photo by Terco Fredes
(In this new edition of Andy Synn‘s series of interviews focusing on lyrics in metal he elicited thoughts from Charles Elliott, vocalist/guitarist of California’s Abysmal Dawn, who have a new album out on Season of Mist.)
Since the release of their debut album, From Ashes, way back in 2006, Abysmal Dawn have gone on to become one of the most unrelentingly heavy, unfailingly reliable, and unrepentantly riff-heavy acts in Death Metal.
Hell, their most recent album, the fantastic Phylogenesis, recently received a glowing write-up by our own DGR, while its immediate predecessor, 2014’s outstanding Obsolescence, still remains in my regular listening rotation even now.
So, with all that in mind, what more is there left to say about the band?
Quite a bit, apparently, as you’re about to find out from vocalist/guitarist (and overall mastermind) Charles Elliott!
When I first started the band in 2003, I had every intention of just playing guitar and not singing. But, after a while of searching for the right vocalist, I just decided that I would give it a shot.
A lot of musicians hate writing lyrics and it’s sort of become the hardest part of writing a song for me over the years. Especially the more songs you write, it becomes harder to find new things to say.
I’ve asked for input over the years, and opened up the floor for other members to at least come up with topics, but no one else has ever really contributed.
I don’t blame them. I hate writing lyrics!
For this album I tried to keep notes on my phone whenever a cool phrase, word or topic came to my attention. I’d read or watch some sort of show, movie or documentary to try and get inspired.
That didn’t seem to help me much though, if I’m honest, and ultimately all the lyrics for this album ended up being written over an 8 month period or so in response to some of the more personal things I was feeling at the time.
I demoed all the songs just singing gibberish at first, just to sort of lay down the vocal patterns I had in mind. From there I would just see how the song made me feel, and some cool lyrics might just come out in my improvisation.
The lines wouldn’t always work out, but sometimes at least a few words would come of it or I’d know the rhyming scheme or sound of the syllables I was looking for. Then I would just see if any thought process would come from my stream of consciousness.
If I could see an idea emerging I’d refine that and make it so the concept was clearer and more focused (a thesaurus and a rhyming dictionary are great tools).
There’s an Acid Bath lyric that goes “the skyscrapers look like gravestones from out here”. That’s always stood out to me, and just makes me think of all the spiritually dead people that exist in these big cities.
Not spiritually in a religious sense, just in the connected-to-humanity sense. I always thought that was killer and Dax had some great lyrics.
I think [my process] is pretty much the same, but maybe I write based on life experience, and less about stuff inspired by movies and things like that, a bit more than when we started.
The chorus to “In Service of Time”, for example, is all about the choices we make and life and coming to terms with your own mortality. I think it resonates with me and a lot of people.
Chasing a dream you cannot seem to forget
Mistakes that you made remembered in your dying breath
Time has a way of collecting its debts
Bringing us closer to death
When we play that one live, I’ll sometimes get goosebumps because the crowd will be singing it back to me. It makes me feel like this hard path I’ve chosen was worth it, and maybe I’ll leave something behind that will outlast me.
Let’s go with “Grotesque Modern Art” from our second album Programmed to Consume (2008).
Spill onto canvas. Gruesome art stirs the consciousness.
A last exhibit; a masterpiece of mortal flesh.
I’m falling down. My last breath is leaving now.
I die, wanting to show my truth.
Poison leaves my eyes.
A work in progress in the gallery laid to rest.
I’m bought and sold. An ornament in their control.
Never wanted acceptance. So turn away in ignorance.
My death is art and suffering is tortured bliss
The Body Worlds exhibit was big at the time. If you aren’t familiar with what that is, that’s an exhibit that uses real preserved human bodies posed in various activities. There was even some controversy at one point about the corpses possibly being Chinese political prisoners, but I don’t know if that was ever confirmed.
I had lost my job after doing my first major U.S. tour and the tortured artist idea of suffering for your art was hitting close to home, so the lyrics were basically about an artist using their suicide as a work of art, to be hung in a gallery somehow.
The line “I die, wanting to show my truth,” came about while I was unemployed and trying to find a means of income that would let me tour.
I actually signed up for a course of voice-over work where they kept using this term “bring your truth” into what you’re saying.
It’s basically an acting thing. Like, bring a little bit of your life experience into what you’re reading.
I quickly learned I’m no actor and abandoned that idea almost immediately though.
Let’s do “Hedonistic” for that one.
Crawling, scratching, chasing a hedonistic vicious lie.
Burning, yearning, seeking purpose to numb the pain of life.
Cultivate a life of wanting. Acclimate to senseless pride.
Want to believe in something. Dreams left behind.
Slowly wilting, fading. Now choose to live before you die
It’s basically a criticism of existing for the pursuit of material possessions and wanting those to somehow make you happy.
To seek purpose, with purpose, creates a sense of fulfillment that brings happiness.
I feel like every time I’ve strayed from that even a bit, it’s ended up biting me in the ass and making me miserable somehow.
I guess it just reflects that I could benefit from learning from my mistakes, just like humanity in general.
Check out our new album Phylogenesis, out now on Season of Mist.
We put a lot of hard work into it, so please consider picking up a copy, streaming it, buying a t-shirt, or just spreading the word about Abysmal Dawn (and any other of your favorite artists) during this tough time.
We hope to see you all on tour again when this is all over!