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Imagine you were to go to your nearest Hearse dealer and take a shiny new funereal ride out for a test drive. Now, imagine going back to that same lot a year later after hours, blow-torching that same vehicle and then taking it out for a joyride...using only the reverse gear. Not one of my most overt analogies, but it pretty much sums up Upon the Throne of Apocalypse, an alternate recording of Incantation's crushing sophomore Mortal Throne of Nazarene which was released but a year after the first. Apparently the band and the label had some disagreement over the audio quality of the studio album, and went back to the well to create something more supposedly ominous and issue it through a limited edition.
Understandably, there are two camps regarding this record. The first believes in and justifies its existence, claiming they prefer the deeper, bass-heavier tone of the re-release, and that it better suits the band's cavernous aesthetic. The other had no problem with Mortal Throne of Nazarene as it was, and considers this a bit of a ripoff. To be fair, Relapse put out only like 1000 copies of this CD, so it wasn't meant to be some widespread scam, simply a means to make themselves happier, presumably the band and also a chunk of the fan base. Had this been the 21st century, Incantation might have released this themselves through a website for a few bucks, perhaps iTunes or a 'Pay As You Will' scenario for the fans. Or maybe released it with a remastered or re-issue of Mortal Throne of Nazarene, or as part of a fan package with a bunch of their demos and other materials. But this was 1995, and the timing of its manifestation was slightly suspect. After all, this was a pretty underground band even in its heyday, so who really cared? I guess a thousand or so people...
Now, I happen to love Mortal Throne of Nazarene for all its benefits and flaws, so I fall into the latter reaction. Not because of some implied, sinister machinations of the rough mix's presence, but because I rather appreciate the contrast in tones found on that incarnation. Upon the Throne is deeper and perhaps darker, but only in the most obvious stripping of the mix. I can understand why it would feel more streamlined to the dank and desolate, crushing weight of the band's material, and certainly the majority of the Incantation worship bands existing today go for this approach, but it lacks the dynamic disconnect between Craig Pillard's enormous guttural resonance and the higher pitched grinding tumult of the guitars, a subterranean approximation of Bolt Thrower's bludgeoning with a more versatile exploration of tempo. Thus, in exchange for making the music a bit 'darker', the overwhelming shock of the vocals (their most potent and distinct characteristic) is lost a little on the 1995 version, and some of the bright curvature of the guitar grooves is also dimmed.
There's also the notion I've heard that the Mortal Throne mix is too 'clean', but that's nonsense. It is not tidy in the slightest, but septic and pummeling in line with many of the more intense, extreme death and grind acts of the early through mid 90s. The track list is precisely the same on both releases, just presented in reverse, which was a lot bigger deal at the time than it is now with the age of mp3 players and barely anyone listening to albums in order (critics and purists being the exception). However, I must say that I preferred the album's initiation to tear my skin off with "Demonic Incarnate", rather than the trudging brute that is the 8+ minute "Abolishment of Immaculate Serenity" opening the ceremony. I felt that epic was better suited to the depths of the disc as a grand finale, so I simply do not see the advantage to having it the other way. I also preferred having the extra leads on the album.
Upon the Throne of Apocalypse is pretty much a waste of space, even if I can discern why some listeners would prefer this more earthen, dreary copulation of tones. It's more consistent, but at the same time less interesting because the striking disparity of its brazen brutality is muted. Being a limited edition, there is an obvious appeal for collectors, but I feel like the material itself was best presented through Mortal Throne of Nazarene, which joins the debut Onward to Golgotha as a timeless US classic of boundary forcing, grotesque obscenity. Even the cover art choice here is not so appealing. It wasn't broken, it didn't need fixing, and I can only imagine the turbulence that would ensue if Relapse had green lit the same treatment for a dozen other classics, but then, this is a label known for shaky relations with their artists. (John McEntee himself had some friction with them for years).
This is a strange album to review, the music is brilliant, the atmosphere is dark and gripping, its sound is perfect, and yes, it sounds better than Mortal Throne of Nazarene, but I still can't help but think this album really doesn't need to exist. The music was brilliant on MToN, and the atmosphere was just as dark and gripping as it is here, and to be honest, until you hear this version, you'd be hard pressed to find anything overtly wrong with the production job there either. Upon the Throne of the Apocalypse just seems a little bit pointless. Sure the band didn't like the production job that Relapse imposed on them, but was hardly so overdone that it warranted a complete re-release with a mangled track list.
It's awkward trying to explain why something that is admittedly better than the original is actually worse. So, imagine Mortal Throne of Nazarene as Turducken, and Upon the Throne of the Apocalypse as Turbaconducken. Those wondering what the hell Turducken is, it's basically a turkey, stuffed with a duck, stuffed with a chicken. As a lover of all things poultry, that sounds simultaneously like one of the most delicious and sickening foods ever imagined; which fits in well with Incantation’s style of sickeningly heavy brilliance. Turbaconducken is basically that again... just wrapped in bacon. As McDonalds have proven, everything is better with bacon. So in all likelihood, Turbaconducken is better than Turducken, but really, is this addition of bacon really necessary? It's just a completely superfluous addition to perfection; the inclusion of something that you didn't know or care was missing. In the case of this album, heavier guitars are like bacon, yes, everything death metal is better with meatier guitars, but really, Mortal Throne’s guitars were already sufficiently meaty. If you've already got Mortal Throne, this album isn't worth spending your money on.
