Blood Incantation‘s music is rife with duality. Their albums are epic, soaring compendiums, yet never take up more than 40 minutes of your time. They’re furious works of death metal intensity, yet harbor a sophisticated and even catchy, melodic songwriting sensibility. And as complex as their compositions are, they rarely comprise more than a basic core of four musicians performing live in the same room, showcasing human technical capability at its most optimized and well-oiled.
The band’s second album Hidden History of the Human Race, arriving three years after their acclaimed 2016 debut Starspawn, showcases this duality consistently throughout its 36-minute runtime. Nowhere is this quite so evident as it is in the album’s first single, “Inner Paths (To Outer Space)”, as intricate and consuming a track as they’ve ever released. It awakens from the mist of some distant galaxy, gradually and gorgeously coming into focus as if it were literally touching down to earth. Fully half of the song is atmospheric, beautiful, almost post-rock in its gentle display of instrumentation. But by three minutes in, it seamlessly transitions into sharper-edged riffs, blast beats, becoming a proper metal song after seemingly exploring the outer reaches of what could conceivably pass as such. It’s only in the final minute that “Inner Paths” is itself actually death metal, and with only one cryptic yet utterly satisfying growl to show for it. It’s a strange and complicated masterpiece of a track, doing everything that a death metal song isn’t expected to and succeeding at all of it.
Yet while Blood Incantation sometimes offer an indirect route to riff-driven mayhem, they always get there. Though this might not be death metal at its most traditionalist, it’s still very much a death metal album, and a spectacular one at that. Opening track “Slave Species of the Gods” is its most straightforward delivery of classic death metal, or as close to “classic” as a band like Blood Incantation gets, anyhow. There are still psychedelic gateways, unexpected diversions, vortices to unexplored realms. But it, indeed, rips. Similarly, “The Giza Power Plant” blazes an indirect path forward, but one that scorches all the same, interrupting its explosive progression with a psychedelic instrumental interlude that’s as central to Blood Incantation’s identity as any pinch harmonic or power chord riff. Yet the side-long “Awakening from the Dream… (Mirror of the Soul)” is the real show-stopper, packing what feels like a half-dozen songs into one colossal composition. Its many thrilling twists and turns, start-stop dynamics and seamless transitions proving that there are few bands at all, let alone in death metal, capable of the kinds of musical prowess that Blood Incantation put on full display.
There’s an escapist sensibility about Blood Incantation’s brand of death metal, as intense as it is (there’s that duality again), which they wear on their sleeve quite literally. The album’s artwork, depicting some kind of extraterrestrial being, is a piece of pulp art from the ’70s by Bruce Pennington, and true to the image the album displays, the band’s interests lie more in cosmic mythology than with the gory intestinal disturbances of early Death or Cannibal Corpse. Blood Incantation are operating on their own wavelength, in their own galaxy. And every few years or so, we might just be lucky enough to receive contact.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.