“In space no one can hear you scream.”
So reads the tagline of Ridley Scott’s scifi horror masterpiece Alien. In many ways Denver, Colorado’s Blood Incantation are the opposite of the film’s titular murder machine. Whereas H.R. Giger’s creation is sleek, lithe, and silent, Blood Incantation are gnarled, massive, and they want to make sure that you know it. If there is one thing these two beasts have in common, it is that they both go for the throat.
Only a year removed from their debut EP, Interdimensional Extinction, the band have greatly expanded their sound even further into the inky abyss of space. While the songs on the EP had their stranger moments they were all firmly in the wheelhouse of death metal. The band’s first full length Starspawn sees them dipping into the realms of doom and even kraut and post rock with, ahem, stellar results.
Blood Incantation opens the album with their epic, and epically titled, “Vitrification of Blood (Part 1).” The number kicks off with a crusher of a riff reminiscent of Incantation or Domination era Morbid Angel, but this is merely the engines warming up. Takeoff occurs roughly a minute in as the otherworldly lead work of vocalist/guitarist Paul Riedl lifts the song off the ground and never looks back. Once the song gets going it turns into an absolutely labyrinthine monster, twisting, turning and evolving without ever repeating itself. In fact, one of the standout elements of Starspawn is the lack of anything resembling traditional song structure, leaving it feeling much more free-form and exciting than the majority of its peers.
The band is unafraid to incorporate other styles to augment their already interdimensional death metal sound. “Vitrification of Blood (Part 1)” features a lengthy, almost funeral doom style slow dirge before teasing the release of an absolute storm, only to drop out into beautiful clean guitars. Perhaps the most unexpected moment comes midway through “Hidden Species (Vitrification of Blood Part 2)”, as the bottom falls out of the song and gives way to a triumphant and reverb-soaked guitar that would make any 90’s post-rock band weep with jealousy. These sections hint at a prettier side to Blood Incantation, but “Meticulous Soul Devourment” showcases it in full. Based solely on name you’re probably expecting a full on meteor-esque rager, but you’re instead greeted by 4 minutes of beautiful, classical guitar work that offers a nice break from all the riffs and conspiracy theories.
This is to say nothing of the individual performances on display here. On top of a pile of riffs, guitarists Paul Riedl and Morris Kolontyrsky offer some absolutely soaring lead work reminiscent of the pulse pounding solos of early 90’s Swe-death. Riedl, also serving as the band’s vocalist, provides some too-grotesque-to-be-human vocals that sound like the death of a galaxy on tracks like “Chaoplasm.” Meanwhile drummer Isaac Faulk is an absolute madman on the drums, rolling out double bass like he’s sprinting through a marathon, and the fretless bass work of Jeff Barrett adds a dimension rarely heard in death metal.
Once the cosmic dust has settled, it’s clear that Blood Incantation have crafted one of the finest and strangest death metal albums of the year; its brevity is at once its greatest weakness and greatest strength. At a scant 34 or so minutes it leaves you wanting so much more, but makes it quite easy to fall into a loop of successive listens. Starspawn is fun, forward-thinking while decidedly retro (look at that straight out of ’93 cover), and heavier than dark matter. Once you’ve traversed this stargate, you may never want to come back.