Really, all that is noticeably different here is the guitar tone. It's meatier, lower and generally even more bass-heavy than the original, it sounds fantastic, no doubt about it. It fixes all the problems that were on the on the previous mix, where the pointlessness comes in is that until you hear this mix, chances are you wouldn't have realised anything wrong with the original. I know that I had never picked up on the slight attempts of creating a more accessible sound by the producer until I'd heard this rougher mix. Why? Because Mortal Thrones mix was still fantastic, and it was still a bone shatteringly heavy and uncompromising album. This isn't like the Guitar Hero version of the new Metallica album, where they were fixing an obvious and crushing mistake, this was the band being a little bitchy and fixing something that many people had already accepted as perfect. I'm all for bands deciding to change their sound to something with less mainstream appeal when it makes things better, which is what Incantation have done, but there was no reason they couldn't have just waited until the next album and fixed the mistakes there, this album was hardly so broken that it needed this treatment. It's good to hear a band actively seeking out perfection in their music, but this all seems a little petty.
So anyway for the new comers to the album in either form, what Upon the Throne of the Apocalypse offers is a mix of high speed blastbeat laden death metal with quality old school evil sounding riffing, mixed with a range of more midpaced sections still sounding thoroughly death metal, and a whole bunch of straight up death/doom with a level of heaviness usually reserved for funeral doom. It is quite up and down in terms of speed, but the songs never feel awkwardly disjointed and the quality level is constantly high, as is the general feeling of evil and morbidness that erupts from every note that is played on the album.
Things are a little awkward thanks to the reversed track listing, moving from an 8 minute almost exclusively slow monster into a 57 second brutal death metal track is quite a jarring way to kick off the album for the first two songs. They don't sound out of place in the initial order, not to mention that "Demonic Incarnate" is a better attention grabber than "Abolishment of Immaculate Serenity", still these are only minor niggles.
Everything is all very low pitched, the guitars of course, but even the more harmonic lead type sections are very low, it's these moments that really sound different from the original, all those ever so slightly user friendly higher pitched melodies and leads to accompany the brutality are now almost as low and as cruel sounding as the rest of the album. This makes the album that little bit more unrelenting and vicious, but it's hardly worth making a new album over. And of course Craig Pillard's vocals are some of the lowest that would have been heard at the time of release without ever dropping into the weaker realms of burping, which tends to lack the aggression of a more conventional growl, this is pure power.
Upon the throne still gets a high rating because the music is still brilliant, and the production change didn't ruin the album. My man-crush on the hideously ugly Pillard makes me think that he wouldn't be making a cash-in so the motives behind the album seem honest, if fairly unfounded. And I suppose Musicians actively seeking out perfection in their music is a trait that should be applauded and desired, it’s just a bit of a pity that they couldn’t get these problems worked out before the initial release. I'm not going to get all pretentious and call for this album to be blacklisted and shunned, because it is brilliant, but nonetheless it's really quite a pointless release, and loses points for that. Of course, if you're new to Incantation or either version of this album, by all means go here first, there is no denying it sounds better and will absolutely blow your mind.
I still don’t completely grasp what the beef was between Relapse records and Incantation over the band’s second album. Originally titled and released as Mortal Throne Of Nazarene, the band went out of their way to bitch about the mix and insist that a more unprocessed version be issued under the title we’re dealing with in this here review. And so with no difference in the tracks, except for an inverted running order (turn that cross upside down, man!) and a somewhat nastier production job, we have Upon The Throne Of Apocalypse.
Whatever the path it chose to get to us, I’m glad it persevered, because like the band’s debut, this is pure unadulterated well-constructed death metal par excellence. The feeling of clandestine, slowly emerging catastrophe is a trademark of the Incantation sound, and that slow unfolding of disaster is very, very present on opener “Abolishment Of Immaculate Serenity,” which takes it’s time (8+ minutes) to unravel it’s scroll of black divination. We get blasted into grindcore land with “Blissful Bloodshower,” but with the crawling riffs of “The Ibex Moon” we’re right back to what Incantation do best; deliver a death metal motif with songs that sound like the musical accompaniment to the Angels of the apocalypse marching towards sinners to be deposited in the pits of Sheol.
Again boasting a vicious sound job (what do you expect, even the rough original mix wasn’t sick enough for band leader John McEntee) Incantation proved their place among death metal’s deadliest again here. And although McEntee would be the only man left standing after a mean-spirited and acrimonious departure of all his fellow band mates, nothing can end evil this sublime.
Upon The Throne Of Apocalypse is the follow up that I was looking for after Onward To Golgotha! This is the rough mix of the cd Mortal Throne Of Nazarene. This one sounds better in my opinion.
The production on the Mortal Throne Of Nazarene sounded too clean and weak in my opinion. This rough mix version sounds a lot darker and heavier and it has the added weight/muscle that I was looking for. The drums seem to sound a little better, especially the double bass drums, and the china crashes seem a lot more defined on this release. Also the guitars seem to sound a little a better too, and as for the bass heavy unholy vokills, they absolutely still kill on this release!!
The songs that make up this album are the same as MTON, and they are all awesome! Demonic Incarnate starts off fast and heavy and then in the middle of this song it slows down to a classick Incantation jam session. Emaciated Holy Figure is where the china crashes really seem to come thru more clear on this release, but the weird ending that’s on MTON is barely audible on this version. Next up is the classic Iconoclasm Of Catholicism, which is one of my favorite Incantation songs, and this song is a classick example of the Incantation tempo changes. Essence Ablaze is another classick and seems to have become a live favorite. Nocturnal Dominium is a slower song that seems to have really defined the trademark Incantation doom sound. Blissful Blood Shower is a good intro to one of the best Incantation songs, The Ibex Moon! Abolishment Of Immaculate Serenity finishes this great album off, and this is another slower, doom song and it’s just awesome along with the rest of this cd!
This is highly recommended to any Incantation fan or Death Metal fan. This version can go up to 30 dollars on ebay but I have actually seen it for 10 dollars on amazon.com so you might want to look for it on both websites! Hail Incantation!