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I've found many a death act who could steam into my living room and rip the holy hell out of the place for 10 minutes. The problem is keeping it fresh and interesting for the long haul. Onward to Golgotha is seething, evil, monstrous death that pounds you into puddy from the very opening. But that's not the big deal. The fact that it retains its lustre and memorability well into Profanation and beyond? That's a big deal.
The songwriting is premiere-quality. I can't stress it enough. Great material will triumph over all. Songs like Devoured Death hang in my brain for hours after listening to them. Devoured Death contains a fantastic changeup riff in the middle that I can always recall from memory, no matter what. The outro in Rotting Spiritual Embodiment is a haunting slow creep of a rhythm complete with Pillard's sick gutteral vocals riding over it like a shadowy monster unleashing his evil in all its glory. Christening the Afterbirth feels a lot like doom, but with a death metal sensibility and some great atmospherics. Immortal Cessation blasts your sorry ass into a wall and keeps you there while it slows the tempo down, grinding you into a puddle of sludge. I could go on and on.
The Incantation formula is to keep throwing these luscious, deadly riffs at you that are just dripping with atmospheric evil and then pound it home with a sledgehammer. They understand how to use different beats and keep the flow changing. When they hit the blast beats, it works because they don't feel the need to stay with it forever. And you know there's just this ultra-scary death groove waiting to lure you in and destroy you on the other side. It's done with a purpose. And they aren't just a two-speed band. The songs are all over the spectrum tempo-wise. It's a great mix; they're doing just about everything you can imagine, comping on riffs with different tempos, hitting you with complete changeups, flirting with doom-stylings, tremelo picking against blast beats. It's all put together extremely well for a freshman effort. Impressive, to say the least.
And the good material lasts all the way into the latter parts of the album. There's no weakness to be had on Onward to Golgotha. These guys set out to get bloody, from start to finish. There wasn't any of this "oh screw it, we've got 6 good songs just fill out the rest" crap. You get the full deal when you sign on to the Onward to Golgotha experience. Maybe Eternal Torture is a little heavy on the blast beats. Maybe.
I've heard some sloppy death productions in my time, and Incantation certainly flirts with it here. The mix on Onward... isn't exactly stellar. There's a lot of mud happening in the lower portion of the midrange, and I can't really hear the bass drum in the way I would like. The entire spectrum has a noisy feel to it. Precision isn't the order of the day; rather we're talking sludge-ridden blasting and pounding. At least it sounds original though. I haven't really heard an album with this tone. It's unique, even if that uniqueness is coming from a less-than-perfect mix. There were so many death albums produced and mixed by the same house back in 1992. The fact that Onward to Golgotha sounded nothing like any of those albums wound up being a net positive.
The bottom line is this: when I think of truly evil, sick sounding death metal, this is one of the first albums that comes to mind. It achieved its intent in a grand, disgusting way. Onward to Golgotha exists as a unique slab in a genre where it can be extraordinarily difficult to stand out. Furthermore, if you really needed an album to scare the living fuck out someone, I'll bet for many of you this would be the one you pull out from your shelves. Oh, yes. If some country music fan needed to be shown the door, I'm betting you'd be grabbing Onward to Golgotha, turning the volume to 10, and enjoying the horrified expressions as people ran from the room screaming.