A Closer Look at Immolation’s “Father, You’re Not a Father”

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Immolation’s Close to a World Below marked a clear departure from their earlier style. Their previous release, Failures for Gods, came out only the year before, but play the two albums back-to-back and you might be surprised it is the same band. On average, the songs are much slower. The dissonance is harsher and often tonality gets lost in a mess of pitch bends. At the same time, almost paradoxically, the production is higher: every part can be heard clearly and is given equal weight. At first glance, the songs are much more chaotic, but on further reflection, they have matured greatly in terms of structure and development. Exploring this idea will be the focus of the review.

In fact, this can probably be best understood by a thorough examination of a single track, “Father, You’re Not a Father.” The opening bass pattern is F descending to C scale-wise, but the catch is it is not a major or minor scale. The scalar pattern is the Locrian mode. Although this is typically considered a “standard” scalar mode, it is almost never used (parts of Sibelius’ 4th Symphony being a prominent exception), because the root chord is diminished. This makes the main chord of the key highly dissonant. The F to C construction is then used to introduce the first main riff (minor simplifications for readability were made):

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The riff is offset from the start of the bass, so it occurs in a different place of the measure. It is also played in triplet rather than the bass duple. Everything about how these two main ideas are layered adds to the dissonance, confusion, and chaos of the sound. They even shift up a half step to F# and C# which layers a tritone on top of everything and pulls you temporarily out of the main key. Yet the whole riff is perfectly consistent and coheres with the introduction by being built from the same exact material. This is what I meant earlier when I said the songs sound chaotic at first but upon repeated listens, the internal logic emerges. We’ll call this section A.

The second main riff is introduced shortly after some vocals. A texture change happens for this riff, because it is played as power chords rather than single notes. The time signature also changes to 4/4 from the 3/4 of the beginning. The feel is naturally slowed by the use of quarter notes instead of eighth notes or eighth note triplets from section A. The riff itself ascends in opposition to the A idea which is descending.

All of this taken together is great songwriting, because the slower note values, longer measure, and power chords all contribute to a heavier feel. Each change they made between section A and B contributes in the same emotional direction. Many modern bands don’t understand this type of consistency. I wrote out the B idea for reference, but it there is enough going on that it could be heard differently by different people (maybe some fifths should be in there?):

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The track returns to the A idea and then the B idea with some slight changes and vocals layered in. This can be seen as a development of the initial ideas or merely as a restatement. The next section is a true development section, because Immolation take a classical ornamentation idea and appropriate it into their own context. A mordant is a rapid alternating of the main note with a neighbor tone (sort of like a short trill). In this song, they glissando the whole thing and create an ugly, intensified version of it. This develops the A idea into its own groove which gives way to another development in which they elongate the opening bass motif.

While all of this is going on, more and more textures, intense drumming, extra dissonant notes, and layering of power chords contribute to a whole song build to the climax. The climax is the fantastic solo near the end. It teases by starting slow and slurred, almost like the guitar is trying to hold a single note that is unstable and can’t help but flick around. It then erupts into a short burst of technical prowess, and of course, quotes the A theme to tie it all together.

Overall, it is this type of excellent songwriting that makes the album worth listening to (and a departure from their earlier material). The songs are tightly constructed, coherent pieces that simultaneously feel unraveled and chaotic. They achieve a rare balance that speaks to both the mind and the emotions. Many newer bands have tried to copy the style unsuccessfully (the recent Ulcerate album comes to mind). They miss that this is not just static dissonance, but forward moving and organic in addition to being technical and rigid.

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Analysis of Immolation’s “Christ’s Cage”

Immolation are legends in Death metal and rightfully so, though their heydays were after the initial burst that characterized the NYDM scene and have cemented their place with the likes of Cryptopsy and Immortal for prolonging the lifespan of that classic period of metal. Longevity seems to be the forte of the band’s centerpieces Dolan and Vigna and while they released a few decent albums, none of them quite hold up to Here in After. Black Sabbath and Slayer stretched the palette for what was possible in metal and introduced endless possibilities whereas Immolation took one closed approach and pushed it to its limit on this album. Though Close To A World Below took experimentation further, the whole was not as cohesive or powerful. Let us look as the closing track which truly concludes the album.

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Metal Blade Reissues Immolation Albums

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Metal Blade Records has reissued the three Immolation albums that they hold the rights to: Here in After, Failures for Gods, and Close to a World Below. These three records, the latter two with flashier but less pure drummer Alex Hernandez, are some of the bands peak works and saw them completely leave behind the few vestiges of speed metal that remained on Dawn of Possession, which is perhaps still their best overall work. Following Close to a World Below, the quality of the band’s material greatly declined even though their last record with Hernandez, Unholy Cult, was still a strong release.

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Listenable Records reissues Immolation – Dawn of Possession

immolation dop

Article by Daniel Maarat

Immolation’s debut has recently been reissued with the original CD mastering intact for the first time since 1995. Closer to conventional speed metal and lacking the complex polyrhythms and syncopation of their prime material (including the masterful Close to a World Below), the album nevertheless remains an accessible must-listen. That this classic was out of print for over twenty years with even the Polish mafia, probably bootleg slammed remaster going for inflated prices on the secondary market shows just how much the Warner Music Group owned, formerly independent Roadrunner Records has been neglecting their back catalog in favor of pushing nu-metal and Nickelback to a lowest common denominator audience. Hopefully more licensed-out, quality digital reissues will follow as Metal Blade was permitted to handle the recent Mercyful Fate and Sepultura vinyl pressings.

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Immolation – Majesty and Decay

The mind can’t erase what the soul can’t embrace

The most anticipated death metal release of 2010 (along with the upcoming Morbid Angel, of course) Majesty and Decay has everything to please any sophisticated fan of the genre, yet still doesn’t quite meet the impossibly high standards of the group’s past. The 2007’s Shadows in the Light while it seemed to have retained all the ingredients of the New York masters’ brew somehow failed to live up to spoiled listeners’ expectations. The unfortunate flirting with “nu metal” elements as well as almost complete discarding of drumming-based structure poisoned the arrangements and conveyed a bad aftertaste to the whole record. Still head and shoulders above any fellow North American squad Immolation has taken the prolonged break in order to revise their direction and yet again prove themselves the ruling kings of the genre.

