L.A.-based extreme-metal guitarist Charles Elliott makes playing death metal look easy. Elliott formed death-metal band Abysmal Dawn in 2003 and within four years they were raging alongside such bands as Goatwhore, Emperor, Hate Eternal and Immortal. Though Elliott is the sole original founding member, in recent years he has taken the band to new heights, touring with their heroes in Obituary and Cannibal Corpse. They have recorded four full-length albums, the last three of which came out on Relapse Records.
Abysmal Dawn are about to embark a tour of North America with their death-metal peers Incantation, as well as controversial black-metal band Marduk, who had a show canceled earlier this year in Oakland thanks to pressure from antifa (anti-fascist) protesters upset with the band's use of Nazi imagery and themes. (The Marduk/Incantation/Abysmal Dawn tour does not have a stop anywhere in the Bay Area.) We discussed the upcoming tour with Elliott and his thoughts on the protesters, as well as the time he smoked weed with death-metal pioneer Charles Schuldiner, his experiences working on the label side at Nuclear Blast Records, and the status of Abysmal Dawn's next album.
What was the band that got you into heavy metal?
For me it was Metallica. They were a gateway to metal. I was a grunge kid into Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails. Then I got into Metallica. Then I got into Fear Factory, Machine Head and discovered then Cannibal Corpse and other bands, and it got heavier and heavier from there.
In 1999, your first band, Inhuman Visions, opened for the legendary band Death at the Whisky. Did you get to meet Chuck Schuldiner?
Yeah. Rick Fowler, the singer for Inhuman Visions, and I got to meet Chuck when we approached him to smoke weed with us before the show. It was cool. He was nice but he basically didn't have time, saying he had to do the show; it was really quick, not a conversation. We just smoked weed.
What was it like performing as a vocalist in the Death to All tribute shows to Schuldiner in 2012?
I didn’t know at first if it was a good idea. But I was humbled my name came up and they ended up asking me. I got to play with some of my favorite musicians of all time. The experience was awesome, it was one of the most amazing things I have ever done in my life.
You work as a publicist for Nuclear Blast, a heavy metal record label. How are you able to take time off from work to tour? What is it like to be on both sides, as a working band and a record-label employee?
When it comes to work, it depends. I have worked on tour and taken time off. If I have vacation time, I will take it. But nowadays there is a lot of downtime on the road, and we have the technology to do it. As for working at a label and being in a band, it gives me perspectives on how a label works, which is cool, and I get an insider's knowledge, but I wouldn’t say it gives me a [unfair] advantage or anything, otherwise I would have been a rock star by now.
You are about to tour with Marduk, who were the subject of some protests on their last tour. Are you concerned about any protests on this tour? Do you care about the antifa protesters and their cause?
I am not worried at all. And nah, fuck them, fuck those guys. I don’t care. Whatever, if it happens, oh well. I find it to be fearmongering. It’s not how you deal with things. No one wants fascism, of course, but their whole organization and approach doesn't make sense to me. We were hoping there would be a San Francisco or Oakland tour date but we don’t know. But in terms of those protesters who get violent, I don’t get it. I don’t understand that mentality at all — to shut people down because you don’t agree with them.
Give fans an update as to a possible new Abysmal Dawn record.
We hope to have a new album out next year. We are working on it, we have nine songs, and are writing lyrics. The way we do it is we write music first, then all the structures and the riffs, then go back and listen and write lyrics and leads and stuff like that. It’s all a process. We just want our music to come out good, so we take our time to a certain extent, and that is one advantage of not relying solely on your music for income — you can be proud of the end result. That is our mentality — it will get done when it gets done, and it will be the best Abysmal Dawn record we have.
Abysmal Dawn will perform with Marduk and Incantation at Union on Friday, Aug. 18. Tickets and more info.