Heart of Steel: Interviews

IMMOLATION - Interview with Guitarist Bob Vigna 

Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen & Arto Lehtinen

So you want to get more a hold of brutal death metal stuff?! Immolation, the long time death metal possessors, have soldiered on through years by battling through four albums and the fifth is on the way delivering uncompromising and brutal death metal that every death metal fan will get into. Album after album, Immolation have kept the ultimate brutal approach without showing slowdown mercy of any kind. The forthcoming immolated output Unholy Cult will continue the expected brutal paved way for another death metal masterpiece.

We were honored to have an opportunity to talk to the Immolation guitarist, Bob Vigna, about the upcoming album and especially when the world collapsed down on the 11th of September 2001.


Good day to New York and how is it going there at the moment after the two insane strikes and what's up in the IMMOLATION -camp ?

Things are going pretty well right now. Yes, Sept 11th was pretty insane. We were lucky here in Yonkers, NY though, as we are about 30 minutes from the city. Still we did feel it in many different ways. You could actually smell the fires all the way from Yonkers for days. We went down to the city to bring necessary equipment, food, clothing , etc. It was unbelievable how many people went down there to help out, from all over the country. At the site when it first happened the destruction was immense. When you saw it in person you were in awe. It almost looked fake, like a movie set or something. Anyhow, New York bounced back pretty quickly as expected. They are already planning the rebuild and the site has been cleared for months. Life down in New York is still just as busy as its ever been!

As for us, well after all that had passed we got back to what we needed to do,…write another album! And since we were really pissed off now, the writing was even more intense!

 

Before getting into the IMMOLATION topics, I can't help putting a few questions about the two late thrash/death metal icons namely Paul Baloff and Chuck Schuldiner, their departure from this world must have been a real strike to your heart ?

Yeah, well I think everyone was effected in some way. Most of us grew up listening to Exodus and Death, so it was pretty strange, especially since they were both so young.

 

You did some gigs with DEATH and obviously with EXODUS as well when Paul Baloff was still in the rank…?

Death, yes. We did play with them when they toured for Leprosy. It was a great time! I don’t think we ever played with Exodus though.

 

 

IMMOLATED UNHOLY CULT

I did some research right thru your homepage and got to find out that obviously you guys have been actively spending your time in a studio lately and recording a follow-up to your crushing Close to a World Below album - correct? Would you give us some sort of a run-down about things with this forth-coming album; about the songs on it, etc.?

The new album is finished. We recorded it in May. It is titled Unholy Cult, and it is the darkest, heaviest and most dynamic album we’ve made yet! The production is much clearer and more powerful. It is our best work. All the songs are very different and there is a lot of atmosphere, feeling and emotion. The titles are as follows: ‘Of Martyrs And Men’ ; ‘Sinful Nature’ ; ‘Unholy Cult’ ; ‘Wolf Among The Flock’ ; ‘Reluctant Messiah’ ; ‘A Kingdom Divided’ ; ‘Rival The Eminent’ ; ‘Bring Them Down’.

Could you say that you will continue right from there where you left off on Close to a World Below? I mean, "Close to a World Below", the title track of your previous album, was a truly epic-like masterpiece, lasting over 8 minutes and basically locking a listener inside by its dark and evil atmospheres in it…

Yeah well I guess you could say we did definitely carry on in that fashion, yet in a lot of ways we made things more straight forward and to the point. Unholy Cult also clocks in at 8 minutes, and it is even darker and heavier!

 

You have been using Paul Orofino as a producer on your couple of previous albums. Do you think he has the best understanding for what kind of sound you are after on each of your new releases? What are his strongest qualities in your opinion for working as a producer for IMMOLATION?

