New York based death metallers Immolation have always been among my personal favourites. With their new offering Harnessing Ruin the band leaves us no doubt that they are still a brute force to be reckoned with. Despite some changes in the line-up in later years, their unique and very distinct sound remains intact. I had hoped for the opportunity to interview Robert Vigna on the phone but that unfortunately wasn't possible, so I had to settle for some written answers instead. Luckily they turned out to be quite good and informative.

Robert Vigna interviewed by PSL

Where do you think Harnessing Ruin differs the most from past material?
The new material is much darker, yet more catchy. Harnessing Ruin is a more straightforward record than any other we have done. It's more to the point and has a lot of added melodies that run in and around the main riffs, really adding a unique dynamic. The way we do it though it still stays heavy and brutal, but with a very musical twist. The album has a very militant feel to it, we tried some new ideas and experimented a bit, but not to the point of changing what Immolation is. I think this is basically the best album we have ever done, both musically and lyrically. We are more mature as musicians and songwriters and it really shows on this CD. Plus with new drummer Steve Shalaty throwing in his unique style and feel, Harnessing Ruin is our crown achievement.

It sounds like you have tried for a sound that lies somewhere in between Here In After and Unholy Cult, is that correct?
Everyone is going to have their opinion; I mean we are the same band so things will sound like Immolation no matter what. We never set out to make a new album sound like anything; we just go into it wanting to make new material that is heavier and more emotional than what we have done before. We just want to make good songs, and that's all we think about. We know that this style has so much more to offer than most may think, so we try hard to take it to the next level each time.

You've also used producer Paul Orofino this time around. Could you elaborate on why that is?
This is the fourth album we have done with Paul. He is a great producer, an accomplished musician and has a good ear in the studio. Paul has worked with many serious musicians ranging from Liquid Tension and Blue Oyster Cult, to Golden Earring, John Hall [from Hall & Oates] and blues player John Hammond. He also works with famous jazz musicians too. So he is very experienced and also a very cool guy. He is very down to earth and he really helps bring out the best of the band. We look to Paul for advice in the studio and guidance on certain issues that arise. He really knows what works and what doesn't musically, so when we are going down our dissonant road, Paul makes sure it does not turn into a train wreck! [laughs] Millbrook Studios is a great place to record; the atmosphere is awesome, very quiet area in upstate NY. It lets us get away from the daily grind and really concentrate on what we have to do. Plus Paul makes the best BBQ chicken wings you've ever had. He supplies plenty of strong Italian coffee and treats, and has his own pub down the street. We just can't go wrong! We look forward to our next project with Paul.

Why did Alex quite the band?
Alex lost interest, got married; I think he just wants to settle down. He is a great drummer, one of the best out there for sure, but unfortunately he just didn't want to do it anymore. Luckily we now have Steve , who is as equally talented and really is somewhat of a phenomenon when it comes to drumming. He really blew us away on the tour he helped us with, as well as in the studio for Harnessing Ruin!

Could you say a little about your new drummer Steve Shalaty?
Steve is from Ohio, he plays in a band called Odious Sanction. We found him through a mutual friend, Brian Woody. Once Steve pulled off the US tour, we knew we found our new permanent man. Steve has a very unique style, and is a very smooth player. He brought in some good ides when we were recording and added his own flare to the record. We are very glad to have him on board, and we are looking forward to touring with him again. He has never been to Europe so he is excited to get out there, and we are really excited for him too. We already look forward to touring, but when you have someone who will do it for the first time in Europe, it's going to be that much better!

Tom left the band around the recording of Unholy Cult, why was that?
Tom hasn't done much with the band since Here In After. He helped out with a lot of stuff, conceptually and lyrically for a while, but physically he has not been able to do much as he has his own business and a new family. I just saw Tom over the holidays, so that was cool. We try and stay in touch as best possible, but it's hard as he lives in a different area a little north of here and we both work constantly. But I gave him a copy of the new CD as soon as we got out of the studio and he really likes it a lot. He felt it was the best thing since Dawn of Possession. I think he's right.

