11 years since the dawn of their debut album, New York’s IMMOLATION are still flexing their death metal muscles with album number six, Unholy Cult. While most bands come and go, IMMOLATION have no plans to make a dash for the exit. Despite never having achieved the breakthrough success of MORBID ANGEL or CANNIBAL CORPSE, IMMOLATION nevertheless have continued to forge ahead with gimmick-free brutality, proving still to be the true underground heavyweights they are. Unholy Cult sees the band with a new label, new guitarist, but the same old blasphemous forumla. Of course that’s entirely welcome cause this is death metal…and in death metal, who wants change? Frontman, Ross Dolan, chats about their latest effort and band’s longevity.
APESHIT: You guys have been around since the late 80’s and the band is stronger than ever. Most bands would’ve collapsed if they went through all of the trials and tribulations that IMMOLATION has gone through. How do you guys manage to keep it going?
ROSS: It has certainly been a long time, and we have had our share of rough times, but I think it’s just our belief in the band and our love of what we do that keeps us going. We have certainly learned a lot over the last 15 years, and we usually learn things the hard way, but that’s OK, it just fuels our fire and it makes us hungrier to move things forward. This is a true passion of ours, and we have so much more to do that things will continue to move forward.
APESHIT: IMMOLATION is on a new label with Olympic Recordings in the US and Listenable Records in Europe. Why did you guys decide to sign with them? Are you happy with the job that they’ve been doing so far?
ROSS: Yes, we are very happy with both labels. Listenable has really made a tremendous effort to make this a label priority, and already they have done so much for us, it is something we are not really used to. Olympic has been great as well, and now since they are more closely affiliated with Century Media over here, things have really been moving in a positive direction, so we are very happy on all accounts, probabally for the first time in a very long time.
APESHIT: You’ve come a long way in becoming one of the elite bands in extreme music. What are the band’s goals with Unholy Cult? What goals do you guys have in mind for the future?
ROSS: With Unholy Cult we hope to open people’s eyes to this type of music. Extreme metal is really on an upswing, and we just want people within this scene and also those not to familiar with it that IMMOLATION IS a strong force and we will continue to push the envelope and write great and meaningful music that has every element, especially feeling.
APESHIT: The style of music that you guys play is so technical and intense. The timing and riffing is very complex and erratic. What was the writing and rehearsing process like for the new record? How involved was your new guitarist, Bill Taylor (ex-ANGELCORPSE), in the writing process?
ROSS: The writing process for this album from start to finish was only about two months, but it was a very intense two months with lots of rehearsal. We work very well under pressure and things seem to fall into place when we are in this type of situation. This time around, Bill didn’t play that much of a role in the writing process, but this will most likely change for the next record. His role in the band is very important, especially on the live front, so we are very happy to have him as a new member.
APESHIT: The drumming in IMMOLATION is pretty unorthodox. Do you write with specific drum patterns in mind for the songs? Or is that all handled by your drummer, Alex Hernandez?
ROSS: The drums are the one part of the writing process that takes the longest. When Bob writes the riffs, he will sometimes write a basic drum beat on a drum machine to give Alex the idea of what he is going for. Alex usually catches on really quick and adds so much more of his own input to make the drums as special as they are. The drums really make the riffs what they are, and the drums can either make a song or break a song.
APESHIT: One of the things that sets you apart from most death metal bands is that you aren’t afraid to slow down the tempos to some of your songs. On the new album you have songs like “Rival the Eminent” and “Unholy Cult” both of which at times seem to have some “doom” influence. Is the band influenced by doom metal at all, or do you guys just like to mix it up tempo-wise, or both?
ROSS: We just like variety in our music. Mood and feeling are more important than speed and we prove this by incorporating all these elements in each of our songs. I think the mix of speed and heaviness really creates the dynamics that we feel is necessary to make this music interesting and forward moving. I think every type of music inspires us in some way and it all shows it face in our songs.
APESHIT: This is the third time you’ve worked with Paul Orofino, and on each new album, the production seems to get better each time. What does Paul bring to the IMMOLATION sound, and what did he do differently this time around?
ROSS: Paul is truely an amazing producer and an all around great person, he is like one of the family at this point. He really knows what we are looking for now and he was able to bring that out this time around better than before. This time around, we used just our live guitar sound only, and didn’t mix any other guitar sounds in, which allowed for a much clearer sound that allowed all the instruments to shine through in the mix. We are the happiest with this production and look forward to working with Paul for the next one.
APESHIT: Andreas Marschall is also back once again handling the cover art. Do you tell him exactly what you want for the cover art, or do you just give him the concept and let him run with it?
ROSS: We once again used Andreas, and could not release an album without his artwork gracing the cover. Basically, we give Andreas a very detailed list of what we want on the cover, placement, feeling, etc., and we send him a scetch and he does the rest. We are always amazed at how close he comes to what we are envisioning in our heads.
APESHIT: IMMOLATION has done numerous tours around the world. Are there any places that you would like to play in?
ROSS: We have had the great oportunity of seeing most of the world, however there are some places we haven’t been that we would love to visit. Japan, Australia, Russia and Greece are at the top of our list at the moment.
APESHIT: Shifting gears a bit, when all of those pedophile-related charges started coming down on the church this year, I noticed a lot of people interviewed (mostly Christian followers) were starting to doubt their own religion. You wrote about this on your last record (Close to a World Below) with “Father You’re Not a Father” and now once again, with “A Kingdom Divided”. In light of what’s been going on with the Christian community, do you think people who didn’t take your lyrics seriously before are now willing to be more open-minded towards them? And are they finally getting what IMMOLATION has been writing about for years?
ROSS: I would hope so, and I am glad you saw the connection between “Father…” and “A Kingdom Divided”. I feel our lyrics are very relevant and written in such a way that anyone could at least see our point in an intelligent way and not just dismiss it as rubbish. We spend a lot of time on our lyrics and especially with the new record, they are more mature than before and I think they will maybe give people a little insight on what the band is about like you said.
APESHIT: Last but not least, we here at APESHIT are always curious as to what our musical heroes listen to. What kind of stuff are you guys listening to right now? What kinds of music are you guys into besides metal?
ROSS: We have many favorites and listen to many different styles of music. New releases from CEPHALIC CARNAGE, VADER, HATE ETERNAL, NILE and INCANTATION as well as some other non-metal stuff such as the new TORI AMOS, PORTISHEAD, GOLDFRAPP and SARAH BRIGHTMAN to name a few.