Immolation - Ross Dolan

Immolation - Ross Dolan

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IMMOLATION are ready to hit the stores with the dark and - as always - powerful “Atonement”, so METAL KAOZ did a really nice Skype session with singer and bassist Ross Dolan to learn how the album was made, what are the band’s immediate tour plans and what’s Ross’ take on the ‘Big Four’ of Death Metal...

Immolation - Ross Dolan

Hello Ross and welcome to METAL KAOZ!
How are you, man? Are things pretty good?

I’m good, I’m good. How is the weather in New York?
It’s cold, it’s shitty, it’s snowy, you know, it’s all of the above (laughs).

I feel you, Ross. I’m in Chicago, so same stuff here. Let’s start right away. So, the obvious question; how long did you work on “Atonement”?
“Atonement” took a lot longer than the last bunch of records actually. It took about a year and a half. We started working on this back early in 2015 and we had a couple of songs written, three songs written that we were all rehearsing and then Bob [Robert Vigna] (who writes all the music) had some writer’s block around that time so what happens really is you kind of step away and wait to be re-inspired so that’s what he did. He took a couple of months, stepped away, came back and then he started writing again and then, our drummer Steve in September broke his ankle really bad, so it was one thing after the next.

Oh man…
Yeah, he had to have surgery and they had to put a steel rod into his leg and some plate in his ankle, so it was a big deal. He had about 6 months of physical rehabilitation to learn how to use his right foot again. So yeah, it was a huge set-back and we didn’t get into the studio until June of last year, so it was about a year and a half until we started until we got into the studio. I guess, in retrospect, the silver lining was that we had more time to really fine tune all the material and craft the songs exactly how we wanted them and Steve also had time, despite the fact he was going through therapy for his leg, to understand the parts, understand the songs and work on some parts with his hands in the meantime. I guess the extra time helped us to kind of make the album better than what probably would have been.

So, is Steve ok to play live now?
Oh yeah, he finished his rehab – that was about late March / early April – and then we went on tour with MARDUK in May, so he rehabbed right until the very last moment and he actually wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to do the tour but he wanted to kind of wait and go through the process and let us know, and he did fine. He did the whole MARDUK tour with us in Europe which I thought was probably really good for him because it allowed him to kinda flex that leg a little bit and play and get used to the kick – you know, when you’re playing live it’s a totally different story than rehearsing at home. So, I think that helped him even more, so by the time we got back from the tour, we had about two weeks and then we went in the studio. When he got back, he reviewed everything and he was fine. He’s doing really well now.

That’s awesome to hear! Because I cannot imagine what such an injury can do to your confidence, especially if you’re a performing musician.
Yeah, it really I think interfered with Steve. I think, it was a rough road for him, I think it destroyed his confidence at the beginning, and I know it put a lot of pressure on him, so I know he went through some dark times there. Steve is a very physical guy, he is into martial arts, he weight lifts, you know, so for him to kind of be bed-ridden for 6 months was a big blow.

Yeah, and it makes you think, right? You’re not getting younger anymore, and that’s a painful truth.
Absolutely, I’m in late 40s, Steve is in his mid-40s, so you think you can take on the world like when you’re 20, but that’s not the case (laughs).

Exactly. So since Bob is writing all the stuff that means that [interrupts himself] because IMMOLATION have a new guitarist, Alex [Bouks], so was Alex involved in the making of the new album?
No, it’s always been Bob. Alex jumped in after the album was done actually. It was actually a very smooth transition. Bill [Taylor] was having a lot of personal conflicts which kind of preventing him leaving to go on tour and he had a rough year and a half dealing with a lot of stuff at home so we kind of knew what was coming. We were hoping he eventually kind of sorted out and be able to stay with the band but we supported Bill either way weather he stayed weather he decided to go. Unfortunately, he decided he had to go and we understand his situation and we support him. And then, moving forward, we knew Alex for about 29 years; Alex was a good friend of ours so he was really the first guy we thought of and the only person we talked to and he was really interested and wanted to do it, so we’re very happy - we got lucky actually. It was a very smooth transition between Bill and Alex.

The fact that you saw a member who has been in the band for 15 years leaving, didn’t affect the band at all? I mean, there has to be something, right?
Of course, I mean, Bill had a tremendous role in the band. He was a big part of what made us who we are, from the ‘Close To A World Below’ tour below when he joined the band up till now. Bill allowed us to be a much stronger live act, a stronger force on the stage. He is a very dedicated guy and we never had a worry about Bill. He always came prepared on his parts and it allowed us to kind of work in the situation that we are now. He don’t ever practice together as a band, we don’t go ever to a rehearsal room and practice. Everybody practices on their own because everybody lives in different states - Bob and I live in New York, Steve lives in Ohio and Bill used to live in Florida...

Oh, my goodness…
Yeah, and Alex lives in Washington, DC now, so it’s gonna be the same situation – it’s a little crazy. So, because of that, we rehearse at home and the first time we would play together it’d be on the stage, in the first show of the tour. It’s kind of unorthodox, people kind of don’t believe that that’s the situation but that’s how it’s been for years now, because it’s just too time-consuming and wasn’t easy for us to all go out to Ohio and rehearse. Bill was a big part of that - he was huge. Bill was very artistic and he always helped out with the looking-field of the albums and stuff like that, he had a really good eye. It’s just sucks but that’s life. We’re still friends and Bill will always be part of IMMOLATION. There is no question.

