This festival hardly started small but in the space of a year has grown substantially and moved up from The Garage to no less than four venues in the heart of Camden. With 30 bands playing over the course of the day and night things have been in the planning for ages to pull everything together and bring a showcase of international and hone grown talent to the UK. Thankfully it certainly looks like it has all paid off nicely with a massive queue forming outside the Black Heart and hour before the first bands play, waiting to pick up their wristbands. The biggest problem on the day is working out who to see as it is impossible to catch everyone you really wanted to. Between our reviewing team we gave it the best shot although inevitably there were going to be certain bands all of us just had to see and others we couldn’t fit in.
My day kicks off in a yet to fill up Electric Ballroom for Finnish melodic blacksters Woland and naturally the first couple of pints of the day to help kick things into gear at a 1PM start. Not many have made it in here yet but it does not put the band off giving it their all and they pack a punch straight away with their powerful sound filling up every nook and cranny of this cavernous venue. They are black at heart but with a real bouncy and rock laden vibe that gets the early birds happily punching fists in the air down the front. Songs from debut album Hyperion prove a good wake up call and singer W commands the stage well as the band hit a groove with drums riding powerfully over the top of it all. The band are left alone to get down to some intricate melody that’s somewhat mellow in execution before W comes back on roaring loudly over the top of it all. There’s also a patch of what sounds like grand piano sampled amidst things which surprises but works well merging the rocky punch with a touch of classicism. I liked what I heard and saw and Woland had me stomping my boots and now feeling somewhat more alive. (PW)
After a bit of nervous meddling, Bast got under way. Shimmering, dark industrial noise preceded crusty doom. Prolonged echoes would have accentuated the mood, except there weren’t any. To a ringing and constant sound wave, Bast took us to bleak corners and desolate places where doom is king and deep growls are the norm. Suddenly the winds would pick up and it all became frantic. Energetic rumblings could be heard in the jungles as two of the three piece band supplied the vocals. The drumming was dynamic, exciting even, as Bast gave their take on death-doom. It slowed down and the mood became one of big-chorded melancholic patience and then it picked up again. And this is where I had the problem: I never had any image or understanding of where Bast were taking us. It was always going to be a problem with a twenty five minute set. Although it was deathly and heavy, this was more like a medley with no apparent meaning in the movement. (AD)
My first band of the day are Colchester based hate crew, Jøtnarr. A band I’ve seen many times, but this is their best and tightest performance yet. Despite the early slot (and Aura Noir playing round the corner) word about the ‘narr has obviously got round and the lads churn out their unique blend of black metal / crust to a rammed Black Heart. The twin guitars of Chris and Simon grind out memorable riff after memorable riff and Oliver is one of the most entertaining drummers you’ll see – grinning like a possessed maniac one minute, gurning like a GG Allin’s baby brother the next. The boys fill their limited set with material from their new EP ‘Burn & Bury’ which at the close of their set positively flies off the merch stand. Mark my words, Jøtnarr will be massive soon. (ME)
Whoa where did all these people suddenly come from? It’s hardly surprising though at even at this ungodly hour the ugliest band on the planet (their words not mine) Aura Noir are always gonna be a major draw. They proudly sit Upon The Dark Throne and bring the ugh with Apollyon’s death belches spewing through the air and being lovingly repeated by the enthusiastic audience between bouts of severe neck thrashing. Aggressor is propped up on a large stool still recovering from his very unfortunate high rise dive and dice with death but he is on fine form playing bass and taking over occasionally on vocals. Naturally Rune Blasphemer Erikson is busy strumming away like a madman too. If Incineration needs an anthem ‘Hell’s Fire’ would be a perfect one with Apollyon hollering out his parts and the gnarly black thrashing attack certainly brings an ugly element to things. As Hades Rises brings the winding grinding riffs to the fore one has to wonder how people are going to survive banging heads for the rest of the day and there is also something about this uncouth assault that kind of makes you want to drink, pacing is going to have to be considered. Not for the band though and they apologise about the fact they have such a short sett. This kind of makes them all the more volatile though as they plunder songs from albums old and new. Finishing with ‘Conqueror’ well they did just that and proved one of the best (although not ugliest, Impaled Nazarene beat them at that) bands of the day. (PW)
