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Immolation | A killer new album, cymbal patterns, and Herpetology

Immolation has been a premier and highly respected Death Metal outfit since 1988. Their sound is brutal, intricate, and quite honestly, unrivaled in the Death Metal world. We had the opportunity to talk with drummer Steve Shalaty. He was super cool, provided tons of insight, and more than a few laughs…, especially the snake story. Thanks, dude. 

Immolation’s new album ‘Acts of God’ comes out on February 18th on Nuclear Blast. Trust me; you need this album in your life. 

Metal Digest: Steve. Hey man. How are you?

Steve Shalaty: Hello…I’m good.

MD: Technology’s working. What do you know? You’re in Ohio?

SS: Yep. Northeast Ohio, right on the lake.

MD: I know the rest of the band is in New York. Are you gonna move there eventually?

SS: No, Never.

MD: (laughs) Ok, very definitive answer.

SS: Actually, everyone is pretty spread out right now.  Bob’s the only one in New York City, still in Yonkers. Ross is upstate in the Rochester area and Alex is in Virginia. We’re kinda spread out.

MD: That is the way with a lot of bands. I talked with a guy a few weeks back. Members of his band are all over. One in Virginia, one in Norway, one in Brazil, and one in Florida. Good luck getting together.

SS: Yep. That’s the way it is. Yeah.

MD: So, first thing first. We appreciate your taking the time to talk with us a bit. I know you’re busy wrapping things up and gearing up for the tour.

SS: No probably at all. I’ve practiced for a couple of hours today. It’s all good.

MD: Yeah. Definitely appreciate the time and on the flip side, we’re glad to promote you guys and spread the word

SS: I appreciate that, man. I really do. That’s awesome.

MD: Congrats on the new album. Coming out next month (Feb) on the 18th. I was able to get a sneak peek. 

SS: Yeah?

MD: Yeah. Just me. I didn’t share it obviously…

SS: Yeah. Not concerned at all. I’m glad you gotta chance to hear it. 

MD: Yeah, they sent out the promo and I got to listen to it a couple of times. And..brutal!

SS: You liked it? That’s great.

MD: Yes. Absolutely. There’s a couple of slower interludes, instrumentals, but aside from that, you better hold on.

SS: Laughs. Cool. Alright. Glad you liked it. 

MD: So I’ve been sharing your older stuff with some folks. Opening a few eyes…and all that. So from an older fan perspective…you guys have been around since 1988 and I know you joined up…around 2003

SS: I’ve been with the band for 19 years.

MD: I wanted to say coming up on 20 years…

SS: Yeah before I was in the band, I was a huge fan of theirs. I was burning through Immolation cassettes just like everybody else.

MD: That makes sense. There are a few stories like that….so from an older fan standpoint, what can they expect from the new album versus the older material?

SS: For me…I kinda have a different perspective on the band, as I was just saying, I was a fan before I joined the band. I can definitely pick out hints of a lot of the earlier albums. I think it fits in with the rest of the collection just fine, but it takes a lot of the new era Immolation elements and shines them to a more perfect edge. A lot of the elements we started using in ‘Majesty’ and stuff like that were really perfected on this album. Especially with arrangements, there’s no messing around. It’s got all the elements of Immolation. It’s got super fast flying parts. It’s got super slow dirgey parts. Really bombastic drums. Busy drums, the off-beat weird drum beats. The rhythms, the grooves, it’s a well-balanced album for sure. As far as I was concerned, overall, it feels like a slightly more sluggish album. Not sure if that’s the best term… More along the lines of (2000 release) ‘Close To A World Below.’ That album had a lot of laid-back tempos, a lot more open space, for bombastics and stuff like that. I think this album (Acts of God) is kinda the same in that way. 

MD: Okay, two-part question: From a drummer perspective, any moments on the new album you are particularly proud of? And any particular moments that the band as a whole is especially proud of? Like a certain part of the album, they/you really wanna show off?

