The endless darkness, desolation, intriguing mystery and suffocating atmosphere of space pairs well with metal. Science fiction themes, dystopian futures and extra terrestrial shenanigans are all familiar sources of inspiration in the metal scene, however Colorado up and comers Blood Incantation do a particularly excellent job of nailing down the dense reality, claustrophobic atmosphere and otherworldly vibe of our mysterious universe on their hugely impressive full-length debut, Starspawn. These old school loving space cadets with a forward thinking attitude are another young band hellbent on stripping away the overly slick, artificial sheen so prevalent in modern death metal in favor of the grimy atmospherics, sonic girth and uncleansed ugliness of death metal’s rich past. Blood Incantation are set to cash in on the considerable potential they displayed on 2015’s Interdimensional Extinction EP, ramming home the advantage with this debut LP of serious fucking magnitude.
Starspawn touches on the oozing-with-evil atmospheric streak of classic Morbid Angel and the tweaked harmonies and brain scrambling experimentation of Demilich and Gorguts, looking to the past for inspiration while casting their own innovative spell. Masterful songcraft, striking innovation and dynamically sound compositions propel Blood Incantation into unknown pockets of blackness as they navigate astutely through technically proficient and dense death pastures, funereal dirges, strange otherworldly zones and tripped-out passages of psychedelic exploration. Blood Incantation’s impressive rhythm section is integral to the thunderous, low-end assault and intricate, groovy foundation, however it’s the formidable guitar work of Paul Riedl and Morris Kolontyrsky that steals the show. Corkscrewing leads, screaming solos, thick, warmed-up death riffs and trippy detours are deftly handled, their dynamic teamwork suitably stocked with clever shifts in mood and tempo. The riffs are technical without being showy, whether fast and furious or slow and crushing, leaning towards the cavernous yet memorable, atmospheric and groovy end of the death spectrum.
Mind altering psychedelic detours add to the album’s mystique and are executed without an ounce of pretension or gimmick on epic 13 minute opener “Vitrification of Blood (Part 1).” Without doubt one of the most ambitious and surreal death metal jams you’ll hear in 2016, the epic tune leaves nothing left in the tank. Driven by Isaac Faulk’s rhythmically tricky and hammering percussion, it grips from the opening notes and doesn’t relent through a captivating feast of death metal awesomeness. Running the gamut from death and doom, to psych excursions and pummeling groove, Blood Incantation effortlessly shifts gears throughout a cohesive and flowing structure, avoiding clunky transitions. “Hidden Species (Vitrification of Blood Part 2)” stands out with a bludgeoning mix of death metal brawn and brains, developing from a complex beginning of brutish groove into a moody death-doom mindfuck, complete with strange clean chants and other effect-driven oddities. Closer “Starspawn” ends the album with an intergalactic bang, its progressive swing and insidious melody offset by a primitive old school pummel and blasty punch. Starspawn also benefits from restraint, with the compact and refreshingly punchy 34-minute run time strongly supporting repeat listens.
Recorded entirely in analog, Starspawn’s throwback sound feels neither forced nor dated. To the contrary, the album’s impressive dynamics, warm organic sound and punchy, balanced tones offer something vibrant and inviting, flipping the bird to the soulless, overly polished tripe that remains all too familiar in the modern death metal scene. The drums sound especially huge and powerful, especially the chest thumping double bass, the fretless bass nestles cozily in the mix, while the thick and meaty guitars retain enough detail, sharpness and clarity for closer dissection. Issues are few and far between, mostly boiling down to the sequencing of the album’s five tracks. Opening with a 13-minute monster, regardless of how good the song is, this was a ballsy move but I’m not sure how logical it turned out to be. Meanwhile penultimate track “Meticulous Soul Devourment” would have worked better smack in the middle of the album, serving as an eerily effective and ominous instrumental transition.
Blood Incantation eschew the flash and pitfalls of modern death metal, displaying a deep appreciation for the roots and raw essence of the genre’s early ’90s heyday. Despite their respectful old-school appreciation they don’t sound like another typical retro clone, standing out from the pack with innovative songwriting, creating their own original deathly design. Superbly written and crafted, Starspawn is an exceptional album full of memorable moments, top notch songwriting and oppressive atmosphere, comfortably residing near the top of 2016’s death metal heap.