The first thing about Paul is that we are very comfortable with him. This is key when recording. We get along real well with him. He is very down to earth and puts you at ease. He has a lot of patience too, which helps a lot with us! Ha ha! Paul also captures the music and brings everything out. On this album you can hear everything! Ever guitar riff, the bass lines come through, the drums are full, the vocals are clear. The production is monstrous! Paul also helps with the music, adding suggestions to enhance parts, etc. Even when I’m recording leads he is like the master ear! He hears things that we don’t and can tell right away if something doesn’t quite work...and when it is right on the money! I put a lot of trust in his opinions and in the end, he brings out the best in us.

 

To my knowledge Paul Orofino hasn't ever worked with brutal death metal bands until with IMMOLATION, didn't you find it somehow a risky choice to hire a guy who has no clue what Death Metal and IMMOLATION is all about?

We never thought about it like that. We met Paul for the first time, saw his studio and it all felt right. We always like to do our own thing, so going with Paul was the natural choice. It didn’t matter that he wasn’t into this kind of music, or knew anything about us. Believe me, he knows more about us now than most! Haha! Paul knows music and his heart is in it, and that is what was most important to us. With each project we progress more and more. Now that this is our third time with Paul, Unholy Cult is leaps and bounds from our previous releases, and it shows. The more we work together the more fine-tuned the music and production becomes.

 

You have seemed to be somewhat satisfied with his working methods and production skills and basically with all that what he did on your last two previous albums. Has he been behind a mixing desk on this forth-coming album as well?

Oh yes, he’s been there! And he’s glad it’s over! Haha! Really though, his methods and personality really help as I mentioned before.

 

How difficult or easy was it for you to start the song writing process all over again for this new album? I believe that you always try to top all your previous releases somehow and someway - at least in your own mind, keep on telling to yourself that you´ve done some really extraordinary killer and pleasing songs again which basically leave all your previous stuff under a huge, dark´n´mocking shadow or something like that…

Yeah, well … we always do! Hahaha! The writing process is a strange one with us in that we rarely write over a long period of time. We often are so involved with our daily life, jobs, etc, that by the time we get studio time booked we have about a month to write the album. Yet once we get started we are like a machine. We just concentrate on the writing in every spare moment until it is done. I believe we do end up with a better album each time. This is mainly because our hearts are into it, and that we still retain that passion to create something meaningful and worth while. Also I think after doing this for 15 years we kind of know what works and what doesn’t. We actually will get a whole song together, play it through for a couple of nights, and then just come to the conclusion that it is no good. So we scrap the whole song and start over. We also want to expand this style and be more creative with it. We are very determined to make every new album more cutting edge, more defined, yet heavier and darker. Keeping the extreme, yet adding a lot of feeling. In any case we are very happy with the new one, as I said before it is our best yet. When you listen to it, you be the judge. All I know is that Unholy Cult will blow you away!

 

What was, or what were, the MOST challenging and time-consuming things with working with this new album? Did you get everything recorded the way you originally wanted to, or did you have to compromise something in order to have everything fit in the right places?

The most challenging is the mixing really. In the writing and what we create there is rarely a problem where we need to change something. Although it does happen now and then. With this album I would come up with ideas for certain parts on the spot. I like to do a lot of over laying riffs that compliment the main riffs. This adds a lot of extra life to the music. Nothing is every compromised. If we ever do make changes they are always for the better and make the song better than we thought it could be. All the songs on Unholy Cult were pretty rock solid when we went in to the studio. Me and Ross actually went through every song with a fine tooth comb and weeded out any parts or segments that we were not 100% happy with. So it all went really smooth once we got in there.

 

UTTER NIHILISTIC BRUTAL SOUND

You have been criticized by having pretty ´muddy´ and to put it simply, even ´bad´ productions on your albums; especially some of this criticism has been directed to your 2nd album, "Here in After" - as well as your 3rd album, "Failures for Gods". Eh… any comments on these arguments?!

No arguments. You can’t please everybody, especially those critics who have it out for you. For some reason we always get the 3rd degree on that subject. And then I listen to albums that these same critics praise, and those albums sound like shit! So we say fuck ‘em! Believe me, there is always something that can be better, and that goes for every album in this scene. We just get targeted for this for some reason. I’ve had people come up to us and say that they love the production on Here In After, or that Failures For Gods is their favorite. So there is nothing to argue about. Let them hear Unholy Cult……that will put all their ‘’production" concerns to rest!!! After they listen to Unholy Cult the critics will be too busy cleaning their dirty under wear, after they shit their pants, to have anything bad to say about it!!!

