Interviews : Incantation
With John McEntee
Unwavering and unrivalled in their position as kings of sludgy downtuned death, Incantation has long gone unopposed as an original purveyor of true unholy death metal. With a new album offering nine more blistering assaults of droning death rattles and shrieking disharmonic blasphemy, founder/frontman/label head John McEntee sat down and explained to us why his band fills you with agony, but keeps your head whipping and your fist raised high.
It seem as though Decimate Christendom just came out (late 2004), so Primordial Domination is a bit unexpected. Why so little down time between releases?
We were just ready to record; we had the songs and everything so why not keep the momentum going? We did a lot of touring and we just got really inspired to write some new songs.
Primordial Domination is easily the best-sounding Incantation album to date. Bill Korecky got everything right this time. Can you describe your working relationship with him?
We just came to him with the vision we were looking for and he made it happen. We wanted to take the basic sounds from Decimate Christendom and make it bigger and fuller. We were just really focused and knew what we were looking for. And we were really happy that it came out pretty much the way we wanted. We have been working with Bill for many years now and he is like a band member, he always pushes for the best performance out of us and really puts total honor into all the work he does for us.
What’s it like at an Incantation recording session these days?
Well, now we have a good vision of what we want with each album. It's pretty stressful but in a productive way. We just try to push each other to get the best performances possible. I would say the studio sucks and kicks ass at the same time.
Your vocals sound extremely loose and fluid on Primordial Domination and you're utilizing a much broader range this time around. Are you getting more comfortable as a singer now that you've been doing it a couple years?
Well yes I'm more comfortable doing vocals now then on Decimate Christendom. We did a good amount of touring so I wanted to add a little more of a live feeling to the vocals. Like more feeling and personality. We still have mostly low vocals but we just wanted to have a real sound like in the old school days of death metal where everything had a pure and lively sound not just the low of the lows all the time. But strong low vocals will always be the main vocal style for Incantation but we just like to mix it up without making it cheesy.
Do you enjoy being the front man, or is it more a matter of convenience / logistics?
In some ways I like it being the front man in other ways I like to just be on stage banging my head just jamming on the guitar and not dealing with the vocals. Over all I think it's best for the band if I do vocals and it's cool to be the front man of the band, because I can do things the way we in vision them. Overall it's kick ass to do vocals, it's just something I never thought would happen. I just wanted to be a guitar player of a band.
Has taking over vocals changed your guitar playing/writing?
I don't think so; I think the song writing is pretty much the same. I just think more about how the vocal patterns will fit to the music then in the past.
Are there any songs in the Incantation catalog that you can't play and sing at the same time?
It's not that I can't, but more that some are way harder to play and sing then others, but I think they are all possible with some practice. So no song is off limits to play live. (Unto Infinite Twilight?!)
The guitars sound massive. Care to share what gear you're using to get that sound?
Thanks, I used a Marshall JMP amp souped up real hot to push the tubes. I also use a Marshall cabinet with 4 - 75 watts speakers. I used my 81 BC Rico mockingbird with EMG pickups. I also make sure I hit the strings hard to get a lot of attack out of the guitar.
Most power trios seem to favor a big distorted bass sound, but Joe seems to stick with a classic clean bass. Does he ever try different sounds to get more bass in the mix?
Yes, we have tried a lot of different sounds, but the little punchy but real think clean sound seems to work the best for us.
Speaking of being a power trio, how does the band sound live without the second guitar, considering how much of Incantation's sickness comes from the twisted harmonized riffs you write?
I run stereo live to get a thicker guitar sound and it seems to work well. Also the bass plays some of the harmonies with me live. It seems to work out great that way. Sometimes with a 2nd guitarist things end up getting to muddy and it makes things worse then just doing them with one guitar and bass.
Did you alter arrangements for the stage after Mike left, or just play your parts and not worry about it?
We had to do a lot of adjusting after Mike left and we decided to be a 3 piece. I would say it took a good year to a year in a half to really get it down were we all felt comfortable live. We tried many things and got ideas from friends that have 3 piece bands and we pretty much just did what we had to, to make it work.
Primordial Domination is another great album in a discography full of great albums. Where do these riffs keep coming from?
It’s just natural, it's very difficult to explain, the songs just come out when we're inspired. There is no real method to the madness. It's just us being true to ourselves
Do ever write a riff and then realize, “Oh, that's the riff from that one song on Golgotha?”
I don't remember if I did that with Golgotha but every now and then Kyle will tell me that a riff sounds like this song or that song. When you write so many riffs it's easy to have a few that come close to something else I wrote in the past. But we try real hard to not let that happen too much.
