The legendary death metal outfit Immolation keeps soldiering on. The band’s most recent output KINGDOM OF CONSPIRACY is pure evidence of how death metal is supposed to sound. The band hasn’t lost an inch in their brutal and deadly sounds instead keeping its recognizable trademark on the new album. Immolation’s guitarist Robert Vigna sheds more light on the new album.
Interview and live pics by Arto Lehtinen
Hey Arto! It’s going good man! Been extremely busy with work and the band, but now it’s finally time to get your interview done!! We just played a couple of shows in NY with Carcass last week, and both were killer! One was at a small club called, St. Vitus in Brooklyn, the other at The Gramercy Theatre in NYC. Both were great and we had a good time with the Carcass guys,..very cool people with an awesome crew! We hope to do some more shows with them in the future!
Before dealing with Immolation, let’s talk a little bit about different subjects, about the weather.. Surprise Surprise… I can’t help asking how the Hurricane Sandy effected your life and the city of Yonkers as you are quite close to the coast?
Well myself and Ross and our families actually made out ok when Sandy hit. We were very lucky. We didn’t even lose power. Well, my brother did for a couple of weeks as he lives in New Jersey. But, considering all that happened, we all made out very well. We do know a lot of people who lost their homes or had a lot of damage to them though. It was a very serious event here in NY and there are tons of people still dealing with its aftermath.
When the hurricane was over, then the winter came with the massive snow storms, did you have to ski and drive snowmobiles to move there or how did the traffic and public transport work?
No, we did ok actually from what I remember.
I assume it was quite a Norwegian blackish metaller feeling when being surrounded by the huge snow drift after storms?! (Hehhe)
Yeah,…but I was not feeling so Black metalish when I was shoveling mounds of snow out of my driveway , I can tell you that! Haha Snow is great, if you don’t have anywhere to go,…but trying to deal with getting to work etc,..it sucks! haha
NEW OPUS – KINGDOM OF CONSPIRACY
All right, as far as the new Immolation album titled KINGDOM OF CONSPIRACY is concerned, the album presents the guaranteed and quality death metal with the way how Immolation sounds. You Bob and Ross are the main architect as to creating the hymns, riffs for songs of Immolation. How do you usually start creating ideas and basic platform for songs ?
Since the ‘Majesty & Decay’ record I have been writing everything on the computer and it has really been amazing for me. I don’t know how I ever did it any other way. I use the Ableton Live program. I just start by coming up with a riff and then add a bunch of multi-tracking on top of it: drum beats, guitar layers, etc. Once I am finished, I number the part and move on to the next one. Then when I have a few riffs/parts that I feel will work together, I start putting them into a sequence. Then I may come up with more new riffs to go with that particular sequence and before I know it I have a full song. Writing on the computer has made things so much easier and has allowed me to be much more creative. Being able to create a whole song, with drums and solos etc, and listen to it as a complete track really gives you a good idea of what it is going to sound like on the record. So this has been a great help to us and I think has improved our song writing.
When creating riffs and jamming new idea for songs, do you happen to realize and face if some riff may sound a bit similar to what you have written before?
We are always minding that for sure! We obviously do not want to use anything that reminds us of something else, both from ourselves and especially other bands. So we are pretty strict when it comes to that!
KINGDOM OF CONSPIRACY has been recorded at Millbrook Sound Studios in New York, where you have recorded outputs since the FAILURES FOR GODS album, tell me about that Millbrook Sound Studios there in New York, how come you have ended up recording most of the Immolation albums there, not picking up some studios?