Reading the press release, the album is described as darker than the previous, and I could not agree more; so how did this happen?
It just happened like that; I mean, when we start a new album cycle, we try not to put a lot of expectations on our backs because it’s kind of defeating, you know. But one thing we always try is to write stuff that’s kind of honest and true to what we’ve done in the past, something that will fit in our entire catalogue, something that kind of pushes the envelope a little bit, tries different elements or maybe re-invents some of the elements we’ve used before. You know, something that’s very dark and majestic and epic and haunting and that’s kind of always been what we’ve been trying to do. With some records you succeed more than others, of course, and every record I think in our catalogue is very different but still, they all have that continuity - you know what IMMOLATION is, there is that identity. But I think “Atonement” just came out darker because we had the extra time, Bob spent really a lot of time working on these songs, we spent time on the arrangements. Also, lyrically, it’s a very dark album, much in the same sense that “Kingdom Of Conspiracy” and “Majesty And Decay” were but it’s a lot darker lyrically ‘cause it’s a broader scope as far as what we’ve touched on topically. I think every one of the new songs of the new record kind of has all the elements that our fans are looking for, the very dynamic, fast, explosive, aggressive stuff and also slow, haunting material of course - those big epic multi-layered sections that kind of give it that larger than it really is kind of feel, you know. I think that’s what makes it dark; you have a good blend. “Kingdom Of Conspiracy” was a very straightforward aggressive, explosive album and this album has that but it also has a lot of the slower, heavier, creepier parts and I think the mix of the two is probably what makes it dark, and the lyrics of course. It’s just an overall darker record, definitely.

Since you mentioned the lyrics, when do the lyrics come into play? I mean, are there already written lyrics and then you choose what music fits them or do you write specifically for each song?
I have to have lyrics than music rather. You know, the music is what inspires the lyrics and the ideas, and it’s weird because usually I’ll have a bunch of ideas and subjects to write about and inspirations when we go into the studio, and when all the songs are done I kind of sit down and figure out “well, I like this idea for this song”, because there are certain things that work better with songs depending on how aggressive they are, how dark they are, they’re slower, mid-paced. So, that kind of dictates to me what ideas will apply to which songs musically. And when that’s kind of sorted out, Bob and I sit down together and we draw ideas back and forth. I tell him my concepts, if he’s got something, he tells me and then we start to build them from the ground up really. It takes a lot of time sometimes but it’s a fun process and it’s something we always do in the studio nowadays. So, at the very least, I like to come prepared with at least a bunch of ideas and concepts for the music, and this time I think we had 11 songs on the record and I think I went in there with about 7 or 8 ideas and Bob had the other couple 3 or 4, so it worked out good, man. We did really well with that and we’re very happy with how the lyrics turned out.

And to me, it’s interesting to see lyrics in Death Metal albums because, contrary to what many believe that it’s just a person growling, the singer has to be pissed off or afraid of something to be growling like that. You cannot sing about roses and daisies, you know.
Exactly, it’s an aggressive form of music; it’s a very dark, oppressive, savage, sinister kind of music, so the vocals fit in, and that’s the only way I can explain it to people because people who obviously don’t understand Death Metal or aren’t into Metal in general, they listen to our stuff and say “wow, the music is phenomenal, but I just don’t understand that vocal style - just sounds a little weird”. But it works, so most likely the vocals have to be looked at like another instrument, when it just kind of like [interrupting himself] you know what I’m saying? It’s almost like a narrator (laughs).

Yeah (laughs). There is a bonus in the special edition of the album; you have re-recorded “Immolation”, so my question is: what is the first thing that comes to mind when you go back to those days, when you first recorded that song? It was back in 1988, right?
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I remember that time so vividly; I remember driving to the studio, I remember the day, it was on the summertime, I think it was June. It was right before Bob’s birthday, so we went to the studio at the very beginning of June in 1988 and it was a local studio, Sleepy Hollow Sound - that’s where RIGOR MORTIS recorded their demo tracks as well - so we went there, we knew the guy there and that was the first song we had written for the band, that’s what we chose to put on the CD. Let me tell you the back story; that song was actually for Decibel Magazine’s Flexi Series, so we actually recorded it for that first and they put it out about 2 months ago in one of their most recent issues and Albert [Mudrian] from Decibel approached us about doing that about a year ago, and we weren’t really sure what song to do but we decided on “Immolation” because it was the first song we’ve ever written as a band and it was the 25 anniversary of “Dawn Of Possession” last May so it was just good timing and it made sense and I’m glad that it’s gonna be on the “Atonement” as a bonus track because otherwise a lot of people would miss it (you know, the re-recording). And also, we had Harris Jones do the mixing and mastering for that one song, so it was kind of cool to have the original guy who did “Dawn Of Possession” work on this as well. So, it was a very cool, very fun thing for us to do.

