A Truly Individual Sin
CoC chats with Robert Vigna and Ross Dolan of Immolation
by: Paul Schwarz
It is hard to know what qualities other people look for when they search out music. Judging by the amount of bands in the world who make a living out of essentially contributing to a collective stockpile of albums that sound more or less the same, it seems evident that many people hear one thing they like and just want more of the same. I'll admit, I have been guilty of succumbing to this tendency -- and many times without shame, even in retrospect. However, more and more I am finding that records, or bands, without something unique to themselves -- something that can't be found elsewhere or at least can't be found in a "better" form -- are gradually disappearing from my music collection. This is why, for example, _The Bleeding_ is the only Cannibal Corpse album I still own -- every other one except _Eaten Back to Life_ has been sold-on through lack of interest. I have been realising recently that many bands only make a few albums which are truly worth owning, and many more merely a handful of songs. Mostly, the bands who suffer from this syndrome are what I would describe roughly as "genre" bands: bands who produce music of a certain "type" (e.g. "Florida death metal", "Gothenburg death metal", "standard American brutal death metal"), not music which is unmistakably a product of the band in question. I can't see the point of listening to many of these bands who don't have something individual to offer. Why would you bother with Fleshcrawl when you have Entombed, Mangled when you have Cannibal Corpse, or Primal Fear when you have Judas Priest? I really do wonder. Immolation are a band I have never wondered about, at least not in this way. It's not that Immolation are the best at what they do, it's that they don't "do" the same thing as any other band. Immolation are a fiercely, fiercely singular musical entity. They may be a death metal band, but they're a death metal band living entirely by their own rules. To paraphrase Nile guitarist Dallas Toller Wade, Immolation don't care about pandering to the popular, they care about making music that moves them, and about making themselves and their listeners happy. Last November, Immolation delivered the finest album of their career thus far, their fourth release _Close to a World Below_ [CoC #51]. The album's production, for the first time in Immolation's decade-spanning history, managed to properly and fully represent their individual sound in the full glory it so long cried out for. Immolation wrote their sharpest songs and committed to tape their finest performances. This may all sound like typical fan hyperbole, but it isn't -- Immolation really have far exceeded reasonable expectations with _CtaWB_. Long-standing fans of the band like Dallas or myself agree that _CtaWB_ is Immolation's finest album, while even previous haters or doubters of the band's work such as CoC's beloved David Rocher have found an album they can't deny its worth. I hope if you haven't given it a chance yet, you will in the near future. This interview is in two parts. First is a conversation with Immolation guitarist Robert Vigna conducted one week before _CtaWB_ was released. Second is a short e-mail chat with bassist and vocalist Ross Dolan done in mid-February. I hope the insights into this very special band's work, as well as the "before-and-after" aspect of this particular story, prove interesting for you. Immolation are currently on the road in support of _CtaWB_ playing dates on both sides of the pond. See http://www.ImmolationDirect.com for details of whether they'll hit a town near you at a convenient time. If they are, don't miss them: I assure you, you'd be missing quite a treat.

November 2000: Robert Vigna

CoC: How are things in the band going at the moment, what have you got lined up for the next little while?

Robert Vigna: We've got the album coming out in a couple of weeks. Right now we're just working on the website. We wanna change that by the time the album is out. We were going to do some tours with Morbid Angel at the end of the year, but that didn't work out because they've got some other things goin' on so we're gonna probably postpone that 'til February. So we don't have any touring planned until early February. We're just going to let the album get out there, let everyone absorb it for a couple of months. From now until February we're probably just gonna work on the next album and get that written.

CoC: That's pretty good, I guess, 'cause this album is the first album that has really seen you get onto a good track with releasing.

RV: Without a doubt.

CoC: It's one year from _Failures for Gods_ [CoC #41] and the others had been (at least) three year gaps. How did it feel to actually get it out on time for the first time?