A sizeable crowd was present at the Underworld for Otargos. The tall lead singer had the air of “I’m in charge”, now that he and his colleagues from France had uniformly taken off their hoodies and were ready for action. The thrashing black metal rose and fell. Choreographed movements of swinging hair and expressive gestures accompanied the controlled and flamboyant metal. “Kinetic Zero” signalled energetic and intense machine-gun warmongering. The lead singer evidently loved himself. There was no place for understatement. “Cloning the Divine” was tight and full of power-packed energy and fury. Pungent darkness prevailed as it slowed down. Otargos were painting pictures with their music. Their songs have good structures. Meanwhile, I was enjoying the theatricals. “All ze guys, all ze girls, you ‘ave no excuse” pronounced Mr Frenchman. He and his colleagues had all the gestures and the flourishes but what impressed me most was the band’s timing and ability to produce drama from the fury, the darkness, the deliver of the spoken parts and the marching rhythms. Atmospheric and intense black metal was delivered with Gallic flair. Otargos knew how to captivate the audience and received due appreciation for it. (AD)
Gotta love the Foetals! Foetal Juice take to the Black Heart stage soon after Jotnarr leave it in tatters. It’s been ages since I last saw these guys and they never disappoint. Their blend of death/grind/humour is great fun and they kick off to a packed venue. Classics like ‘Brewkakke’ & ‘Twisted Fister’ are blasted out to a very appreciative and increasingly ‘refreshed’ crowd. Of course you can have all the funny song titles you want and it doesn’t mean shit if you can’t play – but the Bury boys nail it. ‘Big Trouble In Little Vagina’ and the latest hit ‘Albert Grindstein’ are belted out and the fans lap it all up. Seriously – if you missed Foetal Juice you missed a fucking good time! (ME)
Having really enjoyed Oranssi Pazuzu album Valonielu and their marriage of blackened Hawkwind induced head fuckery I was really keen to see them in action especially having missed their previous Black Heart show. This time they get the massive Ballroom stage to lay out their seismic spacey craft and fill it up with big fuzzy bass lines, sonic pulses and brooding riffs. Unfortunately although hearing them is no problem seeing what is going on exactly is a different case as the Finns seem to prefer hiding in shadow and fog. This works though even if not photographically as figures form contorting shapes on stage along with the music and it’s all designed to kind of take you off to the outer limits on one hell of a trip. A massive passage of tribal sounding drumming furrows off the stage and it seems to go on for aeons before everything crashes down and nasty rasping vocals virulently bite in with everything forming like an all consuming horrific black void. Sound pretty much absorbs the whole venue and although Hawkwind comparisons are fair I don’t know what some of their more veteran fans would make of this, it would probably give them an instant flashback to the worst acid trip of their lives. I had to get another pint just to help tether me to the earth (well that’s my excuse) and thought I could hear water dripping from somewhere and hoped that was the band sampling the sound and not everything about to melt around me. Do not panic! Well it’s kind of hard not to and I am not sure if the large ambient flow out brought me back down to earth again safely or not. (PW)
Diving straight into the Underworld after Foetal Juice’s set for Prostitute Disfigurement sees the band, fresh(ish) from a short tour of South America, bring the gorehammer down heavily on the packed Camden dungeon. The sound is immense with Dennis Thiele’s drums underpinning a whistle-stop tour through the bands five albums. Now with Michael Barber (Saturnian) slotted in on guitar the Dutch death crews sound has improved since the last time I saw them and by the time ‘Corpse Garden’ is finished everyone is grinning like buffoons. (ME)
Our guides were two men wearing balaclavas in white shirts and ties. The drone began. Behind these men was grainy back and white footage of Ireland’s rugged west coast with the waves lapping against the shore and ruined Celtic buildings in the bleak and people-free landscape. Over the depressive drone, an Irish man told us a monologous tale about banshees and other worldly matters as if he was sitting next to us in the pub. This is the dark and ambient world of From the Bogs of Aughiska. Bleak echoing and cavernous sounds placed us in a world of emptiness and voids, of sorrow, of bleakness and winds. This was a cold and lonely place. There was minimal movement from the two men, one with a guitar and the other in front of the sample machine, barely moved. I looked around me, and could see in the gloom that my fellow audience members were similarly struck by these breathtaking visions of nothingness. The drone continued. There was a ghastly scream of unimaginably awful proportions. Then it was minimalistic business as usual. Two more balaclava’d men pushed to