Each snowflake supposedly possesses its own unique crystalline structure that differentiates it from all other snowflakes, but from a couple feet away you can’t tell one flake from the next: all you see is white specks. Incantation albums are a bit like snowflakes in that each one is made up of a unique combination of sonic patterns, but unless you’re paying close attention they all seem comprised of the same muddy, doomy death metal. What I am trying to say is that Dirges of Elysium, the ninth and latest full length album from Incantation, sounds a whole fuck of a lot like the eight albums that preceded it. If you didn’t like any of those, you can stop reading now. If you want to examine the crystalline structure of this particular snowflake, then read on.
Incantation has a habit of kicking the listener in the teeth right from the start, but “Dirges of Elysium” eases the listener into the proceedings, with a surprisingly subtle instrumental performance that just might be the most melodic music the band has ever made. Oh, it still sounds as sinister as hell, and forecasts nothing but dark clouds on the horizon, but it’s an interesting new trick for this old dog.
Speaking of dark clouds, the storm breaks two minutes and twelve seconds in, with the onset of “Debauchery,” which provides the kick to the teeth you might have been waiting for. From here, the album proceeds much as did its predecessor, adhering to the tried and true Incantation formula, but with renewed vigor and ferocity.
Though it is short on surprises, Dirges of Elysium is long on killer riffage, most often in the form of trudging grooves as in the closing moments of “Debauchery”, the mid-section of “Bastion of a Plague Soul” and virtually the whole of “Carrion Prophecy”. However, groove is not the album’s only charm; the aforementioned mid-section of “Bastion of a Plague Soul” is book-ended by tornadoes of brutality and “Impalement of Divinity” positively rips it up with some thrash-styled chugging.
The tracks on Dirges of Elysium are, with a couple notable exceptions, rather succinct. Most of the songs clock in at less than four minutes and several are under three. This compositional brevity, coupled with generally energetic performances gives a fresh feel to Incantations admittedly well-worn style, and allows for greater impact in the instances when the group chooses to stretch out a bit, or, in the case of the title track, whole lot.
I admit my heart fluttered a bit when I saw the sixteen-minute-and-change running time of album closer “Elysium (Eternity is Nigh),” as the band’s last track of such length was the superb “Unto Infinite Twilight / Majesty of Infernal Damnation,” which closed 1998’s Diabolical Conquest. While “Twilight” slowly built to several blistering climaxes, “Elysium” is a doom-heavy, slow burner through and through. The track is lacking in dynamics, and could probably be just as effective at half the length, but there is no denying that it has some sick riffs and stands as a wholly appropriate closer to an album entitled Dirges of Elysium.
There are a few weak spots in Dirges latter half: “Charnel Grounds” is a sparse, two-minute doom outing that goes nowhere, and “Dominant Ethos” sounds too much like Incantation by the numbers. Neither track is anywhere near awful, they are just lacking a certain spark of memorability.
Coming, comparatively speaking, hot on the heels of its predecessor, Dirges of Elysium does not benefit from the anticipation and excitement that built forVanquish in Vengeance, which was Incantation’s first album in six years. Nonetheless, I urge you: do not sleep on this one. Dirges of Elysium is every bit as good as, if not better than Vanquish in Vengeance. Incantation, twenty-odd years in, is as strong as it has ever been.