I must say it, Blood Incantation's first effort, 'Interdimensional Extinction', wasn't that special. I know it got very good reviews and comments but, taking into consideration the high level Death Metal is taking back in the last years, I didn't find anything remarkable on that recording. I didn't dislike it either, as their dark brand of Death Metal could hardly unplease me, but that's it. So it took me some time to finally decide myself to check 'Starspawn', despite the extremely good comments (again) I read.
And the first reaction I got was way better than expected, why would I deny it. It was actually truly surprised. As ‘Starspawn’ is a real step forward for these four guys from Denver. And I mean it at all levels. I needed a few listens to start digesting the album and going beyond that first impression of a twisted a too varied sound and end up enjoying all the rest (the dark atmosphere, the otherworldly feeling and the amazingly capturing progressions and flow of their songs), which is what should really matter in a record of this kind. Once I had a more or less a global view on ‘Starspawn’, I dissected the album into its different parts and I was able to analyse its sound, form and extension in more depth, everything started making more sense and became way more interesting. A lot I should say.
One of the things that I usually get surprised by when reading reviews and opinions on bands on the net is who they get compared to, as often those comparisons are (to say it in the kindest way) quite far from reality, and in the case of Blood Incantation it became even more evident. In their case, I've read (among others) about Death, Morbid Angel, Gorguts, Incantation, Nocturnus, Demilich, Timeghoul, Immolation, At the Gates, Slayer, Suffocation, The Chasm, Atheist, Mithras, Dead Congregation, Sarpanitum, Deathspell Omega, Vektor ... I mean, if we added Entombed, Grave, bolt Thrower and Autopsy we could have all the possible amalgams of Death Metal together. And even Pink floyd was mentioned!
Well, I can't say I agree with most of those comparisons, and there’s actually a few that sound miles away from them to my ears (although I would be open to listen to any clarifications on the matter). On one side because, despite Blood Incantation are a technical band to some extent, I don't think they achieve (at any level) the twisted complexity of some of those bands, as their technicality is quite delimited to certain type of parts and arrangements and a lot more focused on the songs structures than on showing off how good musicians they are (even if there’s still some of that on a lower level, like a few guitar leads, some tapping or similar, etc … which does not hurt anyone). On the other, because I think their sound, despite some more experimental (or simply outsider) details, as well as winks to this and that band, is quite well focused on a very enclosed style and sound, which is Death Metal in the old American way of doing it. And I guess some of the comparisons come more due to the fact they have a big sci-fi influence on the lyrical side, but that’s all.
Maybe the first Gorguts could be a good reference though if we speak of a major influence on their writing, as they were one of those bands introducing some level of complexity in a still dark and pretty obscure sound, as well as Death (if we look at the more melodic/technical guitar parts (but not so much the riffs I would say). If we mix them both, we could actually very well add Disincarnate to the formula. Morbid Angel should also be mentioned as an unavoidable influence on their sound, although it would be mainly due to the dragging mid-paced parts which were masterfully perfected by Mr. Azagthoth and are so effective when tempo slows down, at to a lower extent for some faster and more diabolical riffs that still owe ‘Altars of Madness’ a lot. For the rest, I might have have seen this and that influence in a very occasional detail, but that’s it.
I would also add that, despite the blastbeats and the fastest guitar parts, there is also some space for (very well placed and breath inducing) slower, heavier and more atmospheric passages in 'Starspawn' (just have a look at the first track, "Vitrification of Blood Pt.1") that remind me of some of classic doomier Death Metal bands from Europe such as Demigod or even the first Paradise Lost (here you have my contribution to the list above!) and also others, confirming that these guys have a very eclectic and varied musical taste (the best example is the multi-faceted instrumental “Meticulous Soul Devourment”), even if those parts are, again, only details and not the most present ones on the album.
In addition to everything mentioned previously, and not to make this review sound like these guys have zero personality, we can very well speak of a Blood Incantation sound, but it would be more in the way they mix the different parts and give them their own touch. The maelstrom of monumental and suffocating riffs next to faster and more melodically backed-up parts they throw into the listener’s face, generating a truly intense avalanche of the darkest sounds, is definitely closer to how the newest school of old-school Death Metal (if that makes any sense) has been treating the style, with a pretty raw and steamrollering brutality which is increased even more by how Paul Riedl throws his vocals out. Actually, the vocal part might be one of the most original part of their sound as they are not perfectly defined (guttural or high-pitched) verses but more reverb drowned invocations, again in a similar way to other recent Death Metal bands which might have an eye on some slightly more bestial sounds.
On the production side, I have some conflicting emotions, because I don’t think the mix is perfect, as there’s a lot of (not extremely but still remarkably) chaotic parts (yes, chaotic might be good be it can also be bad at some point). However, I think their sound on ‘Starspawn’ is (again) very alike that of the old U.S. Death Metal bands, with a dark yet powerful rhythm section and a pretty raw approach on the final result. Taking into consideration the World Famous studio, where they did the recording, mixing and mastering of the record, is mostly known for R&B artists (if we do not take into consideration Biohazard and Living Colour, which are still far from their sound), the result is a real achievement. I would still like to see how these songs could sound if they had been managed by someone with more experience on a style like Death Metal both on the recording/mixing and the mastering duties.
All being said, Blood Incantation have now consolidated their name and become one of the bands not to miss on anybody’s list of current Death Metal acts that are worth. They’ve actually appeared on a lot of 2016 top albums lists, and will be touring Europe very soon next to Cruciamentum, which looks like something not to be missed.
Gia Thanatos is a webzine dedicated to music for the apocalyptic times. No matter the scene or genre it comes from, and mainly chosen according to its author's taste.