 

Even though the "muddy (well, as some has criticized your albums´ use that word!)" and "murky" sound has turned out to become some sort of trademark for IMMOLATION, but you have managed to capture that downright ultra brutal Death Metal sound for your albums. Is your new album going to be the same way production-wise as your two previous albums, having that Orofino´s imprint all over it?

Like I said before, the new album is as clear as a whistle, and as dark as the Northern Woods! hahah!

 

In my opinion you´ve always had your own, very distinctive, dark, heavy and unique sound and there´s no other band that sounds exactly like IMMOLATION. It´s like once you hear an IMMOLATION song played somewhere, you can tell right off that: "HEY, pal... Listen! Ain´t this IMMOLATION…?" Has this always been your goal; to try to keep IMMOLATION separated from other Death Metal bands by focusing on all those tiny bits inside your music that gives you this certain stamp over your musical approach?

Absolutely. It’s called identity! The fact that we have developed such a unique style is an achievement in itself. For someone to identify one of our songs, especially when it is brand new and they have not heard it before,…you cant ask for more than that. Not too many bands have that these days and that is something we are proud of.

 

Hmmm… since you started IMMOLATION, I bet you also had some personal fave bands there that were there as some sort of, let´s say, ´main influences´ for you and for everything why IMMOLATION took a sound as dark, brutal and heavy for what you´ve become known of in the metal scene. My wild guess is that bands like SLAYER, NECROVORE, KREATOR, MASSACRE, POSSESSED, MORBID ANGEL, DEATH, NIHILIST/ENTOMBED and such were definitely there for being the needed fuel to the IMMOLATION war machine – just please correct me if none of these names kinda didn´t hit their targets…

Yeah I mean we were both inspired by, and started up side by side with these bands. Those and a lot more. Earlier music like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Metallica all played a major part. There are just too many to mention, but yes we grew up on it all!

 

 

HERE IN - AFTER LABEL SWITCH

Before you ended up signing a deal with Monte Conner´s ROADRUNNER RECORDS in the late -´89, the events before that were kind of ´funny´ as Monte basically HAD to hunt down your 3-song demo which you released in´89 ´coz he couldn´t get it directly from you - even if he came to your Sundance show that year and asked a copy for it from 2 of you in the band and later even contacting you via letters, requesting the same thing from you all over again - and you still kept on ignoring him as you took things maybe a bit ´lightly´ at that time regarding that particular demo of yours. Anyway, I bet Monte was the happiest guy in the end for signing you guys up for his label, wasn´t he? Can you still remember the day when you headed your way to the headquarter of METAL BLADE RECORDS, met Monte and signed the contract? How was that meeting anyway? Felt maybe a bit excited…, eh?!

Well first off you’re getting your labels mixed up! Haha! Monte was A&R for Roadrunner like you said, not Metal Blade. And yes we did not take it too seriously as we never thought Roadrunner would be interested in us. You have to realize that this is before the big death metal explosion hit. So there were only a handful of signed bands. At that time it was a pretty special thing to be signed to a label, unlike today where every band in existence has an album out on a million different labels. So yes we were pretty excited about it,…probably more excited than Monte was. Actually he probably was not that excited at alL..... Haha! Even when we signed to Metal Blade we thought things would be different, but they really never gave us the push we needed, …never really got behind the band.

Now we are excited though, now with Olympic Records in the US, and Listenable Records in Europe, we are happy! These guys are both going to do their best and they both believe in the band, and that’s all we ever wanted.

 

In the end of the last year, it was announced that IMMOLATION had departed from METAL BLADE, so could you be kind enough and shed some light on this topic? What exactly went wrong with them, causing the departure? Weren't you pleased enough with how they took care of the promotion and stuff - or was the whole departure based on the money and other label policy that the label was running for their bands or what?

