A death metal band announcing they’re releasing an ambient album sounds like a headline from The Onion circa 2005, but this is 2022, when satire doesn’t hold a candle to real-life news and more musical lines are being blurred by the second. It’s a good time, really… except for the perpetual entropic state of our lives, but that’s why we have music, right? Blood Incantation probably aren’t the first band you’d pick to have a spacy, subdued album like this, but as me and Jake soon find out together, they were really the perfect choice. Timewave Zero‘s not the album we perhaps wanted, but the one we needed. Hope you enjoy the final frontier and me saying ‘agreed‘ a couple too many times.
Jake: David, hi! It’s been a few years, but I recall us tag-teaming a little album called Hidden History of the Human Race by a little band called Blood Incantation. Do you remember that?
David: Yeah, Jake, I do remember that. It was a good time, and before we revamped our duo reviews into this more conversational format as well! The old days if you will.
J: The old days indeed. Well, we’re all three back: you, me, and Blood Incantation. This time around, though, we’re not reviewing a metal album at all. Timewave Zero is a bit of a beast all its own, and I honestly never thought that you and I would be discussing an ambient album, much less from one of our favorite death metal bands.
D: Yeah, exactly. When this was first announced, it was quite divisive, which I get to a degree. You have a band that’s made a name for themselves with one type of music, and to pivot into what could be considered the polar opposite of that music is kind of wild. Though, let’s be honest, Blood Incantation kind of set this up as the canon with their last album a bit, huh?
J: I think so for sure. Were any death metal band active today to do an ambient album, in my mind, it almost had to be Blood Incantation. While shifting to a completely new genre for a one-off album is by no means new, Hail Spirit Noir just did this last year, it sort of feels like a big deal with this album, at least to some.
D: It does, mostly to the hardline hesher types I think, but all I’ll say regarding that is, open up a bit! We still got a very stellar album – literally and figuratively – from a great band, who just happens to be from Denver (readers, please begin the count now for how many times I mention Denver – drink to each one if you wish)!
J: Denver. There ya go, have a shot on me, reader. At any rate, I think you’re correct in all of this. For starters I didn’t anticipate this album being bad by any stretch, the musicianship of the guys in Blood Incantation would more than likely travel well, no matter the direction they were to head. I am a little shocked to hear you say that the album is steller, because in all of my years of knowing you, I can’t think of single time you’ve called an ambient album that. You’re the all caps hype man of hip hop and thrash!
D: I am, but I can assure you that even for me, sometimes a little calm is appreciated. And I’ll level with everyone: ambient is NOT my forte as a genre, but I thoroughly enjoy when bands utilize much more open and minimalist soundscapes in their music for mood or thematic purposes, no matter the genre… though, yes, a great favoring to hip-hop and all sorts of thrashy, fast metal. What’s your relationship with ambient stuff, Jake?
J: I dabble. As you may have seen, last week I reviewed the new Pan•American album (and even the one before that) and checked out a few ambient albums last year as well, including Grouper and Anders Frieden’s If Anything, Suspicious ambient act. I’d by no means call myself an expert or frequent flyer, but I can appreciate it when the mood is right. I think that does lead us to a bit of a conclusion already though: by virtue of Blood Incantation creating and ambient album, it immediately generates curiosity.
D: Of course, and not even as existing fans either. I think anyone could see a headline with something to the effect of ‘Next Album From (DENVER) Death Metal Band is All Ambient Music’ and cock their head to the side like an intrigued dog. That said, maybe it does take a fan to take that inner path to outer space and explore what they’ve done here with Timewave Zero, and as one, let me just say: space can be many things – brutal to tranquil and everything in between – and this album is yet another fantastic interpretation of the final frontier.
J: I love the take that the cosmos is all about how you interpret it, at least in terms of musical intensity. I concur, however, that Timewave Zero is a gorgeous celestial trip that’s entirely worth taking. I think their approach was pretty much what I expected, but in general the output ended up being far more quality than I anticipated.
