Interview with Erik Rutan of Hate Eternal

Photo: Alison Webster

Without a doubt, Hate Eternal are one of the most skilled extreme death metal bands around today. The trio’s new album, ‘Phoenix Amongst the Ashes,’ is not only shrewd and innovative, it’s completely ball-busting. Besides the obvious step-up in production quality compared to their previous effort, the Florida-based act are continuing to bring fresh and interesting ideas to the table. ‘Phoenix Amongst the Ashes’ is full of monstrous weight and precision, both technically and artistically. With that, Hate Eternal have established their position as leaders in the world of death metal.

While on his way to Mana Recording Studios in St. Petersburg, FL, frontman Erik Rutan took the time to speak with Rock Edition about Hate Eternal’s new record and much more. Read on to see what Erik filled us in on.

Tell us about the new Hate Eternal album, ‘Phoenix Amongst the Ashes.’

The new record is an expanded version of Hate Eternal. It’s got the core of what Hate Eternal represents — with the intensity and aggression — and at the same time it has other elements such as more dynamics and a bit more atmosphere. All the songs have a different blend to them. They’re all individually unique and crafted together to make the record. It’s a record that you need to listen to from beginning to end. We really tried to expand what we’ve done in the past. It’s intense extreme death metal, and it always will be. With every record we’ve done, we’ve always [injected] new inspirations and influence. ‘Phoenix Amongst the Ashes’ is no doubt our most dynamic record yet.

You mentioned that the new album is something you need to listen to from beginning to end. Why do you say that?

Every song has a different vibe and different feel. I thought long and hard on the tracklisting. For months I thought about how the songs were going to be arranged so that someone could listen to it and get a story for 41 minutes. If you like heavy extreme death metal, it’s worth the 41 minutes of someone’s life to listen to this record from beginning to end. I think it won’t be the only 41 minutes they spend listening to it, because they’re going to really like it.

There’s a lot of positive feedback about the album so far, which seems to be a good sign.

Yeah, people have been really enthusiastic. I feel like the new record is something fresh in death metal, and yet it’s keeping the roots of what death metal is and what Hate Eternal represents. That’s important. We’re not trying to change who we are as much as we’re just trying to expand what we can do, and achieve higher standards. I feel like with this new record, from a musicality level and production standpoint, we achieved something that I’m really proud of. I think it represents the band in the best light so far.

Everything was recorded and produced by you in your studio in Florida, right?

Yes, that’s correct.

Is it difficult to produce your own music and be really objective?

It’s hard. It’s a love-hate relationship how I produce my own records. I love doing it, but sometimes I say, “What the hell am I doing?” I just feel like, from a producing aspect, I understand what everything’s supposed to be doing. Obviously, me and Jade [Simonetto] and JJ [Hrubocvak] worked together on this stuff for a long time and I feel like, who better to understand the music and capture the best performances from everyone else than me? I know what I want to hear and how it’s supposed to be formulated. But it’s a tremendous challenge because you’re so close to it. I have my other engineer, Brian Elliott, who also works with me at the studio. He tracks my vocals for me and he tracks my guitars. Obviously I can’t do everything. I guess it’s love of the labor. I love doing it even though it’s taxing. By the time I get to the mixdown, I’ve done so much work already. This time around I did things a little different: I tracked the guitars, bass, and drums at one point, then took a break from it for a bit and did the Agnostic Front record [‘My Life My Way’], and then came back to the Hate Eternal [record]. It was great because it allowed me to step back from it and come back with fresh ears. It made a big difference on how the record came out. I think I’ll be doing that again in the future. It’s a challenge, but if I’m not challenged then I’m bored, and if I’m bored then what’s the point?

It must be nice having your own studio and being able to go in whenever there’s free time to work on ideas.

