How about that Bruce Pennington artwork, huh? It looks like a 1970s Miles Davis album cover took a wrong turn down H.R. Giger Street, I love it. But the first time I caught a glimpse of Pennington’s piece, my mind immediately went to death metal. Progressive death metal and science fiction tend to draw from shared wells of inspiration, and if you don’t believe me, just take a peek at my last few purchases on Bandcamp. Some of this year’s finest death metal have roots in cosmological fantasy: I’m looking at you Dawn of Nil, NOCTURNUS AD, and Nucleus. Of course, then there’s Tomb Mold, the Torontonians who summoned a torrent of meteoric riffs on July’s Planetary Clairvoyance, which presently sits pretty at the top of my “best death metal” shortlist. But the year’s not over yet. Back in 2016, I checked out this atmospheric death metal album called Starspawn, and ever since, I made a point to remember the name Blood Incantation. After three years of touring the galaxy and honing their craft, Blood Incantation return to Earth to examine the origins of humanity, our relationship with extraterrestrials, and the desire to expand our consciousness beyond the confines of our shared reality. Open your third eye, man, we’re goin’ space truckin’.
Weighing in at a lean thirty-six minutes, Blood Incantation divides their sophomore LP into four tracks of tight and brutal death metal with a strong progressive influence. With no time to waste, opener “Slave Species of the Gods” starts cranking out rapid-fire riffs with unpredictable speed and menacing complexity. Guitars churn the analog atmosphere and thrash about while carefully crafting a surreal aural landscape, an abstract neo-Egyptian playground for pugilistic solos and electric mythology. As the band whipsaws, the listener with relentless bass drumming and sharp start/stop guitar passages, vocalist and guitarist Paul Riedl bellows his mind-blowing manifesto with an excellent range of brutal death growls and screams. It’s such a well-written and technically-proficient death metal song that you’d think these dimension hoppers hailed from Canada instead of Denver. “Slave Species of the Gods” is a world-class progressive death metal tune and stands out as one of the best opening tracks of this year.
After the smoke settles, “The Giza Power Plant” refuels the band’s magma-diesel space truck with bewildering kick drum work and ethereal echoing growls. Then, following a stark and slightly-stunted *BONG* noise, Blood Incantation slows down for a few minutes to peruse some progressive ideas; unlike some of the band’s slam metal contemporaries, this slower movement of the song sounds like anxious and subtle progressive brutality. Pleasant eastern melodies twist and saunter around softly-plucked bass notes, amidst some crashing cymbals and tasteful reverb. A wooden voice from some distant nebula utters an uncertain premonition, as electric axes vainly squeal and vie for analog dominance. This heavy psychedelic interlude is the perfect time to crack open the extensive liner notes that accompany Hidden History of the Human Race to read up on BI’s varied thematic inspirations. Due to the reflective nature of this portion of the album, “The Giza Power Plant” occasionally feels noticeably long, and I found myself thinking more about what’s coming next rather than focusing on the current composition. This nagging feeling of impatience waned slightly after many repeat listens, and though I still feel like the second track is slightly overlong, “The Giza Power Plant” gives off sonorous vibes of mystery, and it’s fun to follow the band as they explore the ancient alien infrastructure.
The cryptic Coptic pre-apocalyptic journey keeps rolling onto the album’s sole preview track, “Inner Paths (to Outer Space),” a triptych of ambient glyphs and proggy panache. Split into three distinct sections, “Inner Paths” starts off as a space rock jam, revving up to a progressive death metal cadence, then devolving into an inevitable brutal death conclusion. It’s an easy, breezy instrumental break before the final blow, an impressive prog piece with a mouthful for a title. Fans of Nile, you know about long song names, so say it with me: “Awakening from the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature of our Reality (Mirror of the Soul).” An eighteen-minute adventure through an extreme prog pyramid, “Awakening from the Dream” solidifies Blood Incantation’s astral concept, scraping the peaks of cosmic death metal’s potential. The analog mastering heaps a welcome layer of warmth onto the whiplash riffage, producing a dynamic array of brutality and dulcet serenity as guitarists Riedl and Kolontyrsky defy the laws of space. This beefy song morphs and molds over time, taking a page from the weighty songbooks of 70’s prog rock, like a technical death metal band playing through that Pink Floyd prism on DSotM. And speaking of Nile, Riedel lays down some subterranean chanting vocals that betray a Karl Sanders patois, which maybe gets emphasized more so due to the overall themes of eastern mysticism. “Awakening from the Dream” goes the extra mile to ground the album in its own mythology, with softly creeping synthesizer and authentic production telling as much of the story as the erratic riffing and perpetual drums.
Choosing the best 2019 sci-fi death metal album isn’t going to be easy, but Hidden History of the Human Race makes a strong case for why it should be at the top of the list. Consistently impressive and satisfying, Blood Incantation shrugs off the hype and expectations off their back, and they mostly deliver on both fronts. My gripes with the project are few, but even after a bunch of repeat listens, I can barely make out Jeff Barrett’s bass guitar, which is disappointing, because it sounds great when I can hear it. And I tend to think that the second and fourth tracks spend a minute too long on less-interesting musical ideas than they could. But after shuffling through HHotHR numerous times and examining the liner supplements, this is a very fun album with a ton of replay value. Maybe even more important, it’s proof that Blood Incantation is a top-level talent and a force to be reckoned with, and I wish I could astral project myself into the future to hear what they come up with next.
Hidden History of the Human Race releases on November 22nd, 2019 on Dark Descent Records.
You can purchase this album here or wherever excellent records are sold.