With their first full length, StormDragon, being unleashed on 14th February 2012, Immolith's guitarist and vocalist Isiamon takes time out to talk to SoT's Jason Guest about the band's formation and their early works, their preference for the darker end of the metal spectrum, the writing, recording, and production of their album, why they chose to re-record early material for it, the impact of the internet on the metal scene, SOPA and PIPA, and the future of the band.
SoT: Hi. Thanks for taking time out for this interview. For those unfamiliar with Immolith, would you tell us about the history of the band?
Isiamon: Immolith started back in 2008. I was playing in an old school death/thrash metal band called Coffin. We were auditioning drummers at the time, and Chris Warhead from New Jersey black metal band Abazagorath was one of the drummers who started playing for Coffin back then. I had started working on some songs that were much more black metal inspired then death or thrash metal. I decided then to start Immolith as an outlet for these black metal songs, and Warhead joined me on drums. We recorded our second practice together on a zoom handheld mp3 recorder. We played what would become the song The Ghost Tower of Inverness, and a cover of Venom's classic Countess Bathory. Oddly enough that rehearsal recording wound up getting released on cassette from Frozen Darkness Productions in Italy. Vile Horg of Infernus' Forces of Satan label wrote to us, and told us he liked it. Warhead and I added a bassist at that point and recorded our first demo EP which I called "Hymns to the Countess" in 2009. I released it on CD myself through a label I call Carrion Crawler Records. It was released digitally through Infernus' Forces of Satan Records, and then later by Metalhit. We added a second guitarist Prolixus at that time and began playing out regionally. By 2011 Warhead left to pursue new writing and recording with his main band Abazagorath, and I recruited a new drummer Void, and bassist Tizon. With the new lineup in place only a few months we entered the studio to record our first full length in the Spring of 2011.
SoT: Immolith's sound is different yet remains classic, tending towards the blacker end of the scale. Who are the band's main inspirations/influences?
Isiamon: I'd say it's an amalgamation of a life time of listening to underground metal. I started listening to underground metal way, way back in the day. I think I followed the same path as most of the underground metal fans back then in the 1980's. First with NWOBHM like Maiden, to early thrash/speed metal like Metallica, Slayer, Kreator, Sodom, Venom, Bathory, then death metal Death, Entombed, and Morbid Angel, right up through the second wave of black metal with bands like Gorgoroth, Immortal, Darkthrone, Emperor, and Dissection. As you mention, Immolith clearly lies at the blacker end of the spectrum, and that's probably because that's really where I've been since 1992-1993. Most of the stuff I still listen to all these years later is the music from back then. And if I'm listening to more current bands, it will be those bands today that still manage to keep that sound and style of early 90's black metal.
SoT: What's the significance of the album title?
Isiamon: No real significance other then I thought that track and its title was fitting to represent what the band was trying to achieve. It's powerful yet still a simple straight ahead black metal song and title. In this day and age of bands that have full on paragraphs used as names, it just seems good to me to keep some things short and basic.
SoT: What were your musical objectives when writing and recording StormDragon? Was there a particular sound you wanted to achieve?
Isiamon: I just wanted to write raw black metal in the traditional sense of the genre. But as I mentioned I'm also a fan of original all kinds of early metal, traditional, thrash, and death. So maybe there are little touches of each that come through in my writing. As far as the recording goes, I wanted it to be clear, but not nearly as overproduced and sterile as many modern albums seem to me.
SoT: The album has a few tracks on it that are from your earlier releases. Why did you choose to re-record them and include them on StormDragon?
Isiamon: The recordings on the first EP were done in my home studio. I had Warhead track the drums for the Hymns EP using a pretty inexpensive electronic drum kit. I used a solid state modeling guitar head to track all the guitars. We recorded in a live sense; in that Warhead and I played the tracks drums and guitar together live without the use of a click track. And then we built the rest of the tracks into the songs from those drums and scratch guitar. So although I think the sound we achieved on the Hymns EP was good for what we were working with, I never was happy with it overall. The electronic drums always bothered me. And the guitar tone was never what I wanted either. So when it came time to record an album in a professional studio using acoustic drums, and our tube guitar heads cranked up and sounding good, it only seemed right to go back and do some of those older songs justice.
SoT: How has the material changed since the original recordings? Have you made any significant changes to the tracks? Can you tell us why?
Isiamon: Structure-wise, the songs have pretty much remained in their original form. I imagine the drums are slightly different, not just in sound between the e-kit and the acoustic kit we used in recording, but more in style of the drummers. Void has a much different style then Warhead. Both are fantastic drummers, but they certainly have different approaches to their playing. The other significant change would probably be the vocals. Warhead did the original vocals. And now I've taken over that duty.
SoT: Can you tell us about the writing process for StormDragon? How were the songs formed? Does the band write together or is there one main writer that gives the band its direction?
