Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Incantation - Dirges of Elysium

A week ago, American death metal monsters Incantation released their newest album Dirges of Elysium. Incantation are a remarkably consistent band (notwithstanding a minor slump in the early 2000s while Mike Saez was handling vocal duties) and on top of that, they are probably my favorite pure death metal band. As such, I came into this expecting them to deliver.

Which, of course, they did. So far this one of my favorite death metal releases of 2014, which is saying something given the laundry list of excellent new death metal albums I've heard this year.

As usual, this record is crushingly heavy and downright evil sounding. Incantation rely on a cavernous, doomy low-end to achieve their exceptional heaviness, and with the aid of the band's continually refined production, they have yet again managed to provide just barely enough clarity without losing that magical balance of grit and tone.

In typical death metal fashion, the guitar riffs lead the way. They are primarily sluggish and crushing, though there are some brisker segments to break things up here and there. The guitar sound is just perfect, with plenty of weight in the rhythm play and a creepy, compelling tone for the leads. The bass mostly fleshes out the bottom end without standing out too much, which is all it really needs to do anyway. Due to their doom-inflected approach, the drumming rarely comes at high speeds. Rather, it provides a galloping mid-to-low-paced drive that maintains the material's forward momentum.

Incantation's vocals are a bittersweet topic for me. Craig Pillard's gut-wrenching bellows on the band's early albums are essentially irreplaceable. Daniel Corchado (mastermind of the brilliant death metal band The Chasm) provided a solid substitute on Diabolical Conquest  after Pillard's departure, though it wasn't the same. Then the aforementioned Saez slump set in for a couple albums before founder and lead guitarist John McEntee decided to just do it himself. This is the 4th full-length with McEntee behind the mic, and while he can't match Pillard's demonic gutteral roars, he's a very strong vocalist in his own right. Given the improved guitar tone and fuller low-end in their current production, McEntee's slightly higher (though still relatively cavernous) vocals find their own niche in the overall mix that works just as well as Pillard's did, only in a slightly different way.

As with all bands who have been around this long without major changes in their sound, Incantation are often accused of simply repeating themselves. I'd be lying if I said this didn't sound very similar to previous releases, but even though the band isn't going to win any awards for creativity, I still feel that the band has avoided stagnation through a constant process of refinement. Besides, McEntee and friends deliver with a level of power and malevolence that far outweighs any complaints about the familiar nature of the material.

Grade: A

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