INCANTATION "Monarchs of the Rotting Empire"

By Dr. Abner Mality

With their latest album "Vanquish Into Vengeance", Incantation have returned to the gloriously blasphemous murk that they mastered on their classic albums "Onward To Golgotha" and "Diabolical Conquest".  Those works stand as monuments of American death metal and while Incantation has never really steered from their course of extremity, it hasn't been until now that they've matched those early albums.

The captain at the helm of the infernal ship S.S. Incantation has always been John McEntee...he's been the one constant throughout the years. A prime example of not judging the book by its cover, it's hard to equate the slight, mild-mannered and soft-spoken McEntee with the roaring death metal maniac who spews bitter hatred against Christianity. But both beast and bookworm dwell within this man, as well as a musical genius.

John's also a member of the "sewer sludge" death metal band Funerus with his wife Jill and until recently, the head of the excellent underground label Ibex Moon. He's a true Renaissance man of extreme metal and I recently ventured into the dank tombs beneath Johnstown, PA to speak with him about Incantation, Funerus, Ibex Moon and the art of blasphemy!!!

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:  I believe we've met a couple of times down at Central Illinois Metalfest.


WC: It's kind of hard to miss me. I'm the fat guy in the bloody lab coat.

JM: Oh yeah, yeah, I remember! I totally know who you are! (laughs)

WC: You've finally got a new album out after a long layoff. Was it just burnout responsible for the time off or was something else responsible for the gap?

JM: Well, basically, after we did the last album "Primordial Domination", we were really satisfied with the way it came out. We just kinda felt like we didn't want to do another album unless we could do it as a full band. I just felt at that point, it might have been impossible to get a full band. Most of that last album was written by me and Kyle (Severn, drummer). We were happy with the album, it came out really good and was almost exactly what we wanted, but we just felt after doing a couple of albums with just me and Kyle as the primary songwriters with a little help from Joey Lombard, we didn't want to do another album unless we could do it as a full band. We felt we had done as much as we could do as a one guitar band that we were for a couple of years because we couldn't find the right people. We pretty much wrote off the thought of doing another album, it wasn't even a thought.  We figured it might even be the end of the band, but we didn't make that official because we were still playing some live shows. What happened was, things just fell together with the current line-up with Alex and Chuck. When they got in  the band, the pieces naturally started to fall together. That's pretty much the way I wanted to do it. I wanted it to be something we did because we were inspired to do it. We wanted to come up with something meaningful instead of turning into one of those bands that just pump out stuff because it's the industry thing to do. We felt like we'd rather wait until we have something we want to express musically and put everything into it. We wanted to do the right way...make a great album on our own terms. We've always done stuff our own...we'll take a break and wait for that inspiration to come. With the current line-up, after playing a bunch of shows with them, I started getting inspired and from there, it started coming like crazy because now we have four people in the band who have strong opinions and who all write music. So we got bombarded with all this great stuff. We actually had too much to put on the album. We had keep one really good song off the album because it was just getting too long.  We already have a bunch of songs set aside for the next one. It's really been an inspiring time for us.

WC: For a while, there was some folks wondering if there even would be an Incantation? Was that ever a serious possibility?

JM: Yeah, it was. Absolutely on my end. Probably around 08, I thought that I had done everything I could with the band, I had accomplished 90% of all the goals I made for myself. It was like, if we never did anything again, I could be proud of our discography. Yeah, there was definitely an idea to stop doing it. It was pretty much almost by accident that we happened to find the right pieces to make things happen. That's what made things extra special. This is actually our first album that I can think of where we wrote it as a four piece album from beginning to end. All the other albums, there were lineup changes or we were doing it as a two piece or a three piece. This was the first album that was done the right way, as a full band getting together, debating stuff, arguing over songs and doing everything we could to make the album better and push each other to the max. But if it wasn't going to be this kind off situation, I really wouldn't do it. I was really comfortable playing with my other band Funerus, I would still have my musical expression with that.

WC: It turned out for the best. The new CD "Vanquish Into Vengeance" is the best Incantation in many years. It seems to evoke more of the horror of your earlier albums. I think maybe some of that was missing on the last couple of albums and this new one goes back to the roots of what you're all about.

