Interview with vocalist and guitarist John McEntee
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: October 13, 2016
Of the first wave of Death Metal bands back in the late 80s, only a handful of bands have, first and foremost survived, and yet stayed true to form – one of them is Incantation, from Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
The band was formed by John McEntee and Paul Ledney (of Profanatica/Havohej fame) in 1989, and since the days of formation, Incantation has established its name in the Death Metal, releasing official studio albums and several other releases (EPs, compilations, split releases, etc.). The band's latest album, Dirges of Elysium, released in June 2014 on French Listenable Records, proved clearly that Incantation still know how to do Death Metal right: without wimping out.
Incantation arrived in Hell-sinki, Finland for the second time on their summer tour on July 28th and one of The Metal Crypt representatives also wanted to be there to witness the band live and also talk with the only original Incantation member left, John McEntee, about the tour, plus lots of other things.
John, as always a very friendly, mellow and down-to-earth type of person, accepted the invitation to be interviewed by yours truly and the whole conversation turned out to be pretty darn epic all in all. So grab a cup of coffee (or whatever else you may prefer) and start reading this lengthy interview with John if you are eager to get some fresh updates from the camp of these semi-legendary – to say the least – Death Metal pioneers.
Luxi: First off, welcome to Finland John.
John: Thank you...!
Luxi: Last time you were here, at the beginning of September 2007, was your first time visiting Finland with Incantation. Do you have some memories left from that visit (Northern Assassination Tour 2007 w/ Krisiun, Rotting Christ, Crionics and Incantation)?
John: I remember when we played here. It was at this place. I remember just being surprised that there were a lot of Incantation fans at the show just because I knew that Death Metal was popular in the early 90s, but all you really hear about at that time was more of the poppier Heavy Metal bands like Nightwish and whatever those commercial bands, so I didn't realize there was a big underground scene and we were really surprised because there were people that really knew our stuff well and a lot of younger generation was really getting into it. That was kind of one of our first insights that our style is becoming popular, influential to other bands because we've seen the people here are really into what we are doing and it was just kind of cool to realize that.
Finland was probably the first area where we really noticed that maybe what we are doing is going to come back to be popular again. It's an early indicator and it definitely was right because over the last nine years or whatever it was, since then our style seems to just becoming bigger and bigger, and a lot more bands are following in our footsteps.
Luxi: I gotta agree. Then again, you have been around for such a long time – four decades already...
John: Yes, indeed we have.
Luxi: I still remember your early days, like you were supposed to do this split record with Finland's Amorphis, but that never happened though.
John: And I was really upset because Relapse was having a problem with a distributor because the distributor at the time in the US didn't want to do the split LP because they say they don't sell as well. And at that time neither band had really had a sales record, so they didn't know how we would do – and after I heard Amorphis, later on I was happy not to do the split with them even though the Privilege of Evil I thought was awesome. I have to say I'm not a fan of what they ended up turning into. Was not my cup of tea. But I love their old stuff. If they were to do a set of just that demo and all the Abhorrence songs, it would be my dream concert. Nothing past the Privilege of Evil for me, that's the latest in their career I enjoy.
Luxi: Did you actually hear that Abhorrence reformed for a couple of shows, like two-three years ago?
John: Yes, I heard about that. That's awesome because that was one of the first Finnish bands I really heard that was really pushing the limits of Death Metal. I mean that demo was awesome (Vulgar Necrolatry - Luxi), that Abhorrence demo. I like the 7" too they did, but that demo, something about it, there was just a charisma about it that was just really great. I actually listened to it again only a couple of weeks ago. I was just like, "I got to check this out again". I was listening to this one for a while and I was blown away on the vibe, it was so great.
Luxi: Let's jump back to the year 2007. You were touring to support your Primordial Domination album at that time, so do you think that with that tour you gained more good ground than you originally even dared to hope for?
John: I think it helped for sure. It was an awkward situation that we got ourselves in because about half year before that Kyle quit the band for a while because he had some personal issues and we had a session drummer filling in. It was Craig Smilowski from Immolation but he just wasn't fitting in that well. We couldn't get the vibe going properly, so I was actually really disappointed with our performances on that tour. I mean a lot of people really enjoyed it but for me, I felt really uncomfortable. I just really missed Jim with Kyle on drums. Craig at one time was probably one of the best drummers in Death Metal. He just seemed like he just didn't keep up on the style that much and he also couldn't adapt to our style. He has his style which is great but he couldn't adapt his style to what we were doing, which was really a shame. I was really kind of disappointed with it but it's all in the past and it's water under the bridge. I mean I'm friends with Craig now and it's all cool but at the time it was a very stressful time for me because it's horrible to get on some good touring and feel like we are not performing up to our highest standard, you know.
Luxi: I am also aware of the fact you sort of lengthened your European tour by one extra show, which happens here in Helsinki. A friend of mine named Immu is the main guy behind organizing this extra gig for you guys over here in Finland...