Like I started mentioning in the last question,…Brian Slagel and Mike Faily run the label, and they did not believe in the band. So they wanted to change the contract for the new CD, … this gave us the opportunity to get out, so we did. We already knew that Listenable was interested and Olympic came along shortly after. Its better to have people who are really interested in the band, as they will really work hard to make things happen.

 

As far as I know Chris Forbes runs a label of his own called SOLD SOUL and you are supposed to be involved in it, too. Could this mean that there´s a possibility next IMMOLATION album will be put out by SOLD SOUL and then the album would be licensed to some other label - or labels, in order to get a better distribution? Or have any other labels already showed their interest to sign IMMOLATION? And what kind roles does SOLD SOUL have between you and Forbes anyway?

That was something Tom was working on, but that is not happening anymore. Chris was helping him with it, but the whole thing never got off the ground. We will stay put for the time being. We’ll see how things go with the new CD. We are confident in both Listenable and Olympic.

 

 

WHEN THE WORLD COLLAPSED

Do you consider IMMOLATION as a patriotically disposed band according to the opening intro of your homepage? You have this often seen picture from "Ground Zero" in there where some firemen/rescue workers are holding the U.S.A. flag in the middle of ruins…

Yeah, well that’s easy. Our home town was attacked and thousands of people died… Some close to us. So it is a feeling of pride in our home and more importantly a tribute to those who were mainly affected by the whole thing and those lost their lives to help others. It was a fucked up thing, the place looked like a war zone. We are not particularly patriotic… We just put that on the site because we can! Anyone who has a problem with it can go fuck themselves!

 

As you are located in New York, it goes without saying that these terror strikes against your home town HAD to have a huge effect on your life routines; I mean, the way that you probably start thinking in your life what´s actually really important for you - and what kind of things are somewhat secondary for you; things that you don´t necessary need to live your life and can well be without as well. Using all these previous statements as sort of ´a red bridge´ to the following, I was just wondering whether these kinds of mind-shaking yet shocking things might have had some kind of effect on your song writing process as well. Meaning that you have probably started writing in a more aggressive way - probably also using more brutal phrases in your lyrics; and probably even giving such an impression out of yourself to people thru your own lyrics that you´d like to wipe most of the Middle East countries away from the face of the Earth? On the other hand, while I´m listening to your music and reading your lyrics, I just start wondering how you might be capable of coming up even more brutal stuff and even more malicious and evil lyrics than what you have done on your previous albums. What are those most important sectors for you personally nowadays as far as everything what I was just stating previously is concerned?

Well yes it had a big effect on us, on everybody really. We were actually going to start rehearsing together that week, and start getting new material together for the new CD. Once the attacks occurred I didn’t touch my guitar for months. The first week was the worst. I mean when you watched TV there were no commercials/advertisements at all. That is unheard of here! That was for a week straight! All you did was watch the TV news, listen to the news radio. I didn’t even listen to music for weeks either. It was insane. There was just a complete different state of mind. That was the first time in my life music didn’t matter at all. A lot of things lost their importance at that time. It was a really fucked up time. Anyhow, once we did start writing we definitely had some bitterness to let loose! You’ll just have to read the lyrics on the new album. You’ll see that we have had no problem coming up with even more brutal, yet more thought evoking words! These lyrics are the best yet, I think a lot more people will be able to relate to them.

 

Do you believe in the power of retaliation anyway?

I believe it was necessary. You can’t let people like that continue to reek havoc around the world. This was a worldwide concern, not just the US. War is a horrible thing, there is no doubt about it, but when there are no more choices left it has to be done. If you try and play by the rules, while the others continue to play dirty you don’t have a chance.

 

Basically when reading your lyrics and seeing the cover arts of your albums at least, I have learned that IMMOLATION's main theme is to battle against the Christian ethics and ideologies by having lyrics, and of course the art, based on an anti-Christian approach with your own point of views added to the lyrics. Do you think that by attacking against the narrow-minded Christian ideologies and values, offers you a large range of inspirations for having lyrics about?

