“Mars could easily be a dead planet that was once flourishing,” says Isaac Faulk, drummer for Denver progressive death-metal band Blood Incantation. “Maybe twelve million years ago there was this giant civilization. Maybe they left that planet because it was dying, came here, crash-landed, and we're actually the aliens. There are no extraterrestrials that built this stuff. We were the aliens, and we built it.”
Faulk isn’t crazy. But he does have some questions science can’t yet answer. They’re the kinds of questions the band’s latest album, Hidden History of the Human Race, seeks to address.
“I get asked this all the time: ‘Do you actually believe in aliens?’” says Faulk. “But I'm never trying to say that I know what's going on. It's more likely than not. I think that anyone who says they know exactly what's happening — it’s bullshit.”
Questions about who built megalithic structures like the pyramids, how those people managed such herculean tasks without computers or modern machinery, and why archaeological dating at many of those sites doesn’t jibe with the established chronology of human existence are some of the topics the band explores on the album.
“I come at it from a more academic-program perspective, maybe,” says Faulk, who has a degree in history. “So I think that just outright saying, ‘These structures, we couldn't build them now, so they have to be aliens’ — that's a little overzealous, maybe. But I do think there are parts of our history that we just don't understand, and we just keep uncovering more and more that just starts to call into question the traditional narrative of human history. And so that's the stuff that piques my interest and definitely raises these questions that I think Blood Incantation is ultimately asking. Once you start questioning one thing, you start realizing that there's all these other things that traditional archaeology has said are true that aren’t.”
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Taking on the scientific basis for our understanding of civilization is a lot to ask of a death-metal band, but Blood Incantation has handled the job with aplomb. Hidden History of the Human Race has been wildly successful, topping any number of year-end lists of the best records of 2019.
“There’s like an Oscar season for records,” says Faulk of the glut of top-ten lists that consume the music world at the end of the year. “Going into the studio, that’s kind of what you have to think about nowadays.”
Even with those lists in mind, it would have been difficult for the band to predict its meteoric success, especially given that its music doesn’t fit neatly into traditional categories. It’s heavy but technical, expansive but not monotonous, complex but still mosh-worthy. Blood Incantation’s music has elements that fit into myriad categories, but it doesn’t totally embody any.
“That's the limiting aspect of genre,” says Faulk. “You want to have a tag to have people be able to relate to it when they first hear it. When people are reviewing it, they want to be able to put some marker on it. At the end of the day, I would hope that eventually Blood Incantation transcends genre, like a lot of my favorite bands that can't really be pigeonholed as one particular thing.”
That’s by design. Faulk — a multi-instrumentalist who often writes guitar parts for the band — says Blood Incantation goes out of its way to make its music challenging, for both the musicians and the listener.
“We’re just making music that pushes us,” he says. “We started off, really, in the death-metal world, but like with the weirdest death metal. We're all influenced for this band specifically by the weirdest versions of death metal.”
As Blood Incantation has progressed, Faulk says, he and the other players have designed ways to ensure that the music is never phoned in or stale.
“I actually do this thing that's kind of self-defeating at times, but I’ll write parts that I can't really play yet,” he says. “I’ll come up with a basic drumbeat, and then I’ll be like, ‘Well, this is too simple.’ So I know what I want to play, but I can't, so I have to kind of learn how to.”
Writing such complex songs makes recording more challenging. The band, Faulk says, had to rehearse every day for more than a month before entering the studio because the songs on Hidden History of the Human Race were so difficult to play. But writing them that way, he says, makes the finished product more engaging.
“I think sometimes when you go super far into the weirdest parts of your writing, coming back to that simple stuff can be even more satisfying,” says Faulk. “But for me, when I write the guitar stuff for the band, I always try to make it harder than I originally write it, so I'll add stuff in the writing process where I'm like, ‘Okay, that's cool. But what would be even weirder?'”
It’s a testament to the band’s process that such an intricate and cerebral record has garnered such success. Faulk says Blood Incantation never set out to be a niche band that only other musicians could appreciate.
“We’re not one of those bands that’s trying to limit our copies and make it super obscure and hard to find,” says Faulk. “That's not ever what our band was trying to do. Ultimately, if we can sell a ton of records to a bunch of people and they can hear it, that’s really awesome. But at the same time, we're not doing it for that. We make the music that we want to hear.”
Faulk says the band is open to creating music that drifts even further from the death-metal genre. Writing for Hidden History of the Human Race took more than three years, he says, so the bandmembers are ready for a change after the upcoming tour cycle.
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“When we were working on this record, we had a lot of fun doing the stuff that was not the metal parts of [it],” says Faulk. “Right now is more about making sure that we're playing the songs on this record the best we can. However, we do have plans to work on some new stuff that's going to be pretty different. We'll probably see in the next year — hopefully the next year or two — another release that is not death metal. It's something that we've just been playing around with.”
Faulk says fans needn’t worry that the band will stray too far from its past endeavors, but stresses that it's more concerned with progression than with meeting expectations created by previous albums.
“There are definitely similarities between Star Spawn [the band’s first album] and the new one,” says Faulk. “But I think my favorite parts of the record are the parts of it that are really different. So that's kind of our objective, to just not repeat ourselves and to keep pushing ourselves. Blood Incantation is just four people, and it's just always going to be those people. Whether it's metal or not, it will always be a Blood Incantation record.”
Listen to Blood Incantation and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.