Interview with guitarist and vocalist John McEntee
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: September 15, 2018
One of the longest-running dinosaurs of Death Metal, Incantation, originally formed by John McEntee and Paul Ledney (the latter in Profanatica and Havohej nowadays) has gone a long way since 1989. John, the only original member left from the band's early days, has maintained his vision of what Incantation should be all about. Incantation is not made of compromises; the band has stuck to their guns, devotedly playing their doomy, eerie Death Metal on their terms and that is why they have such respect among the Death Metal fans around the world.
The band's 11th studio album, Profane Nexus, found them returning to Relapse Records, the label that snapped the band up in the early 90s and released the band's first five studio albums - Onward to Golgotha through Infernal Storm.
One can look at it in many different ways, but Incantation's longevity and popularity is based on their reputation for staying loyal and true to their sound and not pretending to be something else.
The Metal Crypt met the always talkative John McEntee in Helsinki, Finland, on September 5, 2018, before the band's show Elmu's Bar and a lot of topics were covered.
LEARNING FINNISH - PART. 1
Luxi: First off, welcome to Finland once again, John!
John: Thank you. It's great to be here again. I don't know how to say "hello" in Finnish. How do you say that?
Luxi: The most used common way to say "hi!" in Finnish is "terve!"
John: No, that's not going to happen. Terrr... Rrr.
Luxi: [*laughs*] Yes, I know it's a very strange word for you to pronounce. Finnish is a tough language.
Luxi: I can say it slower: ter-ve!
John: Okay. No, I can't... the rolling "r" is always tough because we don't have that in our language.
GETTING INVITED TO THE V.I.P. ROOM BY A FAMOUS FINNISH GLAM ROCKSTAR
Luxi: I know, yes. Actually, you were here with Incantation in this very same place at the end of July 2016. Do you remember that visit?
John: It was great. The show was really a killer. There were a lot of friends and the bands were all pretty cool, from what I remember. The promoter was a really a nice guy, too. Very friendly. He and some friends took us around town. A funny memory I have from that trip was going to some rock bar afterwards. I can't think of it the name but it's the one that the guy from Hanoi Rocks hangs out at.
Luxi: Does the name The Riff ring a bell?
John: The Riff sounds right. Yes, I think that was it. They have a little backstage area where the guy from Hanoi Rocks hangs out. He's a guitar player, I guess. It was just funny because I guess somebody told him that Incantation was at the bar. He took me back to the VIP area and wanted to hang out, but everybody was so fucking wasted.
Luxi: That doesn't surprise me at all. That is what we do here in Finland all the time; get drunk and have fun.
John: Yes, and it was funny because he was rolling up a joint and hanging out with all his friends. We went across the street and I guess there's a strip club, which we didn't go in but we went to the hall where the strip club was and he wanted to smoke a joint with me and a few of the entourage. It's funny because I don't really smoke weed that much. He gives me the joint and he's like, "Dude, you're doing it wrong."
Luxi: This must have been Andy McCoy from Hanoi Rocks.
John: Yes, Andy McCoy, that's him. He was teasing me because I didn't smoke the joint as hardcore as I should. I don't really smoke weed much. It was a funny thing to look back on because obviously, Hanoi Rocks were never my cup of tea. I was never a fan but it is a legendary Finnish band and actually has an important role in that whole LA glam scene in the US. It's funny that I go to Finland and somebody like me, who's a total Death Metal dude, gets a private hangout with someone like Andy McCoy. It was kind of cool. It was a fun time to remember. It's just funny because you could tell he's still stuck in the old ways of being a rock star. It was fun though.
Luxi: How has Europe been treating Incantation on this tour so far?
John: It's really good. We've done a lot of stuff in Scandinavia this time, which is good because Scandinavia is always a pain in the ass for us to get to. We were lucky that the promoter brought us over. Usually, if we do a European tour, Scandinavia is always questionable on the list because I don't think they always think of some of these extra expenses and stuff. I mean, we're not quite at the level where it's profitable for us to tour every country. We're still at the level where it's questionable if it's worth it for the promoters to pay the extra money. This time we're really happy we got to come over here, play at Oslo and at Gothenburg, I don't know how you guys pronounce it.
Luxi: You pronounced it the way it should be pronounced. Well done, John.
