Death metal veterans Abysmal Dawn have spent more time than usual on their latest album, Phylogenesis. Frontman Charles Elliott fills us in on the album, signing with a new record label, life in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and other topics.
Chad Bowar: What led to the five plus year span between albums?
Charles Elliott: I think it was a combination of things. We toured a lot for Obsolescence then went through a lineup change. We entered the studio with drums and rhythm guitars written but nothing else really written. From there, life just got in the way for a lot of us and it held up finishing the record.
When did you begin writing for what became Phylogenesis?
2016. A little bit after we came back home from our tour with Cannibal Corpse, Obituary and Cryptopsy.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
Probably recording guitars on Christmas Eve with Mike Bear and going to El Pollo Loco. It was sort of sad and funny at the same time for some reason.
Are there any negatives to recording and producing an album in your own studio?
You just have the luxury of seemingly endless amounts of time and resources. It can drag on a lot and people don’t always show up on time when the clock isn’t eating away at your budget. I prefer to have an outsider’s perspective when tracking my own parts as well. For most of my rhythms and all my vocals, I had Mike Bear help me track and produce. He’s worked with us on the previous two records.
What inspired your lyrics this time around?
Life and being in my head too much. I was pretty isolated from really socializing with people during that time and working long hours. Focusing on the more negative aspects of society and life while you’re in that state wasn’t healthy for me. I think the lyrics ended up fitting a general theme of how society can drive you mad.
What led you to title the album Phylogenesis?
It basically means the process by which a species evolves. It seemed a fitting title in a couple of ways. In one sense, it deals with how the band has evolved between records. In another, it could be taken to mean how society has devolved over time.
How did Unleashed guitarist Fredrik Folkare’s guest appearance come about, and what did it add to “Soul-Sick Nation?”
We just met for the first time when we played South America together. I’m just a fan of his playing, bands and production work and we had some great drunken fun together along with everyone else. I just asked him if he’d contribute a solo and that was pretty much that. He was initially only supposed to do one solo but he recorded the first solo you hear on the song, and just said “it’s there if you like it.” We weren’t planning on having a solo there but when I heard both leads, my jaw just dropped and I started laughing. It was so damn good. I just told him “fuck yes, we’re keeping it.”
What led you to cover the Death song “Flattening Of Emotions,” and how did you approach your version?
I’ve just always wanted to cover something off Human. It’s one of those record that’s ingrained in my DNA that I owe a lot to musically. I had the honor of playing and singing Chuck’s parts on the very first Death To All. Playing with musicians I grew up worshiping meant the world to me, and was one of the coolest things I ever did. We just tried to maintain the vibe of the original as much as possible, while combining it with what we do. It’s tuned a little lower, some parts are a little faster, and the vocal style is a bit different. We tried to get the drums, bass and solos as close to the original as possible, though. Those are just classic parts.
You also did a cover of Candlemass’ “Bewitched.” When will that be available?
It’s available as a flexi disc with the New Noise Magazine with us on the cover. Beyond that, I don’t know when if ever it will be released. People should pick that up from the New Noise site while they can.
How did you come to sign with Season Of Mist?
Our deal was up with Relapse and we just started speaking to a few labels. We knew Gordon at Season Of Mist since he used to work for Relapse and signed us to the label. So we already liked him and when we started speaking to Michael (owner) we could just tell it was the best home for us.
Has what you expect from a record label changed over the years?
I guess to a certain extent, sure. The bands have to do a lot more work themselves marketing themselves online. And streaming has become a big deal everywhere, so we expect record labels to be big on the digital side of the band. But metal is a collectors thing too because the fans are die hard. We just expect the label to come up with cool formats for pre-orders and stuff like that.
Coronavirus has canceled touring for the immediate future. How else has it affected Abysmal Dawn in terms of the album’s promotion, expectations, etc.?
It put a damper on us doing a follow-up tour in June to promote the record, or any other tour immediately following that. A lot of stores have closed as well, making it harder to pick up our new album. There was talk of delaying the release at one point but then that went away. So it’s been a weird and uncertain time but it’s still coming out April 17th, and we’re still doing our best to promote it. The best way for fans to pick up the new record though is directly from the label.
On a personal level, how has the pandemic affected you, especially living in one of the hardest hit areas?
I work from home now and it’s hard to remember to take care of yourself. For someone like me who’s always constantly working on something, I have to remember I need to take a break sometimes. That can be difficult to remember too when you essentially live in your work space. It’s all very surreal and I haven’t had much human interaction with people. I’m sort of a homebody so it wasn’t a huge change for me, but sometimes you really need some sort of human interaction to stay sane. There’s a reason solitary confinement is a punishment and considered inhumane past a certain amount of time. The local markets are a bit crazy and picked clean of most things, so you need to wake up early to get anything and to wait in line at the grocery store. I’m still able to pay my rent but of course there’s always that “what if” in the back of my mind. A lot of people aren’t doing good in this economy right now.
Is this pandemic something that will change the world permanently in some ways, or will life completely return to the way it was in a few months?
I don’t think I’m really the one to say. To me, I don’t see how this disease will ever go away. It seems like the Genie is out of the bottle so to speak. It will probably be good for a few months, then start up again. It’s a really scary time to be honest, and probably the hardest thing my generation has had to live through. Hell, probably the worst thing since any generation since those who lived through the Great Depression and WW II. People joke because our parents and grandparents went to war and all we have to do is just stay the fuck inside. But the financial ruin this thing could cause in the big picture is what will be a big challenge for everyone. Not to mention the potential loss of life if we don’t all do our part to contain it.
These days bands make most of their money touring. With bands not having this income for the foreseeable future, do you think there will be greater pressure on streaming services to increase what artists are paid?
I don’t know, but that would be nice. At the moment, you’re looking at financial ruin for an industry that was already undervalued and in trouble. If this were the catalyst to fix that, I think everyone in the music industry would be eternally grateful.
Who are some of your favorite non-metal artists?
Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains (do they count?), Perturbator, Pink Floyd, Allan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola, Depeche Mode, The Gathering, Karnivool, Mars Volta, Mike Patton (anything non-metal he does usually), Nicole Saboune, Shawn Lane, VAST, Lana Del Rey, VOX, Garbage, Dead Kennedys, Steven Wilson.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
I’ve mixing the new Beyond Grace album so that mostly. But the last couple of records I listened to were Amorphis – Elegy, Unleashed – The Hunt for White Christ, Testament – Titans of Creation and My Dying Bride – The Angel and the Dark River.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
These are trying times but I hope we all get through it and come out better on the other side somehow. We hope to see you all on tour as soon as possible. Until then, please support us and other artists you love by pre-ordering their records, buying merch and streaming their albums. Take care.
(interview published April 16, 2020)