“We come from the more dirty strain of Death Metal…”
If I could shortlist a handful of bands I consider to be pioneers of Death Metal, Incantation are certain to be there. Despite being around since 1989 their style still sounds unique - a furious and guttural Death Metal spiced up with Doomy moods, while always sounding brutal, dark….and dirty.
Incantation are also known for the mind-bogglingly large number of musicians who have played with the band, whether in a recording studio, at rehearsals or from a stage. And it was just as the band was about to hit one particular stage in London that guitarist/vocalist/founding member John McEntee found some quiet moments to have a friendly chat with me. I guess it’s what you’d call the calm before the storm.
Chris: I believe Incantation shall soon be releasing an EP entitled “Scapegoat” – please tell me more…
John: Well it’s from the same recording session as the last album [“Primordial Domination”]. It was just 2 extra tracks that we had known we wanted to release at some point though we didn’t expect to put it out so late after the album’s release, which was around 2006. Finally we had some downtime and thought it would be cool to release those songs on a 7” format – every once in a while we like to do some underground-type of release. I guess it’s an art thing.
C: So I assume the line-up in this EP is the same as in the album…..
J: Yes, everything is the same as in the “Primordial Domination” album.
C: Production-wise, the sound of Incantation’s recordings has often undergone a noticeable change from one album to another. Do you normally go into the studio with a clear idea of what sound you want or do you let the sound develop as the recording proceeds?
J: It kind of depends. I mean, early on [in the band’s career] we knew what we wanted but had no idea how to get it. So in the first few albums…maybe the first 3 albums…we were kind of lucky to get a good sound. [laughs] Our approach was more spontaneous then. I would say it was around 2000 - when we released “Infernal Storm” – that was when we kind of started to understand how to control our own destiny, sound-wise.
With “Primordial Domination” we had a clear vision on what we wanted in the studio. So we were quite pleased with the way it came out because usually we go in with a vision of what we want and hopefully it would come close to what we had wanted, although certain things might still not sound right. With “Primordial…”, however, we wanted it to sound just like it eventually sounded and it was really strange because usually, after the recording goes through the mixing, mastering, and all that crap, it ends up sounding different from our initial vision. With each album, once we write the songs we automatically know what aspects of the production we need to work on to make those songs sound the best way possible. For the most part we try to keep our style the same but we also do want each album to have its own identity. We don’t want to keep reproducing the same album over and over again.
C: In fact these days sounding fresh seems to be quite a challenge with Death Metal….
J: That’s why we haven’t released an album since 2007. We didn’t want to rush things and get stale. We didn’t want to write songs just because we were supposed to write songs. I mean we’re an underground Death Metal band and there’s no need for us to get caught up in music industry things, especially now that I do the stuff with my own record label. If we want to do an album, we want it to be special. It happens too much in music – people wanting to rush and profit over the success of a previous album with tours or with another album. Ourselves, we almost take a Boston approach where we release something every who-knows-how-long. We release something whenever we feel it’s right and have no timelines to bind us.
C: In my opinion, one important reason why the music of Incantation has always sounded fresh and strong was the continuous line-up changes which kept renewing the music….
J: Yeah, it’s true. Line-up changes are good things and bad things, they have benefits and negatives. Having with you people that are hungry to record and put their influences into the music is always a benefit. I guess people sometimes give us crap for having so many line-up changes but personally I consider the opportunities of having learnt stuff from so many different musicians. When you play with people or perform live with them, you learn stuff from everybody’s style and influences. It’s been a great honour for me to have worked with a lot of great people. I’ve worked with great musicians and with not-so-great musicians but still, I’ve learnt stuff from everybody.
C: I believe you’re currently touring with two guitarists….
J: Yes, and it’s great to do so.
C: Is it more difficult to create an impact with 1 guitarist than with 2?
J: Yes, it’s more difficult with 1 guitarist. When we’re with just me on guitar, besides Joey [Lombard] on bass, it took us a long time too understand how to get the dynamics right when performing live and have a full sound.