John: Cool. We did a show in Stockholm, which was great for us because it was our first time playing there. It's always nice to play a place for the first time. It was crazy at Stockholm, I had so many friends there back in the early '90s, late '80s. That it was one of those places I thought would be easy to play. For us, it took us 29 years to play there. There then back here to Sweden and then we go to Lithuania and Poland and then do that Kill-Town Death Fest after that.
Luxi: That will be your first time playing Kill-Town festival in Copenhagen, Denmark, right?
John: Yes. We tried to work with Daniel on getting there years before but it's difficult because it's a smaller cult fest and it's tough for a DIY kind of guy to be able to afford to bring us over. Finally, this year he was able to work it out between the short tour we're doing and the fest. Somehow it made sense this year. We're happy to finally do it and it should be a fun fest for us to do. It's loaded with bands that we have influenced. It'll be nice to maybe play for a bunch of bands that are influenced by us, you know?
Luxi: Yes, many of them surely are. They have a killer line-up this year. You'll be playing then they have Demilich and Rippikoulu from Finland, Necrot, and Derkéta, of course.
John: Yes, what's really sad is that the tickets were sold out before people knew Derkéta was playing. People that want to see Derkéta can't even buy a ticket unless they buy it from someone who's maybe not going or whatever. It's just weird because it's their first time in Europe. There's probably a lot of people that would travel to go and see them and they can't because there are no tickets available. That's a bummer.
ABOUT PROFANE NEXUS AND GOING BACK HOME
Luxi: Indeed, it is. Incantation's 11th full-length studio album, Profane Nexus, was released about a year ago on Relapse Records, which, in my opinion, was an excellent album from you guys. I really love it.
John: That's cool to hear, thank you.
Luxi: You had a pretty long deal with France's Listenable Records and now you are back on Relapse Records. How did it feel going back to Relapse? Did it feel like you returning home because they were the first label that signed Incantation back in 1991-92?
John: In a weird way, it is like going home. You have to look at it like this; when we first signed to Relapse, we were a new band and Relapse was a new label. We were both inexperienced, so we had to deal with Relapse and they had to deal with our growing pains as far as understanding how the industry works. We were both novices at it. It might be cheesy but we had to leave for us to properly continue as a band and they didn't want to get rid of us but they had to, I think, so we could come back again and almost miss each other.
The relationship was getting clouded by both sides' lack of understanding of the industry. When you get away from a label for a while, it helps bring you together in a way. They've proven to us over the last 10 years that they are doing the right things, that they have their shit together as a label. They've been paying us for our older albums and stuff, everything's been on track. When we were going to leave Listenable, it seemed like giving Relapse was worth a shot because they were really the only label we worked with that kept up their end of the deal over the long haul. Maybe there were controversies in the '90s, but in the 2000's, say 2005 or whatever, we'd get statements on how much things were selling. Everybody that was supposed to get paid got paid.
They proved to us that they wanted to do things in a proper, professional way, which we couldn't complain about because we were on Necropolis for a while. It was the right decision at the time to make but they ended up being a mess because they overextended themselves with too many high-dollar projects and not enough money to cover it and they fell. Then we did Century Media but we only got Century Media by default because we were signed to a small label that they soaked up. They were willing to put out the album, but they weren't totally willing to go above and beyond. It was just more like, "Let's just see how that does." They put out the US version of Decimate Christendom. The album did fairly well for us at that time in the US. Our style, Death Metal, was at an all-time low so it just wasn't the right time for them to feel optimistic about working with us in the future. After that, we did the Primordial album ourselves, which was fine but once I stopped doing Ibex Moon, I really didn't want the responsibility of doing the next record. I wanted to start concentrating more on music writing and stuff like that.
Anyway, going back to Relapse, it just seemed like the right thing to do because like I said they have a lot of our back catalogue. They gave us an extremely fair deal and they were just as excited to work with us. They were probably even more excited to work with us than we were to work with them. They felt like they were getting back one of the bands that they might have regretted letting go. Maybe at that time there was tension and they were mad but the people that are working there now are fans of Incantation and they wanted to work with us. They were already working with us on our back catalogue. They were like, "Fuck it, let's work with you on the new stuff too."
IMPORTANCE OF STICKING TO YOUR GUNS
Luxi: Incantation hasn't really changed drastically over the years when talking about your music. I guess that's a key factor to how you keep your fans happy and close to the band. Your fans always know what to expect and they can always count on you never forgetting your roots, right?