Awesome! You said it will only be on the CD version?
I think it’s only gonna be on the Digipak version, I think. That’s what I believe but you know, it’s still out there, fans can listen to it at Decibel’s website but it came out really good. It’s still kind of gives a nice nod to that old-school production but it has a nice modern polish to it. So it’s really cool actually, I think Harris really did a good job on combining both worlds, you know.

Now let’s talk about the tour; you have the upcoming US tour with the Cavalera brothers that runs until early of March and then there are two more live dates in April; one in the UK and in Philadelphia. Have you chosen the songs that you’ll play from the new album?
Yeah, we’re really excited about that! We’re actually gonna play a lot; we’re gonna do about five new songs - we understand that the tour’s gonna start before the record is out but we really enjoy these new songs. I think dynamically they’re gonna go really great live and we don’t wanna wait and just throw a bunch of old stuff at the crowd with one or two new songs. So we’re gonna mix it up – it’s gonna be like half new stuff and half of a mixture of some of the more recent and classic older stuff.

What’s next in your schedule after April?
We’re gonna do the Cavalera ‘Return To Roots’ tour at the beginning of February until March, like you said, and then we’re gonna go to Europe in April with VADER which it will be really cool for us because we’re huge VADER fans and we’re really good friends with those guys. And then we come back right after that at the end of April to play at ‘Decibel Metal & Beer’ fest, so we’ll be busy right up until April and then we’re gonna think about maybe doing some Canadian dates since we missed Canada with the Cavalera run and then we’ll probably repeat the cycle at the end of the year.

That’s great news! So we’ll see IMMOLATION again in the US.
Oh yeah, definitely. I mean I know the Chicago show is gonna be on a Thursday [February 23rd] at The Portage Theater, so that should be cool, and then the next day the album will be out. We’ll also gonna release another song like a lyric video for one of the other songs before the release. So we already have two songs floating around down there.

Are there any plans to make a video for the new album? I mean a proper one, not a lyric video.
Yes, absolutely. We’re gonna do a video probably after we finish the ‘Return To Roots’ tour. We’re gonna come back in March and film a video or possibly two - we’d like to do two, so maybe we’ll film them both at the same time and just release them at different times.

Have you chosen the songs for the video clips?
Yeah, we have, but I’m gonna keep that under the wraps (laughs).

(laughs) That’s fair enough.
You know, we have to have some surprises (laughs).

(laughs) Of course. And last question: you have released a series of videos chatting about the new album and one of the questions I saw it was about something like the ‘Big Four’ of Death Metal. So, wouldn’t it be awesome to make a US tour and get together four big Death Metal names in a touring bill?
It’s very difficult, you know, and I think the main problem lies because everybody has different management, different agencies, different labels, so it becomes a headache. Although it would be ideal and I think it would really work great. I mean, we were able to do something similar to that on the ‘Decibel’ tour a few years ago where you had CANNIBAL CORPSE, NAPALM DEATH and ourselves – not that I’d include myself in the ‘Big Four’ but it would be similar to that though when you had have three kind of well-established that were there from the beginning, all kind of representing different aspects of the genre, and that’s kind of what I mean by that. When I was thinking about choices for the ‘Big Four’, there are different considerations; I mean, I looked at some of the comments on that because I love reading the comments - the fans are great and always bring out certain points, you know. There was a guy asking “are we picking the ‘Big Four’ based on album sales?” and that’s one of the main criteria that would probably base that on, so if you base it on that, bands like us and lot of others are eliminated from the mix immediately (laughs). So, if you’re doing it strictly on bands that have been there from the beginning, ok, that would opened it up to more bands, like ourselves and VADER, KRISIUN and a lot of other bands that may not have the sales, but we have been there and are a very strong force from the beginning, so it’s a very tricky thing. I tried to look at it like “ok, what bands really made a huge impact and really reached that level”. And I think the bands that I mentioned - I think I mentioned CANNIBAL CORPSE, early DEATH, MORBID ANGEL...

[interrupting] POSSESSED.
And POSSESSED, of course. And I threw POSSESSED in there because they were to us - at least “Seven Churches”, that record defined Death Metal , because they had the song “Death Metal” at the end of the record and I think the only other band that I knew that had a song entitled “Death Metal” was ONSLAUGHT on their second record, “The Force”. So that was the first time I’ve ever heard that term in a song and I was like “wow, that’s pretty cool”. I think POSSESSED was the band that kind of articulated that style and sound - at least, for us they did.

And they also brought the evil aspect of Death Metal.
Right, and that’s exactly we took our cues from, from that style. Anyway, it’s kind of hard, it’s a really a very challenging question because it’s very hard to pick four bands out of like maybe a hundred (laughs).

To me, this is not a hard question, it’s an unfair one.
Yeah, it really is, because I always feel like an ass because I know I’m leaving out bands that could be there, people I know, but I’m trying to think pragmatically about it (laughs).

Thank you very much, Ross for your time. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you.
Oh, thank you very much, Dimitris. I can’t wait to play in Chicago - hopefully we’re gonna get the chance to meet.