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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.