Grotesque Modern Art

feature image

By the time you read this article, California’s Absymal Dawn will be embarked on one of the year’s (if not longer) best death metal tours. They will be opening for three certifiable legends in Cryptopsy, Cannibal Corpse and Obituary. But Abysmal Down is no normal opener, a wide eyed rookie death metal act. These guys have been around since 2003. Have released 4 albums, 3 of which on metal behemoth label Relapse. So these guys DESERVE to share the stage with such seminal acts.

Band founder, guitarist and vocalist Charles Elliott is a man I have dealt with for a number of years. Not only as front man of Abysmal Dawn but also a PR spokesperson for Nuclear Blast Records. So it’s safe to say the man, which his band and his full time job knows his metal. So in preparation for attending the tour in Lawrence Kansas and meeting the man in person, we opened Skype and some whiskey and talked about a whole lot of metal related stuff…

Well nice to finally meet  you in person after years of emails promos! How excited are you to be touring with 3 death metal legends?

It’s a huge honor for us. The first tour we did with Cannibal Corpse was a fun, and we had to pinch ourselves then, so now touring with Cryptopsy and Obituary should be great too

Absymal Dawn are no spring chickens  or an up and coming band — like you said you have toured with Cannibal Corpse — but do you still get a little giddy when touring with such influential acts?

I psych myself out and really done think about it till after the fact or a couple of shows in or I would lose my shit. I remember the last Cannibal Corpse tour the other guys in the band were really fucking nervous. I don’t know why, we have done a ton of tours. But still, you are playing with your idols and a couple of the guys were like ‘this shit is really happening’. We have played a one of show with Cryptopsy. But we have never played with Obituary. Im a fan so it’s cool to be touring with those guys

I’ve always been curious about some one of your status in the scene. You in a respected death metal band, you work for a respected label, you’ve written for several blogs and magazines. At what point do you separate all the stuff and keep your band separate from what you are promoting?

I feel like morally I have to keep a distinctive line between my band, job and the other bands I work with. The things that happened with the band happened through hard work and naturally and nothing to do with my PR job.

Is there any awkwardness between being in a band on one label and doing PR for essentially a rival label?

No there isn’t. There isn’t real competition, we are all a family. I have never had any awkwardness with any people at either label. I guess some labels might look at the same bands but for the most part its one big family, it’s a friendly competition and everyone gets along.

Was being signed to Nuclear Blast ever an option?

I tried to keep it separate. We had a few other options. When we started Crash Music and maybe some other really underground smaller labels from other countries were interested in us. After our first album, some other labels were looking at us, like Sumerian and Relapse… and we went with Relapse. I really didn’t want to be on a label I worked for and have a conflict of interests.

So if you had signed with Sumerian, would you guys have added some programming, keyboards and clean vocals to your sound? [laughs]

No but maybe I would have rewritten all the lyrics and Micheal Keene would have produced it. I know people talk bullshit about him and the label online. I’ve known Michael for a long time, he’s a cool guy. The old singer for the The Faceless is from around here, we were in a band together early on, he’s cool too. I like The Faceless, I feel every album they have done is different.

Being so connected within the music scene like you said — friends in bands, the PR position, being on Relapse, etc — are there any bands out that you admire or respect or impress you as a musician? Does that drive you to be even better band and musician?

There’s lot of great bands out there. You get jaded at some point. I think (recent Nuclear Blast signees) Nails are fucking awesome. When we first started, you want to be the best local band. And then you get signed and you realize there is a lot more international competition and talent. I don’t feel like AD is in competition, we are doing want we want because we like it. I really don’t care what other bands are doing. We are good friends with the bands on Relapse, like Obscura and Origin. I don’t want to be that stereotype guy that gets to the top and then is like fuck you to other bands. There is a lot of camaraderie.

So there is a lot of that camaraderie between bands and labels in death metal?

Yes, but there is a lot of competition, there are so many fucking bands out there. If you came into this business to be super competitive, you came in at the wrong time.

Being a PR person and in a band, does that keep your finger on the pulse of death metal? Being around it all day keep you energized about death metal? Or are you like a gynecologist who has been around genitals all day and it’s the last thing you want to see when you get home?

[Laughs] It’s a stressful job, so when you are around the business side of the industry you have to step back and appreciate just the music. It’s not easy being around the industry, that everything is fucked up and you realize how unfair the industry is. You try and do your best for the bands you care about. I don’t know if it’s really beneficial, if that’s what you are asking. It gives me perspective and I still love playing so I can’t be that jaded.

Four albums in now, three on Relapse. You have to be proud of what you have accomplished since 2003?

I’m definitely proud of what we have accomplished considering the market for music now. I definitely feel like we have done well being an accomplished, established band. You see a lot of bands drop off after 2-3 albums, and we have made four albums we have a substantial amount of fans, and we are grateful for that. But we have worked fuckin hard for it. There  are not a whole lot of new death metal bands making a mark and I’m just proud we are able to carve out a little niche in this scene.

How hard is it keeping a lineup in a death metal band in 2016? You have had your fare share of lineup changes.

It’s fucking hard. There’s no real reward. I don’t see how bands did it back in the day. Mostly it’s financial day to day stuff. And I know fans don’t want to hear it but the industry has killed the ‘rock star’.  People realize they have to work a day job or realize they have to tour. And then they realize they can barely scrape by. Over the years I’ve been stubborn and stuck to it, I’ve done too many tours and I’ve lost folks to musical differences. It’s really fucking hard.

