Review Summary: With minutes to midnight, Blood Incantation arrive with this decade’s defining death metal album.
In the last decade, metal’s various subgenres have each had their moment; Deafheaven’s Sunbather
became black metal’s crossover success story while Pallbearer (along with YOB) brought doom into the spotlight—if only briefly. But death metal has retained its outsider status (depending on how you categorize Behemoth’ The Satanist
), its breakthrough happening like a flash three decades ago.
Blood Incantation’s 2016 debut, Starspawn
was this decade’s death metal statement even if no one noticed. For all their interspace explorations on death, Blood Incantation find a middle ground between their alien themes and subterranean aesthetic. Starspawn
, complemented its late-era Death with Timeghould aggression and Demilich-like oddity, sounding like cavernous but otherworldly. Hidden History of the Human Race
follows a similar path set three years ago. This time, with a little more clarity and polarity.
The 1970s Bruce Pennington art that adorns the cover capture much of what Blood Incantation, and by extension Hidden History…
, are all about
: a malformed alien creature on a ruined world looking outward, with polymorphic geometry in the foreground. It’s the type of image found on old-school pulp paperbacks. Metal is full of this sort of imagery and Blood Incantation revel
in it. When the instrumental “Inner Paths (To Outer Space)” comes in, the aesthetic feels genuine. The band takes death metal’s most ludicrous semiotics and makes them feel earnest. Allegories to martian acid trips are silly, but when the mid-tempo Middle-Eastern riffs pop up in “The Giza Power Plant,” it doesn’t really matter because it feels so right
Hidden History of the Human Race
, for a psychedelic trip into the void, shows a surprising amount of self-control. With four songs running at a brisk 36 minutes, the album wastes little while maintaining an album-length progression towards its prodigious ending. The band has never sounded so deliberately progressive; the atmosphere is weirder and the riffs span the death metal spectrum. Despite this, Hidden History of the Human Race
is a more aggressive record than Starspawn
. With a cleaner production comes a punchier sound that dissipates a bit of the murkiness.
’s “Vitrification of Blood (Pt.1), Blood Incantation omit the “album prelude” and erupt with the powerful “Slave Species of the Gods.” It’s a riff-heavy and pendulous track remit with winding guitar solos. That same energy doesn’t relent until midway through “The Giza Power Plant.” Here, the band begins to explore different textures; tempos fluctuate and spoken word vocals wash over slow climax. Deeply committing into psychedelia, the end of “Giza” launches in to “Inner Paths (to Outer Space),” a cosmic mind-bender of an interlude. “We improvised this track on psychedelics over a period of several months, allowing it to grow and evolve as it chose,” said the band. That said, they’ve never sounded so razor-sharp and focused. The (mostly) instrumental track progresses deliberately--steamrolling through its run-time with Jeff Barrett’s fretless bass and Issac Faulk’s blast beats recalling some of the most successful experiments of the 90s. Fittingly, it culminates in a otherwordly growl from Demilich’s Antti Boman.
The album closes with “ Awakening From the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of Our Reality (Mirror of the Soul)” a ludicrously “prog” name befitting its branching 18-minute runtime. Despite all this, the song is one of the band’s heaviest. Blood Incantation forgoes the obvious and uses nearly the entirety of the lengthy track to offer up some of the most wickedly punishing and infections death metal this year.
Death metal was born from its own ethos. In the early 90s, bands were clamoring for music that was faster and more aggressive than anything before it. Blood Incantation’s design is anathema to this ideology. Their take on death metal is less clinical; long-form suites like “ Awakening From the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of Our Reality (Mirror of the Soul)” feel boundlessly human, imperfectly weird but still chaotic assailing. There’s unhinged beauty meeting catchiness, a cabal that draws in its listener despite its inherent capriciousness. Hidden History of the Human Race
is an irrefutable classic, dispelling any doubt that Blood Incantation are one of this generation’s leading death metal acts.