Incineration Festival 2023
|Event:||Incineration Festival 2023|
|Written by:||omne metallum|
Once again Incineration Festival returns to London, confirming that the Earth has once more completed its orbit of that big burning thing in the sky (I confess, I am a fan of that heliocentric idea). The premier extreme metal festival in the country, Incineration Festival has gone from strength to strength over the years, earning its reputation with well-organised line-ups of high-quality metal. For the second weekend in a row, I found myself in familiar surroundings, having only been in Camden last weekend for Desertfest.
Without Emperor as this year's Unique Selling Point (with that, I owe an apology to my old Business Studies teacher, as it turns out I would use some of my knowledge beyond my GCSE; no such look for my Maths teacher, however, as there’s no way in hell I'm using sin, cos or tan anytime soon), this year's edition would not use the Roundhouse venue, although it would retain the Electric Ballroom, The Underworld, The Black Heart and The Dev.
This may seem like a downgrade; however, the line-up was instead condensed, leading to several large names playing earlier in the day instead of being spread out thinly across an extra venue. I must give credit to the festival promoter, who, after noticing the initial bad reception to the original stage times (that meant bands on The Electric Ballroom and The Underworld would clash), listened to the already sold-out ticket holders and changed the set times to alternate once the big names came on. Thanks to a combination of train strikes (I blame the Department For Transport) and a burst water main on the line, I arrived later than planned and thus got caught in the large wristband queue that had already formed (and who said metalheads weren't an organised bunch?).
Party Cannon 12:20-13:00, The Underworld
Getting the party started
The organisers made a big mistake with this one; as the first and only band on at this timeslot, those who arrived at The Underworld to collect their wristbands (as the venue doubled as the wristband collection point) decided to stay regardless of whether they liked the band or not, as they had nothing else to do, and therefore quickly rammed out the venue. While I wasn't too fussed, and was content to hear the band (the layout of the venue meant you couldn't see the band as far back as I was), I noticed I was surrounded by plenty of hardcore fans of the band who were missing out on their show.
The band were otherwise a mixed bag; the mix initially was not suited to their full-on style and so meant the band were little more than a sonic blur. However, once the mix was fixed and people slowly started filtering out to go see other bands, Party Cannon were in full swing and they certainly brought a party (though one that I was too sober to fully enjoy).
Devil Master 13:30-14:20, The Underworld
Jack of all trades, master of one
With things settling down and the crowds dispersing as other venues opened up, it felt like the festival was beginning again, take two. Devil Master were eagerly anticipated by those in The Underworld; when they did finally take to the stage, they repaid the audience back and more. The band's mix of black metal with post-punk guitars was an alluring mix; coupled with a bass playing down the middle and underpinning tracks like "Acid Black Mass" and "The Vigour Of Evil", and you had one potent combination. Speaking of punk, Devil Master certainly lent into it with an air of chaos and confusion throughout, with the band at one moment having to convene to remember the next song to play. Later on, half the band walked off thinking it was the end of their set, only to then walk back out and do one more song (having turned off and unplugged some of their instruments, meaning that any effects settings were reset and the band played a track with no effects, which felt unique); they then finished up for good... fifteen minutes early.
Still, when they were on form (and on the same page), Devil Master stood tall and made a positive impression upon the large crowd.
Lamp Of Murmuur 14:50-15:40, The Underworld
Phenomenal cosmic powers... Itty bitty living space
Clearly I wasn't the only one hyped up to see Lamp Of Murmuur, for The Underworld quickly filled up in anticipation for these American metalheads. While they lacked the full distorted edge of their studio output, this actually benefitted the band as their groovy, riff-driven black metal was able to shine, with M (no, not Judi Dench, though I would pay to see her front a black metal band) in particular getting the crowd moving. Tracks like "Seal Of The Dominator" sounded far better in the live setting (though Saturnian Bloodstorm should not be sniffed at), letting the riffs breathe better and highlight just how strong they are. Lamp Of Murmuur made plenty of new fans, judging by the audience's reactions and the amount of shirts among the crowd. This is a band I would see again should the opportunity arise.
Asphyx 15:50-16:40, Electric Ballroom
Come play my game. Exhale exhale exhale
The last time I saw these Dutch stalwarts was at the 2019 edition of this very fest, putting on one of the performances of the day. Since then, they produced one of the strongest death metal albums in years in 2021's Necroceros, meaning Asphyx were my most anticipated band of the day. As the band walked on stage to a sizeable crowd, I was eager for the band to kick into gear and get up and running.
Despite an initial mix so low and powerless that "Death The Brutal Way" risked being death the gentle way, the sound was thankfully fixed by the third song and the band were red hot, with the legend that is Martin Van Drunen pride of place at the front. Asphyx launched through a set that took in recent classics and old classics (hell, much of their discography is just classics), including powerful renditions of "The Rack", sing-along song "Deathhammer" and "Molten Black Earth".