We started recording there in 1998 when tracking for the ‘Failures for Gods’ album as you mentioned. Ever since we did that first record in Millbrook with Paul Orofino, we never needed to go anywhere else. Paul has become part of the Immo family. He is a guy that knows his sound and how to get the right sounds for the instruments. Paul is also a super cool person with a history in music that many would be envious of. He has been through it all. He is very easy to work with and brings out the best in us. When we go up to Millbrook it is like going to see our Uncle Paul! Millbrook is a small town in upstate NY, and Paul’s studio is very comfortable and home-like. Well, it is in his home, so that gives it an even more home-like feel! We all hang out, cook BBQ, enjoy talking with him and hearing his stories, and listen to all kinds of music, all over Belgian beers on tap at his in-studio pub! (and I mean an actual full-fledged pub!!). The whole experience is great, we stay up there in Millbrook for 2 weeks and just concentrate on recording the album,… and writing the lyrics usually haha.
Over all we have a great time , with Paul and his girl Veronica and their many good friends who we have come to know over the years. As far as the recording, tracking and lyric writing process, Millbrook is the place for us, and we don’t think we will be going anywhere else anytime soon.
Does this particular studio create the trademark sound of Immolation of where the band’s sounds can be identified and recognized? Or do you rely and know how all the equipment works and how to create the murderous and brutal Immolation sounds?
I think although we have had some different sounding records, we do always have a distinct sound. I believe it has to do with the way the riffs are written and approached. I have tried different amplifiers over the years, but usually can obtain a sound I am happy with no matter what the amp is. Paul is a big part of that too when it comes to the in-studio stuff. He will try different things until we find something that works. I am not a big gear head, so I just go with feeling when it comes to the sounds and not worry about how those sounds are being achieved or what amplifier is needed to get there.
Since ‘Majesty & Decay” though we have incorporated the skills of Zack Ohren for the mixing and mastering though. This has given us the modern edge we have needed for some time. The last 3 releases have really pushed the boundaries for us in production and have taken the music to a new level. The sound is now much clearer and more powerful than ever before, yet retains the feel and atmosphere of the music that we have always had.
So now we have the best of both worlds, Paul Orofino with his experience and Zack Orhen with his modern approach. Together they have helped make our last releases some of the best of our career.
Every time when working on a new album in the studio environment, there is something new and never-used possibilities in the studio technologies and of course new improved recording methods, in which way you have learnt some tricks and did you discover new ways of recording the material for the KINGDOM OF CONSPIRACY album?
We always learn something new each time we record. It could be the smallest things or some major things,..but no matter what it is we take those lessons with us into the next project for sure! We are always down to try new things out or take suggestions from Paul or Zack. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, but to us it’s always worth a try. Overall we have kept things pretty straight forward for the last 3 releases. Our mission is always the same,…get in there, and get it done! haha
Do you usually produce albums on your own, do you however rely on a producer, mixer to give the opinion of their own on how the songs and albums all in all are supposed to sound in their ears ? Do you ever question their point of view on why they think in that way whereas you may have a little bit different perspective on how f:ex some song is supposed to sound?
We always listen to what Paul & Zack have to offer. It would be silly not to. They have the recording experience, so we value their opinions. But in the end we do rely on our ears, and it has to sound good to us in order for us to consider it finished. The more perspectives the better though, this way there are more ideas and more chances to make things better.
Do you think Immolation could make as radical changes in the approaches of sounds and songs as f:ex Morbid Angel did on the latest album by venturing more into the computerized industrial world?
I think it is important to progress as a band,…but you also have to know where you stand. We do what we do,..and we do it well. Our main goal is to take it to the next level each time, and naturally progress and take this style of dark/death metal further. We don’t see the need to venture into something we are not about,…not that there’s anything wrong with that. But if we were to do that, we would just start a new band.
In my opinion Immolation is known and recognized for the technical, complex and brutal songs, but how far these elements can be taken to meet the limitations, do you think if there is any kind of limitation ?
I don’t think there are any limitations. We are not a band that just goes for brutality. We usually are looking for a specific feel or atmosphere. We just do it in an intense way of course. I think that is what separates us from a lot of bands. Our music is very intense and brutal,..but it is also heavy, dark, and emotional. We concentrate more on melody and mood rather than speed and aggression. Although having those thrown in at the same time doesn’t hurt!
