New York´s INCANTATION – Former member John McEntee
Interview and live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen
Thanks to Lucas Dahl for transription
Death Metal´s thunderstorm called “Northern Assassination Tour 2007″ rolled over the Scandinavian countries in the beginning of September, bringing over 4 fully-armed hordes of Death Metal: Crionics, Incantation, Rotting Christ and Krisiun. The Polish Massive Music company had done a really splendid job by booking all these bands to play to some of those countries they had never played before, for example Finland being on the tour list for even 5 dates in 5 different Finnish cities.
My personal focus was on the New York Death Metal pioneers Incantation who have basically been around forever – spreading their ancient Death Metal spirit for the last 18 years, selling thousands of albums worldwide. The band´s latest album, PRIMORDIAL DOMINATION, which was released through the band´s new label Listenable Records in 2006, has also very well been received amongst the worldwide Death Metal community, establishing Incantation´s name even more on the map of Death Metal as one of the last torch bearers and survivals of the genre.
I met up with my old penpal John McEntee (who´s the only founding member left from the original Incantation line-up) at Nosturi in Helsinki on September 5th about 3 hours prior to their showtime, and John was more than keen on talking about his past days he spent with Revenant up to this current tour they have going on with all these bands, etc. – and how this one special Anal Cunt song titled, “Kyle from Incantation Has a Mustach” got started actually. Extra special thanks go out to John personally for being so enthusiastic and excited about giving such an in-depth insight into the whole history of Incantation…
John, this is your first time to be here in Finland… What kind of expectations did you have about our country before you came to play here with Incantation? How were both Tampere and Turku?
I really didn’t know, I just heard from a lot of people the Finland isn’t too good when it comes to old-school brutal Death Metal. So I wasn’t really, I didn’t have my expectations up too high because we haven’t played here in our 18 year career, so I figured maybe its just that there’s not really that many people interested in what we do. But I was pleasantly surprised because the crowds were good. We played on Monday and on Tuesday so far here and both crowds were good crowds and people were really into it. Especially the first show, I forget what the city was but the first show seemed like there was definitely a lot of people there to check us out we sold a good amount of merch, took a lot of photos with people, people were really into it. It´s definitely cool for us; it´s kind of like new ground or something to play and the people seemed really cool and appreciative. So yeah, I can´t complain at all. It´s definitely better than I expected, I expected only crickets at the show, there used to be a really good Death Metal scene in Finland but it was a long time ago. You are talking like early nineties and stuff, in the recent you don’t really hear too much about the Death Metal scene because there are so many more commercial bands that hock up all the spotlight, people have been telling me that there are some good aggressive Thrash- and Death Metal bands here but they just don’t really get as much exposure.
THE HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE OF INCANTATION
You started Incantation with Paul Ledney in New York in 1989, and Incantation can be considered as one of the pioneers of the New York Death Metal scene along with bands like Immolation and Suffocation. When Incantation was started, how was the scene like in New York back in the day, in the end of ´80s?
Well, first of all it´s an honor for you to consider us one of the pioneers in the style. We never really were trying to do that or nothing, it just kind of came natural, so it´s really nice to hear people look at us in that light, because I look at it like we were just a bunch of assholes wanting to play the music that we were into so it’s a great honor. At the time, Death Metal wasn’t really popular, you know some bands were starting to come out here and there, but it really wasn’t that popular in NJ/NY area. Immolation was probably the heaviest band at the time playing the stuff, and they started about a year or so before us. Before that my former band Revenant, was one of the more extreme bands, and Ripping Corpse were more extreme. There were a few, but there wasn’t really a lot. It was weird, you say bands like us and Immolation especially, I use them because they were good friends of mine back then. I really didn’t know Suffocation until a little bit later. We came from Thrash and a really early version of Death Metal, kind of darker. Necrophagia, Possessed, Venom, Celtic Frost and we just kind of felt like were carrying on a tradition of that stuff, cause a lot of those bands were actually changing their style to more commercial, or vibe – and we wanted to keep that raw or maybe more sincere underground vibe going on. And for us we didn’t really look at it like we were trying to be innovators, we were just trying to take what we knew from the past and utilize it with the technology of the time or whatever. I think that’s what made some of the earlier bands better, because there wasn’t a whole lot of rules back then. It´s just like do what you feel is right but all of us from our scene in NJ and stuff that were playing Death Metal at the time were really influenced by the stuff before us, and we just wanted to make it more extreme more heavier but still keep that feeling because a lot of the bands that we were influenced by, didn’t have great productions, necessarily, they didn’t have all the studio trickery. It was just personality that made them great, a band like Venom is great because of personality, or like early Necrophagia, technically they couldn’t play but it sounded great, you could feel the feeling, and that’s where we based our sound on. And now more bands are based on technicality and production to help the band out but we come from a little bit older school where you just try to bring out the personality of the band.