John: Yes, that's true. We were totally into doing this because it has been a long time since we played Finland and we want to play Finland our proper way. I mean the way the band is now, we are all really in tune with it, it's like things, you know, just the vibe is just so fucking good – so intense, so heavy - and it's like I am really excited to be able to play Finland and show people the true vibe of the band. And for us to get up to Scandinavia is always really good because it seems like it's always a pain in the ass. We get to tour Europe and, if we are lucky, we get to go to the UK or something, or maybe go to some far-Eastern Europe, but going to Finland is like one of the hardest ones it seems like to get to. You might get to Estonia maybe, but just for some reason we can't cross that little waterway. [laughs]
Luxi: [laughs] I know. Seems like everybody in general actually complains about how hard it is actually to cross that little water area, to come to play in Finland...
John: [laughs] Yes, for some reason it's just hard to get up here for us. We are hoping that's going to change now because with being on Relapse and stuff and I think it will open up some more touring opportunities for us. So maybe a little more exposure.
Luxi: Absolutely! Two days ago you played at this Metal Age Festival in Slovenia. How was that festival over there?
John: It was really good. I mean, it's a really cool thing they have going on there. I don't know if you ever had the opportunity to go but it's like camping and Metal kind of stuff and it seemed like a lot of fun. I mean it was a bummer because it was raining there, flood over there, so that's kind of a bummer. It was kind of a muddy mess but it was still great.
Luxi: Now that sounds like Wacken festival in Germany to me... [laughs]
John: [laughs] Probably, yeah. Honestly, I was nervous about the show as far as how we would go over because the majority of the lineup is a lot more commercial than we are, a lot more Heavy Metal, Symphonic Metal and Power Metal. I mean the stage we played, there were bands like Marduk and stuff like that, but I just didn't know how we would do as an old school Death Metal band. I was pleasantly surprised that when we played; we played on the second stage there – and it was packed to the gills over there, and the people knew our stuff too. It wasn't like you were playing only to new people. There was probably a bunch of new people but there were a lot of people that knew our stuff which kind of beat our expectations I would say for sure. And it really was a great way to end our tour in Europe, besides this show, but it was like our official part of the tour was a great way to end it. It was totally awesome, we had a blast. We hope to play there again. It was really fun.
Luxi: I am sure it was. As for tonight's show, you have two Finnish bands, Cadaveric Incubator and Depravity supporting you here in Helsinki. What's your knowledge about those two bands?
John: I don't really know either band, so I cannot give you a judgment. But Depravity was kind enough to let us use their amps, so to me they are pretty cool so far.
Luxi: Well, Depravity was actually one of those earliest Finnish Death Metal bands, being an integral part of the first movement of the Finnish Death Metal. They were kinda popular and I'm glad they reformed and they are here now, so their show is going to be special for sure...
John: Yes, they are a band I just can't recall if I remember or not from back at that time, but I mean it is a good chance since I hear it will bring back memories or something like that. Just like I said I really like the older Finnish Death Metal bands. I mean it just seems like the bands are so fucking heavy, it was unbelievable. It was so heavy and just like I don't know, it had a really awesome grit to it, which is something that I'm a fan of; a fan of that older rougher style – and that's Metal. For me it was like awesome inspiration to hear all those killer demos back in the day.
LONG WINTER NIGHTS TURN INTO WARM AND SUNNY DAYS, FULL OF HIPPIES
Luxi: The typical Finnish Death Metal sound is the result of our long winters - hence many Finnish Death Metal bands sound as they sound: utterly grim, cryptic, desolate - and almost suicidal even...
Luxi: I gotta admit it too that most Finnish Death Metal bands do have this special sound, so it must have something to do with our lengthy, dark winter days I suppose, what do you think yourself?
John: Yes, mostly dark days. But it's weird, because maybe all the bands after a few albums were out on the summer too much with the long daylight and got too happy, because they – well, quite many of them anyway – started to make hippy music after their first brutal album. [laughs]
Luxi: That's the period of the season when it's all sunny and warm in Finland when some of these Finns went hippy-ish musically, starting doing lighter and weed-scenting stuff...
Luxi: Perhaps they fell in love with the Jamaica spirit or something... Okay, let's get a bit more serious again. About this tour, it's actually kind of special for you, because it's your 25th anniversary tour. Did you ever honestly think that you would keep Incantation alive like 25 long years?
John: Indeed, this is kinda special tour for us. But first of all, it's actually already our 27th year, going on our 28th year in a couple days. It just took us so long to do the 25th year anniversary release that it came out two years late [laughs].
Luxi: True... It IS almost your 28th anniversary year indeed. I knew I have always sucked at math, sorry 'bout that.
John: [laughs] But if you would have asked me in 1989, when we first started the band, there was no way. I never thought it would be possible to do the band for this long, it wasn't even a thought. When we started the band, it was more of an idea of we're just going to do a demo, we're happy to do that. If we get a 7'', we're happy to do that, maybe we thought the max maybe somebody would put an album – maybe, and then everybody will hate it and then we'll just have to either break up or continue playing music everybody hates. Especially when we did our first album, we really wanted to see our first demo, the buzz, or the band just got really big and we were totally surprised. Because I remember we did our demo and I sent it to the guy from Seraphic Decay Records, because we agreed on releasing the Incantation 7'' without hearing it. All he did was go on my reputation, because I was in Revenant before that, that he would hope that it would be good.
So, when I sent him the recording, he fucking said he was blown away by it like how good it was. And I was really surprised, because I really didn't know. When I was writing this stuff or when we were writing this stuff as a band or wherever, you think it's a good, but you don't know if other people are going to think it's good.