NO REHEARSALS BEFORE THE STUDIO
As far as I know, you didn’t rehearse any single part together before going to the studio and obviously you recorded everything separately – How does that work!? Don’t you need to rehearse together to make sure everything is 100 % perfect before entering the studio ?
Yeah,…that sounds like the right way to do it, but due to our situation we just have to trust each other and make sure we are 100% right when we get in there! Being that all of us live in different parts of the country and all have our own unique work and life schedules, for us this is the best way, and it has been working great so far! Again, once we started using the computer for pre-production we were all able to rehearse to the same tracks and metronome. So once we learn the songs we practice to that and meet up in the studio. We never play any of the songs or parts together. Steve lays down his drum tracks with the scratch guitars from the computer pre-production. We then track guitars and bass etc over the drums. Then Ross records the vocals. After that we leave the studio with the full tracks. The only things I do after the studio are the solos and some added guitar overlay parts. Then it all goes to Zack for mixing and mastering in California. The first time we ever play any songs together is when we hit the stage for that first show! We actually broke out 2 new ones this past week for the Carcass shows, “Indoctrinate” and “God Complex” and those were the first time we ever played them as a band. It seems crazy yes,…but somehow we pull it off and the whole process really works great for us!
When and how do you usually start checking out how these new songs work together ? Maybe in rehearsals before getting on the tours ?
Well that’s what we use the pre-production for. We get to hear the songs somewhat as they would be on the record. Of course at that point we still never hear the vocals until they are completed in the studio,…but we usually write the lyrics in the studio anyway. The pre-production is enough though to give us the idea if something will work or not. And depending on where the vocals will end up , we sometimes make minor changes in the studio when it comes to that. There are always a few parts that we are not sure about when it comes to vocals, so thanks to the digital splice we can sometimes rearrange parts to suite the vocals when needed. It is quite a unique way we work,…but we work well under pressure and have gotten accustomed to the “no band rehearsal” way of life!
Some of you lives in other states, how do you coordinate and arrange the rehearsals and especially sharing new ideas for songs? Do audio files fly between four guys and each of you rehearses riffs and songs on your own?
Yeah, that’s pretty much it!!
Do you ever miss the old school rehearsal sessions where guys gather together to play and drink the beer?
Well we were never the big beer drinkers. The last rehearsals that we had were at Steve’s place in Ohio, and there wasn’t much partying, just a lot of fast food eating and ice creams for dessert!!! Haha But yes, it is cool to hang out together and rehearse, it’s just not feasible now, especially since we can make it happen without it. It takes a lot of time off of work and expenses to get us all together, so it just makes more sense doing it the way we do.
I have been wondering this three-year-gap between albums in some older interviews before, but once again the same question to be repeated, why this three year gap between MAJESTY AND DECAY and CONSPIRACY OF KINGDOM?
We just get caught up with our lives and our jobs etc. Plus with any touring, the time fly’s by! But it wasn’t really a 3 year gap in that we recorded and released the “Providence” ep in 2011. We probably would have had a full length out sooner if we didn’t do that ep,…but to us it was the same thing, just 5 songs shorter! Haha We got the offer to do it and we thought it was a great idea so we made it happen. We consider “Providence” just as important as anything else we have done.
Well The PROVIDENCE Ep came out in 2011 containing five tracks, as far as I know it wasn’t released as a normal psychical output and not by Nuclear Blast, could you tell more the purpose of the Ep ?
Scion (a car company, part of Toyota) has a division, ‘Scion A/V’ that promotes music and the arts. So through our booking agent they showed a lot of interest in the band. We did a one off show in NYC for them as well as some promotional stuff on a couple of tours. They then asked us to play their annual Scion Fest in early 2011. It is a festival they throw for free each year to promote music and obviously Scion vehicles etc. It’s great for the fans and the bands and it’s all free. Free shows, free cds , free downloads. It’s really a cool thing. That particular year we played the fest it was in California with other acts like Morbid Angel, Obituary, Death Angel, Municipal Waste, etc. It was a great time! Shortly after that they offered to make a music video for us. So we shot the one for “A Glorious Epoch” with Tommy Jones. That video had a great reaction and not long after Scion A/V offered us an ep deal, with music video and tour! So it was a no brainer! We record an ep, the fans get free downloads of the music as well as free cds etc. Scion A/V gives us tour support to tour the states and a new music video for one of the ep tracks. It was really a great release! And they promoted it in many different ways that this music doesn’t normally get promoted. So it was really a win/win situation for the fans and the bands that get involved. And the best part is that the music on the ep is ours. We own the rights to it, Scion A/V only retains the rights to give it away for a year and then after that we can do what we want with it. So it is really a pretty good deal. And the people we dealt with throughout the whole process were super cool!