JM:  It's kind of difficult for me to make those kind of judgment calls. As far as "Vanquish Into Vengeance" goes, it came out better than what we expected. We're really proud of it. We don't know what other people are going to think of it but we were able to listen to it and go "Wow, it sounds really good!". You can just tell it's a full band. We recorded the basic tracks together in the same room as a band to make sure that the band feeling was there and it didn't have an overly mechanical vibe. As far as the last couple of albums before this one go, it's a different way of looking at things.  With "Decimate Christendom" and "Primordial Domination", both of those albums are in my opinion albums that I'm proud of and that have a lot of songs we play live all the time. They were just done in a different way. They were made as a one guitar player band.  So there's one less dimension with those albums. I didn't want to do massive overdubs on those albums because we wouldn't be able to pull it off live. That's the thing. I think we did a great job with the last two albums, but I felt like I was at the end of the road as far as being a one guitar band goes. I wanted to make the songs a little more 3-dimensional. That's what we were able to do by adding another guitar player, but the problem is, finding the second guitar player. He had to be just the right guy. Well, we've found the right guy now, Alex does a great job. It's difficult, because to compare the previous two Incantation albums to the current one is kind of like mixing apples and oranges....there's a whole different mindset in making them.

WC: To me, the two guitar approach makes it sound a lot thicker. Two down-tuned guitars give the music more of that super-morbid feel. I didn't want come across as a spoilsport, but there's just something more morbid and gut-level on the new one.

JM: I totally understand. Don't get me wrong, I'm not defensive, but whenever we do any album, we do what we feel is the right thing at that time. For me, each one has an important part of my history in it. I've been fortunate enough to record a lot of stuff that I'm proud of. If people hear the new album compared to the last two, there's going to be a different feeling to it. All the albums sound like Incantation, but it is a fuller sounding album, maybe a little darker because we're able to have some good solos and harmonies. This is what we've been wanting to do with the band for  quite a while but you've got to work with the tools you have. We're lucky to have the line-up we've got now. Chuck's an amazing bass player, Alex is an amazing guitar player and then having Kyle and myself able to work fully with always brings out the best in everybody. Everybody pushes each other to be better, it's a great vibe. Before it was all my riff ideas. You get to a certain point where you say, I don't want to write everything myself.

WC: There's no other voice to bounce ideas off of.

JM: Yeah! To me, that communication is fun. It's fun to work with another guitar player and have him tell you, ahhh, that kinda sucks! (laughter) When you write, it's good to have somebody criticize you and push you to be better. I like that.

WC: You're like the anti- Ritchie Blackmore in some ways...

JM: (laughs) Yeah, I like the input.

WC: One thing that hasn't changed about Incantation is the apocalyptic, anti-religious epic lyrical approach that you've always had. It makes me curious. Your lyrics have been rooted in the speech of the past. Were you brought up in a religious household? Did you study the Bible to get this kind of flow to your lyrics?

JM: Well, I didn't grow up in a really religious home. I went to Catholic Church sometimes and CCD and stuff like that. There wasn't like any massive religion forcefed on me. There was just a certain point, probably around the age of 13, when I started to realize that the concept of God was too fantastic. It didn't  seem real to me anymore and my ideas grew from there. We like to do a good amount of research on our lyrics before we write songs. On the new album, we've tried to make it clear that it's not just an anti-Catholic kind of thing, it's just anti-religious in general. Most of the problems in the world throughout history have stemmed from religious idealogies which to me seem to be quite crazy. People having wars and massacres over idealogy which you can't even 100% prove....the whole concept just seems crazy to me. On our new album,  the majority of the lyrics, which were written between myself and Chuck Sherwood our bass player, were about religious genocide. Religions fighting each over ridiculously minor differences and committing just seems really insane.

WC: In Pakistan, they shot that little girl just because she wanted to read...

JM: This kind of stuff is out of control. You would think that after all of these years, if somebody wants to be religious, that's up to them. I don't really care. Just don't toss it in my face and force me to abide by it.  It's just ridiculous.

WC: Do you find anything worthy in the concept of religion at all?

JM: The general concept of all religions is basically good. It gets totally lost along the way. I don't believe in a supreme being. Man is what corrupts religion more than the actual religion itself.  The greed of man is almost everywhere. I just don't understand why somebody's spiritual or religious beliefs isn't just between themselves and their god or whatever.

WC: It gets organized. The minute it gets organized, it's no longer about spiritual beliefs, it's about economics and power.

JM: Exactly, that's the problem. Obviously the chaos in the Middle East right now is just insane. I don't understand why there has to be one fundamental belief for everyone that has to be enforced, it should be a strictly individual choice.

WC: When you look at it like that, the place Incantation is coming from in not really blasphemous but humanistic.

