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Death. So omnipresent, and yet feels an eternity away from oneself, until it suddenly catches up with one. In youthful recklessness we all felt immortal, in adulthood the ravages of time gnaw at us relentlessly, so that it grows into a permanent companion in deeds and thought. A somber subject, but one that is sociologically and anthropologically significant and can also yield one or two insights, especially in terms of the arts. In the world of music, an entire subgenre has been dedicated to death, namely the genre of death metal, and here we take a closer look at one of the most innovative and long-standing representatives of this genre: Welcome to the ashen world of Immolation!
One of the longest-serving formations of the death metal subgenre, is an outfit from New York which has been wreaking havoc in the music world since the mid-1980s. They were known in their first incarnation as Rigor Mortis from 1986 to 1988, and now go by Immolation. The foursome's original members Ross Dolan and Robert Vigna have been captivating audiences since their formation through epochal, colossally groovy and above all unorthodox death metal, which is brought about by Vigna's very peculiar style of guitar playing, composing labyrinthine riffs and highly intricate harmonies and melodies that wind through the auditory canals like spectral serpents, allowing the music itself to rise to something higher; a sonic testament to the supremacy of corruption as well as an ode to the majestic grace of death that dictates us all sooner or later.
Adrenaline and artistic integrity are top priorities of these New Yorkers, and like no other grouping within the death metal circus, Immolation manage to harmoniously combine rage and sublimity. Clearly the seething rage can be heard in every fiber of the music, however this rage is so calculated that it gives way to pure, unfiltered aggression with carefully arranged sound carpets, which transform the aggression. In its musical form under layers upon layers of grandiose atmosphere, the sound may be heavenly or hellish depending on your point of view. One thing's for sure: the die-hard atheists from Yonkers won't care much about this fine distinction.
Ross Dolan's on double duty, playing bass and roaring the vocals. While somewhat monotonously held, it's still powerful and the determined growls organically combine with the unique riffs of Vigna and co. The intricate drumming, which impresses with abrupt tempo changes and martial rhythms, forms one of the most independent groups in the entire history of the genre, which have created their own niche in the pantheon of death metal in such a nuanced way.
With a similar basic theme also Deicide (God's murder) act, also one of the formative bands of the style and about as long active as Immolation, which especially by their first two studio albums "Deicide" and "Legion" belongs to the most notorious bands, because never before to this extent so blasphemous and full of poison and bile railed against God and organized religion, this should complete itself a few few years later by the emergence of Scandinavian black metal as an independent musical genre.
In contrast to Deicide's not at all subtle criticism of God and the world—such as the emblazoned branding of an upside-down cross on the forehead of frontman Glen Benton (who also handles bass and vocals like Ross Dolan)—the men of Immolation take a more calculated and above all intellectual approach. There are no signs of striking, infantile frivolity and shock for shock's sake, but cryptic, cerebral social criticism in view of the fact that most evil in the world happens in the name of God, no matter what name may be ascribed to this deity.
Critical voices claim that the entire genre of death metal deals too much with death, doom and war—or even glorifies these cruel aspects of human experience—respectively initiates a process of brutalization for people who deal too much with the music. This criticism might have been halfway appropriate in the early days of the movement, since such a blatant new phenomenon with a bloody focus on horrendous abuses had never existed before. In the meantime, numerous studies have already proven that people who regularly listen to aggressive, extreme music are more likely to be balanced in everyday life and better able to deal with stressful situations.
Violence and war are, unfortunately, all too real extensions of ourselves, death metal only reacts to what is already dormant in all of us and is occurring all over the world every day. It merely reflects this terrible reality in the form of brutal, violent music and corresponding lyrical conceptions, in order to provide society with a brute, uncomfortable mirror that could lead to initiate a discourse of urgency that allows hope to flourish rather than despair.
Following is a short excursion to the dialectical relationship between art and violence: Violence can be seen as a monopoly, because if we look at social change historically, we can see that all social progress has been initiated almost exclusively by violent processes, such as the exploitation of mass human beings and the deliberate liquidation of undesirable personalities: Violent music, rather than violent acts, serves as a valve to channel and transform these violent urges (death and sex drive) that are inherent in all of us into something that may promote non-violent art and a healthy understanding of these tendencies that lie dormant within us.
Nevertheless, there is an internal violence of art, for true art is a violent act that painfully penetrates the audience in its values - and morals - to encourage real change, perhaps precisely through these experiences of artistic violence.
As already briefly mentioned at the beginning, it is important to establish a sociological and anthropological context for the positioning of death and culture, so we can understand why Death Metal could flourish as a whole genre of music and why it is still alive and kicking. Culture itself serves as a testament to transience, it continues to expand, despite death, with ever more grandiose achievements and constructions to outlast the passage of time; To surpass and defeat death in the end.
The family functions on a similar principle, because through reproduction and offspring, family people instinctively pass on parts of their selves to survive beyond posterity. Once we have come to terms with death in the back of our minds, accepting that everything is finite, that is, so we often find ourselves capable of doing great, time-consuming deeds, or are fuelled by the motivation to become personally political or otherwise active and to commit ourselves with body and soul to certain ideals, alone resting on the fact that everything, us included, is transitory.
Since the scene was created, Immolation caused a stir, starting with their debut "Dawn of Possession", which is still most comparable to conventional death metal at that time, but progressive anomalies seem to pass through, already, which are more clearly inserted into the DNA of the band with each successor work, and this for more than 30 years now, crowned by the longest long player of the band to date which came out on February 18th via Nuclear Blast and has the ominous title "Acts of God".
2022 saw absolutely nothing at all of the appearance of the meanwhile stripped gentlemen; The attacks in audio form do not stop with the eleventh album, but the arrangements seem even more sophisticated and the message even more urgent: As long as the inner flame remains lit, and curiosity about innovation prevails over the convenience of tradition, age no longer plays the slightest role, and Immolation does not need to hide from the unruly new generation.
If you liked this feature about immolation and death metal in general, then don't hesitate a second longer and check out the versatility of the mukken.com blog, where you can expect further features about bands and musical styles, for example the artist profile of Kvelertak or the review of the latest work by the Swiss formation Zeal & Ardor. If your appetite for music is still not satisfied, then you are welcome to take a look at the professional contributions of our creative, music-loving team; a wide range of musical topics is taken up here in the blog and continuously expanded, have fun at mukken.com, created by music fans for music fans!
Originally published on February 9, 2023, updated on February 9, 2023