How come it wasn’t released by Nuclear Blast, I mean; do you have free hands regarding releasing the material on other labels ?
Nuclear Blast was all for it,..they were very instrumental in making this happen as well and worked hand in hand with Scion A/V. Nuclear Blast knows that it is good promotion for the band, so they have the potential to benefit from it as well, which makes perfect sense. Not every label would look at it that way, but the guys at NB are very cool and are all about not only promoting their releases but supporting their bands too. So the whole thing was just a big collaboration between us, NB and Scion A/V, ..with all parties benefiting.
Like I mentioned, our booking agent here in the US as well as NB hooked it all up. Scion A/V promotes all kinds of music and arts. Just check out ScionAV.com
As for the lyrics, in the early days lyrics tended to be based on the anti-christian topics, whereas in my opinion you have evolved and enhanced the lyrics more into the present day reality. Does the everyday reality inspire you more to pen about in lyrics?
Yes absolutely. We have always dealt with similar issues in a lot of the past records, but we would channel the ideas through the religious themes,…but now we have progressed over the years, making the lyrics that much more thought provoking and more to the point. It all still looks at the darker sides of mankind and how there is so much corruption in this world. Times are getting rougher and more bleak, it is happening all around us, so we feel it is a very strong subject that needs to be addressed.
Judging by the title of the album KINGDOM OF CONSPIRACY, does the title refer to conspiracy theories?
Not really. We are not writing about who shot JFK, or 9/11 (although we do have our opinions on all that). “Kingdom of Conspiracy” looks at the world we live in today. How there are always those who are conspiring to do others harm, to gain more control and power. To seduce the masses and spread their order the way they see it should be. There is a very oppressive tone in the world today. The powers that be and the systems we have created are failing around us left and right. It’s all the corruption and arrogance in these structures that is taking a toll on us all.
So we are writing about our possible future, where the monitoring of society keeps growing and the freedoms are slowly being taken away little by little. It is taking our world today and throwing an Orwellian twist in there and seeing a world in the future that is very grim, very controlled, oppressive and void of freedom.
Do these anti-religious and anti-christian themes and topics still belong to the lyrics of Immolation after all?
We have always been more anti-religious than anti-christian,…its really more about anti-everything that is wrong with this world! Religion plays a big roll in the problems of our society. It divides people and keeps them separate and easier to control. We touch on this on the song “Serving Divinity”, on the new record. If the masses are all entangled in whose religion and beliefs are better than the others, the higher powers have an easier time keeping them all in line. Or they use that hatred amongst the masses to wager wars to make money and gain territory, etc. Our main message has always dealt with the struggle between good and evil, and the darker sides of mankind. We see how things are and we write about them, we do it in such a way that leaves the words open to interpretation, but if you really look at the messages they are basically shedding light on the constant corruption around us, from religion to government to personal struggles. In the end we are trying to make people think about what is happening out there, and maybe give them an avenue to express their frustrations as we do with the music.
LONGEVITY AND STRENGTH
Immolation has been around since 1987 and got nine full length albums out. That’s really impressive fact for sure. Most of soul mate bands having started out in the same era have given up, split or then went on a long hiatus and returned back, what has been the strength of Immolation as you haven’t given up to quit – do you still have the passion and flame inside you?