JM: Yeah, I think it has changed into something more humanistic from the blasphemous beginnings of the band. When we were younger, we were more purely blasphemous but we were also a lot more immature at the time. I grew up with Possessed and Celtic Frost and Venom. It's fun to just blaspheme Christ, but when you really come down to it, it's not blasphemy aimed so much at religion itself but the way people have corrupted it.  It's the organization of it that's the problem. But we still have fun blaspheming Christ and other religions. It's a fun pastime that we have, but as far as being serious about stuff, our lyrics are just different versions of stories that we've researched. There's been a lot of genocide throughout history. It's remarkable when you look into these purges that these religions have instituted. Some peoples of different backgrounds have lived together for hundreds, maybe thousands of years and then one day they wake up and realize they want to kill the other side just because of religion.

WC: That results in some odd bedfellows. When the Communists ran Yugoslavia, the different ethnic and religious groups there all got along. The minute the Communists were out of power, almost to the exact second, they started killing each other. What changed from one day to the next?

JM: Yeah, that's absolutely true. It's hard to believe. That's the way it happens in a lot of countries run by dictators. When the dictator falls, they start killing each other right away...they go right back to where they started. I just don't understand it.  If you lived with these people under dictatorship, why can't you live with them when dictatorship is gone?

WC: I remember a reporter telling a story about when Romania killed their dictator Ceaucescu. People were cheering in the square, they were yelling "Hooray for liberty! Hooray for democracy!" And then they turn around and say "Now let's get all the Jews and Gypsies!"

JM: (laughter) That's so right!

WC: What it's like having a spouse who's just as brutal as you are when it comes to music?

JM: (chuckles) It works out good. It's just another awesome thing that we're able to share together and have fun doing.  It's really enjoyable for me. We get along really well, we have a good chemistry together and musically we have similar likes. I couldn't ask for anything better, really!

WC: When she uses her "Funerus" voice to tell you to take out the garbage, I'll bet you jump!

JM: (laughs) Yeah, she can definitely kick some ass when called for!

WC: Exactly what part do you play in Funerus? Is it as active as in Incantation or do you just go with the flow?

JM: Well, I think we're pretty active in general. We're not as big as Incantation so we don't get as many opportunities, but we take it very seriously. The band's really important to both Jill and Sam. We practice a lot...we've practiced the last two weekends with Funerus and we're getting ready to play Day of Death in Buffalo. We're working on some new songs for Funerus. Sam came up with some riffs, Jill came up with some riffs and I'm contributing some ideas of my own. We're pretty active with Funerus as well. I really enjoy doing it. Besides getting to play with my wife, which is a cool benefit, it's just fun. The songs are really fun to play...

WC: The last Funerus album "Reduced To Sludge" was a real eye-opener, I thought.  I think it brough more attention the band. It had been a long time since the previous effort and I think it was a big step up from that record.

JM:  We felt that way, too. The vibe in Funerus is so great, we all get along really well and its' a fun band to play in. What's cool about it is that a lot of times, people don't have really high expectations of us, they don't know what to expect. We just get up there and crush it and it's good because it's different than playing with Incantation. With Incantation, people know what to expect and they show up specifically to see Incantation. On a lot of Funerus shows, people haven't heard of us or if they have, they've never seen us live so we just go out there and kick a lot of asses and gain a lot of fans every time we play. It's a different kind of fun.

WC: Many people told me that the performance of Funerus as the recent Central Illinois Metalfest was a show-stealer.

JM: We had a great time playing that show, it was really fun for us. It's been great because every show is like that where we just go out and kick butt. It's fun to just play really heavy, brutal death metal that's catchy. For us, it's a serious band for sure, but it's also a labor of love because it's so much fun.

WC: In the last few years, I've noticed quite a surge of bands playing the filthy, primitive death metal that Incantation is known for. There are many bands inspired by you. How does that make you feel?

JM: Obviously, it's a great honor any time somebody is inspired by the music you play. It's a great thing. The only issue I have with it is that I think any band that is going to take our style, I think they should put their own spin on it to make it more interesting. As a band, we have our own way of doing things. That's something we got by just trying to be ourselves. It's a very true, sincere vibe that's in our music. When we started, there were absolutely no rules whatsoever for death metal. We just played death metal the way we felt it should be done. It's weird when we hear other bands try to mimic that sound. Back in the 90's, nobody was copying our style, they were all copying Suffocation. Now everybody's copying us. I guess it's our turn.

WC: There's a very obvious schism in the death metal scene right now, between the primitive and low-tuned bands and the super-technical bands that play millions of notes. That's like a big tug of war going on right now.