Incantation records seem to take me to the depths and back, like a spiraling abysmal journey into hell. Is there a certain aura that the music creates for you as you're playing and composing?
Yes there is a dark vibe we feel when writing and playing the songs. When writing a song and we feel the power of metal in our veins we know a song is finished. If we don't have that metal feeling then we know the band is dead. We try to write with feeling, if the riff has feeling that is more important then what notes or how many notes is used to make a riff.
Miran Kim's artwork was always a big part of the Incantation vibe. I like the Primordial Domination cover art, but why not use her again after reconnecting for the Decimate Christendom cover?
I tried to contact her to do the Primordial Domination cover but she didn't want to do anymore blasphemous album covers any more. So we got Jacek Winiewski to come up with a few things. The idea for the cover changed a lot for what we originally wanted but over all it came out killer and we are happy with it.
Incantation has always mixed up death and doom tempos. Do you find that all out blasting or a constant snail's pace drone is somewhat incessant or boring?
I feel that there is not a speed limit for death metal, it can be slow or fast or whatever in between. The death metal feeling is in the riff, what the riff makes you feel. I think it's fucked when people think that death metal has to be blasting all the time. To me death metal is more then just fast technical drums and guitars. Most bands that play fast all the time loses the feeling that makes death metal death metal.
Speaking of tempo, you and Kyle have had a longer working relationship than most marriages. What keeps you together?
We both like what we do with Incantation and we like to work together. We both have the same vision of death metal. I'm very happy to be working with Kyle he is a great guy and has a lot of pride in the band and his playing.
Kyle's an incredibly underrated drummer who's overshadowed by guys that couldn't play half their stuff without a ProTools engineer in the background. Does that frustrate him at all?
No it doesn't, we understand that most people don't understand how hard it is to play drums for Incantation. When Kyle was out of the band because of his drug problem we had a very difficult time finding someone that could keep the right feeling of the band. It's way easer to play fast and without feeling. And now with pro tools anyone can be a tight blast master but when they play live you hear the real deal. For me death metal is barbaric and the drums should sound that way, not like popcorn. Yes Kyle is way underrated and to me it just shows how shallow people are and that most people don't have any idea about what real drumming is.
What led to Incantation leaving Olympic Records after only one album?
Olympic closed down and we just decided that it would be best to do this album on my label Ibex Moon Records. We have the name and most of the hook ups to do it ourselves. I wanted to take Ibex Moon records to the next level and now is the right time to make it happen.
What your relationship with Listenable these days?
Good; they are a killer label and cool guys. They are for sure the best European label we have ever worked with. So yes we are happy with them.
Let's talk a bit about your latest project, Ibex Moon Records. Why start a label?
I had a label in the early 90's but I had to stop because I didn't have a stable life with the band and everything. But over the last 8 years my life became more stable and around 2002 it felt it was the right time to start doing a label again. I feel that doing the label is my way if trying to be proactive about pushing the style of death metal I like. There are not many labels that put out what I call real death metal. So I feel that I can bring something different then most metal labels do. There are a good amount of bands out there that don't get the exposure they deserve because they don't fit into the current trends. So I hope with Ibex Moon records we can keep the flag of death metal alive.
What lessons have you learned - good or bad - after working with so many labels over the years that you plan to apply to Ibex Moon?
There are so many things I have learned, but the most important thing is that I know how things are from both sides of the fence. I feel you need to have been a musician or been apart of a bands crew to really understand what a band needs to do to be successful. It's also good because I can explain to the bands the way the record business works on a level that they can understand, so they can see why things sometimes work out the way they do. We are an artist friendly label for sure.
Can you talk a bit about the bands you've signed? I myself have become quite fond of Funerus…
Thanks, I really like playing with Funerus. It's really cool for me to play some basic and heavy old school death metal!!! Incrust is a killer band from Brazil that plays in the vein of Incantation, Sadistic Intent and other old school bands! I really like their brutally aggressive and heavy sound. Bloody Sign is a great band from Europe that plays with the same feeling as Pestilence, old Morbid Angel and maybe old Entombed. Estuary is a killer death thrash band that is like a more aggressive version of old Kreator with killer brutal vocals. Hell-born is a great Black Death metal band. They are very catchy and have a cool old school vibe. Thornafire is a great death metal band with a modern edge but still keeps the real feeling of death metal alive.
How have you dealt with the enormous task of getting distribution for your releases?
I have a lot of friends from being in the scene for many years so I used some of my connections to get things going with the label. Things with the label have been going in the right direction. Maybe even faster then I expected.
How far does your deal with RED take you? USA, North America, worldwide?
