Incantation have not only consistently released albums since the early ‘90s, they’ve stayed consistent to their evil sound. This is a major reason they’ve amassed such a strong fan base. With low-end riffs, dark harmonies, doomed passages, guttural vocals and blasphemous lyrics, the band seemed to have snatched their music straight from the bottom of the abyss. We caught up with founding member John McEntee, who discusses the band’s new album Sect Of Vile Divinities and explains the band’s decision to release the album during the quarantine period of COVID-19. He talks about writing and recording the album, art work and newish member Luke Shively. He also recounts the band’s history of vocals, and how he overcame the challenge of performing guitar while singing to become the band’s consistent man on the mic.
Darren Cowan: How have you spent your time during this period of quarantine? Is Sect Of Vile Divinities a product of that time?
John McEntee: No, not really. It’s not a product of the time. I have been doing a lot of writing as well as the rest of the band. We finished Sect Of Vile Divinities in early January. It got a little bit delayed because of the quarantine. We were already done. Luckily for us, we were going to have a little bit of downtime from touring anyway. Normally after we finish an album I get super inspired to write more stuff, so I’ve been doing a lot of writing. Beside that I’ve been doing a lot of stuff at home. Even though it sucks not being able to play shows, we had to postpone a couple of things, but the quarantine hasn’t really affected us too bad. For me it wasn’t too bad because I was able to be at home and get some stuff done at home because the last touring cycle has been really brutal. The quarantine actually happened, for me, at a good time. I know a lot of bands were affected really hard by it, but we were luckily in a situation where we made the best of it.
How do you feel now that the album is complete?
I’m definitely happy that it’s finished with. It was a very tasking album to do because we recorded the drums about two years ago, and we’ve been trying to finish the album between touring and stuff. Last summer, we hunkered down and said “we’ve got to get this recording finished.” We’ve been busting our ass to get the guitars done for it, mixing and everything. That’s kind of a stressful album to finish, but we ended up finishing it. We’re definitely really happy with it. We’re really happy to get done with it because it’s a situation where you could work on the album forever. There has to be a certain point where you have to say “I can’t even think about this anymore. Let’s get this done.” You get so intimate, so close to it, you almost overdo it. We wanted to still keep a good, real feel to the album. The short answer is yes, I’m definitely happy with it.
Where does this album fit in your discography? Would you say it’s a bit of the old and new?
Yeah, I guess. That’s fair to say. It definitely had a lot of older influences in the writing. Pretty much every recording I do I go back to where I started. I try to keep in that mindset of why I do the band in the first place. It’s kind of normal for me to revisit the early days of the band. This time I wanted to include more of the simpler, dark harmonies that we did on some of our earlier tracks, a little more than I did on the last one. Really, each album is an answer to the album we did before it. Once you finish an album, you always hear something you could have expanded upon or maybe something that wasn’t represented on it. So in a way, this is kind of an answer to our previous album Profane Nexus. Each album is that way. It’s not like there was anything wrong with Profane Nexus, it’s just I listen to it and think, “it would have been cool to do something like this or that. Screw it, we’ll do it on the next one!”
Did you have any songs from the last album you carried over to this album?
Yeah, we did. We had songs on this album that were carried over from the one even before, Dirges Of Elysium. Pretty much since we did our Vanquish In Vengeance album in 2011 we’ve had an over-abundance of material. Each album we have about 15-20 songs to choose from. It’s not like we pick the best songs and put them on the album. We look at it as each album is its own journey. We kind of pick songs that work together as a unit more than picking the best songs out of the 20. We still have a lot of good material from numerous albums that we didn’t use. We used that as a starting point for writing this one. Basically, we filled in the gaps with newer material to round out the album. This is actually the first album that we did in a while that we only had one extra, I think, that we didn’t use for it.
Every other album we usually have about five that we didn’t use. This was probably the tightest as far as songs. It wasn’t really because we couldn’t come up with more stuff. We could have, but we just had to stop at a certain point. We said instead of writing 20 songs, let’s just write 12 or 13 of them and concentrate on those. It’s one of those things where we get inspired and can keep writing, writing, and writing. You have to go back and listen to the stuff. Sometimes the more songs you have end up being too much on your plate. Even for our next album that we’re working on now, we’re trying to keep the song list a little bit lower, not on the album, but in the working place, so you concentrate more on a few songs than a lot on a lot of songs.
