Latest release: Atonement (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.facebook.com/immolation
There are few bands in the death metal realm with the heritage and prestige of New York’s Immolation. Emerging at a time when the genre was still in its infancy, Immolation were already as brutal and savage as extreme metal could be, establishing a style for themselves based on technicality and dissonance and spearheading a scene that would lay the foundations of a path followed by bands for decades to come.
“We started in ‘88”, begins vocalist, bassist and founding member Ross Dolan. “Prior to that, there really wasn’t anything other than Scream Bloody Gore and Seven Churches from Possessed, which I define as the first band to create what death metal is. There really wasn’t that much outside of demo stuff: You had Autopsy in ‘87-ish, you had the west coast, you had the Swedish stuff – Nihilist, Dismember and that stuff coming out of Sweden. You had bands like us and Cannibal Corpse and Malevolent Creation and Suffocation, Incantation of course… That was the moment where it started to grow, at that point.”
Dolan joined Immolation alongside guitarist Robert Vigna shortly after the band changed its name from Rigor Mortis. The darkness and sheer heaviness of their sound set new levels of extremity at the time, and is still sought by some thirty years later. On recent tours, he has seen more and more bands coming through who take their influences directly from Immolation and those who inspired them, and he couldn’t be more pleased.
“A lot of newer bands are embracing the school that we came out of – Incantation and stuff like that. So there’s this kind of resurgence of that style of death metal,” he says, before dropping the names of some who have particularly impressed him. “Bands like Dead Congregation. They’re a darker kind of band, and we were first exposed to those guys when we toured with them back in 2017. They’re a younger band, but man! Dark and extreme and pissed off. Fucking killer man! There’s another band, Blood Incantation out of Colorado who we’re touring with in the States in October/November. We had a chance to go out with them on the Decibel run and I got the chance to see them for the first time last year on Brutal Assault, and I was fucking blown away!”
He’s quick to point out that bands like these aren’t just regurgitating the past. Like Immolation, they’re drawing on their influences but making their own sound and setting themselves apart.
“They’re not newer bands by any means… they didn’t start last year or something, they’ve all been around now for a number of years, but they represent the newer direction and the newer scene,” Dolan says enthusiastically. “It’s really promising because it’s dark and original and it’s death metal the way I believe it was always meant to be played, and it’s always nice to see the new school of bands capturing that vibe and that style and fusing their own elements to it and making their own now.”
“It’s cool to see the newer bands getting inspired by the earlier death metal stuff,” he continues. “And the newer death metal stuff as well, but they still know where the roots are and where we come from. And that’s cool. They’re doing it right!”
Next month Dolan, Vigna and the current incarnation of their band – guitarist Alex Bouks and drummer Steve Shalaty are the other two – will be in Australia for the second time as part of the Direct Underground Fest with Dark Funeral. It’s a pairing they are looking forward to.
“We met those guys years ago. We met Lord Ahriman and the guys years ago and they were super cool dudes, and I remember they were fucking punishing live. I think it’s a good mash-up between the bands.”
The dark and savage nature of Immolation’s brand of death metal extremity makes them fit in well with many of the more vicious black metal bands they tour with in Europe. “It just seems to work well,” he says, “because we’re on the darker end of the spectrum as far as death metal goes. And the black metal bands are obviously dark and vicious, so it’s a nice fit. We all come from the same place, but we’re all different in our own ways, and I think that makes a great show for the bands.”
Death and black metal are, he explains, two sides of the same coin, born from the seeds planted by metal’s heritage acts, then nurtured towards ever more intensity and heaviness. Its practitioners all share common ground.
“We all grew up listening to the same bands – Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and the classic rock stuff, and gradually getting into the Kreators and Destructions and Sodoms and Venoms and Slayers and blah blah blah… and here we are. We just took different paths along the way. But we all come from the same place. So there’s never any animosity. It’s never a competition. It’s just about what’s making a great show for the fans. I’m willing to team up with anybody to make a great show. As long as it’s not too far off the beaten path!”
There have been a few occasions over the decades, however, when Immolation have found themselves keeping unusual company. Like the time they played Eistnaflug in north eastern Iceland with bands from all over the musical world. It was, he says, “pretty eclectic”.
“Pretty remote, but it was an amazing fest,” Dolan recalls. “You had heavier stuff like us, Melechesh, Belphegor, and then you had some pop stuff, more radio stuff, and they would mix the bands up. Have an extreme band like us, for example, and then a radio poppy band that’s totally not metal at all, and it worked great! The fans were accepting of all the kind of genres that were presented at the fest, so that was a unique one in that it was very diverse and eclectic, but it was still received very well across the board by the fans – and it was a great experience for us! Great country, great people, we were treated awesome, the fans were awesome.”
While Ross Dolan is best recognised as the demonic growler in one of death metal’s heaviest bands, his personal music tastes are as diverse as Eistnaflug’s bill. Even though his first love will always be metal, he doesn’t limit himself to one style or genre. As a musician and music fan, he can appreciate a lot.
“I’m a fan of music in general. I like all kinds of genres and styles. I’m pretty open minded. Our fans would probably be surprised by some of shit I listen to!” He chuckles. “It’s fine, it’s not for everybody, but something like [Eistnaflug] is cool because you always discover new stuff. Just like we discover new bands when we’re out on the road with bands from our genre. It’s the same thing. It’s about discovering new music. I’m not into everything, of course, but I could find something in just about any genre. So for what we do, I think I have a pretty wide range of taste musically!”