Let’s play a game: Write down the first five words or short phrases that come to mind when you think about Incantation, and I’ll see if I can guess the words you picked.
First up, I’m guessing there will be some variation upon the phrase “death metal,” and rightly so because John McEntee and Kyle Severn and their rotating cast of cohorts were among the style’s originators. In their thirty years of existence, they’ve released now twelve albums that helped define heaviness. While we’re on the topic of genre, I’ll also postulate that you wrote down “doom” or some variation thereof, since Incantation’s sound has always been shot through with copious amounts of noxious and pained funeral-styled doom, their aesthetic alternating between a savage evil pummeling and fits of ear-rending ugliness. They’ve never quite been death/doom, really, even though they only occasionally operate at any speed above the methodical, and they’re quite often crawling. Like their comrades in Autopsy and Asphyx, they’ve blended both faster and slower elements expertly into a lurching evil, and as the legion of lesser imitators that sprouted up across the last decade proved, Incantation’s evil is one that can’t quite be captured or replicated.
And at least, for now, well… that’s where Sect Of Vile Divinities is a bit of a surprise…
For this one, Incantation has wiped away a noticeable portion of their trademark mud; they’ve washed away the mire in favor of a crisper, more defined attack. “WHAT?!” you say, aghast at the mere thought of a cleaner, sharper-sounding Incantation, and I can understand your concern. Again mixed by the eternally reliable Dan Swanö, Sect Of Vile Divinities’ less-mucky tone will undoubtedly be its biggest talking point. But though it’s initially a surprise — and the first one Incantation has bestowed upon us in quite awhile, really — that’s all it is, really: an interesting aside. Thankfully, that means that, at the end of the day when the last notes of “Siege Hive” have burned a hole through your brain, what this production choice isn’t is a detriment, a hurdle, or an issue. It turns out that a muck-covered primordial beast is still vile and frightening, even when you hose off some of the muck.
A slime-dwelling demon by any other name is still… well, you get it.
So while Sect Of Vile Divinities might sound different than Profane Nexus did — and it certainly sounds a whole lot different than Onward To Golgotha — fundamentally, it’s still very much the same Incantation. “Ritual Impurity (Seven Of The Sky Is One)” opens with some vicious carving riffage, while “Propriation” slows to a midtempo and drops into the exquisitely ugly slugger with the amazing name, one “Entrails Of The Hag Queen.” It’s a three-track punch that’s absolute kick-assery, as perfect a distillation of Incantation’s style as you could hope for, three straight further John McEntee masterclasses in riffery, filled with pinches and woozy bends and tremolo-picked atonal melodies. Mid-album highlights in the back-to-back crush of “Ignis Fatuus” and the spiraling riffs and hellish gutturals of “Chant Of Formless Dread” keep the party flowing, while the sludgy trudge of “Scribes Of The Stygian” and the staccato pulse of “Unborn Ambrosia” send us headlong into killer closer “Siege Hive.” Some tracks are stronger than others, of course, but none is anything less than good. Like the rest of Incantation’s career, Sect Of Vile Divinities is far more win than lose, and hell, let’s just cut to the chase here: Even the least best Incantation moments are still better than many bands’ peakiest peaks.
So then, getting back to the game, I’ll wager that the first of your last two words will be some twist upon “legends” or “gods,” and that’s certainly deserved. From Onward To Golgotha onward, Incantation’s work has been almost uniformly kingly, with the first four and last four (including this one) being especially excellent. Does Sect Of Vile Divinities overcome Profane Nexus or Dirges Of Elysium… well, I’m not quite ready to bestow that accolade upon it. But then again, neither would I argue with you for very long if you decided that it was their best recent outing. (Dirges remains my favorite of the new Incantation classics, while Onward To Golgotha is a long-time favorite. That debut will likely forever remain my favorite Incantation, if just for sentimental reasons.) And it’s a bit of a moot point arguing, anyway: If Sect is a lesser album than those immediately before it, or even if it’s better, it’s whichever of those it is by no more than the width of a hair from the forked tail of Beelzebub himself.
If you did this right, then your final word is something equivalent to “f–king awesome.” Because that’s what Incantation is, and that’s what Incantation has always been, even with a little mid-career deviation back towards the middle ground. Sect Of Vile Divinities is yet another killer record from a band that is back on top of the game.
So what did we end up with? “F–king awesome doomy grimy death metal gods, but now with a little less grime and every bit of the hellfire.” Hey, four out of five ain’t bad, right?
But seriously, kids, stop playing stupid word games and go get your head smashed in — you won’t need what’s in there, anyway, ’cause this one’s a no-brainer.