Both of you have also played in Revenant. I’m curious to know what you remember from those days with Henry Vegan’s Revenant?
Well, it was great, at the time I was kind of transitioning from bands that you could buy in the import record section in the store, and that was my underground. And then when I joined Revenant I learned about this whole other underground, bands like Death and Repulsion and stuff like that, tape trading, I didn’t even realize before joining Revenant, I mean I remember getting a demo of Regurgitation in like ´86 or something like that. And I didn’t realize that there was like hundreds or thousands of bands all over the world that had that, so it was really an eye opening experience, and I learned a lot about the underground back then. And we had a tough time in NJ, cause if you know NJ, it’s the home of Bon Jovi and Skid Row, and you know these really commercial bands. When we were in Revenant we had to play shows opening up for those kinds of bands all the time, cause that was the only metal stuff until we met Ripping Corpse. We didn’t even know any other real bands. There were a few bands that were around before us but they all broke up. I mean we were kind of the odd ball but we played these shows opening up for these ´poser bands´ and there would be like 1 or 2 people who would like it. But eventually the things started getting better, but I liked it cause it was one of the most extreme things at the time was like that death-thrash, influenced by Sacrifice and Wehrmacht and bands like that. It was just a great pre-Death Metal kind of band, and it helped me out, cause I learned a lot about songwriting, and Henry taught me a lot about the underground. I’m always very grateful for it, because even though we split our concept after a certain amount of time, it was still without the fundamentals I learned from being in Revenant. I wouldn’t have been able to do Incantation or I wouldn’t have met Paul Ledney necessarily to even start the band to get the fundamentals properly. I mean Paul Ledney only played in the band for the last two or three months or something like that. That was the time when it was obvious that there was a vibe cause Paul and I kind of agreed on what we wanted to do. And then Henry and Tim Scott, the bass player, agreed on what they wanted to do and we both didn’t want to budge. We just decided it was best if I just go off and play music that I wanted to play. But it was a difficult decision, because they were just on the brink of getting popular, and they were going to sign a contract with Nuclear Blast. But then again, I didn’t want to do the album if I wasn’t going to be happy with it. I was kind of cocky or something. I said “Fuck it! I want to play what I want to play”. And if Revenant gets popular and I do nothing I don’t care, because I’m not going to play on an album that I’m not happy with and it ended up working out to my advantage. Everyone thought I was crazy back then, all my friends thought I was out of my mind, but you got to play what you want, to do it the best way you got to believe in what you play.
Let’s move on and talk about some label stuff next. Incantation’s first deal happened with Relapse Records in the end of ´80s – and if I can remember correctly, you were supposed do a split album with Finland’s Amorphis first as a part of the deal with Relapse. Now when you are thinking back in time, would you have wanted to do that split album with them first before you recorded your debut album, ONWARD TO GOLGOTHA?
It was simple. It was at the distributor in the US, at the time, I think they had Red or Relativity or something in the States and they just told Relapse that split albums don’t sell as well and individual EPs. It was kind of a business decision; I mean we wanted to do it. I have to admit though, we already finished our side of the EP, and then we heard Amorphis’ side, and we were just like “Fuck! Their side is better than ours…” – I was pretty blown away by it. I was like “we’re fucked”. I remember we were at a show and Relapse guys showed up, and we were in their car listening it, too – and we were like “Wow we’re fucked!”. But we were also very insecure about our own stuff anyway, I think it´s only normal. I mean some people maybe are cocky, and think that all their stuff is great, but for us we were just doing what we wanted to do, and we never realized that the reaction from people was actually better. We´ve seen it in a different way I guess; we´ve seen it as us just expressing ourselves, and other people seemed to like our stuff. It ended up just using our songs for a 7-inch EP, and Amorphis 7-inch, and then later the PRIVILEGE OF EVIL for them, which I still like that, I still listen to it every now and then, that Amorphis is killer stuff.
Yea, I’m a big fan of the older stuff they did, I mean the PRIVILEGE OF EVIL, and the demo both were really great, just heavy raw catchy Death Metal. I thought it was a good mixture, between having its own obscure vibe to it but also very primitive and very catchy. It was really good stuff, especially for the time. I think if something like that came out now, it would still stand the test of time in the Death Metal world, because it had a very original feel to it.
