Incantation return with doom-infested, swirling album ‘Vanquish in Vengeance’

If someone asked you to cite some of the seminal death metal bands of all time, only a certain amount of names could come from your lips. Death, Autopsy, Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, Morbid Angel. My guess is those would be some of the first ones to come up, though someone really daring may toss out Suffocation or Pestilence and really not get many arguments from anyone.

Another band you could name drop and likely get a high five in return is Incantation, the Johnstown, Pa.-based death metal veterans who have been keeping things brutal and deadly for the bulk of the past two decades. Their astonishing, mind-numbing debut “Onward to Golgotha” is actually, arguably, the high-water mark for the band, though they had some pretty stellar records after that, especially the two follow-up entries “Mortal Throne of Nazarene” and “Upon the Throne of Apocalypse.” Through the years they’ve endured numerous lineup changes, one of the most noteworthy being the departure of frontman Craig Pillard (Disma), but they’ve kept motoring ahead.

Though Incantation have remained active as a band, we haven’t gotten a studio album from the guys since 2006’s “Primordial Domination,” released by Listenable Records to a fairly positive response. They put out an EP in 2008, but it wasn’t until new songs starting popping up that there was an indication that a new full-length was on its way. We have that now with “Vanquish in Vengeance,” their third overall offering for Listenable (and eighth full-length) and a record that shows the band increasing their mission to do their evil deeds with the highest level of musicianship possible. It’s a great sounding record from these veterans and one of their most satisfying albums in some time.

Founding member John McEntee, who handles vocals along with guitars, and drummer Kyle Severn are the holdovers from the last album, and they are joined by bassist Chuck Sherwood and guitarist Alex Bouks on “Vengeance.” As noted, this band and McEntee are no strangers to the revolving band member door, so there really are no bumps in the road, no awkwardness musically, as everything flows and burns with great precision. Incantation sound as strong as they have since their heyday.

“Invoked Infinity” is your opener, and it’s a grindy, whirling piece full of dazzling guitar work and deep, tortured growls. “Ascend Into the Eternal” is the first of many turns toward the doomy side of things, with gritty growls and ugly, uncompromising hate. “Progeny of Tyranny” is just mean and relentless, with a blast of an opening and pure fire afterward. One of the heaviest songs on this whole record. “Transcend Into Absolute Dissolution” is grimy and violent much in the way of the last Celtic Frost album. Its infernal intent is overwhelming and almost suffocates you as you try to stare into the heart of their furnace. “Haruspex” also is punishing and hellish, and it should be disruptive to your health in a live setting.

The title cut begins with more guitar wizardry and baffling riffs and lines, but it’s the one cut on here that loses some steam as it progresses. Incantation recover on “Profound Loathing,” a track that could not be more perfectly titled as it gushes and trudges over you with a Black Sabbath-style doom swagger. It also rages for more than eight minutes and is drenched in noise and piercing sound. “The Hellion Genesis” goes back to slow-driven madness, and that’s countered by “From Hollow Sands,” that picks up the pace with blistering drum work and massive guitar. Epic closer “Legion of Dis,” an 11-minute melter, is purely funeral-ready, soaked in a doom-death bath, that crunches and crushes, leaving you in a boiling pot of abrasive feedback and terror as the record draws to its close.

Incantation’s catalog basically is a death metal history lesson, and despite the shuffling and regrouping the band and McEntee have had to do through the years, this institution is healthy and humming. “Vanquish in Vengeance” not only is a strong late-career statement, it’s also a blueprint for the tidal wave of weak, overly polished newcomers to learn from and understand how it’s done.

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