In an age in which reputations are largely built on social media through finely-honed digital marketing strategies, Blood Incantation’s Hidden History Of The Human Race is a release that has gone viral in a very old school way – selling out the pre-orders within a matter of days, purely on word of mouth. Since the band’s double dose of prog-death insanity in 2015 with Interdimensional Extinction and Starspawn, the group have been building a reputation as one of modern death metal’s most interesting prospects, and with the release of Hidden History… the quartet seem poised to build on their reputation as one of this generation’s death metal legacies.
As we speak with skinsman Isaac Faulk (also of Wayfarer fame), he’s recuperating from the group’s latest excursion. Whilst presumably as exhausting as it is exhaustive, this relentless schedule is paying off for the Colorado-based quartet, “The last one before this was the Decibel tour with Cannibal Corpse, Immolation and Morbid Angel. This tour we just finished has been with Immolation – so that was really good for us in terms of taking the band to the next level.” It’s interesting to see Blood Incantation playing alongside so many of death metal’s originators, the OSDM sound has seen an explosion in popularity recently – a movement the Colorado quartet arguably preceded, but also since transcended. “In some ways we definitely belong to that scene, especially in the Killtown Deathfest combination of older bands and newer bands that we’ve played with and toured with – we’ve toured with Necrot, who came up around the same time. We belong to that now, but the thing is we have a unique take on it that I don’t think anyone else is doing, so that works in our favour. We also incorporate elements most OSDM bands wouldn’t incorporate like Pink Floyd, old ‘70s prog stuff.”
For any purveyors of the myriad of weirder, proggier strains of the death metal continuum, the influence of ‘70s prog will be a familiar one. It could even be argued that tracks like Yes’ ‘Heart Of The Sunrise’ are an essential part of the death metal subgenre’s DNA – and Isaac agrees. “We’ve been exploring music on our own the last few years, and for me personally, prog rock has been a huge influence. All of the stuff from the 1970s is a big-time influence, but definitely the big ones like King Crimson, Yes, ELP, but there are also some more obscure prog bands that I’m really into like Khan, their album Space Shanty. That one is a big time influence for me. Gong’s mid-‘70s stuff, Soft Machine, Gentle Giant. One of my favourite drummers is Bill Brufford of Yes and King Crimson.” It’s through this exploration of the roots of the roots of the group’s prog-death sound that Hidden History… finds its strength.
Although this isn’t to say that Blood Incantation have gone the Opeth route with Hidden History. The record chimes with the group’s OSDM heritage, whilst also showing death metal can still be innovative – a hallmark of the Blood Incantation ethos that has helped the group keep afloat amidst the seemingly endless swarm of contemporary bands who worship at the murky swamp of ‘90s doom-death. Whilst you can hear the standard influences that you might expect from a cosmic prog-death record centred around alternative archaeology – your off-kilter Demillich-isms, the cosmic edges of Death’s Human or the transcendental dissonance of Gorguts’ Obscura – Isaac also cites a huge number of under-the-surface cuts behind the record’s heterodoxical deathscapes. “Weirder bands, like Kathea Flame, who have that new-age brutal death but super melodic and new-agey sound are a huge influence, same with the French band Supuration – The Cube is a huge influence for us. Same with Absorbed from Spain, they have one album that they didn’t release in the ‘90s that they were working on, that they finally released recently. Some of it’s not that great, but there’s moments on that release that are hugely influential. As far as modern bands go, Defeated Sanity, that Dharmada EP that they did came out the same year as Starspawn and we were blown away by that release.”
On record, the rich convocation of the old and new schools of death metal meld effortlessly across the record’s four tracks. It’s impressive to hear such a richly textured mix achieved without endless layers of fx and synth, and more so that the album’s sound harmonises atmospherically with its subject matter, but this hasn’t come without incurring a huge amount of toil. The Blood Incantation process is an extensive one: “Writing material is not an easy, quick thing, we spend a lot of time refining it. We throw out a lot of stuff, when I was writing ‘Awakening From Our Dream Of Existence, The Multidimensional Nature Of Our Reality…’ I had a seven-minute chunk I threw out. We have a certain standard that we require our music to uphold.”
The multidimensional nature of reality, however, is more than a simple window – it’s something that feeds into the core leitmotifs on Hidden History…. Whilst some (pretentious) detractors have criticised Blood Incantation’s lyricism and subject matter as “pseudo-intellectual”, they’ve arguably missed the point, but that’s not to say that the record lacks thematic depth. “As far as the concepts of our band, there’s a lot more what I would say of an esoteric, occult nature to the stuff we talk about. There’s a lot of times that we’ll be talking about stuff, especially at practice, we’ll be talking about conspiracy theories and stuff like that, but for me personally, I come from an academic background, my bachelor’s is in history, my brother is a professor of philosophy, so I look at things more analytically.”