You did 4 full-length albums for Relapse all in all – THE INFERNAL STORM being your last one for them in 2000, so what reasons made you to change label from Relapse to Candlelight eventually?
It was a weird situation. My opinion of the situation, is that Relapse basically changed their focus as a label, which I never had a problem with that aspect, it´s their label, so they can do whatever they want to. I just thought they didn’t organize it properly, where if they wanted to keep some of the older bands on the label like us and Mortician. There were a bunch of bands that were part of their more fundamental stage as a label at the beginnings. They were keeping the old bands and then venturing out into new stuff, which isn’t a problem. But they didn’t have it organized properly, where there was a dept that would deal with the older bands and Death Metal stuff, and a dept that would deal with their more Grindcore/Hardcore stuff, like a Dillinger Escape Plan, stuff like that. It wasn’t working, because they would be sending our promo out to people who had no interest in what we were doing. It was a very difficult situation; we tried to tell them, if you don’t want us, or can’t do the album the right way, it’s not worth doing. And we finally came to an agreement that it’s best if we just part ways. Since then we have worked with a couple other labels. The one we did right after them was a disaster, Necropolis; they were all fucked up, that label. I think they had the right intentions as far as underground metal and stuff, but they just didn’t have their shit together. Then we did the one with Century Media, and they did a great job. It was just that we decided to do the next one on our own because you know we could either be at the bottom of the barrel on Century Media, or do it ourselves and concentrate on it better. But Century Media did a great job and they were professional, and I like the fact that they were straight up with us. Relapse was a little less straight up with some of the business stuff. Century Media was just like ´yes-no-yes-no´ on stuff, and Relapse was like “Eh… I don’t know. You got to talk to this guy or that guy…”. I would rather have someone just say, “it´s good or you are fucked”.
You only did your 5th album, BLASPHEMY, for Candlelight before signing with French Listenable Records. What went wrong with Candlelight?
That was screwed up with the Necropolis thing because they licensed it from Necropolis and I didn’t realize until a few years after the release that they basically traded our release with Necropolis, for some money that they owed Candlelight. Candlelight wasn’t putting out the album as much because they wanted to, but more because they wanted to recoup some money that Paul from Necropolis owed them, so it was a really fucked up situation, and it wasn’t good for us. It kind of sucks, because we have kind of a bad relationship with Candlelight. If we would have understood the situation we were in, we wouldn’t have been quite as mad at them. We still wouldn’t have been happy about the situation if we understood, but at the time we didn’t know and we just thought Candlelight was slacking off. Then we realized they were doing it because Paul from Necropolis is ripping them off. It sucked because Listenable wanted to do that album, and we wanted to go Listenable, but Necropolis convinced us that Candlelight would be better, but I didn’t realize there was alternative reason for it, not because it was the best decision for us. At this point I have no problem with Candlelight; I just wish they would at least send me a copy of the CD, but they never even sent me a copy of their version of it. I have only seen it in Europe from people. I asked them to give me a box and they said no. That’s the only problem I have with them, I would just like to have like a box of 30, just to have some copies.
You are the only original member left from the Incantation line-up; people have been coming and going quite a lot since the band was formed. Can you find any reasons for that why it’s been so hard for Incantation to have a stable line-up over these past years?
The easy answer is that I’m an asshole. That’s fine; more or less I say that as a cop-out. But there are a lot of reasons why. Even before I get to that, working with so many different people is a mixture between a pain in the ass and a great thing. For me as an individual, it’s great to work with so many great musicians over the years. I mean I’ve worked with great drummers, like Jim Roe, Kyle Severn, Dave Culross and Richard Christy. Those are all great drummers and you learn a lot from working with lots of different people. Even the same thing with other guitar players, you learn stuff from working with different people. So it’s actually been really cool for me in a way, but also it’s a pain in the ass to show them all the back stuff. But the reasons why they change a lot, they go from musical differences; I mean especially in the mid ´90s. It was very trendy to go into a Black Metal style, if you were like a dark Death Metal band. And I kind of refused that, because I thought that was lame, the band is a Death Metal band. Certainly we have dark concepts and stuff like that, but we aren’t Black Metal. And a lot of the members at that time wanted to gear the band towards Black Metal and stuff and that just wasn’t going to happen, and other members wanted to turn it into more of a doom band. And it´s like it’s not a doom band, even if we have doom parts; I mean we have doom parts but it’s not a doom band. Other people wanted to play only fast stuff. It’s a lot of musical different stuff. Probably the least reason is personality. Only a few people are assholes that I’ve dealt with. Most have been cool. A lot of them leave also because money-wise, you don’t make a lot of money playing Death Metal. It’s a lot to tour a lot and stuff. There are so many reasons why. Some of them don’t like to deal with the business side, the music industry for the most part sucks, with people ripping you off all the time and even if its not the money aspect, it’s the integrity aspect. Some people just cant deal with getting ripped off all the time, they feel like they are being treated like shit.
