Incantation Onward to Golgotha – 30 Years Anniversary Tribute
All interviews conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: May 5, 2022
Thanks to everyone who participated to this feature.
Special thanks to John McEntee for the foreword, his memorial words for Ronnie Deo (R.I.P.) and making great and uncompromising death metal for 30+ years.
If you had told me back in 1992 that Onward to Golgotha would one day be viewed as a groundbreaking and classic death metal album, I would have laughed it off as someone just trying to be nice. Over time, I have learned to accept the impact that Onward to Golgotha and Incantation have had on the underground death metal scene. I've learned to be proud of our accomplishments and am humbled by the opportunity to have been a part of such an amazing moment in time. As a musician and songwriter, I'm honored that people enjoy the album. The fact that it inspired so many newer death metal musicians to play in ways different than the "norms" is something all of us in the band should be proud of.
The story of Onward to Golgotha starts the day I decided to leave Revenant, my former band. Don't get me wrong, I loved being in Revenant and am still super proud of what they have accomplished, both as a band and as people. But in the summer of 1989, there was a fire in my heart, and I decided I needed to go for it. It was time to start my own band based on my vision with people that believed in that same vision. Anybody that remembers me from the late '80s and early '90s knows that I was focused like a laser beam on my musical goals. From 1989 until late 1991, I worked with numerous musicians, trying to find the right people, which I thankfully did, and who became the Onward to Golgotha lineup. It was an amazing time; I can't emphasize that enough. It seems like with every lineup change, the band was getting stronger and stronger. It's hard to explain but there was some sort of synergy that happened when Jim, Craig, Ronnie (R.I.P.) and myself jammed together. That kind of musical magic happens only rarely (I've been very fortunate to have this synergy a few times throughout my career, which I'm grateful for).
My vision was to create the darkest, most evil, barbaric, and heavy death metal album possible. We threw every ounce of agonizing passion and aggression into this album. It was such a cathartic experience and something we all felt was very honest to ourselves. I can only speak for myself, but I don't think we necessarily thought we would have a genre-defining album, we were just happy to record it in a real studio, get it released and in stores. We just wanted the metal world to hear our sonic rage.
The album did surprisingly well, and I was blown away with the reaction it received. Yes, most of the critics hated it, but that was the point as we knew if the music critics liked it, we were doing something wrong. Onward to Golgotha is real honest music. We were not trying to fit into any trends at the time and I think that is part of what makes it a classic.
Albums like Onward to Golgotha just happen. It can't be contrived or planned. It's easy to say you want to have the darkest, blackest, evilest, heaviest album ever, it's another thing to do it because that is what's in your heart. Just remember, this album came out in 1992. There was no blueprint for our style of death metal. Yes, we had our influences like anybody else, but it was really important for us to make the album an honest and true expression of how we were feeling at that time. I'm very proud of everybody that has helped make this album so successful.
As a primary songwriter for the album, I'm extremely humbled and honored that our music has been an inspiration to so many other bands throughout the years. That is the highest form of flattery. I'm sure the rest of the band feels the same way.
We will be pure in the abyss...
John McEntee, 2022
When did you first hear Onward to Golgotha, and what was your initial reaction?
Matti Mäkelä (CORPSESSED): Having been born in '82, I naturally got to hear Incantation for the first time much later than when it was originally released even though I began my (quickly descending) downward spiral into the extreme side of death and black metal by 1995 as a snot-nosed teenager. I think I first came across Incantation probably in '98 or '99 from a full-page advertisement from Relapse in either Terrorizer or Metal Hammer which had the first three Incantation albums presented (I think it was around the same time Nile's debut was released). The exceptional cover art intrigued me, and I just had to check out the band. I remember first picking up the Mortal Throne... album, which impressed the hell out of me, so Golgotha was up next. The debut was even darker and more oppressive, and the crushing nature of the album absolutely floored me. The unconventional riffing, the absolute doominess, the guitar tone and the depth of the vocals. It was not easy music to digest at first but slowly I became obsessed by the band's early work, and I still follow them today.
