A friend once recounted to me the very first conversation of a university music history lecture. The class were asked what would be required to recreate the original experience of listening to a particular great composer’s work as performed at the time of its creation. Students eagerly answered “the instruments,” “the hall where they were performed” and more but the desired answer that eluded them was the listeners themselves. We bring such diverse backgrounds to our respective listening experiences, let alone our mood and the mechanics of hearing.
Death Metal is not a centuries old form; it just feels that way with the heavy scrutiny of its decades in existence and the ever shortening cycles of listener attention due to modern distribution and consumption methods. Unlike the case of the above great composers there exist the very same listeners and ears that lived through the origins of the scene, albeit within a new context and with evermore new bands. Nostalgia enables many artists to still flourish, and others continuance to find new audiences.
Incantation were there toward the beginning of the NYC scene and their pride of place in the canon cannot be disputed. Is it nostalgic desire that enables them to continue to reach their audience or are they bringing relevant output to new ears with their freshest cut “Sect of Vile Divinities”?
This album suggests a toe in each pool with a display of both the elements for which the band is known and some flourishes of modernity that keep things interesting.
“Sect of Vile Divinities” leaps straight into the face of the listener with a crisp sonic clarity that is truly a feature of the album. It is a massive step up from Incantation’s last outing in terms of the mix and finish. Listen after listen is made rich by the lucidity of elements affording the ear a breadth of focus at any one time.
It must be said however that “Ritual impurity” is not the greatest of openers. It feels a little disjointed, and even after immersing in the album considerably it just doesn’t seem to grab. Incantation have such a storied history of grandiose Doom-laden builds, dark atmosphere and hooky riffery that an album of this class deserved more from the outset. It’s perhaps a reason why the album took a while to really hit home. That said it settles in around half way through with a tasty half time riff at two minutes in. “Ritual Impurity” has all the requisite elements in abundance and quality but never quite delivers them in a way that truly engages or rises to heights. Within this first one track though, there is serious ground covered which really speaks to the promise for the rest of the album – a promise that is decidedly unbroken by listen’s end.
“Propitiation” could honestly have been the opening track with its sludgy dirge precisely the starting point that feels right. It wouldn’t be the first time in the band’s history where programming order has been a talking point for band, label and fans alike. As the first taste listeners had of the new album (along with “Fury’s Manifesto”) there seems a missed opportunity to capture the listener quickly. This track features some great slowed down discordance and a majesty with which the band have been traditionally synonymous.
“Entrails of the Hag Queen” engages quickly but again felt disjointed on early experience: multiple listens have a great impact upon this phenomenon however and it is one of the big growers on the album. The central musical theme is emblematic of the Modern-Old school feel and ventures in and out around some Doom encrusted slow work that is the band’s hallmark.
It’s in that slower stuff that Incantation truly excel and there are several tracks that are effective exponents of this – building a sludgy, layered march through the middle tracks on the album that’s broken up extremely well with plenty of old school flare. I’ve always believed Incantation to belong to a similar school as Morbid Angel in some senses but absent the Floridians’ flare for texture and left of centre musicality – Incantation deliver a more complete package on this album that should have fans raving and other listeners on board for more.
Dependent upon your proclivities, it may well be the last two tracks that take you to the highest of heights. “Fury’s Manifesto” strikes and maintains a perfect pace to espouse every inch of its title. This is Old School Death Metal at its finest – well written, well arranged and at just a couple of minutes a ripping track where the engagement doesn’t let up. This song feels a cut above much of the album in its ability to immediately move the listener, jammed with a swathe of top quality riffs that scream urgency and flow together beautifully.
“Siege Hive” swims in similar waters save for a magnificent doomy breakdown toward the middle of the song. There is a thunderous feel to the up tempo sections that is absent in some of the earlier tracks – drumming patterns seem to be the key here. The parts feel better controlled and sparser which allows the song to breathe: the result a stronger impact. “Siege Hive” really is a belter and storms toward an eruption of chaos that is a fitting close for a high calibre album.
“Sect of Vile Divinities” took quite a number of listens before it really began to take root but the effort is worthwhile. The album carries all the idiosyncrasies the band is known for and shouldn’t disappoint long time fans. The perspective taken here is around the new listener, the absence of those same devoted ears, and whether there is enough to warrant a spot in rotation among the breadth of first class Death Metal fare on offer in 2020. If you’re of short attention span, start with the last two tracks and blast them at bone rattling volume, then head back to the start and begin the dive into the album as a larger concept.
Incantation show with “Sect of Vile Divinities” that they’re still delivering creative and adept Death Metal that’s certainly worthy of your listen.
Rating – 4/5