American death metal legends Incantation released their latest full length, Sect of Vile Divinities, back in August, but Decibel hasn’t stopped investigating its deep death/doom groves and subterranean caverns since the summer. We dug it so much, in fact, that the band’s 12th studio LP (if you’re counting Upon the Throne of Apocalypse, and, fuck it, we are) came in at No. 11 on Decibel’s Top 40 Albums of 2020 list. And to celebrate, guitarist/vocalist/co-founder John McEntee and bassist Chuck Sherwood have teamed up to deliver this exclusive track-by-track breakdown of one of the year’s best death metal LPs.
1. Ritual Impurity (Seven of the Sky Is One)
Chuck Sheerwood: “Ritual Impurity (Seven of the Sky is One)”: an Akkadian incantation and ritual against the demon Lamashtu. She went by seven different names, but chiefly was a daughter of the sky goddess Anu hence the (Seven of the sky is one).
Musically this was not the first to surface, as it does for the album, in all honesty. All John’s writing for this one, while small additions by the rest of us solely in form of arrangement. The aggressive beginning held what we all agreed would be best to kick off the album. A staging point to allow the unique natures of all the tracks involved to evolve in their own way. Violent and disturbing as the riffs are there was an addition of a more like backwards chord progression after the first chorus that really helped the flow, final moments can provide edits unthought of from John. It is a testament to his wholly original style and technique that arose at that point in particular, for sure.
John McEntee: From what I remember we had a version of this song for quite some time. If my memories serve me correctly, I think the first demo version of the song was recorded sometime between “Dirges of Elysium” and “Profane Nexus”. And like so many songs it just needed time, and a few revisions to make it to the version it is today.
Sheerwood: “Propitiation” is about the ancient sun worshipping semitic tribes of the Canaanites and Carthaginians. They practiced child sacrifices to Moloch in the Valley of Gehenna nowadays Israel before four columned Tophet altars or more commonly noticed as a “brazen bull” style idol in which bon fires within were to cast victims.
The material is rather untouched from its original skeletal form, if memory serves right. The flow and its doom nature really only had harmonies layered as to accent the extended intro. An unorthodox approach but serves the song so well to really build up the impact of the following riffs, especially by the time the solo comes in. Just a churning and murky piece of metal.
McEntee: This song I remember originally came together quite quickly, but by the time we went back to finish the final tracking for the song the original intro riff just didn’t sound right. The original vibe was gone, it happens sometimes. So, Kyle and I came up with a new intro pretty much on the spot and rerecorded the intro about two years after the rest of the song. I’m really happy with the way the song came out. It just has an awesome build up to the end where things get totally dark and evil sounding. I think it has a very classic Incantation vibe to it.
3. Entrails of the Hag Queen
Sherwood: “Entrails of the Hag Queen” is based on a late 10th century story from Bali while also having some Hindu parallels. A widowed witch had a daughter Ratna Manggali whom remained unmarried due to her mother’s use of witchcraft. In outrage she sacrificed a child from the nearby village of Java. At the “temple of death” were the ritual took place she conjured up Rangda queen of Leyaks. Leyaks giving off the appearance of being human by day, but by night their heads and entrails fly from the body looking for pregnant women to eat their infants from the womb.
This is nearly as it was when John first wrote it, with it going through very minor adjustments, I think the end was faster till nearing release when Kyle put more of a drag on the tempo. This truly brought out more darkness to the riff we felt, and so it stayed. The flow is truly unique in that it starts one way and ends completely different. Was never a forced writing process but ended that way naturally which gives this song a certain rage-foreboding dynamic. Very fitting as a video too, accentuating all elements visually and musically.
McEntee: This was a song I started writing right after the recording process was done for “Profane Nexus”, I just felt extremely inspired after that recording and a few songs just flowed out of me. I really felt strong about the song, it wasn’t until we started playing it as a band at practice did the song really come to its fullest potential. Like all our songs, the band coming together really makes the songs come alive.
4. Guardians from the Primeval
Sherwood: “Guardians from the Primeval” is derived from Hindu mythology which is a source I hadn’t tapped into since “Charnel Grounds” on “Dirges”. While the previous was regarding “sky burial” this is a more violent race of demons that guard primeval waters of creation and feed on human flesh taking on totemic animal forms to humanity. In the culture it was believed you would give these entities “life” by making a depiction of them, whether it be a sculpture, painting, statue. In fear of these beings, they were never known save for a description as being bloated stomached, vertical eyed minions with long fingernails that drip venom.
The music I presented in its entirety and only briefly was altered by way of the guitar intro which at the time we weren’t sure if it’d fit. John really played that fantastically when you hear something in your head one way and surfaces exactly how you imagined is really an awesome experience. A short and to the point track, as was the intent. Much like a raging black river of primeval waters as demons within rip and rend with each riff.
McEntee: The thing that made the intro to that song sound so cool was all Dan Swanö. He gave my clean guitar part such an awesome vibe. When I first heard it, I was like “Holy fuck, that sounds cool.” Yes, I think all the riffs for “Guardians from the Primeval” were written by Chuck. It just sounded great from the start. Besides some tempo adjustments there wasn’t really too much of a change from the original demo version. Sometimes the demo version sounds perfect the way it is, if so, why change it.
