A Guide to Incantation

Incantation have been my favourite death metal band since I was in high school (circa 2005), and one of my favourite bands of all time. I’ve been obsessively collecting their discography and various merchandise since, and even got to see them at a couple festivals across North America in 2010. The way they combine razor sharp, tremolo riffing with slow, evil passages is so incredibly effective. They’ve managed to outlast and outdo pretty much every New York area band despite years of line up instability. As of 2020, the band has released 11 full length albums in addition to various EPs, 7 inches, and demos. Here I will break down their discography, highlighting every full length as well as other releases I deem essential. Included are pictures from my own collection.

My Incantation collection as of 2020.

Pre-Album Line Up Shuffling (1989-1991)

Incantation was formed in 1989 when Paul Ledney (drums) and John McEntee (guitar) quit death/thrash band Revenant. They quickly put together a quartet line up that would write a handful of songs, which can be heard on unearthed rehearsal tapes. This line up would only last a year, with Ledney and the others leaving to form the more black metal oriented Profanatica. The band recruited new members and became a quintet, including Mortician vocalist Will Rahmer. This line up recorded a demo and 7″, before losing three members of this lineup.

seven inches
The 1990 demo and the two classic 7″ EPs – “Entrantment of Evil” was supposed to be a split with Amorphis.

Classic Line Up (1991-1994)

McEntee and remaining bassist Ronnie Deo joined forces with Jim Roe (drums) and Craig Pillard (guitar/vocals). Pillard’s low vocals defined this era. Before recording their debut album, they did another 7″ in 1991, showing off their darker than ever sound compared to the preceding EP.

Onward to Golgotha (1992)

onward to golgotha
Reissued CD includes a DVD, the LP is the original red Relapse press, and the original tape press.

Incantation’s debut full length consists of mostly songs from their previous demos and 7″ EPs. This third incarnation of the band executed these recordings well, as it is a truly evil slab of death metal. Although it sounds more professional than previous recordings (as one would expect), it still has an inherent rawness to it that contributes to its horrific atmosphere. All of the elements that would make up the Incantation sound can be found here, from the ripping fast death metal parts, all the way to the gloomy doom sections. Former drummer Paul Ledney’s influence can be heard all over these songs, as you can hear some similarities with certain sections compared to his main band Profanatica. Craig Pillard delivers and ungodly vocal performance to top it all of. I wrote a more detailed review of it back in 2008 on Metal-Archives as seen here.

Mortal Throne of Nazarene (1994)

mortal throne apocalype
Two versions of one album. Both LPs are Relapse reissues.

The sophomore Incantation album is by far their darkest sounding record. Accordingly, the band was falling apart (Roe quit but came back, Deo wasn’t on this record), and the songwriting process was stressful. The band faced more difficulties with their label, Relapse Records, who were not impressed with the sound of the recordings. Despite these difficulties, this record reaches moments of monolithic heaviness, with some of their most crushing riffs (“Ibex Moon” is definitely one of their most iconic songs). A second version of this record came out in 1995, titled “Upon the Throne of Apocalypse,” which features the original mix and an inverted tracklist. Band leader John McEntee has expressed that neither of these versions fulfilled their original intent, which can certainly be frustrating as an artist, but as a fan of the band, both sound perfectly morbid. A more extensive review I wrote in 2009 can be seen here.

The Difficult Rebuild (1994-2000)

Major lineup rebuilds was already a familiar process for Incantation, and the later half of the 90’s would see them as unstable as ever. Roe/Pillard would reunite with Deo to form Womb and Disciples of Mockery. Kyle Severn joined on drums and would end up redefining their sound, becoming an integral part of the band. They also started recording with Bill Korecky at Mars Recording Studio in Cleveland, which also helped define their sound for the next couple periods. They recorded a promo tape in ’96 with session members, including old friend Will Rahmer and a guy named Mike Saez who would later join full time for a bit.

Tribute to the Goat (1997)

tribute to the goat
A limited digibook repress. I unfortunately do not own the LP version.

This must’ve been recorded as a stop-gap, but it’s an interesting live in the studio recording. McEntee and Severn are joined by 3 session members (including Saez on guitar and Pillard on vocals), and perform an 8 song set consisting of some classics, some new stuff, and a Necrophagia cover. This shows of Kyle’s drumming ability for the first time (outside of the aforementioned promo tape, which was extremely limited), and gives a taste of where their new material was going. The tracks from their 1990 demo are also included as a bonus. This used to be really difficult to find until recent years thanks to some reissues.

