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Over the past couple of years Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Emblazoned have proven themselves to be one of the more resilient and reliable underground death/black metal combos. This shouldn’t really surprise anybody because “Eucharistiae Sacramentum” and “The Living Magisterium” spoke for themselves. Emblazoned very much believes in efficiency and doesn’t put a lot of faith in, well, faith and other people in general. “Catharsis” is just that. It’s a cathartic release of the blackest misanthropic hatred that is one part Malevolent Creation, one part early Deicide – and all awesome. As always it’s finely produced at Belle City Sound – and “Catharsis” is no different in that regard. If only all death/black metal was like this.

At the pumping black heart of Emblazoned is multi-instrumentalist Kevin Forsythe, a versatile performer who was in an earlier incarnation of indefatigable Kenosha killers Jungle Rot, and who by this point has worked out what little kinks there were in his songwriting formula on earlier outings. A.J. Lewandowski, who has sessioned with California’s Decrepit Birth, is in no small part responsible for Emblazoned sounding as lively as it does. His playing easily matches that of German band Obscura or the more underground Italian formation Resumed. As a bass guitarist his popping funky licks are integral to the band’s sound. Frontman Jeff Plewa and drummer Alex Pulvermacher are both more than serviceable in their respective areas, but remain fairly typical for the genre all the same. Moreso than in the past is Lewandowski’s bass playing on here instrumental to Emblazoned as a band.

Emblazoned was never much of a band to concern itself with niceties and ornamental bells and whistles. “Catharsis” pushes that aspect even further. The sole objective of “Catharsis” is delivering finely honed, perfectly streamlined American death metal with a hint of Polish technicality. It’s direct, to-the-point, and does exactly what it promises. Even when they play slower, which they do far more often now than in the not-so-distant past, Emblazoned remains as rugged and solid as they always have been. Forsythe understands better than most that less is always more. Forsythe produces records the way he writes: compact, functional – but never overproduced and/or bloated. Emblazoned’s complete lack of pretense should by all accounts be prevalent in the underground, but for some reason has become something of a rarity. In a music genre that has long since lost the last vestiges of individualism Emblazoned is a beacon of hope. Hope that somebody, somewhere still gets it. How the scales have tipped in just a short few years…

At 44 minutes “Catharsis” is the longest record Emblazoned has yet written but thanks to the brevity of Forsythe’s writing it feels a good 10 minutes shorter. In any case the current length is ideal for the kind of music that Emblazoned plays. It’s lean, mean, and absolutely pulls no punches whatsoever. It’s the kind of record that you’d wish Morbid Angel would still be able to conjure up (but never does), a direction that Vital Remains and Krisiun are no longer interested in pursuing, and that in the old days Pessimist could be relied upon to deliver with some semi-regularity. “Catharsis” perfectly fills that void. It has the meanest crunch, retains a sense of groove, and occasionally flirts with the technical – but never to the point of excess. It’s the kind of record that will never go down in the annals of genre history as essential or mandatory, but it has none such aspirations.

“Catharsis” embodies what pre-millennial death metal used to be all about. It wastes no time with a superfluous, redundant intro piece that amounts to nothing, it contains no orchestrations, or grand concept – it's just honest, blue-collar death metal composed and performed by guys who clearly love what they do. “Catharsis” cements Emblazoned’s status as one of the most underappreciated acts currently working the scene. Where else are you like to hear a band that combines best traits of Malevolent Creation, early Deicide and Vader into a finely honed, streamlined whole that is as groovy as it is technical? Emblazoned formed in 1999, and it shows. In every positive sense. Forsythe and his men have consistently proven to be able to match themselves with any of the genre’s old guard. It’s a pity that popular opinion will never appreciate bands like this as much they probably should.

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.