Hate Eternal’s Erik Rutan Is Death Metal’s Renaissance Man
Erik Rutan works his ass off. At 47, Erik not only serves as guitarist and vocalist of brutal death metallers Hate Eternal, he’s also as one of the metal’s most influential producers and engineers. That’s not to say that all of his clients are metal musicians; in fact, they range from metal all the way to indie folk legends The Mountain Goats, whose frontman and former Decibel columnist John Darnielle is a huge Hate Eternal fan.
The hours Erik has spent behind the console in the recording studio, tuning and perfecting every little detail of his recordings, have taught him much that he can apply to his daily life as one of heavy metal’s most active musicians. From his early beginnings shredding in New Jersey’s Ripping Corpse to his two stints in Morbid Angel, Erik has always possessed an inquisitive mind, a passion for the art of music, and a relentless work ethic.
Fresh off the release of Hate Eternal’s latest album Upon Desolate Sands, Erik took a moment to chat about how the life or a producer has made him a better death metal musician, and vice versa.
I want to start by talking about The Mountain Goats. Frontman John Darnielle happens to be pretty well-versed when it comes to metal. How did you guys link up?
John is a huge metal fan and he saw some video footage of me producing and interacting with Cannibal Corpse in the studio, and he decided he had to work with me. He reached out to me via email at the Mana Recording site and asked if I would be interested in producing four songs with The Mountain Goats for All Eternals Deck. Their music is so unique and completely different then any other band I had ever worked with before, so I was very excited at the prospect of us working together.
What was working with The Mountain Goats like?
Working with John and the guys was an incredible experience. He would have moments in the studio where he would have an idea and we would record it on the spot. It was incredible to see him work — he is very prolific, and random ideas would just come naturally to him at various times. That spontaneity is something we wanted to capture, so I would need to be ready at all times as to seize the moment and get it down.
Cannibal Corpse is a band you’ve frequently worked with over the years. How has their sound informed your production style?
Cannibal Corpse’s Kill was really my breakthrough album for my producing career. It opened so many doors for me, and I will always be eternally grateful to Cannibal Corpse for believing in me and giving me the chance to prove myself as a producer. We have been friends for almost thirty years now, and toured together many times, so we knew each other very well before working together in the studio. But you truly get to know each other when working on albums together in the studio. For every album we’ve done together, we had different goals to create a unique album and experience.
Tell me about Kill. What went into recording that album?
With Kill, our objective was to capture the raw spirit and foreboding heaviness of Cannibal Corpse’s live show, and I pushed them to get the best out of them in a musical way. It all started with a foundation of drums. In order to capture the soul of what Cannibal represents, we recorded all the drum performances in one take, which meant we would go over and over again, recording the song until we captured one amazing take from beginning to end in one shot. I tried to capture the band’s individual tones and performances as well, in order to preserve who they are. Every album after that we really grew together in so many ways and experimented with different approaches and went for a unique sound.
Working with Madball and Agnostic Front was incredible. Being a Jersey guy, growing up playing shows and hanging out with hardcore bands in New York, to work with these two legendary bands was a highlight of my career as a producer/engineer. Both bands were as focused as ever. Hardcore guys are a lot like us death metal guys — both live and breathe what we do, and it shows.
What does hardcore have going for it that metal could stand to learn?
Hardcore has this incredible energy to it, and I really wanted to capture that. A lot of emphasis goes into the vocals, much more then, say, death metal. In death metal, to me, the vocals are like another extension of the music, like another instrument. But in hardcore, the vocals are a lot of the driving force and overall character of the music, and predominantly essential to getting across the vibe and spirit of the album. Hardcore has a message it wants to get across and a unity that makes that whole scene special to me from the very beginning.
You’ve also done the production for Hate Eternal — what’s it like to produce your own band? What makes it different from working with a band you don’t play in?
When someone asks me what is the hardest album you have ever worked on, it’s usually an easy answer…the Hate Eternal albums. I wear so many hats in [Hate Eternal]: writing the lyrics, doing all the vocals, writing all the music with JJ, recording my guitars, and finally, producing, engineering and mixing the album. But recording my own band and albums in my own studio has been a dream of mine since I was a teenager. To have the opportunity to realize this over and over again it just humbles me, and makes me grateful to all whom have helped me get here over three decades of work. It is so hard to succeed in the music business with one career, let alone two.