The best news Majesty and Decay has to offer is Steve Shalaty’s drumming. The man has been replacing Immolation’s godly Alex Hernandez ever since 2005’s Harnessing Ruin but it is only here that he unlocks his true talent. Steve has surely developed his own musical language since 2007 and the band has finally regained its rhythmic “pillars”. Everything has fallen into place at last: blasting endurance, inventive drum breaks and mid-paced punishment. The “inverted” riffing – although not as all-pervasive as on, say, Close to a World Below, – stresses the drumming very nicely and allows for some smooth gliding down the interwoven landscape of melody. Indeed, what sets the album apart in the vast Immolation discography is the use of melody. While the band is still a riff-fed beast, the heavy metal melody injecting the solos and seeping through the riffs enriches the sound world of the group, introduces “humanity” to the demonic environment of their instrumentation. The songs are shorter compared to the classic 90s era material, more to-the-point composition-wise, and definitely more “human” than we have come to expect from these New Yorkers.

Vigna (wonderfully supported by Bill Taylor as usual) goes right after Shalaty in this album’s list of heroes. The tight, powerful riffing, the wild soloing echoing with sadness and despair – all of it enhanced by the tasteful and balanced production ensures a satisfying listen. Guitars are put to good use in both the “Intro” and the “Interlude”, which indeed set the atmosphere very well. Ross Dolan’s vocals have become completely decipherable on here without loosing the emotion and recklessness, while his bass is so elegantly put into the mix that it acquires percussive quality at times. All of the above perfectly reflects the lyrical themes of the album: the loneliness of modern man lost in the midst of colossal fight for world domination, the evaporation of values and purposes igniting intrinsic hells and leaving no hope for the spirit.

“Our threatened kingdoms The world is divided Trample ourselves While we claw for the prize”

Still, the album comes with its share of flaws too. The band implements the tension buildup/release approach in some of the songwriting here and not only fails to achieve the desired effect, but sometimes looses momentum completely (most notably “The Purge”, “Divine Code”, “Power and Shame” ). The distribution of Immolation’s volatile energy here often reduces the impact instead of boosting it. This new trick is still very raw/unrefined and cannot fully replace the mathematic complexity of their 90s output. The classic (and eagerly awaited) “last song devastation” is also pretty much wasted here: next to all the best, epic songs scattered across the album “The Comfort of Cowards” feels pretty weak (while certainly not entirely filler) for a killing blow. The cover art is a disgrace. This computer game-like visual representation does justice neither to music nor lyrics. Also, the band probably needs to consider revising their logo after all these years of using a stretched font as one.

All in all, this is a mandatory purchase for anyone with at least a slight interest in today’s metal. It is entirely possible that Immolation’s return will be the finest mainstream death metal album by the end of the year (even with all the mentioned flaws taken into account) as this reviewer doubts Morbid Angel or any other competitor for that matter has the guts to top this material.

-The Eye in the Smoke-

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Interview: Ross Dolan (Immolation)

Death metal spread itself around the world, zooming in and out of media focus, and probably died and was reborn several times. Stalwart pillars of the death metal community remain, guiding it past the social hype and dead ends, and one of the most persistent is New York’s Immolation. These death metal craftsmen have created detailed, artful death metal since the late 1980s and have influenced every generation of the genre. We were lucky to catch Ross Dolan for a few questions.

When you started out in 1988, you were a different band than even a few years later. Dawn of Possession seems divided between the style of those early tracks, which sounds more like a collision between speed metal (Exodus, Metallica, Slayer) and Possessed than the newer material, which seems to me to be fully death metal in a “modern” sense, more like the European bands of the 1990-1991 era. Did your musical goals or influences change during this time?

I think with our first album, our influences are more noticeable than they are in the later albums. This album in particular was written over the course of three years, a few songs here, a few there, until it was finally ready, and actually the last two songs we wrote for that record were “Those Left Behind” and “Into Everlasting Fire,” two of the strongest and most memorable songs of the record in my opinion.

As a young band, we wrote songs for fun and had no intentions of recording an album, nor were we planning on making a 20 plus year career out of the band. We wrote songs as an outlet, we were all into the same music and were trying to create our own version of that, only better and different. I was only 18 when the band formed in 1988, so in a lot of ways I had a lot of growing up to do, and as we matured and focused, so did the band.

I really don’t think we nailed it until possibly our fourth record (Close To a World Below). The first three were a struggle for us to try to find our place, and although we were close, and all the elements were there, it was just a matter of fine tuning. I would say Here in After and Failures For Gods were albums that showed more of Immolation and less of our influences, but at the same time they were experimental in the sense that we were trying to create something unique and different, and didn’t quite know how to get there. I think we were all very happy and proud of our earlier releases, but as the band matured, so did our song writing and confidence in our material.

Our goals I don’t feel ever changed, we were just in a new place with each new record. Each new record was almost like a fresh start for us, leaving everything else behind and starting anew. We obviously wanted to make things better and better, but we never tried to out do ourselves and top the last record, there were way too many other obstacles without adding this kind of pressure into the mix.

As far as influences go, the main inspirations to play music are always there, and all I need to do to remind me of them is to see a great live show or put on a killer album that hits me the same way now as it did 25 years ago, then I am inspired all over again. The bands you mentioned above were all favorites and big inspirations to us as young musicians; in fact Exodus was the first underground metal band I ever saw live in August of 1985 in Brooklyn. They played with Carnivore, Nuclear Assault, Blessed Death and Agent Steel, and it was something I will always remember as a fan.

After the first album, Immolation seems to have gone through three stages of evolution. Technical metal (Here in After), a simplified but punchier style (Close to a World Below, Failures for Gods, and Unholy Cult) and the newest (on Harnessing Ruin, Hope and Horror and Shadows in the Light), a style that reminds me of the powerful storytelling metal bands of the late 1980s and how they wrote songs that seemed like the soundtracks to their fairly epic videos on then-new MTV. What spurred these changes in style, and do these reflecting your desire to reach different people or communicate differently?