The Forsaken Mourning of Angelic Anguish EP (1997)

forsaken mourning
Relapse pressing with bonus tracks. No vinyl version exists.

1997 also saw the release of this EP which ends up serving as a better preview of where Incantation’s sound was headed. Kyle Severn’s drumming gives Incantation’s sound a lot more speed due to his scissor blasting, and pretty much defines the band from here in after. Pillard does session vocals here, and McEntee handles all guitar and bass. This is also the first recording the band did with Bill Korecky, and it’s curiously darker sounding than everything else he did with the band. The initial release of this EP had 21 minutes of music, but some live tracks were tacked onto later pressings. It’s not as essential as the three albums they put out in the 90’s, but it’s got some exclusive tracks, including a Death cover.

Diabolical Conquest (1998)

diabolical conquest
2xLP repress on Hells Headbangers, side D is etched.

This was the first Incantation album I ever heard, and it fully expands on what was heard on the previous EP. Daniel Corchado of the Chasm was recruited as a bassist/vocalist and also plays guitar on this record. Their strongest riffing is on this record, and the production is spot on. According to McEntee, this recording was plagued with problems, as Severn was dealing with drug addiction, and Corchado had never been in a proper studio before, and therefore he has a lot of negative memories associated with the recording. Death metal’s commercial appeal had pretty much died at this point in the late 90’s, and McEntee has also stated that the band almost called it a day after this record. The success of this record ended up solidifying the band’s existence, and thankfully they did not break up after releasing this masterpiece. Here’s a much more expansive review I wrote back in 2007 of this one.

The Infernal Storm (2000)

infernal storm
Repress LP on Relapse on silver wax.

Following the success of “Diabolical Conquest,” Incantation felt the pressure to put out another record. That would not be easy, and many fans (myself included) tend to view “The Infernal Storm” as one of their weaker albums. By no means is it a bad record – I’ve always said that if any other band released this record, it would probably be received a little better. However, line up changes plagued the band once again, and Kyle Severn was out of the band due to his drug problems.  Dave Culross stepped in as a session drummer, and they recorded this album with very little rehearsal time. Mike Saez came back to the band on guitar as well as vocals, and NYDM veteran Rob Yench (Morpheus Descends) came in on bass. McEntee has stated that many of these songs are underdeveloped due to the rushed nature of bringing in a session drummer. Nevertheless, there’s nothing wrong with this record, it’s just not totally in line with what the band was known for.

Redemption (2000-2007)

After the misstep with “The Infernal Storm,” Kyle Severn came back into the fold. The band recorded and released a live set from Brazil in 2001, which featured Severn with the rest of the line-up on Infernal Storm. Joe Lombard ends up taking over bass duties shortly there after for the rest of this era, and they put out three crushing records, still working with Bill Korecky in Cleveland.

live blasphemy
2xLP version of this live album. CD version is known as “Live Blasphemy.”

Blasphemy (2002)

The only Incantation album that isn’t on vinyl.

Many consider this record a return to form, and it is indeed one of my favourite Incantation records (I would rank it at #5, behind the first 3 and the one after this). With Kyle Severn back on the kit, the band’s sound suddenly clicked again. Mike Saez makes his last appearance on this record, but just as a session vocalist, where as Joe Lombard makes his debut on bass (and also establishes himself as a lyricist). McEntee himself claims this is his favourite Incantation record, and it’s easy to see why: it continues the direction they were going with “Diabolical Conquest,” it eschews the trends in extreme metal at the time (no hyper-fast, technical death metal to be heard here), and the songs have memorable hooks. The artwork (provided by founding member Paul Ledney) is the only questionable thing here for an otherwise solid slab of no frills death metal.

Decimate Christendom (2004)

decimate christendom
Original Listenable Records press.

When I first got into Incantation, this was their newest record at the time, and alongside “Diabolical Conquest,” it really made an impression on me. This is the first record of theirs to feature McEntee on lead vocals. That’s the only line up change, as both Severn and Lombard are still in the band. This record is very much written to be played by a power trio, and it delivers riff after riff. Much like the last record, there are plenty of hooks to be found among the ripping fast parts and the doom laden sections. For me, there was really nothing else coming out at the time that hit me like this record did, and I’ll always recommend people check this one out in addition to the first three records. Here’s a review from 2008 I did of this record.