Well our lyrics go a lot deeper then that. Actually there is always something alluring about it because you are kind of using that personification of good and evil to make your points. Yet with the newer lyrics, especially Unholy Cult the lyrics are much different. The songs deal more with the struggles of belief and the abuse. This album is much more diverse lyrically, a lot of them look at what is in the world today. You’ll just have to read them to see what I mean. They are some of the best lyrics we have written. A lot of meaning, thought and passion. The bottom line is that our lyrics although rooted in religious overtones always have had more meanings and often, when you really look at them can have nothing to do with religion at all. Its all how you perceive it.

 

 

FROM RIGOR MORTIS TO IMMOLATION

Talking about your, let´s just call it: ´A compilation CD with rare RIGOR MORTIS/IMMOLATION songs, titled Stepping on Angels… Before Dawn and was released on Spanish REPULSE RECORDS as a part of their "Resurrecseries". It actually had a cover that was originally meant to be the front cover of your debut album, Dawn of Possession. Why did you decide to use that Andreas Marschall´s piece of art for the cover of "Dawn…" instead of John Rainey´s original artwork ´coz I think it had its pretty evil vibes on it, too, and would have worked out well enough as a front cover for your debut? Or was Andreas´ artwork simply just slightly better than Rainey´s original painting for it?

Dude,……. There is no comparison. I have to disagree with you there. Once we saw the original painting we knew no matter what we ended up doing, that that could not be the album cover! As soon as we saw it we contacted Andreas and asked him to give our ideas a try. We had just met Andreas at the studio in Berlin, Germany while recording the album. He was a friend of Harris Johns, and he brought over some of his work so we could see what he had done in the past. We thought it was all great. So we figured once we got home to the US we would see what Rainey did and then make a decision. Well that decision took about 2 seconds! I mean the artwork Rainey did was not really bad, it just was very far from the feeling we were looking for. So we got Andreas’ artwork and the rest is history!

 

"Stepping on Angels…" is, at least in my opinion, a nicely thought out and well put together compilation featuring all these rare demos of the past times of both RIGOR MORTIS and IMMOLATION and even some rare IMMOLATION live songs as well - not forgetting all these ol´ vintage gig flyers and pictures of the band, sample reviews about your old songs, copies of the letters that you got from some particular labels for more than a decade ago, etc. etc. . What I´d like to find out who was originally behind this idea to get all your old stuff put on one CD with all the above mentioned stuff on it ´as a bonus´?! Was it Dave´s (the boss of REPULSE RECORDS) idea or did it come from you? Also, as far as I have understood, "Stepping…" was released as a rather limited edition ´coz you can hardly see any 2nd hand copies for it hanging at any record stores nowadays; I myself haven´t managed to spot any single copy of that ´jewel´so far, so is it actually THAT rare of an item nowadays? And are you personally happy with everything concerning that particular CD?

Well it was originally Laurent Merles idea from Listenable. But at the time he brought us the idea, we were just not ready to do it. Then Dave brought it up and it just happened to be at a different time where we felt like doing it. We put it all together ourselves, that’s why it came out so cool! Haha! We wanted to take those interested back to the old days that we grew up with, and it really came out great. We plan to put out a CD that will be similar to that, maybe not as extravagant , but it will have some more un released demo tracks that are not on that one…

 

Do you still play occasionally some of those RIGOR MORTIS songs on your gigs - like "Relentless Torment" or "Holocaust" or "Rigor Mortis" off your "Decomposed" -´87 demo if your audience requests that from you? Or when was the last time you played some of those old RIGOR MORTIS favorites and where did it happen anyway?

