Interview with guitarist Robert Vigna and vocalist and bassist Ross Dolan
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: June 11, 2017
True Death Metal veterans Immolation released Atonement, their excellent 10th studio album, in February 2017 via Nuclear Blast Records and the band has been touring heavily ever since. They started in the States supporting the Cavalera brothers on the Return to Roots tour and soon after they headed to Europe to do a co-headlining tour with Polish Death Metal masters, Vader.
The Metal Crypt caught up with Bob and Ross and they spoke about their new album, the difficulty of not writing the same album over and over again, recent shows and many other things and reminded everyone that eating yellow snow might not be good for your health...
WORLD UNDER A NEW COMMAND - THE TRUMP(-ET) OF DOOM
Luxi: How are things in your part the world these days under the command of Mr. Trump(-et of Doom), eh?
Bob: Here we are, finally doing your interview. The answer is things are horrible, they're terrible [*laughs*]. We're not thrilled with the way things are in the United States these days but there's only so much you can do about it.
It's an interesting question because it's been quite some time now that things have been a little crazy in our country and this election just took it to the next level, so... I don't know. It just speaks to a bigger problem I think that we have in our country and I think in many parts of the world just the corruption that is so embedded in our political system and in so many aspects of our lives these days. It's just really sad.
So anyway, it is what it is. You move forward. Politics is a horrible game [*laughs*]. I think everybody realizes that. That being said, we just kind of move forward and hope things don't degenerate further. That's all you can hope for. I think we realize that we really have no control over "democracy." That's not really democracy. It's just the illusion of a democracy. We kind of get by and we get along and we play the game [*laughs*] and that's all you can do. Try to be positive about it.
Ross: Yes. For now, things are the way they are and we worry more about what we have to do with the Metal scene for now. All right.
Luxi: Let's talk about Immolation's 10th studio album, Atonement instead of political issues. How different was working on this album compared to your previous album, Kingdom of Conspiracy, released in 2013?
Bob: Compared to Kingdom of Conspiracy, it was worked in a very similar way. We write everything, I read everything on the computer and go through the music and create the parts and then we go through it altogether and get into the studio.
The approach is the same and we definitely tried to make this one a little darker and make sure the production had more atmosphere, which I think we were able to achieve. I think that's probably one of the biggest differences because I think lyrically it kind of picks up where Kingdom left off.
At the same time, we looked at things from different directions, some of the songs were from a more personal angle or a slightly different way but we're still looking at the dark side of mankind in the world and where we're headed, where we been and where we could be and shedding light on some of the darker areas of mankind like we've always done. Like I said, the idea was to concentrate on a darker atmosphere both musically and production wise.
Kingdom was a dark record too but I think the production didn't bring out as much atmosphere as it could have. The writing process for Atonement became darker and then the production just kind of nailed it.
That's what makes this album one of the best ones we've done because it came out so strong, both musically and I think production-wise. It's the best sounding thing we've had. Ross?
Ross: Yes, I agree with what Bob said and I would just add a couple of things. I think one of the main differences as far as the writing process goes with this record is that typically, an album usually in the past would take us two to five months, roughly from start to finish from the time we start the writing until we finish recording in the studio.
We started writing this album in 2015 and we didn't record it until 2016 in June. We had almost a year and a half to work with these songs, absorb them, tweak them and really understand them. I think that extra time was due to setbacks.
Bob: There were three songs written at the beginning of 2015 but the writing didn't really pick up again until the end of 2015 maybe early 2016 because there were a number of things...
Ross: It was like fall, I think.
Ross: Steve broke his ankle.
Bob: Yes, Steve, our drummer, broke his ankle in three places, so that definitely pushed things back while he was recovering we had time to really get the rest of the album written and it just kind of came together.
Ross: Yes, we had a year and a half vs. four months to get 10 songs down. Even though Steve was unable to play with his feet, he still had time to learn the songs in his head, to mentally understand them and to work out his parts with his hands. He never really had that amount of time on any previous Immolation release.
I think the fact that he had more time to understand and learn the songs, he wasn't pressed for time and under the gun like he usually is. I think that allowed him to be a little bit more creative and to really feel a lot more comfortable by the time we got in the studio.
From a lyrical point of view, I'd say Kingdom was a concept album and all the songs had a common thread and they were all inspired by Orwell's 1984, so each song was a nod to that.
