Ross Dolan of Immolation
Intro and questions by Luxi Lahtinen
The true Death Metal pioneers from New York, Immolation, have been busy for the past 5-6 months, preparing songs for their 6th full-length opus, recording them at Millbrook Sound Studio under sensitive yet sharp ears of Paul Orofino (who also took care of the production on the last 3 Immolation albums) and getting ready to hit the road again to promote so far their most matured, advanced and strongest album to date musically titled HARNESSING RUIN.
Ross Dolan, the insanely long-haired frontman of Immolation spoke to Metal-Rules.com recently, so let´s hear what he had to say about the new album, their long-time friend and the producer of the last four Immolation albums Paul Orofino, the new guy in the Immolation –ranks Steve Shalaty, the Internet – amongst other interesting topics as well.
Now let´s get immolated gently for a moment, letting Ross to be our guide through HARNESSING RUIN piece by piece…
What did you get for X-mas? What was your coolest X-mas present you got and from whom?
Well, to be honest with you, these days I really just cherish spending time with my family, so it´s not really what´s happening or where it´s happening, it´s who it´s happening with. My Mom, Aunt and Uncle are probably three of the most important and inspirational people to me during the course of my entire life, so spending the holidays with them each year is the best gift I could ever receive, it´s really not even about the actual gifts, that´s for when you’re a kid, it´s exciting at that young age, now it´s about my family.
Ok, now let´s get started with more band related topics, however, shall we? As the fact goes, your previous album, UNHOLY CULT, was released in 2002 via Listenable Records, so it´s been a while since the release your last album. Can you tell why it always seems to take at least 2 years between each of your new album to get them out? Do you think that if you released one album per each year – plus even toured for each of your new album, it might eventually kill the band?
We really don’t have any real master plan, things just happen when they feel right. I think two years in between albums is appropriate for us, maybe not for others, but for us it feels right. We never want to suffer from overkill, maybe a little ´underkill´ we can handle, but not overdone to the point when it´s not exciting for our fans to see or listen to us anymore. You have to remember, we did 4 tours for UNHOLY CULT, 2 major tours here in the US and 2 in Europe, including the Christmas fests and a month long support tour with Cradle of Filth followed by another 2 weeks of gigs in Europe with Marduk, Malevolent Creation, Aborted and Noctiferia, so it was a very exhausting year for us. We finished the touring cycle at the end of June 2003, and by the end of June 2004, we already had the new material underway and were already rehearsing for the recording, so it really is only a year for us.
Now when your new latest album titled HARNESSING RUIN has been recorded, promos are out for the press and it´s waiting to be unleashed in a larger scale to the extreme metal world in January 2005, could you tell by your own words in which areas Immolation has changed or developed mostly compared your previous album UNHOLY CULT, as far as your song structures are concerned?
I think there are many noticeable changes on this release, and first and foremost are the song structures. We really tried hard to make this more of a straight forward album musically, not simple, but a little less chaotic and a little more in your face. The songs are much more driving and more memorable than ever this time around. I don’t really feel we have strayed too far off the path, in fact, I think we have brought back some elements that are very remnant of our earlier records. I think also this album is probably our heaviest album musically, everything is just so heavy with a production that also lends to that. I think the guitar sound on this album is hands down the best guitar sound we have ever captured, this makes the feeling of the album very heavy and big without being too polished. Also a production that is a step above of anything else we have done. Lyrically this album is a bit different as well, not as heavy with the religious themes, but more diverse in exploring the world today. The religious themes are definitely there, you just have to find them, but they are still there in a big way, just toned down. So these would be a few of the differences from the last release, but despite these differences, it is 100% Immolation and is also as dark and cold as our last release!!!!
When you started writing the first tracks for HARNESSING RUIN, how much did you guys actually think of the content of your other albums (like as comparisons), what you have achieved by them musically and otherwise? Let´s take for example your previous album UNHOLY CULT that was very well received by your fans. Did the brilliance of it cause any pressures in the Immolation –camp whether you could actually top that album both song – and success-wise?