SS: For me, the song “Broken Prey”, like the seventh song I received from Bob to start working on the drums for. I took an extra extra long time. Obviously, in the middle of a pandemic, there was no hurry for me to get the songs done. I spent months and months on that song. Working the drums, reworking the parts, writing new parts, coming up with new parts spontaneously, and then having to teach myself to do it non spontaneously. There was a lot of that until I got it exactly where I wanted it. So if you’re gonna focus in on anything, I think that’s probably the strongest track on the album in my opinion. It’s the one I enjoyed the most as far as building it and writing it and making it what it is now. 

MD: Interesting. Cool. I would guess if you asked that question of everyone in the band, you would probably get a different answer. 

SS: Absolutely. Definitely. I know the guys, overall, were very very pleased with the sound. Super stoked with how it came out, how the parts play out. They’re definitely big fans of the mood and everything. I also know that one of their favorite parts is in the song we just released, “Age of No Light.” Right before the guitar break, it stops and (imitates guitar sound) it’s like a slow droning guitar. Then the drums come in…I think everyone liked the way that came out. It was a weird one to do live. Felt like we were just hanging out there when we were practicing it, but on the CD, it came out good, it’s just a cool effect. 

MD: I heard it on the video, which just came out two days ago.  The second song that was released… after “Apostle.”  And I saw “Apostle” already has over 200 thousand views. Well received in other words.

SS: That’s insane. So crazy, man. It’s overwhelming. “Apostle”…the reception blew me away..for the song and the video.  We were all just blown out of our seats. Just couldn’t believe it. It makes me so happy to see those guys get the recognition I feel they deserve. Been a long time coming for them. Everybody’s just really happy about it. And this new song has been received amazingly well too. Overwhelmingly positive responses from everybody. From close friends and people, I know around the world and the media. Everybody seems to be digging it so far. Got my fingers crossed. (New album) is gonna be released about a month from now. I can’t wait for everybody to hear it and get the final verdict. 

MD: Sure, you’re expecting a good reception and whatever, but then when it totally exceeds your biggest hopes, that’s a nice surprise to wake up to in the morning. That’s cool, man. 

SS: Absolutely. And as you know, it’s all over the place. Some songs are vastly different from the song before them. I’m just really interested in seeing how everybody receives it as a whole.

MD: I assumed that’s by design. You don’t wanna just lull one song into another and have it sound like just one long song. You get a groove here and get whipped around there. 30-40 minutes later, you’re like…what the hell just happened?

SS: It balanced out awesomely. By the time I got song nine or ten…for us, most of the time, that’s the end of the album. Ten songs; that’s a full album. There are fifteen songs including two instrumental intros. So thirteen bangin’ songs. When we got to nine or ten, I’m thinking that’s the end. And it was kinda more sluggish like I said. I was thinking a lot of these songs are mid-paced or slow…then he (Bob Vigna) kept writing. And then comes song eleven and twelve and thirteen. And those three were burners and it balanced out the feel of the album. It worked out really well. Just a good vibe. 

MD: That’s cool when the whole group is totally satisfied. I imagine after a big project, lots of people involved, there may be some wishing they had done this or that, but it sounds like everyone was 100% onboard.

SS: Not only onboard, but on the same page for the whole process, dude. There was never a point in time when someone said, “this isn’t working or I don’t like this…it couldn’t have gone smoother. 

MD: And that’s gonna show in the end product. People can tell if something is amiss. All that shines in the end result. That’s to be envied, to have a great work environment and all that. 

SS: Oh yeah, we’ve got a great crew. The dudes we work with in the studio were awesome too. This album’s kinda unique ‘cause we had Alex come into the studio and he recorded his guitar parts and even did some leads. For a couple of decades now, Bob has done all the leads. For him (Alex) to come in and record and share leads was awesome. I was like, that’s what this album needs to set it apart from everything else. A unique signature sound. 

MD: I read that they are gonna trade-off solos during the shows. Dual lead, dual rhythm. So a bit of a learning curve probably, but more fun than anything.

SS: Oh it’s gonna be awesome. And to be honest, I was shocked to find out that was the way it was gonna go down. When I got the songs with the guitars recorded, it was fun for me to sit and figure out who was who, ‘cause they blend pretty well. It was really hard. They did a great job.