Isiamon: Up to this point, I have always written the music by myself in my home studio. I'll come up with the main riffs, structure and lyrics. I'll record demo versions of the songs myself using drum software, then I'll bring them to the band and we'll work them out together. Slight changes in the structures might take place, and clearly Void will add his own drum patterns on his own not always based on what I happen to program in the demo versions. Also Prolixus contributed some layers with an additional guitar part or riff here or there.
Recently we've started working on some new material that Prolixus has laid the foundations for, and we'll see how that goes. I've also got some material that I've been working on as well. I have a feeling the new material will be more of a collaborative effort as a band compared to me writing almost everything on my own.
SoT: Can you tell us about the band's philosophy? And how does StormDragon reflect that philosophy?
Isiamon: This band's philosophy is to make fast, aggressive, punishing traditional black metal that is at least somewhat memorable. And at the end of the day, hopefully our black metal stands out a little bit from the ten million other bands doing the same thing.
SoT: The production of StormDragon is solid, the sound is vicious but with a clear production. Can you tell us a little about the recording sessions?
Isiamon: We had a few options when we came to recording. When it came down to it though, we decided to record with Woe frontman Chris Grigg at his BS1 studio, which at the time was based in Philadelphia. I had a few conversations with Chris and let him know what Immolith was about. I knew of Woe's first album "A Spell of Death for Mankind." And after a few times talking with Chris on the phone, I could tell he understood the old school black metal vibe we were looking for. The best way to sum it up was, I wasn't looking for "A Transylvanian Hunger" but more something along the lines of "In the Nightside Eclipse." We recorded my scratch guitar tracks to a click, and Void came in and laid down all the drum tracks the first day. Over the next few days we recorded all the guitars and bass. And finally I came one final day and tracked the vocals to the album. When I heard the final mixes Chris Grigg had come up with for I us, I knew he had captured the album just as I had hoped.
SoT: Do you have any plans for shows? What would an Immolith show be like? Do you see shows as performance or ritual?
Isiamon: Immolith shows are in the tradition of the second wave of Scandinavian black metal; so expect lots of blood, spikes, corpse paint, funeral fog and weaponry. Is it ritual or performance? I guess I'd leave that for the audience members to decide.
SoT: What do you like to see from a live show?
Isiamon: One of the things that drew me to black metal was its whole package. It's not just a band jumping up on stage in their street clothes and playing music. There's something to be said for that certainly. I came up with thrash metal and its whole "anti-image" image and totally supported that. But for me, it's cool to see a black metal show for its extra theatrical and atmospheric presentation.
SoT: What was the concept behind the album's artwork? Who's the artist and why did you choose to work with them?
Isiamon: That was Mike Riddick at the Metalhit label that designed the cover. So you'd have to ask him about the artwork.
SoT: Since the advent of the internet, the underground appears to be less underground as it's much more easily accessible. Some think it's allowed a lot of crap to come to the surface, and others think it's the best thing to have ever happened to small labels and artists. How do you think the internet has affected the underground scene?
Isiamon: I'm a bitter old metalhead. So I'm going to say the later part of your question pretty much is my answer. Too many bands online, all vying for people to "check them out." Band's probably killed myspace, spamming users to add them and listen. Bands will probably kill Facebook next. People get tired of being inundated with requests in social media to check out all these bands and wind up tuning out 99.9 percent of it all…
SoT: What's your opinion of SOPA and PIPA?
Isiamon: Well, being a musician and a guy who spends a lot of my own money recording and putting my music out there, I'm disheartened that so few people actually pay for music anymore. But what can you do? That's life. I guess in the end being in an underground black metal band, I'm still honored people even listen to what I've recorded whether they pay for it or not. So while I would hope more people would support the bands they listen to by paying for music or whatever, I am against censorship. To me both those bills were way more about censorship then anything else. So when it comes down to it, I am anti-SOPA and PIPA.
SoT: What can we expect in the future from Immolith? Shows? Releases?
Isiamon: We have a few shows lined up regionally this month with Abigail Williams and Woe in NY, NJ, and PA. And with the album officially due out mid-February, we've scheduled two official CD release shows. The first being in Brooklyn on March 2 at St. Vitus, and the following night, on March 3, in our hometown at The Backstage in Trenton, NJ.
As far as releases go, I'd like to record 3-4 new songs we have in the works this fall, and release a split or EP before the end of 2012. So we'll see how that goes over the next few months.
SoT: Thanks for taking time out for this interview. Is there anything you'd like to say to our readers?
Isiamon: Thanks to you Jason and the Sea of Tranquility for taking the time to listen, write the review, and interview us. Support of Zines like this makes what we are trying to do so much more worthwhile. Hopefully some of your readers who appreciate run of the mill old school black metal will be interested enough to check us out. If they like what they hear they can look for us on www.metalhit.com. Cheers!
(Click here to read our reviews ofStormDragon)