Review by Nathan on November 14, 2023.
If The Ultimate Incantation was the only full-length Vader put out before splitting up, I'm sure people would be hailing it as some "forgotten underground classic" or whatever. Fortunately, even by the time De Profundis came around the band was already molding a personality of their own. This isn't a bad album by any means, but calling it anything extraordinary would be downright dishonest. This is a death metal album that has trouble separating itself from its thrash roots (and the limitations that accompany said roots) and is perhaps only an interesting listen as a historical piece. When immersing yourself in Vader's later work, you can sometimes forget that the band was heavily influenced by thrash at some point--sure, they throw in the odd thrashy track here and there, but for the most part it seems negligible. The Ultimate Incantation reminds you that these guys were basically a heavy thrash band at one point. Hence why some people insist on categorizing them as "death/thrash metal". That didn't really make sense to me until I heard this album.
Many long-running death metal bands have an ambitious debut, one where they wanted to get all their good ideas out. Often fans retroactively consider these albums among the best the band ever put out. It's interesting and unusual, then, that Vader almost immediately tried to distance themselves from the constant Slayerisms that are present here. It's like they realized that they had already explored the full scope of extremities they could do in thrash with a single album. Doc's blasts have very little variety compared to the multidirectional speed attack he perfected later on, and they make all the more aggressive moments on this album sound near-identical. It's very hard to tell the tracks apart. Astute writers before me have pointed out that this is basically a 50/50 hybrid of Morbid Angel and Slayer influence, which is true, but I should point out that the Morbid Angel riffs don't have nearly the dynamic nor complexity they had on Altars of Madness. Even the more death metal-leaning moments on this album are restricted by the thrash tropes. I don't want to shit on this album too hard, though. Taken on its own, it's a solid album in the Beneath the Remains/Epidemic of Violence school of heavy, death-tinged thrash metal. These young Poles were just trying to write the heaviest thing possible with influences from all their favorite 80s bands, and it shows. That being said, it's pretty hard to listen to this album and not compare it to what followed afterward. Sure, all later Vader sounds functionally identical, but the difference is that it all sounds like Vader and nothing else, whereas The Ultimate Incantation is somewhat distinct in the band's discography, but only because it sounds more like other bands than it sounds like Vader. It's notable for being the only derivative Vader album, while everything else stays within the niche the band sculpted for themselves.
It's fairly curious that Vader's thrashiest record also has vocals that sound the most like typical death metal. Piotr hasn't stumbled upon his trademark roar just yet; on The Ultimate Incantation, he's got a much lower pitched, ranting growl. Like the rest of the album, it falls into an uncomfortable void between death and thrash metal. It's not quite sharp and biting enough to fit a thrash album, but it's also not low and gravelly enough to fit a death metal album either, leaving it to sound fitting to the music, yet lacking in power overall. There are a couple of moments where it seems like Piotr goes a hair off-time, especially when delivering more fast and complex vocal lines. That's not something I'm ever going to fault a young band for on their debut album, in fact many times that can contribute to the unhinged chaos of a death metal album nicely, but when you compare it to the microscopic precision Piotr and Doc had going on in later albums, it's hard to see it as anything but a fault.
This is a competent enough album on its own, and may be of some interest to those OSDM diehards that think metal went to shit after 1993, but honestly I barely even consider this a Vader album. The Vader I know and love truly begins at De Profundis, and if there's any consolation to checking this out, it's that it only gets better from here. Worth checking out if you want to hear where Vader came from, but as an actual enjoyable listening piece this is some third tier death/thrash.
Rating: 6.6 out of 10539