Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Incantation - Onward to Golgotha (1992)

Already by 1992, Death Metal was undergoing quite a transformation. Atmosphere was being replaced by technicality, in some cases. Many were trying to outdo one another, in some idiotic contest to see who could make the most brutal and pointless music. A lot of bands were changing in the name of "maturity", moving on to make simplified nonsense or just tackling subject matter that had nothing to do with what this music was supposed to be about. Thankfully, in May, Incantation's first full-length record was released. Onward to Golgotha is a massive beast of evil Death Metal, taking the concepts of the previous releases and really solidifying the band's sound. As a bonus, the band avoids the common themes of horror and gore, instead conveying a strong anti-Christian sentiment.

Incantation is certainly one band that understands that atmosphere comes before all else and this is quite evident on their debut album. Everything has a purpose, as nothing is played just for the sake of showing off. The fast tremolo riffs build the intensity and sense of urgency, while the various slower passages add an aura of darkness and utter doom. Each track displays some amount of variation in tempo and manages to maintain its own identity, yet the changes are done with purpose and not just to disorient the listener and never seem to become formulaic. Songs like "Golgotha" and "Devoured Death" truly batter your senses, while the likes of "Blasphemous Cremation" and "Christening the Afterbirth" drag you to the murky depths with doom passages that really add to the darkened feel of the album. There are times when the drumming is too fluid and adds a sense of groove, when perhaps the music would have sounded more intense with the primitive type of drumming featured in Profanatica. The one change that would have benefited this album the most would have been if Paul Ledney had not left the band. His much raspier vocal approach would have made this much more sinister and memorable, as the super-low vocals sort of blend in with the music and do very little for me, personally.

The production is a bit more polished than necessary, but not to an irritating level by any means. However, the compositions would have really come across better with a more raw sound that placed more emphasis on the guitars. Unfortunately, around this time, Death Metal was changing and everything was going lower; i.e. lower-pitched vocals, lower tuning on the guitars, the prominence of the bass and drums in the mix. These things work against the sort of vibe that Death Metal is supposed to have. That said, Incantation still managed to create something very worthwhile, here.

Onward to Golgotha is a definite classic of Death Metal. It is unfortunate that Incantation suffered so many problems with lineup difficulties and with their label, as this material is far stronger than most of the other albums from this era that regularly receive so much more praise. For example, and album like Tomb of the Mutilated is widely known and has had tons of praise heaped upon it for two decades, yet it has been my experience that Incantation is not as highly regarded as Cannibal Corpse, despite being a better band. Nevertheless, this album is highly recommended to any fan of the old school Death Metal sound, back when it was supposed to create a feeling of dread, darkness, death and evil, rather than being a wanking contest between attention whores with no clue what this music was meant to be. Seek this out if you do not already own it.