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

closetoaworldbelow
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):

picture1

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?):

picture2

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

  1. Rotten Ralph says:

    I can’t work out which is Immolation’s best album. Is there no clear winner?

    1. OliveFox says:

      I am partial to Dawn of Possession, but it seems like Close to a World below is both more beloved by fans and critically respected.

      It is hard to blame anyone for thinking any album of theirs is the best one since they have a relatively spotless catalog.

    2. Jim Nelson says:

      I believe the unofficial site endorsement is Here in After. That was my impression from the old days and from the forum.

      1. That was probably just the popular opinion among the core audience at some point.

        1. Daniel says:

          Dawn of Possession = Here In After > Close to World Below > Failures for Gods > Unholy Cult.

          Here in After and Dawn of Possession also sound the best. Close to a World Below is a little one dimensional in terms of acoustics due to six decibels of dynamic range but everything is audible. It’s the only brickwalled Immolation album that sounds good.

          After Alex Hernandez left and Vigna started writing the drum parts, it’s downhill but only the latest album truly has nothing worthwhile on it and sounds like shit (3 decibels of dynamic range. Go die in a fire Zach Orofino).

          Dawn of Possession is just great in a different style than Here in After which is just more memorable and sounds better to me than Close to a World Below. It’s close though. No Craig Smilowski after Here in After either so the drumming is worse. Failures for Gods just isn’t as well written, the drumming isn’t even close to Smilowski at all yet. Unholy Cult is the start of the decline but still good. After that it gets trashy with Vigna admittedly slowly lowering the number of riffs and variations. They’re still great live though when they don’t play all Nuclear Blast garbage.

          1. “Close to a World Below is a little one dimensional in terms of acoustics due to six decibels of dynamic range but everything is audible”

            You miss the whole advanced and refined composition which is better than on Here in After.

            1. Daniel says:

              Better drumming, instrument tones, and being the first stylistic “Immolation” album outweigh the tighter composition for me. Craig Smilowski and a wider dynamic range would help. Close to a World Below still sounds good enough but with the music squashed and uniform in volume, the performances are robbed of emphasis. Something always has to give when the record only has 6 decibels to work with. This makes Close to a World Below more boring for me on repeat listens. Both albums are very strong but I just would choose to listen to Here in After most of the time for those reasons. Maybe someone who hasn’t heard every good Immolation album several dozen times would pick the other one but it’s not like Here in After is Amon Amarth in comparison. If only Immolation could’ve kept working with Harris Johns.

              1. how is the drumming itself in Herein AFter better than in Close to a World Below?
                You mean variety of technique?
                In the later album all the instruments seem completely focused on the concept. I think that is better.

                1. Daniel says:

                  Smilowki is more fluid, better technically, and doesn’t use kick triggers. The last is the easiest to notice as different notes in different parts of songs sound different especially on Dawn of Possession. Alex Hernandez had the typical sampled death metal kicks but they’re not too artificial. One is a guy playing bass drums, the other is activating a prerecorded sample with his feet. Most drummers just aren’t Dave Lombardo, Prosciptor, Sean Reinert or even Fenriz.

  2. Frank says:

    An awesome album and article. Would love to see more material broken down in this manner – particularly Ildjarn, Adramelech, Sentenced, Godflesh – Streetcleaner, Sammath, and Sorcier des Glaces.

    1. Early At the Gates has much more to actually look at than Sentenced, which is pretty flat and one-dimensional.

      Why Godflesh?

      There isn’t much to say, technically, of Ildjarn song-wise, but perhaps album-wise yes. That is how I see Ildjarn.

      1. Frank says:

        I find North From Here to be a pretty engaging album. I haven’t learned to appreciate The Red in the Sky is Ours just yet.

        Streetcleaner is a compelling album because of its adventurous harmonic approach, tasteful(?) minimalism, simultaneously narrative and linear song structure, and its thematic cohesion. It’s also unique in the sense that it is stylistically hybridized from many disparate elements and is still more cohesive than many works by bands who’ve been attempted to assimilate its hallmarks. Perhaps it would benefit from a different presentation than the one Matthew used here.

      2. Daniel says:

        Sentenced seemed musically simpler than early Arghoslent to me. It’s pretty simple melodic metal. How about some Beherit and Belial for simple? An article musically explaining why simple stuff like Fallen Angel of Doom is great while tech death Necrofagist is trash would be killer

        1. If we could get someone interested in it to do it, it would be ideal.
          We sort of have our hands full.
          That is why the SMR contributions are so valuable.