The funny thing is that I’m booked so much in advance that I kind of have to work it around the other things I’m doing. My whole year is booked already. I’ve got Goatwhore, Cannibal [Corpse], and two other mixes, then touring, and then I’m done. With Hate Eternal, I planned ten weeks for pre-production and tracking drums, guitars, and bass. Then we had another month for mixing and doing vocals and solos. As a teenager, sitting in my bedroom, starting to learn how to play guitar and listening to Slayer and everything, my dream was to own my own studio someday and be a musician that would have his own unique style, tour the world and hopefully live the dream that so many people wanted. Fortunately, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for many years. It’s kind of nice to reflect back. It’s taken me all these years of my career to finally get to a point where I can reflect back on what I’ve done and get a sense of accomplishment. I guess I’m just one of those perfectionists who are never content with anything and are always working and striving. But I’ve gotten to a point in my life — maybe it’s due to my age — where I’m able to kind of reflect on things and say, “Hey, listen, you’ve accomplished a good amount, but you’ve got more to accomplish.” It’s taken all this time for me to even acknowledge what I have done. Even though I have people around me that have acknowledged everything I’ve done, for some reason I’ve never been able to acknowledge what I’ve accomplished. I’m doing what I set out to do 20-something years ago. I’m producing killer bands, doing my own records, and touring the world. What else can I really ask for?

What’s the secret behind getting that Hate Eternal guitar sound?

Well, with this record I used a Marshall JCM800, which is kind of a legendary and classic Marshall. Tons of thrash bands used 800s back in the day. It’s a very clean amp and a hard amp to track on with this kind of stuff. It’s not modified or anything, it’s just a straight up JCM800. That and my Engl Powerball, which I used as my backup amp for tracks three and four — I like to track four tracks of rhythms to get that thick wall sound. It’s a lot of work. I used my Marshall Greenback cabinets with 25W Greenback speakers that sound amazing. To me, I like to sweep the mic around the speaker, find the sweet spot, and stay there. Everybody plays different and everybody has a different sound. With me, I like a cleaner sound because I play very hard. I like to say I play guitar percussively and I really feel the guitar in a percussive way. I like to make sure I get every pick right and just the way I want it. I’m really meticulous with the miking process and getting tones and going through different amps. I definitely found my tone on this record that I’m going to stick to for the future.

Are you just using a Shure SM57 or do you have a few mics up there?

Photo: Alison Webster

I usually use a 57 and [Sennheiser MD] 421 combo through two different Neve clone mic pres made by Vintech and Great River. All the Neve stuff sounds great for tracking everything, from guitars to drums. I have an Amek Mozart console that has some Rupert Neve channels in it as well. I guess I’m just a Neve enthusiast.

You better get working on an endorsement deal with Neve!

I wish. I’ve got a lot of endorsements, but I’ll be working on that.

Just keep plugging them in interviews.

[laughs] That’s not a bad idea.

What did you do on the new Agnostic Front record?

I engineered and mixed the whole record. Freddy [Cricien] from Madball produced it with me. Freddy is brothers with Roger [Miret] from Agnostic Front. Freddy understands Agnostic Front to a T and was really helpful in the lyrical and musical departments. He really did an awesome job. I worked with Madball in the past, so after that relationship, Freddy suggested me to do the new Agnostic Front record. That’s how it all happened. It was great to work with both Madball and Agnostic Front. They are legends in hardcore. It was a tremendous learning experience.

I also did an indie rock band this year called The Mountain Goats, which was totally different than anything I’ve done before. It was incredible. It was acoustic guitars, and a lot of the drums were played with brushes. They did most of their stuff live as a whole band. It was very unique. I got to produce four songs, and one of the songs is the single they just played on the Late Show with David Letterman a few weeks ago. They hit the Billboard [charts] at #72 or something on their first week. It was a tremendous experience for me. I had a really diverse year: I worked with Morbid Angel this year, a bunch of mixes, and some stuff for Guitar Hero as well. It was just a great year.

The Mountain Goats’ new album is entitled ‘All Eternals Deck.’ Is the word “Eternals” a coincidence?

[laughs] I don’t think I was that influential. Pure coincidence.

A lot of people were surprised to see you credited as a producer on the album.

Obviously I’m a metal guy. I’ve been a metal guy for many years. But I grew up playing classical music. I grew up listening to rock and all kinds of stuff. My whole life, my family listened to different styles of music. I was pretty much surrounded by classical, rock, R&B, all kinds of stuff. As a producer, I’ve always looked at myself like, sure, I have a niche when it comes to metal and death metal, but I’ve always looked at myself as a producer that is capable of doing all types of music. I appreciate all kinds of music. I always hoped that somebody would give me an opportunity to show what I’m capable of. I’ve always been inspired by people like Rick Rubin. He produced Slayer and Metallica and then the next minute he’s producing Johnny Cash or Red Hot Chili Peppers. Or Tom Dowd — that’s a name that most people aren’t familiar with these days, but he did like six decades of stuff: Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Derek and the Dominoes. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago. These guys are super inspirational to me. I try to individualize every record I do and make it sound unique to that band’s character, rather than try to instill a specific sound upon them. I try to bring out the sound that’s already in them. That’s why I think every record I do sounds unique. I really got a kick out of it, going online and reading all the stuff people were saying like, “The Mountain Goats are doing a death metal record.” It was cool because a lot of people really enjoyed the work I did with it. The same thing with Madball and Agnostic Front — they’re true hardcore working with a death metal guy. If anything, doing those records allowed people to realize that yes, I am a metalhead but I love other music too.