Do you need people like your drummer Scott Fuller who is in multiple bands (Annihilated, Jungle Rot) and produces? Guys like you, who are also fully entrenched in music?

On this tour, Scott isn’t actually able to make it. He has lots going on with his other bands and producing and hes a lifer as far as music, and I hope he can tour with us in the future. But yeah it helps.

If anything, you guys are consistent in your artwork. You have had the same artist for all four albums, Par Olofsson is there ever a inkling to go with a hot new artist for cover art? I assume he’s more expensive than other artists, so I don’t know how that works.

The thing with Par is that we have known each other forever now, 10 years I guess. We have a relationship where we have been loyal to him and he has been loyal to us. Par has always been supportive of what we did from the beginning. We tried to give him more as we get bigger. He’s always great to work with, our covers have got better and better as we have got bigger.

I’m always curious how your album covers work. Do you give him a theme or a title or do you just have him draw something and pick something cool?

It’s a complex answer. it depends on the album. maybe on From Ashes I dictated a little more what I wanted, then on Programmed to Consume, I had the album title and he did a sketch based on that. From there, we just kind of riff of each other and come up with ideas. For leveling and obsolescence there was maybe a breakdown of sketches and development . On obsolescence he started with a sketch and fed him some ideas and we went from there before we even had a title.

So, speaking of Obsolescence. It is album number four and it appears that you stepped in and helped Mike Bear with some of the production? What has made you go with him for your last few albums? He’s not really a know death metal producer as he does more hard rock…

Mike Bear produced the last two albums. I just stepped in and got involved with all the steps on the way. I’ve known him for a number of years. I first met him in high school when we played my first band together. He played bass on our first record. He is a real stickler for performance and we needed that. He kicked our asses on Leveling and that’s why we went with him. John Haddad did out first two records and he helped mix, master and deal with tones and stuff on Obsolescence.

Do you envision the same team on the next album?

I couldn’t tell you. I like to be loyal to people I’ve worked with in the past but I like to try new things to. We made an effort to have Fascination Street studios do the record (Jens Bogren), but it don’t work out so we went with John and it ended up sounding fucking awesome. We think about other place, but we also know we have this team of people that we are close to that have helped us over the years and will go the extra mile for us.

You seem to take your time between albums. One every three years. Do you like that schedule? Does Relapse push your to get albums out quicker?

I do not like that schedule at all [laughs] Relapse is pretty hands off, they just say mace the best album you can no matter how long it takes. But then again we could use a kick in the balls to get things done quicker. I don’t want to do it like we did for obsolescence again, it took way to long.

With the new album and even on Leveling you guys are in that grey area between full on tech death metal and more traditional death metal… but you appear to have really found a killer sense of groove and actually memorable songs.

Yeah we get labelled as tech death sometime, I don’t know if I agree with that. Especially in the sense of what modern tech death is. We have some tech elements but… my main quip with tech death is I just don’t remember what they play. I think on Leveling the tech death hype was at a real peak, so we felt a need to step up technicality, and I think I read somewhere we were compared to Six Feet Under, so we tried to get even more technical. And that record isn’t tech death at all, but we aren’t sweeping the whole time. So when it came time to write Obsolescence, we thought we proved we could be technical on Leveling, so we reigned it in.

Is this the sound and direction for future albums?

I don’t know! I think I’m kind of leaning more again to a more tech side, but also I’m toying with a more raw sound. Still unclear, but I really can’t say what it will sound like now while I’m just talking about it.

Abysmal Dawn is your baby. When you go into the studio do you have everything written and ready to go for the other guys to play? Or is there any improvisation?

Obsolescence was a very put together record. Almost was demoed out and planned out way in advance.  I would program the drums at home and send Scott the demos. I mean Scott added to it, but he had the basis to go on. When it came time to lyrics I was still working on them and the solos as well. It was a painstaking process. I work a nine-to-five job, so when it came time we could only get there when everyone was available, so the span of recording ended being about a year and it lingered. When it was done I was like ‘Fuck, do I still really like this?’

I’d like the next one to be much more rehearsed as a band instead of me sending stuff out and trying to do the finished product in the studio. The whole band needs to know the song ahead of time. I love the record, but it wasn’t fun making it.

When can we expect another album? Another three years? 

We’ll see. We will start writing after this tour.

What can we expect on this tour? A balance of old a new songs? Will you be playing the cover of Dissections “Nights blood” from Obsolescence

It depends on where you see us. We are thinking of changing up the set for different shows. We are going to play some songs we have not played live yet. Id love to play “Nights Blood”, but when you have a 20 minute set, you’d like to play your stuff, ya know? I knew that would happen when I recorded that song and I love how it came out and how folks would be yelling out for it [laughs] — but we gotta play our songs!


Leave a Reply

Privacy notice: When you submit a comment, your creditentials, message and IP address will be logged. A cookie will also be created on your browser with your chosen name and email, so that you do not need to type them again to post a new comment. All post and details will also go through an automatic spam check via Akismet's servers and need to be manually approved (so don't wonder about the delay). We purge our logs from your meta-data at frequent intervals.