Interview: Immolation

We’re still 100% passionate, excited and driven by what we do and creating new music and sharing it with our fans around the world.

Immolation have just released their amazing new album Acts Of God and it sees the New York death metal on quintessential form and sounding suitably heavy with the songs on the album representing everything you’d want from Immolation. Gavin Brown caught up with Immolation bassist/vocalist Ross Dolan to hear all about Acts Of God, the band’s upcoming tour, the early days of Immolation, the past and present of New York death metal and still producing such vital music after so long in the game in an insightful and informative interview.

E&D: Your new album Acts Of God is out very soon, how did the creation of the album go?         

Ross: It went as well as it could go, considering we had a lockdown at the beginning due to the pandemic. We were pretty much confined to our individual states for the first year or so. The writing process actually started for this back in 2018 so we had a good jump before the pandemic nonsense started. By the end of the Atonement touring schedule, which was around the end of 2019, we had about four or five songs in the bag at that point for the new record. For us that’s a huge jump, we don’t usually have that much material at that point. Once things started to shut down around March of 2020, we were looking at, we will probably have a good amount of time now, because once we saw the world starting to shut down, we knew that we were probably going to be in lockdown for a while. We didn’t have any deadlines of any kind, things that used to weigh us down and stress us out. We just had the mindset of writing a good record without any outside pressures. Having that extra time, due to the pandemic, actually worked in our favour, in the sense that we didn’t rush anything, we had a lot more time to really absorb the songs individually and make them the best that they could be.

E&D: What has the reaction to the new album been like so far?

Ross: So far, so good. It’s been overwhelmingly positive. We released ‘Apostle’ first, that one we felt was a good first track to get out there, just because that song has all those Immolation elements I think our fans look for. ‘Apostle’ is just an extreme, heavy, dark, creepy song. I think the consensus amongst the four of us was yes, that that’ll be the first one for the rollout. Then ‘The Age Of No Light’ was the second track. Instead of going the obvious route, we talked about putting out a slower, more mid paced song, something a little more accessible, not that, anything with us, is that accessible, but I mean, as far as accessibility goes on any Immolation record. It’s been a long time, let’s just put out some burners first, some real extreme, songs that really showcase what’s expected on this record. There’s a lot of really great stuff on here, in my opinion. Hopefully when fans get to really pick it apart and dive into it, they’ll they’ll see just that.

E&D: It has been been five years since your last album Atonement. Does it feel good to be back and releasing new music again?

Ross: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, Atonement was a very busy cycle for us. It got received really well by the fans and by the press as well. That’s an unusual thing in our camp as well, to have everything lining up like that. It was it was a little overwhelming, and due to that, we did a lot more for that so it was a busy cycle. Coming off of that into this new record, we were very excited. We knew the bar was raised high with Atonement, so we knew it was gonna be a bit of a challenge to live up to that with this one. After this amount of time though, we cannot wait to get out there. It was a big deal for us just to get together to rehearse last year for the first time, we got together I think in June of last after not seeing everybody since December of 2019. It was a long road, and just catching up and jamming with everybody was awesome. Being able to get out there now and to share some new music and to get out there and tour again after a very dark, very uncertain time is welcome. We can’t wait for it.

E&D: Despite some of the material having been written quite a while ago, does it all still seem fresh to the band?

Ross: Yeah, I really enjoy rehearsing the new songs, as soon as we were done with the mixing, and we could step away from the music in that sense and be less critical and just enjoy for what it was. It only took me about a week or two before I jumped in and started relearning the songs with the vocals added, because I never do that in the studio. It’s always like, I’ll record my bass tracks first and then I’ll record the vocals, so I’m not ever really playing and singing the songs until after everything’s done. I can just kind of hear what I did on the record as a reference and go back and kind of relearn it, but man, I jumped into that right away, it was nice to jump into the songs again, and to have fun with them. I think we’re all really excited about, playing these new songs live, if it were up to me, I’d play the entire new record live, that’s just the way I feel. I’ve been going through all these new songs, playing them, and rehearsing them and it just feels good to play some new material. We really played the shit out of Atonement for three years, so it’s nice to step out of that and to do something fresh.

E&D: With the chaos that the world has been in the past couple of years, so you feel that the name of the album is an apt title for it and that’s why you chose it?

Ross: Absolutely! Yeah, it’s very reflective of the last couple of years. Even pre pandemic, the world was crazy but the pandemic was just the cherry on the cake. A lot of that’s in the lyrics. We touched on a lot of the craziness in the world, of course, because that’s kind of what we do, we hone in on that stuff. We touch on a lot of the topics, not the same topics, but we revisited some of the themes of the earlier records, just because we felt that was very relevant today with what’s going on in the world. Just to be clear, it’s not a pandemic record. It’s not about the pandemic, but it’s about the world in the last couple of years. We’re kind of all over the map on this one with the lyrics, there’s no thread of continuity thematically through the songs. We touch on a lot of different subjects. We come back to religion a few times, most definitely and there are a number of songs that deal with different aspects of institutionalised religion, but more or less, it is kind of a varied album thematically and topically.