With this album, although we touch on a lot of the same ideas, we a lot more personal and we tried to go into subjects and elaborate more on subjects we've hinted at on some of the past releases. I mean, lyrically, it's going in a similar direction as the last couple of records, but I think we've kind of touched on some topics that we haven't touched on before and we articulated them a lot better than we had in the past.
Bob: Those are the main differences and e moved things forward a little more with this one and made things better. With each record, I think we get better at what we do. We're very happy with it.
Ross: Production-wise, we knew going into Atonement that there were certain issues we need to address. One of them was the drums, as we got a lot of feedback on Kingdom from people commenting that they sounded a little too processed, a little too mechanical, a little too clicky. Whichever way you want to describe it, we understand and we got it.
Moving forward into the writing for Atonement, we approached Zach Ohren to come on board again. He asked if he could have a little more time with this one and if it was something we were able to do budget-wise, because he wanted to spend more time on the drum tones and creating something that was unique.
I think because he had the extra time, because we kept pushing back the date, it allowed for a much better production. I think like Bob said, he nailed it, he knocked it out of the park, so...
Luxi: While you were composing the songs for Atonement did you face any new challenges that you had never dealt with before?
Bob: I think one of the first challenges I faced personally was after writing the third song I kind of ran into a bit of a brick wall and it took a little while to get past it because everything started sounding the same.
I had to step away for a little while and then Ross got involved with Gospel of the Witches with Karyn Crisis and Davide Tiso. Ross was supposed to do some backing vocals on their album which turned into a lot of vocals which was cool. We did some shows with them and they asked me to join, so it was kind of a cool thing to do; a little getaway for us to kind of do something a little different. Ross and I did about four shows in 2015.
It was nice to step away from Immolation for a little bit and do that and try something different which neither of us has ever done before. In a lot of ways I think it inspired me as well as Ross, I'm sure. We had a good time with it and then I was able to move forward. The other set back is what Ross mentioned earlier about Steve and how he broke his ankle. But again, with all the extra time, it just helped us focus on the album. We used the setbacks to our advantage to make things better.
Ross: Yes, those were two main setbacks. With writer's block there's nothing you can really do. When the inspiration runs dry, you just step away for a while. Like Bob said, we had Gospel of the Witches and we immersed ourselves in that and when we jumped back into the writing for Immolation later on that year, the creative juices started flowing again.
Obviously Steve's broken ankle was a setback of about six months in which he had surgery and intensive rehab so he could learn how to use his foot to play and function again, so he had the worst...
Bob: That was a bit to overcome, yes.
Ross: Yes, he had the worst of it really. I mean he had a lot of stuff to overcome during that time. He got it together and in May of 2016 we went on tour in Europe with Marduk. That was his first time back behind the kit and it was actually a good trial by fire because we went into the studio two weeks after that tour ended. Those were the main setbacks and they were pretty big setbacks that we had to deal with.
Bob: But luckily we were able to pull it together.
Ross: In the end...
Bob: Things worked out.
Ross: Yes, all right.
Luxi: Do you believe you brought in some new elements that you hadn't dared to use on your previous albums for Atonement?
Bob: I think we definitely brought in some different elements but nothing that we wouldn't dare to do in the past. We don't feel we were daring to do anything questionable. We're not doing anything like that. No matter what it is, if it clicks and it sounds good and we like it then that's it. We're always trying to do different things. If we ever question something and say, "I don't know..." then that usually it doesn't make it. [*laughs*]
Ross: Yes, exactly.
Bob: We just try to write stuff that's interesting, has a good flow, is catchy and is heavy and dark. That's basically what we do. We try to do our best on each album and every time we start over. It's toughest in the beginning because you have that much more material in the past. It's always toughest getting past the first song or two because you have a blank slate and you know you have to write at least 10, 11, 12 songs. There's a little bit of pressure there. But once you get started, you write the first few riffs and then create the first song and get it under your belt. That's a confidence booster and then you start moving forward. The intention is always to make the best music we can, something that's dark, heavy, and intense. You do try to find avenues that make things a little different because you don't want to really repeat yourself but you want to keep the roots and the essence of the music. I think that's something we've been able to achieve over the years; make things fresh and interesting and try new things, but in a way that doesn't really take away from what we're about. That's pretty much the way I see it, anyway. Ross?