Take the subject of external influence on mankind’s history – Hidden History…’s artwork and imagery is centred around this concept, but it’s also something Blood Incantation utilise on more than one level. Whilst you could be forgiven for worrying about the regressive trappings synonymous with ancient alien theory and alternative archaeology, the album is thankfully free of anything along those lines. Ancient alien theory is, in fact, a phenomena Isaac is highly critical of: “It discounts the abilities of our forebears, specifically indigenous peoples of a lot of these places in the world, and so whether or not there were aliens involved, I think for sure there were ancient cultures of people, who were definitely not white people, that had abilities beyond what our current western civilisation can do. And I think that’s challenging to the status quo and inherently centric on western civilisation and western thought, it perpetuates a white supremacy that’s ingrained in academia.”
Although, if there were external influences, Isaac still doubts if these were extraterrestrial in the conventional sense. “My idea of extraterrestrial influence is not so much that they came here. I don’t think it was physical aliens with physical spaceships. A more likely scenario is that there were ancient civilisations that had information on how to manipulate spacetime in a way that we can’t understand, maybe Nicola Tesla understood it. But there’s evidence to suggest that psychedelic gods were influencing people around the world and that is more likely to me than some spaceship coming down and landing on a pyramid. To me that’s cool, but a multi-dimensional being travelling into consciousness and giving out tools about reality, that’s more believable to me.”
“Some other people talk about the usage of DMT and ayahuasca in the past by many indigenous cultures,” the drummer continues. “There is this communication with these entities that people have talked about in scientific journals, that’s sparked an idea I was talking about – that there are these entities which are outside of our day-to-day understanding of the material world and that perhaps they have been influencing the human race for some time.” However, on the subjects of enlightenment, interdimensional communication and metaphysics, Isaac’s perspective on psychedelic drugs is more nuanced: “I find that in my personal life I’m more interested in meditation, particularly I’ve gotten very interested in float tanks and sensory deprivation. The day before we went into the studio for the new record, all four of us went into a float tank facility, and we did 90 minutes in the dark, without the use of any chemicals.”
But how was such an experience influential to Hidden History…’s high-concept riffage? “I have a membership at one of the places in Denver, and I get a discount, so before we went in I said, ‘We should do this, it’ll be great for our states of mind going in.’ And I do think it was influential on the recording process, even when we went in it was the peak of our technical ability – I don’t think I can play any crazier than that. At this point this is about as good as it gets. It was good to go into the studio with a refreshed, calm mindstate. There’s nothing like the time after your float experience, it’s one of the most relaxing experiences because you’re floating in salt water, and it’s room temperature, so you don’t feel it. You don’t have to tense any muscles or keep yourself propped up, it’s like this deep relaxation of your own body. It’s really great to go in with that clean and refreshed mindstate.”
And it’s through this inner peace that Hidden History…’s multifaceted message manifests itself: “We have a booklet that comes with the LP that includes a booklist at the end, it doesn’t include anything on conspiracy theories or ancient aliens or anything like that, it’s much more along the line of personal self-discovery philosophy, stuff like Carl Jung, Alan Watts and Joseph Campbell, that are not necessarily talking about what’s outside of us. It’s less about outer space and more about your inner space and the story of your own mind and what you tell yourself about your own mind, and that’s more important to us as a band than the ancient alien thing, and it comes down to, what are these aliens inside your mind?”
The science fiction subject matter compliments more serious musings on the self. It’s through this that Blood Incantation allow some breathing room for these themes – far too often artists on the extreme metal spectrum get bogged down in ascribing abstract philosophical theory to their music, and it’s refreshing to see a band pair this deeper message with a sense of humour. It’s part and parcel of the duality that makes the quartet so notable, even amidst such a strong contemporary death metal scene.
With the band seemingly destined for greatness in the next decade, Isaac seems optimistic for the future and, most excitingly, they show no signs of stopping or stagnating. “We already have plans to come to Europe – we’re coming two separate times, in June and then late July/August. We’re going to do some festivals in between and stuff, and then we’re going to do a world tour. Do Australia, Asia, Japan, come back and then South America. So that’s the plan for 2020. As far as recording, we’re gonna look at new stuff, but we don’t pressure ourselves, we go at our own pace. We’ll see what happens – we’re gonna use the same ideas and maybe expand on the weirder elements. Maybe we’ll write an ambient album, who knows?”
Hidden History Of The Human Race is out 22nd November on Dark Descent Records. Order here.
Words: Richard Lowe