INTERVIEW WITH ROSS DOLAN OF IMMOLATION
The legendary Immolation keeps pounding the deadly metal year after year, not slowing down any inch. The band’s 10 opus called ATONEMENT shows Immolation’s death metal is not getting soft. ATONEMENT is another piece of brilliant death metal masterpiece in the Immolation saga. Metal-Rules.Com talked to the frontman of Immolation, Ross Dolan, about the new album and the line-up change. Every death metal maniac has to obtain the new album…
Interview and live pics by Arto Lehtinen
Good day to the Immolation horde, what’s up in the wintery day in the hood of Yonkers ? Obviously you didn’t have to shovel the snow that much from what I have seen pics from that territory ?
Good day to you my friend. It’s great to speak with you again. We are busy getting ready for our upcoming US tour in a week and gearing up for the new release. Weather has been mild so far this winter with very little snow and mess.
How many interviews have you done so far when promoting your new album ?
I’m guessing I’ve done over 3o already I’m guessing, but whose keeping count.
ATONEMENT – THE 10TH OPUS
The tenth album called Atonement is another awesome piece of slab of brutality with a bit groove elements added. Well I assume you have to be extremely pleased with the achieved results on the album ?
Yes, we are all very pleased with “Atonement”, and so far the initial reaction by friends and the press has been overwhelmingly positive. We are really proud of this one because it’s our tenth full length and we feel it is one of our darkest and best sounding releases in our 29 year history. Musically, each song on this album has so many different elements from our 29 year history, offering a very diverse album that has it all from the intense speed, the slower more heavier sections and the dark and majestic multi-guitar layered sections.
ATONEMENT has been recorded at Millbrook Sound Studios in New York, where you have recorded albums since the FAILURES FOR GODS album, well you
have definitely found it as the home for recording the Immolation material – but did you even think about giving a try-out in other studios for Atonement or was it obvious clear in the beginning it has to be Millbrook Sound Studios ?
We really never considered going to a different studio. We love Paul Orofino and Millbrook Sound Studios and will continue to go there because it’s a comfortable and fun place to record an album. Paul is really like family to us. He has truly become a close friend of ours throughout the last 20 years and always goes out of his way to make us feel comfortable and welcome. His years of experience as a producer and engineer combined with the relaxing and comfortable vibe at his studio makes it a no brainer for us. His talents combined with the great talents of Zack Ohren have really made our last few releases starting with “Majesty and Decay” some of our strongest and best produced releases in Immolations history.
In my opinion you have created and developed the recognizable sound being kind of trademark for Immolation as whenever the one hears the crushing tunes and sounds, it can be immediately identified Immolation, but do you view recording and working at Millbrook has given or created that trademark sound of what Immolation can recognized ?
I have always said throughout the years in interviews that a bands identity is very important to establish early on. We have been fortunate that we were able to establish an identity for Immolation right from the start so that when our first record was released, it was very different and unique musically and sonically. Since then we have consistently tried to build on that sound, pushing forward musically without losing touch with that identity. Each of our ten albums, although all completely different sounding, have stayed true to what we started and we have never strayed from the true essence of what Immolation is. I think this comes more from the writing and not so much the production in my opinion. Every one of our albums is slightly different from the next sonically, in a production sense, however they are all very much Immolation, very dark and haunting releases that have re-established that identity each time.
As you are familiar with the studio environment with “tricks and treats”, is it kind of easier to test/try/create something different to give a bit more brutal vibe in the music wise ?
Actually, since the “Majesty and Decay” record we have been using our pre-production recordings to test out any new ideas we may have, this way we don’t waste valuable studio time trying out ideas that may or may not work. Bob uses Ableton Live to record all the new songs as he writes them and then programs simple mock drum beats to give us all a feel for the different parts. With this program, he can present us with very complete sounding songs, minus the bass and vocals of course, so we have a better understanding of where he is going with the song and how the parts work together. This really gets everyone on board and helps us understand the material much easier than being in a rehearsal room, this way when we enter the studio, everything has already been vetted and tested.
Your, Ross, bass sounds like the thunderous roar in songs like Fostering The Divide, nearly blowing my ears. But seriously the bass-sounds are and have always been the main key creating the Immolation sound, or do you share my opinion somehow ?