There seemed to be a spark with what we're doing with Incantation really early on, but to think that we will be doing it 25 or 28 years later was never a thought. I thought that five years max. I thought that by the time I was 30 it would be gone and I'm 48 now, 47 I think, I can't remember. When you get as old as me, you forget what year you are.
Luxi: I am 48... Born in -68.
John: Really? [laughs] I'm in -69, so turned 47 in May this year. But you know what is weird? I was born in the hippie age, so I should be the one that put out the second album that was hippie.
Luxi: Glad you didn't do so? That would have ruined Incantation's reputation instantly as a true Death Metal band.
John: Yes... [laughs]
Luxi: If that ever had happened, you should have changed the name of the band for a more hippy-ish sounding name then...
John: Yes, that was a thing. I remember back in the 90s when all the bands... really, it wasn't just the Finnish bands it was like – especially Scandinavian bands – it seemed like they all really started to get lighter as time went on and even some of the UK bands, and I always thought it's like, I don't understand why don't they just start a new band in the new style, and then keep the old band as what it was. And maybe if they ever decide to return to playing the heavy stuff, keep that old one. I know it's the record companies, they want to keep the name, because people know the name, but really if you listen to, a good example is Paradise Lost, I love the old Paradise Lost, but after a few albums it was a totally different band and they were just... You know, I don't understand how they can think someone that likes the Paradise Lost demos or the Lost Paradise album is going to like that later Paradise Lost. They might as well change the name at a certain point, because it's going to a whole new fan base anyway. I never understood why they would just rather throw their old name into the mud kind of, because I love old Paradise Lost, but I feel awkward saying, "Oh yeah, I'm into Paradise Lost", because the Paradise Lost of today is not the Paradise Lost of back then.
And the same with like Amorphis especially, it's obvious. They almost went into new-wave music. Don't you think it should maybe be a different name? I don't know. To me it sounds more like if I was going to start a band that was substantially different, I wouldn't call it Incantation. I mean, it just would be like when you have a band, there should be a certain essence that goes with the name. If I'm doing an album under this name, it'd be like Sadistic Intent putting out a disco album and still calling it Sadistic Intent. It's just ridiculous [laughs].
Luxi: That's even a crazy thought to think about, Sadistic Intent going to disco. This thought is giving me some creeps already, ha ha!! But true, some of the Finnish sort of "wimped out" or "grew up", whatever...
John: Yes... [laughs] I didn't understand it because to me it was an integrity issue, I got really disappointed, because a lot of bands I really liked, I felt like they lost integrity and what the fundamentals of their band was. And I understand people change and they want to do other things and that's cool, but I just think it should be under a different name. Just so people could identify with the new style, with the new band name or whatever. I give credit to a band like Nightwish, because they are wimpy, but they've always been wimpy. It's not like they were really heavy and they turned wimpy, they were always like their style or whatever. For them it would be like them putting out an album like Scum or whatever now, and still calling it Nightwish. It would be just as ridiculous. If you looked the opposite way, direction, it would be ridiculous to do.
ABOUT STAYING LOYAL TO YOUR SOUND, STICKING TO YOUR ROOTS
Luxi: In many cases, bands tend to lose their own roots. It's all about staying true to your roots, which definitely helps you to keep your fans around you – from one year to the other, from one album to the other...
John: Yes, and I think you could still be creative and stick to your roots. Like I said, if you change, if you think about you want to change your style, just start a new band in that style. You're not restricted by what you've done, you know.
Luxi: That's so true – and some words of wisdom from you, John...
John: Because I always thought it was weird for a long time I heard a band saying they're really restricted, playing Death Metal or whatever, they feel restricted. It's strange, because I never felt restricted playing Death Metal, it just felt natural to me and I was creative playing Death Metal. Some people say maybe you all stuff sound the same, but for me there's a big diversity in what we do, but it's just I think in Death Metal.
Luxi: How important is it actually for you to stay loyal to Incantation's roots; I mean, the kind of sound that made Incantation known for its fans in the very beginning, in the very first place?
John: It's very important, because I made a commitment to myself. When we started the band, I was in Revenant before. They were about to get signed to Nuclear Blast Records, but I left before that. I wasn't happy with that. I had to make a decision, do I go and do this Revenant album for notoriety of doing the album, or do I leave now and just leave with my integrity and just do a band that means a lot to me and take the risk of maybe never doing an album? And I made the decision to take the risk, so Incantation has always been a very personal thing to me. The style, I had a vision early on of what kind of style I wanted. I wanted to represent me in the style, so to still do it after all this time is very easy, because it's just representing me with the other people in the band. But my thing was, I want to get other people in the band that want to do my style.
It wasn't like a thing where we're going to get a whole bunch of people together and we are going to create a style. No. "I have the idea; do want to be a part of my idea?" And then we can grow from there, and that's kind of how the band grew. It was kind of like the vision was set early on. We worked with people and we took everyone's high points and really made things great. It really was an amazing ride, especially from our rehearsal demo time with Paul Ledney, up until, say, Onward to Golgotha, it was such an amazing time, because I jammed with a lot of people around then, but everybody brought a little bit of extra flavor to the sound. It was just great, because I learned so much about writing music – and, working with so many great musicians – and I was able to take something from an infancy stage, very raw stage, and build it up into something that really ended up being quite monstrous. It's like watching a kid grow up, or something like that. [laughter]
Luxi: ... and now that kid is 25+ years older...