John: Yes, I really think people respect that. I look at it as a Metal fan. In the '80s when I was a teenager getting into bands, I was disappointed when Judas Priest put out Turbo...
Luxi: ...which felt like a major let down of an album at that time, but not any more these days.
John: Yes, it's okay now. Even back when Iron Maiden put out, what was that one, Somewhere in Time, they started using the synthesizer guitars and stuff like that, it was a letdown at that time. Even though I like the album now, it's good or whatever but I remember those things.
I'm going to be even more of an asshole and say I was upset with Sodom when they put out Agent Orange, I didn't think Agent Orange was as close to as heavy as Persecution Mania. I was really bummed out. I was bummed out when Kreator put out Terrible Certainty because Pleasure to Kill was such an amazing album and I thought Terrible Certainty sounded too much like Anthrax or something. It's funny because you look back on it now and both of those albums are good albums but at that time you want to keep going. I heard Pleasure to Kill, it crushed skulls. I didn't want to hear a nice tightened up proper version of Kreator at that time. It just wasn't interesting.
Anyway, I keep that with me and I never want to do that to my fans. I always told myself that I wasn't going to that as a musician. If I really wanted to change the essence of the band, I would just start a new band and start from scratch. If I was going to get popular with a new style, it was going to be because I did it well and I worked at it. I didn't want to ruin the reputation of Incantation.
There's always going to be people that prefer the old stuff to the new stuff or new stuff to the old stuff or prefer the middle stuff to whatever. There's always going to be people that don't like something you do but I know in my heart that I've stayed true to the vision that I started. The amount of wavering that I've done has been small, but it's been sincere. If I don't want to play our style of Death Metal I just won't do it. It's not like Incantation is a big money machine where I have to do it because my house payment depends on it or something. Death Metal is meant to be for the passion of doing it, that's what makes it good.
I can look back on our catalogue and appreciate all the stuff. There are things that i don't like or there are things that could be better or worse, but as far as style it's all pretty much been in the same vein. There are always different twists and turns. We don't want to remake the same album over again, we want to expand but we want at the same time keep it very true to the roots. It's not something that we're thinking about as far as say, "We have to keep it true to the roots." We write Incantation music, we know what the fuck it's supposed to be.
If we write something and it sounds too wimpy or doesn't sound like us, then we scratch it or we put it aside for a project. We're not going to use it for Incantation. Incantation has to be crushing, Death Metal has to have that passion, has to have that old feeling to it. The more modern it gets the worse it fucks us up.
Luxi: What you were just saying leads me to ask what you think of Metal bands that change their musical style so much during their career that it's hard to even recognize them as the same band?
John: Let me put it this way; I actually admire people that have different ideas and want to do different stuff and if that's what's sincere to them, that's fine, that's honourable. I just hate it when bands keep their name and totally change their style, especially when they change their style from one album to the next. I'm only going to point out one band because I can name probably 50 of them if I really thought about it. One Finnish band that really disappointed me was Xysma because I remember getting a copy of the Swarming of the Maggots demo and thinking that it's one of the most disgusting, raw things I ever heard in my life. It was like Reek of Putrefaction but even crazier and sicker. I remember hearing the first album and the first album was totally different than the demo. I was like, "It's still okay but it's totally different." Then the second album came out and it was like Indie Rock or something. How do you get from Reek of Putrefaction to Indie Rock in the span of your second album? It seems like a forced progression or something like that. If they really wanted to change that much just say, "Okay, we're going to start a new band, it's going to be a new thing." It pissed me off buying the second Xysma album and thinking, "What the fuck is this?" It's not what I expected. It doesn't have to be 100% what I expected, but I expected it to at least be like Death Metal, even if it was a little softer than the first album, I still expected it to be Death, I didn't expect it to be Indie Rock. Why would I expect Xysma to be Indie Rock? They weren't Indie Rock when I got the demo and even the first album wasn't really Indie. The first album was almost like the beginning of this Death Rock stuff that bands were doing. I still gave it a fair chance and I liked a little bit. I haven't listened to in years. I can't even really remember, the only thing I ever go back to is a Swarming of the Maggots demo and just hear that sound at the beginning and I get goose bumps.
