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Only a handful of death metal bands are as solid and reliable as Incantation, and even fewer can actually manage to get better in their old age. The Johnstown, Pennsylvania stalwarts experienced a period of fatigue and something of a career slump with 2006’s “Primordial Domination” and 2012’s rather colorless “Vanquish In Vengeance”. Since “Dirges Of Elysium” John McEntee and his cohorts have returned with renewed vigor and purpose. Like a good wine Incantation only gets fiercer and deadlier as the years pass. Production has practically since forever been Incantation’s bane, but “Profane Nexus” is probably the crispiest the band has yet sounded. “Profane Nexus”, the first Incantation record on Relapse since 2000’s quasi-technical “The Infernal Storm”, is the best they have done since then.

That the Incantation of today is an entirely different beast than that of its classic repertoire should be evident to anybody who has been paying the slightest bit of attention. Arguably since “The Infernal Storm” and 2002’s “Blasphemy” the churning riff maelstroms that were the bread-and-butter of their old repertoire have been relegated to the past and traded in for a simpler, less structurally dense direction that is no less effective. Fellow Americans Immolation have followed a similar career trajectory. McEntee has grown more than comfortable in his role as frontman and drummer Kyle Severn is one of the genre’s perennially underappreciated heroes, one who places feeling, percussive minimalism and atmosphere over showmanship and blinding speeds. Over the last two records bass guitarist Chuck Sherwood has proven vital to Incantation’s newfound vitality and conceptual reinvention. Sherwood’s funky finger style bass playing invokes memories of fallen comrade Joe Lombard and prior to that, Robert Yench. Since “Vanquish in Vengeance” Sherwood has proven a prolific songsmith and lyricist; and his contributions complement McEntee’s tried-and-true death metal formula.

Over the last couple of years Incantation has embraced the general occult next to their staple themes of heresy and blasphemy. With lyrics primarily penned by Sherwood and McEntee “Profane Nexus” concerns more than the band’s patented hatred for organized religion, Christianity in particular. “Profane Nexus” - like “Dirges Of Elysium” before it – draws heavily from mythology and antiquity, specifically the Arabian, Aztec, Brittonic, Greek, and Sumerian pantheons. ‘Rites of the Locust’ concerns the Biblical plagues of Egypt from the Arabic perspective. ‘Xipe Totec’, the shortest Incantation song ever, deals with the titular Aztec deity of life-death-rebirth whose name means "Our Lord the Flayed One”. Human sacrifices were often made in his honor, and he was believed to wear flayed human skin of those that were slain. ‘Horns Of Gefrin’ is about the ancient village of Gefrin (modern day Yeavering in England), or 'hill of the goats', where in 627 Bishop Paulinus of York spent 36 days in the royal vill Adgefrin preaching and baptising converts in the river Glen. ‘Omens to the Altar of Onyx’ concerns the ancient Samnites who worshipped the goddess Mephitis in the volcanic crater Avernus, believed to be the portal to the underworld, in central and south Italy in pre-Roman times. It’s good to see a band as old and experienced as Incantation embrace new engrossing historical subject matter this late into their storied career.

Also not unimportant is the presence of lead guitarist Sonny Lombardozzi who has injected the band with a sense of finesse and musicality that was absent in its 2006-2012 career slump. Lombardozzi sessioned on “Dirges Of Elysium” but was thankfully made a full member with this release. With Sherwood and Lombardozzi in tow Incantation is at its most potent since “The Infernal Storm”. ‘Incorporeal Despair’ is probably the gloomiest and doomiest Incantation has sounded in a very long time. Whatever infractions Incantation might be guilty of in the past “Profane Nexus” is a commendable showing for a band now onto its third decade. Incantation has never strayed too far, or at all, from its original sound and “Profane Nexus” is no different. Few bands are as consistent and reliable as Incantation. Incantation is still playing like it is 1992 and the secret to their longevity is that they never experienced any drastic stylistic shifts despite their gigantic turnover in personnel. Incantation after all is one of the few original USDM bands that never split and that has kept releasing albums in a fairly steady manner even when the scene and public opinion was indifferent to them.

