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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.

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}

The latest in a line of bands imitating the sound of yore, Gruesome is a California and Florida-based worship act to formative death metal outfit Death, and its pre-“Human” era, specifically the duo of “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Leprosy”. Gruesome consists of stalwarts Matt Harvey (Exhumed), Robin Mazen (ex-Demonomacy, Dérketa, Castrator), Gus Rios (ex-Malevolent Creation) and Daniel Gonzalez (Possessed). Harvey and Rios were involved in an earlier incarnaton of Death To All, a revolving group of Death alumni celebrating the repertoire and legacy of the late Chuck Schuldiner and Death.

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Matt Harvey’s affinity for cloning better known bands is widely documented through out his body of work with reputable Carcass clone act Exhumed, and his two retro-thrash metal revival acts Dekapitator and the masked Ghoul. Likewise its clear that Harvey is an avid fan of the early Schuldiner repertoie as he recreates the chord progressions, riff schematics, tonal nuances, melodic sensibility and overall writing dynamics nearly perfectly. It is good to see bass guitarist Robin Mazen return within a more visible act. Harvey imitates Chuck Schuldiner’s vocal cadences to its smallest details. Mazen’s bass guitar tone perfectly replicates Terry Butler’s chunky tone on “Leprosy” and “Spiritual Healing”. Further cues to the seminal Death can be found in the band logo (especially the spider decoration and inverted crosses) and the album title font. It also helps that the album is openly dedicated to the late Chuck Schuldiner himself in the production notes.

The opening track is a nod to ‘Leprosy’, ‘Trapped in Hell’ is ‘Defensive Personalities’, ‘Psychic Twin’ is ‘Living Monstrosity’, ‘Closed Casket’ obviously is a tribute to ‘Open Casket’, ‘Demonized’ is ‘Altering the Future’, ‘Hideous’ has the main riff from ‘Leprosy’. ‘Gruesome’ nods to ‘Infernal Death’ and ‘Born Dead’ the “Leprosy” album. The lyrics are structured in the same way as the pre-“Human” era writings of the late Schuldiner, applying similar rhyme schemes and choice of vocabulary. Lyrically the album is akin to “Scream Bloody Gore” as it for the most par draws from 1970-80s horror movies. ‘Savage Land’ is heavily inspired by Italian cannibal movies such as “Man From Deep River” and “Cannibal Holocaust”. ‘Trapped In Hell’ is about the “Hellraiser II: Hellbound”. ‘Demonized’ is the sort of satanic gore song that was prevalent on “Scream Bloody Gore” while being lyrically reminiscent of ‘Sacrificial’. ‘Hideous’ is a callback to ‘Living Monstrosity’. The deluxe CD version includes an additional two tracks with true to form covers from Slayer (‘Black Magic’) and Death (‘Land Of No Return’). The Slayer cover is especially well-chosen as it dates back to an old 1984 Death/Mantas rehearsal.

The album features a guest guitar solo on ‘Closed Casket’ by former Death axeman James Murphy (who also substituted for an unavailable Obituary guitarist Allen West on “Cause Of Death”), a guest guitar solo by Fred DeLillo (Rick Rozz) should be reserved for the provisional second album. The appearance of Murphy sets an interesting precedent for other Death luminaries to guest on future Gruesome recordings. The door is now wide open for Paul Masvidal, Andy LaRocque, Bobby Koelble, and Shannon Hamm to guest on future output; The subdued and docile bass playing fits with the early direction that the record pays loving tribute to, but imagine what bass specialist Steve DiGiorgio could bring to this band with an extended guest appearance. Likewise it will be fascinating to see where Gruesome will go from here, and whether they will persevere with the “Leprosy” sound, or explore Death’s later more technical era on future releases.

"Savage Land" was recorded at Riversound Studios in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with Rios and Gonzalez producing. The album was mixed by Eulogy mainman Jarrett Pritchard at Mana Studios in St. Petersburg, Florida. The earthen, bassy production replicates the low end thickness and crunchy guitar tone of “Leprosy”, and “Spiritual Healing”. The duo must have diligently spent countless hours recreating the late 80s/early 90s Morrisound production in minute detail. Similarly is the cover artwork by legendary illustrator Ed Repka (Atheist, Death, Massacre) is a thematical recreation of the “Leprosy” cover. Instead of functioning as a warning of chemical warfare and nuclear armageddon as did the original piece “Savage Land” blocks the same scene within a remote cannibal context. The artwork is meta in a sense that it recreates the iconic “Leprosy” artwork while simultaneously being attentive and perceptive enough to acknowledge that the band itself is cannibalizing one of the death metal genre’s most celebrated formative acts, the very act that its visually arresting cover artwork depicts its characters doing.

Gruesome is the closest the scene will ever come to having a new Death album. Obviously “Savage Land” and its songs can’t truly compete with the writing of Schuldiner himself, but as a loving tribute to the original Florida death metal sound the record is close to perfection in about every aspect. It will be fascinating to see how Gruesome progress from here as they could either further explore the band’s crude past (“Scream Bloody Gore” and the even earlier demos as Mantas), or the more technically refined era that “Human” introduced. Either way Gruesome takes its music, it certainly will be one of the most loving tributes to one of the genre’s most visionary musicians.