I have always said that if a band is changing styles, it's time to call it quits and just start something else. In my opinion, it's about keeping the respect, being thankful because the early stuff is what got you where you are today and if you don't feel it, don't do it. Don't do another crappy Death Metal album, nobody needs another dial-in Death Metal album, but just respect your fans and say, okay, "The guys from the X-Y-Z band, we want to do something different, so we're going to start another band." The fans that want to follow you to that area, then fine and maybe make you a million new fans or whatever, but, keep what you did sacred. Of course, it's not for me to decide what other people do with their bands, but for me, that's just a pet peeve I have because I get really pissed off when I buy a band's new album and it's not what I expected it to be. When I rush - especially before the time of the Internet - to the store and buy the new album by a band and hear Death Rock or it being like Helmet or something like that. If I want to buy Helmet, I'll buy Helmet, I don't need to buy a Death Metal band pretending to be Helmet. It really pissed me off because back then, back in the early 90s when a lot of bands were doing the transition, it was hard to find some of those albums. It was expensive to buy import albums in the US at the time so it really sucked when you got all excited to get the next blah blah blah album and you hear it you think, "The fuck's this?"
Luxi: I hear you, John. Paying top dollar for something that you expect to be cool and then being disappointed it not a good feeling...
John: Yeah, it really sucks. It's funny because people might consider me close-minded, but I'm really actually very open-minded. I just know what I like and know what I don't like, and I don't like being tricked into buying something that I'm not going to like. There should be a warning sticker on albums saying, "if you listened to their previous material you might not like this".
The European audience is way more accepting of bands changing their style than in the US, especially at that time because you have bands like Carcass, which changed their style substantially over time and in the US because they were getting so much press and so much push because they were signed to Capitol, they were able to make that transition properly. They lost a lot of their old fans, but they gained a whole slew of new fans. First of all, you have to do it really good and be lucky because it's either going to do really good, or it's going to destroy your career.
Luxi: That's very true. It's better to stick to your roots in the big picture I suppose.
John: Yes. I thought Nicke Andersson was smart for leaving Entombed and doing his The Hellacopters thing because that's what he wants to do. Do it as The Hellacopters. I was not really a big fan of some of the later Entombed. They're okay but at the time it was really disappointing because I thought Clandestine and Left Hand Path were staples in Death Metal. After that, each one got more and more Indie Rock Punk or whatever, which is fine that's they want to do, but it was just a bummer. Like I said, when Nicke (Andersson, original Entombed drummer) left and did The Hellacopters, I was like, "Good, do that. Don't put The Hellacopters in Entombed. Do it the other way, get out, just don't put The Hellacopters into Entombed." Entombed doesn't need to sound like The Hellacopters.
Luxi: Wolverine Blues, Entombed's third album, was actually a more Death Rock album.
John: Yes, and I wasn't happy when it came out. We were with them on the Clandestine tour and don't get me wrong, they're wonderful guys, great guys to tour with, friends forever. On that tour, they were really getting into Helmet a lot, and I knew there was a good chance that the next thing might be more in that vein, and it was. For me, I was really disappointed because I like the old style of Clandestine or Left Hand Path more than the Death Rock style on Wolverine. It's like a Scandinavian disease, putting out like at least one Death Rock album as Death Metal band.
Luxi: I guess that we indeed have ugly proof of that phenomenon. Shame on us Scandinavians!
John: I'm happy now because most of those bands that tried doing a Death Rock album realized that it is probably a bad idea.
Luxi: Did the success of your two previous albums, Dirges and Vanquish, put any extra weight on your shoulders when you started composing the songs for Profane?
John: Well, both Vanquish in Vengeance and Dirges of Elysium did really amazing. It was crazy because I remember Dirges got such a great response, which was awesome, but when I heard the final mix that Dan Swanö did, I was like, "Wow, it sounds really good." For me, I'm always really sceptical about how things sound, but I was able to listen to it and think, "Wow this is actually really good, it just sounds really fucking Metal as fuck." I was really happy with it.
Now there's no real pressure on me. Everything we do we put a certain amount of pressure but more or less, we just try to get the vision of what we're looking for in an album and try to work towards it. When we did Dirges, we actually had another album's worth of material. The original plan was to try to record Dirges and the other songs at the same time and do two separate albums. Not Dirges as two parts, but two albums for the same session. But it ended up just being too much work.
We had a couple of drum tracks for some of the extra songs and said, "Fuck it." We're spreading ourselves too thin." When we started writing the songs for Profane Nexus we had probably more than half the album already written. We had the luxury of time because we basically demoed all the songs for Profane.