A lot of our songs are meant for 2 guitar players but our problem was finding the right guitar player. OK, drummers are hard to find too but if we don’t have the right guitar player it really screws everything up because we have a very untraditional way of playing the guitar and writing music. Sometimes the guitar player comes in and he might be over-schooled in music and not understand our abstract way of looking at things because it very untraditional. With the addition of Alex [Bouks] to the line-up, it helps. He played in a band called Goreaphobia which was a band that used to play a lot of shows with us so he really understood our style and it felt natural to work together.
C: So it’s not just technique that you value….
J: Alex is a great musician but he also understands the feeling [of our music]. I guess a lot of our influences are very old – mainly from the 1980s. In that time there was a different perspective of looking at Death Metal than there is now. Now it’s very technical, very brutal, very precise. We come from the more dirty strain of Death Metal – such as old Necrophagia, and other bands which had a rough edge in their music. And Alex understands that, which makes it nice.
C: While we’re taking a glance at the past, I reckon that the roots of all extreme / underground Metal could be traced to Venom, Bathory and Celtic Frost. What do you remember when you first discovered these 3 bands?
J: Well, there was a local radio station by my house in New Jersey called WMSC and it played the most fucked-up music you could hear. I was already into Metal - commercial Metal such as AC/DC - but this radio station would play stuff like early Mercyful Fate and Hellhammer’s “Triumph Of Death”. I was pretty young then and when I heard these bands I went “What the fuck…!?!!!” [laughs]
The thing was that all those older bands, such as Possessed and Venom, had such a raw energy about them that was just great and I that latched onto that straight away. They had a sort of ‘I-don’t-give-a-fuck’ type of vibe and that’s the moral I grew up with. I don’t give a fuck – it’s not a contest with other bands, we [Incantation] go up there, we just do our thing and everyone can fuck off if they don’t like it. If they like it, cool, they can come along for the ride but we’re Death Metal so people aren’t supposed to like it. And that’s kind of what we learnt from bands like Venom and Celtic Frost. For us, especially at his stage of the game, it’s definitely not a contest or talent show. We don’t care about anything except going out there and having a good time.
C: One of Incantation’s most recent tours has been of South America. I have the impression that not much is known by Europeans of the underground Metal scene of that area so what was that tour like?
J: Yes, we recently did some shows in Central America – we did 1 in Guatemala and 1 in Honduras. Well, we had a great time. The people who brought us there were cool and real die-hard fans. We were treated good, the shows were great, the crowd was crazy and really into it. A lot of people get concerned about going to certain countries in Central and South America but there was nothing wrong from our experience. Honduras was recently in the news a lot – they’ve been having problems with their government – but we didn’t notice any problems, it was fine and we’d return there without a doubt.
C: A few weeks ago I saw ex-Incantation drummer Jim Roe perform here in London. [Check out Rock Of Ages Festival review elsewhere in this webzine.] The band he was playing with [Marya Roxx] was cool but they did mainstream Rock – something totally different from what he had done with Incantation. In fact it was only after the gig that I realised who he was. (John grins, as if he knows what band I’m referring to.)
This got me thinking: how do you differentiate between selling out and experimenting?
J: I don’t think what Jim is doing is selling out. If you like to play the music and have a good time doing it, then that’s really the most important thing. Selling out is when you’re doing stuff that you don’t necessarily want to do because you want to make money. It’s like being a poser. The way I look at it, personally, is that I had made a decision when I was about 19 years old: do I do it for money or do I do it for the love of music? I chose to do it for the love of music. I realise that maybe I might not be successful with that decision but at least I’ll be happy doing what I like to do.
