Erik Rutan Says Hate Eternal Is Near Perfection On "Phoenix Amongst The Ashes"
Band Photo: Hate Eternal (?)
Guitarist, songwriter and producer: Erik Rutan is an infamous name in the death metal industry. Rutan began his legacy of brutality in 1987 as the guitarist for Ripping Corpse. In 1995, he left Ripping Corpse to join the ranks of legendary Morbid Angel. Although he played with Morbid Angel during the time of their greatest popularity, providing tour support to such monolithic acts as Pantera, Rutan soon longed to focus on his own creations.
Rutan left Morbid Angel around the turn of the century. Although he still accompanied the group on subsequent tours throughout the early part of the ‘00s, now Rutan set his gaze to his band Hate Eternal and producing albums in his Mana Studios. As a producer, Rutan has recorded such vaunted acts as Goatwhore, Cannibal Corpse, Soilent Green, Six Feet Under and Malevolent Creation.
Playing a style similar to Morbid Angel, Hate Eternal has become a standout group in the sordid world of death metal. Rutan’s compositions reveal music that encapsulate violence, speed, technical brilliance and bruising groove. His albums have featured a who’s who of the metal world. Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse), Doug Cerrito (Suffocation), Tim Yeung (Divine Heresy), Derek Roddy (Nile) and Jared Anderson (Morbid Angel) all have immortalized their names on the inserts of Hate Eternal recordings.
“Phoenix Amongst the Ashes” is Hate Eternal’s fifth recording. The group put behind many of the negative factors that marred the last recording “Fury and the Flames,” resulting in what Rutan feels is his most focused effort. While on the first date of a headlining tour featuring Origin, Vital Remains and Abysmal Dawn, Erik Rutan detailed why he feels this lineup and recording are the closest to perfection.
Darren Cowan (Rex_84): “Phoenix Amongst the Ashes” came out on May 10th. Have you gotten good feedback on the album? How is it selling?
Erik Rutan: Yes, the feedback has been great! The reviews have been great. The fans have been happy. That’s always positive. The most important things to me are that we’re happy and the fans are happy. The reviews have been awesome. You never now how an album is going to be received. Everybody really loves the record. I’m very proud about how it came out. I’m really happy. I haven’t really kept tabs on the sales things these days because everything is changing so much with sales, but I think it’s doing really good.
DC: Hate Eternal has gone through numerous lineup changes. The current lineup consists of J.J. Hrubovcak (bass), Jade Simonetto (drums) and of course, you playing guitar and singing. How did you transition from this lineup and the one on “Fury and Flames?”
Rutan: Jade was on “Fury and Flames.” I guess the one consistent will always be me because I sing, write all the lyrics and music and play guitar. J.J. has been a friend of mine for a long time. I had Alex [Webster] play on “Fury and Flames” because I had planned on Jared [Anderson] coming back to the band, and then when he passed away, I didn’t want a another member at that moment. I figured there was no better way to honor my friend than have my best friend, Alex Webster—arguably the best bass player in death metal—play on “Fury and Flames.” I knew he wouldn’t be able to tour because he’s busy with Cannibal Corpse and Blotted Science. He’s got other things going on as well.
Rutan: I’ve known J.J. for about twelve years. He’s from the same place I’m from originally, New Jersey. Getting J.J. into the band was a no-brainer. He’s been playing in the band for about three years. He just fit right in. Working with Jade on another record has been awesome. Like I said in a recent interview, the only way it could be better is if Jared were still alive and we were a four-piece. Me, Jade and J.J. just firing on all four cylinders. I feel that’s why the new record gels so much. J.J. wrote a bunch of riffs, as well as all the bass lines. Jade wrote all the drum parts. I feel like the band is exactly the way I hoped it would be all these years. I’m really excited about the way it is. Being a three-piece is just more natural for Hate Eternal. It’s just easier in a lot of ways, not only personally but musically we are tight as shit. We’re going to keep it that way from now on, I think.
Rutan: With the exception of one year when Shaune [Kelley] was playing with us, Hate Eternal always has been a three-piece. It has always been that way, and I’m used to that. It was different playing with a four-piece when Sean was in the band. When I got Shaune into the band he had never toured before. I had told him for years he was welcome to give Hate Eternal a shot and tour with us. For years, he never really had an interest in doing that. The only reason he stopped being in the band was he wasn’t sure if he liked touring or not. I told him to join and if it didn’t work out, there was no harm done. I think he just didn’t like touring that much. Me, Jade and J.J. are just on the same page. Shaune is still a good friend; we just weren’t all on the same page. Now we are. Shaune is a great guitar player and a great guy, but it just didn’t work out.