RV: Well, we used to be real lazy bastards back in the day, so this is pretty good. <laughs> We got _Failures..._ out last June [of 1999] and it was recorded in June of '98. It didn't come out 'til a year later 'cause we couldn't get in touch with Andreas Marschall about the artwork. It was delayed but it was well worth the wait, 'cause it was a fantastic cover. That was what we wanted, so we had to wait. When we'd got the album out -- and we were happy with it -- we did the [Milwaukee] MetalFest, did a few headlining tours, we did a tour with Six Feet Under at the beginning of this year and pretty much in March we were thinking about doing some touring on our own and we just decided to get this album done: to get an album out this year. In March we made the decision. We made the studio time for June: two months later we were in the studio with a new album. So that's basically it. We wanted to get it done and we just pulled it together and did it and I think it's the best thing we've ever done.

CoC: Yeah. To be honest, I love pretty much all your albums and I am a fan, but I am very surprised 'cause I really think it's the best one.

RV: Without a doubt.

CoC: Surprisingly enough because it's coming out only a year later, and I was very worried that it might be written too quickly or written in a rush.

RV: You thought it was gonna be crap! <jokingly, and with accompanying laughter>

CoC: It happens to a lot of bands, but this really has come out excellently well. And you've worked again with Paul Orofino. Again, you've never before repeated use of a producer, so you were particularly happy with his production, right?

RV: We had met Paul when we were looking for studios for _Failures..._ and we had a mutual friend, so we went up, met with Paul -- his studio's about an hour north of where we're at here --, saw the studio, obviously the studio was definitely capable and he was. He'd worked with a lot of classic metal acts such as Between Kids, Dee Snider, Riot, Blue Oyster Cult and Liquid Tension -- he'd also worked with big jazz names -- so he was definitely capable and more importantly he was a very personal person, a very nice guy, down to earth. We went in, the whole _Failures..._ session was a great session, very comfortable, the most comfortable we've been in the studio, not only because it was our third time in the studio but because of him too. Our relationship was very calm. None of them in the past were bad, but this one was just that bit more comfortable. It worked out very well, we had a good rapport with each other, so when it came time to doing this album he was the first guy we wanted to call. _Failures..._ was the first album he ever did in any kind of death/black metal ever -- and I think he did a fantastic job --, so this time we thought he'd do that much better. And not only did we do better in the studio as a tighter unit, but I think he did a hundred times better and he actually enjoyed the music that much more and the whole thing just worked out 'cause we were both using each other and knew what to expect from each other. So it was very comfortable and it came out fantastic.

CoC: I agree. I think it's the first time you've got a production which has really, really pushed out everything about the sound that's good.

RV: Oh, definitely.

CoC: It's really powerful, it really emphasises the drums but also the guitars.

RV: A fantastic job.

CoC: Absolutely. Also, you were saying you got tighter in the studio: it is faster -- not in the sense that it's all fast but the parts that are fast are faster and it's harder, it's more percussive.

RV: Right, I mean this band's never been about speed for speed's sake or anything like that anyway, so what we do is just try to make things as creative as possible. So there's probably some of the best slow and medium stuff we've ever done, but there's also the fastest stuff we've ever done and there's also just a lot of in-between, because when we're writing music we don't say: OK, this is -gonna- be this way -- we need a song like this -- we just keep going, and it's whatever comes out. And I think this album in particular flows the best out of any one we've done and flows from the first second to the last. The music is easier to get into but at the same time it's very...

CoC: Cohesive?

RV: Dimensional.

CoC: Absolutely. I think also it's the first album you've done where everything's come together and it's like with Slayer or certain other bands: every album you do seems to be very much you. I'd say you're a great example of someone from the American death metal scene because you're very good but you're not scene based. It's not a scene sound, it's an "Immolation" sound.

RV: Without a doubt, yeah. I mean, we've always strived to be different and do our own thing: from day one. We never got on a trend or what was the new thing or the thing going on at that time. We just went with what we believed in and how we thought the music should sound. The first album [1991's _Dawn of Possession_], where the whole Florida scene was such a big thing -- Scott Burns and Morrisound great producers, nothing against them, but so many bands that went there, there was no reason for them to go there and [they] sounded like other bands. So we went with Harris Johns, who did the classic stuff like Kreator, Sodom and Voivod. To us that was so classic and it came out really great: it was a different kind of production and it really had a lot of atmosphere. And with the second album [1996's _Here In After_, CoC #6], it just worked out where we decided to try something a little different and we ended up doing kind of like our own thing with an engineer and it came out different but again it came out Immolation, but maybe a bit more straightforward -- the production was a bit more intense and dynamic but when we went to Paul Orofino I think he put the two together and on this album he did that even better.

