It's wakey, wakey time, kids. For the naysayers who think Erik Rutan was crazy to quit Morbid Angel – look at what they've done since. For the tin-eared who claim he can't produce – you've probably jammed on his records all year. For the haters who think Hate Eternal is about nothing but speed – did you even hear I, Monarch? In the face of adversity that would break most people – physical injury, loss of band members, the death of a best friend, bassist Jared Anderson – Rutan has not only survived but also flourished. He's built Hate Eternal into a death metal juggernaut. His Mana recording studio is in hot demand, having yielded ripping records by Cannibal Corpse, Six Feet Under, and Dim Mak, among many others. On the eve of the release of Hate Eternal's new record, Fury & Flames, Metal Injection caught up with the frontman/guitarist on tour with The Black Dahlia Murder, 3 Inches of Blood, and Decrepit Birth.
How's the tour going?
It's going great, man.
How do you like this tour package?
It's good. In this day and age, having a variety of metal seems to work out. In order to have a successful tour, you almost have to have a mixture. Black Dahlia is awesome. They're super-pro and they're a great band. 3 Inches of Blood is a killer metal band. Decrepit Birth's an awesome death metal band. It's been a huge tour. It's been packed shows every night.
I've noticed that these more diverse shows get more women.
Oh yeah, that's true. A lot of women. I think a lot of 'em are young girls on this tour. It's good to get the young kids – they're hungry.
How is it being on Metal Blade?
Metal Blade is the best label there is, in my opinion, for metal. It starts with the staff, from Brian Slagel down to the end of the line. They're all incredible. I worked with them many times for records I've produced for Metal Blade. So when we were done with our contract with Earache, I knew we were going to Metal Blade. I didn't even entertain anyone else.
You're a well-known football fan. Is your love for football related to your love for metal?
I use football analogies all the time. I was talking the other day about how on this record, everyone worked together. And in the past records, everyone bought into the system. I set up the game plan, and everybody believed in the system. Being in a band is like a team sport. It's like football in a way. Every night, the mission is to destroy. I love football because it's brutal. It's a brutal sport, and death metal obviously is brutal.
You worked with Paul Romano again on the artwork. What was working with him like, and what's the concept behind the artwork?
Paul – he's the best. He's super-detailed, and he's a deep guy. He gets to the grit of the record, and the inspiration behind it. He likes to get a pre-rush advance, and I give him all the lyrics. I talk to him about the concept of the album and what I'm thinking as far as the vision of the album [goes].
When my friend Jared Anderson passed away, my old bass player – that was a huge influence on the whole album for me. That's how the record came about, [as] a tribute to him. For a long time, I was thinking of a title that would represent him. [Romano] came up with the concept of the Furies, which is Greek mythology, with the women on the left, and the man entering into death on the right with his death mask.
In death metal, you probably hear the word "death" constantly, so maybe for you it doesn't have the same impact it has for most people. With your friend's passing, did the word get meaning again?
No, it's separate. I never really looked at it that way. It's just different. It's more irony, I guess, than conjoined.
What I took away from I, Monarch was the whole duality concept. To me, your career has been about turning death into life.
I've had a lot of people die in my life. That's definitely influenced my music over the years.
How does this influence manifest itself?
It's just a different emotion going on. When Jared passed away, it was such a shock. It was tough times for a while. Jared was one of my best friends. He was going to come back to the band. When he was gone, it was just me on my own. I had nobody else in the band. It was just me, dealing with Metal Blade. His death – it consumed me. Through the whole record, I felt like I had that much more reason to do it the best I could. I was feeling all along that he should have been there. I [would] walk into my studio, and [see] the records that we put together. The whole time, his presence was there.
How's Mana coming along?
It's going awesome. I've produced about 40 records now. I'm starting to get a nice resume. I have an A and a B room at the studio, so that I can accommodate smaller and bigger bands. I've got three guys working for me there now. They keep it busy while I'm gone on tour. That was a big [deal] for a while. I'd go on tour and the studio would be dead.
How did Mana get its name?
I just happened to be reading about Rapa Nui, Easter Island. "Mana" represents spiritual power. It seemed like a really powerful name for a studio. Music is a spiritual power. It's magic. Music is magic, especially from the beginning to the end of a record – to see it flourish and become something that lasts forever.
When you produce records, you see every micro-detail of them. Does this get in the way of this magic?
Sometimes you drill a point so hard, you lose the spontaneity of the moment. That's the hardest thing, trying to have a balance of hammering – which I do – and not letting [musicians] get beat down. It's hard, because everybody's different. It's like psychology, dealing with people's personalities, how much I can get out of them before breaking them. You don't want to do that. Unfortunately, sometimes that happens. People get broken down. I would say, "Hey man, it's another day tomorrow." I always try to spin it positive. But recording records is as hard as it gets. I make people work in the studio, rather than just let Pro Tools [do the work].
You're renowned for that.
There's plenty of other guys, engineers and producers, that are fine with letting Pro Tools [take care of things]. To me, that's not music, that's technology. I think it loses the vibe of recording when you just let technology fix everything. I like to make the player work, [to] get the best out of him, and [to] do whatever I have to do to make the record sound solid. I would definitely take the hard work over, "Oh, that's good enough, we'll fix it later." I don't like that mentality. It doesn't build character.
What does it take for a band to work with you?
Just contacting me, you know?
Would it have to be metal?