The line-up you have now in the band contains a bunch of experienced musicians that got their musical experience from several band line-ups. For example your drummer Craig Smilowski plays drums Immolation – and he’s also the drummer in Goreaphobia who has been activated again. What are your thoughts about this line-up then? Do you believe this is one of the best live line-ups Incantation has had a pleasure to have for a while? What makes this line-up stronger than some other Incantation line-ups you have had over the years?
It´s not permanent, it’s not meant to be permanent. Just like you said, this touring line-up is different because before we did the tour, I viewed it as a touring line-up. I know what I was looking for with people. The bass player we have is Reyash. He did such a phenomenal job playing bass, and playing live, that we kept him and stuff. We have Craig Smilowski from Immolation. I knew that the right person to get on drums was going to be someone who understands the old school style, from where we started from – and they’re one of the bands that really started around our time, so I figured it would be a perfect match. He’s been doing a great job, and he understands and he doesn’t play like a newer drummer. He plays like an older drummer, which is the way we have to sound right to have that – we´re not a newer band. There’s a lot of great drummers out there but they can´t play our stuff right. It´s not because they’re bad drummers – it´s cause they didn’t grow up with the same exact fundamentals as we did. They came up with people like Pete Sandoval and Dave Culross, and people like that who are great drummers, but like Craig is pre-those guys. We need people that understand the playing and the drumming from the older style not from the newer style, not that there’s anything wrong with the newer style a lot of great musicians. It´s just different when you grew up listening to just Dave Lombardo and Gene Hoglan that kind of stuff, it’s a different style of drum playing. You can listen to it all you want, but you are never going to understand it the same way we understood it back at the time. Back in the ´80s the perspective was different – and now you look at it and great drummers, like Pete Sandoval – an amazing drummer, but he wasn’t there back then, so you have no way to judge. It´s hard to explain. I knew I had to find certain kind of people to do the tour and do it right, and I feel comfortable with the line-up, and everybody knows they are just filling in but it works out cool. It´s better than trying to find a line-up to tour with, and then hope to keep it steady. I would rather just organize it properly, and if things work out. Sometime maybe we will work with these guys again on a studio album, but I want to get that live experience from them first.
NORTHERN ASSASSINATION 2007
Now back to this ongoing tour you have… This tour is called “Northern Assassination 2007″, and the other 3 bands you have on this 1st leg of European tour – Krisiun, Rotting Christ and Crionics, obviously makes a pretty nice package for every Death Metal fan to purchase their own tickets for these concerts. What do you think personally of your 3 touring mates?
Crionics are kind of the new kids on the block, for the tour, they are younger band, they are nice guys, they are lil´ crazy cause they are younger than the rest of us. But that’s just normal, everyone’s cool. Krisiun we’ve known for a long time now, so it’s very comfortable touring with them. We have a lot in common, and then Rotting Christ we met on the last European tour we did, just about 6 months ago, they were great guys to tour with. Really cool. With us Krisiun and Rotting Christ we all have a bond with the older school era of Death Metal. And the underground stuff, so it works together good. We all have a lot of respect for each others´ style and everything. It’s a great tour, it’s a great mixture of styles and stuff and I think because there’s 4 bands that play different but at the same time are quality at what they do I think it helps out the bill a lot. Not just one style and not just people from one style we are pulling people from different styles it´s good because everyone plays different style and its just good metal.
Then you’ll have this 2nd leg of the tour coming up as well, which will be called “Blitzkrieg 4 Tour 2007″, and it will also contain Vader and your wife’s band Funerus in the bill in which you play also – following up 3rd leg of the European tour (called “Balkans Assassination Tour 2007″) that will have both Krisiun and Incantation – and two other bands will join you for the tour, Estuary and Inactive Messiah. Many of these dates from the 2nd leg will take place in Poland – why´s that?
