Immolation – Unholy Cult

Cult Classic
The Making of Immolation’s Unholy Cult

New York death metal legends Immolation are unbowed. Since their inception in 1988 (after a two-year stint as Rigor Mortis), the Yonkers-based outfit plied a baleful path to present that was defiantly distinct. Helmed by the ineffable yet affable twosome of Ross Dolan (vocals/bass) and Robert Vigna (guitars), Immolation have released 11 consummate full-lengths, with 1991’s Dawn of Possession serving as their ruthless yet storied first volley. Indeed, there are several albums in Immolation’s extremum corpus operis that are Hall of Fame contenders. Still, the herculean scales of the universe have (for now) centered on the group’s fifth full-length, Unholy Cult.

Released a year after the September 11th attacks on new label paradigm Olympic Records in North America and Listenable Records in Europe, Unholy Cult signaled shifts in Immolation’s tectonic death metal. True, full-lengths like the aforementioned Dawn of Possession and follow-up malice Here in After (1996) were bellwethers for Unholy Cult, but it’s after the New Yorkers had settled into their scorched-wing ascent that they prevailed out of their early-career crucible positively resolute, creatively fecund and gravely heavy. Just as Immolation’s outlook on the world had changed, so too did the lineup. Longstanding guitarist Tom Wilkinson was out; replacing him was ex-Angelcorpse string-burner Bill Taylor. Taylor complemented riff fiend Vigna in style, sound and organization. He was the missing link. With the gifts of drummer Alex Hernandez, the newly re-edified Immolation pivoted artfully into the next chapter on Unholy Cult.

“Of Martyrs and Men,” “Sinful Nature,” “Bring Them Down” and the baronial, eight-minute title track were Immolation’s post-millennium advance. The old had informed and inspired Unholy Cult, but the next chapter had begun. Dolan, Vigna, Taylor and Hernandez set out to show the world that death metal hadn’t diluted or wavered from its original potency. Instead, under Immolation’s watch, the genre spawned tentacles nuanced, complex and flinty. Paul Orofino had also dialed in the production. After two stints with Failures for Gods (1999) and Close to a World Below (2000), the New Yorker found the right toolsets to capture Immolation as they crested the sonic wave. Decibel writer Shawn Bosler described Unholy Cult thusly in our 2012 special issue, Top 100 Death Metal Albums of All Time: “With Unholy Cult, there was a much-needed sense of order and space—all the demonic forces that were spiraling through the previous few albums, sometimes in an overly clogged and semi-disorganized manner, were tethered and brought under the control of Dolan and Vigna’s grand dark visions.”

When Unholy Cult was released on October 28, 2002, Immolation’s esurient cadre was first greeted by Andreas Marschall’s provocative yet thought-provoking cover piece. Menacing yet expansive, the depth and detail of the painting mirrored Immolation’s death metal praxis. Between the struggle of light and dark, evil and good, Decibel welcomes New York’s finest into the Hall of Fame.

Need more classic Immolation? To read the entire seven-page story, featuring interviews with the members who performed on Unholy Cult, purchase the print issue from our store, or digitally via our app for iPhone/iPad or Android.