Ross: Yes, Atonement is still very much an Immolation album and I think that's why the fans have received it so well. I think each song on this record is unique in the sense that they all have every element that I think has defined this band since the beginning. As the fans know, we've never been all about speed. We've never been all about the slow and dirgy stuff. We've always mixed up the dynamic and I think that's what leads to a really good song. All of those elements appear in all the songs. The dynamics are there, the fast, the slow, the heavy, the hypnotic, the trancy, the very dark melodies and the multi-layered, very big and majestic sections that are very epic. Yes, there are some songs that are not typical, for example I would point out "Above All" and "Fostering the Divide", and even "Lower." They're definitely Immolation songs, but they have of a different flair, you know? They're very unique in their own way. "Lower" is a standout track for me. It's a very heavy, dark and has a unique sound and it's just a very cool song. It's got a creepy, catchy vibe and is very dark and sinister. "Above All" is a very catchy song and has a very unique ending section that's trancy, creepy and heavy.
"Fostering the Divide" is another one of those songs that's, let me put it this way, it's a slow grow. It starts off slow and heavy as hell and then kind of explodes at the end. It gets very big. Each of those songs shows a different side of the band, but in a good way not in a left turn kind of way. But as far as anything drastically different, no. It's still very much Immolation, just all the good parts rolled into one.
Luxi: Before the release of Atonement, you gave us a taste by releasing a fancy 360 visualizer for a song titled "Destructive Currents", which, in my opinion, sounds like 100% Immolation from start to finish. Does this song set the tone for the rest of the album as far as what the fans can expect?
Bob: Yes, we picked that one because it seemed to have all the elements you stated in your question. There are a lot of different things going on but it was also very straightforward. It is a pretty aggressive song and it is very catchy. It just felt like the best one to be the first release from the record, not only because it has all those elements, but at the same time, it didn't really reveal the whole record either.
We wanted to put a more straightforward song on the album. The song is to the point and it didn't take away from the other songs on the record that we weren't ready to release right away. Obviously the album's out now so people have heard it.
For those that have not heard it yet, it's definitely a good song to start with to get a taste of what the record's about though there is plenty more. It goes in many different directions which is cool because that song pretty much showed that we're still doing stuff in that dark and aggressive way, but there's still more to come on the record. It's just a taste but there are plenty more flavors on the album.
Ross: Yes, like Bob said, we didn't want to show all our cards with that first song, so it is right smack dab in the middle of the record. It's a good song like Bob said; it is a very straightforward song that has a punch right out of the gate. It's an aggressive song and again like Bob said it has a lot of the elements that we wanted to showcase for the first song.
The 360 visualizer was very cool. That was the first time we had ever heard about anything like that and we thought it was a really cool idea. It was Tommy Jones who also did our last two videos for "Illumination" and "Glorious Epoch". He was the guy who did the visualizer and yes it was a really cool idea to release the artwork to the public for the first time and to get the song out there. It was a two-fold thing. It worked out well and we were happy with it and the fans seemed to really like the idea.
Bob: Yes, and they liked the artwork apparently. The reaction was good for the whole thing. The song really went over great...
Ross: A great success.
Bob: Tommy Jones did a really amazing job with the 360 visualizer which really helped drive the force of the song home.
Luxi: Has this new Immolation album been well received among the fans? I know you guys have a very loyal fan base, so you should be safe... ;o)
Bob: We're our own worst critics. We felt strongly about the record but once you get it out there, you do like to hear positive feedback. All the lyrics are written in the studio and then we're hearing the songs for the first time with vocals and solos and everything together. We all hear it for the first time once it's mixed and mastered. It's not until it's fully mixed and mastered that we get to listen to it a few more times. It's like hearing it for the first time. A few months later, when everyone's hearing it, we hope it gets a good reaction and that the fans like it too.
This one has gotten a reaction like we never expected. It's beyond anything we've ever expected, probably the best of any record really. It's cool after 30 years and 10 records to get such really cool feedback from the fans and the magazines and everything. It's been very cool and we're pretty happy about that.
Ross: You hope to get a positive response but it's never a given and we're sometimes pessimistic about how things are received.
Ross: Like Bob said we're our own worst critics, as much as we were confident that the songs were strong and we were happy with them. I think this is one of the few records that we all came out of the studio feeling strongly about which is a rare occasion.
Bob: Except Steve but he caught on after.
Ross: We thought it was a strong release but like Bob said you never really know until it's finally out there. Once we started getting feedback from the initial interviews we started getting a sense of, "Wow, people are really starting to enjoy this. This is something special." The fans have been just tremendously supportive of it and it's been overwhelming.