Is “Profane Nexus” a new classic-to-be or has it Incantation at long last restoring itself to its former glory? No, far from it in fact. It has been well over a decade and a a half since the Pennsylvanians have released anything resembling a genre classic. Like any band of their stature (Malevolent Creation and Cannibal Corpse come to mind) they have released a number of albums that were far from essential. Since “Blasphemy” Incantation has frequently missed the mark and they became the subject of imitation with the so-called cavernous death metal movement in 2006-2008 through bands like Dominus Xul, Darkness Eternal, Necros Christos, Portal, Dead Congregation, Blaspherian, Father Befouled, Impetuous Ritual, Vasaeleth, Irkallian Oracle, Ekpyrosis as well as Chilean acts Demonic Rage and Abominatio.

“Profane Nexus” changes nothing substantial about the modern modus operandi of Incantation. It is a contemporary Incantation recording, perhaps one of their most pristinely produced at that. It's yet another iteration of 2002’s “Blasphemy”. Is it vital and mandatory to any collection? Far from it. It's solid, reliable and sounds exactly like you think it will. Is that bad in and of itself? No. Were early Incantation records more commanding, far more morbid in their destitution and frequently darker than “Profane Nexus”? Surely, but McEntee thankfully never committed the same sins as fellow death metal originals Deicide, Morbid Angel and Obituary.

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“Storm Of the Light’s Bane”, the only album to be released through German conglomerate Nuclear Blast Records, was supposed to be the breakthrough effort for Swedish melodic death metal hopefuls Dissection. In comparison to “The Somberlain” the record went for a more traditional and streamlined death metal sound. Much what made “The Somberlain” unique had been jettisoned for a more marketable sound. The album was given the required marketing push by its label, but extracurricular activities of frontman Jon Nödtveidt would capsize the band at the height of its power.

Before settling down to pre-produce its second abum Nödtveidt busied himself with two projects in between the “The Somberlain” and “Storm Of the Light’s Bane” songwriting sessions. First there was the very shortlived Terror, a grindcore project that existed for about three weeks, and released a single demo tape. Second, Nödtveidt recorded the “The Priest Of Satan” album with The Black, with whom he had some involvement a year before the recordings of Dissection’s own “The Somberlain”. Once both projects had run their course Nödtveidt focused on the completion of the second album from his own project for its new label home.

Due to internal conflicts (which some sources attribute to apparent laziness) co-songwriter John Zwetsloot was ousted from the band prior to the recording sessions, but was allowed writing credits to two of the album’s most celebrated songs. ‘Night’s Blood’ and ‘Retribution – Storm Of the Light’s Bane’ were co-written by John Zwetsloot. All music was written by lead guitarist Jon Nödtveidt with input from other members. ‘Unhallowed’, ‘Thorns Of Crimson Death’, and ‘Soulreaper’ were co-written by Johan Norman. The outro piano piece was written and performed by Alexandra Balogh.

The album was the recording debut for rhythm guitarist Johan Norman, who had previously only recorded a live demo tape in 1992 with Runemagick. Returning from “The Somberlain” are vocalist/lead guitarist Jon Nödtveidt, bass guitarist Peter Palmdahl, and drummer Ole Öhman. As expected of a unit on to its sophomore offering “Storm Of the Light’s Bane” is far more streamlined and concise in its writing. One of the biggest improvements was that the acoustic guitar breaks, previously provided by former guitarist John Zwetsloot, were now fully integrated into the band’s music. Öhman had improved in leaps and bounds from the debut, displaying some incredible flexibility in regards to his footwork, and creativity with fills, rolls, and cymbal crashes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LGq3KKNbJ0

