In our most unholy year of 2014, the question facing a band like Incantation is: "How many good Incantation songs do we have left in us?" The band stands today as one of the most influential death metal bands of all time. And their doomy, low-end tremolo-picking style is undoubtedly one of my favorite varieties of the genre. Without them, bands like Drawn and Quartered and Dead Congregation would not even exist.
But any honest death metal fan must admit that their records themselves can be an acquired taste. Muddy, sometimes muffled in production, accepted classics like Onward to Golgotha and Mortal Throne of the Nazerene are as compelling and spooky as the genre demands, but they can grate on the listener’s patience as well.
But there are also records like Diabolical Conquest and 2012’s Vanquish in Vengeance that strike a good balance between the band's meandering tendencies (“experimentation”) and a more straightforward approach. I especially liked the previous album’s opener, “Invoked Infinity.” Though an astute friend of mine recently pointed out how incredibly similar it sounds like “Golgotha”…well, touché then, but both are still awesome songs. But are there any equally punishing tunes on Dirges of Elysium?
Yes. Yes there are.
After a long (and probably unnecessary) introduction track, Incantation unleashes all of their “Debauchery” on the listener with a standard death metal track reminiscent of songs like “Decimate Christendom” and “The Fallen Priest.” After a listen to the first few songs, it’s clear that the band is backing away from the higher production value of Vanquish in Vengeance and diving back into the murky ground on which they’ve built their name.
The album’s strong point clearly lies at its core with the wonderful trio of Incantation standards: “Bastion of a Plague Soul”, “Carrion Prophecy”, and especially “From a Glaciate Womb.” Songs like this show the band at their best. With all the evil-sounding riffs, squealing pinch-harmonics and crushing dirges scattered throughout, this is the sound that made Incantation legends. This is some profoundly dark and creepy stuff.
That’s not to say there are no surprises on this album. OK, it’s not like Incantation will suddenly make a power-ballad or a djent, post-rock fusion song. But there is a notable moment where the band takes a Slayer-style thrash metal tack on “Impalement of Divinity.” Honestly, if the production was clearer and Tom Arayra was singing, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Not that this is a bad thing, I love Slayer!
It was also particularly refreshing after a slow, plodding filler track like “Charnel Grounds.” I know, I know, songs like this are just part of their style, but it’s always been a little trying on my patience. At least on “From a Glaciate Womb” the dirge is used to lead into the drama of the rest of the track. They try something like this again on the album’s closing track, but when a song clocks in at over 16 minutes, you get the feeling they bit off a little more than they can chew.
Still, if you like Incantation’s stronger material, you will enjoy this album. If you find most of their music a chore to sit through, then this album, along with the previous record, Blasphemy, and the first three albums might be a good opportunity to give them another chance.
Favorite Songs: “Bastion of a Plagued Soul”, “Carrion Prophecy”, “From a Glaciate Womb”, “Impalement of Divinity”
When he's not infuriating people with his album reviews, Drew Zalucky is busy writing for his political website, For the Sake of Argument