the front and stood silently between the other two, facing the audience. Further narrative about tragedy and floods and lost stones accompanied the sweeping sounds. One of the hitherto silent onlookers now took up the drums and revealed a mask. First holding the drum sticks as a cross, he set an energetic and unholy pattern, supported by fearsome Mayhem like black metal vocals, ringing metal and of course the grey noise of the drone. The lonely house of horrors had taken on a new dimension. As we were left wondering what was going on now, the men discreetly left the stage. I don’t image the Irish tourist board will be hiring the Bogs of Aughiska any time soon, that is unless they want to promote the bleak, lonely, wind-swept and awesome place where we had just spent the previous thirty minutes. It was cold and lonely, but at least it didn’t rain.(AD)
One thing guaranteed to cause the odd incineration or two are dragons which made Keep Of Kalessin a perfect band for the day and they were more than welcome to scorch the Ballroom as far as I was concerned having never seen them before. New album ‘Epistemolgy’ is a real beast and as they set about devouring us with a couple of cuts from it ‘The Grand Design’ and ‘Dark Divinity’ the power and swagger of this trio really is second to none. I seem to have scrawled down the words “fuck this lot go like the clappers” and indeed they do with the battering ram of drummer Vly literally blazing away. There may not be a huge amount to watch as they play in a rather fetching pink light but Obsidian Claw and Wizziac swap position and keep things constant moving around on the big stage, sharing vocals and forging out molten riffs of glory. Musically its really burgeoning stuff but also majestic with a massive underlying melody about it as well as outright extremity. Intricate guitar riffs unspool and the band lead off down some progressive roots and it is easy to lose yourself amidst it all as black, death and traditional metallic licks all combine and flail upward and out off to the stratosphere. Moments of pure rage and hammering force make it all the more volatile and the clean vocal parts really hit the spot too. They don’t have time for a huge amount of numbers and much of the set are newer numbers such as the blockbusting power of ‘Introspection’ but it seems like many here know these songs well. I find myself at the bar again (this is thirsty work people) and it’s also music for heroes and as they take us back to the Kolussus ‘Ascendant’ KoK are definitely worthy of holding a glass, or indeed a plastic cup aloft to. Excellent set! (PW)
I hadn’t got over the bogs of Western Ireland when I switched to the Underworld to watch Endstille. These big corpse-painted Germans put on a classic performance. I’ve never regarded their music as anything especially sophisticated, and they confirmed that for me here with their constantly repressive rhythms, distinctive and stand-out riffage and Motorhead style black metal, noteworthy for its belligerence, hatred and accessibility. After the Bogs of Aughiska, the world was good again even though it was war-torn as Endstille’s world tends to be. The drummer banged tribally, the irrepressible riffs continued and the lead man made all the gestures you need to make in such circumstances. He leant out, hair swung and there was much gnashing of teeth and rage. “Sick Heil” was a crowd-pleasing quick blast but throughout Endstille kept up the intensity with their thrash, modern style of black metal. The audience responded. I like Endstille and understand why I have three of their albums in my collection. They were fresh and in this live setting their personality came across well. Their audience interaction was friendly, and they ultimately succeeded in combining black metal nastiness with good grace. (AD)
Another band with an excellent new album ‘Enki’ are Melechesh and they are also another one that I had never seen before either, double result. They also seem to have the Ballroom busy and when the Mesopotamian demons attack we are instantly transported off to the scorched desert by the opening slab from that new album ‘Tempest Temper Enlil Enraged. Asmedi looks somewhat possessed and savagely blazes away and on either side of him wearing muslin masks are Moloch and Scorpios playing just as fast and violently. Not forgetting the battery at the back from Lord Curse and the result is a potent deathly ravaging beast of a track, rising up and uncorking itself like a djinn from a bottle and destroying all in its path. People looked like they were in a sandstorm in the pit bouncing up and down along to the rasping vocals and thrashy riffing. After getting caught up in it all and watching from the front for the first few numbers I realised that I needed to find a suitable ship of the desert and was parched and went off in search of water (well that’s not strictly true). I watched the audience seething along in front of me and as the band announce a Sphinx number ‘Triangular Tattvic Fire’ had to wonder if every band here had gone out their way to play a track suitably in line with the festival name. Plumes of smoke rise from each side of the stage and again although the band don’t have all the time they would have like they still play a formidable and highly memorable set of devilish death. (PW)
