US Death Metal veterans INCANTATION are back with an excellent new album “Sect Of Vile Divinities”, which is more of the same grotesque, grimey, majestically malevolent Death Metal darkness that will devour your soul and possess your senses with its sonic sermons of morbidity. Mixed and mastered by Swedish Death Metal supremo Dan Swanö, who gives the overall sound a lot of depth and making the end result sound absolutely massive and weighty, INCANTATION’s new album delivers more horrific prophecies upon your ears. The epitome of Death Metal Darkness! Founding member and guitarist / vocalist John McEntee and bassist Chuck Sherwood were kind enough to answer these questions for Voices From The Darkside.
Your new album is a potent and powerful onslaught of pure Death Metal darkness, are you satisfied with how it turned out? How has the overall response been to it so far?
Chuck: “Many thanks for your words. Indeed we all are very much pleased. Response has been humbling to say the least. Shocked that it’s been so positive when we find ourselves on chart positions, top ten lists and reviews come back with elements folks enjoyed or found less to their taste. It shows the genuine nature of their opinions which I personally prefer than voicing blind like or hate.”
The production is impressively strong and has a lot of depth to it, where was it recorded / tracked at? I know the Death Metal legend that is Dan Swanö mixed and mastered it, why did you choose Dan for the job and what do you feel he brought to the table in terms of enhancing your sound?
Chuck: “Each of us tracked independently which then was merged at various places over the 2 years it took to finalize the material. Dan has been the genius who uses his damn near sorcery behind a board to make the best from our performance. This being his 4th album to have involvement, we see no reason to seek anyone else. He had essentially returned tracks which we felt unsure about to stagger us in how much better they sounded. Rounding and exemplifying subtleties while pushing the elements which make each of our contributions a more cohesive force. Forever impressed at his work each release.”
INCANTATION has always stayed true to your roots and fans and remained true to your old school roots, that is obviously very important to you. What is INCANTATION’s outlook and overall philosophy?
John: “It’s pretty simple. I started off the band with a vision to play back to the roots of Death Metal back in 1989. We wanted to do it in the most aggressive and oppressive way. To me it’s very important to stay true to our roots. If I want to play a different style of music I will just start another band. I’m very proud of our discography. I feel our friends, supporters and fans like the fact that we have never given in to trends and our music is very honest.”
How was the songwriting process for the new album? How do you generally come up with initial ideas and then turn them into fully finished compositions? Do you have a set way of working each songwriting cycle?
Chuck: “Initial ideas are fed off one another it’s all very natural and organic. Riffs can be presented on their own or already in a skeletal arrangement then left for scrutiny and editing. We, as of recently, have been file trading via computer to one another, due to the “lockdown”. Been fortunate to have met up a few times during all this to actually have organic practices and create videos. Presenting and working over material like that is some of the most productive for us I find. We have such a focus that these sessions can last for hours or until our bodies and brains turn to slop. The writing process for “Sect Of Vile Divinities” was really fast, maybe only a few months. While the release of it has taken a long time due to extensive tour schedules and life intervening. The drums were tracked about two years ago, since then we all contributed our own parts together, separate or even while on the road to meet deadlines.”
How is your recording process generally, typically old school?
John: “We have our own Studio where we record all our parts. Dan Swano help us get all the equipment we need to record in a way that he needs to mix the album correctly. I think the most important thing we did on the “Sect Of Vile Divinities” along with most of our back catalog is we play the songs for real together and keep playing it until we get a drum take we like. We didn’t record to click tracks we just kept things very organic and I feel it came across in the music. I think we sound like a real band playing together, like we would in our rehearsal room or live show. We really don’t like that clicked out sound, it makes the music sound too stale.”
What differences do you think there are between the new album “Sect Of Vile Divinities” and the previous album?
Chuck: “There is plenty from what you come to expect from one of our albums. The dynamics, broad range of tempos and all the evil qualities that our deranged brains can give. In comparison to “Profane Nexus” I feel we have more aggression in this one, but you’ll interpret it as you will. Doom elements that conjure that truly dark atmosphere, while the fast and more ripping songs on the album really step up the technique and playability.”
INCANTATION’s doom influence is very prominent throughout your recording career and discography, I hear a CANDLEMASS influence, am I correct in assuming you are heavily influenced by them? What other bands inspire the slower doomier sections in your compositions?
John: “Yes, CANDLEMASS is a big influence on us, also BLACK SABBATH, TROUBLE, stuff like that. All that stuff is part of my musical DNA. Other doom bands that has really inspired and still does inspire me is old PARADISE LOST, old MY DYING BRIDE, DISEMBOWELMENT, stuff like that. I really enjoy the somber feeling of doom. For me doom is vital part of Death Metal. Even though most people associate Death Metal with speed, speed is only one of the ingredients.”