“Storm Of the Light’s Bane”, an album released during the death metal explosion of the mid-nineties, is more straightup death metal oriented than “The Somberlain”. This was probably due to the popularity of the Florida death metal sound. One of the most lauded tracks is the uniformly savage ‘Unhallowed’, which deals with Viking conquest lyrically, almost borders on black metal stylistically. ‘Where Dead Angels Lie’ was written around the time of the “The Somberlain” sessions – and was part of the band’s “Promo ‘93”. It was never properly recorded before its appearance on this album. In comparison to the rest of the album it is a semi-ballad. ‘Thorns Of Crimson Death’ and ‘Retribution – Storm Of the Light’s Bane’ are the most compositionally ambitious.

There are two notable guest vocalists to be found on this effort. ‘Soulreaper’ has contributions by Tony Särkkä (IT from Ophthalamia, and Abruptum) and Erik Hagstedt (Marduk frontman Legion) lends his throat to ‘Thorns Of Crimson Death’. Hagstedt would appear on the Ophthalamia album “Via Dolorosa” the same year before being enrolled in the more established death/black metal force Marduk. As before the lyrics are well-written with an poetic quality. While various dark entities are alluded to the mythical figure of Satan (or its related figures) is never mentioned by name. The band’s connection to black metal is tangential at best, and non-existent at worst. Only Nödtveidt’s serpentine rasps, and his ideological convictions tie him to the Scandinavian black metal of the day, but musically Dissection is most obviously a death/thrash metal, albeit it a very majestic and traditional metal one.

“Storm Of the Light’s Bane” was recorded in just over two weeks at Hellspawn Studio (a later incarnation of Gorysound Studio before it changed its name to the popularly known Unisound Studio) with prolific producer Dan Swäno. The studio had earlier produced the formative works of former death metal band Marduk and Norsecore pioneers Dark Funeral. Typical of the time the bass-heavy production possesses a lot of crunch and weight. The drums sound very concrete with powerful snares and toms. The kickdrums provide much of the record low-end together with Palmdahl’s throbbing bass guitar that sounds both tonally deep but clear-cut.

An early rough mix was released on cassette format in late 1995 that had a different track order, and included the ‘Feathers Fell’ guitar instrumental from the debut album. In its final form the record omitted the ‘Feathers Fell’ track and switched a few tracks around for the album to reach optimal flow and better pacing. As before the stunning artwork was rendered by the much in-demand graphic designer Kristian Wåhlin (Necrolord), a respected scene veteran famous for his work with legendary Swedish proto-death/black metal band Grotesque, who was becoming a household name.

Touring for the album included a jaunt with headliners Cradle Of Filth as part of the “The Rape and Ruin Of Europe” tour in 1997, that also included up-and-coming Norwegian band Dimmu Borgir as openers. This touring campaign would later be immortalized by the band’s appearance at the “Gods Of Darkness” festival in Köln, Germany that was recorded for the “Live & Plugged: vol. 2” video tape, which also included a young Dimmu Borgir. A recording of Dissection’s appearance on the Wacken Festival in Germany would see release in 2003 as the belated “Live Legacy” album.

After Dissection fell into disarray rhythm guitarist Johan Norman, and touring drummer Tobias Kjellgren regrouped with new musicians in Soulreaper. Jon Nödtveidt meanwhile released an album with De Infernali, an industrial/techno hybrid before a manslaughter conviction effectively put Dissection on ice permanently. Tobias Kjellgren himself had featured on the lone Decameron album “My Shadow…’ in 1996 before figuring into the newly formed Soulreaper, a band that capitalized on the growing interest in American-styled death metal (specifically Morbid Angel) after the second wave black metal boom. However, Soulreaper itself fell into disrepair after releasing two mediocre albums. Ole Öhman (drums) resurfaced with populist industrial metal band Deathstars, whereas Peter Palmdahl featured on two Deathwitch albums before disappearing into the anonymity of civilian life.