D: Agreed! I didn’t have much expectation for this except for it to be good, and it definitely was. By nature, it’s a bit hard to elaborate on its goodness, at least for me. We have eight tracks, at least on the digital version we had, that make up two separate suites, “Io” and “Ea”. I know Io is a moon of Jupiter, and I was certain Ea was a moon of a planet as well, but couldn’t verify that (it’s not related to Electronic Arts as Google would like you to believe, though that EA sure is vacuous, cold, and unfeeling).
Throughout the album, we of course get ambience, but what even does that mean? Mostly, a variation of synths that form the humming backbones of tracks, but also more shimmery ones that provide some melodies. It is not a boring endeavor by any means – there’s a lot of activity going on, understated as it may be. Each suite has a pretty distinct ebb and flow that I loved.
J: Yes the two suites were pretty distinct as well, and there was a lot of building, cascading, and repose to be found within. I actually liked this approach a lot, as a lot of ambient albums can stretch one theme across its entire duration, and while that makes sense, it can overstay its welcome. I personally think I like the “Io” suite more than the “Ea”, but it’s all a great experience. “Io: Third Movement” is probably my favorite span on the record, but that in no discounts the surrounding bits.
D: Agreed! That’s one of my favorites as well, though the second movement of “Ea” is also up there for me in terms of just making a wave and riding it so nicely.
I don’t want to discount the psychedelic tendencies of this album either. Listening to Timewave Zero brought to mind my times where I really got into Pink Floyd and how some of their synth-focused, ambient songs like various parts of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” from Wish You Were Here sounded. I also get a bit of Tangerine Dream, though I’m not super familiar with their work. It’s all very kaleidoscopic at times, which makes me wonder what our pals who indulge in mind-altering substances would make of it all.
J: I would imagine that tripping on this trip would be what the boys from Denver had in mind the whole time. The sense of weightlessness and motion is palpable on this thing and almost elicited some synesthesia within me. It’s kind of geometric and colorful throughout, even without visual or hallucinogenic aids to enhance the listening.
D: Oh yes, of course. Makes me wonder if the band plan on releasing some sort of visual accompaniment with this album. Seems ripe for the opportunity, though I also get the benefit of visualizing it for yourself. It’s cool because the art for the album is more terrestrial than how it makes me feel. I do get that same sort of free-floating feeling and weightlessness you were referring to, and I didn’t even have the benefit of listening to much of this album with headphones! Even with speakers and minor external distractions, I could indulge in this album’s spaciousness and slowly drift along while the synths paint away.
J: It’s pretty damn immersive. And I guess in the end, that’s the point, perhaps especially of ambient music.
Timewave Zero does some pretty incredible things, and as far as an album like this from a band like them, I think it’s an interesting moment in their career, and I’m curious to see if they decide to come back to this sound at some point in the future. I suppose that’s a bit of a summary of the album, and I do hope that the diehards will give it a chance because it really is quite a pleasant experience.
D: Agreed. You’re obviously not required to like it, but if you’re a fan of Blood Incantation, and especially if you liked what they’ve done with ambient sections in Starspawn and Hidden History of the Human Race, it’s definitely worth a try. I at the very least hope they incorporate some prominent ambient and psychedelic sections into their future work if they return to blasting death metal.
J: I think that’s something we can fully expect. But then again, wouldn’t it be like them to pivot to some ripping, bare-bones death metal after this? I could see it. Hell, they may even jettison the entire space motif, who knows? Whatever they bring next, I’m here for it. So, have you any other thoughts on Timewave Zero?
D: I for one am looking forward to BI‘s krautrock era.
That about sums it up for me. I really enjoyed this album and I think many will when approached with an open mind and maybe even a substance of choice. Shoutout to Denver metal. Shoutout to Blood Incantation. Shoutout to you. Shoutout to me. Don’t shout in space though – no one can hear you.
Band photo by Alvino Salcedo.