No, not at all. It does have to be something I like. I listen to all kinds of music, so I'm not jaded or closed-minded to anything. Honestly, I'd like to do other music, no matter what it was – Celtic music, Persian music, anything. I love instrumentation. I've recorded violins, opera singers, acoustic guitars, tablas, timpanis, different instruments. I've been fortunate that I've been able to work with bands I really enjoy. I find good in a lot of things. Just because I don't play [a style] of music doesn't mean I don't feel it.
What are you guys listening to in the van?
We've been listening to a lot of Nile lately.
You guys are driving fast.
Yeah, exactly! That new Nile record is the fastest thing alive. We've been listening to that a lot. We've been listening to some Metallica and Iron Maiden. Power metal is good driving music, man. Iron Maiden is the perfect driving music.
My theory is that the melodies rise above the road noise.
That's true. You can't listen to Hate Eternal and drive. You'd probably crash, you know what I mean? Even Nile, man, we've had some moments like, "Whew!" We were listening to Brain Drill the other night, and I thought I was going to fucking total the van. We had to put something else on. It's just too much. The notes and the brain and the driving and the fucking snow – I was like, "Dude, you gotta take that off, bro, I'm going to fucking crash."
Will you do another Alas record?
Yeah! I've got a lot of music written for it, too. I gotta coordinate it with the rest of the guys.
Will you have the same singer?
I'm not sure. She lives in Austria, and she has kids now. I have another girl who's a friend of mine who sings opera. She has a master's degree in music and teaches voice and she lives in Tampa. So who knows, maybe I'll have both of them sing. But, you know, Hate Eternal, and especially producing – in the last year and a half, I've done double digits' worth of records. I just haven't had enough time. But I want to make time for it. I really enjoyed doing the first one, and I'd like to make [the next] one a lot better.
You've also talked about doing a Hate Eternal tab book.
Yeah! I go online and all the tab's wrong, and nobody knows what the hell we tune to. So I would like to do a tab book. We're a hard band to duplicate.
It's weird shit.
Yeah, it's weird shit. It's hard to figure out. People can barely figure out what we tune to. They think we tune to B, like a 7-string, just 'cause it's dark shit. We tune to C#.
Your soloing style is pretty unique. What are your influences?
The bends, and some of the Indian sitar-like [makes noises] – like [on] "Tombeau" on the new record, there's a step-and-a-half bend. The bends and the slides…
Do you have any blues background?
No, no blues. Classical.
In classical, you wouldn't have those microtones, but blues would.
Right. I listen to Persian music and Indian music, things that have semitones going on. That's what really inspired a lot of that Middle Eastern [sounding] stuff.
Now that Shaune [Kelley, second guitarist] is in the band, how does that change the live dynamic?
It's like if you had stereo, and then you went surround sound. In my opinion, it never sounded thin as a three-piece, because I had proper gear or whatever. But everything I wrote was for two guitars. Shaune plays different from me, but we work well together. In the past, I'd do solos, and it's just one guy, and you [would] know it. On the new record, you can tell there's two guys because they're really different from one another.
There's a song [in which] he does all the solos, and two songs [in which] I do all the solos. But the rest of the songs [have], like, total Slayer-esque trade-offs. You can really tell there's two guys.
Are you crediting them in the liner notes?
Totally, yeah, man! There's more solo spots on this record. It wasn't on purpose. It just ended up being that way. The music allowed for it – a lot more air.
You've been in the music industry for a while, so you've seen the transition from cassettes to CD's to MP3's. What's your take on downloading?
I think everything's going to end up being downloaded. Records are being downloaded – obviously illegally, too, but legally – people are downloading [them] and printing out the CD covers. I think eventually it might all end up going that way. CD manufacturing won't be as big anymore, which will be curious on the legality and how to keep track of [sales]. Everything's going to an iPod now.
Metal Blade is putting out this band, The Arcane Order [review], and it's going to be a digital-only release.
No shit! Wow, I didn't know that. That's interesting. I love CD's. I want to read it, I want to look at it. But some people – man, everything's just on an iPod now. They're missing a big part of the puzzle. I like the lyrics, I like the artwork, I read everything in there. We grew up with vinyl. I was buying vinyl, looking at it like, "This is the shit!" You'd buy stuff just 'cause the covers looked cool. That's how I found Iron Maiden.
Does downloading hurt Hate Eternal?
Oh, sure, it's hurting every band. I'm not sure how it all works out. Because of the Internet, there's way more awareness and exposure for everyone. But all the illegal downloading's hurting the whole record industry, the sales, which ultimately [leads to] money that bands don't make. And bands barely make shit anyway.
I've heard some fans make this argument: "Metal bands don't make money from CD's anyway, they make it on the road – so let's download the album."
Awww, that's fucked up, man! That's not true. We do make some money if you have a decent [record] deal. It's coming out of the band's mouth, for sure. It's illegal for a reason, right? [But] it's impossible to control.
How do you feel about the state of death metal today?
There's not a ton of pure death metal bands out there these days. There's a ton of hybrid bands. But everything has to evolve, right? Everything can't be the same. We were listening to Altars of Madness the other day, and it was fucking groundbreaking. Nothing's groundbreaking anymore. I don't know how much more brutal it can become, or more technical or more extreme than it already is. It's really all about standing out.
You look at somebody like The Black Dahlia Murder, who obviously have a lot of death metal influence – they're huge, they're blowing up. I think it's great. Music has definitely become heavier and heavier. I think [death metal] now is in a good state. It's just different. You gotta go with the times, you know? But our music will always be what it is. We don't change for anything.
Hate Eternal 'Bringer of the Storms' directed by Dave Brodsky