Metal has an abiding relationship with physical and geographical spaces. From the rolling cascades of the Pacific Northwest to the dense, foreboding forests of Norther Europe, metal has long championed music that not only exists in a specific physical place but is often consumed by it. Think the ice cold tremolo knives of Norwegian black metal, or perhaps the gentler wanderings of folk metal from across the globe, or the oppressively heavy and moderately paced trudging of Bayou sludge. To these ears, these are sounds that are intended to transport and project us into a physical space that often adds further distinction to the thematic and lyrical themes of the music. The same could be said of the music of Incantation, but opposed to feeling like the American East Coast from whence the band originates, the death metal legends have composed music for decades that feels as if it is slowly emerging from a deep, hellish cave. It is reverberating, dripping filth bathed in oppressive guitar work, echoing and cavernous vocals, and a seething, roaring rhythm section that feels like an earthquake. It is a sound shrouded in slow, creeping, all-consuming darkness that feels viscerally physical, and Incantation have molded and transformed this beastly noise into something close to perfection.
These sonic aspects are not only the hallmarks of a band, but of a genre-defining sound. A cursory glance at death metal releases over the last few years reveal a landscape absolutely rife with bands who have tried their best to imitate the feel and sound of Incantation’s art. Ascended Dead, Father Befouled, and Blood Incantation are but a few examples of bands in the ever burgeoning tradition (driven forward with distinction by Dark Descent Records) of taking these cavernous sounds and descending them into even murkier depths. In a similar vein of Meshuggah’s spearheading of the djent explosion of the mid-aughts, “Caverncore” is alive and well in death metal, and we can largely thank Incantation for its existence. With their 10th full-length record, Profane Nexus, Incantation return to re-establish their dominance of the nastiest breed of old school death metal. Thankfully, they succeed in spades.
Profane Nexus isn’t a creative leap forward for the band. There are no new twists on their established sound, no gimmicks or studio tricks here. This all sounds negative, but I assure you it isn’t meant to be. Rather than a leap into the unknown, Profane Nexus is instead a further extension of the band’s long-established aesthetic, upgraded in sound quality and engineering for today’s listeners, that refuses to compromise in heaviness or impact. These elements are established with resounding conviction from album opener “Muse”, which uses a slowly amplifying guitar passage to reintroduce us to the band’s signature wretched and measured sound, only to seconds later engulf the listener in a fire of blast beats and deep, tremolo-picked guitars that are as brutalizing as anything on Onward To Golgotha. It’s a welcome return for the band, and a near perfect set-up for the mayhem to come.
As mentioned earlier, while the instrumental prowess and songwriting techniques the band has perfected remain relatively intact, the greatest upgrade that Profane Nexus provides us with is a thoroughly excellent production job by the legendary Dan Swano. These songs are as murky and heavy as they come, but feel simultaneously clear, crisp, smooth, and insanely full-bodied. Similar to his outstanding work earlier in the year with Winds of Leng, Swano has once again proven himself an essential metal producer who has the ability to compliment and upgrade a band’s sound without sucking the life out of their foundational instrumentation and songwriting. This still feels like music blasting from a cave, but amplified to its clearest extremity, and all the more so because of its capable and nuanced production. All that and at this point we’re only through the album’s first track. Yeah, this record is quite good.
Subsequent track and album single “Rites of the Locust” ups the ante established by the opener by throwing wide the classic death metal floodgates that the band have excelled at unleashing for decades. The track also highlights their penchant for hooks and melody, bringing in several memorable riff passages that make recurring appearances throughout the track, keeping the insanity of the proceedings grounded and quite easy to bang your head to. On the whole, riff lovers can rejoice, as Incantation’s cup runneth over on Profane Nexus. There is a veritable wealth of catchy and memorable riffs here, which fluctuate between old school death metal mayhem and more measured, doom-oriented passages. “Visceral Hexahedron” and “Incorporeal Despair” exemplify the latter impeccably well, unfolding their dark delights at a much more measured pace. Incantation has always incorporated doom metal into their deathly brew better than most other acts in the subgenre, and Profane Nexus is no exception. The opposite end of the speed spectrum is also represented nobly, with tracks like “Xipe Totec” and “Lus Sepulcri” ramping up the beats per minute with old school death metal goodness that helms closer to Immolation than dISEMBOWELMENT. These tracks modulate in speed frequently and to great effect, keeping the album from ever feeling overtly redundant. This maelstrom of intensity culminates with “Ancients Arise”, which serves as a fitting finale to the carnage of the record, bridging the gap between doom oppression and death metal aggression by bludgeoning us into submission by its sheer magnitude. A fine close to a worthy addition to the bands catalog.
The old guard bands of death metal are undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Where 2016 was dominated by thrash’s Big Four, 2017 belongs to ‘90s death. Obituary, Immolation, Origin, and Suffocation have all dropped albums within the calendar year, and while there are plenty of arguments to be had regarding the overall quality of these releases (spoiler: Immolation is great), it is plain to see that the originators of this most vile of subgenres are far from dead, and that is a very good thing. Incantation don’t break the mold with Profane Nexus. Instead, they do what they do best as well as they have done it in a decade. This is a top-notch old school death metal record from legends who are doing the exact opposite of going quietly into the cruel night of obscurity. It isn’t experimental. It isn’t overly technical. It doesn’t need to be. This is music that brings us back to the cave, terrorizing and pummeling us all the way to its inky black bottom. Surrender yourself to its brutal charms and you will not be disappointed.
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Profane Nexus is now streaming on all major services, and is available for purchase here.