John: Yes, exactly.
ABOUT BEING MORE ON THE ROAD + RELEASING NEW STUFF
Luxi: After your show here in Helsinki, you will travel back home and take a little break before you take part in the Hell's Headbash Part 3 festival in Cleveland, which is more like an underground festival – with bands like Angelcorpse, Hobbs' Angel of Death, Grand Belial's Key and so. Is this your first time to go to that festival by the way?
John: I didn't get to go last time because we were on tour. I was on tour with Funerus at that time. I heard a lot of good things about it, and it's going to be really awesome because we get to play again with Profanatica, which was Paul Ledney's band, the guy I started Incantation with, so it's really - it's always great to hang out with him because I just have such great early memories of feeling musically liberated, jamming with him at that time.
Yes, we're doing that festival. And then we're going to Chile and Colombia at the end of the month, more couple of shows. Then we go to our Malevolent Creation tour after that, which would be really fun.
Luxi: You'll be touring in the States with Malevolent Creation?
John: Yes, in the States. And it's really great. We get along really well with Malevolent Creation. We did a few tours with them in the past. We've known them from back in the day and stuff, so... They're just really cool bunch of guys, makes for really fun touring. It's great to tour, but better to tour with people you know and you know you get along with. It's kind of like coming home to friends.
Luxi: So, when are you going to take a break from touring so that you can start concentrating on writing your next album?
John: Well, after our Malevolent tour, we come back to Europe again. We're doing the Nuclear War Now! Festival, and then we're playing in Bucharest, Romania, and in Bulgaria. And then we're going back home. It's only a three-show thing we're doing in Europe. And then after that we're going to write some new material. But, to go back a little bit, we already have the next album written already.
John: Yes. It's written and recorded. It's just not mixed yet.
Luxi: That's cool news. I wasn't aware of that at all.
John: Because, what happened was, we recorded it earlier this year but we took longer than expected, and we missed our time when the album was going to get mixed. So we had to wait until the next opening time to get mixed, and there's a whole bunch of bands booked in there, so we end up getting delayed about six months with the mix on the album. But the new album, recording-wise, is done; we're just waiting for the mix. Hopefully we're going to have it done by September or October, and really looking forward to that obviously. But we're going to go back in like November or December, and finish writing the next album because we have about five songs for the next album that are written already, and then we're going to write another five or six, or something for the next one.
We've had such an abundance of material lately. We've just really been inspired, and we just want to keep writing while the inspiration is there, you know.
Luxi: Cool to hear that from you. Do you think this new material sounds pretty much where you left off on your previous album, Dirges of Elysium, but with a teeny-weeny different vibe perhaps?
John: I think it's kind of like what we did in the last three albums, but also we pulled a couple of things. A couple of things that are even more primitive, more old school – and some things are little more aggressive. And to me, it has more of an older school vibe to it, but I won't know for sure until I hear the mix because the mix really helps get the proper vibe, but I'm really happy with the new stuff. I think people will dig it, especially if they liked our last couple of albums. The reaction we've got for our Vanquish in Vengeance and Dirges of Elysium has been awesome!
And we kind of worked with that vibe, but at the same time we don't want to repeat anything we did before. We want each album to have its own personality to it, you know. It's very important to me.
Luxi: Do you find writing a new album more and more challenging every time when you start sketching down some ideas, every time trying to stay loyal to your sound, but still do things a bit different way, just to keep things fresh?
John: I understand, but I like the challenge. For me an album is like a puzzle, and sometimes when I know something's missing I like to search for the way that makes that song work right. Like, we'll write a song, and it will be good, but then there'll be something missing, and I just sit on it for a while, or maybe somebody else comes up with an idea, and we'll be able to get into it, "Fuck, yeah...!" and say, "That's it."
We like the challenge. The best way to explain it now is that I, as a musician doing it for so long, part of the way I write, personally, is an expression of my thinking. Like I've learned how to express myself through music instead of like playing the guitar and coming up with the riffs. Now, I think about the riffs, I think about how the song is supposed to go, and I try to mimic it with my guitar playing. I think, certain people at a certain point, think in music.
It's kind of like how an artist thinks in an art way. Some people have it, some people don't. Some people can't imagine abstract things, you know. But I can look at riffs and notes, and I can think of the cool idea in my brain, and it's funny because sometimes I think about the whole composure, as a whole, but I play just part of it.
When I show it to the rest of the band, they don't understand it at first, but then I say, "Okay, play this part now, and we'll pull the other part out." And then I keep layering the parts, getting the vibe going, and then they say, "Okay. I see where you're going." Or sometimes they look at it, it's kind of like drawing a picture, and maybe, you draw a sketch of it, so again this is a sketch, and you have people look at it like, "That looks like shit." But then, "No, no, no, let me just draw a little bit more." "Okay, there it comes," - and everything up until the mix, the picture gets more and more kind of done, so I like that whole process. To me, I like being creative like that with music.
Luxi: Talking about this art work thing, this goat figure has always been a very important and eye-sticking figure for Incantation...
