IMMOLATION – I/IV – Closer to the end
- by Roy Kristensen
- Posted on 14-07-2008
Eternal Terror og Imhotep gir denne uken sine trofaste death metal lesere en uke med IMMOLATION. Mandag til fredag! Dere får et intervju fra 2005 i tillegg til ett 3 delt fra 2008. Bli med på en ugudelig reise i Immolations verden!
"Of Martyrs & Men" from "Unholy Cult" is a lyric that in a clear way gives us your opinion concerning those who bow to a god, no matter religion it seems. As you say: "…You say you're men we know you're cowards…" How did you end up with this view upon the slaves of today's world?
"That song was a direct result of the feelings we had regarding the events of September 11th, and I think it encompasses religion as a whole and how it can manipulate men to commit such atrocities. The song talks about this blind and fanatical devotion that leads down only one path, living as slaves to their beliefs, allowing themselves to be manipulated and driven to this madness. It is concept that is truly fascinating and extremely frightening at the same time, something I don't think any of us can truly relate to completely. There were so many different emotions within us that were coming to the surface after what happened here in New York on that day and in the months to come that they needed an outlet, and the "Unholy Cult" album was that outlet."
In "Reluctant Messiah" it seems like you take another point of view, and try to see it from the point of a religious/Christian person. But there's not much hope in this track for the ‘righteous people'. When you meet religious people, do you challenge them with these questions? Do you, as I, often get the most common and ignorant answer "God works in mysterious ways"? And finally, how do you communicate with religious people?
"Reluctant Messiah" is from a first person point of view, and it basically deals with this slow realization of the sad reality that there is no hope for these people in the places they are looking. They need to look within and not outside themselves for answers and inspiration, but instead they choose to look to this "higher power" that they feel will one day make things right for them. I am friends with, work with and deal with religious people every day, since I was a child, maybe not on the level that we speak about in our lyrics, but some are very devoted in their beliefs, and that is fine with me. You can not forget that these are just our opinions and feelings, and it is not our intention to force these opinions on anyone else, in fact this is what I dislike about some religious people, there need to force their beliefs on others. The point is that for some, this may be fine, it may fill that empty space within some people, but for us, we choose a different route all together. I look to myself for inspiration or those closest to me when I have doubts, not to something as intangible as a God. I do realise that I am a minority with regards to my beliefs, and do consider this when religion comes into question, and whenever that does come up, I think people respect my opinions and beliefs as I respect theirs."
Being anti-religious, isn't that a form of being religious as well? More important, what do you in Immolation believe in? If I read "Rival the Eminent" from the masterpiece "Unholy Cult", you say that "…Not all of us choose to believe some of us choose to live…" Do you consider playing Death Metal as being alive? A bit naïve perhaps, but what is better living your way compared to believing in a god? At least they have certain (imaginary) hopes we don't have…
"I don't think choosing not to believe in religion is a form of being religious, not in the least. All religions are man made, and in my opinion, we have not come up with a belief that's worth believing in yet. As I said earlier, I believe in myself and those closest to me, they are my idols, heroes and role models, and even with their imperfections and insecurities, they will always be one step above and beyond any man made idol. I live and learn along the way and hopefully learn from my many, many mistakes, but that is what really counts, the ride, not the final destination, and I think some people get caught up with this way of thinking. Playing this music makes me more alive than 90% of the people out there, because I am doing what I am passionate about despite the fact that I don't make a living off the band. I believe in what I do and love doing it, it has taken me around the world on many different occasions, visiting many countries and meeting many great people as passionate as ourselves, it has really given so much back to me, I really do consider this living, because without it, part of me would be dead. The normal 9 to 5 work thing is easy, everyone does it and anyone can do it, I have been doing it my whole life, but that's not makes me unique, what makes us unique is the willingness to pursue what we are passionate about. This is leading up to the next point. Some people are passionate about their religious beliefs and how they choose to live, and that is fine. I choose to do this, I do not allow it to dictate to me how I should be or live, I dictate these things myself, and that is the difference. I am in control of my own destiny and not putting someone/thing else in charge. And believe me, there is plenty of hope on my side of the fence, just realistic hope, hope that are attainable, and not fantasy hopes."
You have played Death Metal for more than a decade now; we're actually speaking 15 years. And still I feel you're getting better instead of tired. You come up with riffs that are superb and really fitting for Death Metal. Immolation has developed into being a trademark and there is none like you these days. In the title track for "Unholy Cult" the first one and a half minutes are amazing. When you've written these riffs (that begins after 28 seconds), do you KNOW that this is good, or do you just try to do your best?
