In 1989, John McEntee was a treasured member of New Jersey thrash team Revenant and left that band to pursue a new project called Incantation. Three years and a few short releases later we had Onward to Golgotha, a certified death metal classic of the finest order, a true yardstick for the genre that has aged gracefully during it's quarter century on Earth. The LP was released on a then-fledgling little label called Relapse Records, and was the first of eleven LPs across their career with the middle period finding a home at Listenable Records.
Now in 2017, Incantation has returned to Relapse for Profane Nexus, the band's latest work and the focus of several full US tours with Marduk. Unlike years previous, Incantation has gone from a band focused on recording to a band in full touring mode, but that has not come without some controversy. Incantation came under fire for their involvement with vocalist Craig Pillard, who performed on the classic Golgotha. Though Pillard had not performed with the band in more than two decades, his association and participation with Nationalist / Socialist focused bands was the topic of much conversation in relation to Incantation's political affiliation.
With Incantation approaching thirty years on earth, we asked founding member John McEntee to discuss the band's origins, their return to Relapse, touring and those Nazi sympathizer allegations. His answers are below.
REVOLVER So let's start with Incantation 1989. So you're starting this band, what were your goals and ideas? To just be the most evil band you could?
JOHN MCENTEE I played in band called Revenant before that, which was quite popular in the world wide underground at the time and they were about to get signed to Nuclear Blast Records. I was a huge part of the band– people used to call me "Revenant Man" because I was always the guy that was passing out Revenant flyers. So the main guy in the band was kind of changing the style a little bit and wanted to be more refined and a little more technical, more commercial I guess. I was still young then, 19 years old, and I still had the rage in me where I wanted to just have the rough edges and be dirty and aggressive and brutal. It was a difficult decision to leave Revenant, the album wasn't going to be representing me properly. So once I got together with Paul Ledney, our first drummer, we're just going to what we wanted to do musically and not give a shit about anything. No false aspirations as far as how this was gonna go. Basically, we were going to do what we want to do, everybody could fuck off, and if nobody liked it, that's fine. It was basically making the decision of do you want to play music for yourself or to make people happy? So it actually worked to our advantage, but we really had no expectations. We would be happy to one day have a 7 inch EP or something.
Once we got the offer from Relapse originally it was a dream come true really, but also surprising and rewarding at the same time. When you're doing it for yourself, it gives you a special connection with your fans as opposed to doing something for commercial success. Let's face it, a lot of bands out there want to be popular or they follow trends. We were anti all of that stuff. It was a punk rock attitude where it was like "Fuck you, we're doing it our way and if you don't like it piss off."
I'd venture to say that's the hallmark of any good creative endeavor. I mean let's be real though, it must have been a tough decision.
Yeah, oh absolutely. All my friends thought I was insane. I actually lost a lot of my friends for a while because they just thought I was losing my mind or something, working so hard to build up this band. Part of the reason why they got signed was because of me, so I was writing some of the songs and pushing the band a lot along with Henry the main guy in the band. Henry and I put so much work into it and then I just decided to leave
So lets talk about your landmark release Onward to Golgotha. What were some of the records that you looked up to in the making of that LP?
My biggest influence at that time was that I wanted to push the style forward, a big record for that was Possessed's Seven Churches. It's definitely more of a thrash album but it has elements that would become death metal. So when I heard that, that really like did something to me where I was just like "Fuck." I remember picking it up the first time and not even knowing what the fuck to think. I like that. I felt like I had to listen to it more to understand and it just pulled me in. Once I got into it, it just was like a magical feeling. I was really into early Necrophagia and bands like Destruction and Kreator were all big influences on me. There were so many– Sarcófago was a big influence on us too. We really liked that old South American style, even the really early Sepultura stuff was really a big influence. We always said that the riff itself isn't important, it's the feeling you get when you hear the riff.
After being a part of metal for more than thirty years, is it part of your influence now? Do you sit at home and listen to Jazz and light incense at this point?
[Laughs] Yeah I listen to metal a lot, still. Mostly some of the early heavy metal stuff that I grew up with like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath… I pretty much like Black Sabbath from every era. And then Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker–I listen to all of that stuff. It's crazy because I can go from listening to that to The Beatles or Pink Floyd or Jimi Hendrix, who are big influences. I love listening to Paradise Lost's first album Lost Paradise, Entombed's Left Hand Path but also Asphyx, Immolation and others. Really, anything I listen to that just kicks my ass. Like I just saw Yngwie Malmsteen play on this tour and I love almost all his stuff.