Victor Elian (ESCARNIUM): I started to listen to death metal around 2001/2002. Incantation played a tour in Brazil at that time and some months later, I got a chance to hear OtG. It blew my mind!! This album certainly is one of the most important influences for me and for Escarnium, no doubt!
Wim de Vries (BURIAL REMAINS / GRIM FATE): That must have been in the early '90s. I know I saw a review in a Dutch magazine for both Immolation's and Incantation's debut albums. I had to get both, of course, but the dark vibe on Onward to Golgotha totally blew me away. The album was so heavy and dark, and the riffs were so sick. It totally grabbed me from the start.
Kostas Koudousnes (EMBRACE OF THORNS): I bought the first two Incantation albums (Onward and Mortal) from our local record store on tape around 1994. It was a time when I was consuming everything death and extreme metal. Upon first listening, Incantation were something really different than Gorefest, Dismember, Bolt Thrower, Unleashed and the like. They had a dark quality that made them different from Deicide and Morbid Angel and more akin to the debut of Immolation and Vital Remains, Let Us Prey. They were impenetrable at first but ended up having great replay value. They sounded way more mystical and probably closer to black metal than others and were definitely not cookie cutter brutal death metal.
Nick (BITTER LOSS): I can't remember exactly when I heard it, but I remember my reaction very well.
The album was something wicked, evil, and really fuckin' heavy! This album was one of the heaviest recordings of the death metal scene back in 1992, in my opinion. The songs contain walls of brutal and evil noises and Craig Pillard's growls are just absolutely beyond any praise!
Kari Kankaanpää (SOLOTHUS): After a long period of doom metal, Onward to Golgotha was the album that really got me into death metal. I think I was in high school if I remember correctly. This is the defining death metal album for me, and I return to this album all the time. I would say it is my all-time favorite. Punishing death metal with oppressive doomy passages!
Edu (ATARAXY): It was many years ago so it's hard to remember when I first listened to it. I'm pretty sure I got to know Incantation through a local fanzine called There Where I Belong, where they were featured. Dead Congregation's Graves of the Archangels and Grave Miasma's Exalted Emanation were released shortly after and all of a sudden everybody was talking about the Incantation sound. Around that time, I loved the crushing and super-heavy sound of Onward to Golgotha, and I still do today. I do remember when I finally got the original Relapse Records vinyl pressing years later. I had been trying to hunt it down for many years when, during a heavy drinking night in the metal pubs here in Zaragoza, this local guy told me how he bought both Onward to Golgotha and Pestilence's Spheres back in the day and he never really liked them, and how he'd be willing to sell them for a very fair price (no Discogs nerd value). I made sure to meet him the day after (despite my terrible hangover) before he could change his mind, and he kept his word. So, to y'all basement kids, go out for a drink instead of lurking paying those Discogs overpriced records all day! You'll be happier!
Niilas Nissilä (SEPULCHRAL CURSE): When I first heard Onward to Golgotha I was in high school. This was time when it felt like most of the new stuff you would come across was either Gothenburg melodic death metal, over-polished tech death or some shitty deathcore, so discovering bands like Incantation in the middle of those trends was truly mind-blowing! A band that made bands like Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel sound almost like radio-friendly rock, hah! Truly a life-changing moment.
Dave Rotten (AVULSED): I heard it when it came out. I was totally looking forward to it as I was totally into their demo and previous EPs, and even that unreleased split with Amorphis (through tape trading, you know!) - and my reaction was an instant approval!! The result was exactly what one could expect from Incantation, so it became an instant classic for me. It's one of the five albums I would bring to a desert island with me.
Dopi (LEPROPHILIAC): I heard it when it came out in 1992. I went to the record store with my younger brother. I don't remember what I got but I remember he bought Onward to Golgotha on red vinyl. Later I bought the CD, and in 2006 I also bought the CD/DVD reissue with all those great home videos. When we played the LP that sick day our brains were blown away. It was like a total overdose of darkness from the depths and the sound took us by surprise. It was the lowest stuff we had heard back then. I found it like a monolithic and monotonous mass of songs that all together constructed a solid block of very evil music.