Bassist Chuck Sherwood wrote all lyrics. How did you work with him on the lyrics and the music?
He’s really great at writing lyrics. I wrote lyrics for the band years ago, but I kind of stopped because I didn’t really have a lot to say anymore. I just felt like if someone is in the band who has a lot of inspiration lyric wise, I might as well go with that instead of me trying to force out lyrics. It’s kind of useless. He always has an over abundance of stuff. We basically have a bunch of songs we can pick from to see which ones fit the vibe of the song. Chuck writes the lyrics on his own. We write the music with Chuck on its own. Then we kind of place the lyrics to the music. We don’t look at the lyrics and write the song, but somehow we’re always able to make the lyric concept and everything fit together well. That’s the way we work. We all kind of come up with it, but most of the vocal patterns are usually myself and my drummer, Kyle [Severn] come up with most of the patterns for fitting the lyrics into the songs. Kyle’s been an important part of organizing vocal part for a while. In recent years, I’ve been getting better at it. I’ve been doing a lot more myself.
Chuck also did the art concepts.
Yeah, he wanted to get something that represented the lyrics. We wanted that, too. We wanted to have a little piece of most of the songs on the album. It came to be a little bit of a pain in the ass at first because there was too much stuff going on in the album cover. We had to dumb it back a little bit, so the cover still looked good, and we were able to work with the overall concept.
You used Eliran Kantor for art.
Yeah, and he’s great. He’s a great artist, and really easy to work with on cover art. He did our last three albums. He did a great job on all of them. At the end of the day, he pulled through, so it’s really great. We like having a nice piece of artwork as the cover. You can tell it’s not something we just threw together; we spent time working on it, which is really cool.
It looks like you’re heading into a pantheon of demons. It has that same type of darkness on the album.
That’s what is really awesome that we have a cover that represents the music on it. It’s crazy how that stuff ends up connecting all to one thing. It’s funny because when I look at the album cover, it makes total sense when I listen to the album. It’s always important to have good cover art on the album that represents it properly because it does have a big affect on it. When you look at the album cover, it sets you up for what you’re about to listen to. He did a great job.
Luke Shively provided additional leads. Luke is a new member. How did he come into the band?
He’s been doing sessions for us on tour because Chuck can’t always tour because of his job, especially in the last couple of years he had limited time off, so Luke was filling in for him on bass. Towards the end of the recording of Sect, Sonny (Lombardozzi) decided he wanted to split to do more shred guitar kind of work that didn’t really fit into what we were doing. It was a no-brainer for Luke because he was doing such a great job on tour filling in on bass. He is a guitar player, actually, so it was a smooth transition. It wasn’t a lot of work to put into it because he knew the style. He played enough live where he was able to play right in the pocket. It’s nice to have a transition like that. It was super smooth.
The album was recorded at Incantation Studios. That’s your studio, right?
Right. About eight or nine years ago, Dan Swanö gave us all the specs we needed to set up our own home studio because the studio where we recorded most of our albums in was outside of Cleveland, Ohio, but they were closing down because they just weren’t getting the business they used to. Dan Swanö helped us set up our home studio, gave us all the specs. He just explained everything to us so we could get the recording done in a way that he could get all the tracks that he needed. It was a group effort between us and Dan Swanö to help us build our own studio. We know about studios, but we don’t know how to set them up. We couldn’t do it without Dan telling us what mics to get, mic positioning and all that kind of stuff. It’s worked out really good because we were able to record a lot of the stuff on the last three albums on our own. This is a time in the music industry you don’t get huge budgets to record anymore. It’s really nice to get a lot of this stuff done in a home studio when possible. As long as it doesn’t affect the quality, obviously. If we need to, we will definitely go to another studio if something wasn’t coming out properly. The most important thing is the record sounds the best it possibly can.
You’ve gone through several vocalists including Craig Pillard, Daniel Corchado, Paul Ledney, Vincent Crowley and Tom Stevens. What led you to taking over the vocals in 2004?
Basically, because we went through so many vocalists. I never wanted to be the vocalist of the band. I always wanted to be more of a guitar player and song writer. On albums the main vocalists we had were Craig Pillard, Daniel Corchado and Mike Saez. Those were the ones that actually recorded with us. Paul Ledney was our first drummer that did vocals for our early rehearsal demos. He was really great, but he left the band because he wanted to do more black metal than death metal.
He’s in Profanatica.
