Beast Incarnate is a slippery album. It’s business as usual for the Maltese death veterans Beheaded, who have offered up albums with diminishing frequency since their inception, and that means a toasty record of well-performed death metal that’s a bit on the brutal side of things. It’s hard to find a real fault with Beast Incarnate; the performances are tight and not at all flashy, the record’s production is spot-on for the genre, and the band’s new blood play well with the members that have been around since the debut. This is the sort of archetypal death metal record that filters out listeners, distinguishing between those that want something new, and those who want death metal.
Some metalheads get excited about new releases because they’re new; they know what they like and they want more of it. This album is for them. If you like death metal without a hint of pretense, pomp, or progression, Beast Incarnate has your fix. The title track leaves nothing to the imagination, rolling out a crushing riff immediately and following it up with a wealth of variations on that theme. This formula should get repetitive, but “Beast Incarnate” is one of the album’s most memorable songs because of how thoroughly it explores that initial idea.
Most of the songs on Beast Incarnate are similarly thought-out; they’re cohesive as stand-alone tracks and never try to trick you or lead you astray. If you think it’s time to switch riffs, it’s time to switch riffs. If you anticipate a blast beat, a blast beat will occur. Every time I hear “Crossing the House of Knives” or “The Black Death,” I’m pleased by how well-handled this material is. Yet that’s about as much as I have to say about it. Death metal doesn’t have to be catchy or novel, and Beheaded don’t write hooks, melodic leads, or clever riffs. Likewise, they’re not out to impress with extremely demanding playing. These songs are fast, but performed with a charming confidence; Beheaded make it all look easy.
New(ish) vocalist Frank Calleja glues this album together with a powerful performance aided by just a bit of reverb for depth, and though at times he can feel a bit high in the mix, that never detracts from the rest of the album’s sound. The mix, courtesy of Ronnie Björnström, is even-handed and works well, especially in a context where there’s not much polyphony at play. Again, there’s nothing interesting to say about this album’s production; it fits the music like a glove, only adding to the long list of things that this album has going for it.
There’s another kind of metalhead that gets excited about new releases because they’re novel; they might be different than what you’ve heard before. I suppose I must be one of them, because, despite my appreciation for all of the great things going on in Beast Incarnate, I can’t really get interested in it. Like a lot of long-running brutal death metal bands (Hour of Penance, Suffocation), Beheaded are too good at what they do to want to shake things up, and they aren’t expanding – or alienating – their fanbase by doing so. It’s hard to frame this album as bad, and I’m hesitant to call it mediocre. Beast Incarnate simply isn’t different. The songs are new, but the feeling is the same, and if you’re a noviphile like me, that’s enough to quickly drop it from memory. I can recommend Beast Incarnate for its construction, but not its content.