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De carrière van de Amerikaanse death metal band Immolation bestrijkt inmiddels al drie decennia en nog steeds is de band rondom bassist en zanger Ross Dolan en gitarist Bob Vigna relevant. Het tiende studioalbum getiteld ‘Atonement’ kwam in februari via Nuclear Blast uit en oogst overal lof. De band is inmiddels driftig aan het touren om het album te promoten en de aanbieding van het label om eens praatje te maken met frontman Ross Dolan sloegen wij dan ook niet af. In Nijmegen vooraf aan het concert in Doornroosje spraken wij de sympathieke zanger uit Yonkers New York.

Door: Dennis | Archiveer onder death metal / grindcore

How has this tour been so far?
Good! Four days in but it’s been really good. The shows have been really well attended, the response has been killer, the vibe has been cool and the bands are killer. You know Vader of course, we have toured with them multiple times. I have known Peter for almost 30 years and we have toured with Spider before of course a couple of years back, I think for the ‘Majesty and Decay’ album, so we know Spider really well. James, we have met before, but it wasn’t on that tour and Hal, the bass player, I have met him multiple times when they came to the US on a festival run, so all the guys are killer. Also, the other two support acts are great, Monuments of Misanthropy are fucking killer, a very extreme band for this tour, which is good. And then there is the Italian band 5Rand, with a slightly different style, you know what I’m saying, but everyone is cool though. It’s definitely a fun tour, personnel wise. It’s like a tour with friends, and at this point it is kind of what you are looking for. You don’t want no drama, no egos and no bullshit, so yeah it has been cool and a lot of fun.

What is your first memory of playing in The Netherlands
The first time we played here was in 1991, we played with Massacre and Morgoth, that was the tour. My first memory was discovering Chocomel! I was like, wow, I am going to move here just because of Chocomel, the best thing ever! But yeah, it was great, I met Bob Baghus from Asphyx back in 1991 and I met a lot of people that we corresponded with through the mail. Holland has always been and awesome and friendly country to us, everybody is very positive and genuine.

You are promoting your tenth album ‘Atonement’ on this tour and it is by far your best album to date and personally I think it is the best death metal album of 2017 so far. Where do you still get the inspiration from to write such strong song material
Cool, that’s a big compliment! Bob (Vigna, guitars) writes all the music so I think the inspiration always comes from the same place. Each time we start a new record, we kind of go into it with a clean slate kind of mentality, so we don’t try to outdo what we have done in the past or put any expectations on what we are doing presently. So, you just kind of go into it and start writing, and song by song you kind of see what we have so far and what do we need more. Bob approaches it like one big song, and he tries to put each song in as a piece of the puzzle. So, for example, the first song he wrote for ‘Atonement’ was ‘Thrown to the Fire’ which is a slower song, it starts slow and is very heavy. The second song he wrote was ‘The Distorting Light’ which is a fast and more aggressive song and then the third song was ‘Fostering the Divide’. Just these first three ones that came out and they were very diverse, each one of them is completely different. So that is kind of how the writing process goes. So, from there he tries to figure out what do we need now in the mix? Do we need something faster, more driving or more dynamic? You hope for the best, sometimes you feel this stuff is really strong and it is great and sometimes, well, you know, people like it or they don’t like it. But you can never predict the response you are going to get. I guess luckily with this one everything fell into place, and I think that is because we had more time to work on this one. We started writing this record in early 2015. We had some setbacks along the way, so by the time we got to the studio it was already June 2016, so that is about a year and a half of writing in process, where typically it would take us about four months from start to finish. What we usually do is, we say we got to get a new record out, so let’s book the studio time, because it we have a deadline and a goal to work towards then there’s no messing around and you have to get straight to business. Just be aggressive about it. This time we didn’t have any studio time set. We decided not to book studio time but to finish writing first. The label luckily was fine with that and they said, ‘take your time, make sure it is a good one’. That was really all they cared about. So yeah, we had a more relaxed approach to this one and because we had that extra time it allowed for better songs, we had more time to absorb and understand the songs. Steve (Shalaty, drums) had more time creatively to infuse his input and we had a lot more time on the production end to make it sound as good as it is. It really came out good.

