Vanquish in Vengeance: Putting the “Can” in Incantation (Also, the “Tation”)
Incantation haven’t put out an album in six years, but it certainly doesn’t seem that long. This is probably due to the fact that the Old School Death Metal movement boiled down to dozens of bands putting out slight variations on Onward to Golgotha while wearing tattered Altars of Madness shirts. And while it sounds like I’m knocking OSDMers, it’s probably one of the more enjoyable throwback trends of the last half-decade or so: it yielded a lot of really strong, dark death metal records (plus how fucking great are Dead Congregation?). But then again, from Neurosis to Meshuggah to Rush to Napalm Death to Cannibal Corpse, there’s something special about a band that so heavily inspires a genre (and which many bands so shamelessly rip off) releasing something fresh to remind everyone of how it’s done. And Incantation demonstrate that handily on Vanquish in Vengeance, a nightmarish slab of tunneling, chromatic death metal caked in grime and thriving in shadow. With age forcing many of their peers to go to the industrial metal or mallcore well, the band simply slather more of what they’re best at onto the whole, resulting in a something that stands up to their past and thrives in the present.
As many metal scribes have pointed out, part of death metal’s obsession with aggression and brutality has involved the sad sidelining of mood and atmosphere for the most part. Hell, if you want to make dark and disturbing death metal, you have to resort to clock masks and executioner hoods (hey, you think they like Incantation at all?) Incantation let the sicklier and more perverse elements of death metal breathe: the slow blasts on “Progeny of Tyranny” make the hellish descent of John McEntee’s playing that much more insistent and present. While (really fucking great) heavyweights like Hate Eternal and Origin make the extremes of extreme metal out to be the product of finely polished and downright inhuman talent, Incantation’s approach is tangible, making it all the more disturbing: this sort of darkness is something you, with enough practice, could create on your own. But would you want to? The band’s vision of darkness is relatable, which casts an unflattering light on what’s wrong with you (you sick fuck).
But while their close relatives Autopsy also thrive in the slow and filthy, Incantation focus more on the infinite darkness of their surroundings instead of their immediate grime. Not that the band aren’t grimy or averse to long, plodding doom passages, but their brand of darkness is unique to their OG DM peers. McEntee’s growl has held up incredibly well, coming off like a gurgling ringmaster to the sulfur-scented wraiths playing the music beneath him. The band are in top form as well: drummer Kyle Severn can slow it down but still throw in a technically impressive fill, and McEntee and Alex Bouks harness simultaneously epic and deformed riffs masterfully. Opener “Invoked Infinity” is a statement of purpose for the latter: starting out with thrashy staccato chords that segue into an ascending/descending riff that goes on a clip too long, then ducking into Morbid Angel-style grooves and the brief, flashy solo into which the song eventually collapses. It’s a tribute to the genre in which they started and a reminder of what the genre owes them.
From there, the album hurtles down a reasonably fast middle path, wanders down weird, mid-paced alleys and occasionally writhes in sloooooow, doomy gutters. Closer “Legion of Dis” spends five-plus minutes slowly unraveling into formless heap of multi-layered rambling and feedback, while the deceptively inviting drumbeat that starts “Transcend Into Absolute Dissolution” helps guide the song through its sludgy limp from beginning to end. At a little over an hour, Vanquish in Vengeance is a fine display of death metal at its most primitive, elemental darkness. While its melodramatic cousin black metal may have a better hold on atmosphere, Incantation sure as shit do what they can to compete. After two decades’ worth of albums and a positively legendary number of lineup changes, the band are still as vital as ever. Guys who play faster eventually flame out when grappling with the restrictions of age; Incantation will no doubt get better the closer they come to the inevitability of death.