I would agree with you, except as I mentioned earlier, I would put Failures for Gods in the “experimental/technical” stage, and the rest seems to fit. After the Unholy Cult record, we made a conscious decision to strip the songs down a bit, make them less bloated with riffs, and make them more straight forward. We wanted to make things more simplified in a stronger way, to make the songs easier to grasp right away, but still maintain that dark and haunting feel that Bob seems to create so well.

Harnessing Ruin was our first attempt at this, but I think we came closer with the latest album and the E.P. Harnessing Ruin was a great album in my opinion, I think it was probably our heaviest album to date, and it saw us taking a brief departure lyrically from the religious themes and focusing more on the world and the darker sides of life, which I think gave it a more personal touch. This change of approach came not to reach new people (let’s face it, if we wanted to reach more people, maybe playing extreme death metal isn’t quite the way to do it), but simply to write better music that got to the point quicker and stuck in the listeners head longer.

The Shadows In The Light album along with the Hope And Horror EP were a continuation of that, only difference is that these newer records had more of the guitar layers and embellishments that make the songs more epic sounding and much more interesting to listen to. It wasn’t a drastic change because all the core elements of Immolation are still in tact, but it was something that we felt helped make the songs stronger in delivery and dynamics.

Just as Life, after ages of struggle, evolved that wonderful bodily organ the eye, so that the living organism could see where it was going and what was coming to help or threaten it, and thus avoid a thousand dangers that formerly slew it, so it is evolving today a mind’s eye that shall see, not the physical world, but the purpose of life, and thereby enable the individual to work for that purpose instead of thwarting and baffling it by setting up shortsighted personal aims as at present.

– George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman (1903)

Recent Immolation albums use melody lines with more “space” in them (are less chromatic), and emphasize harmony as well as allowing the solo to fit the themes of the song, making for more easily-recognized songs. What inspired you to explore music in this way?

Changes such as these just happen naturally as we grow as musicians and song writers. There was no conscious effort to add more melody; it just felt right at the time. Some of these embellishments are worked on before we get into the studio, but on the last album, most of the extra guitar parts were written and performed on the spot while Bob was tracking his leads, and this was the first time he really went in there with no preparation. He would loop the solo sections and just play over them until we found something that we liked and then he would build on it.

The instrumental “The Struggle of Hope and Horror” took a full day to add all the extra guitar overlays and solos. There is so much going on in that song it’s hard to even comprehend what went into it, and yet the finished product wouldn’t lead the listener to believe there are that many guitar tracks because everything blends together and works as one piece. It’s all done to give the songs more depth and personality, to create something different that’s both dark and musical in an epic way.

As a band of over twenty years, you have had to work substantially to maintain a level of quality that many never achieve even briefly. It seems a substantial number of death metal bands from the late 80s/early 90s burned out quickly, creating great works and then evaporating. One might guess that their creative abilities were more spontaneous and fleeting than yours. Do you think the difference between these “methods” of creation is obvious when hearing something initially, or after some study with it? How do you, as a band or as individuals, avoid becoming complacent?

I don’t think this would be apparent initially in any band. As we mentioned earlier, our first record had a lot of our personal influences mixed in throughout the album, and it did take us a few albums before we really crafted the band into what it was meant to be from the beginning. So I would think it would take some time, and some bands never made it to this point, and the bands that did, it was only the beginning of the hard work.

Once we fine tuned everything to fit our vision, then it became more of a challenge to move that vision forward, develop it in a way that wouldn’t compromise the “essence” of the band but enhance it and make it into what it is today. And even now as we are writing new material for the next album, we are still trying to make things better, stay true to what we are, and enjoy the process! It never ends, this creative drive never ends for us, we are still like a bunch of excited kids when the writing process kicks in, and this is why we keep doing it.

This isn’t something we do to pay the bills, it’s not a job and it’s not a chore, its something we are truly passionate about. It is something that each one of us needs in our lives, because without it, our lives would have a huge void. It’s very hard to convey this feeling to some people, but it is like a drug, a powerful driving force that we enjoy following year after year, record after record. So this is what kills complacency, our love for what we do and our passion and drive to move it forward and improve on it.

I could write a thesis on all the influences that I think I hear in Immolation. There’s something that sounds like Voivod, and an acknowledged Mercyful Fate influence, as well as sometimes some Iron Maiden. On Harnessing Ruin and nearer, I hear variations on themes Black Sabbath introduced. What are your most influential influences? Have you found yourself leaning more toward some and less toward others as your songwriting style has evolved?

Well, you are spot on with everything you just mentioned. VoiVod was a definite influence, especially the first three records, and as you know, Mercyful Fate is a huge influence on us as well. Iron Maiden was both mine and Bob’s favorite band back in the 80’s, and a huge influence on myself as well (Steve Harris is the guy who got me playing bass). Black Sabbath has inspired everyone playing metal today, and if they deny it, they are lying!!!! These bands were the beginning of the road for us, the foundation, and they have all left their mark on us as fans and musicians.

Honestly, we are very open minded when it comes to music, and our personal musical tastes are all over the map, so most of our inspiration over the last 10 years or so has been from more non-metal acts rather than from the old classics. This is true especially with Bob, and if you ask him, he will tell you himself that it’s the non-metal stuff that inspires him to try new and different things, but in a way that would work itself into our style of music.

We are very picky and try real hard to sound different and unique, so knowing what’s out there helps us to stay the way we are without unintentionally writing something that sounds similar to another band. For the last few records I think we have all been on the same page musically, and we know what we want to achieve, so we really use our past records as a sort of template to guide us. We know what works for us and what does not, and although we do try different things with each record, they are very subtle and do not distract form the core of the band.

You write almost exclusively on religious themes that are unnervingly well-versed in Christian theology. Many metal bands seem to use fantasy or metaphor to express ideas that would become too mundane if made political, psychological, etc., preferring the more poetic symbolism as poets like John Milton and William Wordsworth did. How did you discover this way of expressing yourself, and what effect do you hope it will have?

