INCANTATION “Sects Education” 

By Dr. Abner Mality

When a band gets past its 30 year anniversary, it’s not too much of a stretch to use the term “legend” in connection with them. INCANTATION is well past that milestone and still churning out morbidly primitive death metal. In fact, you can say they are one of the progenitors of the form. I constantly hear new bands who are obviously influenced by INCANTATION’s roaring blasphemy. They even have a term for that style: “cavernous” death metal.

The master of INCANTATION is the same it was way back in 1989, Mr. John McEntee. He’s the one constant in the band’s history. The dire year of 2020 appropriately brings us a new slab of heaving death from INCANTATION, entitled “Sects of Vile Divinities”. It’s been 10 years since I last spoke to Mr. McEntee about his baby so the time was ripe to hook up with him once more. And just like last time, he’s got plenty to say.

So let’s get right to it!!!

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:  “Sects of Vile Divinities” is about to be unleashed. Was there anything different about how you approached recording this record compared to your past albums?

JOHN McENTEE: The biggest hurdle that we had is that we actually recorded the drums two years ago before we tracked everything else for the album.  We have a home studio where we record the drums. Our drummer Kyle was doing a move and he didn’t know how long it would be before he’d have a new studio in his house after he moved. We decided to record the drums there and then take time throughout the next two years to finish up the album. The problem was, we got so busy with touring and we didn’t really have the proper focus on finishing the album. Last summer I talked with everybody and told them we have to get this album done and finished. It actually took a little bit of extra work to get back in the mindset of when we originally wrote the songs. Two years difference, it’s not going to be 100% of what it should be. We had to find a way to channel the original vibe of the songs. When we were able to pull together, we did a lot of hard work to have it sound the way it needed to be. When you usually record an album, the guitar, drums, vocals and whatnot are all done pretty close to each other and the vibe is strong. We had to do it a different way this time.

WC: That’s interesting. Over the course of the two years, did the songs change or were they pretty much the way you originally envisioned them?

JM:  I think the songs changed a reasonable amount. It had to happen. If you want the songs to be meaningful and sincere, you have to go with how you feel at the moment. You can’t be “I thought this was a good idea two years ago so I’ll do it the same now”. There were adjustments that had to be made to make things sound correct to the current state. A lot of the extra harmonies were added later on. Back then, I had ideas for things but they never solidified with how I thought they should be now. Yeah, it was an untraditional way of doing things. We were glad to be done with it because we don’t want to do it like that again. We want to record the guitars, the vocals and everything else closer to the actual time we do them. If you’re a songwriter, you know that sometimes you have to go on vibe. It’s hard to recapture a vibe if it was a long time ago.

WC: One of the things I noticed about this album is that it seems to be focused more on shorter, faster tunes and not so much on your longer death-doom tracks. Was that deliberate or just how it turned out?

JM: I think it was deliberate. We don’t want to have every album done according to a formula, like “here’s our long extended song”. “Vanquished In Vengeance” had a really long song on it, “Dirges of Elysium” had a really long song on it. We wanted to take a little break from the long song thing and not repeat ourselves. We want them to feel more special. Plus, it’s more difficult sometimes to write shorter songs than longer songs. When you’re writing the shorter song, more thought has to be put into each part because it doesn’t last as long. (laughs) For me, when we originally started, I wanted more shorter songs. Also, it’s easier to fit more songs into a live set if they’re shorter. A lot of our early material, we never thought much about song length so those are pretty damn long. The songs on the new album were written with more thought towards being performed live. Now we do have some doom parts on there, but I didn’t think about it that much. The songs I wrote were shorter and then the ones that Chuck wrote also turned out shorter. I know I definitely did not want this record going 50 minutes or more. We didn’t want it over extended. We have no problem with doing the long, slow tracks but it becomes too predictable if you do it all the time.

