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Incantation have been around a very long time and over the span of almost twenty-five years have seen their reputation rise and fall almost as many time as they've endured line-up changes, label changes, and changes in the tastes and trends of a scene they themselves helped create. And after six years of dormancy (six years in which a legion of imitators spawned from their absence and a sudden rediscovering of their earlier records arrived and dominated), Incantation returns with their most vital and profound effort since 1998's Diabolical Conquest.
Vanquish In Vengeance is Incantation with a chip on their shoulder. An album with something to prove. Faced with the task of reinvigorating themselves, the band opts to head in a slightly different direction from their own past and the peers who've been aping them. Sloughing off the murk and mire, the band opts for a cleaner, bolder production job that accents all the instruments and accentuates the songwriting. And here is where Incantation break free from those who would claw them back down. No one who has copied the Incantation style lately can touch the songwriting here.
Considering this is their eighth full-length, it would be reasonable to expect apathy and amotivation. Few bands this deep into a discography are able to bring much passion and energy to their music but that's exactly what Incantation does. Vanquish In Vengeance crackles with energetic life: choppy, staccato chords and blurred tremolo riffs coupled to heaving, chunky basslines and tremendously powerful and off-kilter drumming -- all slathered in a grey-hued atmosphere for horror and oppression. The band strides the death-doom demarcation perfectly, crafting superb slowdowns of despair to interperse with their high-octane face-melters. And they've added a few new wrinkles to the mix too, like the eleven-minute funereal epic "Legion Of Dis," which sings high-melodic praise while still lurching at a pace akin to a caravan with broken spokes and all the while an amelodic squelch of noisy feedback threatens to rise up and subsume the song. It's an incredible experience, especially on headphones.
John McEntee finally arrives as a vocalist too and at long last is able to shed the long memories of an earlier performer unfairly fetishized. McEntee, ever reluctant to become the band's full-time singer, ascends into his prime and delivers a fully demonic performance perfectly attuned to the band's occult lyrics. He is also in fine guitar fettle with brilliant riffs and flashes of genius in the few solos he delivers. Having Kyle Severn back in the drum chair helps too. He may not be the flashiest drummer but he delivers a heavy performance here and is never afraid to go a little off-time, keeping things lively and frenetic throughout.
In a genre rife with stagnation and imitation, it is refreshing to hear another veteran band answer the challenge of their younger peers and then casually brush them aside with an album so masterly that it is somewhat hard to fathom. Incantation, like their NYDM peers Suffocation and Immolation, continue to progress and inspire and Vanquish In Vengeance is a true highlight of their discography.
Vanquish in Vengeance is Incantation’s first album in half a decade. In that time, a legion of bands have sprung up that are making careers for themselves out of plundering the murky, creepy-crawling legacy of the Pennsylvania quartet’s classic recordings such as Onward to Golgotha and Diabolical Conquest, capitalizing on the elder statesmen’s prolonged absence from the scene. Indeed, Incantation-influenced death metal is pretty much a subgenre unto itself at this point, but as Marvin Gaye once said; “Ain’t nothing like the real thing baby.”
So it is that Incantation have returned from Golgotha to show the kiddies who’s boss with what is unquestionably one hell of a comeback record in the form of Vanquish in Vengeance. But whereas the bands currently aping John McEntee’s legendary death squad chose to wallow in the sonic muck (in most cases to disguise a complete and total lack of riffs), Incantation are all about clarity in 2012. In fact, Vanquish in Vengeance might be the most well-produced album in the band’s catalog, benefiting from an absolutely stellar mixing and mastering job by non other than Dan Swano. Songs like “Transcend into Absolute Dissolution” “Profound Loathing” and “Legion of Dis” retain Incantation’s trademark heaviness and oppressive atmosphere, but each instrument is easily discernible, making the whole thing that much more crushing.
Atmosphere, heaviness; these two things are integral to Incantation’s sound, but they wouldn’t amount to much if they weren’t propped up by good, sturdy songs. McEntee brings his a-game to the table for Vanquish in Vengeance, penning a batch of tracks that feel like classic Incantation, yet at the same time are somehow even more doomy and twisted. The aforementioned “Legion of Dis,” the eleven-plus minute closing track, is a goddamn planet-smasher in and of itself, but everything that comes before it is just as impressive. Songs here run the gamut from slow-burning, chest-caving death doom to taught, under four minute face-rippers, making for a much more varied listen than what one might expect from Incantation.
