's out there, you know? When we started to write the "Harnessing Ruin" record, we decided we wanted to strip things down and make things a little more straightforward. We've experimented enough. Maybe "experiment" is not the right word. In the past, we've written in such a way that there were a lot of great riffs and parts that could have been developed a lot more if they had not come in for just four measures and left.(laughs) We tried to change things with each release and each release is still a learning process. We're far from perfect and we still try to learn everytime we go into the studio. We always try to fine tune some of the things we weren't happy with on the previous record. So on "Harnessing Ruin" and "Shadows", we decided to make the songs more straightfoward. We also had that in mind with the new one, we wanted to trim off all the unnecessary fat and bullshit. We concentrated on writing good heavy riffs and having a good dynamic within the song.

WC: It's very streamlined yet it still has all the same qualities that have always defined your band.

RD: Yeah, and that's what we try to do with every record. What we started out with back in 1988 we try to keep and expand on without losing track of who we are. We retain the essence of the band with each record. We've been doing this long enough, we know what our sound is. Sometimes Bob will come up with something and I'll say, ehhh, it's not really us! It happens from time to time. We'll try different things and sometimes they'll work, sometimes they won't. For the most part, I think we're pretty good at catching the ones that don't before they get on record.

WC: One of my friends said that what makes Immolation so great, and what separates good death metal from bad, is the feeling of DOOM to the music. A lot of "super-brutal" bands just don't have that feeling.

RD: Absolutely! The way we envision this kind of music is that it must be very dark. It must be something that's almost not of this world. Something dark and epic and not very happy!(laughs) We're all about the feeling. That's the key element of this band. Every song has a dark, foreboding, miserable feeling to it. "Majesty and Decay" is a very cold record. All of our records are like that..."Unholy Cult" was a very cold record, "Harnessing Ruin" was very dark and heavy. Even going back to "Here In After" and the first record...it's all about the feeling. It was never about being super-fast or super-technical. Looking at some of my favorite shit from back in the day...like Death's "Scream Bloody Gore". Classic record! It's not a technical album. It's a very basic, heavy, miserable sounding record. Autopsy, all of their stuff...again, very simplistic, but it's all about the feeling. It has a dark, bleak sound.

We've always tried for that feeling.

WC: "Seven Churches" by Possessed...

RD: Exactly! I'm glad you mentioned that because I was thinking of that also. Another great album. It starts off with the fuckin' "Exorcist"...you know, just the main riff on that fuckin' song (hums the riff)...it's totally ominous! It's very sinister.

WC: They never really equalled that album again.

RD: No. "Beyond the Gates" was an OK album but it didn't have that dark, haunting, crushing feeling that consumed you. And then they put the EP out and by that point, they were all about their fucking guitar playing. Everything was very polished sounding. I mean, I liked the EP but it wasn't near "Seven Churches".

WC: It didn't sound evil!

RD: No, it didn't. It had a lot of thrash elements to it, There's a big difference to me between thrash and death metal. Thrash is very upbeat sounding to me, where death metal is just more dark and miserable sounding. And that's what we're about.

WC: The title of the new album, "Majesty and Decay"...does that refer to our own civilization right now?

RD: Yeah. We touch on a lot of things lyrically that we've touched on in the past. There's a little less about religion this time. There's about 3 songs where that is specifically addressed...."Power and Shame", "The Comfort of Cowards" and "Divine Code". The rest of the songs deal with anything from war to social issues. "The Purge" is almost a continuation of "World Agony". A lot of the stuff was inspired by the daily grind that we lead every day...seeing what's going on in the world, reading the papers. We're all big readers. We enjoy history, I read a lot about World War II. I enjoy reading a lot of the personal accounts of World War II. That all worked its way into the new record. We felt the title worked real well because every song, even though they are different conceptually, has somewhat of a similar idea to it. It's not quite a concept album. We were originally going to call it "A Glorious Epoch", but "Majesty and Decay" won out because it was a stronger title and expressed the ideas better.

WC: The album has the feeling of being a mighty empire that is in the process of crumbling away. Not just lyrically, but the music also conveys that.

RD: The song "Majesty and Decay" itself is specifically about the rise and fall of the Third Reich. I had just read a 3 book series about the history of the Third Reich. It had started in the 1800's in Germany and it went right up to the end of the war. It covered the whole course of events of how the Third Reich came to power. It delves into a lot of political and social stuff that was going on at that time. It's something that always fascinated me. How could things get so out of control and create a war as extensive as World War II? How could it create so much destruction and cost so many lives? That was the direct inspiration for that song. If you read the song, you'll understand immediately. I wrote it in a vague enough way that it could also apply to different things. It could apply to some of the modern dictatorships.