I guess every year massive music does the “Blitzkrieg” tour in Poland, so it´s like a tour that’s dedicated for Poland. We never played Poland before, so we figured this would be a great opportunity to play because a lot of times we play somewhere close to Berlin. We’ll get some of the Polish people coming out to the show but they always tell us you got to play Poland. And every time we book a tour we tell the booking agent we want to play Poland but they never book a show there for one reason or another, and we got the opportunity to do this tour, and to be able to tour there with the bands from this tour and Vader, is just a great opportunity. Vader is one of the innovators of the Polish metal scene, I know they do really well over there and have a lot of respect for the people. I don’t know all the newer guys in Vader, but I’ve known Peter forever and he’s really cool. I know it will be a great tour, and it’s great to play with Funerus, too. Because I really like doing the Funerus stuff also, and I want to establish Funerus as it´s own band, and not just my ex-other band. I really like the style of that stuff, it’s really fun to play.
You already toured through the European continent in February this year with Incantation under the “Domination 2007” tour – with bands like Rotting Christ, Malevolent Creation, Mystic Circle and two other bands. As this 2nd European tour of yours this year happened so soon, I guess with this tour you basically wanted to cover some of those countries where you have never played before this time – just like in Finland, correct?
We don’t want to come back and play at the same places again. In the last 4 or 5 years we have been touring continental Europe a lot more, which is cool, but we want to play different places in Europe, too. People always bugging us to play these different countries, and we want to play there, too. And that’s why we did it. If we had played all the places we had played as last time we wouldn’t have did the tour, this tour is based around playing places we hadn’t played before. A lot of them where you cant really make a lot of money doing it, especially like the ex-Russia places, because they are poorer countries, but we aren’t doing this for the money. We are doing it because we want to play for our fans in these places. We got to play Lithuania last Friday, and it was just great cause I remember people contacting me from Lithuania back in ´89-´90 asking to trade bottles of vodka for a demo. It’s nice to finally play for these people. They didn’t have money so they were like let me get you a bottle of vodka.
How important would you see all this touring for Incantation? Do you think it has a big part to do with your success, too?
Most importantly, it’s important for me personally because I want to get the opportunity to play for as many people that have supported us for who knows how long. It’s more important for me personally to an extent. For the band, with the new album, the reactions have been so good. Like the Malevolent Creation tour we did recently with Rotting Christ recently, our response has never been better in Europe cause for quite a long time we kind of neglected Europe, not because we wanted to, it´s because Relapse wasn’t established in Europe too well, and their relationship with Nuclear Blast was not too good. So it´s almost like our first time of doing better in Europe than we do in the States, which is really good for us. Which is strange because when we first started the support was from Europe, back in the demo times, everyone in Europe was really into Incantation stuff, but once our album came out and it came out on Nuclear Blast. Soon after that it seemed like it just got lost in the shuffle in Europe, but now it seems like the reaction is a lot better. I know our label Listenable Records is really happy, they were kind of pushing for us to do this tour, which is cool, and it’s good for us because we want to play a lot of these places.
How did this deal with Listenable Records happen anyway?
Well, we knew they wanted to do the BLASPHEMY album, with us and so once we finished with the Necropolis contract we just did a license deal for the us through Century Media, and just did a license deal with Listenable in Europe. Laurent from Peardrop Magazine, he’s doing Listenable now, and we knew him from back when he did Peardrop, he even visited us back in NY, in 1990 – and we went to the first Michigan Death Fest together. I knew that if I’m going to work with someone in Europe, I would rather work with somebody who I have history with and understands what we’re doing as a band. He comes from the old school and I wanted to keep it in the old school family.
LOOKING FORWARD TOWARDS THE FUTURE
Have you had any talk with other band members when Incantation might enter a studio again to record your next album? Have you had time to write any new songs already since the session of PRIMORDIAL DOMINATION?
I had time, but I haven’t. It’s strange, but I don’t have a will to write any songs right now. I’ve been writing songs for over 20 years, almost constantly, and PRIMORDIAL DOMINATION was planned in a way and it came out the way we wanted it to. The vision we have of how the album sounds, is the vision we had before we went into the studio, and that’s never happened before. In a strange way I feel like I accomplished what I wanted to do, and not saying that I’m finished with the band and I accomplished it and it´s over with, but I’m not in a rush to write something until I feel inspired to do something, and have the next thing we do be personal and really mean something. And I really want to find a second guitar player or bass player, that I could do some writing collaboration with, cause the last 3 albums I’ve done a substantial amount of the writing for, and I don’t feel like I want to do another album right now, where I’m doing the primary song writing, I mean you do a bunch of albums and it´s like I want to wait until I have something to say. It’s so easy to get into the industry where you do and album and tour do and album and tour, now I just want to wait till inspiration comes and do it.
When you are signed to a label they expect you to do an album like every year, put you on tour after that until you need to record a new album again, tour – and so on, and so on… What you think of that?