We have always shared the same feelings when it came to religion, and although religion played a small part in our earlier lives, to some degree this inspired us to move lyrically in this direction. We have always tried to be as honest with our lyrics as possible. We are writing about our personal feelings and giving our perspective on different aspects of the world around us, whether it be religion, war or personal demons.

I think our bluntness and honesty shines through and it gives the listener the ability to relate to what we are saying on a more personal level, which makes it more powerful. Again, I think we have always taken our lyrics as seriously as the music itself, and have always believed the two worked together hand in hand to drive home the point of our music. Over the years, as with the music and song writing, I believe we have also come along way in the lyrical department.

Since the Unholy Cult album, Bob has had a much more active role in the lyric writing process, and I think the result has been much stronger and much more personal lyrics that go beyond just the religious themes we had written about earlier on. Prior to that, it was really just myself writing the lyrics, a lot of times building the song around just a title or a basic idea that our first guitarist Tom would throw my way. After four albums, it became more difficult to deliver fresh ideas without sounding redundant or without rehashing something that we had already done, so to have a fresh point of view be introduced into the mix was something that I was extremely happy about.

Music does not express this or that particular and definite joy, this or that sorrow, or pain, or horror, or delight, or merriment, or peace of mind; but joy, sorrow, pain, horror, delight, merriment, peace of mind themselves, to a certain extent in the abstract, their essential nature, without accessories, and therefore without their motives. Yet we completely understand them in this extracted quintescence. Hence it arises that our imagination is so easily excited by music, and now seeks to give form to that invisible yet actively moved spirit world which speaks to us directly, and to clothe it with flesh and blood, i. e. to embody it in an analogous example.

This is the origin of the song with words, and finally of the opera, the text of which should therefore never forsake that subordinate position in order to make itself the chief thing and the music the mere means of expressing it, which is a great misconception and a piece of utter perversity; for music always expresses only the quintescence of life and its events, and never these themselves, and therefore their differences do not always affect it. It is precisely this universality, which belongs exclusively to it, together with the greatest determinateness, that gives music the high worth which it has as the panacea for all our woes. Thus if music is too closely united to words, and tries to form itself according to the events, it is striving to speak a language which is not its own.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (1819)

Your exhaustive touring (and longevity) brings you into contact with many of the newer acts (and fans) and every perceivable trend within metal. Could you comment on anything notable you’ve seen develop recently (or ever), how you tolerate the worst of it and to what degree you’ve subsumed some of the best?

We have certainly seen a lot of bands and trends come and go over the last 21 years, and we have also seen extreme metal go back underground at times, and come back out into the forefront at other times. Through it all we try mainly to stay focused on what we need to do and not what is going on around us. We knew we would still continue to push forward regardless of the trends and popularity of the music. What everyone else did never really concerned us.

Of course we were always aware of what was going on around us, but it never influenced us either way. We were always about introducing our music to as many different people as we could, and felt that the only way to do this was to tour a lot and get out there and do as much as humanly possible to get the music out there. We feel that this has helped us tremendously where the label support has not. Our willingness to get out there despite the odds and promote on our own is what has carried the band this far.

I would say as a whole, we are happy with the exposure the extreme metal scene has received in the last few years; it has achieved a sort of acceptance within the mainstream to a degree. I don’t mean to say it will ever be mainstream, because I don’t ever see that happening, and this is a good thing, but it is visible now where it was only visible back in the late 80’s in black and white fanzines and on college radio. Now we see coverage in full color metal and music magazines all over the world, on MTV and all the other major video networks, on lager scale tours that can attract more mainstream headliners to expose the music to a larger fan base.

So these are all positive things that have come to light in the last few years. Its just less of an uphill battle these days. Of course there will always be the trends and terrible bands that come out of nowhere and get a lot of hype and exposure thrown their way, which is a bit frustrating at times, but they eventually disappear into the unknown where they belong, and we live to fight another day…..hahahaha.

Here in After is your most complex album and a favorite of many a metal head. What made you elect to take the technical metal high road, and why did you opt for more straightforward songwriting after that? Did a technical riff-fest not express what you hoped it had, and if so, how do newer methods do this?

Here in After is our most complex album along with Failures for Gods, which I feel is even more complex in a lot of ways. Here in After was our second album, and this came after a long period of not writing any new material because we were in between labels, so it was about a five year period between the first and second albums, which in most cases would have been career suicide for most new bands, or a quick ride to superstar status to most bands today who come back after a long hiatus.

For us it was just business as usual. We were at that critical sophomore album phase, and knew there would be a little pressure to write something as good if not better than the first album which did really good for us for the time and amount of promotion. I can say that we never really made any conscious decision to take any technical metal high road; in fact, we never really felt this material was really that technical compared to some of the more tech bands out there. Sure, it had tons of tempo changes and many different parts coming and going, but I never considered it technical because we weren’t technical players, and I felt that if we were able to pull it off, it could not have been that technical.

Let’s just say the songs were a little too busy and involved for their own good at times. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t, and after the Failures For Gods album, we knew where we needed to improve the songs and how to do it. The problem with these albums, especially Failures For Gods was that there were so many great riffs that were never allowed to make their mark, they came in for a quick measure and were gone again and we were on to a new part.

Looking back, we could have probably written an entirely separate album just with all the extra riffs that were not needed in these first two records. I know to some of our die hard old school fans this talk is blasphemy, but its how we feel, and we have made conscious attempts from Close To a World Below to the present to change this, which I hope had made things better. It has for us, so that’s what really matters to us in the end. We have to be happy in order to continue.

It seems to me that Harnessing Ruin got a mixed reception in some underground circles because of the use of more “mainstream” techniques, like the whispered introduction to one song, and some of the “bouncier” drumming. However, this album also showcases some of the finest fusion of professional songwriting — using melody, harmony, rhythm and structure together — with savage death metal technique. Are you trying to compete with, or be better than, the newer styles of death metal-hybridized popular metal? What have the successes and challenges of this approach been?

I think this was an important album for us because it showcased our efforts to make the songs stronger and more direct by cutting out all the excess stuff not necessary and getting to the point much quicker.

