Incantation’s debut album, Onward to Golgotha, is a definitive death metal classic. This is not only true of its influence on countless death metal (and black metal) bands that came after, but also as a representation of the genre at it’s best.
Through the use ominous, haunting guitar riffs and a full and enveloping overall sound, Incantation achieved what many bands spend an entire career trying to accomplish: they made music that perfectly represented and amplified their subject matter. The music on Onward to Golgotha is not just dark, it’s deeply unsettling and almost upsetting to the uninitiated listener. In this way, Incantation fits alongside other extreme metal groups that achieve a similar effect (e.g. Demoncy, Profanatica, Angel Corpse, or Slayer if you really want to reel the tape back). Take for example the desperation and despair invoked at the beginning of “Entrantment of Evil” with those expertly-placed pinch harmonics. Or take the warlike thunder of “Unholy Massacre.” Many bands try to be as fast, heavy, technical or “extreme” as possible, but in doing so miss the point. The point is to provide the listener with an identifiable mood or atmosphere. And Onward to Golgotha creates an unmistakable mood and atmosphere.
This atmosphere can be an acquired taste, as the production may initially strike the listener as muffled, as if someone left the “low” dial too high on the mixer. On the band’s uneven mid-era releases, this can get tiresome. But when this “doomy” approach works, it paints a compelling and haunting portrait. Allow for a few listens and you’ll get used to it. Fans of doom or black metal may find it easier to dive into the material tech-death or trash acolytes. Though the record fits firmly within the death metal canon, as my love for black metal has grown, it’s made me appreciate records like this even more (it’s not surprising that one of the earliest USBM bands, Profanatica, was a splinter group).
The album’s centerpiece for has to be the thunderous “Blasphemous Cremation,” particularly the section from 2:45 to 3:25. The guitarists’ use of the minor third may look simplistic on a sheet of guitar tab, but it’s effect here is death metal perfection, complemented by Jim Roe’s use of double bass. This section does more than just make the listener say “oh wow, this is really loud and crazy!!!” – it actually gets the imagination going and brings to mind dark caverns, hellish landscapes and other nightmarish visions. It’s songs like this one that have allowed the record’s legacy to endure long past its 1992 release.
In fact the album’s endurance is epitomized by the opening track on the band’s (also excellent) 2012 release, Vanquish in Vengeance. The opening riff to “Invoked Infinity” is very similar to “Golgotha.” I’m not sure if this was on purpose, though it would make sense seeing as the latter album was released 20 years after the former.
Though Onward to Golgotha is a classic on its own merits, it also set the foundation for Incantation’s career, and influenced bands like Drawn and Quartered, Dead Congregation, Ingnivomous and so many more. So click on “Golgotha” and let your mind sink into the depths all the way through “Deliverance of Horrific Prophecies.” Then walk it off, hug a kitten, or go for another serving (or go right for Mortal Throne of the Nazarene, that works too).
– J. Andrew