  3. Frank says:

    And how could I forget Demilich!

    1. Daniel says:

      People haven’t even tabbed out the songs yet except for The Echo. What Demilich is actually doing is fucking nuts and they don’t have any musical training, classical composition or even listened to anything but metal and 70s rock. Everything is just coincidental. All the semi-jazziness is not from jazz, it’s from wanting to be weirder than Atheist. You can hear the Atheist and Bolt Thrower influences clearly but Finland loves Bolt Thrower.

      http://www.anentity.com/demilich/files/Nespithe/Tab/Demilich%20-%20Nespithe%20-%2004%20-%20The%20Echo%20%28Replacement%29.txt

      1. big mistake: Everything is just coincidental.

        You don’t need formal classical training to hit upon sound musical notions on your own. Antti is a very talented man who likes to PLAN his music rather than improvise it. (said so himself recently)

        1. Daniel says:

          Well yeah. Classical music first used these effective compositional ideas. Coincidental was bad word choice as these techniques are not just random, one just didn’t necessarily arise from the other.

          Better drumming, instrument tones, and being the first stylistic “Immolation” album outweigh the tighter composition for me. Craig Smilowski and a wider dynamic range would help. Close to a World Below still sounds good enough but with the music squashed and uniform in volume, the performances are robbed of emphasis. Something always has to give when the record only has 6 decibels to work with. This makes Close to a World Below more boring for me on repeat listens. Both albums are very strong but I just would choose to listen to Here in After most of the time for those reasons. Maybe someone who hasn’t heard every good Immolation album several dozen times would pick the other one but it’s not like Here in After is Amon Amarth in comparison. If only Immolation could’ve kept working with Harris Johns.

  4. Felix says:

    “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.”

    Except if you consider those to be Gb and Db, and in this case staying in C Locrian. It then becomes a juxtaposition of consonant chords within a unique key that creates dissonance, and not some kind of polytonality.

    1. Matt says:

      Good point!

      1. Moloko + says:

        I don’t see how this song is better than Pantera’s Walk.
        Seriously, you guyz are just making all this stuff up.

        1. OliveFox says:

          Walk on home boy.

          1. Metul Archives Guy says:

            Moloko must be the saddest troll in DMU history as most Mastodon, Opeth and Lamb of Gojira fans tend to be.

            1. Moloko + says:

              Sad? that tends to be an attribute I associate more with the long term black/death metal listeners that have isolated themselves to lonely corners of the internet, lack the the proper real life social connections are marijuana smokers and chronic masturbators. Actually I wonder if you’ve ever even listened to those bands mentioned, or whether you just followed suit slinging shit like the all rest of the dmu posse. You’re fucking pathetic.

              1. Daniel says:

                Dog shit in a flowerbed is still dog shit. I could take the cat food out of the can and put in a crystal glass like Sandra Lee but it’s still cat food. No amount of acoustic leads, organic production, and lyrical “feelz” will save bad music.

        2. Moloko + says:

          get a life dood you don’t troll well anyway!

  5. Daniel says:

    Vigna is entirely self taught with no musical training though as are most guitarists. He knows nothing but chords, scales, time signatures, and his influences. He is a guitar savant genius who had one of the most consistent careers in death metal.

    Five worthwhile albums is almost unheard of for a death metal band. Bolt Thrower maybe you could say has five from In Battle to For Victory but all they do is grind. Carcass had what? Two and half if you count Tools of the Trade. At the Gates had one album and one EP of great material. Clandestine and Crawl are fun but Entombed really had one and Death had none.

    1. “Vigna is entirely self taught with no musical training though as are most guitarists. He knows nothing but chords, scales, time signatures, and his influences. He is a guitar savant genius who had one of the most consistent careers in death metal.”

      Yes, he is, so?
      It does not mean that a technical analysis is not appropriate.
      This is a common mistake, thinking that technical analysis can only be used to analyzed music composed with exactly the knowledge as the guy making the analysis in mind.
      Analysis of intention and context is a different matter.
      Technical analysis comes after the fact.He refined his composition for a decade before pushing out Close to a World Below.

      1. Daniel says:

        I was just stating the fact as I felt the article should’ve mentioned that instead of implying he took these ideas from classical music. Vigna was a fantastic songwriting and metal adds ideas and techniques used in classical music theory back into guitar riff based “rock” that were stripped out with blues rather than the whole “metal stripped out the blues from rock” argument but these musicians didn’t necessarily take those ideas from classical music if you get my drift. They might not even know what they are. The same is true with many death metal bands playing leads that approximate oriental scales.

