Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Incantation - Onward to Golgotha (1992)

This is my favorite death metal album.

Let's talk about melody in death metal for a second here, and not in the Dark Tranquility toolbox sense that somehow became popular amongst swoopy haircuts. Because, as percussive and heavy as Incantation is, the main thrust of these songs is the melody. Sure things are a bit chromatic and the tonal center might float around a bit, but, if you listen closely, you should be able to hum every riff on this record.

Take intro to the first song. Do you hear that shit? That intro has one of my favorite tricks. Dudes lead off with the second part of the two part riff which creates a really cool, almost polyrhythmic effect, since the strong beats are in a flux for a second.

At the best moments on this record, crushing primal riffs evoke images of planets colliding and primordial ooze coalescing into a Cambrian explosion. See Christening the Afterbirth at ~2:05-2:50. Holy shit. I think the lyrics are mostly about hating Jesus, but it works better for me if I just think about boiling seas getting hit by meteors and the formation of amino acids.

Tempos flow from hyper tremolo-picking to funeral dirges completely organically; this is not a beatdown happy meathead mosh record. Incantation mastered offsetting the melody and rhythm of a speed-picked melodic passage with a mid-paced counterpoint. See Deliverance of Horrific Prophecies from ~1:21-1:40. The melody is established during the 4/4 speed-picking part, then recontextualized so satisfyingly into the pummeling 6/4 mid-paced section. Genius!

At Central Illinois Metalfest a few months ago, Incantation played this album start to finish. I'm completely proud to say that I too played that show. In conclusion, I played a show with Incantation when they played Onward to Golgotha in its entirety.


john said...

Dude, remember Devourment's horse mask from that show? So sick!

lew said...

this post makes reference to many of my favorite things.

i will forever want the horse mask experience...

John said...

Friel totally hijacked the thread.
Also: Much equine headbanging.

Todd said...

Guys, this post is actually not about beatdown happy meathead mosh bands. Thanks.

Aesop said...

I think Incantation pretty much epitomizes everything great about death metal.

Anonymous said...


Dolugach said...

Great post. I think all of the legendary old school death metal albums have this subtle, indefinable beauty. In Incantation it's certainly nothing like the overt Romanticism of At The Gates' The Red In The Sky Is Ours ... but there's something rapturous and ingenious about this (Incantation) album that cannot be expressed as merely "heavy" or "awesome" or "evil". Albums like Onward To Golgotha, De Mysteris Dom Sathanas, Altars Of Madness, Left Hand Path, etc, have always been "religious" experiences for me when I really sit still, close my eyes and focus on the CD from start to finish.

...Which makes the childishness of many death metal lyrics a bit of a mystery. Bands like Immolation, Incantation, and Deicide all wrote exclusively "blasphemous" lyrics to brilliant music that I think asserts it's own world view more than it rejects Christianity. In spite of seeming to have little intellectual content though, the lyrics were often composed with respectable aesthetic talent - so I don't think this can be explained by saying that these musical geniuses simply lacked verbal intelligence.

Is it possible that the musicians weren't striving for profundity or artistry at all - that brilliant compositions like Onward To Golgotha just happened without any thought? Or did they regard the lyrics as inessential to the experience of the instrumentation (the vocal chords being used as an extra guitar)? I think some bands have certainly used "evil" and "satanic" imagery to a deliberate purpose, but more often, it seems to be an arbitrary convention of metal that ended up in quality art by mistake.

Todd said...

Doulgach, that's something that I've wondered about myself. I actually interviewed John from Incantation the other day, and I asked him what the deal with "blasphemy" is. He didn't really have an answer that I was satisfied with. Unfortunately, the interview was cut short before I could prod him much on the subject.

I think that the "inessentiality" of the lyrics is also correct. I know I think this way about my own compositions, although that doesn't mean that I just adopt the conventions of whatever genre I'm writing in.