As long as you’re doing what’s true to yourself, then you’re not necessarily being a poser. A lot of bands just do it for the money and it shows in their music. [Shrugs his shoulders…] I write music from the heart – even when we started out, our game-plan was more like: ‘we’re going to play music that everybody hates and everyone’s going to hate us and think we’re assholes’. When people did like us, we were really surprised. It was the weirdest thing when people bought our first album and liked it because we went: “Are we doing something wrong because that wasn’t supposed to happen.” [laughs]
C: [It might here be opportune to clarify that when I mentioned ‘selling out’, I didn’t intend this phrase to be a description of Jim, far from it in fact. Meanwhile, with hindsight, I find it interesting that throughout the interview John never mentions the name/s of ex-band members in a negative light. Symptoms of a diplomatic person or just a positive guy? I reckon a bit of both…]
C: Earlier on, you referred to your record label – Ibex Moon Records. What does the label have planned for 2010?
J: We have a lot of things going on with that - I’ve actually been working really hard with the label lately. It’s obviously a very difficult time for a Metal label at the moment but I just love Death Metal. Yes, we have some cool things coming up. Some of the more bigger things we’re doing include a vinyl release of 2 Asphyx albums - “The Rack” and “Last One On Earth”, basically the 2 albums Martin Van Drunen [Pestilence, Hail Of Bullets…..] played on. I really excited about that because they are great friends of mine and they’re a great band from back in the day.
We’re also going to be releasing a record from a German band - a newer band called Lifeless - that plays in an older Swedish style. We’re releasing some stuff from French band Bloody Sign in the U.S. – it will be released in Europe under the Blood Harvest label. The Divine Eve EP [“Vengeful And Obstinate”] just came out. There’s loads of stuff planned for release…we’re also doing a Funerus album later in the year….
C: Are you still involved with Funerus as a performer?
J: Yes. I’ve actually been spending more time, lately, with Funerus than I have with Incantation. With Incantation, it’s easier for me because I know the band really well so I don’t have to spend a lot of time with them. With Funerus we’ve been working really hard – we’ve got a great new drummer: Sam [Inzerra], who plays with Mortician and who’s our drummer now. So we’re really looking forward to get that release out later this year on Ibex Moon.
C: Do you plan to record any new songs with Incantation?
J: We have 1 new song prepared. You see, Kyle [Severn – Incantation drummer] is producing a porn-horror flick and we’re doing 1 song for its soundtrack. We’ve written the song and now we have to record it. Basically Kyle is doing the movie and I’m doing the soundtrack on Ibex Moon. It’s going to have a soundtrack of pretty much all Ibex Moon Records bands.
C: Is there a name for the movie?
J: It’s called “After-Party Massacre”. It’s something like Incantation playing an after-party show and obviously there’s a bunch of murders. It’s a porn movie so there’s also going to be a lot of sex, I guess. Kyle can tell you more about that, though.
C: Incantation has an clear bent on Black Metal, particularly within the band’s lyrics. What are your views on the more modern symphonic strain of Black Metal?
J: I don’t really like that kind of stuff. It’s not my cup of tea. For me Black Metal is more like Venom or Bathory, Blasphemy, Sarcofago…that’s my kind of Black Metal. My personal opinion on the new Symphonic Black Metal is that it’s too bubble-gum and reminds me of poser music of the 1980s. They can do whatever they feel like but I don’t really care because it’s not my style.
C: Thanks for your time in doing this interview, John. Is there anything you’d like to add?
J: Thanks a lot to you for the interview and thanks to everybody for all your support. I appreciate it.
© 2010 Chris Galea
Current (touring) line-up:
John McEntee – vocals & guitar
Alex Bouks - guitar
Chuck Sherwood - bass
Kyle Severn - drums
Primordial Domination (2006)
Decimate Christendom (2004)
The Infernal Storm (2000)
Diabolical Conquest (1998)
Upon the Throne of Apocalypse (1995)
Mortal Throne of Nazarene (1994)
Onward to Golgotha (1992)
Live Blasphemy in Brazil Tour 2001 (2002)
Tribute to the Goat (1997)
Blasphemous Cremation (2008)
The Forsaken Mourning of Angelic Anguish (1997)
Deliverance of Horrific Prophecies (1991)
Entrantment of Evil (1990)