Hate Eternal’s Erik Rutan Discusses ‘Infernus’ Album, New Drummer and Life in the Studio
We recently caught up with Hate Eternal mastermind and producer extraordinaire Erik Rutan and had the chance to pick his brain about the band's new album Infernus (out Aug. 21 via Season of Mist) from both the musical and production sides. Rutan also elaborates on the band's athlete of a new drummer, the nuances of the studio, and answers some burning questions about his previous bands Morbid Angel and Ripping Corpse.
Its been four years since Hate Eternal released ‘Phoenix Amongst the Ashes.’ What were the reasons behind this gap and how long ago did the writing process start for Infernus?
Usually the writing starts, I don’t know, relatively short… I’m usually always writing, so, you know, its like, I don’t really go into write mode, I just kind of always write. I finish a record and start to write. As you know I have two careers and I also own a business so that keeps me pretty busy. I’ve always been on the three-year cycle with Hate Eternal just because between every three year cycle I’m producing between 12 and 15 albums. And then, you know, the other thing is touring of course and whatnot, but this time its been four years because it took us a year to find the right drummer.
With Hate Eternal there’s only a handful of drummers in the world that can play this way, but because of having the extra year it helped JJ [Hrubovcak] and I put together, really, an amazing album. It gave us more time to really go through it; we started with like 15 or 16 songs for the record, but when it came down to it we had all this extra time while trying out drummers. We were just really nitpicking everything saying that song’s not good enough let’s just move on and it helped us hone in on 10 songs that I think that not one of them is replaceable they’re all just a huge part of the album. That extra time really was awesome for us. Unfortunate in a way, but at the same time I think the record really shows the amount of work that went into it.
You mentioned it took you guys a year to find a new drummer. Chason Westmoreland is almost 20 years younger than you. What is it like to having someone so young in the band?
I don’t know, I don’t really think about age. I always played with guys older than me and now I’m playing with guys younger than me. I don’t really think about age I just think about performance and talent and is he a nice guy, is he not? I don’t know, I don’t really think about the age, just is this guy going to be compatible with us personally and musically? Is he compatible? He certainly is in all areas. He’s the type of guy who impressed the hell out of me from day one from the minute we started jamming. He worked hard and was really hungry to be a part of the band and came here for a week to try out and after a week of jamming with him JJ and I knew that he was the right guy. He has a lot of power and conviction and he’s just a great drummer and a great guy on top of it.
Back to the speed because you guys are known such a relentless attack with everything. You just produced the new Krisiun album, another group where it's just devastating with the attack that they bring. What attracts you about playing this fast? There are different levels of fast as far as death metal goes, but you guys are definitely among the bands who push the boundaries as being the fastest and the most relentless.
It really comes down to the same thing; I never really think about it. I never once think I just really want to write a fast tune it just comes out that way. I never intended that everything…I don’t know, I don’t think about any of this stuff I just feel it out and sometimes it leads me in that direction. I guess it just leads me in a lot of fast directions a lot of times. I always try to add in other elements of different things into the record, but a lot of stuff just requires a faster approach.
To me I’ve always been attracted to more kind of extreme music and try to push the boundaries ever since. Before Hate Eternal there was Morbid Angel. Its just something I’ve always appreciated when done right. Of course, Krisiun is a powerhouse. To me they’re one of the best death metal bands out there. You put them with Nile, Morbid Angel, I mean there’s some fast bands right there. I enjoy heaviness, I enjoy speed, I enjoy thrash, I enjoy everything its just whatever comes naturally.
You handle everything in house as far as the production goes. You’ve got Mana Recording Studios down there in Florida. Do you feel with Hate Eternal that the production for the album is equally important as the music itself where you get the true essence of the band where you can’t have the music without that production and the production without that music?
Oh yeah there’s definitely a marriage there. With Hate Eternal I’ve always tried to approach it from a unique sense. I feel like a lot of metal records sound exactly the same now: the same guitars, the same drum samples. With Hate Eternal I went for an acoustic drum sound. I’ve always gone for a more natural, organic drum sound except for the kicks and try to capture real performances; stuff that’s kind of falling out of favor with extreme metal these days. I’ve always tried to capture performances and have really unique tones and a unique sounding album. To me, its certainly important and every record I’ve done with Hate Eternal I’ve tried to have a unique sound and to me that’s important to have every record shine to have that unique sound.