WC: It could almost be about Rome.

RD: Absolutely! That's why I don't like to get too specific in the lyrics, because I like people to make their own interpretations. You can have four or five people read the lyrics to one specific song and they each will get something different out of it. And that's fine. That's what's great about art and music, it's the individual interpretation of it. You were spot on with your comparison. But when you get down to it, the song is about the dark side of power, the misuse of power. That can be applied to dictatorships, to the church, to big corporations.

WC: I think it is definitely about right now as well. I think that even people that aren't educated can sense that our nation and our civilization has turned a corner.

RD: Oh sure! It is about now. It's more about now than anything else. Each song deals with something about now in its own way. "A Glorious Epoch" is about today. We go back to the last hundred years of mankind and all the things mankind has done to expand, push further and get wealthier and acquiring more. That's all it's about now, it's all about money and greed. It kind of wears you down. You see all the negativity in the world and it's hard not to be inspired to write about it. There's a lot of today on the record. The first song "The Purge" is all about us and it's about how we've consistently dropped the ball! (chuckles) We're all to blame. I'm not saying it's due to this group or that group. It's all of us, we're all part of the problem. And that's where we get to "The Purge", it's an extreme scenario. I'm saying, we're the ones who are fucking shit up, it's probably best if we weren't around. (laughs) It is an extreme look and obviously I don't feel that we should be wiped out, but it's an artistic look at the way I see things. Sometimes you get so frustrated, you start thinking we'd be better off if we weren't even here anymore!

WC: In the movie "The Watchmen", the god-like character Dr. Manhattan says, "The universe works just fine without people."

RD: Absolutely. That's the thing. Believe me, I'm not a fuckin' tree-hugger, but I see what's going on, I see what's happening.

WC: People will be debating even as the cities are drowning around them.

RD: Absolutely. That' s a very strong theme on the record. That's cool, I'm glad you are able to figure out what it's about.

WC: I get it, but it's not even the lyrics, it's almost in the tones of the music itself.

RD: It's a culmination of all the things that have gotten under my skin lately. I just needed to vent! (laughs) Like the last song, "The Comfort of Cowards", it takes an atheistic look at religion and all the influence it has on people even today. Our drummer Steve wrote most of really powerful lyrics on that song. We're both big fans of Richard Dawkins. I just read his last book "The Greatest Show on Earth", which is about evolution. He made a lot of good points in that book. 40% of people today in the United States still believe in Noah's Ark! And they still believe the Earth is only 5000 years old! It's crazy how some of the right-wing try to get their fuckin' agenda into schools today, pushing that fucking "Intelligent Design" bullshit, which goes against fact and science. I find that very scary today in 2010 that they are promoting fuckin' fairy tales to kids in school. Come on, we have science, a lot of this shit is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Why are you pushing this nonsense on kids? You're creating a whole new generation that's gonna be dependent on fucking fairy tales!

WC: They've got a theme park where they have dinosaurs with saddles on them!

RD: Yes, yes! How insane is that? Did you see that movie "Irreligious"?

WC: No, I didn't see it.

RD: You gotta see it.

WC: I will, but I can't believe it is going to change anybody's mind. Ignorance is spreading faster than ever thanks to all these great "technological" innovations. The Internet only seems to be making people stupider.

RD: Oh yeah! Sure, it's a great tool, but it creates a whole fuckin' generation of people who are afraid to get out of their house and interact with people, you know?Everybody can be a fuckin' laptop commentator. You're sitting in your house and nobody knows your real name. They're anonymous...

WC: Everybody becomes really brave...

RD: Yeah. I'm with ya on that one, man. See, we're oldschool, that's why! (laughs)

WC: I don't plan on ever sending a text to anybody. If I wanna talk to somebody, I'll just talk to 'em, you know?

RD: Call them up! Yeah, I'm the same way.

WC: I get really worried when I hear talk that there might not be any books in the future. Look at what's happened to metal magazines. We're down to about two of them, I think.

RD: I know, man. Once Metal Maniacs went down and then Pit, I was like, oh my God, we're fuckin' done.

WC: It's not really the same, looking at it on the Internet. A world where nobody reads a book...I hope I don't live to see it. Someday, I hope to run into you guys in person, then we can REALLY talk! (laughter)

RD: Oh, you'll see us, I guarantee it! We're gonna be on the road for a good long time and you...or anybody reading this...can come up and say hello to us at a show. We love talking to fans and metalheads, that's part of what makes this business so much fun!!!