John: Yes. [laughs]
EVIL SYMBOLS IN HEAVY METAL: PENTAGRAMS, INVERTED CROSSES AND GOATS
Luxi: Do you feel like it's one of the most classic symbols of all kinds of ultimate evilness when it comes down to Heavy Metal music in general? You know, look at the album covers of Venom's Welcome to Hell or Black Metal, or Bathory's debut, or Behemoth's Zos Kia Cultus or Dimmu Borgir's In Sorte Diaboli or whatever other Heavy Metal album cover, the goat's role in Metal music plays an essential role indeed...
John: A lot of the bands, when we were creating Incantation, used evil symbols back then – goats, pentagrams, inverted crosses and so on. We wanted to relate with those bands. We related with Bathory, we related with Venom. And I know Possessed doesn't use a goat head; it has inverted crosses. All sorts of stuff that was kind of our influences, you know, Sarcófago, and all those kinds, Blasphemy. So we really like we always want to have that nod to where we came from. We are a band that is like, we try to be ourselves, and try to be original but at the same time we are always proud to show an art. We are not afraid of our influences, because we feel that we take our influences and we create our own music with them. Everybody starts off with influences, or whatever. We've always been proud of it. I mean, for me, especially Possessed. Possessed and Sarcófago were two really, really influential bands – so Necrophagia too. Early Necrophagia. Fuck...! They crushed my soul. I heard that.
Luxi: What a great choice to mention Necrophagia. They kick ass, especially their older stuff, up to the Season of the Dead album mostly.
John: Yes [laughs], that and the really early Morbid Angel. The Abominations of Desolation LP, I love that! It's such a bummer that they don't really acknowledge it that much.
Luxi: Yeah, I know.
John: But to me, that was something truly groundbreaking, I think. I like other Morbid Angel stuff, but to me that album is just awesome; there's so much feeling on that album.
Luxi: It's one of a monstrously wicked record really, overall one of my personal favorites from the Death Metal genre...
John: Yes, absolutely! [laughs] Especially if you think about the time when it came out. That came out in '87 or something like that. '86, or '87-ish. There was nothing that was that evil at that time. They were absolute innovators in that darkness. It was unbelievable. I just remember listening to just like, just thinking, you just think evil when you hear it. Just like "fuck...!!". [laughs]
Luxi: I remember getting this through the tape-trading scene back in the day...
John: Me too.
Luxi: And when I heard it for the first time, I was like, "What the hell is going on in here?!"
Luxi: I was saying to myself, "I really need to just dig deeper and deeper into this... fuck yeah! This is just so awesome shit!!!"
John: Yes, yes. It's all those things where you listen to and you're just mesmerized by it. Like I said, especially at the time it came out because they were pushing so far ahead of what was there at that time, you know. People were accustomed to Slayer and even Possessed and stuff like that. But when their Abominations of Desolation got leaked out, that was something that was like, "Holy fuck, there's a whole new style."
Luxi: Indeed. A whole new style in extreme Metal...
John: Yes, yes. That was inspiring. Really, when I played in Revenant and we opened up for Morbid Angel in '88. That was an important moment in my life because when I'd seen them play, I never saw a band play with that much ferociousness in my life. We were one of the most extreme bands in Revenant – we are one of the most extreme bands in New Jersey, and we felt like mice next to them. [laughter]
I'd seen them and my mouth just dropped. I knew their music before this because I heard their stuff, but when I'd actually seen them play those songs, there was just something about it that was just like, "Holy fuck! They really mean business." And that was something that when we started working for the next six months before I left Revenant, I used that as a template to what I wanted to do with Revenant. We got to make things, we got to step up to the plate more. Do more. Bring it up a notch. I felt my calling and they were kind of refine, trying to refine their sound, to make it more clear maybe and more technical and precise. I'm like, "No, no. It has to be more ferocious and aggressive." That was kind of like the time I knew it was like my time to go because I was like, I want to be an asshole like Morbid Angel was and just play and tell everybody, "Fuck you! We're going to kick your ass." [laughter]
Luxi: How about your Ibex Moon Records; how is it doing these days? Is there still any life in it left?
John: It's pretty much no more. I'm leaving the options open to maybe doing something in the future, but at the moment, we're not doing anything with the label to tell you the truth. We just lost. I lost so much money doing it. I did it at the time when the CD market was going down. It also isn't the hunger for newer... I mean, people exploring newer bands like they used to. If they want people to hear new bands, they just check on the Internet. It's like, I wanted to do the label and my vision was the older school way where people are more open to buying CDs of newer bands but it just isn't. The world isn't the way it used to be and I had to just make a decision. It was either put it on hold or totally sell out – and I just didn't want to sell out. I tried to do a couple releases that I didn't like to make money and I couldn't do it. I am just now "fuck this!"
Luxi: I can clearly hear you. It's not a great thing to lose money into something you have been working so hard for; putting all of your money and precious time into something, just to get it out as a fan.
John: Yes, and the business aspect, it just sucks. There's no money to be made. It's like, all of this is paying for everything and getting nothing back and you know it's a 24-hour work. I was working my ass off. I wasn't able to spend enough time playing music. It's much more fun to play music than it is to do the business.
Luxi: So when did you leave your previous label Listenable Records that was responsible for putting out your four previous albums?
