Incantation – Sect of Vile Divinities Review

If your initial response to a new Incantation record isn’t “INCANTATIOOOOOOOON!!!” followed by an immediate tearing of skin, then you are not my kind. These days, it’s redundant to introduce a band like Incantation. If you’ve been listening to death metal for more than five minutes, then you’ve almost certainly encountered their classics Onward to Golgotha and Mortal Throne of Nazarene. Their savage take on soul sewage has magnetized the masses since the band’s inception and that reputation remains untarnished. In 2017, I gave their Profane Nexus a positive review, albeit to some controversy. Some felt the album’s overly clean production, coupled with the increasingly linear content, failed to land. I stand by my summary, but it did leave me wondering just what direction a follow-up might take. Sect of Vile Divinities is the response. However, “don’t ask the question if you already know the answer” is a hard won lesson…

Recently, Steel Druhm and I were grousing about the current output of legendary death metal bands. Our consensus was that Incantation (and Immolation) are among the few that have survived without misstep. Sect of Vile Divinities does little to alter this notion. All of the band’s tropes remain intact. Trailing tremolo verses that meander into crawling doom riffs are all present and correct. If anything, the album has a slightly more energetic focus, not dissimilar to Vanquish in Vengeance. “Ritual Impurity (Seven of the Sky is One)” opens the album with such a frenetic burst the first few seconds are almost reminiscent of Swedeath. However, it’s soon business as usual as “Propitiation” churns with plenty of Incantation’s characteristic nightmarish emanations. And at first blush, all is well. All is… reliable.

Incantation’s stock in trade lies in the kind of slithering rhythms that can never be decontaminated. Although the virulent perdition of their early albums has long been absent, they still know how to carve out an inexorable tempo. “Black Fathom’s Fire” and “Shadow-Blade Masters of Tempest” harbor a nasty mid-pace, while “Ignis Fatuus” and “Scribes of the Sygian” decelerate further still. Unfortunately, no matter how specific the riffing is, its a slight challenge to glance at the song titles and recall an isolated hook as averse to a general tempo. There just isn’t enough on Sect of Vile Divinities that really lingers, and that is the record’s biggest issue. The more aggressive “Chant of Formless Dead” or “Fury’s Manifesto” might suggest memorability by way of contrast, but even the disparity congeals. In the moment, Sect of Vile Divinities is great, but its echoes are tellingly stifled.

One of the most alluring qualities of this kind of death metal is how fucking filthy it can be. Profane Nexus sacrificed this entirely and chose a much more sanitized production. Fortunately, Dan “The Man” Swanö™ and his uncanny mix and master, have retrieved a little of that signature mire. John McEntee has never been my favorite vocalist but his monotone style undeniably suits a more old school production. His growls and riffing both sound great here as do Luke Shively’s leads. But everything is still a little too clean. Profane Nexus’ homogenization, in production and writing, is still prevalent. I can appreciate a band changing tact, but their reputation is so entrenched in viscosity that I don’t think I’ll ever acclimate to such an abundance of clarity.

You could be unforgiven for looking at the score at the bottom of the page and assuming everything you need to know. This is not the case. Sect of Vile Divinities is a fun album and, if it were written by another band then it might fare a little better. But, Incantation are kings and therefore subject to a higher standard. There’s a distinct difference between memorable material and remembering hearing it. Incantation shouldn’t just stick to the ribs, it should shatter them and fill the lungs with black tar. Instead, Sect of Vile Divinities is… good. It sounds exactly like Incantation. But where Immolation’s last album felt like a celebration of their identity, this relies a little too closely on muscle memory. I will continue to enjoy Sect of Vile Divinities throughout the year, of this there can be no doubt. In many ways, it’s as good as its predecessor or at least more reliable. But for the first time in their career, it has become vital that Incantation do more. If not, that Mortal Throne is beginning to look decidedly brittle.

Rating: Good!/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Relapse Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: August 21st, 2020

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