Though they’ve long since taken a back seat to their more innovative contemporaries, New Jersey’s Incantation was once perhaps the most ferocious and impressive American DM band outside of Florida. While Immolation and Suffocation took time to fully develop their sounds, Incantation’s raw doom/death assault was intact with their debut “Onward to Golgotha.” Many classic DM era recordings emanating from Sunlight Studios and Morrisound now have a somewhat forced, artificial feel, but “Onward to Golgotha” maintains a sheer force of sound unmatched in the era. This is pure, untamed doom/death that oozes from the speakers in a nearly undifferentiated mass of thudding bass drums and infectious tremolo riffs all topped by Pillard’s rarely matched growl. Though Incantation lack the adventurousness of some of the best DM bands, they display a sort of specialization that separates them from the generic masses. While Obituary is most commonly lauded for effectively introducing slower tempos into straight death metal, “Onward to Golgotha” utilizes doomy passages more prominently and more effectively than in any other true DM release I’ve heard. (Also, while purportedly slow DM is often actually quite groovy and midpaced, Incantation really take things down to the sludgy depths.) Equally significant, Pillard’s unearthly roar is easily the most effective ultra deep growl I’ve heard, and is beautifully suited for muddy excesses of the instrumental accompaniment. Simply put, this is some of the darkest, most malevolent sounding DM ever recorded.
On the downside, while most first-rate death metal transcends pure sound and contains memorable, distinctive songs, the same cannot be said for “Onward to Golgotha.” Not a lot in specific stands out, apart from the general progression of sounds, as album opens emphasizing typical DM blasting and trem-riffing before moving to the more doomy and varied middle section and finally returning to a more speed-oriented approach for the closing tracks. That said, though I’d have a hell of a time picking any standout tracks, or, more precisely, explaining why such tracks are superior to the rest of the album, the uniformity of “Onward to Golgotha” does little to dampen my enthusiasm for it. While the individual tracks may not standout, the album does as a whole does, and stands as one of the most striking and immediately distinct releases of death metal’s golden age. Check it out.