The old guard of death metal has a progressively steeper hill to climb when it comes to maintaining relevance. The current state of death metal is bursting at the seams with up-and-coming talent, with bands like Cryptic Shift, Xenobiotic, Black Curse, Aseitas, Faceless Burial, and a host of others have released records that will end up on many year-end lists come November. It’s safe to say that the future health of the genre couldn’t be in a better place, as death metal continues to expand its sonic horizons into new and infinitely interesting territory. Which makes it all the more impressive when a band filled with elder statesmen of the genre unleashes a fresh hell that stands tall among the genre’s latest and greatest talent. In this case, it’s Incantation roaring onto the scene to show these young whippersnappers how it’s done. With their 12th full-length record, Sect of Vile Divinities, Incantation not only re-establish their position as one of the genre’s oldest and greatest acts, but also lay down some of their most vicious, propulsive, and thoroughly captivating work in at least a decade.

If you’re a fan of death metal’s storied history, there’s almost zero chance that you haven’t given Incantation’s back catalog a deep dive. Albums like Onward to Golgotha, Mortal Throne of Nazarene, and Diabolical Conquest firmly established death-doom as a viable manifestation of the style, and cemented the upper east coast of the United States as a haven for death metal outside of the Florida scene. It’s impossible to understate their influence on the genre as a whole, with bands like Dead Congregation, Funebrarum, and many others pulling significant influence from their filthy, dirge-like brand of death metal. To be honest Incantation could never release another record and their position as one of death metal’s best and most influential acts would remain untouched. But John McEntee and company aren’t a group intent to sit on their laurels while the death metal world passes them by. If anything, Sect of Vile Divinities displays a band reinvigorated and thriving, showcasing with brutal clarity all of the elements that made them special in the first place without ever feeling like a dull retread or a strict greatest hits compilation.  

Much of the above praise can be attributed to the songwriting on this record, which is the band’s sharpest and most diverse in at least a decade. More so than in any of their previous few releases, Sect of Vile Divinities is a deft display of balance. Opener “Ritual Impurity (Seven of the Sky is One)” puts their technical abilities on full display, with manically paced drum blasts and riff upon punishing riff filling our eager ears with all of the brutality they can stand. Throw in a blistering, classic-style solo and you have yourself a tight, straight-up banger of a track that introduces the album with verve and aggression to spare. But the album’s second track, “Propitiation”, slows down the proceedings considerably by bringing back that doomy Incantation sound we all know and love. The guitars buzz and slice with all the potency of the band’s most revered works, allowing the doom-laden instrumentals to carry the track for nearly two minutes before breaking into a cosmic Blood Incantation-inspired build that brings the track all the way home to a soaring, drunken finale for the ages. It’s the mixture of these elements throughout the record, each deftly performed and composed, that help Sect of Vile Divinities to stand tall in the band’s catalog as one of their most accomplished in recent years.

Another notable aspect of this record is its production, which is in my estimation a huge step up from their last effort, Profane Nexus. Here, the guitars maintain a chunky clarity in tone that is equal parts menacing and approachable. The mix does a fantastic job of balancing both the lowest and highest ends of the band’s sound, keeping the drums lively and crisp and even giving the bass a bit of shine (especially during moments like the mid-section of “Entrails of the Hag Queen”). “Guardians of the Primeval” is also a great example of all of these production elements combining to give each aspect of the band’s titanic sound a combined elegance, with atmosphere, crushing doom, and flesh-ripping solos each shining through with crystal clarity. It’s a fine achievement behind the boards, making each of these tracks feel all the more impactful with each subsequent listen.

But it wouldn’t be Incantation without superb instrumental performances, and here the band particularly excel. The guitar work in particular by McEntee and Sonny Lombardozzi is exceptional throughout, with each track providing the duo to highlight their dynamic and explosive range. “Chant of Formless Dread” is as formidable and incendiary a display of their impressive talents as you’ll find in the band’s discography, while the funereal “Scribes of the Stygian” exemplifies their expert control, plodding and knuckle-dragging its way through a brutal episode of doomy goodness. The percussion section is no less exceptional, with Kyle Severn’s drum work in “Black Fathom’s Fire” serving as a punishing reminder of the rhythm section that has always made Incantation great. Chuck Sherwood’s bass provides just the right amount of thump to tracks like “Fury’s Manifesto”, rounding out the lineup with an understated and excellent performance.

For fans of death metal’s classic sounds and Incantation’s previous work, there’s little about Sect of Vile Divinities that isn’t exceptional. In the simplest terms I can muster, this album fucking rips from start to finish. There are no duds to be found here, with each track hammering home again and again why Incantation have maintained their position as one of death metal’s most influential elite institutions. The songwriting is excellent and diverse, the performances are stellar, and the production allows each brutal element of the band’s instrumentation to shine with an equal level of effectiveness and ferocity. It’s their best work in a decade, and a record that will most assuredly make its way onto my year-end list for the genre. While death metal is chock full of up-and-coming young talent, Sect of Vile Divinities leaves us with only one appropriate response to its violent sonic majesty… Hail to the king. 

Sect of Vile Divinities drops August 21st via Relapse Records, and is available for pre-order on Bandcamp.

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