A thought on bands using Incantation and Immolation as template

Frequent commenter neutronhammer left the following on a Phrenelith review:

I want to like this, but there is something about this album that is a bit off.
Quite a few jarring, decontextualized start-stops. Songs which resemble a pastiche of riffs and simply lacking in direction and drama. There is a lot of sameness but without any real memorability unlike the best works of incantation and immolation.

Leaving aside the merits-demerits of Desolate Endscape as a piece of music, this is an opinion that holds for much of death metal today. It also raises a question as to why so many bands rush headlong into the niche carved out by the two giants. Immolation and Incantation, between them, are responsible for at least a solid 20% of the genetic stuff of death metal, being some of the first instances of the genre isolating itself from preceding speed/thrash/punk, so it is but natural for bands to identify their surface aesthetic with what death metal is supposed to be. A long time ago when I would toy around with making death metal songs of my own, Incantation-Immolation constituted the overwhelming portion of ideas manifested; in terms of phrasing, note choices, and exclamatory punctuation, these two bands are the veritable Bible for the person interested in writing dark, imposing death metal.

In some ways, this is also so because it is just easier to sound like Incantation and Immolation (and Incantation far more more than Immolation). The kind of dissonant, atonal framework within which these bands work makes the song construction process that much more amenable to even the relative novice. Of course, this assertion is confined only to an approximation of either band’s sound; few if any modern bands have managed to approach the compositional heft of their prime work. But compare the sheer numbers of bands in the Incantation camp with, say, those that sound like Morbid Angel on Blessed Are The Sick or Atrocity on Hallucinations/Longing For Death or Gorguts on Erosion Of Sanity or Deceased on Luck Of The Corpse, and one can’t help but be convinced of this as something of a truism.

Incantoclone bands are often disparaged and rightfully so, but the reasonable part of my mind says that few bands set out with delusions of grandeur while pursuing such a harsh form of music, at least not in the initial stages. The death metal fan should have nothing innately against a band sounding like Incantation or Immolation if the song writing shows some element of craft and consideration; in fact, sounding overtly like a Demilich, or any of the above mentioned classics, reeks far more of pathetic servility to me. Here’s the thing about individuality; Incantation and Immolation were certainly fiercely idiosyncratic in their time, and it was only their complete command over the budding musical lexicon germane to death metal in the abstract that has made them so appealing to ensuing generations. But a band like Demilich is far too unique to base an entire genre musicology around; in isolation, brilliant, but dissected and adopted by every band around? Not quite as much.

The desire for novelty or originality is entirely understandable, especially as the genre proceeds into middle age and beyond but if one is to think of death metal as a medium of communication and, by relation, a way of life, that has to persist into the distant future, then it requires a sustainable language, too; Incantation and Immolation‘s great service has been, first, to realize the contours of death metal as a musical-philosophical form with greater clarity, and then, in the process, to bless it with just the language needed for its dialectic.


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2 Responses to A thought on bands using Incantation and Immolation as template

  1. P.B. says:

    One thing that has always struck me about the “Incantation clone” label is that most of the bands that get tagged by it (including my own…) tend to take more of their influence from Soulside Journey and The Rack in one sub-school and more from Demoncy and Esoteric in the other sub-school than they do from Incantation, aside from the general recording sound.

    The heavy emphasis on using thirds and sevenths implying a diatonic scale with color notes, and occasionally tossing minor and major thirds and sevenths with each other like you head in Condemner or Cruciamentum — that’s a early Darkthrone thing, not an OtG thing. Incantation liked using trills and slides to make their slow riffs groove a bit; most of the newer bands in this style avoid that groove and pace things more like Asphyx’s slower bits.

    The other, simpler/more atmospheric (and, if we’re honest, dead-end) side of this substyle really has very little to do with death metal in riff construction; it’s a mix of short-riff ambient black metal, funeral doom, and a death metal production.

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