Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Blood Incantation - Hidden History of the Human Race (2019)



Country: USA
Style: Death Metal
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 22 Nov 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives

I'm still collating end of year lists to see if there's any sort of critical consensus about what was greatest last year. What's obvious thus far is that this second album from Denver-based death metallers Blood Incantation was an impressive hit. Even though it was released in late November, it made eleven lists of the best albums of the year and topped one. By comparison, I'm not seeing anyone else on more than seven lists and the four on that many happen to include the amazing Alcest and Opeth albums, as well as the disappointing (to me) Tomb Mold album and one from Inter Arma that I haven't heard yet.

The first impression is that this is very old school death metal. It's low, it's downtuned and it features growly vocals that took me back to the early days of the genre. It's reminiscent of early Death and, if you imagine the vocals buried deeper in the mix, Morbid Angel too. As the opener, As Slave Species of the Gods grows, though, we start to realise just how much depth Blood Incantation are exploring here with a traditional four piece setup of vocals, twin guitars, bass and drums. Yes, that's four: Paul Riedl is doing double duty on guitar and voice.

The Giza Power Plant continues on as Slave Species of the Gods began and the two work very well as a pairing. They're deep and warm and rich songs. Even during the more traditional sections of up tempo death, every member of the band continues to do interesting things. Every time I hear these two songs, and I'm four or five listens through thus far, I catch something new and the whole thing draws me in deeper. This is immersive stuff.

Isaac Faulk's drums caught me first. I love how he blisters along at serious speed but has an equally seriously slow beat going on behind that. There are so many changes that it's a real adventure to keep up with them. Also, while this is predominantly old school death at heart, the second half of The Giza Power Plant ventures into doom/death, with slow guitar and bass over rampant drumming, and it does it really well. There are hints at thrash too, though the band never really go there as a sound.

I mostly see Blood Incantation described as simply death metal and that's no lie but nobody who listens through those first two tracks even once is going to avoid the words technical and progressive. The spaced out intro to track three, Inner Paths (To Outer Space), emphasises both in instrumental form. I did catch some vocal work at the end but there are no words, just texture on top of an already interesting track that's consistent with but travelling in wildly different directions to the opening pair.

Finally, there's what would, in the old days, be side two, because it's just one single song. It's called, and I kid you not, Awakening from the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of Our Reality (Mirror of the Soul) and it's almost as long as its title suggests, over eighteen minutes. A mere five seconds more and it would count for half the entire album! That's what we might expect from Yes or Peter Gabriel era Genesis. But do we expect this sort of thing from a death metal band from Denver on the follow up to their debut album? No, we don't. This is seriously ambitious but they pull it off.

In many ways, it's the first half of the album reimagined in a single long, surprisingly coherent track, told in movements that roughly equate to a pair of tracks with an interlude between them and a long and varied outro to take us home. The first five minutes continue on in the old school vibe from the opening couple of songs, taking that old sound as a starting point and then progressing it forward, but the cosntruction is fascinating. The interlude is more spaced out stuff, with an electronic pulse that sounds like a Pink Floyd sample, but we wrap with doomy psychedelia. This really shouldn't work but it does and it does magnificently.

So is this the album of 2019? I've heard a lot of great music thus far and I look forward to a little more over the next month, so there are many albums competing for a title like that in my mind, but I can't deny that it really is up there with the best. I'll fight the other critics about the Tomb Mold album, which really disappointed me, but not about this one. It's astounding for a second album and now I need to track down the first, 2016's Starspawn, while waiting with bated breath for a third.

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