        1. On the other hand, just about everyone has heard some classical music by the time they are 13.

          1. Daniel says:

            True but most people don’t listen to it outside of watching movies.

    2. Moloko + says:

      Death had none?? come on man I know it’s DMU and all but you could at least be honest with yourself.

      1. Death had none. Wanna debate this, present your thesis and your reasons.
        (ignore the trolls)

        1. Moloko + says:

          Yeah alright, whatever prozak says..

          1. mm, I said, state your point and your reasons clearly and let’s debate it.
            You are calling Prozak, not me.
            Don’t hide.

            1. Moloko + says:

              we both know that’s a pointless endeavour though right? as though a carefully written and well researched thesis on some stupid shit that hardly matters is going to prove either of us right or wrong. I like the Death albums, and you probably did too David but now have to tow the party lines or something? So be it.

              1. Moloko + says:

                and don’t get me going at how much I despise the typical DMU reader and their oppressive homosexual slurs against my fellow kin. don’t get me wrong, I’m not butthurt or anything, that hasn’t happened since I was 5 but seriously you guyz just make me flip out. i’m the one that used to use the word “autist” and “aspie” in a derogatory tone back during the Anus blog years and I thought I was over it but clearly yall still need a whoopin.

                1. Daniel says:

                  We don’t care who you fuck. We don’t like Chuck as a person as Chuck was a whiny pretentious asshole. Chuck actually had a problem with Masidval and Reinert being gay with Reinert in the closet, not the other way around. The Philosopher is a pathetic diss song.

                  1. Chuck actually had a problem with Masidval and Reinert being gay with Reinert in the closet, not the other way around.

                    Really? Where did you read/hear this? How interesting.

                    1. Daniel says:

                      Just common knowledge and Chuck criticizing someone for being in the closet which Reinert admittedly was. Chuck was mad at them for quitting Death, a band they were not allowed to musically contribute to, to go record their own material. Masidval has no credits on Human except for some solos. The Cynic guys were also contractually forced to go on a shitty Euro tour with Death that ran so into the red, they lost all their gear. I don’t know the full story but it sounds bad.

                      Schuldiner was a hypocritical asshole as he backed out of a contractually obligated European tour himself. The rest of the Leprosy/Spiritual Healing line up realized they had to legally do it on their own, Chuck coming along or not, so he fired them from the band who just reformed Massacre after the tour as you probably know. Dying greatly enhances your reputation.

                    2. Robert says:

                      Wasn’t Chuck gay himself?

                2. i’m the one that used to use the word “autist” and “aspie” in a derogatory tone back during the Anus blog years and I thought I was over it but clearly yall still need a whoopin.

                  Perhaps such behavior perpetuates what you fear.

                  1. Moloko + says:

                    Brett, some other asshole is using the ‘Moloko +’ handle, so I didn’t make that comment. It’s ironic because if this place is in fact still largely comprised of autists and other maladaptive types then it isn’t likely anyone could tell the difference between an honest troll and his poorly disguised sarcasm, or maybe they just don’t care. The thing is I never held such accusations against anybody, I only said they needed to get help for their condition so that they could function better in the world, many of them being former friends but instead they basically barked slurs at me through a crossfire of dehydrated saliva, before marching into the corner to go and sit alone with arms crossed, frowning.

                    1. It’s ironic because if this place is in fact still largely comprised of autists and other maladaptive types then it isn’t likely anyone could tell the difference between an honest troll and his poorly disguised sarcasm, or maybe they just don’t care.

                      Either that, or it was good satire. Use a broad brush to attack the motivations of people despite clear inclinations on their part otherwise, and you become a caricature.

                      I only said they needed to get help for their condition so that they could function better in the world, many of them being former friends but instead they basically barked slurs at me through a crossfire of dehydrated saliva, before marching into the corner to go and sit alone with arms crossed, frowning.

                      Most people would view the “get help” trope as concern trolling:

                      http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=concern+troll

              2. I did and perhaps I still do, but that is really not the point.
                You are still stuck in the limbo of confusing ënjoyment with appreciation of quality.