The first tour we did a couple months ago in February in the States was a huge success for us. We supported the Cavalera brothers on their Return to Roots tour. We played predominantly new songs during that set and the response was just amazing. It's been really positive so far, so we'll take it.
Luxi: Has writing new Immolation songs become harder and more challenging for you guys over the years as I assume you always want to top your earlier work with the new stuff, right?
Bob: Writing new stuff does become more challenging as the years go on, but as much as it does, it's strange, like I've said before, once you get started, things kind of start coming together, and the album starts taking shape. Once you get into the flow it just starts coming. Typically, I don't look back at all and I try not to think about the old stuff when I'm writing new stuff because I don't want it to worm its way in. I'm usually looking forward, we all are looking forward as to where we can take the music. It can be challenging and overwhelming, thinking about it but we try not to think about it too much. It's like, "okay we have a new record to write and we just go for it, and so far, so good" [*laughs*]. It's been working out, but it gets more challenging as the years go on. I think what becomes even more challenging is creating a set list for the live show. That's the real challenge but as far as the writing process, it becomes challenging in one way, but at the same time because of all the experience we have, it can be easier and more comfortable which is a good thing. I think that helped especially on these last few records. We really have a good way of doing things now and we know what works and what doesn't. We get to improve as we go, and I think in a lot of ways, we really have. We take the challenge, but we also use that to our advantage as well.
Ross: We're pretty forward thinking, we never dwell on the past and we certainly don't begin the writing process for a new record with the intention of outdoing ourselves.
Bob: We're happy as long as it's as good as the last one, as long as it's not bad.
Ross: I think if you go in with that attitude, you defeat yourself, so we go in with a clean slate. It's a fresh start, we leave the past in the past and we try to move forward and put a fresh spin on the inspiration that comes. It's worked out so far. It is challenging at times but I think we're all on the same page. I also think that having 29 years under our belts helps us know what we're looking to accomplish, what we're looking to achieve. I think it's a smoother process now. We know right away what's not working. There's no debates [*laughs*]. I think if nothing else we're more, I guess...
Ross: Yes, we have that experience and I think it just makes us better songwriters. We know where to take the music and lyrically it's always a challenge trying to come up with fresh ideas without being redundant and trying to be relevant. We try to write stuff that's dark and has something to say but not in a preachy way or in a way that's overly political. That's something we don't want to be, so a lot of the stuff we write about, it's about real life stuff, it's about the world. It's our very cynical look at the world, but we're talking about real subjects, real things, real aspects of our reality today, and I think the fans appreciate that because we write it in a very honest way. We're not preachy about it, we're just stating our take on things and I think the fans appreciate that, the fans get it. I read a couple of comments that Kingdom was a lot more political than we've ever been in the past, but I don't see it like that. I don't think it's a political record at all. I mean, politics is part of the big picture of course even with this record for example. We touch on a lot of aspects of our world today and the challenges we face, but it's not political at all. We never want to cross that line. It's a very fine line you walk and try to articulate these songs in a way that they make sense. They do get the point across without leading the listener by the hand to exactly what we're trying to express. I think the gold is in trying to get your point out there, but still leaving room for the listener to express their own ideas and feelings of what the music means to them. There are always challenges with every new record but we don't obsess over it and try to outdo ourselves.
ABOUT THE CHALLENGES OF WRITING NEW MATERIAL
Luxi: I have noticed that you seem to be very ambitious and driven to perfection when it comes to writing new songs. You have not recorded a bad Immolation album thus far which is quite an achievement, don't you think?
Bob: Yes, I think it's fair to say after 30 years we have probably become more ambitious and excited about the new music and that's something that holds true with all the members of the band. It's something you must have especially with this type of music where you're not making a whole hell a lot of money. You do it for the love of the music and being out on the road for months on end. You have to enjoy it.
You really want the music you write to be good and you want to believe in it and have it come from the soul. We're trying to make the best music we can and we put a lot of heart and soul into it. I think that it definitely shows and that's really what it is. You have to be into the music 110% otherwise what's the point? That's something I think, yes is definitely important for us; standing behind your music 110%! It's the way we approach the tours and everything we do because we are ambitious and we are excited because we believe in it and we enjoy doing it.