With Vanquish in Vengeance, Incantation have managed to pull off the difficult task of staying true to their roots while at the same time updating and tweaking their sound. The album makes nods to the past without being a carbon copy of old ideas, proving once again that McEntee is a master of his craft, the gold standard by which all other bands attempting this style are to be measured. The fact that it absolutely obliterates all other bands is just icing on the cake.
Originally written for That's How Kids Die.com
Incantation was a band that hit me early on, and hit me HARD early on, with a pair of albums so abysmally dark, dank, nihilist and unfriendly that they really challenged my perception of the possibilities in a budding genre that I had previously still held pretty closely to the tenets of thrash and speed based songwriting. The monstrous, outrageous guttural vocals were the sickest I'd heard since Van Drunen or Tardy. The emphasis on churning, subterranean atmosphere over the 'catchy' evil riffs inherent to many of the Floridian, Dutch or Swedish exports was a novelty I hadn't considered (one that has since been beaten to death by various waves of followers), but despite this fact, Onward to Golgotha and Mortal Throne of Nazarene remained quite distinct. My reactions to the later Incantation work in the 90s and beyond were lukewarm at best (Decimate Christendom being the disc I enjoyed most of these), because even though they've never released a 'bad' full-length (outside of the wasteful Upon the Throne of Apocalypse), for some reason I felt like they had lost some of that crushing primacy that translated into nuance during their formative years of existence.
So I'm pretty confident in claiming that Vanquish in Vengeance is the best album I've heard from the band in 18 years, but this boast comes with a caveat: it's not necessarily the same, murky, ominous Incantation that so many have foisted upon the pedestal of (un)godliness. Thanks largely to the production, this is a far brighter beast than I usually associate with the Pennsylvanians' output, even if the musical blueprint covers most of the same fundamentals. Vanquish in Vengeance is well written, old school death metal, that has, to its great credit, decided against shunning the benefits that come with a louder, more contemporary recording flush with the 21st century. To some degree, this naturally comes with an elevated sense of accessibility, not that you'll be hearing Incantation on the radio or booming out the loudspeakers at the shopping mall, but that its not got the ultra-muddied tones to compete with lauded underground juggernauts like Teitanblood or Portal. This is potent, dynamic, riff-centric death metal rooted in the virtues of the 90s, with an enormous sense of proper pacing throughout 52 minutes of occult and supernatural lyrical themes. In terms of the riffing structure, it's certainly not a far cry from many of the records they've released in the interim of their gory, glory days with Relapse, but a lot of the note progressions here really gelled with me.
Guitars have a firm, raw fiber to them that holds up through whatever tempo and configuration they choose, whether that be a lumbering, vile death/doom groove as in "The Hellions Genesis" and "Transcend the Absolute Dissolution", or the grainier, accelerated patterns that feel like someone tilling the soil in a moist, fog-shrouded cemetery with a gut-spattered iron rake. Harmonies are morbid, beefy and atonal, and leads sporadic and quivering like psychedelic banshees in conversation through the the deepening night. In contrast to what a lot of death metal bands select for their bass tones, these lines are pretty clean sounding (like the intro to "Profound Loathing"), and though the instrument is always playing second fiddle to McEntee and (newish guitarist) Alex Bouks, I like the dichotomy of solemn swells against the ghoulish grit of the guitars. Kyle Severn returns once again to the fold with a lurid and effective set of skills, and though Incantation are not necessarily known for unabated percussive intensity, he packs in some tight fills with effortless double bass and blasting techniques whenever called for. That said, I did feel like the drums, in addition to the bass, were often outweighed by the rhythm guitars.
Vanquish in Vengeance is the third full-length on which John McEntee performs the vocals, and even if he might not have that same, dreadful character that defined Craig Pillard in the early years, he's come unto his own with his sodden, opaque, mortuary growls, which I'd say hold up rather well up against either Disma's Towards the Megalith or Autopsy's Macabre Eternal, both of which this record altogether exceeds by my humble estimations. Again, the variation here is excellent, from the surging blood storm of intro "Invoked Infinity" to the wailing and wrenching crawl of the nearly 12 minute finale "Legion of Dis", there's never a point at which I felt like the quartet was fucking off and repeating itself needlessly. Apart from the fat, necrotic mass of its natural resonance, there was no cellulose here to be trimmed, and the lengthier numbers were imbued with enough mournful atmosphere that they really filled out their bulk. In a year already strong and saturated with classic death metal sounds from artists both new and old, Incantation has risen once more unto relevance, and even if it's not a perfectly memorable outing 100% of the time, this is bad ass enough to survive a large swath of re-listens. Impressive!