Hate Eternal‘s sixth album, Infernus, is out today. (Buy it from Amazon.) It represents change for the band, on several fronts. First and foremost, it’s their debut for Season of Mist, following three albums on Earache (1999’s Conquering the Throne, 2002’s King of All Kings, and 2005’s I, Monarch) and two on Metal Blade (2008’s Fury & Flames and 2011’s Phoenix Amongst the Ashes). Secondly, guitarist/vocalist/founder Erik Rutan and bassist J.J. Hrubovcak (with the group since 2009) are welcoming a new drummer on this record—Chason Westmoreland, formerly of Oceano and Burning the Masses. And finally, while the three previous Hate Eternal albums, as well as their 2006 live DVD The Perilous Fight, all featured cover art by Paul Romano, the Infernus cover is by Eliran Kantor, whose paintings have adorned releases by Testament, Atheist, Iced Earth, Sodom, Evile and many more.
Musically, Infernus is one of the band’s most progressive and expansive albums. The first few tracks are full-blast death metal of the type the band has long specialized in, Rutan’s psychedelic, almost hovering riffs and ranting vocals propelled by Hrubovcak’s throbbing bass and Westmoreland’s relentless blast beats. But as Infernus goes along, surprising compositional touches begin to emerge; the title track begins with an ominous, dramatic spoken interlude atop atmospheric guitars, before launching forward with a tumbling rockslide rhythm that recalls Morbid Angel‘s “God of Emptiness.” Similarly, “Zealot, Crusader of War” gains its power from tempo change, moving from a slow, threatening crawl to a pummeling barrage and back again. And the album’s final two tracks, the instrumental “Chaos Theory” and the concluding “O’ Majestic Being, Hear My Call,” are simply tremendous. “Chaos Theory” is a showcase for Rutan’s guitar playing, obviously, but it’s no mere shredfest; it’s a collective performance that demonstrates how truly great death metal is a balance of precision and lunatic abandon. Meanwhile, “O’ Majestic Being…” brings in warped vocal treatments, and a dramatic arrangement that gets shockingly epic in its final minute—it’s one of the most ambitious songs Rutan’s ever written, while remaining a jackhammering assault.
Stream Infernus below:
Erik Rutan answered a few questions about Infernus, balancing his busy production schedule and Hate Eternal, and the state of the metal scene.
Infernus starts out pretty straightforward death metal, but it gets more and more stylistically broad as it goes on. The last couple of songs are the most conventionally melodic things on the whole album. What made you choose to sequence it that way? What kind of journey are you taking the listener on?
So much of what I do is based on pure emotion and gut instincts. They work in tandem with everything I do. This album starts out with a total in-your-face attack, tradition for the most part for us, with “Locust Swarm,” yet it crossfades into the next song, “The Stygian Deep,” changing the whole character and vibe of it all. They musically felt as one continuous piece. Almost like a movie and its sequel. But as an entire album from beginning to end, the record moves and weaves through a musical landscape of dynamics. A complete journey through many layers of intense depth. “Infernus,” the title track, has very special meaning to me and is very unique for us, layered with melodies and passages in a doom-like state. “Infernus” also signifies the end of Side A on our vinyl. Side B starts with “The Chosen One” and continues with pure fire, ending with “Chaos Theory,” the instrumental into the closer, “O’Majestic Being, Hear My Call,” and its somber march. There are a ton of layers to this album amongst all the songs that require multiple listens I believe. We spent a lot of time thinking about the flow of the album, and to me, all the songs had a voice that needed to speak in a certain manner. All 10 songs on the album belong there and move exactly the way they were meant to be from front to back. J.J. and I spent a few years crafting these songs. I went through a lot during the writing of this album, and music for me has always been the vessel in which to express all that raw emotion.
Why did you go with Eliran Kantor for the cover art this time, rather than Paul Romano? (Note: I think this is your best album cover ever.)
