ABYSMAL DAWN have emerged from the Los Angeles underground in a relatively short amount of time. But like any young band, they’ve faced their share of adversity. Through tough times, the band pioneered by mainman Charles Elliot, have channeled those opposing energies through a creative and inspirational outlet resulting in the best album of the band’s career. Album number three, Leveling the Plane of Existence, has taken the band to the next level in every facet, songwriting, technicality, lyrically, and production-wise. APESHIT chatted with Charles regarding the album, his guitar playing, his new doom band, BEREFT, and more.
APESHIT: Leveling the Plane of Existence is your best album yet! The songwriting is strong as is the production. What inspired you to take the band to the next level?
Charles: I don’t know but that’s always the goal. I think having a new drummer helped a lot honestly. Our old drummer Terry [Barajas] is a great guy and a solid drummer but I couldn’t really fully take the band in the direction I wanted with his style. I don’t think our old guitarist Jamie [Boulanger] was big on technical death metal as I was either. With this line up it was easier to write since we were more or less on the same page. I felt like there were no limits and I could do what I’ve always wanted. I think Erik Rutan helped us finally get the production we’ve been going for too, which is modern but still organic.
APESHIT: The artwork on the new album looks amazing and it’s cool to see the band utilize Par Oloffson (IMMORTAL, DYING FETUS, IMMOLATION) for all of your albums to date. Does the band present him with ideas and concepts?
Charles: Yeah, me and Par trade ideas back and forth through e-mail. I usually come up with an album title and a rough concept and we just go from there. He’s pretty easy to work with.
APESHIT: How did HATE ETERNAL’s Erik Rutan become involved with the album? Did the band work closely with him on the mixes and mastering directly or were the finished recordings handed over and entrusted to him to work on his own?
Charles: I met Erik for a second time when we were on tour with GOATWHORE. I just started talking to him about his studio and our ideas on what an album should sound like and we hit it off. I had been in contact with him since then and sent him some pre-production demos and he was really into doing the record. While we were recording we send him samples of things like drum and guitar tones before we’d move on. For mixing and all that he’d have to upload it since he’s in FL and we’d just tell him what we liked and what we wanted changed.
APESHIT: What contributions, if any, did he bring to the ABYSMAL DAWN’s sound?
Charles: He just helped it sound massive. This is the first time I’ve really been happy with my guitar sound on a record really. He just made us sound punchier, more modern and in your face like we always wanted.
APESHIT: Tell us a little about some of the lyrical concepts. “In Service of Time” and “Perpetual Dormancy” appear to explore the meaning of existence while “Pixelated Ignorance,” “Manufactured Humanity,” and even “Programmed to Consume” from the last album seem to offer cautionary tales on technology and commercialism.
Charles: I just went through some real shitty times while writing and recording this record. A lot of the lyrics reflect on my feelings towards life and certain people at the time. I think the common theme is renewal though since I had to start over in a lot of aspects of my life. I question society and that’s always been a big topic in my lyrics. Maybe partly because I’m a musician that lives in a society that is set up to make artists fail. The irony is that struggle fuels some of my best work.
APESHIT: You guys have toured throughout North America several times. When are you guys heading to Europe?
Charles: I don’t know actually. We’ve had offers but it’s been just too expensive to get over there. We hope to go sometime soon though.
APESHIT: Your guitar playing on Leveling the Plane of Existence is better than ever. Tell us about your guitar playing…how long have you been playing guitar and who are your primary influences? Who or what do you attribute to your style of writing and soloing?
Charles: I’ve been playing for about 17 years now, over half my life. Growing up I think my primary influences were James Murphy, Alex Skolnick, Marty Friedman, Chuck Schuldiner, Buckethead, Allan Holdsworth, Fredrick Thordendal, Bill Steer, Mike Amott, and Paul Masvidal. I could probably go on but those are the main ones. My style is just a product of my influences.
APESHIT: How often do you practice?
Charles: Not as often as I used too (laughs). When I find new things to challenge me, I practice more, otherwise I hate practicing the same old shit over and over.
APESHIT: This guitar solo noodler I once knew told me once that SLAYER’s guitar solos are way harder and not as random as they sound. Do you agree?