Rou (SARTEGOS): I don't really remember the first time I listened to Onward to Golgotha. What I remember is that at first and for whatever reason, Incantation (in general) didn't catch my attention like other death metal bands did at the time. That was probably the reason I started spinning their first album more often in my early twenties. You could say my initial reaction to it was a bit apathetic.
Necrolucas (ANIMA DAMNATA): I don't recall my first encounter with Onward...
How do you rank the album compared to the other extreme metal albums that were released back in 1992?
Matti Mäkelä (CORPSESSED): This is all in hindsight (from my part), but '92 was a great year for death metal with releases like Legion from Deicide, Tomb of the Mutilated from Cannibal Corpse, Retribution from Malevolent Creation and The Karelian Isthmus from Amorphis that are all still in constant rotation for me. I would rank Incantation's Onward to Golgotha quite close to the top of the releases of that year!
Victor Elian (ESCARNIUM): Come on, it's not just one of the better death metal releases from 1992, but one of the death metal masterpieces of all times.
Wim de Vries (BURIAL REMAINS / GRIM FATE): So many great albums were released, but together with Bolt Thrower and Deicide this is my favorite stuff from '92. The great thing was that all of the bands sounded so different back then. Nowadays a lot of bands sound alike and sometimes it is hard to tell bands apart. In the early '90s a few notes were enough to tell which band was playing.
Kostas Koudousnes (EMBRACE OF THORNS): Perhaps too extreme for '92. Incantation was really underground, more akin to Profanatica, Order from Chaos, Vital Remains and Magus than Cannibal Corpse and hardly comparable to the status they enjoy these days. It was definitely music for the most devoted back/death metal crowd. I must also stress that the Miran Kim artwork of the first albums really amplified the entire Incantation experience.
Nick (BITTER LOSS): As I said before, Onward to Golgotha along with Cannibal Corpse's Tomb of the Mutilated, Seance's Fornever Laid to Rest and Morpheus Descends' Ritual of Infinity, were the best albums of that year! It would be a very difficult choice to pick up favorite album out of this important pack as they all have iconic status in my book.
Incantation were a very big influence and inspiration for us in the band. We really look up to both the Onward to Golgotha and Mortal Throne of Nazarene albums which have had a very meaningful place in the creative process of our own band, Bitter Loss.
Kari Kankaanpää (SOLOTHUS): Simply the best and most monumental. Others aren't close.
Edu (ATARAXY): Compared with other death metal albums, the only 1992 album I may like more than this one is possibly Demigod's Slumber of Sullen Eyes, as that's one of my favorite death metal albums of all time. I also love what many other death metal bands released in 1992, such as Deicide, Bolt Thrower, Cannibal Corpse, Sinister, Impetigo, Amorphis, Malevolent Creation and, of course, some of the best Norwegian black metal albums were released in 1992, so it's hard to compare them. But if I stick to death metal, Onward to Golgotha and Slumber of Sullen Eyes would be my top tier that year.
Niilas Nissilä (SEPULCHRAL CURSE): Obviously there's a shitload of amazing extreme metal albums from that period, but this is easily one of the best for me. Probably THE best!
Dave Rotten (AVULSED): It was definitely the heaviest death metal album when it came out, but only for a short period, haha!! Because I released Rottrevore's Iniquitous album the year after and I remember the guys from Relapse telling me that Incantation was the heaviest shit on earth, but then I replied that Rottrevore was even heavier, haha!! Apart from that, its sound was perfect; very heavy and dark, just the way it was meant to be!!
Dopi (LEPROPHILIAC): It's definitely up there on my best of 1992 list with Autopsy's Acts of the Unspeakable, Obituary's The End Complete, Deicide's Legion and Cannibal Corpse's Tomb of the Mutilated. That was a fuckin' awesome year for death metal and every band had their own sound and style, but Incantation was the darkest of them all, no doubt. Together with Autopsy they were one of the very few bands to add doom metal parts to the music, and that really got me into it because I really dig old school doom music.