What was your vision for Upon Desolate Sands? How much of your inspiration for the album came out of working with other bands in the studio?
My vision was to create a musical landscape of dynamics and creativity, pushing the boundaries of what we have accomplished before while staying true to the spirit and legacy of Hate Eternal. Preserving the integrity of the band is always important to me but expanding our sound is something I always want to do as to never repeat ourselves. The more I create music, the more I am able to reach depths not realized before. Like many musicians I believe I have a depth of emotion and pain that I tap into for inspiration, and with each album I dig deeper into that. My character and essence of who I am is very intricate and involved, and I always try to bring out that depth.
You returned to cover artist Eliran Kantor this time around, whose work for Upon Desolate Sands is absolutely stunning. What is the process of working with him?
Working with Eliran is an absolute pleasure. He is very meticulous, and puts so much attention and detail into everything he does. I send him demos and pre-production versions and whatever else I have finished six months in advance, to give him some insight into the material. I also have conversations with him to express the depth of my inspiration and convey the theme of the album. Then I let Eliran create his own artistic impression of the album based on my vision of the music and lyrics. To truly capture the essence and spirit of the record and create an amazingly unique cover, you need to let the artist express themselves in whatever way they deem fit by allowing them the artistic freedom to create their own vision. Eliran and I have done two albums together (Infernus and Upon Desolate Sands) and I could not be any happier with them. He’s a master at his craft and honored to have him be a part of the process.
In your opinion, what’s changing in the metal world these days?
So much has changed. The music industry, social media, online awareness…Back in the day, when I was in Ripping Corpse in the late ‘80s/early 90’s, you made and printed flyers for shows and put them everywhere. You made demos and had to mail them to mags, zines and labels to get noticed. You had to work your tail off to get your material out there. Now with social media sites, everyone can put their stuff out there. But because of that, there’s an over saturation of music out there. So in some sense, it’s almost harder to get noticed. We live in an age of immediacy. We are used to having what we want when we want it. Here today, gone tomorrow. Music doesn’t seem to last like it used to.
Hate Eternal’s Upon Desolate Sands is out now on Season Of Mist. Buy it here.
Make sure to see Erik with Hate Eternal along with Cannibal Corpse and Harm’s Way at one of the dates below:
Nov. 7 Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground (tickets)
Nov. 8 Providence, RI @ Fete (tickets)
Nov. 9 Jersey City, NJ @ White Eagle Hall (tickets)
Nov. 10 Rochester, NY @ Anthology (tickets)
Nov. 11 Columbus, OH @ Skully’s (tickets)
Nov. 13 Grand Rapids, MI @ The Intersection (tickets)
Nov. 14 Toledo, OH @ Civic Music Hall (tickets)
Nov. 15 Bloomington, IL @ The Castle Theater (tickets)
Nov. 16 Palatine, IL @ Durty Nelly’s (tickets)
Nov. 17 Madison, WI @ The Majestic Theater (tickets)
Nov. 18 Des Moines, IA @ Wooly’s (tickets)
Nov. 20 Omaha, NE @ The Waiting Room (tickets)
Nov. 21 Oklahoma City, OK @ Diamond Ballroom (tickets)
Nov. 23 Corpus Christi, TX @ House of Rock (tickets)
Nov. 24 Houston, TX @ Warehouse Live (tickets)
Nov. 25 Baton Rouge, LA @ The Varsity Theater (tickets)
Nov. 27 Lexington, KY @ Cosmic Charlies (tickets)
Nov. 28 Pittsburgh, PA @ Mr. Smalls Theater (tickets)
Nov. 29 Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue (tickets)
Nov. 30 St. Louis, MO @ Delmar Hall (tickets)
Dec. 1 Columbia, MO @ The Blue Note (tickets)
Dec. 3 Memphis, TN @ Growlers (tickets)
Dec. 4 Athens, GA @ Georgia Theater (tickets)
Dec. 5 Orlando, FL @ The Abbey (tickets)
Dec. 6 Ft. Lauderdale, FL @ The Culture Room (tickets)
WORDS: Zachary Goldsmith
PHOTOS: Alex Morgan
The two-legged trek will feature a rolling cast of openers including Obituary, Cro-Mags, Terror, Fit For An Autopsy, Prong, Agnostic Front, and more.
High on Fire headline a day of beer and metal at Three Floyds Brewery in Indiana.