So obviously you've come full circle now starting with Relapse, coming back to them for the third record with . How did you arrive at Relapse and all of that?
It was basically on a whim. We were doing a 25th year anniversary release and I just said for the heck of it "would you guys have any interest in us if we were out of our contract." I think it was Eli over there who immediately said like "Yeah I think so" I mean he was totally, totally excited– I think they never even thought we would even consider going back to them because we did have a really difficult break up when we left. Now, Relapse is a totally different label than they were when they started. When they first started, the band and the label was going through growing pains–we didn't know how to run a band really and they didn't know how to run a label. Both sides fucked up or made stupid decisions and it just didn't work out properly. Now it's better because we both have a realistic idea and better idea how things are running. And obviously Relapse has done an amazing job you know with the label and stuff like that.
It's been years since you guys have been this active–actually going for it with full U.S. tours. Before this you guys were a bit more of a "precision strike" band. What is it like being back on the road in such a heavy capacity?
Well, I love being on the road. I mean the last full U.S. tour we did was the Marduk tour in February this year and we had a blast. The Marduk guys were amazing– really great guys to tour with and the overall vibe it was just great. There's something about being on the road and playing every day. We don't want to wear out our welcome but we're doing a tour coming up with Marduk again in mostly different markets than we did last time. I'm just really excited about that. Those guys are really nice guys and we just got along really well. I love touring. I would tour all the time if we were able to, you know.
Marduk caught some flak for some work they've done that references the Nazis in the context of WWII. In that same breath, you've recently caught fire over your association with your former singer Craig Pillard and his Nazi-related project Der Sturmer. What are your thoughts on that?
[laughs] Well, first of all it's kind of ridiculous because he is our former singer. I can't have control over what any of my former members do or what they're into. That was probably about 2 years after he left the band when he got into some of his controversial stuff. I mean it's so just ridiculous because this Nazi stuff never even slightly came up when we were in a band. So it's just totally insane. For many years, I barely even talked to Craig so to have any affiliation with whatever he's doing, regardless of what it is… Yeah, we have a connection because he played in Incantation and he did an amazing job while he was in the band, but that's really as far as our relationship goes.
The thing with that… I think that it's really ignorant because they're not really getting proper information and trying to go for low hanging fruit. If they really wanted to do the right thing in pushing their agenda I think they need to find the right way to do it where they're not going to get too much push back. The way they're doing it is almost fueling more problems. If they really feel that us and Marduk are racist, they should know for sure before making those accusations. But to try to say that the people coming to a show are being Nazi sympathizers is just absolutely insane. I mean especially in Austin [where protestors showed up]– 80% of the crowd is probably Mexican or Latino. And the way they're dealing with things is actually causing more push back in the opposite direction than they would if they didn't do anything at all. Now there's people that are just pissed off at them. They're gonna do antagonizing stuff to them– I have seen Mexican people giving them the "Hail Hitler" sign at the show and they were doing it to piss them off, not because they're racist.
They're going about it is just wrong. I mean especially stopping shows– you're not gonna make more fans by stopping shows. They stopped the show in Oakland, California– I think they made some threats and the show didn't go on. All that did was really piss off a lot of people, and it totally doesn't help anything. Drunken metal heads want to go to a show and have a good time, you know?
The thing that really drives me up a wall is that we are metalheads– we're supposed to be rebellious and on the edge– we're supposed to be kind of assholes to some extent. That's the only reason why I got into metal. I don't feel like I need to prove to people anything really. I shouldn't have to. We play all around the world to different people of all different nationalities and the thing that we have in common is that we all like metal. We're really appreciative of that. I would say the same for Marduk. They play all around the world for people, and if they were really racist they'd only be playing in Europe and certain places where there's white people. So it's just absurd.
That's what kills me. We need to work together to build our scene, not work apart. And the thing is that people go to our shows… we don't have a litmus test. They could be Nazis or they could be ANTIFA or whatever– just go and enjoy the show. The show is our getaway from everything. It's not a test to be one thing or the other– it has no relevance to our show whatsoever [laughs]. We don't do anything that's political in anyway. We have no interest in it. If you're religious you'll get a little offended but I mean everyone is allowed at our shows. Whatever they believe is none of our business.