CoC: Absolutely, I mean the drums are just like -thunder-!

RV: Thanks man, I mean that's what we look for, we want a nice big, heavy sound. We want to emphasise those qualities. That's really what it's about: the feeling, the atmosphere, that's what we're looking for.

CoC: Atmosphere would be a word I'd definitely use. Especially in the last year, the death metal scene has really been starting to run out of steam in the case of certain bands. I think a lot of bands have run dry on creativity. [Morbid Angel, I'm looking at you!] I think one of the things you guys have is atmosphere. I think that's exemplified on the album on the final track -- the title track -- "Close to a World Below". It's long, it's an eight minute affair, and you haven't done much like that except for "Christ's Cage" [_Here in After_], I think.

RV: That one's pretty short too. [He was right, only 5:51. -- Paul] I think this song is definitely the longest one we've ever done and the funny part is it didn't take that long to write but we were on such a roll with it that it all came together so nicely. And it's an eight minute song but it doesn't feel like eight minutes: that's the important thing.

CoC: Absolutely.

RV: It flows. Everything's there and before you know it it's done and it's eight minutes later. So it wasn't intentionally made to be a long song but it came out that way and yeah, we're real happy with everything on the sound.

CoC: It really brings out the dynamics, it goes up and down and really captures a lot. I was gonna talk about the lyrics. No offence, but I thought I was gonna be talking to Ross, who I talked to last time. So I don't know how far we're gonna get on the lyrics. Are they written by the whole band?

RV: We all have a play in the lyric department, and a lot of times I don't wanna be too descriptive about the lyrics 'cause sometimes you describe it too much and everyone has their own idea when they listen to the music: they get their own thing out of it. When you look at songs like "Father, You're Not a Father", which is a pretty straightforward song: it's pretty much about the people in the priesthood out there that have abused children for years and have got away with it. And we saw stuff on the news just last week about one person in particular that had abused tons of kids and people, and he was on his deathbed now, at 90, and what good does it do now, you know? I mean, he's already destroyed countless lives. That was one thing we targeted. A song like "Lost Passion", for instance, deals with, in the song and the context, it deals with a poor soul who believes in Christ, believes in God and was disappointed and let down, and all the effort and time they put into that: it meant nothing. But at the same time, the song can also reflect anything from a relationship with someone or a type of person, or another type of thing you look up to. I mean, the world has let-downs all around us, you know what I mean?

CoC: Absolutely.

RV: The songs are one thing on the surface but they always have double meanings and they always have other things inside them. So, we always like to put a lot of thought and time into the lyrics and the music 'cause to us one without the other loses the meaning and the feeling, so we always do 100% on both.

CoC: I was gonna just say a couple of things about the lyrics as well. I felt one of the things about the lyrics this time was that they were a lot more personal. On _FfG_ I felt that it was very much about the concepts a lot more. There are concepts on _CtaWB_ but _FfG_ was more conceptual, it was more about movements of religion, like "Failures for Gods" was about organised religion. This seems to be on a much more personal level.

RV: Without a doubt, without a doubt and it's just the way it came out. We're always trying new angles, new ideas and pretty much we mature as musicians and as songwriters as we go, so this time it came out that much better. We always try to go deeper and deeper, so this one just goes that much deeper into the feel of everything.

CoC: Two bits I wanted to mention out of the lyrics. First, the beginning of "Unpardonable Sin": "Take your Heaven and your hell and leave them for the children. I refuse to believe these lies." Is this connected with the fact that you guys were brought up in quite a Catholic background?

