Thirty years ago, Bill Clinton was elected president (the first time); the acquittal of the cops who beat Rodney King sparked riots that tore through Los Angeles; compact discs overtook cassette tapes as the number-one medium for music consumption; the first publicly released web browser made it possible for people to search the web such that they would one day wind up here at Last Rites, reading about a band they should’ve been listening to for all those thirty years.
At three LPs and over two hours in length, Tricennial Of Blasphemy is (ahem) a hell of a lot of Incantation. It’s a for-the-fans round-up of all the band’s various smaller releases – EPs, demos, tribute album tracks, outtakes, live songs, and so forth. As such, it’s likely not designed to be one continuous listening experience, although it holds up surprisingly well for significant stretches, and whether by design or accident, it ends up dividing itself neatly, and appropriately, into thirds.
THE STUDIO THIRD
Working backwards chronologically, Tricennial starts with two unreleased tracks, “Pest Savagery” and “Ordained By Night’s Will.” Both are strong, solid examples of modern Incantation, although that’s also another way of saying neither offers any surprises. The usual cutting riffs, tremolo picking balanced against chunkier heavier moments, all in line with – and as strong as much of – last year’s Sect Of Vile Divinities record. Borrowed from the self-released, limited-run XXV collection, “Obelisk Reflection” features some wonderfully woozy harmonized guitar lines, spinning through twisting riffs into a pounding drive in the second half, and coupled with the massive re-recording of “Nefarious Warriors” and the raging cover of Revenant’s “Degeneration” (previously available on a Decibel flexi), it’s in this run that Tricennial rapidly reaches critical mass. The slightly underproduced “Absolved In Blood” sticks out, but the song is damned fun, even if that snare is live as hell. Scapegoat’s leftovers from Primordial Domination right the ship, and for good measure, throw in a fun cover of “Hell Awaits” and the savagery of “Horde Of Bestial Flames” (recorded during the Diabolical Conquest sessions), and these first twelve or thirteen outtakes and compilation tracks more or less form a fun full-length on their own.
THE DEMO THIRD
In the middle section, as time moves steadily backwards to the beginning, the production noticeably drops off, no longer the stouter, thicker, tar-like thud of modern Incantation, more what you’d expect from early 90s demos. Take three tracks from a 1996 promo release: each would find its way into the world over the next few records, but here, they’re raw compared to those, roughshod but certainly not unlistenable. Recorded as a demo to solicit record label interest, and featuring guest vocals from former vocalist and Mortician mainstay Will Rahmer, they’re an interesting snapshot of the band’s creative process, particularly in the form of an extended version of The Infernal Storm’s closer “Nocturnal Kingdom Of Demonic Enlightenment.” Nothing of those three – or for that matter, any tracks from Deliverance Of Horrific Prophecies single or the the Entrantment Of Evil 7” that follows them – is more powerful here than on their subsequent released versions, but as a longtime fan, there’s certainly something for having these earlier takes on eventual classics.
THE LIVE THIRD
Wrapping up Tricennial’s three-pronged crown are seven live tracks recorded across three different shows between 2010 and 2014. Having seen Incantation perform a few times now, I can certainly vouch for their power onstage, and these tracks confirm that. (“Absolved By Blood” especially benefits from the added energy, and McEntee’s refusal to drop his death growl even for stage banter never fails to make me smile.) Live tracks are typically among the least interesting bonuses for all but the most dedicated collector, I’ll admit, but each of these gets the job done, and with it having been twenty-plus years since Incantation’s most recently recorded live set, these seven provide some more recent and less celebrated killing cuts.
Two hours is a long time to listen to one album, but thirty years is a long time to make a career in an intentionally anti-commercial sub-genre of an increasingly inhospitable music business. Incantation’s been able to go the latter of those spans by being incredibly good at what they do, which at least makes navigating the former of those spans much easier for everyone. These types of compilations are only for the ardent, by nature, but if you, like me, rightfully place Incantation on a tier above all but the best of their peers, then Tricennial Of Blasphemy will remind you why at the same time that it rounds up any stray tracks you may be missing from your collection.
Here’s to thirty more…