Let’s get straight to the good stuff: Incantation’s eleventh album Profane Nexus is a treasure trove of disgusting delights from a band with absolutely nothing to prove but which nevertheless still pursues death metal supremacy with the careworn ease of old friends settling down in a corner booth. The bartender catches their eye, but they’re in no rush.
The funny thing about Incantation is that, for as legendary a name as they are in the history of death metal, they sometimes seem rather underappreciated compared to many of their similarly positioned peers. If both Immolation and Suffocation likely captured a larger share of press attention and record sales throughout the years, Incantation has more or less soldiered on, changing their approach imperceptibly (if at all) throughout the years despite a cavalcade of lineup changes. Without any high-profile breakups or huge lapses in their discography, Incantation has basically just always been there, churning out reliably awesome death metal with such nonchalance that it was easy to take them for granted. In fact, there’s a strong argument to be made that Incantation just might represent the Platonic ideal of death metal.
Legacy and intra-genre politicking aside, easily the most consistent thing about Incantation is their inherent greasiness. Whether barreling ahead at a city-leveling clip or trudging along at a muck-coated crawl, every riff, solo, pinch, transition, and even note-to-note movement sounds like it’s sheathed in some perverted sacramental oil that puts a grimy, rubbery bend or slide into every sound. This isn’t to say that Incantation’s playing is sloppy or imprecise; rather, their songs seem intentionally crafted to ooze and seep, always quivering and oscillating just a little outside the tidy lines on staff paper.
Throughout Profane Nexus, with riff after crippling riff, Incantation proves that what has always separated the innovators from the hangers-on is substance over style. It’s easy enough to mimic Incantation’s lurching, murky, decrepit style of death metal, but if you listen closely to this album, it is readily apparent that the band accomplishes that atmosphere of greasy, doom-draped humidity purely through songwriting. There’s no tricky production flourishes, ultra reverb, or extraneous instrumentation; it’s just riff after riff after literally cobwebbed riff.
It’s ultimately unlikely that Profane Nexus or any other recent Incantation album will supplant Onward to Golgotha or Diabolical Conquest as the band’s finest individual moment, but it is also difficult to argue with the notion that the band’s most recent triad of albums has found Incantation in a state of hungry revitalization. If you have to order them, it seems like Profane Nexus will eke out its spot slightly above Dirges of Elysium, but just a few hairs below Vanquish in Vengeance. Nevertheless, this trio has the unusual distinction of besting any other three albums in this storied band’s career.
Release date: 8/11/2017
Label: Relapse Records.
Perhaps uncoincidentally, Profane Nexus is the third consecutive Incantation album to be mixed and mastered by Dan Swano, who gives the band both the clarity and the heaving weight they need for maximum impact. Chuck Sherwood’s bass is a tremendous part of Incantation’s current renaissance, particularly when he wanders farther and farther afield from simply anchoring the riffs (check out the hammering coda of “Visceral Hexahedron” or the deliriously grimy wandering during the mid-song breakdown in “Muse”). Incantation founder and mainstay John McEntee’s vocals are also in grossly fine form throughout the album, while his riffs scuttle and snake about and generally have interesting things done with them.
Kyle Severn’s drums are again a sturdy guidepost through the gnarled bracken, but equally likely to punctuate the transitions with near-ceremonial flourishes (as on the HUGE breakdowns backed by frantic soloing in the background of “Rites of the Locust”). He also shines in the tom-fill-heavy midsection of “The Horns of Gefrin,” which otherwise hurtles along like it’s preparing to bulldoze three dozen Trader Joe’s. Of course, even when the band ticks up the speed a bit, it’s not exactly blazing; “fast Incantation” still usually moves somewhere between a chug and a measured charge, as on the excellent mid-album standout “Lus Sepulcri.” Elsewhere, “Incorporeal Despair” is likely as close as Incantation has gotten to funeral doom.
Ultimately, Profane Nexus is a compact 42 minutes that feels both shorter and longer than it is. As with Immolation’s Atonement, there’s a sense that the tracks could be rearranged a number of different ways without making a drastic impact, which occasionally creates a sense of meandering. But the sheer strength and variety of that meandering means that every song is a slithering joy that makes its individual case so cogently that it’s hard to argue for any excision. “Ancients Arise” isn’t quite as weighty a closer as one might hope for, particularly when compared to the mammoth tracks that ended both of Incantation’s previous albums. But in the end, even that minor quibble is a stand-in for one of the great aspects of Incantation: there’s never a sense that the band is straining or reaching for some Grand Statement. Greasy death metal is their business, and business – may it ever remain so – is good.