Escape from Yonkers
Immolation makes a long-overdue return to Sacramento
After several thwarted attempts to speak with Ross Dolan, the bassist and vocalist for Yonkers, N.Y., death-metal band Immolation, I almost decided to pack it in. As the band’s current tour made its way through parts of Canada and onto U.S. soil, it seemed like our 15-minute interview would never come to fruition. Nevertheless, after the tour manager’s sincere apology, I finally caught up with the band’s fearless leader in the lovely town of Prince George, British Columbia—during sound check.
It’s been way too long since Immolation has played Sacramento. “Man, we haven’t played there since about 1997,” said the enthusiastic frontman above the din of a bass-drum sound check. “I forget the name of the place, but it had a barbeque and shit. We were on tour with Six Feet Under. … I guess it was Bojangles?”
Right. It has been a long time.
For the better part of 20 (gasp!) years, Immolation has been releasing quality albums and demos that continually push the intellectual boundaries of its commonly ridiculed genre. To the outsider, Immolation is merely another death-metal band with Cookie Monster vocals. Upon further inspection, nothing could be farther from reality. Immolation’s sound—a quirky mixture of extreme metal with British metal’s chord structures and odd phrasing—is anything but typical fare.
Immolation’s devoted legion of fans is growing in number. Many seem drawn to the band’s obvious disdain for Christianity and organized religion, evident on its latest recording, Harnessing Ruin. “I’ve read really positive and really negative things about the record,” said Dolan. “The fact is you’re never going to make everybody happy,” he added with a hearty, evil laugh.
There’s even a bit of politics on the band’s latest long-player, out now on Olympic Recordings. As Dolan explained, “It’s very subtle because, again, we’re not a political band. Yeah, you could interpret [the lyrics] how you wish. It is very vague how we address topics, but the new album addresses what’s going on in the world and stuff.”
Although most bands rise to notoriety on the coattails of others, Immolation actually has headlined most of its tours. “We’ve actually been headlining since the Failures for Gods record [in 1999]. We’re enjoying the support slot this time around,” gloated Dolan. “At times, we would get the ‘headlining blues’ on an off night, since there are always kids that have to get to work the next day.”
Their current tour finds the members of Immolation—Dolan; guitarists Bill Taylor and Robert Vigna; and the newest member, Steve Shalaty on drums—playing direct support to Florida hate machine Deicide. “Deicide has been really cool to us on this tour, and so have the other bands,” Dolan said amicably. “We’re hoping to land another support gig near the end of the year.”
It turns out that the addition of Shalaty, though the band most likely would disagree with the wording, was a godsend. “Steve did such a great job. He just became ‘the man.’ On our first tour with Steve, we only had four or five days for him to learn the material, and he even learned two more songs on the road. Even now, we had a bunch of older songs that he didn’t know, and we’d go to his house, and he’d nail them,” Dolan said.
Unfortunately, getting the band together these days for practice isn’t as easy as it used to be. “Bob and I live in Yonkers, 15 minutes north of Manhattan. Bill lives in Tampa, Fla., and Steve lives in Ohio with a roommate,” he said. “Bob and I drive to Ohio on any given Friday [almost 10 hours away] and drive back on a Sunday.” If that isn’t dedication, what is?
“We’re very passionate about what we do and think the world should be handed to us,” Dolan said in closing.
Insane might be a better word.