Words by David C. Obenour
Long carrying the torch of death metal through the genre’s darker days, Incantation has masterfully descended into a well-earned Unholy Deification. Their thirteenth album conceptually explores this enlightenment as the band channels a narrative through their shared experience, focus, and a visceral sense of rage. After more than three decades of determination, sacrifice, and ritual, they have arrived and we are here to witness it.
Off Shelf: The first thing that hits on Unholy Deification is the remarkable cover from Eliran Kantor. Can you talk about the process of working with them on it? What inspiration did you give and what do you find striking about the end piece?
Chuck Sherwood: Eliran was a pleasure to work with as he has been these past four albums. We worked in tandem with ideas, direction, mockups and drafts that ultimately end with a piece we are all pleased with. The album’s concept culminates into the entity in which you see on the cover. So I presented a daunting task; how does one paint a new god, where all life must pass it in order to reach oblivion? Well, Eliran did just that! Adding all elements of what we’d deem evil, claws, wings, tail etc etc. It is the ethereal chimera which has become graven, feared, worshiped, and the ultimate evil fed by its devoted followers.
OS: The new songs are definitely brutal and aggressive, going straight for it with focus and rage. Listening back to the album, what are you glad you were able to capture?
CS: The foundations of the album where presented by John in the form of “Offerings” and “Chalice,” setting a groundwork and a focus which we all contributed upon. Personally the camaraderie, similar interests and influences, helped make it such an amazing and smooth process. It translated into a raging album which is – as John says, “each album is an answer to the previous.” Sect [of Vile Divinities] was great, Unholy [Deification] felt seamless. When we wrote the song “Invocation” it was a free flow of ideas that took us a mere three or four minutes to complete. We had no forethought of how it would capture that energy, but it certainly did. It will remain my favorite on the album which was very similar to how we wrote the song, “Vanquish in Vengeance.” Both of those songs will forever be important to me for how our collective minds developed them into something greater than the sum of their parts.
OS: The press release talks about the lyrical narrative of Unholy Deification, a fully realized concept of evolution through enlightenment. I was wondering if you could expand on it further knowing of your studies into historical aspects of the occult.
CS: Being an avid reader; history, mythology, ancient civilizations and of course occultism, both in fictitious and practical manners, I became more ambitious after the first attempt at a conceptual piece, [Dirges of] Elysium. Unholy Deification is a ten-chapter journey, hence the Roman numerals at the end of each title, derived from ritual magick. From summoning a spectral guide, banishments, “vibrating” words of power, appeasing elemental forces by sacrifice, ritual circles, chalices, altars etc. Utilizing male and female qualities to produce a homunculus that will embody a deity. Idolized, feared, worshiped, and ultimately a dominant force over all life and death.
Listen to the album as presented, the music demanded it to flow as such. While the less casual version would be to play/rearrange the numerals in sequential order and experience the album in a different way… we wanted to provide the option for ones interested enough to do so.
OS: Thirteen carries its own weight as a number. Did you think about Unholy Deification being your thirteenth album? Do you still look back that far in your catalog when considering the new works?
CS: Honestly there’s a discrepancy whether it is our 12th or 13th. Guess it depends on perspective. Don’t believe any of us truly considered this until it was brought to our attention with the release of Unholy [Deification]. We tend to look forward, pride for our previous works is always there, yet how people like or dislike what we create is left to their discretion. All we tend to do is look to the next. The past is unchangeable and there’s certainly enough to have generated their attention for one person to the next. The fires of inspiration are very high now, no need to dwell on what’s completed.
OS: We are in a golden age of Death Metal with younger bands bringing styles back and older bands putting out some of their best material to date. What’s your take on the explosion of the genre right now?
CS: It’s impressive to see so many new folks interested in Death Metal. Regardless of where their influence lies. It certainly is apparent when I witness the energy at shows from all the younger fans who’ve had the pleasure to crush a stage for. Being contemporaries – having their own bands – or just fans. It is an amazing time for the whole of the Death Metal scene to be doing what we all enjoy.
OS: Does it affect how you play?
CS: Indeed, their raging feeds us to play even harder for them. Whether it’s ten or ten thousand we will continue to perform to the best of our ability for all that came to the show. We owe them for their support and dedication, very humbling. It shows in their dedication when they travel 12-15 hours to see you, scrounging what funds they can over weeks at times, just to be there. That dedication is found in all ages, though it feels amplified as of the past few years. Exciting times!
OS: It hasn’t always been as vibrant of a scene though. You powered through a pretty bleak period for death metal in the 2000s. Was it tough keeping the band going in a world that was seemingly indifferent to Death Metal as a whole?
CS: I joined in ’08 and it was bleak to be sure. Low turn outs and lack luster enthusiasm. I believe at that time it might have been the end of the band. Despite that, just as now, we have a fire within that deserves expression. So it was in 2009 that we all became very inspired which then led to the releases up to this point, leaving the early 2000’s in its wake.
OS: Onward To Golgotha is widely considered a total classic of the genre, the type of reverence a band can’t really predict. Has that ever affected your songwriting? Was there ever any stress in trying to recreate that success? Metal fans can sometimes be a little less than accepting when bands expand their sound.
John McEntee: We take pride in our work on Onward to Golgotha, as well as all our albums. However, we approach our music with a focus on creativity, and we don’t let the past success influence our current work. Our goal is to compose music that resonates with our passion, and we believe that’s what our supporters expect from us. We’re not attempting to replicate Onward to Golgotha but we’re also not aiming for something entirely different. Our main objective is to create quality death metal.
When it comes to our Death Metal supporters, they generally seem to be quite accepting of bands exploring new ideas within the realm of what Incantation represents. While there will always be some resistance to change, most fans are open to the twists and turns we come up with. We have been fortunate to have a highly supportive fan base throughout the years, and we genuinely appreciate their unwavering support.
OS: When you’re playing those songs live now, what’s different? Other than just time out on the road and getting tighter, what about them has evolved as you’ve grown not just as musicians but people?
CS: Personally speaking, I am a fan turned member, recalling the first times hearing Incantation during the 92′-96′ era. Only to have the honor of being a part of shows/fests with three of the “Golgotha” era lineup was surreal. Since then, I’ve played those songs with various other musicians and it always felt a little different. Jim’s approach to Kyle’s, even in our live drummers from Frank to Charlie for example. All have had their own approach and execution, making them beyond amazing in their own ways.
Nowadays it has grown to be sure. Never losing sight of the feeling in which those prior created or performed. Recently it’s more adding our own particular nuances whether in actual playability or even presence. It has been amazing to have played during this evolution… but the core of Incantation will forever remain!
OS: With a number of Ohio writers, we can’t help but give a shout out to Luke Shively. What impact has he had since joining the band?
CS: Like breathing a new life into the band. I don’t say that lightly, we all are in agreement. Having been witness to him when we shared a stage in earlier years with Dismemberment. To the honor of having him session for myself for the past five years when I was unable to attend tours due to work commitments. Which was unfortunate since when he was on the road I was not, and vice versa. Not till the 70,000 tons of Metal shows in early 2020 had we the opportunity to jam together. Since then he’s been an amazing musician, friend, and an asset to everything from writing, recording and just an all-around superb musician.