Feature for RESOUND Magazine
Since releasing their Relapse debut, Programmed to Consume, Abysmal Dawn have been turning heads and snapping necks with their dizzying blend of technicality and balls-out groove, redefining the definition of “modern death metal” and shredding the false as they go along. “Art always reflects our life and times, and I think this record depicts the desperate times we’re all in, “ says Charles Elliot, vocalist/guitarist of the LA death metallers. I managed to track down him down between the band’s recent West Coast run with Victimas and Fields of Elysium and their upcoming dates with Origin and Misery Index on the Relapse Contamination tour next month. Like they always say, there’s no rest for the wicked.
So, could you give me a brief history of the band, for those who are not yet familiar with Abysmal Dawn? I know that you guys formed around 2003, and after releasing your first demo, immediately began to attract attention.
The band was formed in November of 2003 by Jamie and Terry and I. I had played in another band called Inhuman Visions when I was still a teenager with Jamie. We went our separate ways for a while and them talked about getting that band back together. The founding guys weren’t really into the idea so Jamie and I formed our own thing. Terry was an old friend of Jamie’s and he knew a couple of Inhuman Visions songs. We tried him out and never looked back. At fist it was my intention to just be the guitar player and find a singer. We had one rehearsal with Dan from Crematorium on vocals but it soon came apparent that he didn’t have the time. In hindsight maybe he wouldn’t have been the best choice stylistically but we thought he was a great singer and could do a lot of different voices. By the time we did our fist demo in October of 2004 with our friend Sacha from Intronaut recording us, I was singing. In the end I think it was best because I always had an idea of what I wanted the band to be a about lyrically. In November of 2005 we recorded our first album “From Ashes,” which Crash Music licensed from us. We did an amazing tour with Six Feet Under, Krisiun and Decapitated and were lucky enough to play with reunited legends like Emperor and Immortal. That pretty much brings us to today. So far it’s been a great ride.
How does your history with Jamie Boulanger, with whom you’d previously played in Inhuman Visions, help contribute to the writing and guitar-playing in Abysmal Dawn?
We’ve been playing together for so long we just lock in together I think. We both listen to similar bands as well but maybe I have the more eccentric tastes. I write the vast majority of the music but Jamie writes as well. For his songs I usually end up arranging them mostly for vocals and adding a few riffs. I’m sure he hates me for it (laughs). Other than that I think our styles of lead playing have always complemented each other very nicely.
You guys are a fairly young band, yet with about five years under your belt, you’ve already played with the likes of Exodus, Incantation, Hate Eternal, Exhumed, and tons of other highly-respected, kickass bands. Abysmal Dawn’s rise to the top has been nothing short of meteoric; to what do you attribute your success?
I don’t know really, I think it’s just been a hard work ethic. I’ve always tried to push the band to do things in a timely manner and not just wait for things to happen. Both “From Ashes” and “Programmed to Consume” for example were both self-financed recordings. “From Ashes” was licensed to Crash Music and we had already started recording “Programmed…” when Relapse approached us. I think if you’re always looking forward and working hard, as long as you have some sort of talent good things will happen.
Your first album for Relapse has recently been unleashed upon the metal masses, and has already been making waves. How did you guys end up on Relapse in the first place?
Well we had just decided not to do our next record with Crash Music and to record the album ourselves, as I said. About half way through the recording process, while I was still finishing up lyrics, they hit us up. We were talking to a few other labels at the time but they were the ones that we were most hyped on and they seemed the most eager to work with us as well. It was somewhat of a surprise that they contacted us really. They’ve sort of shifted away from death metal over the years while still putting out great music. It’s just an honor to be on a label that has put out so many great death metal bands like Nile, Incantation, Origin, Dying Fetus, Misery Index, Morgion etc. over the years. I hear a lot of people say they think it’s really great that they still acknowledge those roots and signed a band like us too. So far being on the label has been really great.
What can you tell me about the album title, and overall concept behind the lyrics/music? “Programmed to Consume” is definitely not your run-of-the-mill blood, guts, and gutted girls death metal record!