"To be honest, I think it is due to the fact that we have been doing this for over 17 years now that gives us a certain amount of confidence in our writing. I think the whole process is a learning process, with each album we learn a little more and fine tune the machine a little bit more than the last one, so I think at this point in the game, our vision is the same and we know where we want to take the band. We know what works and doesn't work, albeit we may not know right away, we may have to sit on something and listen to it for a bit before we realise it doesn't work, but overall we know what's best for Immolation. We never try to out do ourselves and top our last release, we just try to make an album that is great in our eyes and something that we can say is our best for that moment."
You have had to be a tad uncertain about your style, because you haven't had the necessary success. However, it seems like things have changed and your popularity is increasing as far as I understand. And with the change of a dedicated label that makes your music Listenable to us, it seems like you have got a kick in your ass. "Unholy Cult" and the new album "Harnessing Ruin" have the best productions throughout your whole career, despite Metal Blade being a bigger label. How come you have never given up? What are your inner demons that make you spawn new albums every second year?
"We have had many low points during the past 17 years along with the many high points, but I think it's the low points that make us stronger and hungrier. We are very fortunate to have been able to work with Laurent and Listenable Records in Europe and Century Media/Olympic in the US. Both of these labels have given us more life due to their belief in the band, it finally seems that we are on the right team, a team that is willing to go to bat for us and a team that can see the potential in the band. It is so disheartening to devote 100% of your soul to your music only to have your label not believe in what you are doing, this is the worst feeling for any artist. I think our last 2 releases are without a doubt our best on every level, and I agree with you when you say that people are finally starting to see the band for what it really is, and they are finally noticing the potential of what we have to offer. It is a very good feeling for us after working so hard all these years, and this is what fuels us to release albums more frequently and much better than the last."
Which actually bring us over to the new album, recently released "Harnessing Ruin". I assume you're pleased with it and that it's your best album and that everything is fine and blah blah blah, which is actually what every band says about the latest release. I mean, it would be stupid to say different. Let me instead focus on the development in Immolation from "Unholy Cult" to the new album. It's easy to hear that it's Immolation, but somehow I feel the song writing is different. It seems like the new album is less instant, being more of a grower compared to "Unholy Cult". How would you yourself compare Immolation's two latest full-lengths?
"I would have to say the main difference between "Unholy Cults" and "Harnessing Ruin" is that the new one is a straighter forward and to the point record than the last. It is less intricate and more in your face, something that on one level is easier to absorb, but on another level much more difficult to digest. This is something we did intentionally, and I think we succeeded. I also think the new album is much more heavily layered with extra guitar parts and small guitar nuance that make it a very multi layered album that has much more depth, feeling and soul than any other record we have written. It really takes on a life all its own and there are many elements to these songs that you don't really catch the first time around, you really have to give it time, which to me is the best type of record, the one that slowly infects your mind, body and soul with each listen. The production is also slightly different, and in my opinion our best for what we are doing now. It really brings out all these multi guitar layers and really allows everything to breath in the mix."
Before we go into some of the tracks, I would like to know a little bit about the writing process. Like, do you write lyrics or music first, and how do you combine the two elements that make a whole track? And while being on the subject of writing a whole track, when do you feel that a track is finished?
"Well, first and foremost, we need to book the studio time so we have an exact deadline as to when we need everything finished. Without this deadline, our fans would probably be waiting a lot longer than two years in between releases. This tends to motivate us and put that spark under our asses so to speak. Then, once we get over the first hump of the first song or two, this usually builds our confidence and things really start to take shape. The whole writing process usually only takes about 6 to 8 weeks in total, but during this time the songs are continually changing and being re-written and re-arranged sometimes right up until we are actually in the studio laying down basic tracks. The music always comes first, sometimes we have a lyrical concept that might inspire the direction of the song musically, but it's not until the music is completed that we pen the lyrics. For us its impossible otherwise, we need the music for inspiration when writing the lyrics. The track is finished when we are happy with the flow and the dynamics, and of course the riffs need to be up to our standard. We usually use a rough rehearsal cassette recording to listen and decide if the songs are working or not, but its not until we hear the song mixed that we are really hearing the song for the first time in its entirety."
"Swarm of Terror" and "Our Saviour Sleeps" are a tad shorter compared to the immense "Challenge the Storm". This latter impact has a moment which really strikes me as massive and huge. After the thirds verse you go into a wicked part that culminates in the massive "…Death is creeping at our backs…" Despite the changes in the music, it still sounds like the same track. Your way of arranging has improved quite a bit since "Dawn of Possession". Why do you choose to make your music this intricate? I assume it's harder for the listener to relate to your kind of progressive Death Metal… What kind of feedback do you get on in example "Challenge the Storm"?