As far as the whispering parts go, we did use the whisper vocals as a complete second vocal track under the main vocal on the song “After My Prayers” on the first album. I got the inspiration to do this from The Doors “Riders on the Storm”, which has that whisper track under the main vocal throughout the song, and I loved that creepy effect it had and wanted to try it behind a Death Metal vocal. Although it was very subtle, it had a similar effect. So the whisper thing was done not as a ticket to mainstream acceptance, not in the least, but as a way to create a different vocal dynamic since I was opposed to the clear vocal approach, and the whispered parts were suggestive of an inner voice, and they gave the heavier Death Metal vocal parts much more power and authority when they came roaring in (especially in “Son of Iniquity”, which is probably one of our darkest and heaviest songs both musically and lyrically).

Since the songs were more stripped down and to the point, it really allowed all the dark melodies to come right to the surface, and I think it gave some of our former critics a new appreciation of the band, which was a positive thing and helped to attract new fans to our shows. Are we trying to compete with other bands out there? No, we have never done this to be better than anyone else, we try just to better ourselves and make Immolation the best it can be.

We do what we do, and I feel we are unique and different enough to stand out among all the many great and not so great bands out there today. We are competitive only when it comes to working harder with each new release to make it hopefully as good and as strong as its predecessor. I think with what we achieved on the Harnessing Ruin record, it allowed us to make an even stronger follow up album with Shadows in the Light, and hopefully we will carry this forward to the new album.

Are there any skills you have learned from being a death metal band that can be applied to other areas of life?

It’s all about hard work, conviction, following what you believe in and are passionate about and realizing that not everything in life has to be what the rest of society expects of you. Its ok to be an individual, a free thinker, and someone who is willing to disagree with popular opinion at the expense of being outcast from some circles, but that’s fine as long as you are true to yourself.

I have a great family who always supported me, so I was always fortunate to have that support group behind me, but it still was a question of juggling your passions with your priorities. I learned how to work and be responsible at an early age to allow myself to be a touring musician with a full time job waiting for me when I came home. I learned early on that this would probably never pay the bills and it was something I think we all accepted early on, which made us very practical and realistic with our decisions. I learned that nothing comes easy in life, and with out dedication and hard work it was impossible to move forward with any endeavor.

These were all things I have learned from being in the band. We learned always to expect the worst, and if something good came out of the situation it was never taken for granted. And if you consider living out of a suitcase in a van with six other guys for a few months every year for the last 21 years, eating shitty road food, sleeping in rest stop parking lots and taking sink showers while living the dream is a skill, then we can add that to the list…..hahaha. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Did learning music theory, and becoming better musicians, help you in expressing your ideas? How did it do so?

Strangely enough, we never learned music theory, actually other than a couple of lessons when we were much younger, our musical training was more hands on. I learned how to play bass from a buddy of mine when I was like 13, and a few years later I took a few lessons locally, but I never learned how to read music or any of that stuff. I just always had a good ear for music, and had a knack for figuring things out for myself, and the same went for Bob, although he does know how to read music, but never had any music theory either.

I think this may have helped us instead of hurt us because we never see any limitations when writing or arranging songs, we do what feels right, so it was never an issue. I think the same goes for Bill as well, but Steve I believe had more training as a drummer and this definitely shows in his performance, execution and ability to figure out things very quickly and accurately. Becoming better musicians, which was a very gradual process, definitely helped us not only write better songs, but it allowed us to play better and more confidently live.

I am still learning and getting better with each album, its always an ongoing process for me as well as the other guys. I am pushed to improve my playing as our songs get more evolved and playing shows night after night is the best way in my opinion to get better as a musician.

But it was Schopenhauer who first defined the position of Music among the fine arts with philosophic clearness, ascribing to it a totally different nature from that of either plastic or poetic art. He starts from wonder at Music’s speaking a language immediately intelligible by everyone, since it needs no whit of intermediation through abstract concepts (Begriffe); which completely distinguishes it from Poetry, in the first place, whose sole material consists of concepts, employed by it to visualise the Idea.

For according to this philosopher’s so luminous definition it is the Ideas of the world and of its essential phenomena, in the sense of Plato, that constitute the ‘object’ of the fine arts; whereas, however, the Poet interprets these Ideas to the visual consciousness (dem anschauenden Bewusstsein) through an employment of strictly rationalistic concepts in a manner quite peculiar to his art, Schopenhauer believes he must recognise in Music itself an Idea of the world, since he who could entirely translate it into abstract concepts would have found withal a philosophy to explain the world itself.

– Richard Wagner, Beethoven (1870)

Jim Morrison (THE DOORS) sang and wrote repeatedly of a “frontier,” or a no man’s land where chaos and conflict ruled, but also open spaces were present. Was he speaking existentially, politically, or both, and how does this apply to music that loves nature (red in tooth and claw), destruction, emptiness and melancholy loneliness?

I kind of think he was talking about the capacity of humans to have this chaos and conflict struggling together with our feelings and the other beliefs we have learned throughout our lives as we grow and experience the world, and how to determine which is real and which is not, and which means something and which does not.

I think this frontier is within us, in our own minds, along with the inner struggles and conflicts we experience on a daily basis. The world is what it is, we are what ultimately decides our course and place in it to some extent, and I think this frontier to some degree is the unknown, the future, what lies around every turn in life, each new moment. Now, how does this apply to music?

It’s these inner conflicts and feelings that force us to look at the big picture, figure things out and to make choices. As an example, I am an atheist, and although I never really bought in to the whole religion thing, it wasn’t until I was in high school that I finally decided I was done with all religion, and music gave me an outlet to express all these feelings I had all along. There were many years of this “going through the motions” phase when I had my doubts about the whole thing, but kept it inside until it all came to the surface and I faced the reality of the situation on my own terms.

Morrison had a lot of chaos going on in his head, and between his lyrics and poetry this was apparent, but how it’s interpreted is an individual thing of course.

Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art? What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?

I think it is art. When it is done for no other reason other than the pure passion of it, it is definitely art.