Ross and I have always been extremely passionate about the music and have always been 100% into what we do. We worked hard enough to stick it out over the years and get to the point where Bill and Steve were in the band. From that point on we didn’t only have a flame inside, we had a raging inferno!! Having 4 people that are not only 100% into the band and the music, but also extremely dedicated and who can all get along so well is priceless. With this line-up the last 10 years have been amazing. We are at such a good point now, as musicians and writers, and as people and how we work together. We just make music and have a good time doing it now. There is always some stress here and there, but that is really only in the studio at certain times, as it can be stressful. But we are all tight and respect each other and enjoy the times we have on the road and in the studio etc. Overall we have always felt strongly about the music and I think our passion and drive has increased over the years. We have been here as IMMOLATION for 25 years now, but we are still like kids when we work on a new record or tour. We are always striving to make the best music we can. We still enjoy it, and I think that shows in our releases and especially live on stage. It is a big part of our lives and we aim to keep it going and keep improving upon it for some time.
Immolation hasn’t gone thru a number of radical changes, instead the line-up has been quite stable, as for Ross and you Bob, you have been together since the early days, well I can’t help asking if someone’s face starts getting to annoy on some of you, do you keep the suitable break and distance from the band life and each other to gasp for some air to avoid a feud?
Like I mentioned we all get along really well with each other and have that mutual respect. You have to when it comes time to spend a month or two on the road together! We all do have our separate lives though of course. Especially with Steve and Bill, living in Ohio and Florida. Our sound man Mike lives in Pittsburgh too. But when we are all together we know each other well enough and we just have a good time. There is no need for fights and nonsense. We have never been that way and always get along really well with the other bands we tour with too. And as we don’t even rehearse together anymore, when we get together to play shows and tour there is really nothing to do but look forward to it and enjoy each other’s company and have a great time. Because if you are not having a good time on the road, then you might as well stay home!
How do you see the former members of Immolation ? Or Is it just like the end of the marriage when someone quits the band and it is like “Adios Amigos- farewell”?
Yeah, we don’t see many of the guys often. But once in a while we will talk to Alex or Neal , or Craig,…or see them at a show etc. There are no hard feelings,… we just all have very separate lives so that’s just the way it goes.
Even though Immolation has been soldiering on thru years, but when some disbanded band returns to the stage with the triumphal fuss, does it make you ever ponder if Immolation had gone on a long hiatus and then make a triumphal comeback, could the success be larger, bigger and the attention toward the band would be massive like a few reunited bands have got?
No, I doubt it. We would be the only band in the scene that this scenario would not work! Haha People would just forget about us and we would fail! Haha We are extremely glad that we stuck it out,..because it not only enabled us to have the line-up we do, but it made us a better band. Instead of taking a 10-15 year break, we have forged on and used that time to build on the music and build our live show into something we feel it very special. It has always been a struggle for us,..and we have always had to work harder than most to get half as far,…but overall that has strengthened us and we are much better for it. We take that and use it to our advantage. Luckily with each release the music gets better, the interest builds and the band itself gets a little more acknowledgement. We take small steps yes,..but the steps are always going up,..so for us to be here, doing what we do, enjoying it, and consistently moving things forward, we are very happy.
TOURING THRU THE PLANET
When CONSPIRACY OF KINGDOM is official out, you will obviously start going thru the massive touring cycle ?
Yes, we were lucky enough to be able to time the release of “Kingdom” with the Decibel Magazine Tour here in the US. Preceded by the 10th Anniversary of the Neurotic Death Fest in Holland,… we embarked on a month tour with Cannibal Corpse and Napalm Death for Decibel Magazine. The tour was amazing and the crowds came out in great numbers and were very intense! It was the biggest tour I think we have ever done in the US. And to go out there on our 25th anniversary with Cannibal Corpse and Napalm was perfect! We are long time friends with both bands and we really had a blast!!! We figured we would wait for Europe a bit, so we have a headlining tour planned over there for January / February. We are really looking forward to that! We also have a festival show in Costa Rica coming up in December! But I do have a feeling there will be more to follow and 2014 will be a busy touring year!