Rou (SARTEGOS): I am going to talk about death metal only, OK?
I have to confess that there are a bunch of albums from 1992 that I would rank above Incantation's first one personally. Those albums would be Deicide's Legion, Amorphis' The Karelian Isthmus, Demigod's Slumber of Sullen Eyes or My Dying Bride's As the Flower Withers (OK, this one is doom/death metal, but there were lots of death metal elements on that record). However, there are other albums that I would rank in a similar or lower position from that year like Acheron's Rites of the Black Mass or Autopsy's Acts of the Unspeakable.
Necrolucas (ANIMA DAMNATA): Onward to Golgotha and Legion are the two best albums released in 1992.
Has your opinion about the album changed over the years, for better or for worse?
Matti Mäkelä (CORPSESSED): What first began for me as something almost indecipherable, grew to be one of my utmost favorite death metal releases and is still an important album today. My reverence towards Golgotha (hah!) has only grown over the years and it is an album I return to constantly and these questions made me pick up the album again and spin it right now. Yeah, I consider it a classic!
Victor Elian (ESCARNIUM): My opinion has not changed regarding this masterpiece. I even bought the album in 2016 again. It still blows me away like it did 30 years ago.
Fun fact: We recorded a cover of from "Pilgrimage from Darkness" off the Privilege of Evil EP (Amorphis). I believe Incantation were supposed to make a split with Amorphis back in the day. It would be really good to cover both Amorphis and Incantation because they are the biggest influences for our band, Escarnium.
Wim de Vries (BURIAL REMAINS / GRIM FATE): After all these years it is still in regular rotation and together with Mortal Throne of Nazarene it remains my favorite Incantation stuff. I like it so much that we covered "Christening the Afterbirth" with my band Grim Fate. I can't say my opinion about Onward to Golgotha has changed, but in the last decade lots of bands copied or were influenced by Incantation, and I have to say it only makes me realize how unique this record was back in the day!
Kostas Koudousnes (EMBRACE OF THORNS): I think that while it was mostly brooding ambience and true horror for me when I was 13-14 and had first purchased Onward, it has since then become a pinnacle of dark blasphemous death metal for me. It's totally original and I can enjoy the music more than ever, because I have a better grasp of it. Since that is formative material for me, I can pretty much admit that I have been inspired by this record and by that era of the band.
Nick (BITTER LOSS): My opinion has not changed about Onward over the years; the greatness of this album is intact. It's a classic death metal album and one of the true holy grails of all extreme metal music. Onward to Golgotha created a new, viler and filthier direction in the death metal scene, and we can hear it in the sounds of many death metal bands today. Hail Onward to Golgotha! Stay rotten! Stay dead!
Kari Kankaanpää (SOLOTHUS): Not one bit. Maybe the rest of the Incantation discography has opened up more for me, but Onward to Golgotha reigns supreme.
Edu (ATARAXY): I still love it, of course! I also tend to play Diabolical Conquest heavily nowadays. I think it's an overlooked album which may not be their heaviest, but it's probably their darkest effort. I also enjoy what they are doing nowadays, and I finally managed to see them live in 2018 and they were crushing. Incantation rules!
Niilas Nissilä (SEPULCHRAL CURSE): Not one bit! The album has aged like a fine wine!
Dave Rotten (AVULSED): I feel the same and nothing has changed for me. This album is a true masterpiece and as such, I can't get tired of it. It is definitely my favorite Incantation album!
Dopi (LEPROPHILIAC): After all these years I still play it often. It's my favorite Incantation record together with Mortal Throne of Nazarene. The truth is I prefer Incantation with the original lineup, especially because of Craig's vocals (one of the best death metal growlers ever!). My opinion has changed for better I guess, because with the passage of time I realize how important it still is. Just take a look at all those kids of the new death metal scene trying to rip it off. No doubt it's the album most imitated these past few years. But all of them fail miserably and nobody can get close to this masterpiece. The only band that was close was Disciples of Mockery, and that's mainly because it's almost the same lineup!