John: We left them... Hmm, was it late last year. There were just some issues we weren't happy with. It's really sad because Laurent Merle has been a friend of mine since the days he used to do Peardrop 'zine. It was just really kind of a sad thing because there was just some business stuff that I felt that he wasn't being a 100% straight up with us about – and instead of trying to work it out, he just was kind of trying to pass it off. We just didn't feel right at that time; it just wasn't the right vibe and I just told him it's best if we just part our own ways.
I appreciate the work they did. They did a really good job for the last two albums in Europe. In the U.S., it was a different story though. Both of the albums really didn't get in the stores that well because he didn't manufacture the CDs in the U.S. He manufactured them here in Europe instead, and shipped them to the U.S. market. And then he put them to regular distributor avenues but the cost of the CD where you could buy a Century Media CD for $12 or $13. Our CDs would be like $20 because his wholesale price would be $8 to $9 where a U.S. CD wholesale price about $4 or $5 to distribute or so. It wasn't a good thing. It was a big mess and because the price was so high, it caused more people just to download the album instead of buying it. It made no sense for anybody.
UNHOLY MASSACRE - THE EARLY STUFF
Luxi: Talking about more Incantation-related topics, Necroharmonic Productions just recently released a double-CD featuring Incantation's early stuff; demos, rehearsal stuff and soundboard recordings. Could you perhaps tell just a bit more about this release?
John: I'd like to say, first of all, I talked to Roy Fox about the release about probably a little more than six months ago and I agreed that, "Yes, let's do this release. Let's do something like this. It's great." I told him, "Just, please keep me involved in it because I want to make sure that the sound quality of the material is to a proper standard. I just like to see the layout and see if there anything I can contribute to it." And none of that happened.
I only heard the audio from it by three days ago. The first time I heard it and I had nothing to do with the layout, nothing. I wanted to do like maybe a commentary about the songs, or it would have been cool like if we could do it like an individual commentary, you know, between different points of view. Like to say, my point of view, maybe Paul Ledney's point of view, maybe Craig Pillard's point and even if we don't agree on some, it would be awesome to see what everyone's perception was of the material at that time and the band.
But Roy, I guess, decided upon himself to just do it on his own and I think the layout is pretty cool even without the commentary. It was nice, but the recording, honestly, I'm not happy with because I know, it sounds to me like none of the stuff was mastered properly and there's a live show on there from Buffalo with Will Ramer on vocals. It was a show we did about a month after we did the Day of Death show up there. It was Mortician, Incantation shows. Will was filling it for us at that time. I listened to that show and it sounds like shit.
It just such a bummer because it's such a low-quality release. I am only happy with the material on it because it was all the demo songs plus our cover, "A Third of the Storms." The material was actually really good but it really needed to be mastered and try to get a better sound for it. It was like you could tell it was recorded from tape and there's hiss, hiss sound on it and stuff – and that stuff could be EQ'd out pretty much. The sad thing about it is that I wouldn't have even paid for it to get it done because it's not that I'm ashamed of the material. I don't want it out. I don't mind it being out. I just want it to be on a good quality. The people are going to pay money for this material. I want them to get their money's worth. Like I said, it's not. It's more about, you know, if I sign off on it, I want to make sure it could be the best it could be. I was really disappointed because I'd been friends with Roy since probably, I don't know, either '88 or '89. I told him even this that, he really let me down by not letting me review the material. He seemed like he was in a rush to release it. I know he has some issues, personal issues, and I understand he wanted to get it out soon. But I just don't think the quality of the recording shouldn't be a consequence of it.
It would've probably cost me approx $600-$800 to get everything mastered properly. At least we could've heard back, and everyone could've been happy with it. I can't imagine that anybody that played on it, listened to it, and thought that that was good, acceptable. I mean everyone that played on it, regardless if we get along or don't get along; I think we all wanted it to be a good quality recording.
There was a live show; probably I think it was from '93 - late '92-'93. That's the best sounding one. It was with the Onward to Golgotha line-up as a couple of songs from Mortal Throne of Nazarene. That's the best of the live sounding live stuff there. There's a rehearsal from '91. It sounds okay, for rehearsal. A little bit, the hiss could've been taken out. But it's not too bad. There's an unreleased demo, which was kind of like a 4-track demo. We did "Blasphemous Cremation" and "Curse in the Afterbirth." That sound... uh, it could've sounded better, and just everything could've sounded better.
We have the live show with Paul Ledney, and it was the first show we did: Paul Ledney, Brett Makowski, and Aragon on bass. That was the same thing they'd put on that Chris Moyen release. The first thing about it is that, I didn't tell Chris Moyen. I didn't know that was going to be on there. I hope Chris isn't mad at me that we re-released it on the CD after his final release, because that was supposed to be an exclusive thing for him, for his things. I apologize to Chris Moyen. I didn't know anything about it. Definitely, if would've known, I would've told you. You know, if you would've agreed to it, I would've tried to master that as well and make it sound good. Like I said, I had no real input in it. We are supposed to get some copies of it. We'll be selling it on our website for a really fair deal for people, because I can't stand behind it 100%. But at the same time I'm also happy that the material is out there. I think it's cool.