"The first two tracks are much shorter and more straight forward than the third track "Challenge the Storm". This song has so many great parts and great dynamics, its one of my personal favourites, it has such a great flow, always moving forward despite the slight twists and turns we throw in as you mentioned. This song also has multiple lead parts that flow over multiple rhythm parts, ending in a great climax that brings you back to the "Death is creeping at our backs…." Part. This happens to be a very intricate song as compared to some of the other songs on the album, but it does have a smooth flow and it doesn't seem awkward, which is the key. We have certainly come a long way since the first album, and I think you can really see a progression in the albums since that first one. People on a whole seem to like this "progressive" style and realise this is what makes us unique, and so far the press has been overwhelmingly positive for this release, even better than the last."
I have also noticed that your solos have improved during the years. I guess your skills improve along the way. Do we speak about the traditional rehearsing and more rehearsing, or is the something else lurking in the darkness of Immolation?
"I personally think the solos on this record are by far Bob's pinnacle of lead playing. He has truly outdone himself, the solos are just so thick and full of mood and feeling, and they really take on a life of their own. Some of his most brilliant work to date. I think when he writes a solo, he really tries to bring out the feeling of the song and of the particular moment in the song. The course of the song sometimes seems to dictate how the lead will take shape. He usually has most of the solos worked out before he actually starts the recording, but his time he actually did some leads right there on the spot, being very spontaneous, and these were some of the most unique on the album."
One thing I'm a bit curious about is how you come up with an idea like that powerful section in "Son of Iniquity". The verse "…I'm too far, it's taken control of me…" has the whispering which is ended by sheer brutality in each sentence. When you come up with such a part, do you feel that it is Immolation and that it's going to be cool to the listener, or is it more like you feel it fit the concept of the track? To me it's kind of like past and presence; in the sense that the whispering represents your past and the brutal word are you today. As you concludes, "…For this moment, I am God…"…
"It's funny you brought up this song. This song happens to be my personal favourite song on the album. I feel it is the heaviest song on the record, and possibly the heaviest Immolation song ever, and most of all, it is by far our darkest song both musically and lyrically, reeking of hopelessness and sadness. It is again written in the first person and we are trying to take a look inside a young child that is recruited as a suicide bomber, so that is the premise of the song.
The middle section of the song came about three days before we hit the studio, it was written, but not quite finished until this section was added. We chose the whisper section accented by the heavier vocals to really bring home the point that this was this persons inner thoughts speaking out, his final moments before he takes his own life, and this contrast really makes this part one of my favourite Immolation sections ever.
I have to be honest, I wasn't very happy with the idea of the whisper vocals, but Bob really felt it would work, so when I finally tried it and we listened back, we knew it was perfect for the song and he made a believer out of me. We felt this really brought out that particular moment of the song and drove home the point of what the song was ultimately leading to."
Immolation has found an own trademark, and in my opinion your music is not similar to other Death Metal bands. In the beginning there were similarities to i.e. Morbid Angel and other bands from that period, but you have developed your style and found your own identity, still remaining as Immolation. How come you choose to play a form of Death Metal that is far from as accessible compared to Cannibal Corpse, Dismember, Morbid Angel, Deicide and others? I mean, your music is more intricate and definitely needs more spins to be conquered…
"Of course in the beginning more of our influences were a bit more obvious, this being on the first record. This I think took a drastic turn by the second record where we really tried hard to separate ourselves and develop our own identity and sound, which I think we most definitely have. This is the most important thing for any band, an identity and identifiable sound, and over the years we have crafted this and made it our own style. We like to play music that is heavy with feeling more than heavy with speed or intricacies, the feeling really dictate the course of each song, and I think this winning formula has really set us apart and in a league of our own."
If I had met you in person, do I have to take care? I ask this since you play violent music that could easily evolve brutal emotions to occur. Are you violent yourself, or is it more a matter of you being able to sort out your inner demons through Immolation's fine brand of Death Metal?
"I think if you met anyone of us, I don't think you would believe we play the type of music we play. We are very quiet and low key, hard working blue-collar guys with a love for life and a passion for music. Music is an outlet for these feeling and emotions, or inner demons as you would. We are very non-violent, but we are very opinionated and I think this comes out in our music. To be honest, most bands plying this type of music are the same way, most being very modest and unassuming."
I assume you have a faithful fan base, and that you hopefully get more fans by each release, despite that it demands something to listen to Immolation. What do the fans mean to Immolation, looking apart from the buying-potential? How do you take care of your fans?
