Ross Dolan of Immolation: The Dirt & The Grit

"This scene is where it is at – it is true, it has a force that has been steadily roaring forward for thirty plus years and I’m kind of happy it never had that mainstream appeal"

"Hey is this Carrie? I was expecting you, right on time". I like being right on time – I’m not sure what happens when I’m not... Though Ross Dolan of Yonkers based Death Metal band Immolation was on the line and the questions were piling up in my mind.... So we took a stroll; from the beginning to the middle to.... No not the end, not even close.... To Australia! This is Immolation for Metal As Fuck

There is so much to talk about – Immolation has been around for a decent amount of time – having also remained steady in this time. Spanned over three decades of metal, the band have seen firsthand metals’ high points and its lows, so let’s start at the beginning Ross – The band signed to an at the time, relatively young Roadrunner Records however among others were dropped when Roadrunner released nearly ALL of its death metal bands on its roster – how were these uncertain times for the band and for the genre in general? “Unfortunately throughout our ‘span’ we’ve seen a lot of the ups and downs of the death metal scene. This one in particular was a low point for us, obviously this was our first record deal, it was a big deal and something we never really expected and so this had more of a negative impact when we finally signed and realised things aren’t quite what we thought they’d be. We were disenchanted with the whole thing. We were one of the few bands [Laughs] who actually requested to be let-go from the label because at the time we didn’t feel the label were going to do anything for us – and the funny thing is we’re pretty tight with Monte Connor, he was the A&R guy who signed us back in the day, we’ve remained friendly, we’re pretty good friends actually and we’ve both had this same talk more recently and he was busting our balls about it [Laughs] which when you think about it was crazy for back then as we had signed a five album deal with Roadrunner and we left and got let go. It was a weird time as the scene exploded on one hand and then a couple of years later the scene was at a low point and I think by the time our second album came out it was back at a high – we live with these storms, they weren’t easy times I’ll be honest, it made for some rough tours [Laughs] low attendance but it is what it is, you struggle, you move forward I’m just glad we stuck with it”.

Now it is cited that Immolation laid the blueprints for a specific sound that several death metal bands emulated in their own material – so having this signature sound, what did Immolation want to bring to the table originally? “In the beginning (and which we still are) we were just fans of the more heavier side of the metal movement back then which at the time consisted of Thrash; Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and then to the darker thrash stuff. At the time before we started the band it was all Kreator, early Sodom, Destruction and Celtic Frost – these were the bands that were inspirations for us so at the time we started in 1988 it was just our goal to create something that was dark and unique, something that had feeling and atmosphere and when we recorded the earlier stuff I guess we were laying that template down without even realising it. We’ve been constantly seeking that and struggling to achieve that and I don’t think we’ll ever get there but it’s a cool journey [Laughs] each record we learn something new and its always a cool process – for us though it was more about the feeling – the kind of music that tugs at your soul, both musically and lyrically – something that would reach people”.

You yourself Ross have been a member of Immolation since inception so what shifts have you seen in the genre of Death Metal over this time? “I think the biggest, the biggest thing, the single factor that had impacted the scene was the internet – we came from pre-internet days so it was a night and day difference when we started to what the scene has become now, what with tools like social media – I kind of slide both ways, I see the positive and the negative. I think it actually gets the music out to a much larger scale audience. But this was a big thing – I mean we were hand writing letters to fanzines for reviews, ordering demos from bands all around the world, I mean you had to work to get your music back then – you had to wait weeks and weeks to get a cassette. It was definitely a different time back then and it was a lot harder but it was a smaller, tighter-knit metal community, at least that’s the way it felt to me back then. These days it’s global, it’s intimate but it’s not, you know what I mean?”. Yes, and it’s remarkable when you look back at the ‘old-days’ you speak of, the eighties, the nineties -  the term ‘underground’ is still mentioned today but would you say that with the digital age the way it is – is anything underground anymore? “That’s a good question and I can totally see what you mean, it’s very hard to be underground when the music is reaching millions of people by the click of a mouse [Laughs] you’re spot on and make a good point. I will continue to refer to this as ‘underground’ though, purely for the fact that it will never be mainstream. This scene is where it is at – it is true, it has a force that has been steadily roaring forward for thirty plus years and I’m kind of happy it never had that mainstream appeal, it still had that dirt and grit and I’m proud to call it the underground. None of us make any money off this [Laughs] so it’s still underground to us” This would be the only distinction; what differentiates the mainstream from a metal head – in saying that though, a metal head is a specific type of person with a particular mind set “Absolutely, we’re all more or less like minded in a lot of ways and the cool thing about doing what we do is that we get to meet people from all over the world at the shows and we get to talking – you can pick people’s brains and see where they are at and the really amazing thing is you find there are so many like-minded people in this scene and its refreshing. They’re sharp you know, they get it, they understand what’s going on in the world – they understand how important the music is”.