You said the decision was made you guys had to make a new record, why is that?
Well, if you don’t make a new record, people forget about you. You can’t take a five or six-year break. Let’s face it, people simply forget about you. There is just so much information and so much music out there. The internet connects you with so much today, if you are not relevant and if you are not in people’s faces all the time, they will forget about you. We had four years between our last album ‘Kingdom of Conspiracy’ and this album, which is really a long time. We did not really want to take that long, but luckily, we have a solid fanbase that we have developed over thirty years. I think if we were a new band it would be very challenging to wait four years before you put out a record. A lot happens in four years. A lot of your fans grow out of the music. If you have a 16-year-old fan who is getting into your music for the first time, by the time he is 20 he might be married and have completely different interests for example. You always have to consider that. Time is not on your side when you are in this business.

Do you see your crowd ageing and do you see new and younger fans coming to your shows?
It’s mixed, I see a lot of new faces and I meet a lot of kids that are 15, 16 and 17, which to me is awesome, because they are the new blood. And then you see the old fuckers who look like me and you can tell they are into their forties and have been around since the beginning. We have a lot of fans who have been into the band since the beginning, but it really is a mixed bag, which is good. We still draw the old-school people but at the same time draw the younger crowd to our shows.

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The band has been going for three decades now, did you ever think back when you started Immolation that you would still be doing this in 2017?
Never! Never… when we started we had no intentions of recording records or have any goals like that. When we started doing this there was only a handful of bands doing extreme death metal, and they were all over the world really. You had a few pockets, you had a couple of bands here in the North East, You had a couple of bands on the West Coast, you had some European bands, some Swedish bands, but that was it. It was relatively new, it was extreme and it was different. You didn’t have a huge fanbase. You only had a small group of people and you pretty much knew everybody. When we started Immolation, we knew that the music was over the top in some ways, a lot of people didn’t understand it, especially the vocals. Our whole thing was playing music that we enjoyed hearing ourselves and our main goal was just to record a demo tape and hand it out to our friends so they could hear it and we could play our local club and get to play it in front of our friends. We had friends come down to the rehearsal room on Friday night with some beers and have a little party and play a little bullshit show in the rehearsal room to like 10 people. That was it, that was fun. We didn’t have any aspirations of signing any record deals or touring or anything like that. It wasn’t until the second demo came out in 1989 that we got interest from Earache and Roadrunner. We thought, maybe these people are serious, maybe they’re not. So yeah, eventually it came to that. Also, at that time we suddenly discovered how fast the underground scene was. We had no clue, it was pre-internet. It’s probably a hard concept for most people to imagine, but before the internet the only way to contact people was to write a letter, by hand, send it in the mail and wait for the response. So that’s how you got your music out there. You sent your tape to fanzines or tape traders. Especially tape traders were really big at promoting the music because you would send them a tape and they would take your music and put it on a cassette tape with ten other bands and send it out to people all over the world with your address and contact details. Basically, it was word of mouth, that’s all it was. It was like your own internet, just sending out letters with little flyers cut out with adds for bands. You promoted yourself and promoted all your friends bands at the same time. When we understood that we were getting mail from everywhere, South America, North America, Europe, Asia, Middle East, everywhere, it was just crazy. We were like, ‘wow! Someone in Singapore heard our demo tape!’ or ‘someone in Brazil has our demo tape’. Actually, the first person who wrote us from Poland was Peter from Vader sending us the ‘Necrolust’ demo saying ‘this is our demo, let’s trade’. That is how it all started. When we finally understood there was a huge audience for it we thought it was pretty cool. And then we got the offer from Roadrunner. Actually, Roadrunner contacted us first and we saw the letter and thought ‘They are not going to sign us’, so we didn’t even answer the letter back then. When we finally got the second letter from Roadrunner Records we thought ‘Ok, they must be serious’ and we signed a deal with them. And here we are! So to answer your question, no, we had no idea we would be here 29 years later haha.