5. Black Fathom’s Fire
Sherwood: “Black Fathom’s Fire” is a product of my extreme adoration for H.P. Lovecraft. It tells of human and animal sacrifices descending to “Hadal” depths were Chuthulu surrounded by bioluminescent creatures treat this as “the stars are right.” Infecting madness into the minds of humanity as a means to usher our own extinction, and a return of the ancient/olden ones to the surface of earth.
I primarily wrote this as well, save for the doom bridge near the end and the final harmony/riff which was later applied. John had an amazing idea of creating a gap of dirty tremolo bends and dives which I added a bass line to only after the fact. We all felt it pulls the listener deeper into the recesses of what we’re trying to achieve in this song. While the noting may be furious and technical at the start it mutates into something wholly unexpected and doom laden.
McEntee: Yes, this is another song primarily written by Chuck besides the last riff that [ex-guitarist] Sonny [Lombardozzi] came up with. The song has a really good flow but once we added the last riff it gave us the idea of really making the song shine. We added some really evil low harmonies to it to give it that totally crushing oppressive vibe. So there is a cool tension to the kinda more elegant guitar solo over it. This was another prime example how you can take something good and make it great when being open minded and work as a team.
6. Ignis Fatuus
Sherwood: The story behind “Ignis Fatuus” is from Celtic folklore. Ghost light, willowisps or fools’ fire. It was believed a “hand of glory” could lead to riches or your death. Said “hand of glory” being a severed hand from the corpse of a hanged man with a wick fashioned from the victims’ hair and their fat to waxen it into a candle. Following “rolling fire” which were comprised of lost souls was perilous, your only protection would be to plunge a dagger (athame) into the earth handle first which made the ignis fatuus seek the blade portion to impale itself upon it and thus was extinguished.
The entirety was primarily from Sonny for this song while the ending harmony which exemplified the darkness of it was created by John. So happy how this one turned out as well with no real overhauling necessary. Ominous in both its flow and resolve. A very standalone tune that serves as an estuary into Side B of the album in our opinions.
McEntee: I’m real happy with the way the song came out. I feel Kyle always stands out with his feeling on the doom parts. His playing on “Ignis Fatuus” is no exception.
7. Chant of Formless Dread
Sherwood: “Chant of Formless Dread” was my take on an Execration spell to summon chaos. An “Incantation” if you will to the disembodiment of vile and intangible chaos. To notice the similarities within ourselves, and to beckon it into form.
This had been created by me many years ago during the Vanquish in Vengeance sessions. First presented to our previous guitarist Alex Bouks we had intentions to expand upon it. It sat as a collection of riffs for a few months till John, Kyle and I built the ending to as you hear it on the album. Our first ever dual vocal pattern for the band was also on this one. I never attempted vocals actually. From that we created a finalized draft version which was reserved till now as it never really complimented an album and their particular progresses. Glad we were able to resurface it on Sect and to be so well received.
McEntee “Chant of Formless Dread” was one of those songs for some reason never made it to any of our previous two albums. Not really sure why because it’s really a great song. But it’s here now and a highlight of the album in my opinion.
8. Shadow-Blade Masters of Tempest and Maelstrom
Sherwood: “Shadow-Blade Masters of Tempest and Maelstrom” a collage of points from Japanese/Taoist mythology. I never had really researched topics from this part of the world before and it didn’t disappoint as I found many insane, violent and oft times too bizarre not to mention. One such is of two deities giving birth to an armless, legless, boneless creation caused by a ritual mistake, known as “the leech.” Wind stealing demons with satchels that led mariners to their deaths. Yamata No Orochi an eight headed sea serpent and the possibility of its survival from a Japanese “hero figure.” A god’s wife who by eating from the “night lands” turned from beauty to a decomposing hag thus creating the first “death” ever for all humanity. Who was subsequently shunned from the world with a very well-placed boulder.
A testament to John’s expertise for this one. And Kyle’s amazing dynamic beats especially as it detonates at the end. An audible version of the cyclonic and violence of a storm. I recall writing a line for the intro and again for the more verse riff. The later needed work and John and Sonny suggested a more higher octave progression to compliment the twisted harmony during that portion. Not in such a way to mirror Kyle’s kicks but to have us each go our own way. What occurred sounds near orchestrated as each of us cuts through with our own specific performance.
McEntee: This was another song written after the recording of Profane Nexus. I really wanted to expand on some of our more mid tempos and evil double guitar work. It was another song I feel really benefited by playing it as a band and really getting that jam vibe to the song. To me it has some really cool dynamics. It’s really a song that benefited a lot by everyone’s talent and input.
