Published May 18, 2011Erik Rutan is one of the most infamous names in extreme metal. He's a former member of death metal veterans Morbid Angel and has established himself as a renowned producer who has worked with the likes of Cannibal Corpse, Six Feet Under, Vital Remains, Nile and many more. He's also the frontman and founding member of Florida's Hate Eternal, who have been setting the standard for death metal since their 1997 inception. The band's latest offering, Phoenix Amongst the Ashes, follows that tradition. The three-piece ― rounded out by drummer Jade Simonetto (ex-the Plasmarifle) and their newest recruit, bassist JJ Hrubovcak (Vile) ― have created an album that adheres to their classic death metal style, yet features some of their most innovative song structures and melodies to date. "Thorns of Acacia" is a standout track, with incredibly catchy guitar work and impeccable songwriting. The aptly titled "Haunting Abound" features Rutan's ominous vocals and switches the tempo up a bit with slower-paced, evil drumming. Fifth album Phoenix Amongst the Ashes is an epic masterpiece, filled with the band's unique intensity and Rutan's dominant, punishing riffs that scream, "this is how it's done." Once again, Hate Eternal have delivered an album that could satisfy even the heartiest of death metal appetites.
What was the musical direction for Phoenix Amongst the Ashes?
Rutan: I really wanted to create a more dynamic and expressive album than previously, yet keep all the traits and intensity of our past albums and what people expect from us. I really left all the cards on the table, per se, in letting the creativity speak for itself. I wanted to make the best album of my career; I feel making a massive death metal album in this climate is so important to the longevity and continuation of the amazing genre that is death metal. I take it always on my shoulders to continue the tradition of death metal and I feel we really captured something special with this album.
What was the writing and recording process like?
The writing process was awesome! These days, I always write the lyrics and I start the riff writing process usually sitting at home. For this album, I would record my riffs to my Pro Tools rig at home, then put it to a click track and send to Jade [Simonetto, drums] and JJ [Hrubovcak, bass] and they would write their parts and then we would get together and work on all of it as a team. Then for the last year-and-a-half, we would get together to practice for tour. We would practice the set list and also go over all the songs and work on them together as a band and then record pre-production demos. Then we did seven weeks straight of pre-production to tighten up the songs and started the recording process. It was one of the best experiences of my life. Jade wrote the drum beats, JJ wrote the bass lines and some riffs, and we worked really hard together as a unit to make an amazing album that we are all very proud of.
Are there any concepts or themes behind the new album?
Really, the theme was a continuation from Fury & Flames: the actualization of death and the process of potential life after death.
What is the significance of the title?
Phoenix Amongst The Ashes truly represents the rebirth process of myself and the band. Fury was the hardest album of my life due to the passing of Jared [Anderson, bass], a loss in my family and replacing my whole band, and all I did was work like a maniac to deal with it. When Fury was finished is when it all hit me and I had a lot to deal with. Phoenix represents the process of the resurrection of my spirit and the band, so to speak.
How does Phoenix Amongst the Ashes compare to Hate Eternal's previous releases, particularly Fury & Flames?
I feel that Phoenix is a very dynamic, expressive and epic album that has truly expanded upon what we have done in the past, but has created new ideas and a unique vibe without compromising what we and everyone expect from Hate Eternal, which is an extreme death metal band. We always will be an extreme death metal band. We just wanted to expand the dynamics, yet keep the intensity ― add more melodies and more variance and tempos and heaviness, and also integrate different influences in an extreme way.
How has the band's sound progressed over the years?
I feel like we have really always been grounded and rooted in traditional death metal, but we have always drawn influences from various forms of music. That's why I feel that Hate Eternal have a very distinct and unique sound. I feel that the music has matured over the years and really broken down some different boundaries over the 12 years and five albums we have done. I am so proud of all the work we have accomplished and feel that, hopefully, we will be a part of death metal history.
Have the member changes had an impact on Hate Eternal's overall sound?
The one thing that has never changed is that. If you look at the catalogue of Hate Eternal, I have always written the majority of the music and lyrics. I also started the band, so I have always known the direction. Certainly, Jared's loss was huge to me, personally and in the band; we were a creative team and he will always be a huge part of what Hate Eternal were and always will be. On another note, I also truly feel the addition of Jade and JJ to the band has made a tremendous difference in a positive way, which is obvious on Phoenix. This album wouldn't be what it is without them. The three of us make the perfect team, personally and musically, and their addition to the band has made such an amazing impact. It could only be better if Jared was still alive and we were a four-piece. We know that can never happen, but Jared's spirit will always be a part of the band.
Do you feel pressure to keep up with death metal's constant evolution and increased technicality?
I have never worried about what anyone else does and certainly technicality has never been a focus, for me. Intensity, unique creativity and great songs have been my focus. Making evil, twisted, intense songs has always been my focus and if it happens to be technical, then so be it. Making a difference in death metal, that has been my focus. I have always wanted to have Hate Eternal be one of the most twisted, evil, intense death metal bands of all time and we are still trying to reach that pinnacle. I think, in music, we are losing the focus on songwriting for technicality and, to be honest, that's not a good thing.
You've produced records for many well-known metal bands. Is the process different when you're recording your records? Is it more difficult to produce a Hate Eternal record?
It is different. Producing your band is truly a difficult task because you are so close to it, but I love producing my albums as well as other bands'. The rewards are so fulfilling knowing that when you produce an album it is forever and it will be a part of a legacy.
How does it feel to be considered a death metal icon, in terms of both production and musicianship?
To be honest, it's hard to imagine that people look at me that way. I have worked my tail off for over 20 years in death metal, but I am a very humble person. The more I accomplish, the more I am humbled and I must admit that it is so rewarding and flattering that people respect me so much; it truly means the world to me and shows that all my hard work and dedication to my art has paid off. I will always work hard to keep my status intact and will always be grateful to all the people who have supported me for all these years. All I do is dedicated to them! (Metal Blade)