Incantation's debut album unleashed a miasmal, doom-drenched vision of death metal upon an unsuspecting world in 1992. When Decibel Magazine inducted Onward to Golgotha into their Hall of Fame last year, the album received the accolades I always felt it deserved. This summer, Decibel announced a brief tour celebrating the iconic album; there was no way I'd miss a chance to see Onward to Golgotha performed in its entirety.
For me, listening to Incantation evokes hazy memories of college glory. For several years, Onward to Golgotha was part of an absurd rotation of death metal albums that accompanied 40 ounce bottles of malt liquor and prefaced drunken nights in dive bars. Like most of those addled evenings, Incantation’s Hall of Fame gig in Brooklyn was fun while it lasted, but ultimately it ended in ignominious defeat. Although this show teetered on the brink of disaster, I'll remember the night as an unholy victory.
When I arrived at the venue, California's Fatalist had set up their guitars and banner, but there wasn't a single amplifier on the stage. Not a good sign. Europa has been the scene of some great metal shows lately, but the space also doubles as a nightclub on weekends. Saturday shows are always scheduled early and have a strict curfew. This isn't a problem if the proceedings are executed with precision and skill. It turned out that Incantation were transporting the backline for the entire tour, and their van was trapped in a sea of traffic on the wrong side of the Hudson river.
Just when it appeared all was lost and the show would be canceled, Incantation showed up with the gear. Mortician set up directly, meaning Fatalist and Funerus wouldn't get to go on. I definitely felt bad for Fatalist, who traveled no short distance to play. Their debut album, The Depths of Inhumanity, is a ripping and gripping take on Swedish death metal, rising above the crowd via concise compositions and memorable riffs.
Mortician are veterans of the New York death metal scene, purveying a pulverizing death/grind putrescence. Will Rahmer's crepitating bass tone is instantly identifiable, rattling the PA with an overdriven gurgle. Knowing their time was short, Mortician ripped open a casket of gore with “Zombie Apocalypse.” The crowd, who had been standing around for several hours making liberal use of the bar, erupted into an immediate pit.
Mortician are nothing if not entertaining. This is bare-bones death metal, at times chugging and at others blasting your ears to oblivion. Brief tracks like “World Damnation,” “Chainsaw Dismemberment” and “Lord of the Dead” bore witness to the primal power of death as well as the ripe stench of Roger Beaujard's guitar tone. Unfortunately, the set couldn't have lasted more than 15 minutes.
Incantation took agonizingly long to set up, perhaps disbelieving the strict curfew. When they ripped into the succulent opening riff of “Golgotha,” all else was forgotten. The decently sized crowd seemed cowed into passivity for a moment, but erupted into mayhem at the first lumbering groove.
The last time I saw Incantation live was in 1998, on the road with Morbid Angel, supporting Diabolical Conquest. I was quite interested to see who would be on stage for this show. No band seems to have had more line-up changes in their history than Incantation. In fact, John McEntee is the only active band member to have played on Onward to Golgotha. Craig Pillard, who played guitar on the album and performed the original vocals, is still active in the metal scene. I saw him play not too long ago with his excellent new band, Disma (who are set to put out an album on Profound Lore). Would Incantation play with their current touring line-up, or would they try to recall some of the album's original magic? Craig Pillard was present in the crowd, but he didn't get up on stage. The band didn't attempt to befoul their current chemistry.
John McEntee handled the vocals ably. He dispensed serpentine riffage while growling out gobs of incomprehensible lyrics. The crowd reacted with rapture to each track, hair flying and pit raging. Several erudite fans yelled along, displaying the improbable knowledge of all the album's lyrics. The crowds maniacal reaction elicited quite a few smiles from Mr. McEntee. For their part, the rest of the band performed admirably, but displayed a not so subtle anxiety at the impending curfew. Alex Bouks faithfully recreated each of the album's eldritch solos. Kyle Severn did a fantastic job behind the kit, pounding out the sepulchral rhythms with precision.
Despite a negligible sound-check, we were blessed with nearly perfect sound. The mix was clear and not over-loud. The undulating doom shone through mightily on “Rotting Spiritual Embodiment.” “Entrantment of Evil” destroyed and “Christening the Afterbirth” dripped with delectable dread. Halfway through the song, however, the lights started to flash in the venue. The song drew to its brooding conclusion, and it was all over. The crowd's chant of “one more song” would go unheeded. Employees of the venue sprung from the woodwork to mop up spilled beer and usher us out the door.
I know I should be upset that only seven out of the ten original Onward to Golgotha tracks were performed. I know I should be cranky about the abbreviated performance. But it was still a good time, and an experience I won't soon forget.