Old band does an old trick.
On August 25, death metal legends Incantation released their 13th full-length album, Unholy Deification. After more than 30 years of growling and blast beats, how has the band withstood the test of time?
Incantation are famous for being OGs of the New York City death metal scene, along with other “-tion” bands Suffocation, Immolation, and Mortician. Among those titans, Incantation stood out for their chaotic songwriting, which switched rapidly from blazing speed to trudging, doomy slowness while maintaining an inhuman sense of brutality. The band have kept remarkably close to their original style since then, with their current sound resembling a more modern, less chaotic version of it, even though only vocalist and guitarist John McEntee remains from the original line-up.
On Unholy Deification, Incantation offer few surprises. The opener, “Offerings (The Swarm) IV,” begins on dissonant tremolo picking, moving back and forth between regular speedy death metal and slowed, death-doom riffs, as does the rest of the album. This may seem like a reductive expression, but while listening through, many will find that the tracks just don’t differ much stylistically from one another. The same can be said about the relative quality of the songs as well. It’s hard to pick out songs that feel like hits or duds; all of the songs have roughly similar quality in songwriting and performances, with none lacking severely and none feeling super flashy.
One noteworthy component of this album is its story. Incantation have had some commonalities in themes in their albums before, maybe even some shared narratives between songs, but here they have created a full concept album from start to finish. More specifically, Unholy Deification follows the story of a man who goes through a series of rituals to gain the powers of all the world’s gods, to transform into an evil entity that transcends them all. Like many concept albums, there are numerals at the end of each song title which indicate the place of the song within the greater story. What is strange here is that the songs are not listed in the order of the numerals. As guitarist and vocalist John McEntee explains in an interview with Loud TV, the band saw the proper order of the songs from a musical standpoint as a very separate thing from the order of the story. Channeling George Lucas, for example, they saw the fourth chapter of the story as a more fitting place to begin than the first. Unfortunately, this divide between the order of the story and the actual order of the songs introduces some confusion in the listening experience, the band would probably have done better to either abandon their narrative or present the songs in the story’s order. A listen through the album in the order of the numerals provides a perfectly reasonable and cohesive death metal experience, so this review recommends listeners try it in that order.
All in all, Unholy Deification is an album with few problems on paper, but that doesn’t grab the audience’s attention much outside of its intricate story. Fans of Incantation’s music can expect much of what they have been hearing for the past few albums repeated here. Those who love this style of Autopsy-worshipping death/doom metal will probably enjoy giving this album a spin, some will probably have a good time replaying whichever songs have their favorite riffs, but many metalheads in general will not find themselves blown away.