JM: Death metal in general has been getting really technical for quite some time.  In the 90's, bands started doing that technical stuff and now there are bands that are really talented but I just can't get that much into what they're doing because I can't understand what they're playing. It's not my thing. I prefer a little more feeling in the music than just technical genius.

WC: I tend to prefer the more rotten sounding stuff myself, but there's exceptions to everything...

JM: Yeah, of course. There's always exceptions to every rule.

WC: What's the status of your record label Ibex Moon these days?

JM: Basically, it's on hiatus at the moment. Over the last four years, we lost so much money with the label. Between advertising costs and some low sales, it's really difficult to compete with illegal downloads. There was only so much loss we can take before it was gonna kill us. Ibex Moon isn't totally over and I can't say 100% that we're not going to do anything again, but it's not looking very good that we'll release anything else. The main thing now, I'm just working at paying off some debts I got from the label. I want to get all my books in order and once that's taken care of, it will be time to make a decision, see what the environment is. It was just getting to be too much work to do and no money coming in. I loved doing it but I can't work for minus money! (chuckles)

WC: I always wanted to promote some shows in my area and I was willing to take a loss, but it can't be thousands of dollars.

JM: Yeah, it gets to a point where it's just too much. You try to do stuff but you have to make a decision at a certain point.

WC: The music scene now is frankly awful now. Not so much in terms of creativity, because there's a lot of good bands out there, but it's impossible to think of it as a business anymore.

JM: Exactly, I couldn't do things the way I wanted to anymore.

WC: Ibex Moon had a great catalog of artists. Maybe it's good to go out on a high point.

JM: There's no doubt I'm proud of what I got to do and work with the bands  I got to work with. It was a great experience but it was one of those things where you can't keep bleeding. It was starting to take away from band activity and now I have a little more time to write music.

WC: Do you have any touring plans for the new record?

JM: No, we don't really have any touring plans for the new record. I'm not sure yet what we're going to do. I don't think at this point that we'll do a full US tour, I really don't see that happening. In the past, we've taken a hit too many times touring the U.S.  There's a lot of great places to play but there's also a lot of space in between them. We just have to find a way to play the cities that do better for us without having to take a hit on other cities where it doesn't go so well. We have to wait and feel out what the opportunities are like. As far as the rest of the world, I'm sure we'll do some stuff but we don't have anything planned yet. We just want to get the album out and then move from there.

WC: If you could ask anybody from history to dinner, who would it be?

JM: Uhhhhh...that's a weird one! Never heard that question before!

WC: Anybody you can think of, no restrictions.

JM: Maybe...Christ?

WC: That would make for a pretty tense little dinner. (laughter) Plenty of wine to go around.

WC: What was the last CD you got just because you wanted to check out the band?

JM: Trying to think...what did I pick up? I haven't bought anything in quite a while. I picked up Manowar's "Kings of Metal". I bought it when I was in Europe, it was in a metal casing. It looked pretty interesting and I'm a fan of Manowar so I thought it would be pretty cool. I don't know, it had a couple of good songs but it was a little too symphonic for me.

WC: That was the feeling of many. From what I've heard, they are working on a new one that's supposed to be totally the opposite.

JM: That would be good. I felt it was too orchestrated. I would have been good if they had a couple songs like that but they just didn't have enough ass-kickers, you know?

WC: What was the last band you saw in person because you wanted to see them?

JM: Last band I saw in person was Midnight. They played in Johnstown and I was pretty surprised at that because I live in Johnstown and nobody plays here. (chuckles) They're such a great band, I really like those guys.

WC: In the history of Incantation, have you ever had a Spinal Tap moment where things really went wrong that you would care to share with the fans?

JM; Most of the moments for us are Spinal Tap moments. I don't even know, there's too many to remember. I guess a fun one was when we were playing Denver, Colorado. I think it was the tour with Internal Bleeding. I went on the stage and basically ran up to the microphone, lost my footing and ran off the stage, basically. We were playing the opening of "Ibex Moon" and I pretty much just went "thrummmm!" (laughs)

WC: It got better from there, I hope.

JM: Yeah, it got better from there. I felt like a real jerk, the other guys were laughing at me.

WC: Any last words for the faithful out there?

JM: Thanks for the support. We're just a band that wanted to be some death metal assholes playing the music that we like and it's really cool that people have supported us over all these years. It's a dream come true for me to put out a new Incantation album 22 years after we started. I thought we'd be lucky to put out one album. I never thought we'd have a whole discography and have people give a crap. It's great to just to play metal and have people appreciate it.