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Embryo - 48%

Xlxlx, February 23rd, 2016

Not every band can come flying out of the gates of obscurity and into the scene like a screaming, flaming skull. Even those who would eventually become household names, such as Vader, aren't exempt from having released underdeveloped, derivative debuts, as proven by The Ultimate Incantation. It isn't an abysmal record by any means, no, but it's easily a far cry from the monstrous titans of death metal that the band would come up with later in their career, and to this very day. This is Vader's facehugger, or chestburster; a scuzzy little beast, yet to grow into a slick, perfect killer.

The sound in display is an even mix of Slayer and Morbid Angel, and very shameless about it, at that. Piotr and Doc were clearly big fans of the aforementioned bands, with the latter sounding like a Dave Lombardo with a bigger fondness for blast beats, and the former aping the weedly woodly solos and harsh riffing assaults found in the likes of Reign in Blood and Altars of Madness. Now, all of this wouldn't be a problem if the actual songs were as memorable as stuff like Criminally Insane or Chapel of Ghouls, and unsurprisingly, they aren't. Almost all of them are competent, yet totally unmemorable, slabs of thrashy death metal. The one big exception is the crushing "Reign Carrion", with its catchy, brutal mid-tempo being reminiscent of the best cuts from South of Heaven, at least until it explodes into a savage blasting section towards the middle, before returning to a more pulverizing groove. Other than that though, it's a parade of by-numbers death/thrash, and it gets tiring quickly.

Another thing that takes away from this album is Piotr's vocal performance; while he later developed into a commanding vocalist with an instantly recognizable timbre, here he was still getting the hang of the whole thing, and it shows. He nearly mumbles his way through the record, with a rather powerless and very standard growl, which isn't helped at all by his rather low place in the mix. Other than the somewhat quiet vocals though, the production is damn good; clear, but with a great sense of grit and dynamics. Every instrument is properly allowed to shine, and the bass drums in particular have a pleasantly rotund quality, foreshadowing their future contribution to terrific works such as Litany. The guitar tone is also excellent, with great crunch to it, but sadly lacking loads of good riffs to take full advantage of it.

While not exactly worthless, The Ultimate Incantation has more value as a historical record than as a proper album. It shows how far Vader have come; from mere amateurs trying their hand at the style, to death metal giants with an almost impeccable discography and a great sound of their own.