Every now and then, an album comes along that violently reminds me exactly why I listen to metal. We’ve all had the awkward conversation with indifferent friends who are curious enough to ask about our dark interest, but lack the commitment to invest any fascination (real or fake) should we choose to explain ourselves. It is rarely a brief testimony, and understandably so; metal is a challenging genre for outsiders to grasp. For the time not spent in this uncomfortable conundrum however, there is plenty to spend digesting albums that epitomise metal’s core values. I can think of few that match the caliber of Blood Incantation‘s sophomore effort, Starspawn. Their chunky debut was no accident; Blood Incantation are a force to be reckoned with. With Howls of Ebb and Zealotry leading the bountiful, abstract pack of 2016 death metal releases, one might sit in respite from the obscure onslaught we have been exposed to. I say there is no time to sit around. This might just be the most essential death metal record of the year.
It was quite daunting to see a 13 minute track slapped right at the start of Starspawn. Not necessarily because longer tracks are an issue, but rather because death and black metal are rather infamous for beefing up extended songs with gratuitous amounts of atmospheric filler. This is not the case with opener “Vitrification of Blood (Part 1)”, which explodes into the fray remorselessly. What is even more impressive is the fact that the song just doesn’t let up. Boasting a grand total of one atmospheric interludes, it is a breath of fresh air to see a band making the absolute most of their time. I didn’t realize just how tolerant I was of good death metal until this interlude made an appearance, because even with the band functioning at full force for the entirety of the song, my ears were yet to tire of the warped brutality. In fact, the interlude only served to deepen a craving for the faster passages found towards the song’s start, and just as the song came to a close, a frantic surge of energy spiked as a fitting transition into the wildly rambunctious “Chaoplasm”.
Blood Incantation have clearly been drinking deep of the early 90’s death metal well, and no track better encapsulates the band’s Adramalech and Demilich-isms than “Chaoplasm”. Standing as an avant-garde, yet somewhat accessible hybrid of the two bands with a little doom thrown in for good measure, the song lurches back and forth between borderline catchy riffing and unrelenting blasts. Boasting one of the most quintessentially 90’s death metal solos of recent times, the song is oozing with nostalgic charm. Luckily enough, the band perform with adequate zeal and technicality for the song to hold it’s ground even outside of the inequitable forces of déjà vu. The throwback sound is retained for the most part in “Hidden Species”, which also acts as a sequel track to the album opener. However, much like the opener, a heavier and more individual tone floats to the surface. The track’s progression is a little predictable by the band’s standards, but the riff construction and fill work is creative enough for the song to serve as a mighty, mid-album headbanger. Such a punchy flow also acts as a perfect compliment to the stellar production job on Starspawn; this album hits like a truck. Particular special mention must go to the kit, which is Herculean in power. Paired with passionate performances all round and a dynamic mix, there is very little (if anything) in way of negativity regarding the sound of this release. The snare seemed a tad loud upon initial listening, but it never drowns out surrounding instruments.
After a gorgeously written interlude, the title track makes an appearance to tie loose ends and bring Starspawnto a conclusion. One other concern with commencing a record with a song 13 minutes is trying to reach the same level with an equally long outro. Much to my surprise, Blood Incantation managed to tackle the challenge in four and a half minutes. Far and away the most technically driven song on the album, “Starspawn” weaves it’s way around classic death metal, technical death metal, hints of slam, dashes of doom, and clever structuring that consistently builds the song from start to glorious finish. Almost aware of its own absurdity, this song is jam-packed with varying riffs and writing techniques, and while this seemingly haphazard approach to song construction might detract from other artists, “Starspawn”‘s placement within the record, and its pool of influence actually thrust the song forward into the realm of unapologetic memorability. Blood Incantation clearly enjoy metal for its core values. The enigmatic, corrupted beast that is Starspawn finds solace in the recondite weight of its anarchy, and thrusts itself further into the depths with every passing moment.