Yeah, exactly. It’s crazy because Profanatica and Incantation were two bands that kind of spawned from the same concept. He left Incantation only about six months after we got together and started Profanatica. There are definitely similarities in some of the riff styles. We did have similar concepts to start with, but he wanted to go more with the black metal vibe and style. I wanted more of a meat-and-potatoes death metal vibe. As far as vocals go, after Mike Saez left Kyle and I talked about one of us having to do vocals if we wanted to stop the revolving door of vocalists. Kyle said he’s not doing it, so I have to do it. I told him I would try. It took me about a year to do vocals proper and play guitar. It was not an easy thing for me to learn. During that time, we released our Blasphemy album while I was still trying to do vocals. Luckily, Mike Saez came in and did session vocals on that album. For all that touring we did on that album, we basically had a different session vocalist for each tour ready to front the band.
It was a difficult time. It was a pain in the ass, but I just didn’t want to step into vocals until I was ready to do it. I didn’t want to stop moving ahead with the band because we just put out an album, the Blasphemy album in 2002. I didn’t want to stop the whole operation while they wait until I’m ready to do vocals. We got Vincent Crowley to help us out on, I think, one U.S. tour and European tour. We got Belial (Koblak) who now plays in Nocturnus AD on guitar. He did vocals for one tour. I can’t remember who else we had for that time. It was just a crazy, revolving door for some time, but it’s been great ever since I started doing vocals. It really got things under control. It took years for me to feel one hundred percent confident doing vocals. Even though I did a lot of touring as a vocalist, I still wasn’t one hundred percent comfortable. It wasn’t until around 2010 when I started feeling I was doing it as good as I wanted. Before, I was self-conscious for a while. Craig Pillard, Daniel Corchado and Mike Saez were all really great vocalists. Fuck! These are really great people I still have to perform some of their material that they did the vocals on. I wanted to do justice for it. Luckily, now I feel comfortable with it, but back then it was a tall order for me to do.
You have the gutturals down.
Yeah, I was just feeling more comfortable with it. Now, when I listen to it I think it sounds right. It’s important to get the gutturals, but for me it’s even more important to have the passion and passion. You can’t just be low, it has to have feeling, too.
Incantation toured with Morbid Angel and Watain late last year. How did that tour go?
That was a total blast! That was a great tour! Both bands are great bands. I thought it was a killer tour because you have Morbid Angel. They are classic death metal, for sure. Watain being more of a raw black metal band was a great addition, too. Then having us on it just made for a really great tour package. We got along with everybody. All the bands were super cool. The shows ended up doing really well, great turnouts. For us, it was just amazing! The response we got was really awesome. As far as myself, I’m a really happy camper. It was really great. I hope to tour with both bands again sometime in the future because we really had a great time. It was a great vibe. It reminded me of a really old school kind of tour package. Three bands of really good quality. They all put on a really good show. It wasn’t one opener with a bunch of so-so bands that sometimes happens. It doesn’t make for quite the event, at least in my opinion.
Everything is up in the air right now, but what are your tentative plays for getting out on the road and showcasing the new material?
Tentatively, we have a tour with Belphegor in Europe for November. I know we are confirmed for the tour, but I don’t have a one-hundred-percent confirmation as far as if it’s going to happen or not because of travel restrictions and stuff like that. I’m hoping that we’ll know something in the next month or so because it is coming up; we need to prepare for it. Besides that, we are working on some stuff for 2021, but even that stuff we don’t know one hundred percent what’s going to happen. For a while things were getting better, and then things got worse again. Who the hell knows? We’re just kind of going with the flow with that stuff. We just think of using the time here to write some new material and do interviews for the new album. We just need to see how it’s going to go.
Pretty much all bands are in the same boat. I just hope that once the touring circuit does come back that it’s no so oversaturated. Things get screwed up that way. There could be too many shows. There are going to be so many new albums coming out. There are going to be albums that are products of the quarantine. There are going to be albums that were not released during the quarantine because a lot of bands don’t want to release an album during the quarantine. My thought was screw it! You might as well just do it. I don’t want to hold on to the album for a whole year after it’s recorded. I looked at it like just get it out there and see what happens. It ended up being the right decision, but at the time Relapse took a little bit of a gamble releasing it. A lot of bands I talked to were waiting until afterwards. I thought it would be too oversaturated with releases and touring. Who knows what is going to happen (laughter). We’ll have to deal with it when it comes.
(interview published August 20, 2020)