There might have been three or four that were written after, so we demoed all the extra songs that we had. They weren't really "extra" songs. What we did is picked out the songs that worked well together and used them for Dirges. Then took the other songs that didn't work cohesively on Dirges and put them aside and said, "Okay, we'll put those aside for the next album." We'll listen to those songs and try to see what we need to do to make those songs work together and use what we want and write whatever new songs we have to and put it all together.
We had so much written beforehand that all we had to do is listen to some of those older songs. That's good because when you get away from them for a while and listen to them, you get a different perspective and we're able to tweak them. It was like we had two years of being able to analyse the songs. It worked to our advantage. Even with our newest album, that we're working on now, we have too many songs already because we have a few songs that we didn't use for Profane or for Dirges, they just didn't fit in on those albums.
When we're writing an album, every song has to be important. We don't write the way people listen to music these days where they are just individual songs. We write an overall concept and then try to make it a musical landscape concept. That's what we did with Profane Nexus.
I think it came out good. I mean, people say it has doomier stuff than the previous one. I don't know, maybe it does, but we didn't really think, "Do we want to make it doomy or do we want to make it fast?" We just said, "We want it to be crushing and we want it to kick ass." We never felt we needed to play this speed or that speed, speed is just another tool in the writing process. Who cares what speed it is, you care if the song sounds good or if it means something.
People say that Profane Nexus is a doomier album, which it might be, but I thought Dirges had a lot of doomy stuff and Vanquish had a lot of doomy stuff, too. I don't know but I'm happy with it. I think it has some twists and turns that weren't really expected. At the same time, it has that really good traditional sound. I'm happy with it. It took us way too long to record because we had some technical problems.
By the time the album was finished, we had most of the next album already written because we had to wait for Dan Swanö to mix it. We missed our timeline for when he had time to mix it so we had to wait another six months. In that six months' time, we wrote a whole bunch of new material. And now, our next album is coming together nicely. We already started tracking it because we like to strike while the iron's hot. We have the songs, we feel good about them and we want to record them.
NEW ALBUM IN THE WORKS
Luxi: Are you planning to release your next album sometime next year?
John: It'll probably be next year, yes. Once we get back from the Dying Fetus US tour, we're going to start concentrating on recording guitar tracks, final guitar tracks, and songs. So yes, we're hoping to get the album done before the end of the year or early next year, and then, sometime next year, have the album out.
Luxi: Do you feel like Profane Nexus was more like a band effort than perhaps some of your other albums?
John: No, it's not that. Vanquish and Dirges were both big collaborations. The obvious differences are that Alex isn't in the band anymore and Alex wrote a good amount of stuff. For Vanquish and Dirges, we had a good writing team where we would get together and write stuff. Without him, there's going to be a difference, that's just reality.
The good thing about it is that for Profane it was a lot more Chuck's musical influence on the album. He wrote a lot more material, and Sonny (Lombardozzi) contributed a lot more to the songs. He did some song writing and some structure organization and stuff like that. He gave us more freedom to do some of the extra guitar stuff that we wanted to do in the past, but we never had the capability. He's a great guitar player, not that Alex wasn't or some of our former guitar players weren't, but Sonny has a good knack for that kind of stuff. I can come up with a second guitar part idea and he could take that idea and show me other ideas that might be better.
It was the same thing we've had with Alex. I'd show them an idea and I'd say, "At this part, we got two guitar parts," and Alex might come up with something different or I might come up something different for his part. The same thing but the dynamic's different because Sonny comes from a different place than I do. It almost adds a new flavour to it. Which is almost a good thing, you can take it as, "Well, yes, you miss the former guitar player but if the new guitar player is also very rich in ideas and rich in, say, a different way of looking at things, it could also add a lot of good aspects to the music."
So really, all three albums have been a real band effort. The ones that were probably the least band effort were probably the Primordial and Decimate albums. I wrote most of the music on Primordial, and Kyle contributed a lot. He doesn't write a lot of riffs necessarily, at that time at least he didn't, but he definitely contributed. Decimate Christendom was me and Joey writing most of the stuff. But it's good, for me, it's great to have that extra songwriter in there. It takes what you do and twists it a little bit and you get a different perspective on it. That's what helps make the music fresh.