We did it a few times in the early IMMOLATION days… Sometimes Andrew (the vocal/bassist) for Rigor Mortis would come up and sing one of them. It was fun, but I don’t see it happening right now. At this point we are not going to be playing too much old IMMOLATION, much less RIGOR MORTIS! Haha! The new album is just unholy, and "Close To A World Below" has so much good stuff on it, that we’ll probably be concentrating mostly on those this next year. Of course we’ll always break out a classic now and then, so don’t worry! We just like to always keep it different.

 

What may sound hilarious in your ears, have you ever been considering putting the good old RIGOR MORTIS back together in the awake of all the reunion phenomena?

Uh… No… Haha.....

 

 

UNHOLY DEATH METAL STRIKE

By the end of the 90's, the Death Metal genre had a bunch of new, primitive, nihilistic bands in term of sounds and musically aggressive approaches. So it was true especially for the Brazilian bands like KRISIUN, ABHORRENCE, REBAELLIUM and MENTAL HORROR who have obviously created a new style of their own by having hyper blast speed Death Metal tunes and lyrics that are deadlier and more in-yer-face vein than ever before. Are you thrilled or surprised by any of these Brazilian Death Metal bands how they have unleashed a hell of albums what comes to the brutality in Death Metal in general?

Hey, the more metal the better is what I always say! KRISIUN is a great band! Our last tour was with them and they are awesome musicians!

 

Do you, however, think that IMMOLATION is able to compete against the new generation of Death Metal bands both in brutality and aggressiveness? Or do you just focus on doing things in your own way without thinking of what other bands may do?

We don’t worry about competing….we kill, we know this already! Haha! Seriously, we don’t have to prove ourselves, we’ve been doing this for a long time, and we just keep writing the best we can and don’t pay attention to what others are doing musically. We concentrate on IMMOLATION music! There’s plenty of room for all the bands to make metal and have fun!

 

To be honest with you, IMMOLATION hasn´t really been that active band lately, so that made me ponder whether some of you have had any side projects going on besides IMMOLATION to carry out some other musical visions that aren't suitable or just fitting for the concept that you have in IMMOLATION? So, speak out… or forever be silenced, he!

No, definitely no side-projects. The only reason we haven’t been out too much lately is because Metal Blade dropped the ball on 2 European tours we had set up. We were supposed to tour both in October of last year and then in April of this year in Europe, but because Metal Blade started being a lemon, those tours did not happen and we had to get new labels for the new CD. You can’t tour unless you have something to promote in this business. Believe me, you will be seeing a lot of IMMOLATION starting in November! We have 1 U.S. tour in November with Vader, Berserker, and Origin,….then we have 1 tour for Europe in December, the Xmas Fests,….. and that is just the beginning!!! There will be a lot more to come!!!!!

 

As we know, you have toured and done shitloads of gigs all around the world and presumably seen all kind of audiences. Therefore, I´d like to know in which countries you have witnessed the craziest audience so far? While playing these gigs in the front of insane people, have you ever had any problems with different types of audiences consisting of skin heads, hardcore people, Death Metal freaks on the same gig who have started fighting with each other for some reason or the other?

Yes this has happened in the past, but not recently. Its only happened in a couple of places in the US. For the most part we have had great crowds all around. Europe always has some really sick fans who go crazy,…like London, Poland. Italy was great on this last tour we did. Then, although I hate the event; The Milwaukee Metalfest… We played 3 years in a row, and at each one the response was unbelievable! Mexico, that was pretty wild too! And I cant forget Peru!

 

Well, we both of us would like to thank for your time with all these questions and wish you all the best and are definitely looking forward to getting a hold of the fifth IMMOLATION album. So, I guess it would be about time to quit this ultimately long interview and leave you an opportunity to spit out those final ´immolated words´ to conclude this interview, so let it go Bob…

I want to thank you guys for the long, but very cool interview. You definitely helped me improve my typing skills on the keyboard! Haha! Thanks also to all our supportive fans out there, we appreciate it more than you know! We are very excited about Unholy Cult, and we really feel that it is worth your listen…you will not be disappointed! As a matter of fact you will surely be blown away!!! See you on the metal road!! Best regards! Bob


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