I grew up listening to a lot of bands with gore and satanic themes but I always wanted to sort of stay away from that, at least in the traditional sense. We have a song like “Grotesque Modern Art” for example that deals with an artist that uses his death as his final masterpiece. The concept may be gruesome but it’s not especially graphic and it has more to say with the story rather than just being an attempt at shock. “Compulsory Resurrection” toys with the idea of cloning Jesus and the affect a man made deity would have on the Christian faith. In the song my conclusion is that a lot of people would lose faith when they see he’s just a man, but there will always be those fanatics who blindly hold on. Over all I think the lyrics deal with my misanthropic views and how we’re controlled by society. The title of the album not only make mention of how we’re brainwashed into becoming consumers but also how mankind consumes everything in it’s path. The idea that we’re a cancer without a cure runs throughout the lyrics. A lot of what I’m saying is really rooted in these dark times we’re in today.
What was the writing and recording process like for “Programmed to Consume”?
This record came together much quicker as opposed to “From Ashes.” That album was written over a period of a couple of years and actually had two songs on it from 2000/2001 that were intended for Inhuman Visions. After being on the road for almost a month and a half I personally felt very inspired to start writing another record. Coming back home after that tour was a bit rough as well. I had no job and a lot of personal problems. That dark period really brought out a lot out of me in a much shorter amount of time. Not being enslaved to the daily grind of a 9 to 5 allowed me a lot of time to think about things. By the time we actually got into the studio we were ready to make a much more pissed off record. Art always reflects our life and times and I think this record depicts the desperate times we’re all in.
In a way I think the studio vibe was a bit more laid back though. We recorded with John Haddad who had done the first one, but his new studio was based out of his house. There was more to do around his place when we weren’t recording and we had much more time for this record. “From Ashes” was actually recorded and mixed in only 10 days so we spent some pretty long days in the studio. This time I think we did about 16 8 hour days of tracking total. John did a little bit of mixing and editing while I took about a month to finish the lyrics as well. We also had time to add things like intros, keyboards and little effects that we didn’t have time to do before.
I have to say the first couple of days were rough though. John had a lot of problems with his new studio since no one had recorded there yet. We lost out on a few days for the drums, which would have been helpful. The first day we were supposed to start recording was the day that Vitek (Decapitated drummer) passed away. That was some pretty harsh news for us. We had gotten to know him pretty well on that tour and became good friends. Those guys even stayed at my house when they came through on the “Summer Slaughter” tour. That was the last time I saw him. He’ll be sorely missed. I really hope Covan gets better soon and they continue on because they’re a great band and group of people.
Abysmal Dawn plays death metal, but draw from a variety of influences, especially thrash and black metal. How long did it take you guys to hit upon this particular sound – what made you say “Yeah, that’s it, that’s Abysmal Dawn,” ?
It’s just something that sort of happened naturally. We never want to limit ourselves to one style in particular. We have a lot of different influences and we aren’t afraid of offending a few purists. To me, I just sort of see everything as extreme music and not so black and white. We hate grouping things into little categories.
What bands would you cite as your main influences or inspirations for this project?
I don’t know about the other guys but me personally some of my main early influences would probably be Death, Carcass, Nile, At the Gates, Testament, Metallica, Suffocation and Dissection. I could go on and on but I think those are the major ones. Those have sort of been absorbed as we’ve added other influences through out the years as well. I think bands like Morbid Angel, Deicide and Sepultura were big for Jamie as well. So if you ever came across some shitty ad in Craig’s list a few years back with those influences maybe it was us (laughs).
So what happened with the Grave/Monstrosity/Abysmal Dawn tour? Are you going to be hopping on another one and coming around to the East Coast according to the original plan?
It just fell apart but I just want to say that it was definitely not the fault of any of the bands involved. We’d love to jump on another full US tour sometime but I’m not sure when that will be just yet. If everything works out maybe in the Fall.
What’s next for Abysmal Dawn after the West Coast tour with Victimas/Fields of Elysium?
We’re going to be doing a three-week tour with Origin and Misery Index that will be mostly West Coast. It should be a great tour and we’re really excited to be touring with such killer bands. After that we hope to land a full US tour and maybe go to Europe sometime next year. If we can’t get over there it’s just more US touring, so hopefully everyone we’ll get a chance to see us at some point!