Luxi: You have an instrumental song on this new record, titled "Stormgate Convulsions from the Thunderous Shores of Infernal Realms Beyond the Grace of God", and the song title itself reminds me of Demilich because they also use these insanely long song titles...
John: Yes, that's a compliment. I haven't done an instrumental in a while. We did "The Forsaken Mourning of Angelic Anguish", we had an outro and then-- what was it? Hold on... "Blasphemy," we had an outro thing, yes, it was the outro thing too. I just was talking to Kyle and he has been getting into horror movie soundtracks and stuff like that these days. I just thought, "Oh, it'd be cool, I maybe dabble in and just see if I come up with something," and I just came up with something. I purposely wanted it to have an Evil Dead vibe to it. I tried to use some of the noises that you'd hear in some of the...
Luxi: ... rain, storm, and stuff?
John: Yes, some rain. It was cheesy in a way, but I just wanted to do a little intro thing. I haven't done anything like that for a while. And it was just like, "Fuck it, let's just do it and see how it goes." It's okay, I mean, to me, it's probably my least favourite part of the album but it's okay. I mean it's our album, so we get to throw on something extra for it. That reminds me of something. In the early days, when I did the outro for "The Forsaken Mourning of Angelic Anguish", I remember Bill Yurkiewicz from Relapse telling me that he thought that was his favourite track on the album.
John: Yes, he was serious. I was like, "Really? You like our outro?" I was like, "That's strange because it's just an outro." He was like, "No dude, you got talent. You should do a whole album of that stuff." I'm like, "You want me to do a whole album of outros? How do I do that? Because I have no music to do the outro to." Because the outro is related to the music, it's like I can't have just outros. But I thought it was funny. That was when Relapse was doing the noise stuff, and they wanted me to do a noise album of just those outros. I couldn't do it. I look at it as it's just an outro. I mean, people might like it but it's still just an outro to me. If I had pride in anything, it's trying to write a good song with guitar...
John: ... and not just go [*makes noises*]. That stuff doesn't mean anything. Whatever. It's there for a little bit of aura that's it.
Luxi: You have done three videos done for this new Incantation album and one of them was a 360 visualizer video for the song "Rites of the Locust", which really caught my attention. Whose idea was that?
John: Well that was Relapse's idea. They wanted us to do a regular video and they said, "Well if you do in a regular video, let's do a 360 video too," and they have their promotional stuff the way they like to do it so we said fuck it. I don't really know how to do it or what to do but I'll play live and you do whatever you do with the 360 video. I mean, it's a cool thing. To me, it's like a novelty thing or something like that but these days there's these weird Internet trends where it's just some reason that's what bands do now. They do a 360 video.
MY VISION - THE ONLY VISION
Luxi: Yes, Immolation did one, too, off their new album, Atonement.
John: Yeah, they did. So, it's just the thing to do and I'm smart enough to know that if I don't know what the hell I'm talking about to just sit back. When it comes to marketing and doing that stuff, Relapse knows what they're doing so as long as it's not totally against what the band's about, it's fine. It's like they need to. That's their job and Kyle and Chuck in the band are both really into horror movies and stuff like that, so it's I leave it up to those guys. The best way to run a band and the best way to work with a label or whatever is to let them do their job and you do what you're best at.
My thing is the music and trying to make sure things sound the way they're supposed to. I let Chuck and Kyle deal more with the visual concepts. Chuck obviously because he wrote most of the lyrics and so he should have a lot to do with the way they are visually presented. Kyle's also a very visual and musical guy so he has a lot of ideas, and like I said then, I let Relapse do their part because it's they're doing just fine for a lot of their bands so let them do their part. It's better because I can concentrate on the recording, the production, and the overall song writing. It's good to let everyone do what they're good at.
Back in the early days, I was a control freak where I had this vision of every aspect of the band and it was just insane and I was losing my freaking marbles. I mean it was good because when our first album came out, everything came out the way I wanted as far as the way the band looked. The way the band sounded, for the most part, the way the cover looked, etc. Everything was done the specific way I wanted it but it was just too much to have this control over everything, you know.
Luxi: It sounds like you were a bit of a control freak back then.
John: Yes, because I started the band and I had a vision and my goal was to find people that believed in the same vision and if not, hit the road.
