Hate Eternal’s Erik Rutan Names Death Metal’s Tom Brady, Says Bands Need Real Producers
For more than two decades, Erik Rutan has been leading the unrelenting force that is Hate Eternal. With each album comes growth and on Upon Desolate Sands, the newest from Florida's death metal horde, Rutan continues his evolution as both a musician and a producer. While Hate Eternal's music is pulverizing, to put it simply, the songs aren't rife with the usual death metal tropes, instead pondering more existential ideas as a byproduct of experiencing some harsh realities.
One thing immediately clear is Rutan's affection for melody, which is abundant on Upon Desolate Sands. He espouses on the modern extreme metal scene's lack of melody as well as the trend in self-producing and why bands truly need a producer despite the ease of home recording. While on the thread of production, we also took the opportunity to ask what is up with the box fan used by Morbid Angel's Trey Azagthoth onstage and, presumably, in the studio. And, yes, there's merit to using it.
As our conversation winds down, we return to the NFL, where our talk initially began as we examined the New York Jets' loss to the Cleveland Browns, which gave the team their first win in 635 days, ending one of the most staggering displays of sports futility. Rutan, a proud Philadelphia Eagles fan, named who he feels is death metal's Tom Brady while likening himself to an NFL legend and a current Eagles star player.
I love "Nothingness of Being." Diving into the lyrics a bit, there's the line, "Nothing but a shell left as I," and the song, while it's got this overwhelming brute force, is not as empowering lyrically. There's no "kill, crush, destroy" mentality. Instead, it exposes vulnerability and a feeling of hopelessness. What is this a reflection of for you?
Erik Rutan: There was a lot of inspiration behind this record that came from a dark place. There's a lot of depth on this record and for me, every album is kind of like the annals of history for me. A lot of the records have been about my past and my childhood. There was a lot of things that happened as a child for me that were troubling and I went through a lot of life experiences that led me to do what I do and be who I am. "Nothingness of Being" kind of reflects that in the sense.
I don't know if you've ever heard of the Sea of Trees in Japan — it's a forest where people go to commit suicide. I saw a documentary on it and I just found it fascinating that people go there to the end their lives and it's become this known entity. I don't want to say I've ever been suicidal, but I definitely would say that there's been really down times in my life where I've struggled to find a purpose maybe.
So, on "Nothingness of Being," it reflects a person that's come to the end of their term and just lost everything that they have and who they are as a person. There have been times where I've gone through the lowest points in my life where I've felt that way, but fortunately for me I've always had music and a strong family foundation to pick me up and bring me back to life.
"All Hope Destroyed" has so much melody in there. It seems like there's a lack of melody in extreme metal today — everything's gotten djenty, with Morse Code-type riffing. What's the importance of melody, even in extreme metal?
Iron Maiden changed my life. The harmonization and melodies and stuff in Iron Maiden really inspired me. When JJ [Hrubovcak, bass] and I are writing songs, we both come from like a kind of classical musical background. We both have a very melodious sense to our playing. If there's anything that kind of just subconsciously in my mind, it's like, "Man, I want to get some more melody."
Sometimes when the melody gets lost or just basic ... the riffs, like sometimes I think with a lot of modern stuff, I'm searching for that riff that just kicks my ass. Sometimes it does get lost in the complexity. Some of these shifts these young kids are playing these days, I'm like, "Holy fuck!" I probably couldn't even remember a song, because there's so much shit going on.
To me, it seems like people either have this super melodic side or then they have this super complex Morse Code side and it's hard to get in between.
You're also a producer, not only within Hate Eternal, but you've got your own studio and a lot of bands are self-producing now. It's really easy to set up a simple recording situation, but there's a difference between being able to produce and being a producer. What do you think some of these bands are missing by self-producing at home and not seeking out a real producer?
A lot of the records in metal end up sounding exactly the same these days. That's because they're doing everything in the box, whether it's Pro-Tools, Cubase or whatever at home. I've got 30 years of experience playing music and 20 years of producing. That just doesn't come overnight — you don't learn that from a tutorial, on YouTube or in a book. You learn that through fucking experience. I've been involved in probably 8,000 records at this point and so that's something that you can't gain in a week or a month.
Part of the problem too is that a lot of bands these days, instead of even recording drums, they're just recording [drum software] Superior Drummer and stuff like that. Like, "Oh, we just wanted to save money." Maybe you can put some samples on there and make it sound more realistic, but to me — I use Superior Drummer for pre-production demos, not albums. My primary goal is to make that band sound like them on their best day, but not a bunch of fucking robots sitting in a room playing shit that everyone knows they can't.
Since we were talking about football before the interview began, who do you perceive to be death metal's Tom Brady?
Damn. That's tough. Let's see. Tom Brady is so composed, has lots of experienced, is super smart... It'd probably be [Cannibal Corpse's] Alex Webster because he's one of the most composed individuals. He's also one of my best friends and arguably the best bass player in death metal. I challenge anyone to argue that. I usually call him the Steve Harris of death metal.
Since you spent some time in Morbid Angel and produced the last couple of albums, I'm sure you're familiar with the box fan Trey Azagthoth has mic'd up onstage. As a producer and having played with Trey for so long, is there anything you can say about the significance of this box fan? Is it something that's detectable in production?
It is actually.
Is it kind of like a primitive flanger?
Sort of. For the last record I got to mic up this stuff and the anti-vacuum culture technique. It's the mic in the bowl kind of vibe that he's got going on on top of the fan. I know he's been using it for years, of course. I played with them, but this was the first time I actually mic'd it. So I was curious like, "Man, what the fuck is this? What's it going to sound like?"
The funny thing is, the fan, it's like it has this really neat, flanger? I don't know if that's the right word. It's like hyper-flanger maybe and then the anti-vacuum culture. I know I'm not saying the name right. Trey, if he was listening right now, he would correct me. I'm sure. I apologize, Trey! But the mic in the bowl technique, these sound like just submerged in the depths of hell kind of solo vibe, which is so fucking wild. They're challenging to mic up, I must admit, and to get that tone to come through you have to work really hard on it. But if you listened to the new record, you can really hear the bowl technique in the back and that's not me using plug-ins. A lot of that is like his techniques.
Go old school, get creative and make it work!
I don't want to say I'm the Tom Brady of death metal, but I guess I look at myself as like the Brett Favre of death metal. I take risks and I'm still doing this shit after like so many injuries. I mean I've had so many tour injuries. I got into van accidents, chipped my vertebrae, I fucking injured my knees, my back, my hand, and here I am still doing it.
So Alex is the Tom Brady of death metal, I'm the Brett Favre of death metal... or maybe I should say the Carson Wentz of death metal since I'm an Eagles fan. I think that sounds much better!
Hate Eternal's new album, 'Upon Desolate Sands,' is out Oct. 26 through Season of Mist. Get your copy at the label's webstore and follow the band on Facebook to stay up to date with everything they're doing.
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