I dropped in on Wretched Soul playing at the Black Heart for twenty minutes before going off to check out Shining. I saw these guys play before when they accompanied Mercenary and Omnium Gatherum. The large hairy Viking looking gentleman who provides considerable presence to the band is, along with his band mates, from Kent. What I saw and heard was good heavy metal with solid riffs and loads of energy – all good for a live performance. The rumbustious death/thrash style had more than an element of Iron Maiden in it for me. The songs however were a bit standard with certainly nothing new about them but one thing which struck me was the lead singer’s ability to hold a note, which would go down well in a power metal setting. But that’s not what Wretched Soul are about. There was a moment when the lead singer held out the mic to the audience to contribute but no-one did anything. This belied the fact that the band’s energetic output was going down well with the audience It wasn’t exciting me, and I wasn’t too disappointed when I left, but I appreciated the fact that Wretched Soul were giving their all and are gifted musicians. (AD)
It’s time to inject a little sunshine into our veins now as it’s Shining o’clock. Love em or hate em at least you can choose to go and watch other bands if you don’t want to catch the Swedes in all their misanthropic glory but for many this was the band of the whole festival. It’s somewhat dangerous in the photo pit but it was my own fault as I couldn’t help bouncing around a bit to ‘Vilseledda barnasjälars hemvist’ and obviously caught the attention of Niklas Kvarforth and made a target of myself resulting in him first blowing his nose on me then spitting Jack Daniels in my face (which I shamelessly licked off) and then he put his leather clad gloved hand right over my camera lens as I went to take a picture. It was not all about him in any respect though as the master class of the music is impossible to ignore from Huss, Larsson and Valovirta striking poses and keeping things incredibly tight as the band filled up the stage. They have recently announced that they are not playing smaller venues any more or going on big tours and after playing for so long and delivering nine albums who can blame them. The Ballroom seems almost too small to contain them today and as the singer prowls the stage like a caged animal and drapes himself over the monitor it looks like he still wants to escape Of the tracks aired we got the excellent new one ‘Vilja & Dröm’ which barrels in with a beefy death grunt and a battering black fervour rolled out thunderously by drummer Tuomikanto before it settles into a groove and allows the vocals to really roll off the singers tongue and spread like poison through the venue. Also we get some classic wrist slitting depressiveness from Shining V Halmsted in the form of ‘Låt oss ta allt från varandra’ which sounds suitably unhinged and haunting taking us into the depths of negativity and nihilism. All in all a perfect set, drum solos, guitars played behind heads and a sense of danger that constantly threatened to overspill. As for the closing shot of ‘For The God Below’ Hail darkness hail indeed! (PW)
Visually Tribulation from Sweden were striking. The lead singer looked normal with his facepaint. One of the guitarists looked like a tall, gothic crossover between a ghost and a scarecrow. The blond one on the other side seemed to be wearing a ladies’ top and was capable of pulling the most grotesque facial expressions, accentuated by the make-up. Musically, Tribulation were in the groove from the off. I didn’t know the band’s music but what was immediately striking was the coherence and hookiness. They went mental, prompting instantaneous moshing but they proved they are a multiple trick pony, spreading magic and surprises all along the way. Even the interludes between tracks were transfixing as the blond guitarist kept up the vibe, accompanying them with suitably exaggerated rock star gestures. But let’s get away from the visual aspect – the melodies of the songs were interesting and couldn’t be pinned down to a style. There was fluid prog death and thrash in there but suddenly sounds would come from underneath and underline the tough and hard base. The vocalist roared on as layers of instrumental magic piled up around it. The songs had personality, the metal melodies were brilliant as was the guitar play. And it was all delivered with seemingly great ease in spite of the sophisticated riffs. Brilliant groove lines and complex songs were expertly delivered. Ferocity and power were in abundance. “When the Sky is Black with Devils” is the only song title I caught, but everything that Tribulation played here was superb. As a side show the guitarist looked into the crowd and grimaced menacingly and blackly, but this was the complete musical performance, topped off with a climactic ending. If Tribulation had been a headlining band, it would have been no more than they deserved.