Do you feel it is important to have a good mix of tempos and diversity in riffs?
John: “Yes each album is a journey and all the different tempos help make that journey one coherent piece of work. We don’t really look at albums as a collection of songs but one full piece of music. The album would be kinda lame if we only played one speed throughout it.”
Can you tell us about the lyrics on the new album and give a brief rundown of what each track is about?
Chuck: “For this album in particular I drew upon my typical muses, but adding topics unfamiliar to myself. A way to research interests, and explore my subconscious with Death Metal as a catalyst. Folklore, mythology, history, occultism and my dreams are within. ‘Ritual Impurity (Seven Of The Sky Is One)’: An Akkadian incantation and ritual against Lamashtu. It is styled as an “incantation to dispel lasting fever and Lamashtu”. The demon went by seven different names but was also daughter of the sky goddess Anu hence the (Seven Of The Sky Is One). ‘Propitiation’ is about the early Sun worshipping Semitic tribes, Canaanites and Carthaginians and their child sacrifices to Moloch in the Valley of Ghennah under four columned Tophet altars or “brazen bull” style idols of Moloch with bonfires within to cast victims. ‘Entrails Of The Hag Queen’ is a Balinese legend stating during the reign of Airlangga in the late 10th century a witch had a daughter that couldn’t be married due to her mother’s use of witchcraft. In outrage she sacrificed a child from the nearby village at the “temple of death” to Rangda queen of Leyaks. Leyacks haunt graveyards, looking human by day, by night their heads and entrails fly from the body looking for pregnant women to eat a newborn infant from the womb. ‘Guardians From The Primeval’ is about Hindu demons that guard primeval waters of creation and feed on human flesh taking on animal forms to humanity. Their true form which was never depicted (to not give life to an abomination) was only described as being bloated stomached, vertical eyed minions with long finger nails that drip venom. ‘Black Fathom’s Fire’ is a Lovecraftian based song about human and animal sacrifices reaching the “Hadal” depths were Chuthulu and the bioluminescent creatures surrounding him treat this as “the stars are right” to infect madness into the minds of humanity as a means to usher our own extinction, and return to the surface of earth. ‘Ignis Fatuus’ is Ghost light, willowisps or fools’ fire. Some said that a hand of glory (hand from the corpse of a hanged man with a wick of the victims hair and their fat to waxen it into a candle) could lead to riches. Following “rolling fire” may also lead you to your death, in protection you would plunge a dagger (athame) into the earth handle first which made the ignis fatuus plunge itself onto the blade exposed. ‘Chant Of Formless Dread’ is a take on an Egyptian execration spell to summon chaos. ‘Shadowblade Masters Of Tempest And Maelstrom’ I touched upon Japanese / Taoist mythology. Two primary gods giving birth to an armless, legless, boneless creation caused by a ritual mistake at a celestial temple, know as “the leech”. Demons that harbor winds in satchels to lead mariners to their deaths. An eight headed sea serpent (Yamata No Orochi) and the possibility of its survival from a Japanese “hero figure”. A god’s wife who by eating from the “night lands” turned from beauty to a decomposing hag thus creating the first “death” ever for all humanity. ‘Scribes Of The Stygian’ a dream of walking upon paths of ice that crack and reveal extreme depths. A ledge sat two black hooded figures. Seated, before them were altars made of ice were they wrote with quills in huge tomes all the details of my life. Standing between them, they point to a nebula of thick mist with frail corpse hands. Drawn towards it, I walk in and become part of the nothingness. ‘Unborn Ambrosia’ was a dream of trans-dimensional creatures who’ve never known existence desire for what was never theirs. They in turn feed on life before it can be born. This forms demon gates from their dimension through moments of conception to enforce their will. ‘Fury’s Manifesto’ is blasphemy towards religious ethics and its failure to the very evil that the faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Muslims themselves created. ‘Siege Hive’ is another dream, where deformed and demonic creations emanate and writhe from small membrane capsulated chambers that line the inner walls of a tower. I was floating in the center speaking words of power with no sound. A black tar sea arose from the tower base boiling up and giving power to the demons that take wing and coat the sun ushering eternal night.”
Please tell us about the album title.
Chuck: “Conceptually, the entities and deities mentioned in the album are assembled in a sort of forgotten temple as a common “sect”. As the cover portrays. All of them sharing the same “vile” nature against opposing religions (or religious ethics) and humanity’s failure.”
The current line-up seems very solid and works together great, how did you find the two newer members and what attributes do they bring into the INCANTATION sound in your opinion? Sonny Lombardozzi is the newest member but his lead style fits perfectly.
