USBM Band Exemplifies "Kult" Black Metal Without Terrible Production.
Norway gained a reputation for releasing the creating the second wave of black metal. Bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, Emperor, Immortal and Burzum took the Satanic imagery and speed of Venom, Bathory and Celtic to a new level that had never been seen. Two decades have pasted since these bands released their genre-defining albums. Most of these groups have changed their sound and look, but legions of black metal heathens haven’t forgotten this magical period. Bands from around the world have sought to reclaim the dark ambiance from these bands. Some come across as cheap clones. Others, like New Jersey’s Immolith understand how to make an album wearing their influences on their sleeves, but still put their own personalities into the music.
Immolith’s first full-length, “Stormdragon” (read the review) is an example of a “kult” black metal album with a shadowing, witching atmosphere but with a strong mix. The group didn’t pursue a shiny, Hollywood production with a ton of out-of-place keyboards, but the guitars and vocals still freezes the air like an unclean spirit, which will cause a tingling of the spine. Metal Underground spoke to guitarist, vocalist and over-all evil mastermind, Greg Isiamon about achieving this sound and the band’s sources of inspiration.
Darren Cowan (Rex_84): How did you come up with your band’s name? What does it mean?
Greg Isiamon: In the grand tradition of black metal I raped fantasy literature to come up with the name of the band. Most of the great Tolkien names had been used already, so I turned my attention to the canon of Gary Gygax and searched the most heinous of forbidden sorcerer's tomes, “The Monster Manual,” for the name of my band. I chose Immolith from “Dungeons and Dragons,” first as my stage name while I was playing in another band called Coffin, and then when I started this band back in ’08. At that time, I felt it was appropriate to name the band Immolith. According to “The Monster Manual,” an Immolith is formed when the souls of dying demons coalesce in the abyss, to form an undead “super” demon called an Immolith. How could you not like that for a name of a black metal band?
Cowan: Immolith released the “Hymns to the Countess” EP in 2009. Many of the tracks on the EP appear on “StormDragon.” Why did you re-record these tracks?
Isiamon: The EP in 2009 was recorded in my home studio (read garage) by me and the only other member of the band at that time, Warhead. I recorded and produced the EP myself. Since volume was a concern, we were forced to record using an electronic drum kit, and my cheaper solid state guitar amp. We tracked the guitar and drums live with Warhead and I playing together without using a metronome to keep that old school vibe. The resulting EP was solid for what we were working with, but I was never happy with the e-drums or the solid state guitar tone. When the current lineup finally got around to recording the new release, I always wanted to go back and do some of those older songs justice and record them with acoustic drums and my tube guitar head cranked up and sounding good.
Cowan: “Hymns to the Countess” appears on both albums. The EP also features Venom’s “Countess Bathory.” You pay much homage to the infamous figure, Countess Bathory. Are you paying homage to the Countess through conceptual albums?
Isiamon: The first release was somewhat of homage to the Countess, for sure, by including my song “Hymns” and the Venom cover. At the time I thought it would have been cool to cover Tormenter’s “Elizabeth Bathory,” and “Woman of Dark Desire” by the band Bathory to really make it complete, but we never got around to it. I may still do cover versions of those songs at some point, but only because it would be cool to play them and keep the theme of including something about the Countess on my releases. I also don’t want to get locked into that, either, so who knows? Recently, it has been proposed by some friends who know I have an undergraduate degree in History to write a concept album or an EP based on a particular era or theme from history. That’s something I’ve considered. While it may be more lyrics about murderous events and wars or battles from medieval European history in the future, it likely won’t be just about Elizabeth Bathory.
Cowan: Infernus of Gorgoroth hand picked you for his label, Forces of Satan Records. Did he release your early recordings? What is your business relationship with him?
Isiamon: I’ve never actually corresponded directly with Infernus. It had been all through the manager of Forces of Satan Records, Vile Horg. We caught their interest when I released a two-song cassette of Immolith’s first rehearsal. An Italian label called Frozen Darkness had released it for me, and Vile contacted me saying he liked Immolith’s sound. We put out the Hymns EP ourselves on CD, and Forces of Satan agreed to release it digitally for us through their shop. That’s pretty much the extent of it. Since then it’s been re-released digitally through Metalhit.
Cowan: Metalhit.com offers a digital alternative to a record label. How do you feel about using their services to release “StormDragon?”