Security staff were at the ready for Impaled Nazarene. It didn’t take long for them to be escorting crowd surfers back to the pit as the old war horses embarked upon their customary brutal assault and uncompromising attack. The “enlightenment” of “Enlightenment Process” amounted to thunderingly punk-like earthy rhythms mixed with Mr Luttinen’s hyper aggressive vocals and punishing drum beats. It was of course relentless. “Armageddon Death Squad” is for me the band’s definitive statement. It was greeted with enthusiasm and duly delivered in crusty fashion. In their 35 minutes, Impaled Nazarene managed to mix plenty of “old shit”, as they called their contributions from the “Ugra-Karma” and “Suomi Finland Perkele” albums, with new tracks. They all got the same treatment – energy, aggression, violence, defiance. And it all ended with Mr Luttinen invoking tribal chants and the inevitable “Total War – Winter War”. “Thank you very much and have a nice festival”, he announced as the band left. What a lovely man.
After Impaled Nazarene, I nipped over to the Black Heart and caught the last fifteen minutes of Essenz. Very impressive it was too. The basis was heavy, crushing doom but with interesting shapes and developments. The paved the way with big slabs while the bassist and guitarist built impenetrable walls. Yet there were winding paths and interesting crunchy sound breakdowns amid the inevitable hypnosis. At the end they broke into a frenetic passage but in spite of appearances this was controlled. What this was all about though was monstrous sonic movements. I wish I’d heard more. (AD)
Like trying to tame a wild animal, it’s pretty obvious that God Seed aren’t a band that have any love of rules or following instructions, and they treat their allotted stage time with the same disdain. While the Electric Ballroom is buzzing with excited fans at 7.15pm, Gaahl and co. don’t make an appearance until well after half past. Although fashionably late for their third foray onto UK soil, their performance is no less impressive and their keyboard laden black metal tunes are in fact heightened by the added anticipation. As well as blasting through ‘I Begin’ numbers such as ‘Awake’, the band also pull some Gorgoroth classics out of the bag, pairing furious and icy riffs with intimidating stage presence and theatrical showmanship. King thrusts his guitar out towards the crowd, as Gaahl’s everlasting gaze bores into the skulls of every member of the audience. While their performance cannot be faulted, and not a single band member is lacking in enthusiasm for what they do, it’s been three years since ‘I Begin’ was released and it would be nice to hear some fresh material. A flawless set, but one that could definitely do with some new songs; you can only dine out on one album and songs from a previous band for so long. Let’s have a new record, please! (Angela)
Never mind all the trv kvlt badger bullshit – this is Necrophobic and they don’t fuck about! Launching into Watainesque opener ‘Splendour Nigri Solis’ the Swedes are tighter than when I last saw them supporting Morbid Angel. Their addictive blackened death metal goes over a storm with the now morbidly drunk Underworld crowd. They dig out ‘Dreams Shall Flesh’ next from ‘02s ‘Bloodhymns’ but it’s the one two punch of the pounding ‘Furfur’ and speed metal lunacy of ‘Revelation 666’ that light up the Underworld and the pit goes nuts. Nailing the lid shut with set closer and oldie ‘Nocturnal Silence’ I and pretty much everyone else feel like we’ve been stuck in a Satanic washing machine on a fast spin. Brilliant. (ME)