The band are pros at this point, dropping into tracks at the drop of a hat and catching the audience off-guard in the best of ways. With Van Drunen urging the crowd on, the Electric Ballroom become a sea of flailing limbs and hair, while the band churned out tracks like a conveyor belt attached to a tank motor. On any other day, this would have been the highlight of the day, and though the band made a strong case for themselves, they would just be pipped out by someone else (can you guess who it is yet?).
De Profundis 17:00-17:30, The Black Heart
Out of the depths and into the light
Keeping the death metal train a-rollin', De Profundis took to the intimate settings of The Black Heart and put on the kind of show that raised questions as to why this band haven't progressed to larger venues. With charged renditions of new cuts "Weaponised Rape" and "Sectarian Warfare", the band ensured those who had skipped out on Rotting Christ didn't regret that decision. The Incineration regulars were tight and, surprisingly, weren't victim to the poor sound that The Black Heart usually produces for heavy bands. Alas, the crowd amounted to only about 30 people, a small showing for such a good band. However, given the enthusiasm shown by the band, they were playing as if they were headlining Wembley, leaving those 30 people to enjoy an intimate show from a band who play with conviction regardless of crowd size.
Suffocation 18:00-19:00, The Underworld
Feeding the spawn
Next to Asphyx, my other main draw for the day was Suffocation at The Underworld. Let me repeat that for those at the back, Suffocation... at The Underworld... oh this was going to be chaos. This rare kind of show is what can make festivals special, especially as this wasn't even the headline act! High-energy, hot, sweaty and on-point, this was, hands down, the set of the day. Taking no prisoners, let alone any pause, Suffocation tore through an unrelenting set that saw the band and audience in perfect synergy, the energy from both feeding each other and pushing each to their limits. I must confess, I was glad I stayed out of the pits, for the already cramped room got even smaller as the crowd showed what they could do to a soundtrack that included "Liege Of Inveracity", "Pierced From Within" and "Catatonia". As a bonus, Suffocation finished up on a new cut from an upcoming album in September. The band were tight and razor-sharp throughout, giving these tracks that extra edge to what was already strong material.
This was one of those performances you can look back on and say proudly "I was there"; I'm not given to hyperbole often, but it feels fitting here.
Enslaved 19:00-20:00, Electric Ballroom
Omg! It's Zakk Wylde! Wait, no, the lack of a ten-minute guitar solo that goes nowhere means it can't be him
A band who I've changed my mind on in recent years (for a long time, I preferred Ice Dale's work with Audrey Horne), Enslaved were next on the Electric Ballroom stage. These friendly Vikings from the North came on to a hero’s welcome, with the crowd enthusiastically going along with whatever the band wanted to do. Enslaved, for their part, seemed eager to hit the ground running, with this being the first of four festival appearances in the UK this year. The debut performance of "Kingdom" in the United Kingdom (Ivar's words, not mine, I swear) was the best of the cuts taken from their latest effort Heimdal, highlighting a band who are seemingly going from strength to strength. "Havenless", however, took the prize for song of the set. The sound was perfectly balanced, allowing the songs to breathe and have a perfect platform to transition from their album incarnations to a live setting.
Today's show was brought to you by, the letter Y
It was a welcome break to have a frontman who was as down to Earth as Grutle was, daring to smile, laugh and make dad jokes during the set, whereas many other bands tried to exude as much attitude as possible; it gave off the strong impression that the band were enjoying themselves as much as the crowd was.
Marduk 21:00-22:00, Electric Ballroom
What you get when you evolve your psyduck at night
Closing out the day on a sour note were Marduk, a band whose set has swiftly descended into infamy due to the decision of bassist Lindholm to throw a Nazi salute to the audience towards the end of the set, an action met with a mix of boos, disbelief and confusion (coming as "Beyond The Grace Of God" was ending, some moshers hadn't seen what had happened) from the audience. Lindholm has since been removed from the band, and both Marduk and festival have put out statements criticising the actions. I hope the festival organizers exercise diligence in their future bookings and consider the risks of platforming such ideologies.
As for the music? It wasn't the best of shows prior to this, as Lindholm's inebriated state meant his bass was largely a blur of low end that was turned too high in the mix. When the sound technician decided to bury the bass in the mix, the performance was OK, if nothing more.
The day had not only met, but far exceeded my expectations I had for it; aside from the incident during Marduk and poor planning for Party Cannon, much of today was a huge positive. Most bands I saw were on form and were eager to put on the best show they could and showed why Incineration Festival has gone from strength to strength. Enslaved have finally clicked for me, after years of never truly being able to get into them. while Devil Master showed plenty of potential, if they were able to organise themselves that bit more. Suffocation stole the day, however, going as far as to say it was one of the best shows I've seen post-pandemic. I hope that the festival makes a strong stand against what happened during Marduk, as it’s something that doesn't belong anywhere, let alone a concert.
I'd say same time next year Incineration; just don't clash with Eurovision next time!
||Written on 24.05.2023 by|
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