Entertainment is made with the purpose of entertaining others, so it is designed in a way to appeal to others, whereas art I feel is more personal, and done for yourself with no compromises and no care whether others will approve. We have always written music for ourselves, and the fact that others like what we do makes it a form of entertainment I guess, but that is not the sole intention or motivation for us to write music.

The two often overlap, when art becomes trendy or cool and all of a sudden is in demand, it becomes entertainment in this way, but it still doesn’t change the motivations when it was created. Music it seems rides along right in the middle, existing as art initially but becoming entertainment. When we perform, sure, it is entertainment for our fans, but when we are writing, it is definitely art, so there is a fine line between the two when it comes to music.

Do musicians end up writing death metal because it expresses their thoughts or worldview, and if so, does this produce any compatibility between views? In other words, do people who see the world in similar ways make similar music with similar topic matter and imagery? Does this mean the genre can be said to have a culture or philosophy of its own?

Well, I really can’t speak for anyone else, but I would imagine and would like to think musicians use their music to express their thoughts and feelings, whether it be on religion, or just their take on the world. For us, Death Metal was the perfect vehicle for conveying our feelings, sometimes angry, bitter and sad, but ultimately to express ourselves through the music.

I don’t think musicians sharing similar views will necessarily create the same types of music, because music is an individual thing and it is personal. Our music is very aggressive and powerful with a lot of heaviness, dark melodies, and very haunting at times, and this certainly reflects what the lyrics are saying. Some bands do have something to say in their music that is real and will make people think, other bands like to go in a different direction and create lyrics that are fantasy, pure entertainment for the listener, which is also fine, and we have also incorporated some of this to drive home our point on some occasions, but I think for the most part we fall into the first category.

We usually have something to say, and we don’t like to be preachy about it, but we like to present it in such a way that it does paint a bleak picture, and I think this certainly drives home the point quicker once you understand what the point of the song is. This genre definitely has a culture AND a philosophy all of its own.

Most of the bands we have toured with are on the same page with regards to politics, world views and views on religion, so it is a common thread that I have found. Of course we sometimes have differences of opinion, which is normal, but overall I would say there is a like minded mentality with bands playing extreme music.

Some have said that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs are motifs that evolve toward a passage between states of mind for the listener. Is this true, and is this type of composition reflected in your songwriting?

I would agree with this. Most lyrics tell a story, whether it be fact or fiction, and this would certainly apply to us. We try to get our point across in an interesting way, and to create a story that is dark, powerful and unique to drive this point home is the ultimate goal. Creating the lyrics is always one of the coolest parts of the song writing process.

I have always found it easier to write lyrics when the music is already completed, because then I get a feel for the song, and this is very inspiring when trying to pen the lyrics. Sometimes the mood of the song dictates the tone of the lyrics and the topic as well. A lot of times we will have a lot of lyrical ideas that need a home, so we will go through the music to get a feel for the songs and see what topics will fit with these songs. It’s not really something that requires a lot of thought usually, it either feels right or it doesn’t.

When you write songs, do you start with a (visual, musical, lyrical) concept for the whole song, or do you save up riff ideas and fit them together?

In the past, Bob would compose one song at a time, which would take much too long because he would either get caught up trying to figure out where to take the song, or he would just get writers block and the whole song would be on hold until the riff reservoir was full again. This was a very frustrating process at times, and we could literally spend over a month on one song before moving on to something new.

For the last few albums, Bob will record riffs onto a multi track or now into his computer, program some basic drum beats to them, and then move on to the next riff. This way we are all listening to the riffs as he is creating them, and when the time comes, when we have plenty of good solid parts, we get together and start piecing them together. This way we never get stuck on one song, we can always move on and come back to it any time, and we can try many different things to make the songs work well, flow well and sound their absolute best.

Now that he is doing everything on his computer, he can e-mail all the parts to our drummer Steve in Ohio, and he basically knows the material before we even practice together as a band. Once we have a song arrangement, we build on it from there, changing the drum parts, altering tempos, determining where we want the leads to go, where the vocals would work best, and what parts need something to make them really stand out. So this is basically the process for us.

Music is thus by no means like the other arts, the copy of the Ideas, but the copy of the will itself, whose objectivity these Ideas are. This is why the effect of music is much more powerful and penetrating than that of the other arts, for they speak only of shadows, but it speaks of the thing itself.

– Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation (1819)

Have the sonic values of metal music changed from the early 90s? How and why?

I think you may be referring to production values. If you are, then this has definitely changed. I remember recording on to 2 inch tape, and this was very time consuming, especially when tracking drums, because you couldn’t punch in for drums as easily as you could for guitars, vocals or bass. This really wasted a lot of time and was also very frustrating after being in the studio for 12 hours and accomplishing nothing. Digital recording made analog recording totally obsolete for extreme metal bands, because now you could save time on the tracking, and use that time to get the mix right.

We aren’t talking about huge recording budgets here, so the reality is that you had to get everything done in a few weeks time or you would have to start spending some of your own money. What kids look for in production these days is totally different than when I was 14 or 15 years old. When I heard early Venom, early Possessed, early Sodom, Destruction etc., I never complained if the drums weren’t crystal clear, or if each instrument was distinct in the mix; I listened to it as a whole, and enjoyed it as a whole and never dissected it too much.

Now, these early productions would be laughed at by kids today if they were released now. That is the difference, it was about the feeling of the music, the music as a whole, not the perfect production that made me a fan. Honestly, if those bands back then had these super productions of today, they would lose something and they probably wouldn’t have had an impact like they did, to me at least.

Although your music is technical, you have taken pains to distance yourselves from technicality for technicality’s sake. What is the difference between technicality, progression and good (death metal) art?

As I have always said, it’s all about the feeling. It’s never about the speed, the heaviness, the technicality, the production, the solos or how deep or not the vocals are, it’s about the feeling. Nothing else matters, and none of these elements define Death Metal to me. If these elements are used in the right way to create a mood or feeling, then that’s when they matter, otherwise you can be as technical and fast and heavy as you want, if you can’t write a song with feeling then who cares. Death metal to me has a certain dark, haunting and ominous feel, and when I hear it, it is truly music to my ears, but if I don’t, then its just another band out of thousands, with nothing new to bring to the table.