Ross: I can speak for everybody when I say we all truly love doing this. We love every aspect of it, from the writing and the composing, the recording, the touring, meeting new people, seeing new places, talking to the fans, talking to the press, it's all part of it. We are truly passionate about every aspect of it, otherwise we wouldn't be doing it, believe me. It doesn't pay the bills, it never has paid the bills, so it's something you don't get into if you're expecting to make a livelihood out of it.
I guess we have been very fortunate to have made it last this long and I think that's because we have always approached it from a very realistic point of view and understood very early on that it wasn't going to be something that was going to support us. We were always very realistic and we knew that we had to work hard to keep this going. It's always been a balancing act between real life and the Metal life. Balancing those two worlds has probably been the biggest challenge for all of us trying to make this fit into our regular lives, work schedules, family schedules, family lives and everything in between.
That being said, it's a huge part of our lives and I think they would be extremely empty and very different without it. It drives us and motivates us and it's something we are truly passionate about. I think our fans and everybody who knows us knows that. They know we're honest about it and I think it shows in our music. If nothing else, I think we can at least say that we've always been honest with ourselves and we've been honest to our fans. I think it's a huge compliment when our fans say, "Hey, you guys have always released good records. You've never released a bad record," and I think that's probably the highest praise we've ever gotten. I think it's very humbling and it's very cool, actually. You see, we never think in those terms. For us, we're constantly in the machine. We're constantly in the grind, so when you actually step away for it for a moment, and you realize "Wow, we are very fortunate to be doing something we really love." We're traveling the world and we're sharing this music with people all around the world, and touching people on deep levels with the music. That's what's so great about what we do, and we truly love it, so yes.
ABOUT THE MAGIC HAPPENS THAT HAPPENS IN THE STUDIO
Luxi: As has been the case with so many other Immolation albums, Atonement was recorded at Millbrook Sound Studios, which has become a second home for you guys since the days of the Failures for Gods album, released in 1999. I guess this is a pattern you don't want to break because why fix something that ain't broken, right? ;o)
Bob: Yes, we've been going to Millbrook Sound Studios and recording with Paul Orofino since Failures for Gods, just as you said it in your question, "Why fix something if it's not broke?" That is completely correct. We have a great time with Paul. He's a great person. He's great at what he does and he's become part of our family. We go up there often even when it has nothing to do with recording, we just go and hang out and spend time with him and his girlfriend. It's just like family.
We enjoy it and he makes it very comfortable for us. We have nothing to think about when we go. We can worry more about the music. Why go to a new studio and have more things to worry about? He does an amazing job and we have a good time.
We know it's going to be done right and there's no reason to go anywhere else. Like Ross mentioned we have Zack Ohren doing the mixing and mastering and the combination of the two of them these past few records has been phenomenal. It's gotten better over tie. It just doesn't make sense to even think about a different studio because we have a great thing going and there's no reason to change it.
Ross: Yes, agreed. You said it best, "Why fix something that's not broken?" Those are words of wisdom, words to live by and that's how we approach it. Like Bob said, Paul is practically a member of the family and we have so much respect for him as a producer and a friend. He's the best host. He makes you feel like you're home when you're at the studio.
I think that's key for us, being comfortable, being in a very warm, comfortable environment. It is a situation that could potentially be very stressful for some people and any stress that we have in the studio is only brought on by ourselves. Paul always goes out of his way to make us feel very comfortable and relaxed. It's all about the vibe. Paul is extremely talented at what he does. Like you said, we've gone to Paul since 1999's Failures for Gods so we've done every record there.
When we signed with Nuclear Blast and recorded Majesty and Decay we decided to try something new with the mix and mastering and we had Zack Ohren come on board for that. He's been the man ever since. The combination of Paul Orofino and Zack Ohren is a winning combination. It seems to work really well. Zack is awesome to work with. He really gets it. Paul's more old school and Zack has more of a new school approach. I think the two worlds complement each other, especially with this record. We're very pleased and we will most likely continue along that course.
Bob: We definitely will!
GUITARIST CHANGE: BILL OUT - ALEX IN
Luxi: Sad news for fans of Bill Taylor who was with Immolation for about 15 years as he has stepped aside recently. His boots were filled by Alex Bouks who also plays in a band called Ruinous. How well has Alex filled Bill's place on 2nd guitar? How different is Alex's style compared to Bill's?
Bob: We knew Bill was going to be leaving the band for about a year and a half, it was just a matter of when. He had issues with his family and had personal stuff to deal with. It got to a point where he just felt he couldn't come out and it was hard for him to be away from home for periods of time. Personally, I think he maybe wanted to take a break. He hinted at it for a while so we knew it was coming. We left it up to him as to when.