WC: It comes across as a more aggressive record even during the slower parts. INCANTATION has become a musical institution that’s been around for a long number of years. How hard is it to stay true to your sound but at the same time avoid getting into a rut? You kind of answered some of that already...(chuckles)

JM: It’s pretty easy because I don’t write unless I’m inspired. I don’t write music just to write it, I’ve got to be inspired. To put this into a time period, after we recorded “Primordial Domination” in, I think, 2006, I wasn’t inspired to write any more music for a while. It wasn’t until about 2010 that I was at practice and getting ready for a show, I just got inspired and started writing out of nowhere. I started writing one of the riffs for “Profound Loathing” off “Vanquished In Vengeance”. It was 100% natural and from that point on, it just started flowing out. But when I wasn’t inspired, I didn’t try to force anything to happen. With the discography that we have, there’s no reason to put stuff out just for the sake of putting it out. Everything that we put out needs to be expressed, needs to be important. I’m very fortunate that I’m really inspired to write music as often as I am. And the same goes for the other guys in the band, too. The connection that I have with the other guys in the band is a very inspiring situation. When I jam with Kyle on drums, I feel inspired. Same with the other guys.

WC: That’s the very essence of a successful band, having all the members lock into that feeling at the same time.

JM: Yeah, and what’s great is that we almost have a synergy. One of us will come up with something out of nowhere and the others will listen and go, oh yeah, we can work with that. It makes all the wheels turn in the whole machine. Honestly, it’s an amazing thing to experience. With somebody’s inspirational spark, we all of a sudden have a song out of nowhere. Even when I write a riff, it’s the whole band that makes it sound good and gives it the INCANTATION vibe. I doesn’t  matter whether I write the riff or Chuck writes the riff, everybody adds their own flavor. Kyle might say, try this kind of a drumbeat with it. It’s everybody’s inspiration.

WC: Let me move more towards the lyrical part of the album. There was a line in the press sheet that said this time around, the lyrics were inspired by evil legends and creatures from different cultures. What were some of those inspirations?

JM: The lyrics on this album were all written by Chuck Sherwood so he’s really the proper person to ask about that. Chuck is amazing on the research he does. When I was writing lyrics for the band, I was starting to get burned out. I mean, there’s only so many ways I can say I hate religion, y’ know? (laughs) I was really happy that he came in and came up with all these great concepts. One of the concepts he came up with that I thought was cool as “Entrails of the Hag Queen” which is about a creature from Bali, Indonesia. They had a story about a queen that basically that was excommunicated from her kingdom. She wanted revenge against the kingdom and went to a witch who gave her power over these severed heads from the grave with their entrails hanging out that could fly around and eat the newborn babies from women in the villages.

WC: It’s a creature called an aswang. There’s a cult movie called “Mystics In Bali” that features them heavily.

JM:  I think the term we uses in the song was “lyak” or something like that. There’s probably different names for them. It’s a really interesting story and a cool topic to bring up. If you go to Bali, they have theatrical plays about the hag queen and the lyaks. That was an extremely cool idea Chuck came up with. The other song we did the live video for, “Fury’s Manifesto”, that was more of a basic concept, the simplest one on the album. That was more of a simple religion-basher. We just made sure to include all three major religions because we don’t want people to think we discriminate against any one religion in particular. (laughs). Then we had the song “Siege Hive”, which was about a dream Chuck had. There are these demons that come out of hives and basically block out the sun and turn Earth into a wasteland. These are topics I would have never come up with myself in a million years. He’s got the imagination and he does the research. He loves to read about history and different cultures. As many albums as we do, we could really have a problem coming up with interesting lyrical ideas, but Chuck is a fountain of ideas. No matter how many cool ideas he comes up with, he always comes up with more. He’s got a lot of the next album written already and then another one on top of that. Dude, how can you do all this?

WC: I didn’t know he was doing 100% of INCANTATION’s lyrics.

JM: Yeah, and the funny thing about it is that he also writes all the lyrics for Kyle’s other band SHED THE SKIN. We writes lyrics for them, he writes lyrics for us and he also has his own solo project he writes lyrics for. It’s not like he saves all his lyrics for us, he just uses the ones he thinks fits for us. He’s a lyrical asset for sure.

WC: There’s now so many bands that have been inspired by the style of INCANTATION over the years that it’s become a genre unto itself. How do you feel about that?

