Wow, another accessible Incantation album. As you remove your jaw from your keyboard, let me make clear, the use of the word “accessible” in the same sentence as Incantation does not denote any sell out or radical style shift. Instead, these long running murk merchants continued what they started on 2012s Vanquish in Vengeance and eased back on the dismal sludge. This while opting for a more direct approach and populating the material with some of their best, most memorable riffs yet. Vanquish may have taken all this too far and felt a bit too clean, modern and thrashy at times, almost completely distancing itself from the raw, swampy creepiness of classics like Onward to Golgotha. Thankfully, Dirges of Elysium self-corrects and returns some of that vital filthiness to the mix, while retaining all the crisp, biting riffs and furious energy. It also brings back more of their classic doom/death style, which was such an integral part of their roots. Make no mistake, the brootal deathiness here will splay, flay and slay and this is an indisputably savage and nasty dose of raw sewage. It just feels a little more direct and immediate than some of their older works without sacrificing the grim, squalid atmosphere the band is famous for.
After the appropriately dirgy introduction, the roof blows off with “Debauchery,” which is a straight-up face melter riddled with interesting and crushing riffery. It’s a veritable clinic on brutal death composition and as the riffs snake through the layers of grime and gristle, they smartly jump the tempos around and keep the listener engaged and off balance. “Bastion of the Plague Soul” blasts along maniacally and benefits from some wonderfully discordant riffs and solos, and “Carrion Prophesy” has some of the best riffs I’ve heard from these guys in years. There’s a wonderfully dark feel to the note-bending here that reminds a lot of Celtic Frost and Winter, but some of the speedier lines feel like Leave Scars era Dark Angel.
While “From a Glaciate Womb” is too long and repetitious, it’s so loaded with unrelenting grimness and monstrous doom that it works anyway. Seriously, there’s more atmosphere on this track alone than most bands can muster over an entire album, and at times it even ventures into Bolt Thrower territory with slow grinding riffs that could crush a tank.
Not every song is a total success though. “Portal Consecration” isn’t very lively and album closer “Elysium (Eternity is Nigh)” is ridiculously long at over 16 minutes. There are some really good ideas on display, but things bog down on multiple occasions and though it’s listenable, it ends up feeling every bit as long as it is.
These days, Incantation is the John McEntee show, and he’s really stepped up his riff game on recent outings. He effortlessly jumps from brain drilling tremolos into bigger than Jesus doom riffs that press you into the bloody earth. His minimalist and often discordant solos are perfect for the mood and he excels at knowing when a riff has run its course and needs to go away. As a vocalist, he isn’t one my favorites and I’ve always found his monotone gurgle very tedious, and nothing has changed here. Still, it’s extreme enough to fit the dark, warped music and you get used to his grunting.
Dirges of Elysium is a suffocating, claustrophobic shit show of an album, and it’s often creepy and disturbing. What more can you ask for from a death metal album? If the closer wasn’t so damn long, I’d be calling this one of the best death albums of the year. It isn’t, but it’s still really good and very compelling. Fans of the brootal can jump into this swamp without fear. Mmmm, smells like New Jersey.
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps MP3
Label: Listenable Records
Websites: incantation.com/?target=main | facebook.com/IncantationOfficial
Release Dates: EU: 2014.10.06 | NA: 06.24.2014