What keeps you motivated after all these years?
Oh, we enjoy it, we enjoy every aspect of it. It’s not really a job for us. We enjoy writing and composing, wen enjoy going into the studio and hearing the songs come together and seeing them come to life. We enjoy the promotion and the press, for instance when you finally start talking to the press it’s the first time you are getting feedback on the record. We had recorded ‘Atonement’ in June, but it wasn’t until December that I started doing the press that I realized ‘Wow, they are really liking the new record’. You know, even if you like it, it doesn’t mean to say everybody else is going to like it. So the promotion is the first time you are going to get feedback and it’s really interesting. And we enjoy touring most of all, because that’s when you really get to connect and share what you have done with everyone else, in a live sense. Real-time. You see the reaction, you see the feedback. That’s probably the most rewarding part of it all. Besides, you get to travel to so many cool places, you get to meet so many cool people and make friendships all over the world. We truly enjoy every aspect of what we do. That’s motivation enough for us to keep going. It’s not a financial thing, we never really made a living off of the band. We have done better and better as the years go on but it’s not like I’m going to retire off of ‘Atonement’ haha.

The music business has changed drastically especially over the last few years and also the way bands get their music out in the world through Spotify and YouTube for instance. What do you think of these streaming services?
I think it is a great tool to discover new bands. If I want to hear of a band and want to know what they sound like I’ll go on YouTube and bam! Here are there albums, them playing live and doing interviews. Before the internet, there was no way! You would read a little article in a black and white fanzine and hope there was an address and you would have to write to the band and wait for a month to get the demo sent. Today it is instant, which is good but also not good. People get spoiled that way. They have too much at their fingertips instantly, you don’t have to work for anything anymore. It is the ‘now’-generation. We had to really put in the time and really have to make the effort and really be passionate about your music to get music. To get demo tapes from Nihilist, Vader, Autopsy or Morbid Angel, whoever the band was, you had to really put in the time to write letters and wait. But then you built friendships. So, it was different back then. Now you just have to push the ‘Like’-button and you are done. It’s very impersonal today. Don’t get me wrong, Spotify is awesome, YouTube is awesome and Social Media is awesome to promote the music. I am not on Social Media, but the band is, and it’s a great tool to promote the music, but that is it.

2017 is looking good for death metal, with strong new albums from long running death metal bands like Obituary, Suffocation, (hopefully) Morbid Angel and Immolation. With ‘Atonement’ you set the bar really high for other bands in the scene. Is there some kind of friendly competition going on between the bands?
Yeah, they are going to hate us haha! No, there was never a competition. We never looked at it like that. Some bands I think do look at it like it’s a competition, but I think it is kind of stupid. To me, we are all on the same team. We’re all artists and we all try to promote a specific type of art. You’re creating something and you’re trying to share it with the world. There is nothing competitive about it. We all help each other out, most bands are fans of other bands. Music is very unique, it is a unique way to unite people. Because it is a unifying force, it brings people together and touches people in a very profound way. It helps people get through certain periods of time in their lives, it inspires people, motivates people or uplifts people. That is the uniqueness of music. No matter what kind of music it is. So to treat it in a competitive sense is kind of negating all the positive aspects of music.

Well let’s round things off, what are your plans after this tour is over?
We go back to the States, we do another tour in the Summertime in the US in July. Then we come back in September for a headlining tour in Europe and then another one in November in the States. So we’ve been busy. We got three tours in the States for this record and two in Europe, which is great. That will be five tours just for this year for ‘Atonement’, which is important because we didn’t do a lot for ‘Kingdom of Conspiracy’. We only did the Decibel Tour in the US four years ago and then we did Maryland Deathfest, the Oakland Deathfest and some dates with Carcass. We didn’t do a lot of touring back then so it is nice to have a full schedule with shows.

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