Sometimes the quality goes down. It’s too much. After this tour, we have one more tour in Japan, and after that, I’ve pretty much accomplished about 90% of the goals I wanted to accomplish with the band. So I don’t have the hunger in that way, and I would rather just sit back and do it the proper way. Wait until I feel inspiration, usually I do an album, and usually I get inspired and I write a couple songs right after, because I feel our last album was lacking in this and I want to accent on these points, but for some reason this time I didn’t feel that way. I have some songs that were written before PRIMORDIAL DOMINATION, which we didn’t use, because Kyle and I were working on a Doom EP we were going to put out, just like 3 songs, like 35 minutes of an EP. But we never finished that stuff, but we’re doing nothing until we are inspired.
ONWARD TO GOLGOTHA, your debut album which was released in 1992 by Relapse, is still considered Incantation’s best work to date by many. How high do you personally rate your debut album anyway?
That’s hard to say. I think it’s a good album, I’m proud of it, but it´s weird I’m too close to the album, we just recently got together with the old guys from the ONWARD album because we were doing a reissue of it, and all of us were just surprised of the perception of the album, especially so long after its release. I’m just honored that people can look back on it and get so much out of it, and give it high praise. For me it’s an honor we didn’t try for any of this. Like I said we are just a bunch of assholes playing Death Metal so we were just lucky. ONWARD TO GOLGOTHA is definitely a really important part of my musical career, I have to admit though that it´s great because there’s people that really hold different albums as their favorites, and its nice to know that you can do an album around this time and still have people come up to you this is your best work, we like this one a lot, but we like this newer one as your best work. I realize that not everyone is going to think that but its nice that people from different eras, that whatever album they heard around that time had some sort of feeling that they really liked, so I can´t complain. I’m not one to say just like a bands first album, because it’s their first album, but let’s say 80% of the time the bands best album is their first one. I’m very open minded about it. If something new is great, that’s awesome if a band puts out a newer album, and it´s great, but unfortunately the fire of the first album always seems like the best, maybe they are most inspired.
What the fans of Incantation admire and respect in the band is the fact you have managed to stay loyal to your sound since the day this band was put together. Sounding as heavy, brutal and wicked as possibly, is obviously something that you have always wanted to strive for with this band on each release that you put out, correct?
Yes, that´s correct. When I started the band, I was playing in Revenant, and I left Revenant at a crucial time in their career cause they were going to get signed to Nuclear Blast, and my decision that I had to make at that time was do I want to play music for popularity or do I want to play it for myself. I thought about it, and of course I want to play music for myself but what am I going to do 10 years down the line when no one likes it. At the time you don’t know cause it´s ahead of you, and I was really concerned about it, but after serious consideration, I realized that you got to do what I want to do, and if I’m going to fail at it. I want to fail at doing stuff that I believe in, so when we started the band, I knew I was making an oath to myself, and this is how I want to do things. A lot of bands have changed over the years from our era, and it´s up to them. If that’s really what’s true to them, then I respect them, and if they are just doing it for money, I can still respect them. But I have less respect for them if bands going to substantially change their sound then I personally think that they should have the balls to change the name and leave the thing they created, and say: “Ok this is our new band, and we are playing in a new style”. For me I’ve always kind of felt that way. If I was going to change the style I would change the band name and start something completely different, but I like what we do. I like playing dark, aggressive raw Death Metal. It might be kind of crazy that I like the same kind of music that I do, but the metal and the aggressive stuff of the ´80s and ´90s, I like the stuff a lot, and I’m proud to be playing that kind of stuff. I don’t know if all bands get that feeling of like being honored to be able to play the stuff you like, that’s not calculated in any kind of industry way. We always try to stay like those assholes playing Death Metal, and it´s just the best way for us to be. And we just play from the heart and it´s like if people like it then cool and if they don’t then oh well. I’ve been in the Death Metal underground forever now, and I know that it goes through trends, and we could do the same album one time and no one will like it and do it another time and everyone will like it. I know the way the trends go, and we just try to stay even and say fuck all these posers. We are here to play metal. I remember metal being a rebellious music, it has the word ´heavy´ in front of it so I think it´s supposed to be heavy I think, and you play metal cause you want to play metal – not be trendy and stuff, the trendy stuff is for posers.
Many bands when they get started, they tend to change their musical style in the course of time, most often for a more commercial sound just to gain more listeners to their music. Do you think it’s some sort of whoring from some of those bands if they think to earn a bunch of bigger bucks for themselves by changing their style to more accessible sound simply to sell more albums?