When and how did Bill Taylor join the band?
After Bill left Angelcorpse, we were pretty much at that point where Tom could no longer tour, so the timing worked out. Bill needed a band, and we needed a guitarist, and that was it. Bill fitted right in automatically and here we are. Bill is into it 100% and he gives it his all. He's been playing with us now since Close To a World Below was out. He really adds a lot to the live performance and metal takes command when Bill is on stage!

On the lyrical side it looks like you're slowly moving away from solely dealing with anti-religious themes or am I wrong?
No, you are absolutely right. The new album deals more with what is going on in the world today. Of course religion plays a role in everything around us: the war, the politics, the people, so it's still ever-present. The new album looks at the struggles we are facing toady, both on a national and worldwide level, as well as on a personal level. From songs about the war machine itself to a more human side to tracks about your own inner demons and personal struggles. So we have expanded quite a bit and we will continue to do so. But of course in true Immolation fashion, we will always give god a poke here and there.

What about Steve and Bill, have they had any influence on the new material?
Steve definitely had some input, he was there with us recording, and he collaborated with us. It becomes a group effort. The one song that we came down to the wire with in the studio, Steve really vamped up with his playing and it became something special. He really did his part. Bill lives in Florida, he usually learns the songs after they are recorded. Between the rush into the studio and the way we currently do things, it's just easier this way. As I barely know the songs going into the studio, it would be tough to try to show everything to Bill on the spot. We are very limited with time, so it's just faster for me to do the guitar work. Maybe in the future when I get my shit together and we plan stuff out, Bill might join us in there as well. For now he is the first line of approval though. We send that CD off to him, and if he digs it we know we've done good [laughs].

Despite of the change in the line-up your sound has remained intact. Is it important for you not to deviate too much or anything at all from the original starting point?
Well I have been writing most of the music since the second album, so being that I have been a constant in the band as well as Ross, who is usually the lyric man and vocalist, our sound and identity has remained intact. Myself and Ross know what we need to do and how we want to sound, what we want to try and what works for Immolation, so as much as we will progress and grow, we will always do it with the spirit of the band remaining.

Your previous album Unholy Cult was released back in 2002, please elaborate on why it has taken so long to record a new album!
It hasn't been that long. That album came out in late 2002, so it's really been 2 years, which is normal for a lot of bands these days. I think we are getting better with the time schedules, hopefully we can pull a 1 year in between for the next record, We will do our best! You have to realise we were not done touring for Unholy Cult until like July of 2003, so the touring does postpone things a bit.

Could you say a little about the cover artwork? For some odd reason I was under the impression that it was done by Andreas Marschall again, but the apparently isn't the case?
Andreas is amazing, but we just wanted to try something different this time. We were in touch with Sven of Aborted as he does a lot of work for Listenable. We gave him the ideas and he pulled it off! Sven actually did such a great job that to his dismay we persuaded him to do 10 more pieces for the album booklet! [laughs] So this really became our best packaging yet, it's very dark and surreal. We love it and I think our fans will really dig it too!

You finally released your first DVD Bringing Down the World last year despite several delays, are you happy with the result both considering sound and content?
I think for a first DVD it came out great. It's raw and in your face. It has both the very professionally shot Amsterdam show from our tour with Cradle Of Filth, as well as some great footage from the xmas fests, plus a US show with our new drummer Steve and a bootleg looking show in Paris where the crowd is going insane. There is some behind-the-scenes stuff, etc. We are pretty happy with it, and I'm sure we'll be doing another one with the new record. Lowlife Media did a great job, and Maurice Swinkels who put together the DVD also just shot a video clip for the title track "Harnessing Ruin" here in NY. The video came out great, very dark and serious-looking, so we are glad to finally have some video stuff out there!

You had a European tour planned with Aborted but it went down the drain, what happened?
That tour didn't go down the drain, it just never got into the bath room! [laughs]. This tour was only in the works; it was never confirmed, so there was no tour. Things just get blown out of proportion. Now we are working on a US tour for late May and we plan to be in Europe possible in June sometime for a few fests. When you see dates listed and confirmed, that's when you know it is a true tour. So at any rate we will be touring soon and we are really looking forward to it!

Do you intend to return to Europe later this year?
Yes, I'm sure once we do those fest shows we will come back and do some kind of fully-fledged tour later on in the year.

Any closing comments?
Thanks for the interview and support, we look forward to seeing everyone soon!

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