Well, we never go into the writing process with the intention to out do or top our last release, we just try to write something that is on the same level with our other releases, something that doesn’t stray too far from our vision and style, and something that while remaining true to us, will still push our boundaries one step forward with some new elements that will enhance rather than take away. People must realize you can’t write the same album over and over, you must try different things in order to grow a bit, and this can be done in subtle ways. One thing we did consider when writing this new material was the fact that we really wanted this album to have a very driving and militant feel, something more straight forward as compared with our last one, and this we did achieve. I think if you go into the process with a goal of topping what you have done in the past, the pressure would be too much and we would fail miserably, and I must remind people we are in this to have a good time not to get stressed out. I get stressed out enough with my 2 day jobs, when music stresses me out, then it´s time to quit!!!!
In my opinion, such songs on HARNESSING RUIN as “Our Savior Sleeps” and the title track “Harnessing Ruin”, are honestly some of the best Immolation songs that you have ever penned down probably due to a slowly developing epic vibe in both of them. What are your favorite tracks off the album and why indeed? Please pick up only two songs if possible…
If I can only pick 2 songs, I would pick "Our Savior Sleeps" and "Son of Iniquity". The first of the two "Our Savior Sleeps" is a very slow, heavy and haunting song that just slowly builds into, what in my opinion is one of the best guitar leads on the album. It has a very creepy feel and lyrically questions our faith in religion. It is a very short song and very straight forward, but musically it is very strong. For my second pick, "Son of Iniquity", this has been one of my favorites since it was written. It is definitely one of the heaviest songs on the album, and the whole mid-section of this song before the lead kicks in is probably one of my favorite parts in any Immolation song. We combine my regular vocals with some whispers that I did to contrast the heavier vocals and to make them stronger when they came in. I wasn’t really into the idea of doing this at first, but Bob thought it would sound great, and I fought him on this right up until the end, then we did it to see how it would sound, and I really liked it. He was right and I was wrong and I am happy now that we did try it. It is a very dark song about the very young suicide bombers, the children that are recruited and killed. I think it´s a very strong song both musically and lyrically.
HARNESSING RUIN was recorded at Millbrook Sound Studio with Paul Orofino producing it again like he did the production for a couple of your latest albums as well. To me it seems like that guy has really 100% understanding how you guys want your albums to sound like, so do you almost consider Paul as “the 5th Immolation guy” as he has been working with Immolation so closely for the past few years or so? What special qualities does he have as a producer that others are probably lacking from your point of view?
Paul is a great producer and a great friend. As you said, he really is the fifth member and he really brings out the very best in our music and gives our songs our own identity. We sound only like Immolation, and this is exactly why we stay with Paul. He gives our sound identity, our music already has identity, but our sound now does as well, which is important for any band to stand out. In addition to all this, we are very comfortable working with him, it is really a stress free environment, we talk and goof around, and really have a great time while in the studio, so not only is it a chance to get away to create our music, but it´s a chance to unwind and escape the daily grind so we can concentrate. Can’t really say enough positive things about working with Paul.
Do you think Paul is still kinda underrated producer and actually would deserve more recognition and appreciation than he does nowadays?
I don’t really feel he is looking for that. He has worked with some of the greatest musicians ever and knows many more. He has worked recently with Golden Earring, Blue Oyster Cult, Darryl Hall from Hall and Oates, Liquid Tension (Dream Theater guys with Tony Levin of Peter Gabriel), Frank Carillo, John Hammond and many other great Jazz and Rock musicians from all over the world. We actually met Simon Kirk (the drummer from Bad Company) our first time in the studio recording FAILURES FOR GODS, so it’s like a Rock and Roll who’s who up there. We are actually one of the only Death Metal bands he does, he has recently done some heavier bands from the area, and has actually done some re-mixes for the new Cradle of Filth album, but he is well know and respected among his peers and that´s what counts to him. He is just a great all around producer, which is in fact what gives him the edge when working with a band like us, because he does know music and sound and what works best, this is what he does. He is not coming from only one perspective, he is coming with a wide range of experience and styles under his belt, which is important.
HARNESSING RUIN also introduces two new Immolation members to the world; Steve Shalaty on drums and Bill Taylor (ex-Angelcorpse, ex-Acheron) on guitar, both relatively experienced musicians, too. First off, didn´t Steve play drums in Odious Sanction, too, sort of a Grindcore band from Cleveland, Ohio? Also, I remember reading that he filled in for Alex on your last US tour because Alex had a hernia at that time which prevented him from touring. So how did you exactly find Steve? Is he a full-time member of Immolation now? And what about Bill; how did he get hooked up with Immolation and when that happened for the first time? Was he possibly introduced to you by some or close your friends?