"The fans mean everything to us. We relish the fact that these people enjoy and connect with our music the way we do, and that they come out to see us perform and ask for us to sign their CDs, it is mind blowing to us even now. We are just fans and regular guys like everyone else, which is why we always make it a point to always be accessible to our fans if they want to say "Hello" to us or shake our hands or even take a photo. This is the very least we can do to the people that really keep us going."
If there actually was a God, and you go the opportunity to be some sort of Bruce Almighty for a day or a week, what would you do? Maybe let humanity comes a tad more "Close To A World Below"? Or as you write in the reflection "At Mourning's Twilight", "…And one by one we'll fall… We'll slowly disappear – And one by one we'll fall… Our darkest day draws near…" Do you actually think that we're getting closer to an end? (i.e., Bush for four more years…)
"Well, I think we are quite possibly closer now to an end than we have been since the cold war. Things just keep taking a turn for the worse and I don't see an end in sight, and if people don't wake up and really see what is going on, it may be too late. I love my country, but that doesn't have to mean I agree with everything my government does, and I am very upset with the direction they have started taking this country, and I see it getting worse before it gets better unless we do something. If I were god for a day, I think I would really clean house and start over in many areas, that is the only possible solution."
I assume drummer Steve Shalaty is not jerking off after a show; nor did Alex when he played in your band. It seems extremely technical and tiring, at least from the "Bringing Down The World Tour" DVD. And your guitar playing equals that, at least from my point of view. So, how do you work to be able to do show after show? How do you manage to keep in shape and be focused playing show after show, with the same songs?
"It really gets easier as the tour goes on. It's always a little taxing physically during the first few shows, because despite all the practice you put in together as a band, nothing compares to the very draining live experience. It takes a few shows for us to build up that endurance, and with each show after that, it gets easier and easier. Our bodies just aren't used to the immense physical strain we put them under while on that stage, and it really takes it toll in the beginning, especially since we aren't kids anymore. Mentally, this focus and attitude depends largely on the show itself, the people and their response. We can play to a room of 500 people who just aren't into it, and this can be one of the most mentally exhausting and challenging shows to pull off as opposed to playing to 50 people that are really just going nuts, really enjoying it and loving every note that comes off the stage, this show is one that I would prefer any day."
What do you desire and expect from a crowd that has paid to see you on stage? And equally important, what do you demand of yourselves when you're up there doing your excellent Death Metal?
"We just expect some respect and appreciation form the fans. Of course, it helps when they show their appreciation by headbanging or moving around to the music, but as long as we have their undivided attention and they make some noise after each song to show appreciation, that's all we can expect. As for ourselves, I just expect our very best each night whether there are 1000 people or 20 people, they are all entitled to a great show and are entitled to 110% on our behalf, so we try to give this every night, whether we are feeling it or not."
Those musicians I speak to almost quote each other when I ask them why they play music and what they feel like getting better and better feedback. Immolation is a band that has grown slowly but safely, which is also the case with another amazing band Behemoth. Is Immolation your satisfaction of the ego? How does it feel to receive respect and great feedback?
"It's actually kind of nice at this point, almost 17 years after our formation, to finally get some respect from the press and some doubters out there. I think we always had the respect of our peers, but it's much harder to reach beyond that, but I think we finally have started breaking down some barriers, and hopefully this will continue in the future. At this point, there is no ego involved, it's just nice to see all that hard work pay off in a different way this time. Don't get me wrong, it has paid off in many other ways in the past (traveling, touring, meeting many great new friends, seeing many great places, and actually being able to release 6 records of in my opinion the best Death Metal has to offer), so we aren't downplaying this at all, we are very grateful and fortunate to still be here, but a good part of that is our love for this and our drive to move the band further along on this crazy ride."
So, you have just released the amazing "Harnessing Ruin" I assume you've read some reviews and done a few interviews by now. How is life now? How is the new album received by others than me (who think it is one of the 10 best Death Metal albums ever)?
"Again, we never go in with any expectations other than to write a great album, so to finally get some feedback on this new release, and to see how positive it is, even more so than the last release, this is just mind blowing for us. We are happy with the new album and definitely think it stands out from everything else we have done, but to hear that many others feel the same way we do about it is a great feeling.
It's been all very positive and this is a good sign for us that we are still doing something right."
Finally, and least important. How much shampoo do Immolation spend after a show?
"I think Bob really uses the most shampoo on his head than Bill, Steve and myself. A clean head is a happy head!!!!
Thanks for the great interview and we can't wait to get out on the road and spread the sickness across the land!!!