I don’t know, I would argue the guitars and the way Bob creates some of these parts is what really gives us that unique sound. His writing style and way of playing is very unique and I think this is really the main factor in the Immolation sound along with the unique drum patterns and fills. The bass really just holds it all together and keeps that rhythm section moving forward at all times.
Bob once said to me “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.” Is finding a specific feeling or atmosphere easy task or do you have to challenge yourself when writing the material, like for ATONEMENT ?
It is always both fun and challenging at the same time. The feeling and atmosphere is and always have been the main focus when writing an Immolation song. Bob really tries to create something dark and majestic with all of our songs. Of course, sometimes we hit the mark and sometimes we fall a little short, but it’s not for lack of trying. Atonement is a very dark album, perhaps one of our darkest both musically and lyrically. It has the feeling we were going for and the sound and production just brought it to the surface even more. The fact that this album took much longer to write allowed us more time to really fine tune these songs and craft them into something unique both dynamically and sonically while allowing each one of these songs to shine on their own.
When the previous album KINGDOM OF CONSPIRACY was processed, you didn’t rehearse any single note together and recorded the album separately. How did you work this time ? In the same way ?
Yes, we have done it this way since “Majesty and Decay” mainly because we are all living in different parts of the country. It just made more sense logistically to just rehearse individually on our own and to bring it all together while in the studio. This also goes for rehearsing for tours as well. We haven’t rehearsed together before a tour since the “Harnessing Ruin” album. We are rehearsing at the moment in Ohio in preparation for the tour here in the States because we wanted our new guitar player Alex Bouks to have a few days with us to feel things out before we got on the stage.
I have always been pointing out this three-year-gap between in other Immolation interviews for Metal-Rules.Com and technically there is a three year gap between Kingdom and Atonement – Obviously time flies, but what about this time – how come ?
It’s actually been a four year period from the last album to the “Atonement” album. This time around it took us way longer to get our act together than it has in the past. Typically we take about 4 to 5 months from the beginning of the writing process until we enter the studio. Bob started writing for this album back in early 2015 with the hopes of a late 2015 release. Unfortunately we hit some road blocks along the way that pushed everything back about a year. Bob had a bad case of writers block along the way and had to step away from the writing after he had three songs completed. Once he was re-inspired and the creative juices started flowing, our drummer Steve broke his ankle really badly in 3 places, so after surgery and over 6 months of rehabilitation to re-learn how to walk and function on his right foot again we were back on track. This unfortunately pushed our recording time for “Atonement” back once again to June of 2016. In retrospect, all the delays really allowed us to spend that time absorbing and fine tuning the new songs as they were written, and allowed Steve extra time to really work on the parts and understand the songs better to create his parts and make this album one of his best performances to date, so there was a silver lining to this dark cloud.
Has it always been an easy project for you to set yourself into a songwriting feeling whenever that it is necessary? Or do you first have to find yourself in a certain state of mind before your songwriting gets in the full speed ahead ?
It all depends on how inspired we are at the time and how long that inspiration stays with us. Sometimes it doesn’t come that easy, then you just need to step away from it for a while until the creative juices start flowing again, which is what happened during the “Atonement” writing process. It’s really hard to predict, and unfortunately at times you just have to roll with it and stay determined and focused. I find if I am not inspired, I just can’t write, and that’s all there is to it, so we have very little control over this aspect of the creative process.
As for the album title, ATONEMENT – Why did you choose this name and does it have some kind of deeper meaning or symbolizing the album cover somehow ?
The song “Atonement” on the record is about religious extremism, and it is not really targeting any one religion, instead it’s a broad commentary on the literal interpretation of religion and how this can sometimes take people down a dark path of extremism given the right set of circumstances. We thought the title worked perfectly within this context given the fact that atonement is about pardoning your sins and reconciling with God, so given the extreme and destructive nature of extremist acts, it seems like an absurd concept to forgive people for these atrocities and to somehow try to justify the actions to promote a certain cause or belief. We chose this for the album title as well because the same idea can be applied to humanity as a whole, and our long legacy of death and destruction throughout the ages, all the while trying to find some justification for these terrible acts and crimes against humanity and life in general. The cover art was actually inspired by four lines in the lyrics to the song “Atonement”. We used these lyrics as a starting point and then articulated our ideas to Par Olofsson who created the amazing front and back cover artwork for the record. The cover depicts the very destructive and divisive side of religion and makes a strong commentary on our current reality.