Well, actually Bill has been a full time member in Immolation since CLOSE TO A WORLD BELOW, I don’t want people to get confused and think he is new to the band because he isn’t. Once Angelcorpse called it a day, we hooked up with Bill through a mutual friend and he fit in instantly. Steve Shalaty is the newest member. Yes, he is from the band Odious Sanction from the Cleveland area, and yes he is now a permanent member of the band. Alex was unable to do our last US tour due to a hernia that he developed on the European tour, so with only 3 days until the first show, we got in touch with Steve thanks to our tour manager Woody and the guys in Unique Leader Records who turned us on to Steve. Steve came in and learned 8 songs in 3 days, and learned 2 more on the tour and made the tour a great success for us. He is simply an amazing drummer and a great person to work with. He did an amazing job on the new record and his style, although slightly different than Alex’s, still fits great with Immolation and adds a lot to the new songs. We are very happy with Steve and all his hard work and dedication.
How much did both Steve and Bill participate the song writing process on HARNESSING RUIN indeed? Did they write any songs for HARNESSING RUIN like from start to finish by themselves?
Well, honestly, Bob wrote all the material for the new record, but we all helped in the arranging and structuring of the songs and after the initial parts are written and agreed upon, it really is a group effort. This time around, songs were written and then trashed, then re-written, then re-worked, so there was a lot of changing going on right up until we were in the studio. Lyrically, once again, it was a combined effort between Bob and myself as it was on the last three albums.
Regarding the lyrics in the songs on HARNESSING RUIN, is each song on this album based on some war themes one way or the other? There seem to be a pretty strong militant feel in the lyrics anyway…
There are only actually two songs on the album dealing with war, the title track, which as I said earlier, is about the war machine and it devastating effects, and the other is "Challenge the Storm", which is a more personal song about the human´s side, from the soldiers´ head. Then there are songs such as "Swarm of Terror", "Our Savior Sleeps", "Son of Iniquity", "Crown the Liar" and "At Mourning’s Twilight" that all deal with the world today and each one looks at a different aspect of the many negative things going on in the world today. Then there is "My Own Enemy" and "Dead to Me" which are more personal songs about inner struggles with inner demons, so there is something for everyone here this time around.
Regarding the lyrics in the songs on HARNESSING RUIN, is each song on this album based on some war themes one way or the other? There seem to be a pretty strong militant feel in the lyrics anyway…
Last time when your band mate Bob talked to Metal-Rules.com, more than 2 years ago, you told us that UNHOLY CULT was your best album to date; having lots of atmosphere, variation, feeling, emotion and such. Could the very same words be used for HARNESSING RUIN as well?
Yes, of course, but then again, I am partial to the new material always because it is fresh, new and exciting to me. But I do think the new one goes beyond what we did on UNHOLY… and takes the band in a stronger direction.
Alex was considered as one of the most technical and talented drummers in the whole world, so how well do you honestly think Steve has filled his empty boots well enough in Immolation? Is there something in his playing style that you even could say, fits better to the Immolation style than what Alex was ever capable offering to the band? You also did a video for “Harnessing Ruin” How challenging and time-consuming thing was it to do actually from start to finish?
First of all, Steve and Alex are two different drummers with two completely different styles, so you can’t really compare the two. Both talent – and dedication-wise, they are definitely on the same level. I think Alex was and still is one of the best this scene had to offer, and sadly enough he was never given the true credit he deserved for his outstanding playing, but in my opinion, his work and talent will always live on with our fans and on our records. He added a new element to the band, and although it did take him a while to fully get aquainted with our style, once he did, there was no stopping him. Steve had some big shoes to fill, but he never stepped in with intentions of doing that, which is what I respect most about him. He respects Alex and thinks he is great, but Steve came in and showed us Steve and what Steve could do. He has a much smoother style and adds a whole new twist to the Immolation sound. He very much fits into what we do and people will see this with the new record, and he also plays with feeling which is important to us more than anything. He is a keeper!!!!
And how about Bill? How does his playing style and techniques compare to Thomas´ in your opinion? He also seems to have a reputation as a very skilled and technical guitarist from his days in both Angelcorpse and Acheron?