9. Scribes of the Stygian
Sherwood: “Scribes of the Stygian” I have been able to on occasion use my subconscious as a resource of inspiration. This being one, a dream of walking upon paths of ice when cracked reveal extreme depths. Seated before two black cloaked figures were altars made of ice. With quills in hand, they write in large tomes all the details of my life. Profound or mundane. Standing between them, they point to a nebula of thick mist with frail corpse hands. Compelled to walk into it and become nothingness. Essentially molecularly dissolving.
Another to surface from dormancy was this one. Written years prior and made into a final demo version before held in reserve. John’s writing on all of this which I think only was mildly extended at the end to singularly draw out the hopelessness of the song. The open and endless feel is so good in this one, how it lugs on and breaks you down till those listening may feel like they themselves are being broken down atomically. Least that’s the intent.
McEntee: This one is also from the Profane Nexus writing session. The vibe was so good with that song everyone really felt the agony and disillusion that the song needed to have an impact. I really like these kinds of moments on albums. To me it has kind of a demented feeling just like the feeling you get in a horror movie when you realize there is no hope but to wish for a quick death.
10. Unborn Ambrosia
Sherwood: “Unborn Ambrosia” second of the more cerebral influence, trans-dimensional creatures who’ve never known existence desire for what was never theirs. They feed on life before it has the option of birth. Forming demon gates between their dimension through moments of conception to enforce their will. This can be seen visually as the center focus of the album cover art. The multiple hands of entities moving through said demon gate to our celestial sphere while one is poised to engulf.
John, Kyle and I had demo versions from about the time between Dirges and Profane. This had been altered many many times over. Older versions that had excess of nine minutes while others had various additions of riffs later deferred or replaced over time. I remember us all having a hand in the balance and arrangement of this. How best to make each layer flow into the next or transitions and how they best serve the song as a whole. Lots of alterations was what this needed ultimately. All that remains was the central convulsive verse riff from those early versions. Being Luke’s first contributed solo really aided to rounding this track out. Very happy with this one, sometimes time allows for the demands of analyzing.
McEntee: This was a song that was an ambitious undertaking for sure. I remember coming up with the idea for a different kind of doom song than we normally do. But it did not come together as easy as I would have preferred. I remember spending many hours and days at band practice working on it then just dropping it because we just felt something was not right and we kept getting burnt out on it. So, after years of the routine of working on it and then dropping it, we made the decision that we were going to really spend the time and focus to finish the song. Really, all the way until we were at the final stages of tracking, I still had my doubts and wanted to maybe change things but we didn’t. The other guys reassured me the song is done and to not overthink it. That is the great thing about jamming with good people you trust. I have to say it’s a great song where everyone shines. I think it’s one of those songs that really makes the album special.
11. Fury’s Manifesto
Sherwood: “Fury’s Manifesto,” a very classic and deep in the history of the band is blasphemy. This demanded an anti-religious theme and pared with the music very well. Pure and unabashed, blasphemy towards religious ethics and its failure to the very evil that the faiths of Jews, Christians and Muslims themselves created.
Musically, I have to give honor to John and this ruthless basher. The verse riff just felt like Possessed to me and once Kyle kicked in his pattern it was like a nuke. You know when you scan a room of grimaced faces and half smirks you know there’s no need to impose edits. Love playing this song too. Just has an overall perfect melding of riffs and story, the short stops, never letting up with aggression, the build ups. All in all, we’re very pleased.
McEntee: “Fury’s Manifesto” when I came up with the idea of the song I was feeling very nostalgic. I just wanted a real head banger. Just that old school vibe like I enjoyed in my teenage years. To be honest, I didn’t know if it would work but when we played it all together it just kicked ass. It’s definitely a fun one to play.
12. Siege Hive
Sherwood: Album closer “Siege Hive” last of the dream inspired as well, where deformed and demonic creations emanate and writhe in membrane capsulated chambers that line a tower’s inner walls. I recall floating, centered in said tower speaking words of power with no sound. As a sea of black tar/crude oil arose from the base boiling up and empowering the demons to take wing coating the moon and ushering eternal night.
John’s riffs and arrangements took form from the inception with very little manipulation. The rest of us certainly added our own flavor by performance, contributing to the set formula that was already established. Desiring a chaotic “burn out” of a finale to the album, which is mirrored especially as the song itself closes, on a violent and chaotic note. Just what was needed we felt and it really gives no resolve, certainly couldn’t foresee a better placement for this one. The war drumming, chugging middle segment and that triplet feel during the verse certainly allows for the ending to be unexpected and appreciated more as all collapses into ruin.
McEntee: “Siege Hive” is a great album closer. Another good headbanger to end the album with. For me the song really took life when we added vocals to it. I really like the vocal flow. and I really like the smoldering end riff, just a good and classic way to end a death metal album. It’s our way of saying “See you in Hell.”
Sherwood: Many thanks for the support and giving me the opportunity to delve into the album, while it does come off as verbose it was necessary to provide all said details. Hope this gives those listening a better understanding and experience.
McEntee: Thanks so much, the reaction to the Sect of Vile Divinities album has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s just great for a band with our rich history to make such an important impact with our new album.
Sect of Vile Divinities is available now through Relapse Records and via Incantation’s Bandcamp.