Do you think you’re most efficient when it comes to producing?

Producing is one of my strong points for sure. I’m able to get good performances from people, look at their skill level and what they’re good at and bring the best out of them. That’s really one of my biggest fortes, I think. I’m really grateful to The Mountain Goats, Agnostic Front, and Madball that they were able to give me an opportunity to showcase my talent in a different light. I’m also very grateful to be involved with some of the best death metal bands that have ever existed. I feel like I’m eating my cake and having it too and then having more later. No complaints.

Is producing your favorite thing to do in the studio?

Yeah, certainly producing. I mean, I enjoy doing it all, but if there’s one thing that I feel like I love doing, [it’s] getting my hands dirty. I’m not the kind of guy who sits on the back couch and tells people what to do. I’m a hands-on kind of guy. Getting the tones, and getting people’s performances out of them — it’s just acknowledging people’s talents, and that’s where I feel like I do really well. I think that’s something that through technology has been lost: the art of producing. You can hear it in the stale productions that are coming out, where everything sounds the same, has the same drum samples and is fixed to sound like inhuman performances. I think that’s what’s stripped out the character of recording. What made older records so amazing is the minor flaws and inconsistencies. That’s what made it so incredible. With recording, if you fix everything to sound exactly perfectly, and then you see the band live, you’ll be like, “What the hell is this? This doesn’t sound anything like the record.” Who does that impress? Nobody. Capturing performances with its imperfections is what makes it perfect. When you force it to make it perfect through technology, then it loses some kind of vibe to me. That’s why I can go back decades and decades of years and listen to records of all genres. You can pop on The Temptations 40 years later and know that these guys were recording this live with everybody in one room. Listen to those performances. Or listen to The Beatles, Boston, Kansas, or Metallica’s ‘Ride the Lightning’ and ‘Master of Puppets’ — two of the best metal records of all time — and they have stood the test of time for 25 years plus. What I wonder about some of the new modern technique-sounding records, will they stand the test of time? That I don’t have an answer for. My producing style is an acquired taste — some people love what I do, some people hate what I do, some people love to hate what I do. But that’s okay, we’re all entitled to our own opinions. I’ve always kept true to myself and my gut instincts on things.

I agree. Modern production sometimes seems more about perfection than anything.

It’s gone too far in my opinion. Do I use [Avid] Pro Tools? Of course. But I don’t abuse it. I want to capture the band’s magic. For me, I want every record to sound like every single person collectively coming together and playing the best performance they could possibly muster. I choose to use Pro Tools as the icing on the cake, whereas some people choose to use Pro Tools as the actual cake itself. I know that that new standard of recording is more popular than what I do. I’m okay with that. I’m not trying to win a popularity contest. I want people to listen to the record and say, “God damn, that sounds just like Cannibal Corpse.” Rather than, “What the hell was that?” It’s a long road, but I’ve been sticking true to it and I’ve found my niche. The quality of bands that I’ve had the luxury to work with makes me realize that I’ve stuck to my guns and it’s paying off. I’m doing all the bands I want to do and I can’t even tell you what an honor it is to record with all the bands that I have.

You guys have a European tour for the month of May, and then in June you’ll be doing a North American trek, right?

Yeah, we’re in Europe for a month-long tour with Obscura, Beneath the Massacre, and Defiled. Then, we come home for a week and a half and are doing a US tour with Origin, Vital Remains, and Abysmal Dawn. I’m very excited about it all. And when I get home from touring, I’ll be producing the new Goatwhore record and Cannibal Corpse record. Got lots planned. I’m looking forward to it.

Pick up Hate Eternal’s new record Phoenix Amongst the Ashes.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their official website.