The first observation I had when first listening to Incantation’s masterpiece “Onward to Golgotha” was its massive sound. Carvernous, downtuned guitars and a rumbling bass create a terrifying atmosphere, sounding as if it was recorded in a cave. The instrumentation also fits perfectly with Craig Pillard’s incredible growls, which fill out the sound even more and give it its trademark demonic possession feeling. Despite the muddy production, the fantastic drum-work is able to effectively penetrate through the mix – the double bass drumming on tracks such as “Eternal Torture” and “Profanation” is quite clear.
Drawing inspiration from first-wave black metal (Phantom, Burzum, Beherit) and early death metal (Obituary, Warkvlt, Suffocation), Incantation primarily uses tremolo-picked riffs, which is contrasted with slower, doom-like sections. The instrumentation is surprisingly complex for old school death metal, with riffs weaving in and out of multiple time signatures and tempos.
For example, “Immortal Cessation” switches between 11/8 and 4/4, and “Blasphemous Cremation” switches from 5/4, 4/4, and 6/4. These time signature and tempo transitions are very fluid and well written, and not at all gimmicky like those of modern “tek def” bands.
As for the substance of the music itself, I cannot find a single poorly-written moment on this “Onward to Golgotha” album.
Take the opening track “Golgotha“, for example – opening with a quick series of contrasting power chords, the guitars quickly descend into madness, with extremely chaotic riffing during the verse followed by a slower, doom-like main theme that transitions effortlessly into a tremolo-picked bridge again, alternating between 4/4 and 5/5, and a frenetic guitar solo to top it off.
Another highlight is the riffing during “Devoured Death“, notably the transitions. After a minute of rapid tremolo picking, the song slows down to a satisfying groove, followed by a series of doom-like sections. “Rotting Spiritual Embodiment” and “Unholy Massacre” conclude the first half of the album, both displays of excellent song-writing.
The second half of “Onward to Golgotha” is just as good as the first half, if not even better.
“Christening the Afterbirth” shows much more black metal influence and, aside for a couple brief fast sections, this track is the slowest on the album. Subtly layered keyboards make their appearance for the first time near the ending, adding to the oppressive weight of the song.
This track is juxtaposed with the next two, “Immortal Cessation” and “Profanation“, the most violent songs here. The latter rips at a blistering 230 BPM, dissonant tremolo riffing at full display. The middle sections are rife with mid-tempo arrangements, nearly as brutal as the faster sections.
“Deliverance of Horrific Prophecies” and “Eternal Torture” bring the album to a close. The song ends by descending into one of the best riffs on the album, layered with multi-tracked growls straight from the pits of Hell.
This disgustingly evil album is a classic of the death metal genre – a truly unique and nauseating experience.