Charles: SLAYER solos are like Mozart (laughs). Seriously though, they can’t be completely random because those guys mostly play the same shit live. They can’t be completely easy either because Gary Holt and Pat O’Brien didn’t learn them note for note when they filled in for Jeff Hannemann. So there you have it. My vague and politically correct answer.
APESHIT: For your first album, From Ashes, you guys got to tour with SIX FEET UNDER, DECAPITATED and KRISIUN. How awesome was that for a first U.S. tour? Did you get to toke with Chris Barnes and the KRISIUN brothers?
Charles: It was awesome man! It kind of spoiled us for a first tour too. I don’t really smoke weed but I did with the KRISIUN guys just because they were so awesome and it was an honor touring with them. I don’t think I spoke to Chris Barnes at all during that tour actually (laughs). We played with them again recently though and he remembered me. I think we spoke more than the whole time we toured together. Just a real private guy I think.
APESHIT: What are your memories of the late Vitek (DECAPITATED)?
Charles: I remember he used to talk to his wife and daughter a lot with a web cam. He always seemed to be in a happy mood and was a really personable guy. I remember having a BBQ with them and KRISIUN in a parking lot somewhere too and having a great time.
APESHIT: Let’s talk about the beginning of the band. You were able to start the band, write an album, get signed within a relatively short period of time, and then get on a good tour. How did you pull off what so many bands can never achieve?
Charles: I really don’t know actually. We took a chance with Crash Music for our first album when we knew they’d probably screw us. Eventually we did [get screwed] of course, as did everyone. That first tour was just right place at the right time I guess. Like I said, it kind of spoiled us in a way though. Most of the tours we did after that were shit and didn’t even compare to how great that tour was. It hasn’t been until now that we’ve finally started getting the tours we need again.
APESHIT: The band has undergone numerous lineup changes since your debut, From Ashes. How does the band maintain its consistency after a member is dismissed or departed? Can you help but be weary of how long a new member is going to stay?
Charles: I’ve always been the main songwriter but each guy always adds their own flavor. I’ve been trying to be more careful about who I let in the band these days. A lot of people just want to act like a session musician and use you as a stepping stone onto something bigger. I try to have guys in the band that really enjoy the music and want to be here now. Sometimes I’d have to scramble for people just to tour but I’ve been able to be a little more selective now.
APESHIT: It seems like every legit underground death metal band has a great DIY work ethic. Playing this kind of music and having a full-time job is not easy by any stretch. Where did you get your work ethic?
Charles: I don’t know, just something instilled in me I guess. I’ve always really wanted to be a musician and it’s easier to stick with it when it’s a labor of love. I try not to consider it work, even though it is very hard work. Viewing it as work kind of kills the creative process for me. The moment I start doing this because I feel I have to, and not because I want to, I’m done. That’s a scary thing for me to think about sometimes, because when you finally do make it there’s a lot more pressure on you from other places.
APESHIT: Since it’s virtually impossible to make money off of record sales for many bands now, how does an underground extreme metal band even make a monetary profit?
Charles: Merch sales really so buy a shirt online or in concert!
APESHIT: Tell us about your new project, BEREFT, that you have with Sacha Dunable from INTRONAUT?
Charles: It’s our doom metal band. Derek Rydquist who used to sing for THE FACELESS plays bass and Derek Donley from NATIONAL SUNDAY LAW, and Sacha’s other band GRAVITON, plays drums. I think I told Sacha I wanted to do a doom band back in 2008. He demoed some stuff at the time with a drum machine but we were both so busy with our main bands. Then Sacha was playing in GRAVITON when one of the members, who also plays in NATIONAL SUNDAY LAW, took off. Derek D. was sort of bandless and Sacha asked him if he wanted to do the doom thing with him. When he said yes Sacha hit me up for those old demos. I gave them to him under the condition I’d still be in the band (laughs). Sacha knew Derek and he had just quit THE FACELESS so it all just came together. I’m really proud of it and think it has the best vocals I ever recorded. It’s heavy and a depressing as hell. The complete opposite of power metal and I love it (laughs).