MD: Extreme Metal, Black, Death, etc. is still kind of new to me, maybe in the last 3-4 years, I’d say. And I’ve heard from a lot of other people who previously may have not been into the extreme stuff are now getting drawn to it. At least that’s my observation. Have you noticed that?

SS: I have not. I pretty much surround myself with extreme music.

MD: I see a lot of people gravitating towards the harsher stuff, darker stuff…

SS: I would say people are under a lot of duress as of late. Lots of reasons. Obviously, everybody is shook up and under pressure. A lot of anxiety and stress floating around. Everybody’s got to have a way to get out. Extreme music is geared towards that. Just the act of listening to it is like commiserating with someone. Maybe you’ve had a bad day, frustrated, and whatever happens to be.

MD: That’s kind of the way of things, in the last few years. It coincides with my observations. Life will have its own music soundtrack. Whatever your life circumstance, there’s a style of music that goes along with it. So yeah, your audience is getting bigger because of it.  …..I saw the video on the making of the new album. I saw footage of you and paraphrasing a bit here…” a lot of the little things, subtleties…you can hear them really well.” What are some of the “little things” that you, as a drummer, want people to hear and be aware of? Honestly, I want to fully appreciate each band member’s work.

SS: Okay, that’s a good question. There are a lot of wide-open spaces on this album and I’m the type of drummer that maintains a certain level of business. I’m trying to hit a lot of things, and do the most I can with the time I have. I didn’t really wanna mess with the groove, add more kick hits or snare hits to the basic patterns that I was playing…so I relied on my hands a lot. When you listen, there’s a bit of a wash…when you talk about the cymbals and the overhead mics, they’re picking up all my cymbals. And all my cymbals have a different voice. Over any different riff, if you listen to that wash, try to hone in on the (makes swooshing sound) the cymbal hits, you’re gonna hear a lot of patterns there that are going right along with the guitar or vocal at the time.

MD: So the patterns are on the cymbals themselves? “Cause I wouldn’t have picked up on that. Seriously…so that’s great to know.

SS: I do a lot of it. And one thing I do is a lot of back and forth between my chinas, they make a (makes to and fro whooshing sound). You’ll hear that on almost every song. I found a spot to put that in. It gives it kind of a mechanical, kinda grinding along sound, industrial sound. I use that to color in the spaces on the drum beats that I wrote for a lot of this album. If it’s mid-paced or slow or even in the fast parts, if you listen to the wash, you’ll hear a lot of accents, interesting things, patterns that I wrote to compliment the guitar.

MD: I am curious. I wanna go back and listen to the patterns on the cymbals themselves. Ideally, you should listen to each instrument separately, at least in your head…

SS: Yeah, there are no drum beats on this album where I’m just “tss tss tss” riding out on a cymbal. There is always a pattern.

MD: That is so cool. I gotta replay some things. I figured you have more insight. 

SS: Yeah. Good question. I’ve got…I dunno off the top of my head, maybe ten cymbals on my kit. And you can’t really mic every cymbal. Sometimes it’s a real artform bringing out all those voices. 

MD: How many mics are set up typically? I’m envisioning in the studio and live.

SS: It’s usually like seven mics in the studio. Live is not always that way. 

MD: That’s so cool. Always more going on behind the scenes, no matter what you’re talking about. Music or otherwise…..”Apostle”, the last track written and also last on the album…tell us about that track.

SS: When we got to song eight, then he gave me the number nine song which turned out to be the title track on ‘Acts of God’ and that one was a burner…and I was like “sweet!’ ‘Cause the eighth one was a slower song and I was thinking, “we’re almost to the end of the album and he’s throwing out these slow songs. We need some burners, something to offset these slower tunes. And sure enough, “Acts of God” became number nine, which was super fast. And then “Age of No Light” came and that was super fast. I was like “sweet, let’s keep this up.”  “Apostle” was really impressive right off the bat, which is what you want for a closing tune. Especially the beginning. As soon as I heard that I knew we were off to a good start. The rest of the song delivers too.

MD: You guys have a tour starting soon, mid-February, I believe.

SS: February 18th, the same day the album drops.