We supported him with what he needed to do and there were no hard feelings, he just needed to do what he needed to do and we respected that. We left it up to him as to when, either during or shortly before the Australia trip we did last year. He let us know that it would probably be his last outing with us.
We're glad he made the trip because he was really looking forward to going to Australia and he had friends down there and he hadn't been there before. It was a special trip, it was a great trip, we had a great time. There are no hard feelings, no issues, it was something that we knew it was coming and we had to deal with it. Alex is a longtime friend. He's in Ruinous, but he's been in Goreaphobia, Incantation, Master and more importantly, he's been a friend of ours for the past 30 years.
He came out to help out on the first tour we ever did with Dawn of Possession back in '92. This is a longtime friend, a part of the family, and we really wanted to keep it in the family. Alex was the first and only person we thought of and we're glad he was able to do it. It was a seamless transition because Bill was very happy once we told him we were getting Alex. He was very much relieved and very happy that we got somebody like Alex and he said, "Oh, that's the perfect person for it."
It worked out well and Bill's in a good position now. He's in a good place and Alex is just as happy as we are to have him in the band. We had one great guy in the band and then we had another great guy come in the band. We didn't have to get somebody new we didn't know. It worked out very well.
They both have their own way of doing things and their own personal built-in stage presence. They're both really great musicians. Bill was super dedicated for 16 years and that shows the type of person he is and Alex was dedicated to the music for the past 30 years. He's been doing so many different projects. Basically, they are equal playing-wise and they both do a phenomenal job and we couldn't be happier really.
Ross: Definitely. It was a blow when we finally got the word that Bill was leaving. We knew it was coming as Bob said because he was dealing with a lot of personal issues. It eventually got to the point where it was prohibiting him from long term touring and from really enjoying himself on the tour. It was a call or decision he had to make and we of course supported his decision. Obviously we would have liked him to stay but, moving forward, we're very fortunate that we have Alex with us now.
Alex has been a good friend of ours for many years. It was the perfect fit. Alex is an extreme talent. He's just a good person and his personality fits with the band and he's very positive and we're very happy that he's part of the band. It was as smooth a transition as it could have been. We're fortunate that it went so seamlessly.
Luxi: Is Immolation his main priority now and is he totally committed to touring?
Bob: Yes, Alex is pretty much fully dedicated to Immolation; this is his main thing right now. Obviously it's up to him what he does when we're not doing stuff, but for now yes, he holds this as his main priority and is a hundred and fifty percent into it. He's just having a great time and he's very happy to be out with us just as much as we're happy to have him. Of course if he's doing stuff with Ruinous or any other projects he wants to do or is going to be part of, that's fine. We're totally all for it, but yes this is his main thing now and that's just the way it is and I'm sure he looks at it that way. What was the question? [*laughter*]
Luxi: Just talking about Alex, his main priority; is he going to dedicate himself to this full time?
Bob: Yes, sorry. I flaked for a moment. This is definitely Alex's main priority. He's pretty much made that clear to us, but Alex does have a lot going on. He's a true musician, he's got his own band Ruinous they are fucking amazing. He's still active with Ruinous and he has other stuff going on, other projects he's doing on the side, so he's keeping busy in between tours, but he's made it very clear that Immolation is his main priority which is good because we have a busy year this year.
ABOUT THE ARTWORK AND STUFF
Luxi: What made you chose Atonement for the album's title? Did you have alternative titles in mind before you cast Atonement in stone?
Bob: Atonement just fit with the record. "Atonement" the song was written before we actually decided on the album title and it was the lyrics in the middle of the song that inspired the album cover. That being said, once we had Paul do the album cover, I think the idea of Atonement just fit. We decided on that and it just stuck. It was up in the air until the artwork was done.
Ross: Basically, we had the song "Atonement." That song is about religious extremism and the title matches the lyrics. Like Bob said, when we were thinking of a title for the record we thought that worked the best; Atonement meaning forgiveness and reconciliation. Applied to what we were speaking about topically on the record, it really worked in a very cool way.
Luxi: The album's front cover art is visually impressive and eye-catching, indicating payback time is near...can you take it from here?
Bob: Well, yes. Like I said, the concept of the album came from that middle part in the song "Atonement". The idea of the cover became very cool because it's like there is no atonement, you have that Angel of Death just tearing shit up and it's that menacing feel of destruction and hopelessness.