As a fan of other bands, I like to hear rare material. I just wish it was done a little bit higher quality – and with my input it would've been nice. For all I know, the other guys didn't have any input either. I don't really know, because the only people I really talk to from that area is Paul Ledney, and I didn't ask him about it. I haven't talked to Brett about it. About Craig and Jim, Jim I don't really talk to at all. Craig, I only see or hear him once in a while. I don't even know where their stance is on. Ronnie, I haven't talked to him in years. I don't even know if anyone knows where he is.
Luxi: How do you like the Metal scene overall nowadays compared to some 20-25 years ago? Do you think it's less exciting, less inspiring, more commercial and in a way getting less out of it now when there's just tonnes and tonnes of bands to be discovered due to this Internet revolution? The fun of digging some obscure bands out of the woods is not there anymore because everything's available and so easy for music listening due to this Internet and shit...
John: Yeah, I know what you mean. It's a different world. You're of my generation, so you understand. It sounds so old to say this. Back in the days, we had to really work hard for discovering some new Metal stuff. The easy access of it in a way it's good, in a way. But it's bad in a way, too. I don't know what I would've done back then if I would've had so much access like now.
Every album by every band, every demo, everything is available now. It's almost there's too much available that I don't even know what I would do, because I was really into absorbing everything possible. Now it's so impossible to absorb everything, because you don't even have time to really get into something, because there's always the next and next thing, so much to get into. It was a flood back then. Because I remember, I used to trade so much, so many demos. There was a lot to consume then even. But it's nothing compared to now. It's hard to compare because it's just two different worlds. Back then, if you buy something, you want to give it every chance possible. Because you paid – I don't know – a record used to be $7 and $10 back then, maybe a little more if it was an import. You'd pay that money, and you'd bring it home. Even if you didn't like it at the first listen, you'd give it a bunch of listens, try to see if it'll grow on you or something.
Now, it's so easy. The first listening you don't like it, you're done. Back then, what I would've done if I would've heard, say, Possessed's Seven Churches the first time, and it was so raw and brutal that I didn't understand it the first time I listened to it. It was just so sick that it was just hard to even wrap my brain around it. Then it took maybe three or four listens and I said, "Okay, I feel it. I understand it now." But maybe now, I would've just, if I would've played it on YouTube, "Oh, that sucks. I'll listen to something that's easier to listen to."
I think it's weird for somebody to be really underground and he wants to say, "kvlt" or whatever the word you want to say is. It's a lot easier. Now everybody could be the most evil, blackest, and the most brutal, because it's all available so easy. It's easy to know about all the cool names that they say now, or so easy to have access to that. Back in the 90s, a band like Funebre or something, you knew that only select people in our group knew who Funebre was, and those where the people out were, really dig deep into the Metal scene. We had a connection. But now if Funebre was out on this scene now, everybody would know it. You wouldn't know which ones are the real ones that understand it and which are the ones that are just name dropping, because they know it's a cool band to like. It's such a different world. I think it's great that people have access to stuff.
I'm a music fanatic, especially as a young kid. I would just want to absorb everything, if it was starting from my Heavy Metal years, my Rock years, or whatever. I'd want to know everything about the bands. Say a band like Deep Purple I was into. I'd want to know everything, what everyone in the band did. I'd want to buy every album that I could of every derivative, every member, every release. I'd take the chance, even if it would suck. I would just want to know, "Okay, this guy did this. This guy did that."
Now, if I was younger and grew up in this generation, I would also try to do that, because it's just too much. It's too much access. I had to actually buy, you know like say, we'll say for Deep Purple, I had to buy a Rainbow album. I bought the first Rainbow album, and it was a little light for me at the time. I like it now. At the time, it was a little bit light to me. I was really bummed out at first because I was expecting a little more, a heavier run of an album. But I bought it and it's okay. It stayed in my collection for a while. I saved up and I bought another album. I hoped for the best. This was within a week. I'd had to save my allowance or my paper money, and go to a store. You buy a couple of things and you just hope for the best. That's why I was really, happy when I met Henry Veggian from Revenant and Jim Plotkin from Regurgitation/Old Lady Drivers, because those guys knew more about the underground scene. They were getting demos before I was getting demos. They gave me the insight, which bands are good and bad. When the Sacrifice LP came out, I didn't have to take a chance with that. I knew, "Okay, this is good." They told me this is good. "That's good." I knew, because sometimes you buy an album, you then, "Oh, fuck! This is a sucker...!" But now it's different. You don't have to actually pay the money to buy the album. You could just listen to it. For me, that first Rainbow album is amazing. But at the time, I didn't like it. And I'm happy I have my copy in my collection now from that era, but now if I was in the scene now and I would listen to it on YouTube, maybe I would never go back and appreciate the album, you know.
Luxi: Yeah, I know what you mean by all this. My next question is a bit silly, but let's still try this. What would you change in the current Metal scene if you got this ultimate power to do so? Get rid of all 'Nu-metal/Mallcore' bands for good perhaps?
John: This is the thing that is, for me, the downfall of Metal was probably Sepultura's Roots album, because that just opened up the door to bands like Korn and...
Luxi: ... Limp Bizkit.
John: Yes, Limp Bizkit – like a Hip-hop style, so anything that's to do with Rap and Hip-hop, I would just delete from the world so that it couldn't even exist and crop Metal, because so many bad Metal styles came from that uppity beat and it's sad, because I love old Sepultura's Morbid Visions...