RV: It's really saying that all these types of icons of religion and all that -- to us -- is just nonsense. And the song "Unpardonable Sin" is saying like: all the stuff that was created by people over the centuries or whatever, is just nonsense. Believe in yourself! For instance: "I commend myself for this unpardonable sin. For now more than ever I see clearer than before." "Unpardonable Sin" is basically saying: I defy and deny God and Christ as existing or anything, I am totally against it, I don't believe in it, I am disgusted with it. And anyone that goes up, according to the church, and defies the lord consciously, it's unpardonable sin: it'll never be forgiven by the church. We're proud of that fact 'cause we believe that everyone that doesn't believe in that isn't a bad person. I think we're better people than most people 'cause people in religion and stuff like that, a lot of them tend to be either weak or pretty much doing stuff behind everyone's doors anyway. So that's what that song kind of like teeters on.

CoC: Absolutely, the Catholic church is notoriously corrupt. The other lyrics I really liked were the set for "Close to a World Below". It sounds like it's toying with the idea of "hell on earth" or that earth is more like hell than anything else.

RV: Pretty much, I mean there's other meanings too. Like I said, if you start dissecting the stuff -- I was just talking to Ross about this like half an hour ago, and he said, "I'm gonna try not to dissect stuff" -- like if I tell you this is exactly what it's about and this and that, maybe you'll look at it a little differently, and maybe it's not as cool for you anymore, it doesn't fit you personally anymore, you know what I'm saying? Some people just listen to the music -- I've had a couple of people e-mail us recently saying: "I'm really into the band, I've heard this new album, it's great. I'm a Christian, and maybe I'm don't particularly agree with the lyrics, but I love your music and you know what? Your lyrics are more intelligible than most death/black metal bands and I kinda understand where you're coming from." So they might not even agree with what we're saying, but they can accept the fact of what we believe in, and enjoy the music for what it is. Whatever anyone's gonna get out of it is their own thing, so when -you- say what it depicts to -you-, you're right, 'cause that's what it means to you. That's really what it's about.

CoC: So from that perspective what you'd basically say is: read the lyrics, see what they're about.

RV: Exactly, see what they're about for you, see what they draw out of you. Some people are gonna get one thing out of it and some people are gonna get something else. That's cool. Whatever suits the person, that's what music is about. Mainly it's obviously entertainment and enjoyment. Also, we wanna make you think too and those who wanna keep thinking more and more and look deeper into it then that's cool.

CoC: One last thing I wanted to touch on was the inlay and the beginning of the CD which, being an atheist, I thought was great -- "Didn't you say... Jesus was coming". Were you just waiting for the millennium to put that one on?

RV: That's been an idea of Tom's for a while. All these Christians out there are just expecting Christ to show up any minute now and it's just a way of kinda being sarcastic about it. Like: didn't you say Jesus was coming? 'Cause we know for a fact that he's not, you know. And the way it's written is distorted and the sample at the beginning is distorted, which sort of represents how it's one of the distorted views of religion. The album cover in general, Andreas did a phenomenal job on that. It's unbelievable 'cause we give him concepts and he just knows what to do. He's really on the same level. He makes it happen. With this album we really wanted to try something different and with the cover we really wanted to try doing something where people didn't know what it was at first. Then they see that it's fire and then you kinda notice the crucifix and then you notice that there's all these figures in the fire and the flames kinda like making it something interesting. The whole packing in general: we have a team so that it reflects the songs and there's a lot of symbolism and stuff. We pretty much put that together ourselves. I did that with my brother. To us everything's gotta be 100 percent. The look of the CD has to be right too. I think this CD looks a lot more brutal and intense than _Failures..._ did.

February 2001: Ross Dolan

CoC: Were you happy/satisfied with the reaction _Close to a World Below_ garnered, in the end?

Ross Dolan: Yes, we are very happy and satisfied with the reaction we have been and still are getting for the new album. The reaction has in fact been even better than we had hoped for. We are constantly getting e-mails from people who really like the new album, as well as getting many great reviews and positive write-ups in the press, so it is a very nice feeling since we are very proud of _Close to a World Below_ and feel it is by far our strongest release yet. So it is nice to see most people feel as we do about it.

CoC: Looking back on the album, are you still as satisfied with it as you were October/November time? Anything really specific you wish wasn't on there or that you had changed?