 

E&D: Obviously, the anti organised religion aspects of your lyrics has been present since the beginning. With your stance on that, have you had much criticism since Immolation started?

Ross: You know, I think our fans get it. I mean, we’ve always tried to write out lyrics from an honest perspective. Our feelings were critical of a lot of the horrible things we see around us in the world, we’re super critical of that as, as we all should be, I don’t take those things lightly and they kind of fester inside me. So I use this as a as an outlet to get some of that stuff out, but yeah, sure, we’ve taken some criticism about our lyrics, but hey, listen, you don’t have to listen to it if you don’t like it. There are a million bands out there singing about a million different topics. We do what we do. I think our fans appreciate our honesty and our straightforwardness. I think our fans appreciate the fact that we touch on a lot of things that a lot of people never talk about or are afraid to talk about, but we do it in in a way that I think the lyrics are written in a very open way. Although we are very specific with each song and what it’s about and what the catalyst for these songs were, I think they’re written in a way that’s kind of open and somewhat ambiguous. People could take different things out of them.

E&D: As far as Immolation and your career, how do you feel about death metal today?

Ross: I think death metal is alive and well and thriving, right now, I think there’s a lot of great young bands that have been coming out in the last 10 years or so, that are really starting to make their mark, kind of embracing those older inspirations that inspired us even in the early days of when we started, and taking those and bringing them forward to today’s modern scene and interpreting them in their own way. I think that’s awesome. I think there’s a lot of great young bands and I think even the bands in our category, some of the bands who’ve been around for a number of years, 30 plus years, are still putting out really good records, still killing it live and still have that passion and that fire. I think, if anybody says, yeah, the death metal scene is at a low point now, I would suggest they reexamine the scene because just even the fact that we were able to play two festivals last year, and to just to see the excitement and the fervour of the crowds at these fests was amazing! I understand that kids are coming off of a year and a half lockdown, so any show right now is exciting but that passion is at a higher level now, and that’s awesome to see, so I think between the influx of a lot of new fresh blood with a lot of new bands, and the older bands still putting out some good stuff. I think this scene is in a really good place and it’s in I can’t wait to get out there and tour really.

E&D: That leads me on nicely to my next question! You’re you’re hitting the road again, in the US very soon with Imperial Triumphant and Mortiferum. Are you looking forward to the tour after it being so long since you’ve done it?

Ross: Oh absolutely, I think everybody involved in all the bands are totally psyched to make the trek. You know, everybody in the camp is extremely ecstatic about this. I mean, we’ve all been putting in the time and rehearsing and just getting everything ready for this. We can’t wait till we get out there. That first show is just going to be awesome, just to be part of live music again and just to share all the new material with the fans. I know they’ve been eagerly waiting and been super patient and super supportive of us and we can’t thank them enough so hopefully just getting out there and sharing the music with them will be part of our our giving something back to them.

E&D: after that tour, you’ve got a few dates with Black Anvil and then a show with them at Irving Plaza in your New York hometown that also features Demolition Hammer, Mortician and Funeral Leech. That’s an amazing bill, you must be psyched to play that one?

Ross: My god, that’s just epic dude, I can’t wait for that. Yeah, the fact that Black Anvil is gonna join us for the last five shows of the actual tour because Imperial Triumphant had some other commitments so they’re going to jump off and we were totally psyched that Black Anvil gonna jump on because we love those guys. We toured with them for the last album when we supported Mayhem back in 2017. We became instant friends and we love those guys. I love the record they brought out at that time. It was one of my favourites of that year. I’m excited to be out with them again, just because they’re awesome dudes. The New York show is just going to be epic, man, just the fact that we got Will and Roger and the Mortician guys with us and Steve and the Demolition Hammer guys. We have Funeral Leech  from Brooklyn and Black Anvil, so it’s a stacked New York bill! Three Yonkers bands, with us, Mortician and Demolition Hammer and beyond that, I think it’s a really good representation of what the New York scene has to offer, with us Demolition Hammer and Mortician representing that old guard, and then, Black Anvil with their adding of black metal elements to things and then, Funeral Leech representing the younger up and coming bands, they just released their first album during the pandemic. It’s a pleasure to have them on the bill, and that they represent, the scene moving forward. It’s just an all round awesome bill with a lot of different flavours to it but it all represents the New York scene.

E&D: I would love to see that show!

Ross: Yeah, exactly, man. It’s just a unique show, man and we’re very happy that it was able to come together like that, shows like that never happen usually.

E&D: With so many new bands from New York as well as classic bands, like yourselves, Suffication, Incantation and Mortician. Do you feel that New York is still a hub for extreme metal as well as having a great history? That bill definitely says it does I would say!