Rou (SARTEGOS): Yes, it has changed indeed. Onward to Golgotha was the kind of album that I learned to appreciate and enjoy through the years. I definitely like it much more now than, let's say, twenty years ago. Although for personal and nostalgic reasons I prefer other albums from that specific year, it's true that this album made a huge impact on many bands and individuals and its influence and importance in the death metal scene is totally undisputed. Think about more "recent" bands like Cruciamentum or Grave Miasma, for instance or all the so-called abyssal or cavernous death metal bands which started to appear around 2010. The album is, objectively speaking, absolutely great and it set some high standards about darkness and obscurity in death metal.
Necrolucas (ANIMA DAMNATA): There aren't many albums that have handled the passage of time as well as Onward to Golgotha.
John McEntee's heartfelt and touching words about his dear friend and ex-band mate, Ronnie Deo (R.I.P. April 12, 2022)
As I'm writing this, it's been less than 24 hours since I got the tragic news about the passing of Ronnie Deo, one of my best friends from early 1990 when me met, to late 1992 when he left the band. To some this doesn't feel like a long time, but back then in our late teens and early 20s it felt like an eternity. We literally hung out five times a week if not more, between practice, going to shows, going to record stores, or hanging out with the Kearny crew to drink by the train tracks.
I know everyone likes to put on rose-colored glasses when someone passes away. This is not necessary when it comes to Ronnie. You can ask anyone what kind of guy Ronnie was and I don't think it's possible to find anyone that has a bad word to say about him. My longtime friend and former staff member Brian Abt put it great when he said Ronnie was a "funny and goofy guy". That is how most know him and they would be correct. I knew Ronnie as someone that truly loved music and had incredible natural talent as a musician. He was humble and just outright great to be around.
There are so many great moments I was fortunate to share with Ronnie, but one small thing that stuck in my mind for some reason, was after practice I would drive him home on route 22. There was a Wendy's restaurant that had the "super bar." If you don't know, Wendy's had an "all you can eat bar" with tacos, salads and a few other items, nothing too great from what I remember. After practice Ronnie would always be so excited to stop at the super bar, he would rub his hands together and in his slightly wispy voice, "Let's stop at the super bar." And if we didn't stop there, he would say something like, "no super bar tonight" in a sad voice. You would think he had a tear in his eye, haha! It was a 20 to 30-minute ride from his house to Jim's house each way, so those one-on-one talks about whatever were some of the great times I remember the most.
In early 1990, Ronnie called me up replying to a flyer I put up in Bleeker Bob's record store in the Village in NYC, saying I was looking for a bass player and drummer for my death metal band. When he called, we immediately hit it off. I remember just being so happy because he was such a cool dude and knew about a lot of the underground bands that were coming out at the time. There was just an undeniable chemistry. Together we worked hard trying to find other people to jam with. I remember Ronnie made the tedious task of finding members and trying them out so much fun. He even had funny nicknames for each person we tried out. Eventually we would find the perfect lineup and record the Onward to Golgotha album. Of course, there's more to the story, but the point is, I'm very grateful that Ronnie decided to call me up out of the blue, which opened up so many doors for me and the band musically. Even more important is that I got to know one of the nicest people I've ever met.
Sad to say, we didn't stay in contact after he was out of the band. I would've loved to, but it just never seemed like the right time, or something would always get in the way. Sometimes band relationships are not always easy to navigate. Sadly, for us, it fell into that category. I just wish I could have hung out with him at least one more time to let him know my honest feelings and how much I miss him as a friend.
I can think of my friend and former band member Ronnie every time I perform one of the Onward to Golgotha songs live and feel proud to have gotten the opportunity to know such an amazing person. I will never forget.
We really lost a good guy, and my sincere condolences go out to Ronnie's friends and family.
John McEntee, 2022
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