It's for North America, it's a great deal, I couldn't ask for anything more. Everyone I have been working with has been totally cool. I am honored get this great opportunity.
Are you planning to go after electronic distro like iTunes, eMusic, etc.?
Yes we are on all those internet music sites. Electronic distribution is very important these days.
Will Incantation be able to tour without support from big labels like Olympic (Century Media) or Relapse?
Yes, we are working on a headlining tour for November. It's nice to spend someone else's money to tour but we will make it work, we have had to in the past, really Olympic was the only label that really ever gave us tour support in the US anyway so it's something we are used to.
What about studio bills, producer fees, etc? That shit ain’t cheap!
Yes we had to pay all that, it really sucks but that is life. We shouldn't have a problem getting our money back from the record sales at least I hope. Recording metal ain't cheap.
What does Ibex Moon offer Incantation that other labels haven't?
For Incantation we can make more money then in the past and that will help us survive as a band and be a master of or own destiny. For other bands I think it's good to have a label that really cares about its bands and will not rip them off and treat them with honestly and respect.
After two demos, seven albums, seven EPs, two live discs, countless tours, about a dozen label deals, a decade of lineup changes and even a stabbing, you're still leading the charge for Incantation, and now you've taken on the enormous responsibility of starting a label. What keeps you motivated?
Besides my family (wife and dogs) metal is my life that is what I know. I understand the music business and it's just normal for me to use what I know and do a label. As for the band it's just a very important part of me and it's a way for me to express myself.
Do you still find new metal bands that interest you?
Yes, but most of the bands I like have a good amount of metal heritage. I can hear something right off the bat and know if it's something I might like. But I am more if an old school death metal fan then a new death metal fan. But there are always exceptions.
Do you listen to anything outside the death metal realm that we might be surprised to hear you like?
I don't know, when I was young I got into a lot of hard rock that I still like, like: Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Rush, Queen and Blue Cheer most of the stuff has pretty heavy guitar and a lot of feeling. So those bands are apart of my over all influences but maybe to a more extreme level.
With the sudden onslaught of bedroom black metal, metalcore and all the MTV metal, do you feel death metal and bands from Incantation's generation are in danger of being forgotten?
No, I think most of the stuff on MTV now is like the poser metal of the 80 just with a different look. I think it will help more people get into metal and some of those people will want more aggression and heavier stuff and that is when bands like Incantation will gain new fans. Everyone has to start somewhere and metalcore is good for the mall kids. But we are for the more experienced metal head. Being a long time metal head it really sucks to see what people call metal these days. I can't watch head bangers ball anymore. I think my generation of death metal will stand the test of time.
Being out there in the underground, touring and running your label, what's your sense of people's interest in pure death metal these days?
I think it's making a comeback. I don't think it will be as big as the past but it's doing a lot better then it did for many years around the late 90 and early 2000's. So I'm very optimistic that people will keep the true flame of Death metal alive.
You as well have kept the band somewhat low-key during the culture explosion metal is undergoing. Has it been a conscious effort to not follow the paths laid by the Morbid Angel's and Cannibal Corpses? Do you feel, that if desired, Incantation would appeal to a wider (most likely younger) audience?
We had a lot of line up problems and label problem in the 90's and that really hurt the band. We feel that more new kids will start getting into Incantation now that we are in control of our destiny. But we will only do it while being true to ourselves. We have a good amount of new kids at our shows on almost every tour we have been doing over the last few years. I think we could be a bigger band if we would have compromised our sound, but that will never happen.
Your music has always held itself high as a genre staple, yet very few bands seem to follow the slow/fast template you so generously use. How do you feel about there being hundreds of Suffocation/Morbid Angel/Cannibal Corpse clones, but not one Incantation copy-cat (that I can think of)?
There are a few bands that have heavy Incantation influences, but no where near the number that rip off bands like Suffocation, Morbid Angel and Cannibal Corpse. I think it's cool to learn from your favorite bands, but too many bands are just bad rip offs and I think they are killing the death metal scene. I like the originals and only a few of the rip off bands. I think bands need to express themselves more then just copy a Cannibal Corpse song. The original bands will always kick your ass because they are making the rules. It's always better to be a leader then a follower.
Anything else on the horizon? Tours, an Incantation DVD perhaps?
We are working on a DVD but I'm not sure when it will be done. We are also working on a US tour for November with Internal Suffering and Years of Desolation. Besides that I will be working on the next batch of releases for Ibex moon records and work on finishing up some writing for the next Funerus CD.
Well, looks like that should wrap it up. Thanks a ton for the interview!
Thank you for the support!