By Guest Writer Eric Bryan
Interview done on 10/15/10 at the Santa Ana date of Immolation‘s current US headlining tour with Vader, Abagail Williams, and Lecherous Nocturne.
Eric Bryan: You guys are out supporting [newest album] Majesty and Decay; how has this tour been going as headliners as opposed to the previous leg supporting Nile?
Ross Dolan: It’s always very different. We haven’t done a headlining run since 2003 with Unholy Cult. So with Shadows in the Light and Harnessing Ruin, we felt that we had to build an audience back up around [the US]. We had switched labels, to Olympic, which became Century Media. So we just needed a stronger presence.
RD: But then you have your drawbacks, you know? You play less, you don’t really get to put forth 110%. You’re limited in what you can do, you know? Nuclear Blast has been great with this album, we’re very happy that we signed with them. They were saying that we needed to get out there on our own and reestablish ourselves, and it’s something that we’d wanted to do. We felt it was the right time. Now we have the luxury of getting a little stage set up for visual aesthetic, we have more time, so we can cover all the records and play more of the newer stuff. We’re reaching less people out here on our own, but the people we are reaching are more full force die-hards, you know? We’re very excited.
EB: You guys have packed the tour with pretty high profile openers as well.
RD: It’s been a really good tour. We’re fortunate to have the package that we have. Vader and us go way back. I’ve been writing back and forth with Pitor (singer/guitarist) since 1988. We’ve toured three times with them. The Abagail Williams guys have been touring non-stop lately, so we knew they could do it, and the Lecherous guys, it’s our first time out with them, but they did the Cannibal [Corpse] run, and they’re great guys as well. Pathology was with us until yesterday, but they dropped off because the guitarist was leaving. But the bands are all different, and it’s good. Lecherous is a monster act, Abagail’s got that black metal style too, and Vader’s Vader, you know?
EB: What goes into your guys’ set picks? You’ve been switching it up a lot on this tour, which isn’t really common for metal.
RD: Well, sometimes we drive ourselves crazy with that. We picked 18 songs for this run and whittled it down to 14 or 15. We just wanted to get more out there and into the mix, and you’re never gonna please everyone, but we try to get a few strong ones from every album. The only one we skipped over was the [Hope and Horror] EP, because we’ve been playing the shit out of those songs and wanted to give them a rest. We picked five strong ones from the new album too. When we were last out, the album wasn’t out yet and we could only play “The Purge.” We couldn’t really ram it down people’s throats when they didn’t know it. We throw in a few new ones and it works.
EB: On the new album, I interviewed Bob [Vigna, guitar], and got a copy of the new one that night so I couldn’t really ingest it, and not to kiss your ass, but it’s a solid album.
RD: Thanks, thank you man, I appreciate it.
EB: You guys covered the recording process with Decibel magazine, my question is how the lyrics came to be. This album isn’t a complete departure, but it’s definitely an expansion from what you guys usually take on.
RD: Definitely, I agree with that. Our past has been very heavily rooted in our feelings on organized religion, and I think people got it. It got to a point where I felt it got kind of redundant, and so with this one we tried to get some other ideas out there. It’s not so much my pessimism, but my sadness, when I look around and see how people are sometimes, and how we’re moving towards the future. It’s not a pessimistic look really, but an eye-opening look at things, and it’s something I had to get out. It’s a departure somewhat, but it isn’t in every way. It’s got a lot of issues we should all be looking at, and it touches on religion a little bit, so…
EB: You can’t really ignore it.
RD: Yeah, definitely. So you know, I’m not preaching, but its a commentary.
EB: It definitely reflects that giant scope you guys use, and I think it reflects the music. On the drive down here, I played the title track to the new album for a friend of mine and he said, “Woah, this is what Darth Vader would walk out to if he was in a heavy metal band…”
RD: Ha! It’s funny, you made the Vader reference, because that song in particular was written specifically about the fall of Nazi Germany. And the song, I think, can fit to any sort of regime like that, whether it be the Nazis, past, present, or fictitious. Star Wars too, if you wanna get silly about that, but you’re spot on, it’s a really dark song. It’s about a dark time.
EB: It’s hard to take past events and press them into this art form.
RD: Yeah, and I don’t like to get into specifics in songs, but there are things in there that you can get and make that connection. There’s a few lines, that you could read and think “I wonder if he’s talking about this?” And I like to do that to keep people sharp.
EB: Let ’em know you know what you’re talking about.
RD: Yeah, but at the same time let it be open for interpretation, because that’s what this kind of music and art is all about.
EB: Definitely. So is it you that writes all the lyrics, or is it a group effort, or…
RD: In the past it was mostly all me. Our original second guitar player Tom [Wilkinson] was the idea guy. He’d come to me and say, “I’m thinking about this…” and I’d go off and write it. I’m not an idea man, but I can build an idea. It was right around Unholy Cult, around 9/11 that Bob started having some ideas. We were both down there in New York, and we saw some fucked up shit, and he started coming to me with some ideas. I was in a writer’s block mode and he really helped me expand my horizons, so that worked out well too. On this album I had a lot more ideas than the last one, so we built those up and it worked out really well I think. It’s nice to have a fresh perspective.
EB: Are they written before the music or after?
RD: Always after. I have some ideas beforehand, but I don’t get motivated to develop until after the music. Certain songs will fit certain lyrics and you don’t want to just mash them together, because it doesn’t work out well every time. Like that title track.
RD: “A Glorious Epoch” was perfect for that music. It wouldn’t work for us to go about it any other way.
EB:You’d said that the first three albums maybe had too much going on in the music department.
RD: Ha, yeah. A little bit.
EB: What was it that brought you guys to simplify that on the last few albums, but bring back that technicality more on this one?
RD: Harnessing Ruin was a fork in the road. We wanted to step back and simplify things a little bit. Unholy Cult and Close to a World Below departed a little bit from Failures for Gods, and Here in After, but were both dense records, and the problem was that people didn’t have a chance to really get into a riff because they were here one second and gone the next. With Harnessing Ruin, we went in for the first time actually saying, “Let’s strip this down and simplify. Keep it dark, with that same formula, but try a different approach.” And we were close. With Shadows we kind of fine tuned that a little bit more, injected some other stuff, but you’re right on the new one we put in some more of that older style, but kept it streamlined. I think it worked out.
EB: Oh definitely, and there’s some weird stuff you don’t necessarily hear in metal going on. There’s a change up in the third riff in “Majesty and Decay,” where the riff changes on the upbeat, which is something almost more akin to country music than anything.
RD: Oh there’s no formulas here man, we write our own rules. There’s nothing that can’t be done with this band.