Your lyrics used to deal with more anti-religious subjects Back in the day, but I assume the anti-religious themes play important roles in your lyrics nowadays, like struggling between good and evil, and the corruption, personal issues… Are the lyrics kind of in-your-face approach, telling the truth about the current state of the world ?
Absolutely!!!! They are very blunt and in your face and they touch on the very dark realities of our world today. It’s much broader than just religion because it we speak about the darkness in our world today and how it manifests itself in many different ways through human action. It is a very human album because it is about humanities many failures and we are very blunt in speaking about the human condition and its great hubris. Our thirst for wealth and power has blinded us and taken us down a very dark path where I believe we have lost sight of what is important. This is all magnified in an age of too much misinformation that serves as the driving force behind so many of the divisive forces we see in our world such as religion, race, politics and nationalism. We try to do this in a very dark way that really makes the point without straying into politics or getting overly preachy. We simply present the listener with our very cynical observations of the world around us and hope people understand what we are saying and what points we want to get across.
I noticed you have revived the old school Immolation logo, which hasn’t been seen on cover since the debut album, therefore I can’t help asking how come you decided to resurrect the old cool looking logo back ?
The old logo has always made an appearance on our albums, whether on the front cover or inside the booklet. The decision to use it once again on the “Atonement” cover was due mainly to aesthetics. It worked really well with this artwork without taking away from the piece or trampling on the art. It actually added a more sinister vibe to the whole piece where the newer logo really didn’t add anything to the cover at all. We are really happy with the decision and I think so far the response from the fans has been overwhelmingly positive.
You worked with Scion A/V team a few years ago. Are you going to work more with them ?
Unfortunately Scion A/V is no more. We had a great working relationship with everyone at scion A/V and can’t thank them enough for all they have done for this band and for the extreme music scene in general. Without them, the Providence EP and our videos for “A Glorious Epoch” and “Illumination” would not have been possible, so we can’t express how happy we are to have been part of that experience and can’t thank them enough for what they have done for us.
TOURING THRU THE PLANET
Immolation crisscrossed thru Europe last summer by playing at several festivals. I guess you made the first visit ever to new countries like Iceland, New Zealand. In general what kind of respond have you received and as for the band, I guess it has to be exciting to enter to conquer new countries ??
Touring in general is something we all really enjoy. It’s the whole experience of bringing your music to different parts of the world and sharing that musical power with likeminded people and connecting with them on such deep levels is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. We truly enjoy visiting new places and meeting new people, so getting to such amazing countries like Iceland, Australia and New Zealand last year were truly memorable experiences for us that we will always cherish. The fans in these countries were very appreciative of the fact that we finally made it over to their countries and the responses were unbelievable.
Immolation toured thru European summer festivals as a three-pieces as Bill Taylor returned back home. Well how did you have to adjust and change the playing style because of the absence of the second guitar ?
It was unfortunate that Bill had to leave right after he arrived in Europe to deal with a family situation. We had to finish the festival run as a three piece which has its challenges for a band like Immolation since we rely on the two guitars to create the many different sonic landscapes in our music. Bob had to adjust his parts and review all the songs, making changes on the fly to make sure we were able to pull it off. It worked as well as it could. We have played as a three piece in the past before, and it felt bad offering our fans a version of the band that wasn’t 100%, but I guess it was still better than cancelling the shows and not playing at all. At the end of the day the fans did appreciate the effort.
When picking up songs for your set list does it cause problems as you have a number of albums out by now, especially when playing time at festivals is somewhat restricted, normally 60 minutes?
Choosing a set list is my least favorite part of performing. We have 100 songs to choose from over a 29 year history, so you can imagine it is extremely challenging to craft a set that represents the best of the best with some surprises thrown in here and there.
Are there some places in this world where you would like to play with Immolation but are a bit skeptical about going to some of these certain countries due to some inner political atmosphere? Have you been offered to play in some places where you haven’t been able to get in ?
We are open to playing any country that will have us and welcome us, as long as it is a stable country where we don’t have to fear for our lives. We have been fortunate over the years to have visited many great places. We would still love to play in Russia, China, Japan, Indonesia and a few other places we haven’t been to yet, but we have to be patient and hope we can get there one day. We had been scheduled to play in Serbia a few different times in the past, but it wasn’t until 2010 that we finally made it there with Marduk and it was an amazing experience with so many great and friendly Immolation fans. It was nice to meet and talk to everyone and the response was nothing short of amazing.