DC: How did you get in touch with Jade?
Rutan: I met Jade in ’06 or ’07. He contacted me online. I tried out several drummers after Derek [Roddy] left, and there was something about his skill, attitude and work ethic that struck me in a good way. He’s one of the hardest working guys on the drums that I have ever met. He was a young guy when I started playing with him; he was only 23. Now he’s 27 and we’ve been playing together for four-and-a-half years. There is something about his attitude. I’ve never seen anybody progress musically—even the progression from “Fury and Flames” to “Phoenix Amongst the Ashes” drumming wise is a huge difference. He’s such a talent and such a great guy. He’s like my younger brother. I hit it off with him. He always wants to come practice. He always wants to work on things. He’s like the perfect guy to get in the band. We’ve done two records together, and I’m sure we’ll do many, many more.
DC: He’s been with you for a while, but he came into the band with pretty big shoes to fill. How do you perceive his playing compared to past drummers Tim Yeung and Derek Roddy?
Rutan: I’d say he has elements of Tim and Derek to a degree because he’s playing their shit. What I like about Jade is he has a certain groove in his feet, the flow of his cymbal work—he just jams! I think that is a little different than Tim or Derek. Tim was more jazzy, but an amazing death metal player. Derek was more about less groove, more fusion-y, almost Latin. Jade is a pounder and a groove kind of guy. I like that. He can play double bass. He can play fast, but he can also add some cool flavor. What can I say? I’ve jammed with the best drummers, Pete Sandoval being the number one drummer in death metal, in my opinion. In my opinion, Pete is the godfather of death metal drumming. If it weren’t for Pete, nobody would be playing like this. I’ve been lucky. I guess I have a good eye for drummers. Tim Yeung was just a seventeen-year-old kid when I started playing with him. I didn’t know who Derek Roddy was when I met him. I found out later that he had done a Malevolent Creation record, but he didn’t tour, so he was an unknown guy. Then, he did Nile and our records. I have a good ear for drummers.
DC: How does it feel knowing you’ve broken in some of best drummers in all of metal?
Rutan: It’s awesome! I’m glad I could help facilitate these guys to get notoriety. They deserve it. They work hard. Jade has certainly gained a lot of notoriety with this record. A lot of people have taken notice of the drumming on the new record. He went for a more natural drum sound. I like to keep things real. I’m not about making things sound like a drum machine. Jade busted his ass and earned it. I’ve had a lot of people say Jade is the perfect drummer for me. That’s what I knew. The last record was harder on him because he had a lot of things weighing on his shoulders. He had to live up to Derek and Tim. He had all of that in the back of his head, but we had none of that on this record. “Fury and Flames” was a hard record for me with Jared passing away and my having to replace band members. It was so tough. We were able to go into this record with a clear focus. Jared is always on my mind, and he always will be, but with this album we were only worried about making a great record.
Rutan: I think the new album is our most focused and dynamic album. We tried to make it more dynamic and expand it without losing the intensity that people expect from Hate Eternal. We are and will always be a brutal death metal band. That will never change, but we really worked within what we do to branch out a little bit, but still kept the intensity that people expect from us. Jade and J.J. tried to use what they do best. I tried to expose the talent of those guys and well as myself. I did that with Tim and Derek. I tried to work on their strengths. This effort was such a band effort. Most of my records there were things that I wished were different. This one is the closest I’ve gotten on all five records to being completely satisfied. I am very happy.
DC: The phoenix is a mythical beast that signifies rebirth. Many of the album titles relate to a new beginning—“Rebirth,” “The Fire of Resurrection” and the title track. Is “Phoenix Amongst the Ashes” a conceptual album in the fact that it features songs linked to this concept?
Rutan: Yes, exactly. The last record was totally submerged in death because that was what was on my mind with Jared passing away. I just felt so absolved in it. I was working my tail off, which was how I was dealing with it. Instead of dealing with it the right way, I was writing music and lyrics and working on production. I was so burned out with “Fury and Flames.” That was one of the worst times as far as feeling burned out. I felt this record was a continuation, but at the same time a new beginning. The reason I chose “Phoenix Amongst the Ashes” rather than phoenix rising is because I felt the phoenix was still in the process. That’s why I came up with amongst the ashes because I felt I was still in the process of rebirth. I was in that stage on this record—a very welcomed stage for me, personally and musically for the band.
DC: “The Fire of Resurrection” is an epic song. Is this about sacrifice, from a Pagan point of view or sacrificial hymn?