RD: Our feelings for the new album have not changed a bit since we last spoke. We feel even stronger about it now since we have finally received some feedback. It is really the first time in our thirteen year career that we are completely satisfied with every aspect of a release, especially production. We have always felt our past releases could have been a bit better in the production department, but this release we feel has it all. The music is strong, dark and very intense. The lyrics, I feel, are some of our best. The packaging is right on the money and most of all, it sounds incredible. This is definitely the production we have been striving for for the past three releases and we have finally found it. We don't feel there is anything we could change that would make this CD any better.

CoC: What has been happening with Immolation in the last three or so months since _Close..._ was released?

RD: Well, we are really getting ready for our world wide assault. We have Bill Taylor [ex-AngelCorpse] playing guitar with us for all of our live performances now since Tom [Wilkinson] will not be able to come out on the road with us this time around. Bill learned all the songs very quickly and fits in perfectly. He will be a strong addition to the Immolation live show. We have been getting ready for our US "World of Darkness" Tour which will run for 43 dates starting mid March, and will also include the awesome talents of Incantation and Goatwhore. This is truly a tour we are really looking forward to and we feel it will make its mark as far as tours go. Then immediately following, we begin the "Darkness Over Europe" Tour, a 20 date European tour starting on May 1st in London. Joining us on this tour will be Deranged from Sweden, Destroyer666 from Australia and Decapitated from Poland, so this will surely be an event for all fans of extreme dark music. So we have been real busy. This is just the calm before the storm!

CoC: Do you have much or any material written for the next Immolation album? Any idea when that will be or hints as to what it will be like?

RD: We have not begun writing any material yet for the next album, although we do have some ideas lyrically which will follow closely to the subject matter on _Close to a World Below_. Musically, our intentions are to keep the new material as intense and dark as _CtaWB_, with of course some new elements just to drive the point home; what one can usually expect from one of our CDs. I think we plan to push the next album a bit farther, a bit more intense and a bit more extreme. And of course, we do plan to use Paul Orofino and Millbrook Studios again to capture the great sound we had for this album.

CoC: Have you done any touring so far for the record, if so, how have shows gone, and are you looking forward to playing the UK again?

RD: We have only played one show since the new record was released. We did a belated record release show at CBGB's in New York City, playing almost two straight hours of material from the first album up until the new album, which we played in its entirety. We played close to twenty songs and it went over great. It was a truly great night, the crowd really knew and liked the new material, so it was just a boost for us in preparation for the upcoming tours. We are really looking forward to the tours and we are especially looking forward to the London show. We had such a great response there the last time around for the _Failures for Gods_ tour that we can't wait to bring some new darkness and chaos for them to enjoy.

(article submitted 13/5/2001)


CHATS
2/22/2005 J Smit Immolation: Hail to the Conquerors
7/7/1999 P Schwarz Immolation: Incinerating Yourself to Live
2/9/1996 G Filicetti Immolation: Continuing the Crucifixion
ALBUMS
8/23/2013 A El Naby 8.5 Immolation - Kingdom of Conspiracy
3/7/2010 J Smit 9.5 Immolation - Majesty & Decay
6/10/2007 T DePalma Immolation - Of Hope and Horror
6/10/2007 T DePalma 9.5 Immolation - Shadows in the Light
1/20/2005 J Smit 9 Immolation - Harnessing Ruin
6/30/2003 P Schwarz 9 Immolation - Unholy Cult
1/10/2001 K Buchanan 9 Immolation - Close to a World Below
7/7/1999 P Schwarz 9.5 Immolation - Failures for Gods
1/17/1996 G Filicetti 7 Immolation - Here In After
GIGS
6/3/2005 T DePalma Deicide / Immolation / Skinless / Despised Icon / With Passion Tear Through the City, Tear Through the Soul
5/21/2003 J Smit Immolation / Malevolent Creation / Aborted / Noctiferia A Kingdom United
5/21/2003 J Montague Immolation / Malevolent Creation / Aborted / Noctiferia Goth Club Destroyed by Death Metal Gods
3/16/1997 A Bromley Cannibal Corpse / Brutal Truth / Immolation / Oppresor Cannabis Corpse and Friends
5/10/1996 V Singh Deicide / Fallen Christ / Immolation / Incantation The Wave of Death
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