The author Kurt Vonnegut famously referred to art as a canary in a coal mine, or a warning signal for society. Other artists, notably romantics, have claimed that art serves a necessary role in celebration of life. Still others believe it should celebrate the artist. Where, if anywhere, do these views intersect, and is it possible for art to exist as a discrete one of them and not as an intersection?

Again, this is a personal thing, and art means different things to different people. Art can be all of these things, or none depending on who you ask. I seem to think all of these apply to some degree. For some, music is a canary in a coal mine, it is that escape from the dark and mundane repetitions of life. For others, it has a strong message that people read into and get, and it moves them to see things in a different light, thus becoming a sort of warning signal for society.

It is a celebration of life, because music generally brings out all sorts of emotions and moods, memories and events, certain periods in our life, and sometimes it even helped us to get through these periods. It is the artist that is remembered and celebrated in a sense when we go to see a performance or an exhibit, so I think all of these apply. Art takes us to a different place we don’t go to that often because we sometimes get so easily swept away in the currents of day to day life, but when we do get to that place, it does make us think and celebrate life in our own personal ways.

You’ve now put out a successful album (Shadows in the Light), an EP with an accompanying live performance that is in my view one of the best representations of metal on video record, and gone on a successful tour. What’s next? Do you have long-term plans beyond the next couple years, or are you just taking life as it comes?

At the moment, we are working on new material, which will be our 8th full length, and after 21 years, I still feel we have more to say and do. We still feel as passionate about our music as we did when we first started in 1988, and fortunately for us, that fire still burns strong within us. We try not to look too far ahead, one album at a time, one touring cycle at a time, and once we move past that, we take a break, take a breath and start planning for the next one. We love doing this and will continue until its not fun anymore or until we just physically can’t do it anymore.

Thanks for the truly great interview. I really enjoyed it and now have to give my hands a rest from typing!

But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

– Plato, The Republic (360 BC)

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Gates of Enoch, Averse Sefira, Belphegor, Immolation and Rotting Christ in Houston, Texas

Gates of Enoch, Averse Sefira, Belphegor, Immolation and Rotting Christ
March 2, 2008
The Meridian
1503 Chartres
Houston, Texas 77003

Long ago, before heavy metal was even a glimmer in the eyes of King Crimson and Black Sabbath, when the land of south central Texas had nothing on its pan-flat surface but swamp and hogs, a developer’s eye gleamed and soon a city was being sold to northern suburbanites as a green, natural, sunny and pleasant place. To this day developers continue to create it, sprawling across the humid plane like pancake batter, and so the city pulses through a serpentine mesh of freeways which converge at various points, some forgotten and some celebrated.

At one of these convergences, to the northeast of downtown, an innumerable series of obstacles prevented our reviewer from hearing the Gates of Enoch set and the first four bars of Averse Sefira. Having just released their fourth album (you probably have the MP3s already) Averse Sefira from Austin showed fine form on the end of this tour of established acts. In all fairness, every band on the tour showed massively professional performance ability, so what distinguished one from the next was showmanship and songwriting. In these crucial areas a separation occurred but proved itself to be so messy that few want to untangle its inextricable threads.

Averse Sefira

Averse Sefira took to the stage with the power of those who carve a place for themselves by both fighting the status quo and not fighting the reality of what will be eternally rewarded; they mix traditionalist black metal with the aggressive machine motion of death metal in its peak years, relegating the latter to rhythm with the former insurgent within it as leadership of each song. This enables them to preserve the mystique of underground metal which is the fusion of seemingly random bits into a whole order, an occult process in itself during a time of linear causal logic. Their rhythmic composition comes straight from the halcyon days of early Deicide and Incantation, but their melodies, fusing Graveland and Enslaved and something as uniquely American as Thomas Wolfe recalled a graveyard angel, surge straight from the heart of black metal.

Advent Parallax, the newest from Averse Sefira, steps forward in technique and adjusts the previous sense of concept albums into a new lexicon, where the concept is revealed in serialized views of a prismatic, untouchable reality. They did not back down; they made it more technical, shaped the songs from less obvious shadow forms of structure; gave themselves license to play with elements that dour conventionalists might find threatening, yet kept them in the spirit of the most traditional of all underground black and death metal. Not surprisingly, the album sounds better live, because its synthesis is new and still supple, and putting it to a click track (or even the knowledge that it would be recorded) could dim some of that resonant light.

Mixing two songs each from their last three albums, Averse Sefira delivered a set with more technical verve than previous adventures. Where some shows had been chaotic and organic, and others sniper-precise, the fusion of the two is a grand adventure in pushing things out of control and then with the paranoia of a sentry snapping it back under control. This delightful duality shadowed not only the playful but militant spirit of their music, but also the fusion of ludic black metal and mechanistic mimetic death metal. The triumph came in not only holding together these raging daemonic tendencies but pouring them into form, using the crucible of the classics and an exploratory fire of the now.

Setlist:

A Shower of Idols (Advent Parallax)
Descension (Advent Parallax)
Nascent Ones (Battle’s Clarion)
Helix in Audience (Tetragrammatical Astygmata)
Battle’s Clarion (Battle’s Clarion)
Plagabraha (Tetragrammatical Astygmata)

Belphegor

After Averse Sefira, Belphegor played a super-competent set of ultra-generic black/death metal. There is no way to criticize it, like most modern travesties. No notes were missed. Rhythms were exact. The crowd loved it and bought tshirts. Yet it did not recommend itself, either. It is as one critic has said of life itself: “The problem is not in being mediocre. The problem lies in not being great, because that is all that stays the memory once the last royalty check is cashed.” Indeed — we move away from this artefact of history and the juncture of styles at this point in metal’s career, a conjunction that has mastered the aesthetics of these intrusions without knowing in any way their derivation, significance, or even that they could form a language and not a procession of forms cut from whole shadow shapes.