You are going to embark on the North American tour with the Cavalera bros. I think you are more old school Sepultura fans. But do you think this kind of tour opens doors for other type of audience for Immolation ?
Yes, we are hoping to reach some new fans on this tour. It is a tremendous opportunity to tour with the Cavalera brothers. Early Sepultura (Bestial Devastation, Morbid Visions and Schizophrenia) was a huge inspiration on Immolation in those early years and we have always been very open about this. It is a huge honor for us to share the stage with the guys who inspired us in those early years.
According to the credits of Atonement I noticed Bill Taylor wasn’t involved in the recording process of the album, am I mistaken ?? Did you work as a two piece ?
We decided at Bill’s request to include Alex Bouks (Bill’s replacement) on the album credits and in all the press for the new release. Although Alex didn’t actually record on the new album, we all felt it important to include him at the beginning of this new album cycle to avoid any confusion with the fans. This was how Bill wanted it and we of course respect his decision and honored it.
Bill had been dealing with some personal/family issues for over a year now, and it just got to the point where it was very difficult for him to continue touring because of his commitments at home. The road life was also getting very challenging for Bill physically, so all of these factors combined led to his decision to leave. We were all of course devastated by his decision to leave and wanted him to stay, but we respect his decision and fully support him. He will always be a part of this band and his 16 years of passion and dedication to this band will never be forgotten. He is and always be a close friend and brother!
Did you have the feeling some changes will happen in the band sooner or later ?
Well, life happens I guess. We deal with these things as they come and try to do the best we can with what we have to work with. That’s all you can hope for. Nothing is forever unfortunately, and Bill’s exit from the band signals an end to an era for us and the beginning of a new chapter with Alex and “Atonement”.
How did the current guitarist Alex Bouks end up to replace Bill Taylor after all ? Was he already on your mind to recruit him to Immolation ? Or did you have some sort of audition to find a right guy to step in to those shoes left by Bill Taylor ?
When Bill told us he was leaving the band, Alex was the first and only person we thought of. Alex has a long history with the band. We have been friends with Alex since the late 80’s, in fact Alex came on our first US tour back in 1992 right after he exited his band Goreaphobia at the time. He has been a close friend and supporter of Immolation for all these years as well as being a tremendous talent with the guitar, so it was really the perfect choice for us.
What kind of background does Alex Bouks have before joining Immolation ?
Alex has a history in the Death Metal scene like ours. He has been there from the beginning and has written and played with some of death metals most classic bands. He was the main creative force behind Goreaphobia, he played in Incantation for a number of years, he has toured and played with Master and has his own band called Ruinous which is absolutely brilliant. His resume was perfect!!!!!
METAL ON METAL
What’s your feeling and opinion about the current Metal scene – Do you still find the ultimate passion to bang your head for metal or do you rather follow and check out f:ex bands sharing the stage with you ?
I still love what we do and feel very fortunate to still be part of this scene which has evolved into a worldwide movement. I still love live shows and support all the tours that come through New York. I love checking out new bands and have never lost that passion for music.
Are there perhaps newer death metal bands out there that have managed to impress you recently or do you get more excited by listening to those classic bands and albums ?
A little of both I suppose. I still always find myself gravitating towards the classics, but do love discovering newer bands like Ruinous, Mutant Supremacy, Castrator, etc.
As for Ross’ voice people have always wondered how he keeps his voice in such a great shape year after year. Are there some things keeping his voice in the perfect condition ?
I never smoked cigarettes and I am not really a huge partier. I have tried to keep myself in good physical condition, but other than that, I really have no secrets. I just do what I do and luckily I have managed to continue to do it for over 29 years now.
Do you view 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 never look at this as a competition. There is room for everyone in the metal scene. We just focus on doing what we do best, and that is creating dark and extreme death metal the Immolation way.
Do these younger bands approach you telling how much Immolation has influenced them ?
Every once in a while we hear this, and it is very humbling and mind blowing at the same time. We never see ourselves as this hugely influential force, just four guys with the same passion for music trying to create something new and unique for our fans and ourselves.
All right I for one thank you for your time to do the interview for Metal-Rules.Com again. Hopefully Immolation will enter Finland someday …But you have the last words to conclude the interviews…
Thank you so much for the great interview. We hope to visit Finland once again one day soon. All the best!
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