Luxi: ... and obviously their Schizophrenia album too?
John: Yes, Schizophrenia was great. I even like Beneath the Remains, it is a good album. At the time I thought it was a little wimpy, but looking back, it's a good album. Even Arise, it has its moments. It's not so bad, but Roots, it opened up the door for Metal sucking. That, and maybe Anthrax doing that song with Public Enemy. That was one of the worst moments ever, because I remember...
Luxi: ... watching this particular video from MTV 24/7 - and even secretly enjoying it? Just kidding of course...! ;o)
John: Yes, it was just a disaster for me. I mean I was already getting out of Anthrax's style, but it was just like all of a sudden everybody was just like thinking it's cool to like Public Enemy and Rap and mixing the whole Rap attitude in Hardcore. It was just a disaster. I can't help it, but I never understood Hip-hop or Rap or any of that kind of stuff. It's not in my world. I just don't get it.
Luxi: Also remember when Kerry King got involved with Beastie Boys, just like Anthrax did some genres-crossing collaboration with Public Enemy.
John: Yes, it's all fucked up.
Luxi: But MTV loved it – and these videos were in a heavy rotation there all the time.
John: I realize it was done for commercial reasons and also maybe they're having fun or whatever, but it really fucked up the scene because people say it brought people into Metal, but I think it just made people that were like say posers say, "Okay, I can add my crappy Hip-hop style in with Metal," and it's just odd. It just sucks. I mean I hate all that crap, Rage Against the Machine all, I can't stand it. As soon as I hear any Metal band have even a taste of that Rap or Hip-hop style, it's just click, it's off. I can't take it. I just can't. To me that just is the plague of Metal.
L.A. GUNS IS REAL – SLIPKNOT IS NOT
Luxi: Much like what Slipknot are doing these days – and kids think they are one of the coolest Metal bands around these days...
John: Yes, that's ridiculous too - I just can't stand it. I still don't understand why Ross and Bob like that stuff. It doesn't make any sense to me. I hate it. I met that guitar player, Steve, I think his name was. He came to one of our shows in Iowa I guess. Before they were popular and he was telling me about his band Slipknot. That was cool, because he told me that he thought I wouldn't like the band, but he has this new band and he told me that Roadrunner is really behind them and everything. And when I heard it, I was like, "Wow, he was not joking. This really sucks." People like it so much. Like I said, maybe it's a gateway for people to get into Metal, but I just don't see it. I mean to me, that is like worse than the poser bands of the 80s. I mean there are some really lame poser bands in the 80s, but I'd take that any day over the Hip-hop or Slipknot or whatever crap.
Luxi: Like L.A. Guns or Ratt any time for me instead of Slipknot...
John: Yes, I'd rather listen to L.A. Guns or Ratt or whoever than a Slipknot crap any day. I can't deal with it.
Luxi: Yes, at least those type of bands – L.A. Guns or Ratt for example, are real and honest music compared to Slipknot.
John: Yes, and at least there is something Metal about it. Now in the 90s especially, any wimpy band could just have a distorted guitar on its chorus and it's considered Metal, like Nickelback or some other band. They're not fucking metal, but they have a distorted guitar for like 10 seconds and their song is considered Metal. It's an atrocity.
Luxi: How long do you believe Incantation will carry the torch for old school Death Metal until you think we are done for good? Knowing quite a bit of you, 'til your very last breath perhaps?
John: Yes, it's going to stay with me forever for sure, but I mean we're going to play with Incantation until it's either not fun for us to do, or we feel like we have nothing to contribute, or we can't physically do it. I mean, we don't really have a timeline, it's just we'll know when it's time to stop doing it. It's always been surprising because I feel like we're getting better in a way as a band, like we play better now than we ever have before as a full band. It's hard to believe 28 years later I'm saying that. I mean yes, who knows. Like I said, I never thought we'd do it this far, but I know as far as the old Death Metal torch, I'll end up carrying it till the end of the days.
I mean I could listen to early Disgrace or something and I still get chills up and down my spine when I hear that stuff; just like I did back in the early days. I tell you I love that Xysma, the Swarming of the Maggots demo – I love that demo. It's so fucking sick and so fucking raw and grindy and I can listen at any time and just like, "Fuck yeah!" There's such an attitude about it: an attitude about Death Metal, especially in that era that sometimes gets lost in the age of technology. For me it's always that old stuff that I really like. I mean I think it's great that there are new bands playing in the old style, but I like the older style better, because it was everyone just being assholes and no rules. Now there are guidelines on how to be Death Metal, before there wasn't. It was just everyone just pushing the limits in their own way and it turned into Death Metal almost.
Luxi: That's the end of this long conversation, so thanks for your time John and all the best for tonight's show.
John: Thank you. It was a long but interesting chat. Hope you don't mind.
|Other information about Incantation on this site|
|Review: Diabolical Conquest|
|Review: Vanquish In Vengeance|
|Review: Mortal Throne of the Nazarene|
|Review: Unholy Massacre|
|Review: Profane Nexus|
|Review: Sect of Vile Divinities|
|Interview with guitarist and vocalist John McEntee on September 15, 2018 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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