The lyrics for Immolation for a long time focused on an anti-religious stance yet there was a shift in content primarily after 911 – can you take us through this change? “Yeah of course, well you’re absolutely right, Unholy Cult was, I guess the crossroads for us – the album came out right after 911 and 911 obviously had a huge impact on us – I worked in the city, I lived ten minutes from Manhattan; I mean you could see the towers from where I lived in Yonkers. I remember those moments – they were very surreal for us and I think it was the catalyst behind the leap in direction lyrically as prior to this we focused on our own feelings and religion and we have a lot of records that catalogue that [Laughs] but once Unholy Cult came out we started to focus more on the darker realities of the world which lead for a darker direction lyrically. Lyrically I think the material in the recent album Kingdom of Conspiracy was more in the same vain”.  The state of the world is scary enough Ross; you’ll have content for three more decades “It is. It’s scary, it’s sad; it’s corrupt as hell. The encouraging thing though is that people are starting to open their eyes and notice that something is really wrong here. We’ve been sold a bad bill of goods, we’ve been lead down the wrong path and now we need to make positive changes”. 

With the bands recent release - George Orwell’s, Nineteen Eighty Four/1984 was a big influence on the lyrics for this concept album I understand? "Absolutely and I mean how pathetic was Orwell considered when he wrote the book in the 40's [Laughs] I mean it practically mirrors what we see happening today in so many ways. I read the book in grade school and re-read it prior to Kingdom just to get reacquainted with it, it was just as dark - and unfortunately it has more relevance now. When you apply it to the modern world you have to sit back and accept that this guy was basically foreshadowing everything that is going on today. It hit home and it was a good starting point to get fans to become acuminated to where we're going lyrically".   

That album in particular was noted for pushing boundaries within the genre which has me curious as to Immolation's approach to the material as at times Death Metal can grow monotonous; so how does Immolation continue to breathe new life into the genre? "I don't know [Laughs] when we start out with each record we really start out with a clean slate. We don't shoot for anything other than material we're happy with; material that's dark and edgy and dynamic and has something to say. We never intentionally set out to break any boundaries. We're more concerned with writing material that fans can appreciate and understand our vision. Bob [Robert Vigna - Guitars] writes all the music and has this bottomless vault of inspiration that he pulls from. He's a phenomenal composer and writer and I am honoured to be part of a band that has such great musicians. Bob is the guy". Mmm, yes - how does it feel knowing that one of the most gifted death metal guitarists is in your band? "Yeah [Laughs] he's so underated - I don't feel he got the recognition he deserved. Now he does, now people know who he is. He is such a humble guy, he's my best friend, it's funny though - he's just Bob to us". [Laughs]

The band are currently writing new material? "Yeah we have finished the new album! We're having it mixed right now. It will be eleven new songs, one of which we'll be playing in Australia and New Zealand on our tour. So you'll all get to hear a new song. Then Nuclear Blast have said late January for its release. Its the same mix of characters involved. Hopefully people dig it, I dig it [Laughs] Bob's happy with it which is the first hurdle". What are the fundamentals you swear by when writing any material for Immolation? "It has to have feeling. One good thing that comes out of being together for so long and having twenty eight years behind us is the fact that we know what we want to put out there. In most cases Bob is always delivering the goods".

The Australian tour is so close! "We're expecting to be completely exhausted for the entire trip as we've seen our itinerary and its kinda nutty [Laughs] so we'll be sleepwalking through some of the trip I'm sure. We just can't wait though. We're looking forward to the shows and to meeting some great people. It has been a long time coming, we're just so glad to finally be getting down there - it's been twenty eight years in the making".  



Rosemount Hotel, PERTH




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