You have to look at it through the eyes of a 20, 21, 22-year-old where you have a vision of way you want things to be and you see things starting to come together. You see your vision actually start to come together and you see that people can actually understand that or connect to it somehow. I look at it like this; I would micromanage everything too much and I could see where other members would be annoyed because if they had an idea and it went against anything I thought, I was like, "No."
It wasn't like, "Let's hear or think about that," or whatever. It was like, "No." I mean, I was just so much of a control freak. For the album cover pictures, I gave a shirt to Craig to wear, I gave a shirt to Jim to wear, and Ronnie, I told Ronnie to wear an underground shirt. There was a reason. I wanted them to wear the Immolation shirt because they are my buds. They're my buds and they helped me start Incantation because they supported me early on when no one else did. Possessed because that's basically one of our main influences. Black Sabbath because it's Black Sabbath and you have to support that old stuff.
Then we had Shub Niggurath that Ronnie was wearing because I wanted one band from the underground that we supported, so everything was represented. I mean that's how much of a looney tune I was back then. I mean maybe poser bands do that because they worry about their clothes, but for me, little things like that were really important. I wanted people to look at the back cover and they get an idea of what they're about to listen.
30 YEARS OF BRUTAL DEATH METAL
Luxi: Incantation started out back in 1989 and it will be the band's 30th anniversary next year. Do you have anything special planned for 2019? Such a long career as an extreme Metal band is truly unbelievable, to be honest...
John: Unbelievable [*laughs*]
Luxi: Indeed. Do you have any special plans for next year?
John: Well, we're working on some kind of 30th anniversary release with Relapse. Once we get it all organized, we're probably going to try to do some sort of touring, even if it's not touring but just some special shows coinciding with the release. We have rare demo recordings of some of the songs before Mortal Throne. After Mortal Throne to Diabolical, we have some demo stuff from that era. We have earlier demo stuff and also extra tracks that never got released from Diabolical and a couple of other releases. We can try to fit something together. We might do some shows of just oddball songs or something like that or try to pick out some song we haven't played out live forever or something like that. Right now, we're waiting to find out what everybody pulls together and stuff as far as material then move on from there.
Luxi: How about a limited Incantation box set containing rare demo cuts, rough mixes, live stuff, and such with a certificate, a small bottle of goat's blood and other Incantation related goodies? That would be a nice way to celebrate the band's 30th anniversary, I think...
John: That will work. The thing is, with the release, we definitely want to make it a special thing. I don't know if it should be a box, but it's going to be an actual cool collector's thing for diehards and stuff like that. Definitely going to be cool. That reminds me. Talking about the 30th-year-anniversary, in Stockholm two days ago, I saw our drummer from our first demo, Peter Barnevic. He lives in Stockholm. He joined the band after Paul Ledney left. Him and Sal Seijo. We wrote the songs for the Entrantment of Evil, seven-inch, and the demo. It was great to see him because I see him once every 12 years, he just shows up at a show. I was really excited to see him because he's a really nice guy. The brutal truth is he got deported from the US and he had to leave the band back in 1990. It was nice to see him. Also, we were talking with a guy in Germany (Andreas Hertkorn, the guy behind Seven Inches Metal Records) about doing a picture disc of Entrantment of Evil with your artwork on it. We're just trying to find a good copy of the artwork that you did for it.
I am really looking forward to doing that. It'll be a lot of fun. He showed me a mock-up of it and it looked really cool. I just want to get home. I have to look through my box and see if I can find a good copy that old artwork.
I think that'll be really cool to do. Obviously, the Moyen cover is really good. I think it's cool to have the original version out because that's even more underground. Most people, when they show me the copy, it's usually the later version, the Relapse version. You don't really see the Seraphic Decay version around so much. It'd be perfect to have that out. I have it on a seven-inch picture disc, it's pretty badass, too [*chuckles*]
The thing that I really like about it is that it's a labour of love for him. Something like that should be done that way. It's not a money grab. The only people that are really going to care are the real underground people. For people who are a part of it or people that have been in the underground a long time, those things mean a lot. For me, it means a whole lot because once that seven-inch got put out, that was the start of everything, people really dug it. I was really surprised that people actually like the band. Because you don't ever know [*laughs*].
Luxi: How do you see Incantation's future? Do you think you guys are still motivated enough to do two or three more albums, or even more? The future is, as we all know, unwritten...
John: You never know. I know for myself, one way or another, even if it's not Incantation, I'll probably be writing until I die because it's just so much a part of me these days.
