Incantation: Onward to Golgotha
18/04/12 || Habakuk
Incantation is one of these bands that really have to click with you. Don’t worry if they haven’t yet, as they really don’t make it easy for the listener. Myself, I actually only got into their debut after I finally bought the CD a few weeks back, after years of some garbage quality mp3s occupying my hard drive that I never got my head around. Now before I go out and urge everyone to do the same – it is a classic album for a reason, after all, you might want to read a little further until you decide whether this is for you or not.
This album seems to hardly take any of the, at the time, usual influences from outside of death metal: No punk, no hardcore, no thrash, no ‘n roll. It can’t all come from nowhere though, so why not try the old school way of finding out: Not throwing away the booklet for once, and looking at the t-shirts on the band picture. We discover:
1) Black Sabbath: Incantation definitely took a dose of Sabbath and sludge into their sound. Of course, the whole thing is lowered by a couple of bars. Plus, by the means of always turning into a blastbeast, midpaced groove or the likes, the song structure doesn’t let anything like a mere riff distort the suffocating atmosphere this album creates. Don’t wait for “Iron man” here.
2) Immolation: Oh definitely. Blasphemic, distorted, dissonant. Sounds familiar? Well, imagine it even deeper and without the slight thrashiness than Dawn of possession, which said shirt refers to. I want that one, by the way.
3) Possessed – Seven Churches: A-ha. Here we have another source of blasphemy and all-out frantic speed wherever needed, plus an“evil” overall vibe.
4) ____b__ _rath: A slimy, yellow and red logo half obscured by hair which I have never, ever seen. “Jumbo Wrath”? Possibly…! But yeah, even that makes sense, as it serves to show we’re plunging deep down into the genre, one might say, to its very essence – only if you have the nerve to bother with a lot of inaccessibility, you’ll need to give this a chance. Not really interested in death metal? Well, don’t start here – it’s the very opposite of catchy. The songwriting here is special but great in its very own way, and actually broke the ground for a lot of bands that were inspired down the way. I would say an 8.5 is in order.
What you should not do is listen to this album on YouTube or some shit. A low-quality sound will definitely make this unlistenable. The low-end is towering miles above anything else in the equalizer, since everything and their grandmother seem to have been mixed as bass-heavy as possible without making literally the whole thing one big pulp. Exactly that is what happens when listening to this album in shitty audio quality, though. Not surprising when vocals, bass drum and guitars (bass of course, too) are cuddling with each other in the 60-300 Hz range. Listened to in decent quality, it can however only be admired what a distinct and no-compromise production this is, and it is crucial in transporting the hideous, sinister vibe this album possesses. It takes getting used to, absolutely, but it really is the perfect, dirty, scraping, abysmal sound for the album. 9.
It sounds as if they used sandpaper instead of picks to play, brushing over strings thick as rope. And with two decidedly downtuned axes in the mix, it is not exactly a miracle that the result is a fat, wooly wall of sound. You often read a variation of the statement “The guitars are so brutal blah blah blah”. Well, if you ever read it about “Onward to Golgotha”, let me assure you it’s wrong. Brooding, menacing, dark, that’s more like it, but “brutal”? No way. The guitars are of a nature that they actually move forward very smoothly, which is only broken by pinch harmonic-stuffed dissonances and a few higher, ropy melody lines. Sure, the shredding gives this a decent speed, but let alone some of the solos, the guitars aren’t really “aggressive” at all, quite the contrary: Just yesterday I put this on to fall asleep, and at a low sound level where you naturally focus on the guitars because they’re the loudest thing in the mix, the uniformity is quite soothing in nature. A lot of “pure” death metal has that effect as you will find, it’s just that this is one of the earliest examples where I’ve heard it so well-executed. This is another big point which sets the album apart from all the thrash-influenced Floridians (which I’d rather claim to be “brutal”) and large parts of the contempory New York scene just as well. Unsurprisingly, you will find tons of bands that later followed Incantation’s footsteps in this respect. 9.
Don’t get me wrong, this album as a whole is all bass. The “problem”, if you will, is just that with everything striving to replace the bass, it obviously gets massively overpowered by a constant bass drum / vocals / double guitars barrage except for a few points where it is allowed some space for its distorted fuzz to shine through. Life lesson: Don’t become too cool or you’ll attract too many copycats which will let everyone forget who came up with the whole thing in the first place. 6.
So low they almost turn into a kind of blubber at times, Craig Pillard’s vocals still have a lot hissing bite to hold the aggression level high. We all know nothing is worse than powerless death growls. Not here though, as he funnels a lot of conviction into his vocal outbursts, which shows especially during the few instances where you can make a few words out from the hellish gargling or, on the opposite, where it’s clear he just puts out a grunt for the sake of some good old undirected hatred. 9.
Now here’s what people claim to be the “brutality”. When turned up loud enough, what a moment ago sounded like somewhat flabby drumming turns out to be a hard-hit, blunt barrage that propels the album forward quite relentlessly. The snare drum nearly sounds like other albums’ bass drums, and Jim Roe’s incessant blastbeats and double kick playing are what actually provide an edge to the guitars, while his cymbal work does wonders for accentuations and structuring of the whole affair. And yes, the dude grooves like a boss. 8.5
Zombies and blasphemy (that’s all there is, really) in attempted “higher language” and summed up under complicated songtitles.
Demons of war and torment, arise from down below
Guardian of the gates, deprive them of their souls
Ignite the soul on fire, massacrate the land of the weak
As stated above somewhere though, it’s not that you understand much of it, anyway. So they get away with a little corniness. 7
It’s got fuzzy, weave-like organic ends to the letters which I simply don’t like. In principle, it goes well with the band’s sound, though. Which I like. How odd. 4
This one set the pattern for almost all their covers: distorted Christian imagery combined with organic structures and some motifs of suffering. Plus looking ugly as shit, but that was probably somewhat intended. 4
All crinkled and corrugated, but still very serviceable. Used CDs for the win. Of course this is the original release, which adds to the usual lyrics, pictures and thank you banter: personality – in exchange for all that re-release shit nobody cares about. 8.
Overall and Ending Rant
In sum: this is one ugly motherfucker of an album. It is hard to digest and if you’re unlucky, it’ll just remain a boring, underproduced mess. However, once it catches on – and I urge you to let it – “Onward to Golgotha” is probably one of the darkest, most vibrant and malicious death metal albums you’ll ever find.
- Released: 1992
- Label: Relapse Records
- Website: www.incantation.com
- John McEntee: guitars
- Craig Pillard: vocals, guitars
- Ronny Deo: bass
- Jim Roe: drums
- 01. Golgotha
- 02. Devoured death
- 03. Blasphemous cremation
- 04. Rotting spiritual embodiment
- 05. Unholy massacre
- 06. Entrantment of evil
- 07. Christening the afterbirth
- 08. Immortal cessation
- 09. Profanation
- 10. Deliverance of horrific prophecies
- 11. Eternal torture