Hmm Do you view Immolation has given you a great chance to visit different countries and places where a normal tourist could only dream about ? Which places have been the most exotic and memorable ones for you?
Oh totally! If it wasn’t for this band we would not have seen half the places or met half the people we know. We feel very fortunate to have been able to see the world,…most people never get to experience such a thing, and all for Metal! Who could ask for anything more! Haha… This past year we got to play on a cruise ship for 70,000 tons of metal and went to the Caribbean islands, we were in Greece for the first time,..we also hit Serbia for the first time too. Even places like Croatia and Latvia, and of course Finland!, that we have played in the past, we probably would have never seen. And even in the major cities, because of how we travel and the people we know, we are lucky to see the “real” city. The “real” people and places and really get that non-tourist point of view,…it really is awesome! We have made many good friends over the years and travel to see them and visit their areas and site together, etc. And we return the favor too, when friends come into our town. It’s really a special thing and we do not take it for granted I can assure you!
Do usually get along well with other bands on tours and in festivals ? Or have you got problems caused by other bands’ eccentric demands or behavior?
We get along with everyone. We have been lucky to have always shared the road with very cool people. We are very easy going and we always do our best to work with others and make things easy for all the bands involved on a tour, whether they are the headliner or the opener. We are all out there together, so we all need to help each other out. The more people work with each other the easier the tour becomes and everyone involved can spend their time having a good time!
How do you build setlists for gigs ? Of course you have to play the newer tracks, obviously the older material even from the first album and even demo era belongs to the setlist ? Is creating the setlist getting more more complicated for you?
Making a setlist for a tour is probably the hardest thing we ever deal with. Recording , writing, playing live all have their challenges,…but figuring out a setlist is difficult as hell! Haha.. The thing is that we don’t ever play any song all the time. We just pick what we feel like playing at that time. That being said, it still doesn’t make it any easier,..especially when you have a shorter set time. So we always try and do our best to play what we have fun playing. Unfortunately for the fans, we really like all the new stuff from the last 3 releases,…so we have been hitting those hard! Haha We always throw in some older tracks though. But after 25 years and over 100 songs,…it gets tougher each time!!! haha
AND SOMETHING ELSE
The legendary Peardrop Magazine interviewed Ross Dolan’s mother in some issue. Do you still receive such eccentric and interesting interview requests ?! By the way that interview was bloody awesome!!!
Yeah that was a classic! No, that one was probably the most original and most off beat, yet extremely great interview that we have ever been approached with!
I recently came across a facebook site dedicated to Ross Dolan’s hair, I guess Ross’ hair draws a lot of attention, especially when he bangs his massive hair at stages ….?
Lol!! Yes it sure does!! And it’s a good thing! Because we need that counter balance of hair on stage to offset my lack of it!!
Ross and Bob – together now – which albums have got the biggest influence and impact on your heavy metal taste, making you a metal fan ?
I can speak for both of us when I say that bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Possesed, eraly Metallica and of course Slayer, were big influences on us when we were younger. We loved bands like this. Ross and I both idolized Maiden,…Ross with Steve Harris and myself with Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. So, albums like Seven Churches, Hell Awaits, Ride The Lighting, Powerslave and Piece of Mind, and many others from these bands and others really got us started. I’m glad that we still have that passion and interest even to this day though. The music has really stuck with us and become a major part of our lives.
All right, thank you for doing the interview for Metal-Rules.Com and hope to see you guys in Finland, maybe in some festival, but the last words are your to conclude the interview!!!
Arto it was a pleasure and I apologize for the endlessly long wait I put you through!! Haha But I have to say I enjoyed this interview and appreciate your great support over the years! It’s people like you who bring the music and the message of the bands creating it out there to people every day and for that we thank you!
To all the fans, we really look forward to seeing you on the road and we hope to hit every part of Europe and Scandanavia that we can on this January / February run! Keep posted to Massive-Music.pl for info!!
Thanks again and all the best!!