Bill is a very versatile player that can easily adapt and change his style. He is a ridiculously fast learner and is a very tight player and a very dedicated person. Live he is a strong stage presence and always delivers the goods. We are very happy that he is part of the band as well, he has contributed so much since the CLOSE… album.
Up next, let´s have a couple of words about some artwork related matters. Both the album cover and layout for HARNESSING RUIN has been done by Sven from the Dutch Death Metallers Aborted. How did you find him to do the cover for this record? Did he send you some raw sketches from some artwork he just had lying around at his place or did you already have an exact idea in your own heads how the final version for the album cover should look like eventually?
We wanted to do something different for the new album, and we already had some solid ideas. We ran them by Sven and he felt confident he could give us what we wanted, and he did a fabulous job, we are very pleased with the whole layout and cover, it really looks amazing!!!
Did you possibly have some other ´strong candidates´ for the cover of HARNESSING RUIN, too? If so, what made you eventually to pick up the cover Sven from Aborted made for you?
Well, once again, we were strongly considering Andreas Marschall and a guy by the name of Travis Smith who also does some brilliant work, but Sven turned out to be the man and we are very happy with our choice!!!
How do you like his band anyway? Have you already heard the band´s HAEMETOPIC E.P.?
Yes, the E.P. is great and I really like Aborted. We did some shows with them in Europe last year, and they are a phenomenal live band and absolutely great guys to tour with!!!
It was about an 8-9 hour process that was very exciting although it was very repetitive. I really enjoyed the process, and working again with Maurice and Low-Life Media was great as well. We are extremely happy with how the video turned out and I am really hoping it gets some airtime on some of the bigger music video channels around the world.
You have this certain war theme in that particular video strongly present all the time, with lots of artillery- and tank scenes and so on. Who came up with the actual script for it and who has directed this particular video?
Well, the lyrics to the song are about the war machine and its devastating effects on life and land, so the concept was ours, adding the different clips of war images throughout the song to bring home the point. Again, Maurice Swinkels from Low-Life was the director, and it was he who picked out the different images and placed them throughout the song in the appropriate spots, and we were really blown away by his work…. simply brilliant, we can’t stop praising him for his great work!!!
I read from somewhere that you were originally supposed to shoot a video for “Dead to Me”, the 5th song on HARNESSING RUIN. What happened with those plans anyway?
We decided at the last minute that the title track was a better choice both musically and conceptually.
Alex was considered as one of the most technical and talented drummers in the whole world, so how well do you honestly think Steve has filled his empty boots well enough in Immolation? Is there something in his playing style that you even could say, fits better to the Immolation style than what Alex was ever capable offering to the band?
You also did a video for “Harnessing Ruin” How challenging and time-consuming thing was it to do actually from start to finish?
You also got your 1st ever DVD out titled BRINGING DOWN THE WORLD, after many unfortunate delays and setbacks, and as far as I know, the 1st edition for it was relatively quickly sold out. This DVD, however, has only been released in a PAL –format for the European markets so far and it should be issued for North America for early spring 2005 release in NTSC –format as well. Now I was wondering has Laurent been keeping you guys informed when its 2nd edition should be for sale here in Europe again as I believe there are still many hungry Immolation –fans out there who are dying to get a copy for themselves.
We really don’t know what´s going on with that at the moment, your guess is a good as mine. I am hoping for a US release soon, and I hear spring is the time for that, so I am keeping my fingers crossed.
Would you say you are kinda pleased how this DVD turned out eventually content-wise or is there something in that particular DVD that you still would like to change afterwards?
We are very happy with the DVD. I think it has a lot of cool stuff for the fans and I was actually very pleased with it. The only things I would change would be the sound, maybe next time around we will have a more professionally recorded sound, and more back stage stuff, a lot of which never made it to the final version.
How are things going with the re-release of STEPPING ON ANGELS (originally released on Repulse Records in 1994), containing all of your early Metal Blade –era demos, supposedly coming together with some unreleased bonus material as well? Weren´t the original plans to put it out through Listenable Records by the end of 2004? Like it happened with the BRINGING DOWN THE WORLD DVD already, also this re-release of STEPPING ON ANGELS has been delayed quite drastically, so what are the most recent updated news right now to get it out finally?