MD: Oh that makes sense. I didn’t think about the dates coinciding. You’re coming to Denver on March 9th, like twenty miles from where I’m at. I wouldn’t mind seeing you guys live. To hear it in the car or wherever is one thing, but live…

SS: Yeah, you definitely get a whole other level of energy from the guys on stage. They totally bring it, especially Bob. His performance on stage is very unique and I’d say unmatched. You gotta see it. 

MD: I gotta see if I can swing down in a few weeks from now. 

SS: It’s a good town for us. All is. We’ve got a lotta friends there. 

MD: Alright, I know you have more interviews to do, a tight schedule, and all that. So I’ll be respectful of your time. Once last oddball question for you. Best childhood memory that still affects you today?

SS: Best childhood memory…that’s a good one, man. I had a pretty rich childhood.

MD: (Laughing) This should be an easy question then.

SS: One time…my brother and I…we were pretty avid snake collectors and handlers. And one time my grandfather got in on it. We stalked this huge snake all day. He was in a tree in our yard. We waited and waited all day for him to come down. The three of us managed to capture this huge snake. Super vicious. Super mean. That was an awesome moment, I’ll never forget it. Yeah, that was an adventure. We went in, had an awesome huge Italian dinner…and the snake was outside the porch door in a huge garbage can, the biggest one we had…still, in the middle of dinner, it got out. Had to recapture it. We were sitting there eating dinner and you could see the head come up over the edge and he started getting out. We dropped our forks…yeah that was a great moment.

MD: (still laughing) So what were you gonna do with this snake? Just keep him for a while? Let him go?

SS: We usually just let ‘em go. We had a huge collection of snakes that we would take care of. We did some breeding and we would keep rare specimens or something you wouldn’t find that often. But it was always temporary. Rarely would we keep them over the Winter. Catch, observe, figure out what they like to eat, that kind of stuff. It was really cool. We’d try to build a terrarium that was exactly like their habitat and figure out what they liked the most. It was a big learning process for us. My brother and I have always been into science, Zoology, Biology. My brother even went to school for Microbiology. It’s been a lifelong pursuit and I was lucky enough to grow up in the country, out in the woods. So yeah, that’s the kind of stuff we did.

MD: Wow man, that’s cool. Was this in Ohio or did you grow up somewhere else?

SS: Yep. Ohio. 

MD: How old were you? I’m picturing like 9 or 10.

SS: I was probably 10 or 11. My brother is 4 years younger than me. Around then, maybe it was 12 and 8, ‘cause we were handling full-sized snakes and my mom wasn’t freaking out too bad…so around that age at least.

MD: I can’t say my mom wouldn’t freak out if I was doing that at that age, She may have had something to say about that.

SS: Yeah, that’s motherly instinct. 

MD: Yep. Totally. That’s what they do. That’s funny. Well, gonna let you run. I know you have a lot of stuff to prepare for the tour. Like I said, a lot of things are going on behind the scenes. Things people are unaware of. Myself included. 

SS: Oh it’s all day, every day. It’s all I think about…How I can get ready….?

MD:  Yeah. I wanna be respectful of your time and all. Thanks for taking time out. We definitely appreciate it.  

SS: Thank you. Anytime. 

MD: I’ll let you get back to your Sunday. We’ll be sharing the new music. Maybe I’ll see you in Denver in a few weeks,

SS: Yeah man. Let me know. We’ll get you in, get you on the list. Just get a hold of me. For sure

MD: Wow, I wasn’t even thinking about that, but that would be cool. I’ll hit you up on that. Cool…. Once it’s legal, I’ll be sharing the new music and all that.

SS: I don’t even have a copy of it yet.

MD: What? Well, I think you get one. Tell them I said so. 

SS: I will. 

MD: Alright. We’ll get this loaded up on the magazine and we’ll go from there.

SS: Sounds good, Craig. Have a good one. 

Line-up:

Ross Dolan: Bass, Vocals

 Robert Vigna:  Guitar

Steve Shalaty:  Drums

Alex Bouks:  Guitar

IMMOLATION online:

 www.immolation-store.com

www.facebook.com/immolation

www.instagram.com/immolation_band

 www.youtube.com/user/Immolation

 www.twitter.com/immolation

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