Thursday, March 28, 2013
Here come the -tions: Incantation & Co.
Via Time Out New York, a report on a noteworthy death-metal serendipity. Namely, Incantation, Suffocation and Immolation are all playing NYC shows soon. The fact that each "-tion" has a killer new (well, technically "recent" and "imminent" in the respective cases of Incan and Immo) album out sweetens the deal considerably.
You might recall me gushing over Suffocation and Immolation. I'm currently in the throes of an Incantation obsession. As with those others, they have a discography stretching back more than two decades. The Incantation catalog differs from those of Suffocation and Immolation in a couple important ways: First, the band has shuffled key members (specifically vocalists and drummers) many times over the years. While Suffocation and Immolation have both cycled through a few drummers, I'm pretty sure each has retained the same frontman for their entire duration: Frank Mullen and Ross Dolan, respectively. In Incantation's case, though, you get a very different sound depending on whether, e.g., Jim Roe or Kyle Severn is behind the kit, or whether, e.g., Craig Pillard or Daniel Corchado is at the mic. I used to feel like the band's early-’90s line-up (which featured Roe and Pillard, along with Incantation's sole constant member, guitarist and now-vocalist John McEntee) was by far their strongest. Studying the discography over the past couple months, though, I can say that all of the Incantation full-lengths are, in their own ways, great death-metal records.
It sounds obvious, but it's important to note: Maybe more so than the other two groups discussed here, this band's stock-in-trade is the riff—they seem to never tire of the fundamental joy found in rocking out on some trilly uptempo or lumbering downtempo motif, cycling through it relentlessly, trancing out on the statement and re-statement, snowballing intensity. And the way you know that Incantation's records are all good—I can vouch for seven out of the eight of them; I haven't yet heard 2002's Blasphemy—is that the quality of their riffcraft simply doesn't waver. They remain as devoted to this dark art, the heartbeat of metal as far as I'm concerned, on 2012's Vanquish in Vengeance as they were on their first LP, 1992's absolutely monstrous Onward to Golgotha. That latter record represents another key distinction separating Incantation from Suffocation and Immolation: McEntee & Co. emerged more or less fully formed. Effigy of the Forgotten and and Dawn of Possession, the respective debuts by Suffocation and Immolation, are good records, but both bands would go on to blow them out of the water as their discographies progressed. Onward, on the other hand, remains the Incantation gold standard. It's a disgustingly heavy record, a quality stemming both from its often-praised (and justly so) production, which sounds both enormous and strangely muffled, and its stunning confidence. Right from that point, this band has known exactly what it wanted to be. I haven't heard the early Incantation demos, which I'd imagine demonstrate some sort of progression that leads logically to Onward, but by the time of LP No. 1, the band had their proverbial shit entirely together.
That said, Vanquish in Vengeance, the latest Incantation dispatch, just might be my favorite album of theirs. As many reviewers have noted, it lacks that thick, suffocating atmosphere of the early records, but to me, sonic qualities like that are important yet ultimately beside the point; i.e., they're to be appreciated but not fetishized. In other words, criticizing a band for going after a clearer production style, a truer representation of what they actually sound like, rather than deliberately hiding behind some sort of illusory veil, strikes me as b.s. I generally want to hear extreme-metal bands sounding as big and full as possible—as long as that size/girth doesn't come at the expense of all organic-ness—and as far as Incantation is concerned, Vanquish in Vengeance represents a new pinnacle in those areas. It sounds like a band playing in a room together at top volume, something you can't say of very many death-metal records. It also happens to feature some of the catchiest, most memorable songs the band has written. (I'm especially partial to "Invoked Infinity," "Ascend Into the Eternal" and "Profound Loathing," but I highly recommend the entire album.) Overall, there's a vigor to Vanquish that can't be faked, a sense of a band proudly reaffirming its seniority in the scene, really owning its authority and longevity. Despite all the member changes, the Incantation b(r)and name—much like those of Suffocation and Immolation, as well as Cannibal Corpse, Obituary and, in a different but related style, Napalm Death and Brutal Truth—remains a mark of top quality, of honorable, undiluted old-school death-metal values. It's this sustained commitment that keeps me coming back to the -tions and various other legacy acts. As long as they're playing, I won't stop caring.