To an extent it´s whoring, I think that a band should be honest to their fans. But if you are writing music just to please people, then say it and do it, just say that this band is about making money and trying to please people. But so many bands say we are the most underground evil band, and then they do an album, and they get the underground following to buy their album but then their next album they forget about “Ah, I’m so evil”. There are a lot of bands that have totally flip-flopped from their beginnings, and I understand theirs an extent of natural growth that’s normal, but at the same time, I think their trying to fool their fans or something. I hate to pick out bands, like Paradise Lost, and there´s no disrespect to them, and they are a great band in what they do. But I think around the time of ETERNAL or SHADES OF GOD, they really needed to just realize that “Hey, we are thinking about going off into different directions” – and that was the time to say: “We are going to call our band gothic now”, instead of Paradise Lost, which is a shame because Paradise Lost early on was such a great doom band. And it´s not that the stuff after it´s bad, but when I hear Paradise Lost I want to hear doom, I don’t want to hear the other stuff. The other stuff is for another band is ok. I don’t think I can explain it.
Staying with your original sound from one year to another, also means you cannot loose any of your old fans either, but probably are able to gain even more new fans for the band – and that’s also one way to show your respect towards the true fans of the band that you stick with one certain style ´tl the band ceases to exist for good.
I was really disappointed, on say, the ghosts of Heavy Metal, when I liked Judas Priest a lot, I really liked Judas Priest through DEFENDERS OF THE FAITH. But then once TURBO came out I was really disappointed, and even say Sodom, and PERSECUTION MANIA, but then they started changing a little bit around AGENT ORANGE. I didn’t want to start a band and then do what I hated bands doing to me. Certain amount of progression is normal and expected and you need to, but to do drastic changes basically sell out changes is just lame. Just start a new band, and have integrity and have belief that you start a new band and it can be good.
What’s your opinion about the state of true Death Metal these days, let’s say, f.ex. compared to the times what Death Metal used to be in the´90s?
There is no comparison, it was better back then. Its not that I hate the Death Metal of now overall, there’s just too many rules for Death Metal now, too much competition and technicality. The technology now is just really screwing things up. Bands are basing their sound on a super-tight, kind of over-protooled productions and stuff. To me it takes away some of the natural feeling. I don’t say you can’t use protools to help out to make things easier is reasonable, but to use technology as a crutch, just makes it suck. The US really has a horrible Death Metal scene now I think. There some great bands still carrying the torch, but there’s not enough originality – they are all trying to mimic their favorite bands. Trying to outdo each other and stuff, instead of just using what they know and trying to create their own thing with it, they are trying to beat the other guy at the same game. Large quantities of bands are going for almost the exact same thing. Just trying to do it better. Instead of, say when we were starting, we were trying to do our own thing, like we were never like we want to beat out Immolation or we want to do better than Goreaphobia. We just want to play what we want to play, and do the best we can. If the people like it, great – if they don’t then that’s cool but there’s no contest. Nowadays its like a contest. It’s really sad because Death Metal isn’t about how fast you can play or how technical you can play. To me there is a lot more to it, and unfortunately there are a lot of bands that totally ignore that aspect of it, they grew up thinking that Death Metal has to be some kind of fast music, has to be played with the technicality skills of some amazing drummer, but that’s only one aspect of it. Its seems odd that only one aspect is being utilized by most new bands, but there are still great bands out there that are trying to keep the original and more traditional aspects. I always think that to play metal or any kind of music, you have to have good fundamentals, know your history, and now people don’t know their history like they used to. They don’t know where the music came from, back in the day when I was starting I was trying to learn everything from bands like Black Sabbath and bands like Blue Cheer, and Deep Purple, I learned all that stuff, and I did my hw, I knew everything from that era – to where I was now – and understood, where the style was coming from. I paid attention to what bands my favorite bands they liked and what influenced them, and a lot people now I think don’t do that, they don’t care where the music came from.
What about an Incantation DVD plans? Do you have any kind of plans to release one during the coming months?
We wanted to but it’s a bitch. And it’s a lot of work and I don’t really know how to do it. But we have been trying to for a while, but I think there is a better chance sometime next year of us putting something together because I’m pretty much taking next year off from doing any major touring with Incantation, so hopefully at that time I can my shit together with that, it’s a pain in the ass though.
Would you even consider releasing an Incantation DVD through your own label, Ibex Moon Records?
Yes, at least in the US I would, possibly Europe. But in the US I have really good distribution so it would be worth it.
IBEX MOON RECORDS
How’s your label doing, by the way? It must be lots of hard work to keep the label running – especially knowing how Incantation has been keeping you busy over the past years, too?
