There are few places in the United States that have experienced a more significant explosion in both the quantity and quality of metal music being produced than in Colorado. Over the past several years, bands like Khemmis, Dreadnought, Necropanther, Of Feather and Bone, Primitive Man, In the Company of Serpents, Spectral Voice, Allegaeon, Vale of Pnath, and dozens of others have revolutionized a state and known for its folk and alternative rock scenes into something much gnarlier and nastier. It’s a minor revolution in the musical heart of a fast-growing community, and no band greater exemplifies the impact of this rapid growth than Blood Incantation. Their debut full-length, Starspawn, is without question one of the best death metal records of the decade, and the intervening years between releases have stoked hype for the band’s next record to a deliriously fevered pitch. 2019 brings us the band’s much-ballyhooed follow-up, Hidden History of the Human Race, which has been to death metal fiends what Tool’s (bloated and quite lame) Fear Inoculum was to… a lot of people, for some reason. The white whale is here, but does it live up to the unwieldy expectations placed upon it? In short, hell yes.
The Denver quartet’s modus operandi hasn’t changed in any particularly drastic ways, at least in terms of what immediately hits the audience’s ears. The first two tracks, “Slave Species to the Gods” and “The Giza Power Plant” are Blood Incantation doing as Blood Incantation does: the band are operating on Hidden History well within their established elevator pitch of “Morbid Angel but Pink Floyd,” smashing riffs that sound cribbed from Trey Azagthoth’s extensive back catalogue (“Slave Species to the Gods” opens with something that positively smacks of “Immortal Rites”) into indulgent bouts of psych-prog rock. As always, though, they’re better at doing both parts of this sound than just about any of their contemporaries, and their incredible songwriting talent means that the reprieves from death metal aren’t just down time between riffs – they’re propulsive and necessary movements within the song. These 13 minutes are excellent, even if it’s really just Blood Incantation showing that they haven’t lost it since Starspawn; a record full of this would have been welcome.
Welcome though it would have been, our journey doesn’t stop there. As good as the opening salvo is, it’s the latter two tracks on Hidden History where Blood Incantation really spread their wings and show what they’ve been cooking up in the past three-plus years. “Inner Paths (to Outer Space)” sets the stage well: a quiet build turned pressure cooker briefly explodes into a simple but effective bit of heaviness before dying back down. The meditative, tripped-out vibes serve as a welcome reprieve from the pyrotechnics of the previous two tracks, but really, “Inner Paths” is a herald to the apocalyptic, monumental song that lies ahead.
“Awakening From the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of Our Reality (Mirror of the Soul)” is a song of a caliber that simply does not come along often. It is 18 minutes of death metal that feels vital and strong throughout; it explores a treasure trove of musical ideas across its runtime; it manages to remain captivating and intriguing without ever feeling as though it is simply too much to handle. It’s here that Blood Incantation’s songwriting ability reaches its zenith thus far: they’ve always been excellent at handling the physics of momentum, changing speed on a dime – an absolute enormous shoutout needs to be given to drummer Isaac Faulk in this regard for knowing exactly what notes to hit at literally every moment – and it’s in this constant dance of tension and release that “Awakening” is elevated from “really long string of riffs” to a masterful tapestry of death metal sounds.
“Awakening” also sees Blood Incantation allowing themselves to wear more of their influences on their sleeve: although the first half of the song operates within their established playbook (although melodies seem markedly more angular and jagged than much of their work to date), all bets are off in the second half. There’s parts that are clearly informed by the latter-day work of Death, resplendent with bright chords and scorching melodies and off-kilter time signatures, a few neck-snapping grooves that sound ripped from Convulse’s World Without God, and a culminating solo that sneaks in some genuinely doomy Warning-esque progressions. As the song fades out, accompanied by the gentle whoosh of space, a genuinely emotional acoustic guitar outro takes the stage for one last lap. And then it’s over.
It is hard to imagine any record matching the titanic riff worship of Starspawn, and damn if Hidden History doesn’t equal it in scope and magnitude. A dozen listens in and there’s no end to enjoyment in sight, which is just about all one can ask for from one of the best death metal bands on the planet. Time will tell if it has the same historical impact as its predecessor, but there’s no doubt that Hidden History is one of the most ambitious, expertly performed, and superbly written death metal records of the last few years. Fans of the band’s previous work can rejoice: There’s no disappointment to be found here. One of the best death metal records we’ve heard in a fair amount of time.
Hidden History of the Human Race drops November 22nd via Dark Descent Records, and is available for pre-order on the band’s Bandcamp page.