This was the first time I had managed to make it in to the Black Heart to see someone today but the debut UK short and incendiary kick ass show from Alfahanne was not to be missed. I’m not sure how many over here have encountered the Swedish ‘death cult’s’ album Alfapokalyps but I am sure everyone who had has rammed themselves in here. This is kick ass speedy punk, rot n’ roll and the band look a picture plastered in tattoos and driving into things seemingly determined to tear the venue a new one in the half an hour or so they have. It a fast, furious and sleazy attack making me feel suitably dirty watching them. The band may not have room to throw themselves around the small stage as much as they would like but pull of things with plenty of posturing looking like a mothers worse nightmare if any of them had been taken home and introduced to her as her daughters new boyfriend. We get on down, pumping fists and slamming shots and all that is missing here are pistols to fire in the air. Just as you think it could not have got anymore pumped up an invading singer, fan and champion of the band Niklas K jumped on stage to join in with Pehr Skjoldhammer, the results of this collaboration you will be able to hear for yourself on the next album. It was another pure burst of speed hitting like a train clattering off the tracks Niklas taking time out to snog one more than willing lady at the front, much to the annoyance of most of the others as well as no doubt a few guys in the venue. This band don’t need gimmicks though as songs like the excellent Indiehora prove and I have a feeling this lot will be back here headlining before too long. (PW)
It was strange to hear wistful prog metal after all this extremity. Even the engaging and humble lead singer of Alcest, the band in question, commented on it. The Electric Ballroom was barely a third full but these Frenchmen filled the room with a majestic and at times mystical experience. Melancholic images complemented moments of electric and nerve-tingling power, reminding me very much of Italy’s Novembre. The fuzzy sound quality, which had suited the earlier bands, didn’t help to highlight the sensitive moments but it did get better. Drawing much of their set from the “Ecailles de Lune” and “Les Voyages de l‘Ame” albums, Alcest wove magic patterns and took us to other worlds. Quiet passages absorbed us but it was like changing seasons as the scene gently changed. Occasionally a storm came in to disturb the powerful sonic waves and the captivating drum beat, and black metal growls were superimposed on the steady prog metal dreamscapes. The long majestic passages had grandeur but were never pompous. Finishing the set perhaps surprisingly with the understated “Délivrance”, the qualities which define Alcest and which had transfixed us for an hour were all there: the melancholy, the calming drum beat, the post metal ring, the rising tempo and the other-worldly majestic moods. To great appreciation, Alcest quietly finished their set and disappeared from the ever present haze. (AD)
The Long Ships Are Coming!!! Johnny and the boys swagger out and with zero bullshit Unleashed proceed to crush Camden. ‘Where Is Your God Now’ from stunning new album ‘Dawn Of The Nine’ is next and the relentless death metal barrage is almost too intense. But Unleashed fans tend to be built of robust stuff. Heads are banged and fists raised as anthem after anthem of Viking violence are blasted out. The twenty year solid line up totally nail it and thankfully mid set stomper ‘Midvinterblot’ allows us time to catch a breath. ‘Triumph Of Genocide’ and set closer ‘Hammer Battalion’ turn the experience into a full on cardio endurance session. This is a band I never tire of seeing and their legendary status is richly deserved. Killer on record and a total massacre live (ME)
So an extreme and fiery day in every respect and one that wrecked us both musically and physically. Incineration Fest is hopefully going to be a regular annual event in the future and all that needs sorting is making Camden a tourist free zone between venues and it would be perfect! Congratulations to Old Empire Promotions for pulling it all off and here’s to many more to come.
Reviewers: Andrew Doherty, Mark Eve, Angela Davey and Pete Woods
Photos: Pete Woods