Shortly after death metal emerged from the womb in the latter half of the 1980s, there was an immediate pushback against what it was becoming. In fact, the entire Norwegian scene spawned partly as a response to what they called (in all it’s cringeworthiness) “life metal,” or death metal that was overly polished or wankingly technical, sacrificing the raw brutality from whence it spawned for the Morrisound or Sunlight Studios polish, or perhaps a more virtuoso approach. Either way, it left some fans wanting—writing death metal off as selling out, or perhaps becoming too focused on the “life” aspects of the genre.
What a bunch of dumbasses.
This is precisely what Blood Incantation has been doing since day one. We find ourselves in the midst of a death metal explosion, yet there are few bands that capture the more primal appeal of death metal while harnessing the progression that pushes the genre beyond its roots and put such a memorable stamp on the style than the boys from Denver. Since the release of their self-titled demo in 2013, Blood Incantation have always sounded like Blood Incantation. Sure, influences can be traced fairly easily to the likes of Morbid Angel (especially in riffing and song construction), Nocturnus (riffs and cosmic spirituality), the aforementioned Demilich (sick grooves and technicality), and Death’s desire to transcend the genre and create something genuinely new.
Taking the songs from their three demos, Blood Incantation unleashed Interdimensional Extinction upon the world back in 2015, displaying four songs that would plant the initial seeds of their philosophies on both death metal and human existence to the world. Combining ancient Mesopotamian mythology with spacey riff salad held together with an airtight rhythm section, the band transcended their influences that spanned from Morbid Angel to Timeghoul to The Chasm to create something familiar, yet without replicating the patterns of their forebears. With their debut full length Starspawn, Blood Incantation showed the signs of beginning an evolutionary arc, unwilling or unable to remain stagnant. Yet an unrelenting brutality remained, that familiarity that makes the band so accessible to fans of death metal. Even throughout the complex, ever-changing opener of “Vitrification Of Blood, Part 1” to the more conscience but no less progressive closing title track, the band seemingly channeled limitless inspiration from the deepest, darkest corners of space and time.
Needless to say, Hidden History Of The Human Race is a much-anticipated followup album. Where are Blood Incantation leading us? I don’t think anyone expects them to retread the same waters again (even if they wanted to, could they?), though perhaps there is a fear of jumping too far into progressive purgatory, that area where bands go that reach a bit too far outside themselves and find themselves lost among wandering scale humping, obscure chord structures, seemingly random time signatures, and a general loss of a central through-line or sense of direction.
From the first note, Blood Incantation wastes no time. No fancy mood setting intro to be found here, they’re dropping us straight into the cosmic mish-mash of riffs and pinch harmonics, forming a death metal Merkabah around the listener. With the onset of the main riff on “Slave Species Of The Gods,” this sacred craft rockets through a form of melodicism that Blood Incantation seem to have mastered. Chaotic in its individual parts, the guitars and bass turn in ostensibly opposite directions that find their place amongst the whole to keep a clear flow throughout the song. The drums flourish and change all over the place but never lose their primary function of holding the track together. By the end of “Slave Species,” it is clear Blood Incantation at the very least haven’t regressed since releasing Starspawn.
However, new, unexplored realms lay ahead. “The Giza Power Plant” sends our cosmic chariot headstrong into an especially pleasing breakdown that chains Middle Eastern rhythms over a steady rhythmic build that provides a perfect area to dissect just how intricately woven the many threads at play here. Reverb-drenched leads float freely over noisy dives and an ever compounding percussion section. The vocals roar distantly, weaving between a spoken word incantation. The song crescendos and shifts abruptly into an explosion of energy, as though the entire breakdown occupying most of the track was merely charging an ancient power source to propel it to new levels of consciousness.
The momentum of the album slows to an ambient setting at the onset of “Inner Paths (To Outer Space),” as though the light vessel has allowed itself to drift freely between the intersections of the songs. The bass and drums begin to fade in as the voyage begins a new chapter, slowly working its way into the cosmic unknown. Blood Incantation is deep in newer territory here, incorporating more progressive elements than ever before. The melodicism is more clear, but never quite goes so far that the band forget who they are as a death metal band centered around creating a crushing balance of atmosphere and musicality. Their collective mind remains strongly anchored, an essential trait for those looking to explore new worlds without falling through the thin ice that separates madness and enlightenment. “Inner Paths” flirts between the two, pushing the boundaries of the band and almost careening off the edge. The aptly titled “Awakening From The Dream Of Existence To The Multidimensional Nature Of Our Reality (Mirror Of The Soul)” quickly jolts the album back on the rails. Emerging out of the previous track, it makes the hard hitting, bendy riffing seem all the more impactful, demonstrating the power perspective can have over the mind. Furthermore, fans of the band’s previous work will certainly notice THAT riff – at 4:08 the closing riff from “Subterranean Aeon,” the final track on Interdimensional Extinction, makes an appearance, and while it is appropriately altared to work within the vision of Hidden History, the collective screams of despair drive home the point that this is connecting the works of the band as though they are seen through parallel dimensions. While the riff’s appearance marked the end of Interdimensional Extinction, on Hidden History, the best is yet to come. After fading back into noisy ambiance, the guitar slices through with a riff that screams HERE IT COMES.
And it comes all over the place. Pulsating toms thunder begin to thunder before the song explodes into solos that dip, duck, dive, and dodge, riffs that ooze technicality and aggression, and drums that blast, shuffle, fill, and generally send the kit home on a stretcher. Changes are frequent, flowing from the seemingly bottomless pool of inspiration that the band have tapped into from sources unknown. However, there is a fluidity to the music that holds it all together—these changes are not total leaps, instead seeming like forgone conclusions that work their way organically across the soundscapes before arriving at a beautifully melodic conclusion that bleeds into an acoustic outro, evoking the feeling of emerging from a strong spiritual experience, a hallucinogenic comedown, or perhaps both. It eases the listener back into the reality of the real world, contrasting the in-your-face onslaught at the beginning of the record.
With Hidden History Of The Human Race, Blood Incantation has grown more complex, layering their songs more lavishly and moving further away from traditional structure than their already off-center starting point and relying more on gradually building the music up to unorthodox crescendos. The jolting changes that highlighted their previous material and draw the earlier comparison to Death are still very apparent; the band aren’t afraid to boldly and brashly shift direction on a whim, yet they break newer, more progressive ground with the same confidence and gusto and it pays off over and over again. There is so much going on simultaneously, but it works when viewed in its entire context. The ley lines of their influences provide a grid-work for the band to work within, and, when necessary, challenge and push into territories that seem both new and familiar, as though seeing the world of death metal from a parallel perspective, breathing into it fresh life and infusing its potential with extraterrestrial D.N.A. Obviously designed to be viewed as a singular work, Hidden History further solidifies Blood Incantation as the band to top in terms of modern death metal, from concept to execution the record delivers on all fronts as a logical next step for a band that just gets it—making death metal new and exciting again, evolving without losing touch with what made it so damn great in the first place.