Luxi: It's safe to say the band is a part of your DNA nowadays.
John: Yes. Incantation's probably going to last-- I don't know. It's hard to say. I can't really say.
Luxi: As long as you feel like doing music, nothing can stop you, I guess.
John: Yes, and as long as I like performing and can perform the songs properly and have the inspiration to write music in Incantation's style, then it's just going to keep coming. I thought it would stop already. That's why I can't say how long, because when we originally did the band, I thought it was going to be five years and that's it. When you're 20, five years seems like a long time away. Now, it's 30 years later, we're still doing it. It's like, "Huh. I guess that fad didn't stop."
THE OLD ARCHIVES OF INCANTATION
Luxi: Roy Fox from Necroharmonic released an old Incantation live recording from 1991, titled Rotting Spiritual Embodiment, last year. What do you think of that one?
John: I think it's okay. I think it came out pretty good. It's tough with those old recordings because they're mostly recorded on cassette tape through the board or whatever. It wasn't really mixed properly. I would say it came out probably the best that it could under circumstances. We had to work with what we had. I was okay with Roy doing it the way he did. Roy put out that other discography thing of ours. He told me about it, but then, he never really followed up on it. He ended up just putting out, it was a double-set thing. I can't remember what it's...
Luxi: You mean that Unholy Massacre 2-CD set?
John: Yes, the Unholy Massacre release. Basically, every song off Golgotha is going to probably have a [*chuckles*] release under his name. Anyway, it was the Unholy Massacre release. I was disappointed with it because I wanted to review the material, make sure the sound quality was as good as it could be. After that, we had a little bit of an argument. I told him, I was like, "I don't mind if you put it out, but you have to understand that these recordings are like my babies. I care about how they sound. I care about giving our fans the best quality." He said, "Well, the other guys are fine with it." I'm like, "Yes, but you don't understand. They're not still in the band. They could care less how it sounds." They look at it like, "Whatever. So, you put it out, who cares?" With me, it means a lot. I told him, "I don't mind you putting it out, but just let me review the material. If something needs to be added like some kind of liner notes or whatever, let me have liner notes." The other guys want to put liner notes in there, let them put liner notes in there. I don't want it to be totally just thrown out there as a total bootleg or whatever. At least give people background on it or whatever.
I'm happy that it came out the way it did. Roy is a good middle ground for some of the older recordings that Jim, Craig, and Ronnie did because he gets along with all of us. Not that there's some major tension between us, but we don't really talk. I don't really have a lot in common anymore with those guys, so it's easier if Roy just handles that kind of stuff. If I call them up and say something, they'll probably tell me to fuck off or something like that, but if Roy does it, then it will be fine. It's all good.
Luxi: On September 19, you'll start a pretty extensive US tour together with Gatecreeper and Genocide Pact, with Dying Fetus as the headliners. Are you pumped up about that tour?
John: Yes. It will be good. Before this tour, I didn't realise how big Dying Fetus got. I'm not a fan of them, I don't follow them, so I don't really know anything. Once I realised how big they are as a band these days, I thought it was cool. Because they asked us to do it, which was cool, that they've been trying to do stuff with us, which is cool. I think they have the same opinion of why it's a good idea, it's because we both play brutal Death Metal, but we all do it in a different way.
It's good to mix the crowds together at the show and stuff like that. A lot of times, they tour with more modern style bands and stuff. It's probably good for them to get a little more into the underground. Because right now, they're probably one of the top Death Metal bands. Like I said, I don't know, I don't listen to them. It's just not my style. They've never been my style, but I respect the fact that they've been able to keep it going and do so well. They're kind of like one of the bands that took a Suffocation style and made it even more brutal. I don't know the guys at all. I hope they're cool because we'll on the road with them for a while. We played with Gatecreeper recently and they were really good. Genocide Pact, I heard that. That seems really good. I think it'll be a really good Death Metal tour. I'm excited to get out on the road and just kill posers. Hopefully, there's a lot of new school metal heads that can get a taste of how us old fucks do it.
Luxi: "Killing posers...". I think that's the right way to end this interview. Thank you, John. It's a pleasure to talk to you again.
John: it's always been a pleasure to talk to you, too. Thank you so much.
|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|
|Interview with vocalist and guitarist John McEntee on October 13, 2016 (Interviewed by Luxi Lahtinen)|
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