For death-metal devotees, the name Incantation conjures up certain consistent sounds and themes. The band is synonymous with big, extremely dark-sounding riffs, interlaced with piercing pinch harmonics, deep vocal growls, and a mix of blistering speed and crushing doom dirges. Although most fans associate them with the trio of classics from the band's early days, the band has put out an impressive string of records over the last decade, 2014's Dirges of Elysium probably being the best. But with Unholy Deification, Incantation has accomplished something truly special, their finest album since Diabolical Conquest.
No, I'm not kidding.
I know that sounds like a tall order. The band's output since 1998 has included blazing firestorms that stand tall against their legions of imitators. I'm particularly partial to Blasphemy, and fail to understand why so few people agree with me. But I mean it. This is Incantation at their absolute best.
The key to the album's success is its unpredictability. Profane Nexus and Sect of Vile Divinities had their moments, but don't have a lot of moments that stand out, making them simply good Incantation albums. But the songs on this album exhibit real compositional focus and dynamism that recalls the spirit of innovation and dark exploration from Onward to Golgotha and Mortal Throne of the Nazarene.
The riffs are constructed at the usual minor intervals, but are woven together in off-putting ways that harness a deep feeling of interest and intensity in the listener. You don't simply leave this record on and have it as eerie background music, the songs capture your attention and make you want to know what happens next. There's a lot of catchy moments within each song to chew on, but the band takes care to never let them stretch out for too long.
Perhaps the band's creative hivemind was focused by the album's central theme. Apparently, bassist Chuck Sherwood's occult interest fueled the lyrical and aesthetic energy through "a fully realized concept of evolution through enlightenment." In other words, the album is a tale of a mortal becoming a deity. Indeed, there is a spirit present in every growl, note and snare hit, which shows a band united in a common purpose.
Every song on this album is fantastic and gives both the avid Incantation fan and death metal generalist plenty to explore. Those looking for standouts should check out "Concordat (The Pact) I," "Convulse (Words of Power) III", "Exile (Defy the False) II" and "Offerings (The Swarm) IV." Each of these songs shows the band's (particularly drummer Kyle Severn's) ability to master different speeds and put them to work to build an ominous and thrilling fortress of doom and death.
"Concordat (The Pact) I" in particular shows the band blasting every cannon in its sonic arsenal. This song simply has everything: slow moments with tons of creepy harmonics, fast parts that will make heads roll, and supremely evil guitar riffs. Additionally, it's an example of the band's uncanny ability to invoke wicked and unholy aesthetics without being kitschy and cheesy.
On the other hand, if you just want brutality, just put on "Chalice (Vessel Consanguineous) VIII." Pure, unrelenting aggression.
No band summons the spirits of darkness and evil quite like Incantation. And on this album, frontman John McEntee has led his band to craft a ferocious and thrilling masterwork. As a comprehensive and focused album, it stands right alongside the classics of the old days, but with their modern production and maturity given it a unique character all its own. One of the best death metal albums of 2023, easily.