Incantation‘s debut and best work, Onward to Golgotha, remains the deepest death metal album I have ever experienced a quarter century after its release as of today. With material (“Unholy Massacre” and “Profanation”) dating back to the initial founding of Incantation by guitarist John McEntee and drummer Paul Ledney, Onward to Golgotha was a record influenced as much by Bathory and Beherit as it was Morbid Angel and Autopsy.
Paul Ledney was soon replaced by Jim Roe, who was even more adept on the drummer’s stool. His drum tone was acoustic and muddy with biting cymbals cutting through the mix like a machete hacking through an overgrown wasteland, perfectly complimenting the atmosphere of the. Onward to Golgotha‘s pace and rhythm aptly flowed smoothly between the ominous doom and power-chord chugging of Black Sabbath to the blasting under tremolo-picked, almost purely chromatic eighties black metal riffs. Indeed, Onward to Golgotha showed Incantation’s flowing unity of vision between past and present, a corporeal and spiritual blending into a hypostatic whole as shown by Miran Kim’s grotesque cover art.
The compositions were explosive and profound, slogging through the mud and filth of the mortal world only to eventually suddenly and profoundly emerge from the mire. Onward to Golgotha sounded as if everything was recorded in a filthy foxhole onto an over-saturated analog tape that was dubbed down far too much. Onward to Golgotha‘s organization and production was almost that of a frontal First World War charge: initial fireworks when going over the top, a slog through the craters of no man’s land, only for the tension and mortal body to be violently burst open upon reaching the entrenched, enemy position by the rhythms of machine gun fire and battering of artillery shells with the viscera flying out onto the dirt, never to be restored on doomsday.
Incantation’s riff progression on Onward to Golgotha was incredibly violent and profound. Riffs that would serve as mere glue or budgeted filler by lesser bands were progressed to untold extreme intervals until rended apart and put back together again oppositely as if souls resurrected from death deliberately incorrectly so as to doom them to suffer and die once more. Craig Pillard was a chanting, possessed cultist chanting blasphemous narratives of Satan crawling up through the mud from hell to undo creation and engulf the earth into the “Eternal Torture” of everlasting hell fire himself.
Compositions were refined so that all Incantation’s riffs repeated and progressed in numerological triads similar to Morbid Angel’s time signatures but applied to the structure of entire compositions. Incantation themselves remained in more conventional common time, echoing the corporeality of mortality and the lack of anything truly beyond that. This superb compositional arrangement let Onward to Golgotha reward repeated attentive listening like few other death metal records can except for maybe Nespithe. One can listen to the CD a dozen times in a row and hear something novel to marvel at every time. Moving beyond interesting riffs to the superb counterpointing, flowing chromaticisms, and the eventual realization that the music has hidden desires of its own as to where exactly the will of the natural vibrations of the world shall lead it to. This makes Onward to Golgotha among the deepest of all metal recordings. Entropy shall eventually triumph over everything ever imagined including every supposed divinity. Death conquers all.