Rutan: I started writing the music on a guitar that Jared’s family gave me. It really inspired the whole theme of the song. It’s another song like “Tombeau (Le Tombeau De La Fureur Et Des Flammes)” from the last record that’s dedicated to Jared. I wrote most of the song on his guitar, and it became this epic song. When you listen to it, you’ll say “Wow, that’s a really different song for Hate Eternal.” There is a lot of flavor in that song, which is something that I thought was very different for Hate Eternal, but it’s heavy as shit. It’s a great way to compliment the band and Jared as well.
DC: Originally, Hate Eternal featured Alex Webster (Cannibal Corpse), Doug Cerrito (Suffocation) and you out of Morbid Angel. Was Hate Eternal originally just a super-group side project?
Rutan: I planned Hate Eternal to be a real band when I started the group. I guess at that time Suffocation was broken up. Doug was a good friend of mine. I would talk to him and tell him, “I have this band called Hate Eternal. We’re signed to Earache.” He would say, “Damn, I wish I were jamming again.” I told him he should just play on the record. I dropped a few songs and let him write a few song. I pretty much knew he wasn’t going to tour because he had moved on in his life as a mechanical engineer. I was stoked to have him on the record because I love Suffocation. They’re one of my favorite death metal bands. I’ve known the Suffocation guys since I was seventeen. We were trading demos with my band Ripping Corpse from back in the day, so I’ve known them forever. I thought it was so cool to have Doug on the record.
Rutan: Alex played on the demo before that. He was one of my best friends and an amazing bass player, so he and I were always fishing for ways for us to jam together. He’s so damn busy and so am I, so I winged things here and there. I winged him on the demo, but he just didn’t have time to do the album, so that’s when I met Jared and he became a member. I enjoy jamming with different guys. I think it’s awesome. I’ve jammed with so many great musicians. It’s awesome! It has been a great, challenging run.
DC: Even after your 1997 debut “Conquering the Throne”, you played with Morbid Angel as a touring guitarist and on “Gateways to Annihilation.” When and why did you decide to focus exclusively on Hate Eternal?
Rutan: It was during the end of Gateways. I played on Gateways and wrote a few songs. I had started the studio a few years before that, before “King of All Kings,” and between Hate Eternal and the studio was starting to build—I was in a small storage facility—I felt that in order to make my producing career and have Hate Eternal be what I wanted it to be, I knew I had to leave Morbid Angel. That was tough. If I had a twin brother or clone, I would still be in Morbid Angel because I love Morbid Angel, I always have. They will always be an amazing, legendary band, and they are great guys. They’re like family to me. It wasn’t a decision I made hastily. I talked it over with Trey [Azagthoth] and told him in my heart that I want to pursue producing and Hate Eternal. At one point, I was doing all three.
Rutan: I still look back and think how the hell was I even doing that? How did I do all of that juggling? Now, I’m juggling two. I feel like I made the right decision for what is best for me. I told Trey in advance if he needed me for any tours, I would fulfill my obligation because I’m a professional and they are like family, so I wanted to do the right thing. He totally understood: Morbid Angel is his baby and I have two babies with my studio and Hate Eternal. When I look back at that, it’s been like eight or nine years since I left, I think about what I have done in those years. I’ve done four albums with Hate Eternal. I’ve produced around 50 albums. I’ve built my studio up to a really beautiful place and have worked with amazing bands. It’s been everything I hoped with my band and studio. It’s been a long road, but it was worth it.
DC: Do you have money from your studio to go on the road?
Rutan: Hate Eternal is established enough to go on the road. We don’t tour as much as other bands anymore because I’m producing so much. I’m booked until January with Goatwhore, Cannibal Corpse and I’m mixing the solo project of George from Nile. We tour 2-3 months a year. I think everybody knows that I’m producing a lot, so they come out and see us play, that helps. I sit at home. I own a studio, which is a better living than being in a death metal band, but I love touring. I love playing. I’m a player first, and I always will be. I love playing in Hate Eternal with Jade and J.J. Playing with those two guys and totally rejuvenated me playing in a band. I always want to write music because I love death metal, but I’ve been touring for eighteen years. Jamming with Jade and Jason made we want to keep jamming. I’m so happy with the current lineup. We’re very focused on doing everything we can to continue making quality death metal.
DC: What are your thoughts on the new Morbid Angel album?
Rutan: I haven’t heard it. I recorded six songs of drums for the record. I recorded scratch guitars and drums, so I haven’t heard the finished product. I heard two of the songs I recorded—“Nevermore” and “Existo Vulgoré” online. I thought they came out great, but I haven’t heard the whole record.
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