Blood Incantation should need no introduction to readers of this column, being one of death metal’s most luminary forces in recent years, but astute followers of the Colorado four-piece have known that they have always been so much more than a mere death metal band. Timewave Zero lays bare the often occluded side of the band, stripping away all semblance of metal entirely to revel in cosmic, new age ambiance, creating a meditative soundscape that offers a perfect place to reflect, particularly for me on the nature of relationships and musical identity that become challenged when a band makes such a dramatic shift as this.
While Timewave Zero is sure to be one of, if not the most polarizing release of 2022, it feels like an album that was tailor made for me to love. I like extreme metal because metal is, at its core, very weird music, at the end of the day the easiest way for me to describe my listening habits is that I like weird music of all stripes. Ambient music happens to be another passion of mine in this same vein, so one of my favorite metal bands putting out an album in another one of my favorite styles was almost guaranteed to win me over from the start, and unsurprisingly Timewave Zero is a roaring success. It is a deeply intriguing album; it’s dark and sparse in nature, yet repeat listens continually surprise me with new layers I hadn’t picked up on before. Listening to our interview with Paul, Isaac, and Morris yields the knowledge that this album was recorded mostly live in studio with minimal overdubs, and even on something as seemingly unstructured as this, you get a real sense of just how well these four musicians mesh together when they play. Even beyond the excitement of the songcraft and performance, Timewave Zero is an album that shows exactly what makes Blood Incantation such a well-beloved band: sincerity. I have often described their music as ‘a love letter to death metal from death metal’, because what I always take away from listening to Hidden History of the Human Race or Starspawn is that these are dudes who love, cherish, and respect death metal while having fun with it. Timewave Zero operates in the same vein; this is not a gimmick album or a joke of any kind. This is four people who deeply love and respect this style of music just as much as any other putting their all into doing it justice, and that sincere love shines through in every note.
Which brings me to the part of this review where I get a little mean. I saw, on more than a few occasions during the week leading up to the release of Timewave Zero, people expressing some hope that there would be a rug-pulling moment about to happen, an Old Man Gloom situation for those that remember The Ape of God, where the Blood Incantation members would appear from behind the curtain and say “Just kidding! Here’s the death metal album we’ve really been working on! We’d never do this to you guys!” This is a mindset that rubbed me the wrong way, not only because I really like this album for what it is, not only because it is incredibly dismissive of four people who put their hearts and time and effort into an album that they are proud of, but because I feel it speaks to the larger idea that we, as fans, seem to have completely lost the plot when it comes to the artist-fan relationship.
There seems to be this idea that artists owe us some measure of predictability in their output, and deviation enough from that is punishable by some sweaty dude screaming at you about how you are a ‘false’ or a ‘sellout’ or whatever other insult du jour one can think of. This is certainly not a new mentality in the world of metal; from The Black Album to Heritage, to Alcest’s Shelter and even more recent examples like Deafheaven’s Infinite Granite and (perhaps most relevant to this particular situation) Wolves in the Throne Room’s Celestite, we like and even claim to champion experimentation and growth in the music we enjoy, but egads, not like that! When exactly did we become so small minded? Or more importantly, when did we become so entitled? Blood Incantation albums may be commodities, but behind that are people, and those people can and should be allowed to do whatever the fuck they want. They don’t owe you consistency or artistic safety. Post-Watershed Opeth is famously anathema to me, but I don’t even know if I can say that I want Mikael and Co. to go back to writing death metal again at this point. I’m glad he’s doing something that fulfills him, even if it’s something that I can’t personally hang with. Shelter, by comparison, is handily among my favorite Alcest albums, and we never would have gotten it if Neige had felt pressured to keep playing it safe. If Timewave Zero is your bridge-too-far moment, that’s your prerogative, but the idea that this is not the ‘real’ Blood Incantation betrays a shallow understanding of what your relationship is to the artists you admire.
If there is one thing to take away from Timewave Zero, it’s that Blood Incantation is not death metal. Blood Incantation is whatever happens when these four dudes combine forces, and I personally am here for all of it, heavy metal and beyond.
If there’s two things to take away from Timewave Zero it’s that cosmic ambient rules.