I think it fit with the vibe of the record. It is a really great visual. Pär Olofsson really brought it to life. It was cool working with him because we could back and forth with ideas. We give him the ideas and we made the very horrible sketches we normally do. He gets an idea of what we're looking at as far as the placement and stuff but then he'd bring it to life and we'd work with him on the details which is cool.
He did a remarkable job. It came out really cool. Like you said, it is very eye-catching and it gives you that sense of foreboding. It's very dark which is what we wanted; something very dark and really words can't describe it. He just did a phenomenal job.
Ross: It's definitely a great cover. I think it's visually impressive; it's really appealing and very dark, the Angel of Hatred. I think it speaks about the divisiveness of religion. She's carving a trench to divide the city into two parts and it symbolizes a lot of things. I mean you can look at it in many different ways and that's what's great about the piece. The whole idea of atonement or forgiveness worked perfectly, because I think at some point humanity has to accept responsibility for all its missteps, its atrocities, and all its failures. There's not always a free pass, a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card.
There's not always an atonement. There's not always forgiveness or reconciliation. At some point, you have to accept responsibility for what you've done and that's the irony behind the whole concept of atonement and that's why I think it works so well when applied to a lot of these themes in a broader sense. The religious side is a no-brainer, that's the obvious one, but there's a lot more to it and that's kind of what I meant earlier when I said, in a broader sense it worked really well, and that's kind of the whole idea behind it. I think, visually that cover says it all.
Bob: There's no atonement being given out on that.
Ross: Exactly. That's the last line of the song, there is no atonement. It's very fitting for the times we live in.
Bob: That's true.
THE RETURN OF THE OLD IMMOLATION LOGO
Luxi: The album cover for Atonement sees the return of the old Immolation logo. What made you decide to bring this old logo back?
Bob: I won't call it the old logo because it's the Immolation logo. It's not our old logo. It's the logo we've had since the beginning and we still have and have always used on merchandise and on every album that we've made. It just hasn't appeared on the recent album covers, that's all. The only reason it has not appeared on the album covers is because it took away a lot from the artwork. It is the type of logo that takes up a lot of space and it either ends up too small to where it just doesn't make sense or too big and you can't see the artwork. It made no sense. A perfect example is Majesty and Decay, the first record we did for Nuclear Blast. They were all about trying the new logo. Gerardo and Charles from the label, super cool guys but they were just so amped to have us put the old logo on there and they wanted to see it.
We said, "Okay. Do a mock up with the old logo." They did the mock up with the old logo and they agreed, "it does not work with his artwork." I mean, that's the only reason. There seems to be a big deal about that but whatever, if people like the fact that we have the new logo on there, it is cool because it worked. This artwork finally lent itself to it and it actually did look better than the text logo, so that's why we used it. We're happy to have it there, but it all depends on the artwork.
Ross: At the end of the day, aesthetically it looked good. Visually it looked great on the new record, so we used it. At the end of the day, whether we use the old logo or not doesn't dictate how well or poorly we write the record. It's still Immolation at the end of the day regardless of what logo we put on there. If we choose not to put a logo on there, doesn't mean it's going to be a bad record, but listen, that being said I understand that the fans really liked the old logo. It does have a cool look, it does have a very sinister look, and it worked really well with the Atonement record.
Bob: It probably looks better on this record than even the first two records.
Ross: Yes, and as Bob explained, because of how the logo was drawn, if you have to manipulate it, stretch it, squeeze it, squash it, what not, make it bigger, smaller, it changes the look and feel of it. If you have to squeeze it into a little place on the cover, it just doesn't work. It's just an aesthetic really. That's it at the end of the day.
Bob: It's cool and it looks good on the album and everybody's happy, so good times.
Luxi: Atonement was released by Nuclear Blast Records on February 24, 2017 worldwide. Did you hold a record release party on that date to celebrate and play a special set for your fans (like the whole Atonement record from start to finish)?
Bob: We didn't do anything special for the release dates. We were doing the Cavalera tour and it was just one big celebration for that month so it was good.
We were able to get out there before it came out and fans were able to here like five new songs they hadn't heard before and they went over great so that was cool. We didn't have a special show or anything as far as playing the album in its entirety. That's something we have talked about, maybe on one of our upcoming tours this year or next year.