Sometimes bands in the studio need a little bit of a break, some time away from the music just to kind of go back into it with fresh ears. With you recording and producing all the Hate Eternal albums, you obviously prefer to immerse yourself in the material in every way possible. What about that process do you enjoy and is there anything about it that makes you feel too overwhelmed at points?
There’s plenty of times where I feel overwhelmed, for sure, you know? When I was 15 or 16 I started playing guitar and had my first experiences recording demos as a musician and then doing my first album with Ripping Corpse not even a year removed from high school. So I had experiences in a studio from a young age and I always thought it ‘Man, I would love to have my own studio one day and record my own music, friends of mine in bands and whatnot.’ It definitely turned out to be way more than the initial plan, but its something I’ve always wanted to do. Things with pressure and stress, I’ve had pressure and stress my whole life, so I feel like all the hills and valleys I’ve had my whole life have prepared me to be able to handle anything.
I love recording Hate Eternal records. There’s times where I’m driving myself crazy because I’m a perfectionist, so it’s tough, but I’ve learned now after six albums of Hate Eternal (I learn something new every record) I’ve learned that breaks are crucial. Just take a day off here and there and I have to separate myself from it because you get married to everything and it’s hard sometimes to be objective when you’re working on your own stuff.
I’ve learned some tricks as far as what not to do and what to do. I’m the type of guy who’s just stubborn as Hell and I’ve learned from my mistakes and that’s how I’ve learned everything in life is by learning from those mistakes. It’s easy to get burned out, especially with Hate Eternal where I’m doing all the rhythm guitars, doing all the solos, all the vocals, then producing and mixing and making sure everyone else is on point as a producer. I’ve learned to try take a day off here and there as much as I can and then take some time off before I mix the record just to clear my mind. Those are important things for sure to keeping my sanity.
How would you say your recording career has helped you grow as a musician?
I think they’re completely separate really. Producing has helped me as a producer, I don’t know if it has helped me as a musician. They’re intertwined, but they’re very separate. I guess when I’m working on records my whole mentality is really on that record I’m producing; it doesn’t really crossover too much.
I know that producing has helped me not only as a producer, but as a person. It’s made me a way more patient person because, you know, working in the studio with different situations and all kinds of things happen in the studio. It has definitely made me a much more patient person and made me understand how things are musically, maybe. I guess its somewhat intertwined, but I think on more of a personal level it has made me a much more patient person which is definitely helpful when it comes to life in general.
Well, you know, sometimes studio guys are maybe having a hard time or guys are arguing about something. A lot of times I tend to be the guy that really always wants to step up and get things rolling. I’ve got to motivate people. I have to figure out the individuals as well as the collective and the dynamics between everybody in the band on a personal level as well as a musical level. Its just helped me understand people in a lot of ways and that really helps me in every department in life.
Delving into the album, Infernus, we’re going to start at the end. “O’ Majestic Being, Hear My Call” is pretty melodic and there seems to be a little bit of a theme running across the Hate Eternal albums that the closing track has a little bit more melody than some other places in the rest of the album. Do you feel this helps relieve the tension of everything and give some sort of closure or is this just purely coincidental?
I guess it’s a combination. Yeah, the last three records really kind of ended in a more melodic sense. Hmm, that’s an interesting question. I guess somewhat, maybe part of it, well… with Fury and Flames, “Tombeau” was the last song and that’s a song I wrote for Jared [Anderson] and “The Fire of Resurrection” was the last song on Phoenix Amongst the Ashes and I wrote that for Jared as well, so I kind of wanted to end on that note. With this record it just felt like it was the last song on the record.
It goes out on a bit of a triumphant note.
It does. You know, the thing is that this album somewhat… it’s interesting that this album, Fury and Flames, and Phoenix, its almost like an unplanned trilogy in a sense in that the underlying theme has a lot to do with death and loss and different aspects of that and that’s because I experienced a lot of loss in the last many years and it really influenced everything I’ve been doing for some time. I think that’s there’s that somber note on the whole record at various times with that song and with the title track, "Infernus," specifically.
I think music for me has always been the vessel for me to channel my emotion through my instruments and I think that’s why every record and every song has a different feeling behind it because I’ve always used music as that expression. There’s definitely some somber moments on the record and with due reason.
Now the track before that is the instrumental "Chaos Theory." It’s the one instrumental and you’ve dabbled before with instrumentals, short introductions, interludes, even going back to your days in Morbid Angel. How did this song come to be complete as an instrumental? When was it that you realized that this song didn’t even need vocals?