JM:  Well, I’m flattered beyond belief. I was 19 years old when I started INCANTATION. Just think of me being 19 years old when I start a band...I did have a pretty firm idea of what I wanted from the band and how I wanted it to represent myself. Looking 25 years after that time, I started to notice a lot of bands were taking our style and working with it. And some bands were influenced by our style on “Mortal Throne of Nazarene” and some were influenced by “Diabolical Conquest”. It’s crazy for me to see this, to see so many bands inspired by what we did. And then I realized that it was getting so big, it became its own subgenre. People are now calling the stuff influenced by “Mortal Throne of Nazarene” the “cavernous” death metal style. It’s amazing to think that different things that we’ve done have spawned so many offshoots. “Mortal Throne of Nazarene” came out the way it did almost by accident. We didn’t even know what the hell we were doing, we were trying to make the best of a really crappy situation and the album came out the way it did. Some people really hated the production, but a lot of people really liked it. I guess the bottom line is that I’m extremely humbled by this. When I see or hear bands mention us as influences, I can’t help but feel proud to make an impact in the music scene I hold so dearly. It’s an honor for sure.

WC: You definitely blazed a trail with it. Is there any band inspired by INCANTATION that you’ve become a big fan of or that you think does it best?

JM: It’s really difficult because I don’t get a lot of pleasure out hearing bands that sound like us. Honestly, I don’t even really like listening to my own music. I know what my music is supposed to be. When I listen to music, I like to hear something interesting or new, not my own stuff. At first, it was really weird when I heard bands that sounded like us. It was like, wow, that’s really fucked, because I’m hearing someone play guitar just like me but it’s slightly different than what I’d do. The bands that I think really do our style well, one of them is MORTIFERUM. They put out a really interesting record either early this year or late last year that definitely had a “Mortal Throne” vibe to it that was really cool. There was something about it that stood out as being extra special. That’s probably the one I liked the most. I also liked an older band called HIBERNUS MORTIS out of Florida, they did a good version of our style and they were doing it before most other bands. DRAWN AND QUARTERED was another older band that was heavily influenced by us. DEAD CONGREGATION is one that a lot of people compare to us and I think they’re one of the better bands, that I enjoy. But I really don’t get off on listening to bands that sound like us, I think it’s kind of weird to listen to your own band and then all the bands that sound like that.

WC: It’s almost like being an actor and watching yourself on the screen.

JM: How about watching somebody trying to act like you on the screen? It would drive you  crazy! (laughs) “You’re doing it wrong!”

WC: Or maybe you’re doing it right?

JM: Exactly! (laughs) That would be even worse!

WC: Where are you at with your other projects, FUNERUS and BEAST OF REVELATION?

JM: Well, as far as FUNERUS goes, I quit them about four years ago now. I know they’re still doing stuff but I don’t have a lot of input into that band anymore. At that time, I just couldn’t continue touring, I was just too busy with INCANTATION stuff. As far as BEAST OF REVELATION goes, that comes from a roadie of ours in Europe named A.J. who told me about this project he was doing and he asked me to do vocals for it. I was really super impressed when I heard it. I enjoyed being a part of it because it allowed me to just focus on the vocal part of it and let someone be the mastermind. It was really A.J. along with Bob the drummer from ASPHYX who came up with the band. I was really happy with the music on it and it was fun to just do the vocals. It came at a great time. I love that old style of death-doom and the band had a lot of sincerity to it. Also, there’s another band that I play guitar for called TRIBE OF PAZUZU. That’s a band that Nick, who used to be in the industrial band SOULSTORM, plays in and the drummer is Flo from CRYPTOPSY. That’s more of a straightfoward death metal band. They asked me to help with the guitars because they couldn’t find anybody else who could give them the vibe they were looking for. 

WC: I will keep an eye out for that band! Any last messages for the fans out there?

JM: Yeah, the main thing is that I want to thank everybody for their longtime support of INCANTATION and also thank all the new fans that we’ve been gaining recently, which has been really awesome. To play the kind of music that means the world to you for so long and to have such success doing it is overwhelming. I’m really grateful for everything. Check out the new album “Sect of Vile Divinities” and I hope everyone digs it.