Primordial Domination (2006)

primordial domination
Limited splatter vinyl on Deformeathing Productions

I remember eagerly awaiting this album when it was first announced in 2006. I preordered it as soon as it was available, and ended up receiving a signed poster and patch. The record didn’t disappoint either, as it continued on the path set out with the last couple records. Again, we have the power trio line up of McEntee/Lombard/Severn, which is the first time Incantation was able to keep a line up stable enough to do more than a single record. It’s got everything you’d want out of an Incantation record and it’s fucking heavy. I wrote a review of this record back in 2007, check it out here.

seven inches 2
A couple 7″ EPs and an unreleased session that was later unearthed on CD.

The Modern Era (2008 – Present)

A few major changes occurred at this point in Incantation’s career that seem to be carrying over through present. First, Chuck Sherwood comes in as a bassist and tends to contribute the majority of the lyrics. Second, the band start using Dan Swano at Unisound for mixing/mastering of their records, which definitely gives them a louder sound.

Vanquish in Vengeance (2012)

vanquish in vengeance
Limited silver vinyl on Listenable Records.

Six years after “Primordial Domination,” Incantation finally returned with a new full length. Former bassist Joe Lombard passed away this year, but his position had been filled by Chuck Sherwood for a handful of years prior. Alex Bouks (ex-Goreaphobia, current Immolation) also joins the fold, giving them more a lead guitar presence than they’ve had in years. McEntee has stated this is record came together very organically, as ideas came to them freely in their jam sessions, and the writing credits show that everyone was involved. It’s fairly diverse without feeling like they’re really straying from what Incantation does best. This is also the last record recorded by Bill Korecky at Mars Recording Studio up in Cleveland.

Dirges of Elysium (2014)

dirges of elysium
Regular edition on Listenable Records.

We didn’t have to wait long to get another Incantation record. Again, this record doesn’t really have any surprises in terms of how it sounds, but there are some interesting things to note. First, they mostly maintained the same line up as the previous record, but Alex Bouks left the band during the recording process. As a result of that, former live guitarist Sonny Lombardozzi came in as session member to finish what Bouks wasn’t able to. There’s some pretty short songs here, but there’s also a 16 minute epic to close the album out. Much like with the last record, the production also starts to feel a little more loud and modern.

XXV (2016)

Self released black vinyl

To celebrate 25 years of existence, the band independently put out this curious compilation LP. Side A features 4 tracks recorded in the studio (including one new song), and side B consists of 4 live tracks. The new song was written with Lombardozzi during the “Dirges of Elysium” sessions. The second track, “Nefarious Warriors” was previously recorded on the live studio album “Tribute to the Goat,” and will be a welcome treat to those who’ve wanted a proper studio recording of it. The other two studio songs are among some of the oldest Incantation songs, which bridges nicely to the live side of the LP. By no means essential, but for a die-hard fan like me, I had to buy this.

Profane Nexus (2017)

profane nexus
Limited edition splatter vinyl on Relapse Records.

The lineup that emerged out of “Dirges” comes back, and again, there aren’t really any surprises here. It’s a pretty modern sounding death metal record with the kind of songs that you’d expect to hear out of Incantation. Much like the other two records from this decade, I don’t listen to this as much as I do their older material, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad record. They try some new things to achieve dark moods, such clean guitars with eerie effects.

Sect of Vile Divinities (2020)

sect of vile divinities
Limited edition splatter vinyl on Relapse Records.

Incantation’s 11th album dropped the day before I started writing this article, so I had to spend some time sinking my teeth into before publishing. Incantation has a very “don’t fix what isn’t broken” approach, and we have mostly the same line up from the last record, and they kept their production approach so it sounds pretty modern. Much like “Dirges,” we have two different lead guitarists that appeared on this record, but I’m not sure the circumstances that led to Lombardozzi quitting, with live member Luke Shively appearing on some tracks and now becoming a full time member. There’s plenty of evil melodies that Incantation is known for here, and ample amounts of lead playing. With recency bias in mind, I’m very tempted to say it’s one of the better records of the modern era.

I had a great time diving back into this band’s discography while writing this piece. They’re usually in my listening rotation, but I hadn’t given some of these releases a close listen for quite a while. I can safely say I enjoy every single thing they’ve done, as their perceived “low points” still crush most other bands, and all the non-album releases are worth checking out too. While researching for this, I discovered that the “Entrantment of Evil” EP is actually the same session as their 1990 demo, just remixed with one of the tracks being swapped out. If you’re new to this band, start at the first album and go from there. Those who want more, check out the related bands mentioned here, or just check their Metal-Archives page for more. There’s a reason so many bands started copying their cavernous sound in the last couple decades, and no other band nails that sound like Incantation.