Ross: Of course, of course, I mean, New York, just because of what it is, is always a hub, for whatever genre. It was a huge hub for the New York hardcore scene, from back in the 80s through to the present. Same thing with the death metal scene, just a lot of good music coming out of this state. We’re all still from New York, the bands on our bill, so that says a lot, and there’s a lot more bands around. New York State’s a big state, we’re just touching on the New York City area with that show, but there’s of tons bands upstate. I moved up to Rochester a few years ago and there’s definitely a lot of great bands up here. I think New York is still a good hub.

E&D: Have you got plans for touring further afield as well? Hopefully you’ll make it to the UK!

Ross: Yes, absolutely. We did try to plan out a tour this year, but it just didn’t feel like it was the right time, there was a lot of stuff going on and a lot of uncertainty. There’s a lot of tours that got cancelled, and they’re going to get revisited now this year. We figured it would probably be best to wait until 2023 before we did any proper touring in Europe and in the UK. We have the Netherlands Deathfest and the Dreamer Fest in France scheduled, those will be our first two appearances in Europe since 2019, and there may be another and you may be surprised!

E&D: What has been the greatest live show that Immolation have ever played and what made it so memorable?

Ross: That’s an extremely difficult question! We’ve had a lot of great memorable shows for all all sorts of reasons. Whether it be crowd size, you play a a huge crowd that’s really exciting and energetic. That leaves a mark. You could also play in a small venue to a really ecstatic crowd, and that can be super memorable too. We have a ton of shows like that. We’ve played with a ton of great bands over the years. We’ve done a lot of repeat tours with bands like Marduk, for example. We love the Marduk guys, I love the band. We’ve been fans for many, many years and we’ve done multiple tours with them in Europe. I think they’re just a fucking great band. They’re awesome to tour with and the mixture between us and them with the death metal and the black metal, I think a tour like that is a great tour. We’ve done numerous tours with Cannibal Corpse over the years and they are great friends of ours. They’re one of the bands in our scene that has truly fostered up and coming bands, because they always go out of their way to take fresh young acts out with them,  us included back in the day, we all started at the same time, but they were already at a level when they hit the Vile album and they graciously reached out and took us out with them for like four tours on that record. I have a lot of respect for them. Bands like that, who try to foster young talent and bring out up and coming bands and try to give bands a hand and get them exposed to bigger crowds. We had a tour back in early 2000s for the Unholy Cult record. We went out supported Cradle Of Filth throughout Europe and at the time, we were like, well, hopefully it’ll work for us. I know they have a very different fan base but that was an amazing tour for us. We played to some huge crowds, we didn’t realise the impact that tour would have for us until years later but obviously, a lot of people saw us on those shows. I gotta say, the Cradle crew treated us like gold man, they really looked out for us and took care of us, all around band and crew. They were awesome people to tour with. I can go on and on about memorable tours and memorable shows. All the stuff we did for the Atonement cycle was all just really killer. We got to play so many great shows, with so many great bands, from Black Anvil and Mayhem to Blood Incantation, it was awesome. We got to go out with the Cavalera brothers for the Return To Roots tour and it was great to share a stage with people you respect and admire.

E&D: What are you favourite memories Immolations early days in the New York death metal scene back in the day?

Ross: Those are great times, man. It was an exciting time, because you were still discovering so many new bands. This was pre internet, so we were writing letters to bands that we saw ads for either through the mail or in fanzines. We had a quite a network of fans that we were in touch with, from Nihilst and Dismember from the Sweden scene to the Carcass and Napalm Death guys from the UK scene. Chris and Autopsy and a lot of the US bands too like Morbid Angel. We were networking and tight with through correspondence with all these bands. It was a very unique time, this scene in its infancy and you really had to work to discover these bands, but because you did, and because there wasn’t a ton of bands out there, it was a very tight knit scene, more like a brotherhood. Everybody reached out to help each other. We were fans of each other. Each band at that time had its own kind of identity and sound and style, you could listen to a Nihilst track and say, Wow, these guys have their own sound. You listened to Autopsy and they had their own sound. We did our own thing, Cannibal Corpse did their own thing, same with Morbid Angel. All these bands had their own vibe and sound, so it was a very, very unique time, you know? It was cool, to be part of that at the very beginning. I still see that passion in the younger bands. It’s just technology is the only thing that I think has changed, you know what I’m saying? I don’t think that passion and that feeling, and that that drive is lost in the younger bands. It’s still there. It’s just that they have modern technologies to kind of help them, and promote their bands on why not embrace it if you can?

E&D: How do you feel still doing this after all this time and still having that same passion for the music and the scene?

Ross: It’s great. I mean, nothing’s changed with me or the guys. We’re still 100% passionate, excited and driven by what we do and creating new music and sharing it with our fans around the world. I love it, man, if my life didn’t have this, honestly, I don’t know where I would be. This has given me so much. It’s shown me so much, it’s broadened my outlook, my worldview, my perspective on everything. It’s helped me and enriched me as a person, the experiences I’ve had through the band, the people I’ve met, the friendships we’ve, fostered over the years around the globe. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever experienced in my life. I think we all still share the same excitement as when we were 15 and 16 year old kids, back when we started, just in older bodies now!

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