Working with Paul for four covers was an incredible experience. His artwork for us was amazing and I will always be grateful for the immense work Paul did for us. We just felt like it was time for a change. Paul is also quite busy with everything he does. Once we decided to go in a different direction, Eliran just came to mind. There were a few covers he did that just caught my eye that looked so incredible. I am a big fan of art and paintings, specifically the Renaissance era. I have always admired artists of all kinds. Eliran has so many different approaches to his artwork that drew me in…such diversity and dynamics in his work that matched our music, I felt. After a few discussions about the direction, inspiration and sentiment behind the album and the lyrics, Eliran then worked on a concept. I gave him some pre-production songs and lyrics to work off of to create a visual to match the music, lyrics and album title. I also like to give the artist freedom as well, for I think most artists work best that way. Eliran did a fantastic job; he was the ultimate professional and put in so much attention to detail. I could not be more satisfied with the end result. Very proud of our album cover, artwork and the whole album all around.
How did you recruit your new drummer? You’ve had some drummers who are significantly younger than you—do they infuse the band with energy, in that way?
Actually, I usually have more energy than everyone else, even though I am the old guy, ha ha ha! But certainly the youth never hurts! We found Chason by way of Ian and Anton at Sick Drummer Magazine. Those guys have been so helpful over the years with Hate Eternal and also helping promote extreme metal drummers. They know a lot of guys and they are friends of mine. They suggested a few drummers they felt would fit Hate Eternal’s style and Chason was one of them. We saw the videos they sent us and we decided to have him fly down. Chason flew down, tried out and learned some old songs, then we worked on new songs and we knew we found the right guy for the album. We did pre-production recordings two months later then started recording. Chason did a fabulous job on the album! I think the power and conviction of the percussion really shines!
I imagine your production work takes up the majority of your time at this point—when and how did you start feeling like it was time to make another album?
I always want to make Hate Eternal records! One a year if I could! Producing takes up a ton of my life and time for the 15 years. I have been so fortunate to work with so many amazing bands! When I am locked in on an album production, my whole world becomes about that band and that album at that time. I really submerge myself in every record to make an amazing, unique album in that moment of time. That is what it takes to make the best. But I always play guitar when not working in the studio and tend to write material randomly and regularly. I love playing guitar and writing music, always will. Playing guitar, writing songs, rehearsing and performing with the band, doing your own album, doing other people’s albums, nothing beats that! Being a musician and a producer just go hand in hand! Owning a business is a whole other thing. In between every HE album, on top of touring, I am probably involved in anywhere from 10-15 or more albums a year, hence the usual three-year cycle. This time it was four years, due to us needing a new drummer, but it gave us even more time to craft Infernus, and to me more time is always better when creating an album.
It seems like the North American metal scene is in some trouble—Mayhem Fest had difficulty selling tickets and played to a lot of half-empty venues, and this year’s Heavy Montreal only sold 40,000 tickets over 3 days, where last year’s sold 75,000 tickets over 2 days. Are these just a few isolated things, or do you see an overall problem with the scene, and how does that impact you and Hate Eternal?
I think maybe the overall economy has something to do with it? I’m not sure, it’s not my area of expertise. There are so many tours going on these days. The whole music industry to me seems to be in a state of flux, trying to grasp hold of the past business model and morphing it into the future. Bands are touring more and more due to lack of income stream from really anything else except merchandising and touring. People also only have so much money to spend and can only afford so much. We mostly play small clubs and bars, so the huge festival thing does not affect us in that regard, but I do know with all the competition of touring it makes things tougher for all bands to draw crowds. I think what tends to help us out is we only tour a few months a year, unlike a lot of bands that tour nine months a year. People know we won’t be around for a while, due mostly due to my producing schedule, and that helps bring people out to the shows. We have incredible friends, fans and supporters of Hate Eternal. They’re very loyal and we are always grateful for that. Times are tough in our industry, in life in general, but one must always look ahead towards promise and a solution to the problem.