Isiamon: Mike Riddick and Metalhit have been awesome. Up until recently, they’ve been almost exclusively a digital label, offering full length albums digitally for $4.99. That’s a great price for underground metal compared to a place like iTunes. The best part is Metalhit gives a much larger percentage of the digital sales directly back to the bands than all the other digital services out there. We were fortunate enough to release the album with Metalhit at the time when they were also expanding their digital releases back into the physical market by releasing select bands on digipack CD, so we get the best of both worlds, a strong digital release coupled with an exclusive limited edition digipack CD. Not to mention we get a great PR push through Metalhit as well. For an underground black metal band like Immolith, I think working with Metalhit is the best situation I could have hoped for.
Cowan: While chatting on Facebook, I mentioned to you the similarities between “StormDragon” and Emperor’s early material. You said that’s the sound you had pursued. Please tell our readers about obtaining this sound.
Isiamon: Yeah I think it’s really cool that you and some reviewers have noted that comparison. When we sat down to talk about how I wanted the album to sound, I said I wanted it to sound like old school black metal, which makes a lot of people, rightfully so, think of really necro, under-produced recordings like Darkthrone’s “A Transylvanian Funeral.” As much as I am a fan of that early second wave black metal sound, I’m also of the school of thought that you can still sound like old school black metal without having to record on a Fostex two-track cassette recorder. The example of an album that had decent production and recording to me, but still sounded cold and grim as hell, was “In the Nightside Eclipse” by Emperor. That was the example I used when people asked me what type of production I had hoped for the album.
Cowan: “StormDragon” captures the malefic spirit of early Emperor. It reminds me of their demo days, before they incorporated keyboards. One difference, though, is the production has greater clarity than the Emperor demos. Do you agree with that statement? If so, did you intend to make an album with better production?
Isiamon: I did want better production, but I also wanted it to retain some flaws and not be a super-clean, modern, sterile recording either. We wound up using Chris Grigg’s Marshall JCM 900 head rather then my own Mesa Triple Rec. for a more vintage 90s guitar tone. My other guitarist used his VHT head, and I think the blend of the two guitars sounds really good. We let some of the drum sounds get replaced and cleaned up, but with other drum sounds that had been recorded in the same studio. I didn’t want to get to the point of our drums sounding like the drums sound on so many modern albums. Hopefully the kick drum still sounds like a thumping, heavy kick drum and not a clicky little typewriter.
Cowan: Chris Grigg (WOE, Candlelight Records) produced “StormDragon.” What was it like working with Grigg?
Isiamon: Chris is a really cool guy, and was very easy to work with. He totally got what I was aiming for, and is well versed in old school black metal, so we really saw eye to eye on the sound we were trying to achieve. He worked relentlessly on our album—recording, mixing and mastering the whole thing himself. He wound up putting a lot of extra work into our album “on the house,” as it were when we worked past what our budget would allow. He cared as much about putting out a good black metal album with his name on it as engineer and producer as we did—the band that played the stuff. I’d recommend him and his studio to anyone.
Cowan: What other black metal bands have inspired Immolith’s music?
Isiamon: I still love early Venom, Bathory, Sodom, Celtic Frost, but also most of the bands that are considered the big names in the second wave of black metal familiar to most metal fans—Immortal, Darkthrone, Mayhem, Emperor, Dissection, Gorgoroth, and so on.
Cowan: Immolith seems to have a strong live presence in your native New Jersey, often playing shows promoted by Signature Riff. Who are some of the bands you’ve supported? Do you have festival experience?
Isiamon: We’ve had the chance to open for some great international bands, Enthroned, Triptykon, 1349, Destroyer 666, and Trident. We’ve also had the chance to share the stage with US bands like Immolation, Black Anvil, Abigail Williams, Woe, Mortum, Abazagorath, Summon, and quite a few others. Yeah, Signature Riff is run by a good friend of mine, Vinny. Beyond what he’s done for us in helping us with shows, which has been awesome, what he’s doing overall in the New York area to promote killer underground metal shows has been huge! Any extreme underground metal bands looking to come through New York and set up shows would be wise to look up Signature Riff on Facebook, and get in contact with them. We haven’t really played any fests yet.
Cowan: Has Immolith played shows over seas?
Isiamon: No, Immolth has never been out of our own tri-State area of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. We’d love to play overseas, but something tells me that is likely not in our cards.
Cowan: Do you have tour plans? Would you like to add anything that I didn’t cover?
Isiamon: No, no tour plans either. We have two shows scheduled to help support the CD release at the beginning of March. March 2 we will be at Saint Vitus bar in New York with Woe, Dominium, Mortum, and Salo. On March 3, we will be in Trenton, NJ at the Backstage at Championships playing with Woe, Dominum, Helcaraxe, Blasphemous, Forlorn Path and Raining Murder.
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