Immolation

Immolation played the most varied set of the evening, comprising one simple song from their first album (“Those Left Behind”), several from their most recent entitled Shadows in the Light, one from the nu-metal influenced Harnessing Ruin, and a smattering from other albums, priming us for their epicenter with “Nailed to Gold” from Here in After, probably their most ambitious and engaged moments of the night. Relentlessly professional, they played both exactly and with a good deal of the microscopic re-evaluation of intention shared between individuals in a musical outfit that encloses “feeling,” giving the energies of the crowd and the band a chance for chiasmatic influence within the rhythms of what was played. Their material improves greatly with the new album. Retrospective analysis suggests this band, formed in 1986, never fully left behind the ambition to join Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and Slayer in the speed metal camp, and they have filtered through underground death metal their impulse to write surging rhythm riffs with an accelerated rock beat ever since.

The result, a trademark anticipative recursion and complementary unison offset by a shuttling opposite architectural closure, called by fans “that Immolation riff,” shows up too much in their work; some hypothesize that it began with the use of pinched harmonics to accentuate an expected rhythmic closure, which showed this band how much the dimly lit faces glow when presented with something so digestible. Since that time, Immolation have fought their impulse to write bouncy technical rock, and struggled for death metal. They come farthest on Shadows in the Light. They still could benefit from more diligent staging of their work, so that when they crash into a gratifying chorus or transition, it is rarer and so purer in context though less pure in immediate essence. Their set was as solid as any in metal, rock, jazz or blues, but with a good deal more energy. They could learn a great deal from the first Metallica album if they wish to continue this course.

Setlist:

Passion Kill (Shadows in the Light)
Swarm of Terror (Harnessing Ruin)
Burial Ground (Dawn of Possession)
Nailed to Gold (Here In After)
Son if Iniquity (Harnessing Ruin)
Hate’s Plague (Shadows in the Light)
Immolation (Dawn of Possession)
Lying with Demons (Shadows in the Light)
World Agony (Shadows in the Light)
Bring Them Down (Unholy Cult)

Rotting Christ

Rotting Christ showed this audience the greatest technical performance of the evening. They not only played difficult material. They played it as if it was no big deal. Their problem is that while they write beautiful choruses, and have many creative riff ideas, they like writing boring songs. A two-part stomp beat, a trudging power chord ride that shifts position upward like the “after” part of a weight-loss commercial, and in the ensuing mixture whatever beauty is created is crushed under the weight of the trudge. Beauty is what they aimed for, and what they created at rare times, mainly through an excellent knowledge of harmony and a willingness to write melodic lead rhythm picked riffs and harmonize them. One participant put it best when he said this band have become generic metal. There are black metal vocals, speed metal drums, death metal strumming, power metal choruses, and heavy metal rundown verses. It was both inspiring and the greatest disappointment one could have. Caught in the veil of humanism, which presupposes personhood to supplant nature’s judgement of skill in presenting the dynamism which drives the universe away from entropy, this band played to please an idealized, averaged, mythical crowd and as a result they had people standing in cadence during verses and becoming animated for choruses. Guys, take a risk — write something from your minds and not your hearts.

Conclusion

The show proved an adventure worthy of undertaking for the power of Averse Sefira and Immolation. All things considered, Averse Sefira impressed most, because their set was the least contrived with honest and goofy joy and worship of the power of their own music replacing a more serious mien. Immolation played as well and with more technicality, and also took great gleeful pleasure in their songs, but that performance proved more self-cognizant and less self-reflective, as if they were watching themselves from the audience. The musicians of Averse Sefira were less aware they were onstage and playing music, and seemed to be lost (60%) in the music they clearly enjoyed hearing and (40%) in the emotional and energetic tides of the crowd, although a scan of the audience revealed they appealed to a portion of the audience more likely to watch intently than drink, “mosh,” or chant only the choruses  they knew the verses also. Even more importantly, their songs are written less from a template, and retain the chaotic inspiration that their wide-ranging lyrics bring. Yet neither Immolation nor Averse Sefira were justifiably missed, as both delivered top-notch performances upholding the distinctive DNA of underground death metal.

(Thanks to Cynical and M.S. for the setlists.)

Bands:
Gates of Enoch
Averse Sefira
Belphegor
Immolation
Rotting Christ

Promoters:
The Meridian, Houston Texas

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The Craft of Metal #3 : Dethrone the Son of God

When Profanatica could not finish their unreleased album, the genius and creator of the band Paul Ledney took time away from the noise of other musicians to fully realize his vision in composing a short album that took the best of his influences from all over the underground into creating something that would show the world the extent of the musical genius that this man possessed and that he was much more than an alumnus of a few great bands. In this final piece in the Craft of Metal series, we look at one album that managed to open new branches for what was to remain of the underground as the Death metal movement had just began to explode with bands getting signed by big labels all over the place and leaving the most repulsive bands to grow far from the spotlight.

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Trenchant – Martial Chaos 2018

British historian John Keegan, following in the footsteps of German historian Hans Delbrueck, wrote his best book, “The Face of Battle,” as an investigation into the oft ignored tactile experience of battle. Most historians will look at battles in terms of the grand movements of armies, strategic and political outcomes, or even the minuscule tactical maneuvers of squads but rarely do they look at the reality on which their words are based. Keegan’s book smashed many closely held myths about battle, such as the galloping cavalry charge smashing through an infantry line, and unveiled the blood, grime, confusion, chaos, triumph, terror, and brutality of battle. Trenchant’s debut EP is the fitting musical equivalent of John Keegan’s book.

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Metal Works: AR-15 Build

A proper Hessian knows his metal music intimately. He understands the moving parts and how they fit together to form a functioning whole. Just as a Hessian understands his music, he will also understand his weapons. What better way to understand our weapons than to build one ourselves? AKs are rather easy to build, but require some more expensive specialized equipment. ARs are also quite easy to build, and because of their ingenious modular design, one can either build a complete AR or one can build half an AR for use with already extant other halves. Because building an AR lower is somewhat more complicated and requires some more expensive equipment, today we will focus on building your own AR upper. You will see from the crappy pictures, taken with my old flip phone, that one needs no specialized facilities to do any of this – I did it in my spare bedroom in about 45 minutes. Recommended listening while building: Immortal’s “Battles in the North.”
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