                1. Moloko + says:

                  The fucking balls and honesty on this David Rosales kid is unfathomable. I can’t argue with this, where usually a conversation would devolve into ego-dramatics he’s able to pull back and focus on what matters every time. I respect your viewpoint even though sometimes I just like to enjoy music whether it’s objectively good or not. Just kidding, I’m fresh out of bait lol :p

                2. Felix says:

                  “You are still stuck in the limbo of confusing ënjoyment with appreciation of quality.” This line deserves to be printed on shirts.

        2. Daniel says:

          Chuck had some cool riffs but failed miserably at writing death metal songs. Let’s not even get into arranging them into 30 to 40 minute albums of music.

        3. Daniel says:

          Almost all Death songs start with an intro. Then a bunch of random riffs that don’t really relate to each other are played. After Chuck shows off his licks, the masturbatory solo starts, and then all the licks repeat in their original order until it ends. Have most of those licks or the main chug riff be boring for great headbanging fun.

          1. Well-described.
            But for our own sake, we should analyze each Chuck-phase separately as his mistakes and blunders were different at each point. The only constant was his distinct yet mediocre style/sound.

          2. Moloko + says:

            Since when can’t you enjoy a bit of fun music every once in a while? Sure they’re not Obituary, At the Gates or Morbid Angel, but so what? it’s not meant to be. There’s no comparison.

            1. Daniel says:

              Because Death stops being fun 1/3rd of the way through the better songs when the good riff stops and the caveman retard chugs start. Chuck was a whiny control freak and the music suffered for it greatly.

        4. Daniel says:

          Triple comment but I forgot to mention the songs coming to a halt so he could say his oh so important and informative pretentious asshole SJW lyrics in that annoying bitchmade shriek. That’s Death for you. I’ve ranted enough.

          1. Moloko + says:

            Insert criticism of SJWs, liberals, and/or slurs at homosexuals etc. = typical flawed argument from born and bred DMU reader. Try again kid.

            1. I blew my head off like Per Ohlin says:

              Death is poop after Leprosy.

              1. Rather fond of Spiritual Healing and Human, in addition of course to Scream Bloody Gore, but I have not listened for some years. What do you like about Leprosy?

                1. I blew my head off like Per Ohlin says:

                  I just like the really primitive and morbid sound Leprosy has. I’m not really good as describing music as this site but a lot of the riffs on it sound as if a leprous cadaver is being sliced by a chainsaw, as cliche as that may sound. Spiritual Healing and Human both have their moments but kinda meander along towards nothing substantial. But as others have stated and which I agree: promising band, somewhat influential band that was marred by Chuck’s cuntish behaviour.

          2. When the lyrics got SeriousTM and MatureTM, the downfall was not long in coming. Human was OK but after that it was a wash.

            1. Daniel says:

              After Human, Death dived into the toilet.

  6. Moloko + says:

    I just want to say the article is fantastic and extend a big thanks to Matthew and David for basically single-handedly revitalizing this site. Cheers guys

  7. J.O.K.E. says:

    An Arab is going to have open-heart surgery. The doctor is preparing
    the blood transfusion.

    Because the gentleman had a rare type of blood, it couldn’t be found
    locally. So the call went out to a number of countries. Finally, a Jew
    was located who had the same blood type and who was willing to donate
    his blood to the Arab.

    After the surgery, the Arab sent the Jew a thank-you card for giving
    his blood along with an expensive diamond and a new Rolls Royce car as
    a token of his appreciation.

    Unfortunately, the Arab had to go through a corrective surgery once
    again.. His doctors called the Jew who was more than happy to donate
    his blood again, believing he will receive more gifts from the Arab
    again.

    After the second surgery, the Arab sent the Jew a Thank You card and a
    box of Almond Roca sweets.

    The Jew was shocked to see that the Arab this time did not acknowledge
    the Jew’s kind gesture in the same way as he had done the first time.

    So he phoned the Arab and asked him why he had expressed his
    appreciation in not a very generous manner.

    The Arab replied: “Ya Habibi !!, (Dear Friend) you have to remember, I
    have Jewish blood in my body now”

    1. Moloko + says:

      I hate Jews! They’re murdering innocent Palestinians.
      As a proud princess warrior of justice I rally the Metal Archives
      and DMU readers to support the crusade for national conscience of
      the atrocities committed by the Jews against poor Palestinians !

      1. Trolsk level: 03/0A

  8. freudian says:

    About Death: aren’t their later albums just simplified Forbidden and Anacrusis?

  9. Todd says:

    Some of the best drumming on the album – on an album full of great drumming – in this song as well. Particularly the fill the third time through this riff: https://youtu.be/_KfXmkiwHDA?t=1m31s

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