It's definitely a possibility and we all feel strongly that we might do that. Other than that, nothing was done specifically for the album release. We were just happy to have the album out and be touring. That was a celebration enough.
Ross: Yes, that was it. We've only done one record release show in our career and that was for Close to World Below. That was our time to shine back then.
Like Bob said, our big blowout was the Return to Roots tour here in the States. That went over really well. It was a great tour for us to be on. We reached a lot of new fans and we got to promote the record before, during and after its release.
Luxi: After this tour of the States in Feb/March 2017, you have a European tour with Polish Death Metal veterans Vader. What will happen after that? Do you have bookings for summer festivals in Europe?
Bob: We're here in Europe now doing a full tour with Vader. It's about two and a half weeks, 17 shows for the time being. We're doing this tour which so far is going great. We did one show so far and we're at the second one today.
This year we have a lot planned. We will not be doing any summer festivals but we'll probably be doing a festival run in the United States. It's going to be a festival tour so to speak, with Death Metal and underground bands so that should be interesting. Then we have some other stuff planned at the end of the year in the States and in Europe probably in September. We are probably coming back for a headlining run.
We have a lot going on this year as you mentioned. We are looking forward to that Beer and Metal Fest from Decibel Magazine in April. We're keeping being pretty busy so that's really where it's at this year. We have a lot planned and we are looking forward to it because we will be out in the States a lot this year which we were not been able to do with the last record so we are making up for it on this one. We plan to come back to Europe as many times as we can well into next year. That's pretty much our touring schedule.
Luxi: Obviously you have plans to film videos for some songs off this new Immolation record, to help with promotion. Anything more you'd like to reveal about this topic for your fans?
Bob: As you know by now, Tommy Jones who did our last two music videos, not only did he do the 360 video visualizer for "Destructive Currents" but he put together a nice lyric video for "Fostering the Divide" which was really cool. I think he really had a good feel for the song, what it was about, from religion to war, to politics, you name it. It was cool the way he did the lyrics and had them come on the screen in a three-dimensional way.
We do have plans to do some other stuff which we're working on now. Once it's ready, you'll know about it. We plan to do at least one or two videos this year.
Luxi: Just one more question and then we are done. How do you see 2017 for Immolation? Undoubtedly you will be spending quite a lot of time on the road playing for your fans around this floating ball of dirt...
Bob: Yes, like we mentioned, 2017 is definitely going to be a busy year. In the end, we'll probably have three US tours, two Euro tours and some other shows in between. We'll be very busy with a lot of things, like we just mentioned, the video stuff and other things. Last year we were able to go to Australia, New Zealand and Iceland which was very cool but now we're concentrating on the US and Europe, which is great. I'm sure we'll be doing other things next year, so this is just the beginning really.
DON'T EAT YELLOW SNOW
Luxi: Thanks so much for taking your time with my interview question and all the best with all of your future endeavors with and/or without Immolation. May the last words of wisdom be yours now...
Bob: All right Luxi, thanks again for the interview, we appreciate it. Take your time on the next one, maybe when the next record comes out.
Just kidding. We appreciate it man and sorry for the delay but the US tour was busy as hell. This one was better for us because we have a lot more time to chill out which is nice. Glad we were able to get this done for you and thanks again for all your support and understanding over the years, we appreciate it. We hope you like the new record. Definitely let us know if any of these shows we're doing over 2017 come near you, just give us a heads up and we'll get you into the show and we'll hang out. Get to meet, have a beer or something and...
Ross: Maybe do an interview.
Bob: Yes, maybe do and interview, live this time [*laughs*]
Ross: Thanks again man. We always appreciate it, you've supported us for many years and we always appreciate the time you put into this. Again we apologize for always taking so long.
Bob: You just have that weird timing, but yes, thanks again, much appreciated. Keep in touch and we'll hopefully see you soon. Have a good one.
Ross: Words of wisdom, don't eat yellow snow.
Bob: [*laughs*] All right man, take care, we'll talk to you soon.
|Other information about Immolation on this site|
|Review: Close To A World Below|
|Review: Failures For Gods|
|Review: Bringing Down The World|
|Review: Shadows In The Light|
|Review: Majesty and Decay|
|Review: Dawn of Possession|
|Review: Here In After|
|Interview with guitarist Robert "Bob" Vigna on March 19, 2012 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Interview with guitarist Robert "Bob" Vigna on December 13, 2015 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
|Interview with guitarist Robert "Bob" Vigna on June 7, 2019 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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