John: “We currently have one new member that is Luke Shively, Sonny left before the end of the recording of “Sect Of Vile Divinities” to pursue other styles of music. That being said, yes we all are work good together. Kyle and Chuck have both been in the band for a real long time and we work real well together. There is just a connection and brotherhood we have. As a band we work real well as a team. Luke joined in late December 2019 after sessioning in for 5 years on bass when Chuck couldn’t tour. So Luke is also been working with us for quite some time, so the transition was quite easy. Everything is working as a well-oiled machine and I’m lucky to be working with a great bunch of guys. The reason this works so well is we all have different things we are good at. So where one member lacks the other will excel. True teamwork.”
Covid has affected every band out there but it must be affecting you hard as INCANTATION is renowned for its heavy touring and gigging schedule. What are your current plans for supporting the new album live?
John: “Yes, there were some summer festivals that we had to postpone and that sucks. Also it’s not looking good for the BELPHEGOR tour we were scheduled to do in November in Europe. But we are looking into options for next year and pretty soon I think we will be able to announce our 2021 tour plans. As of now we recorded a live stream performance for the Mexico Metal Fest along with that we will have a few other live in the studio videos in the works. But besides that we have just been super inspired to write new music, so we are well on our way to our next album. Everyone in the band has been really inspired lately.”
Relapse and INCANTATION have had a very long fruitful relationship together, what is the secret to a long lasting band / label partnership in your opinion?
John: “Well to be honest over the years we have had our ups and downs with Relapse Records. But I feel most of the problems was because when we first signed with them they were a new label and we were a new band so when business got involved we were both very inexperienced so you can imagine how messy that can get. But now both Relapse and us are way more experienced and now work really well together. They have done a top notch job for the last 2 albums and we are very happy to be working with them. For me the secret is to learn from your mistakes and man I made a lot of them haha. Relapse proved to us over time that they are doing the right thing. And as a band we have realistic expectations and Relapse has gone above and beyond them.”
What is the definition of true Death Metal to you. What bands are the epitome of Death Metal to you?
John: “My opinion of Death Metal is the expression of darkness and aggression. For me any good music has to be honest. For me I have real respect for the bands that came before me and I feel it’s important to show respect and use the tools they taught me and push things to a new limit while also really expressing myself with the songwriting. I guess the most important thing is sincerity. For me the epitome of Death Metal are bands like early DEATH, POSSESSED, IMMOLATION, ASPHYX, MORTICIAN, BOLT THROWER, NECROVORE, NECROPHAGIA, stuff like that.”
What’s your opinion on the current US Death Metal scene, fave new bands from the US?
John: “The US Death Metal scene is really damn good these days. I really enjoy MORTIFERUM, PERDITION TEMPLE, FAITH EXTRACTOR, MOLDER, ASCENDED DEAD, SHED THE SKIN, MORTUOUS, KURNUGIA also the new SKELETAL REMAINS is real good. It’s cool to see the newer generation keeping the style alive. There are some older bands still kicking ass too, like FALSE PROPHETS, NOCTURNUS AD, IMMOLATION and POSSESSED they are really putting out great stuff.”
How do you feel the US Death Metal scene is now compared to 30 years ago?
John: “It’s just different. 30 years ago it was all new, there were not many rules to the style and overall there seem to be a lot of different ways to play it. I guess the early days will always be a special time for Death Metal. But the scene is really good today. Like I said there are lots of great new and older bands putting out great stuff today. I can only speak for INCANTATION but we are bigger now than we have ever been before. And there is a whole new generation of new fans and supporters that really enjoy our style of barbaric Death Metal. I have to say that is pretty damn awesome.”
Opinion on worldwide death scene, new bands and faves?
John: “I think overall the Death Metal scene is real good around the world. For “Profane Nexus” we played all over the world, Asia, South America, and Europe and the turnouts have been amazing. Some newer international bands I have been digging lately is UNDERGANG, TROOPS OF DOOM, FILTHGRAVE, ECTOPLASMA and more. Of course I love the older bands from back in the day like ASPHYX, DISMEMBER, MASTER, BOLT THROWER stuff like that.”
Opinions on social media regarding band promo. How do you feel about the modern day way of promoting bands via social media? Do you miss the old school days of spreading flyers, snail mail, tape trading, print zines being commonplace etc? What advantages do you feel there are these days? What do you miss about the 90s days for example?
John: “Yes I miss the old way of doing things. But I understand that it’s a new world and you have to adapt to the new ways of getting your name out there. But for us I will always prefer the days of physical product, fanzines and demo tape trading. But it’s also nice these days to have access to so much music on YouTube, Spotify and whatnot. It makes listening to music very convenient. So both has its positives and negatives.”
The secret to a good death growl is…?
John: “Use your diaphragm and practice a lot. Play as many shows as possible, get experience. Nothing’s better than learning from experience.”
Thanks for your time…
John: “You are welcome, thanks for the years of support!”
Photo credits (live pics): Noisy Picture Media (first 4), John Olvera (rest)
Interview: Kat “Shevil” Gillham