It’s going really good, too. It´s incredible how everything is going good. It´s nice cause all my connections and stuff I’ve learned through the years have been really beneficial; it started where I was just trying to work with smaller bands that I believed in that I wanted to give an opportunity to try to get them to a bigger level. And now I’m starting to get to work with some more established musicians, like doing a new, Denial Fiend, which is just an honor to work with people like Kam Lee (Massacre), and Terry Butler (Massacre, ex-Death) and Nasty Savage guys. I never thought that I would be releasing a CD from some of my metal legends, like some of my teachers. It’s cool because they’re not trying to be ´Massacre – part two´ or anything. It has Massacre vibe to it, but I think that’s natural. But it’s not trying to be Massacre – it´s trying to be its own thing, and I respect that from those guys. They are doing what I think more bands need to do, make a band based on what you know, and your metal history and stuff. They aren’t trying to be outdated but they aren’t trying to compete with Hate Eternal, in technicality or speed, they are doing what they want to do.
It’s a lot of work (to split time between the band and the label) but I just keep trying to figure out ways to make it work. It’s all a learning experience. It’s really good though, I think I have a lot of good underground bands, like Born of Fire, Estuary and Bloody Sign. All the bands I work with, I enjoy the bands, I admire their will to want to kick ass. It’s really cool.
What’s the best part of running your own label, Ibex Moon Records? At least you can release albums from bands that you would want to buy albums from, correct?
That’s the thing; I really want to try to help out. I mean I can sit around and bitch about the state of metal in America, but I figure I want to do something to change it. Let people know that there is more than just a lot of the same stuff. It’s about metal in general. The media at this point really fucks it up, by pushing only the popular bands all the time, or only the big label, big money bands. There’s good metal, like Oz´s FIRE IN THE BRAIN, I mean they never got a lot of publicity back in the day. A lot of great bands never got publicity, but people back in the day were looking for stuff, so you would get it, but now people need to realize that what’s thrown in your face, isn’t the only stuff that’s out there. There is more stuff and there’s good stuff you just got to do a lil´ research.
Yeah, I get a reasonable amount (of demos for the label), it´s kind of good, most the stuff I get is kind of good, I need to be careful now cause I’m starting to get a lot of bands on the label and I don’t want to do too much. I want to be able to help out the bands that I want to, but the label´s at a point now that I got to try to work with a few bands that have a lil bit of a bigger name to help out some of the smaller bands get recognition. Actually I’m working out deal now, trying to release a new Master CD in the US, and I heard it and I thought it was really good. For me Master was an inspiration. I realize that it´s not going to be a huge thing in the States, but I want to give respect back to the people who helped me get where I am. Bands like Master were an inspiration and I think it’s pathetic that no label in the states will release a Master album. Only one of their albums was released in the US I think, not even the first couple it´s just ridiculous. And I got to try to kick their butts; I listened to a few tracks and the stuff sounds good, I mean it’s not going to do great, but there is no reason why it shouldn’t be available for people to buy easy. It’s fucking ridiculous. Import albums from Europe now are very expensive now, because the Euro is more than the dollar now, so it’s too expensive for people to buy and they are just going to steal it from the Internet so I may as well make it available. Right now it’s sad cause people in America don’t even know that Master is still a band or that Master is even a band. I try to tell these people. You got to at least do your homework, you need to at least know that Master existed.
Anal Cunt has a song titled “Kyle from Incantation Has a Mustache”? Can you tell what inspired them to do it?
We are friends with AC, we toured with them a bunch of times. Actually our first tour ever was with them and Phlegm, they were from Rhode Island. It´s funny but we have a lot in common with Anal Cunt, it’s kind of a just ´fuck-off´ -attitude, just play metal and fuck off. we get along good, we played a lot of shows together and stuff, we did a couple tours with them, and after the show we played in Cleveland, where I lived at the time. Everyone went to Kyle’s house and was partying and everyone was fucked up and drinking, and Seth started playing guitar a Kreator song, I think it was off from their TERRIBLE CERTAINTY album or something – and started singing “Kyle” they were just joking and saying we are going to do that on the next album. Then they did, and the voice you hear on there is actually Kyle saying: “I’m Kyle from Incantation and I have a mustache”. And they called Kyle from the studio when he was home sick: “Yo just say I’m Kyle from Incantation and I have a mustache”. Next thing you know we get the CD and it’s on there. We just like to have a good time and those guys are great.
Ok, I guess that’s it. I want to thank you John for your time for this interview and wish you all the best for tonight’s show. Just make sure that you won’t leave anyone cold in the crowd either when Incantation hit the stage, ok? ;o)
Thank you Luxi. It´s a real pleasure doing this and meet you finally in person.