This looks like it will definitely happen, we just don’t know when yet. Sooner rather than later I would say. We just got caught up in the new album, so this of course took priority over the old stuff.
A Polish label called Metal Mind re-released your debut album DAMN OF POSSESSION in February 2004. Obviously there was huge demand out there for the re-release of this cult album because some guys have sold their own (double) copies of it in places like eBay for $30-$50 (depending on how lucky you can get!) which is actually a quite huge amount of money for just one CD. Did this Polish version have all the original artwork in it or did this Polish version out of DAWN OF POSSESSION have something extra in it that you couldn´t find from the original version of it?
I don’t actually own one of these re-prints, but I have heard that they are exactly the same as the original, no added features, but the same.
Do you have any sales figures how many copies of this Metal Mind´s version have been sold thus far? A few thousands, maybe?
We have absolutely no idea, but I hear it was a limited re-release of only maybe 1000 copies. I may be wrong, but I think this was the deal.
Have you come across any Immolation bootlegs thus far, either in a CD – or DVD -format? Do you care if someone comes to your show, records it and eventually makes a bootleg out of it for sale, probably trying a few extra bucks for his/her own pockets?
No, I don’t mind. We are a very strong live band and I think this is where we shine, so the more the merrier. Someone might as well make money off the band because we sure aren’t!!!
What do you think of the Internet nowadays as there are some certain places in the net where you can download almost every album for free? It´s very obvious that both many record companies and bands are suffering from a huge loss of income just because of these ´modern-day pirates´ who have become to stay an ugly part of the music business, putting up every album for a free download they can possibly get their filthy hands to. What do you think of this matter? Something more radical should obviously be done very soon by certain authorities/instances before it´s way too late…
It definitely hurts the musicians in the long run, we are the ones it affects the most, so not only do we make very little anyway, we now make even less, so it only hurts us and I definitely think something should be done about it. If kids could get a few songs to determine if they like an album, that is one thing, but when our whole album is available for download months before its release date, I have a problem with that.
Can you recommend any up´n´coming new (Death) Metal bands from the NY –area that people should keep their eyes on in the near future?
I am honestly out of the loop these days in regards to new bands here in the city, so I can’t honestly say.
What do you overall think of the state of Death Metal in 2005? Do you see Death Metal becoming even more popular than it already is today or are you a bit afraid that such medias as MTV for example, give kids wrong signals what Metal is all about, basically poisoning these poor kids´ brains with all these mainstream acts like Limb Bizkit, Korn, Slipknot and such that have been ripped far way the ground root of what Metal music really should, first and foremost, be all about?
I feel there is room for everybody at the top, this music has so much potential and I still remain optimistic as to what levels this music can achieve. Hopefully we will be there right up at the top when that day comes, or at least close to it!!!
What do you think bands like Shadows Fall, God Forbid and Caliban that are so-called ´metalcore´ bands, melting some influences from Metal as well as from Hardcore together for their own sound? At least such sounding bands seem to be hugely popular especially in the States these days?
Not that familiar with these bands to be honest with you, although we have played some shows in the past with Shadows Fall and they were very cool guys. As I said before, there is plenty of room at the top for everyone, and I am only concerned with Immolation and bringing us closer to that goal!!!
What kind of touring plans do you already have for 2005?
We have no plans as of yet, but I am sure things will come together soon, definitely in the next month or two.
Have you already given any thought to a setlist for your forth-coming tours how many new songs off this new record you might include for your setlist?
I would like to include all the new songs in the setlist, and a handful of select older songs we haven´t played in a while, but that´s up to the entire band to decide when the time is right.
What are you expecting from the year 2005 as far as Immolation is concerned?
Hopefully it will be a good year for us, a positive year and a strong year. We need a strong year, we had such a good run with the last album, it would be a shame to go backwards.
Ok, I guess that was it again. I for one wanna Thank You Ross for taking the time with this interview and wish Immolation all the best for 2005. Feel free to spit out any closing words you might have in your mind right now… ;=)
Thanks Luxi and Metal-Rules.com!!! We appreciate the support and I truly enjoyed the interview. People can get band news at the moment at www.everlastingfire.com and then shortly we will have the new official site up at www.immolation.info. People can e-mail us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again!!!!!!!!!!
What kind of touring plans do you already have for 2005?