Like I said, there was a year period where we didn’t have a drummer and me and JJ were spending a lot of time together working on the songs and going over everything in weeks, a month at a time. We were working on stuff just jamming one night, probably two in the morning or something; that’s usually where I’d have to say almost everything in my career has been written: between midnight and five in the morning.
We were just jamming and it was such a unique entity as we were writing it. Sometimes ideas just come to me in my head, I hear melodies, I hear ideas somehow in my head and with that song I just had this idea of intermittent solos and things like that. There were subtle elements and it just felt like, man, I just kept thinking drum wise (we got the right drummer for it because Chason is just such a diverse drummer) but I just felt like it should be an instrumental. It just felt instrumental and it felt like it should have some jazzy approach on the drum kit I guess or fusion-esque, but heavy. Somehow I just knew as the song was writing that it should be an instrumental. Its nice when you have a lot of songs that are just pure blitzkrieg to be able to temper that like with “Infernus,” or “Chaos Theory,” or “O’ Majestic Being, Hear My Call.” They’re very different songs and they add all these dynamics and elements to the album. I really like the song, it’s a really, really fun song to play.
These days there’s a lot of talk about reunions, special anniversary shows, etc. Obviously Morbid Angel have dissolved their lineup and are putting everything back together. I know you’re close with Steve Tucker and Trey obviously. Any chance we’ll see you back in Morbid Angel or even a Ripping Corpse reunion next year for a 25th anniversary of Dreaming With the Dead?
I never say to never to anything that has to do with two of the most important bands in my career that I love so much. If I could clone myself I would still be in Morbid Angel! I would have loved to have released more Ripping Corpse albums back in the day as well. You just never know what might happen someday. I never close the door on any opportunities that may present themselves.
Here’s some rapid fire questions:
What’s your favorite death metal album?
I don’t know if it is my favorite or what I deem most influential, but for me it’s Altars of Madness by Morbid Angel. It’s hard to say one record that’s my favorite, but that record is the most groundbreaking and influential death metal album of all time. When that came out in ’89 it was light-years ahead of anybody else in my opinion. When that record came out it changed everything, it blew me away. I was in high school when it came out and I remember nothing was even close to that with that type of professionalism and that songwriting. I guess if I had to say one record as my favorite it’d be Altars of Madness.
What’s your favorite album of 2015 so far?
You know what the funny thing is? I haven’t heard a record from 2015 because I’ve been working my ass off. People ask me at the end of the year if I can do a Top 10 records of the year and I haven’t even heard 10 records from this year. I guess because I work 11 or 12 hours a day, when I come home I’m playing guitar or hanging out with my wife. I don’t really listen to a lot of music until I get out on tour then I have a lot of freedom to be able to listen to all kinds of stuff. I can’t even say that right now!
What’s your favorite non-rock or metal band?
Hmm… That’s a tough question too. I would probably go into the composer realm more than bands. I listen to a lot of classical music. Classical music inspires me and soothes the mind at the same time. I don’t know man, I don’t know if I can come up with a band. I listen to a lot of different stuff, but nothing comes to mind honestly.
What is your favorite production on an album?
One of my favorite productions is probably Ride the Lightning from Metallica or Master of Puppets. Those are two of my favorite productions.
What is your favorite song off Infernus?
My personal favorite is the title track, "Infernus." Its very unique and has a unique sound to it. It has a lot of personal meaning to it as well, so if I had to pick one and I can pick a handful, but if I’m stuck with one I would say that.
That about does it. Is there anything else you’d like to say about Infernus?
I think that Infernus really represents all of what Hate Eternal has accomplished in the past and also added new elements. I feel with Infernus a lot of songs are reminiscent of early elements like Conquering the Throne, but all the records are represented here. There’s definitely a lot of new, fresh elements thrown in there to add more characterstics and dynamics. I won’t say Infernus is our best record because everybody says that, that’s cliché and I’m not gonna go there. I really feel like Infernus encapsulates everything of what I want Hate Eternal to represent in 2015, so I’m very proud of the record. I think it’s by far our best production and I’m very proud of the record and I hope everyone enjoys it!
Infernus is out Aug. 21 on Season of Mist. Fans can pre-order the album here.
Listen to Hate Eternal's 'The Stygian Deep'