(Our man Andy Synn was lucky enough to attend the second annual Incineration Festival in the UK and turns in this report, with videos.)
Let me preface this review with a quick round of thanks to the people who made the festival, and my presence there, possible.
My main thanks go out to Daniel of London Metal Monthly (for whom I also write on a semi-regular basis these days) for arranging my press pass and feeding my ever-expanding ego (though at no point did I have to utter the immortal words “do you know who I am?”… which was a shame).
I also want to thank Steve and Stephen for dealing with the masses of people queuing for wristbands and for sorting my access on the day itself, as well as for all their work behind the scenes in booking the bands, venues, crew, and everything else that must have gone into a mammoth undertaking.
However, they, along with Nimai, are only the names I know of the people who were involved. For an undertaking this big – one that’s only in its second year no less – there must have been a host of other helpers and organisers working alongside them. And although I don’t know their names, I thank them as well.
As I said, this is only the second year that Incineration Festival has been run, and yet it’s already expanded to feature 3 separate venues (with a fourth catering to the bands/DJs performing at the after-party) all located in close proximity to one another around Camden.
So, after parking up and queuing to collect my wristband, I hustled over to The Electric Ballroom for my first ever glimpse of Black Thrash maniacs Aura Noir.
From start to finish the Norwegian foursome blitzed their way through a shock-and-awe set of serrated riffs, galloping rhythms, and brutish, bristling hooks with almost reckless abandon, kicking ass and taking names with their unapologetic assault of cut-throat thrash (and this despite the fact that the sound clearly wasn’t up to 100% this early in the day).
With a sound rooted in the very bedrock of Black and Thrash, tracks like the churning venom of “Hades Rise” and the merciless aggression of… erm… “Merciless”… show no mercy and take no prisoners, each one inducing whiplash and a state of euphoria in the assembled crowd.
Following this, and with eardrums freshly excoriated, I hurried over to The Underworld to see the cybernetic Blackened Death Metal peddled by France’s own Otargos.
Although the band have been one of my favourites for years now, somehow this was the first time I’d actually had the chance to see them in the flesh. And I was not disappointed, as their biomechanical blackened bombardment threatened to steal the whole day.
With a truly bludgeoning sound — two guitars, bass, drums, and vocals all welded together into a perfect killing machine — the fearsome French foursome stomped and blasted the audience into submission, delivering no less than five tracks (six if you count the interlude of “Xeno”) from 2013’s Apex Terror, along with a number of other killer cuts from across their back catalogue.
Up next I was faced with a choice… back to The Electric Ballroom to see Keep of Kalessin strut their fiery stuff, or immerse myself in the grim atmosphere conjured by Avant-Noir experimentalists From The Bogs of Aughiska?
After much soul-searching I opted for the latter and as a result was treated to a half hour’s worth of bleak, otherworldly ambience that was less of a standard live set, and more in the way of an arthouse performance piece, with two of the band’s balaclava-clad members (one on guitar, one controlling a laptop) straining out tortured, minimalist sonic despair before a video-feed of bleak moors and weathered headstones, droning and hissing and rumbling eerily until the final few minutes, when they were joined by their bass-and-drum-wielding compatriots for a sudden climactic blast of frenzied Black Metal.
With things running ever so slightly behind schedule at this point (but only very slightly), I opted to head back over to The Electric Ballroom in order to meet up with my compatriots once more and grab a good spot for the infamous Mesopotamian magicians in Melechesh.
Clearly swollen with confidence due to the rapturous reception afforded to their new album Enki, the quartet kicked off with the sandstorm assault of “Temper Tempest Enlil Enraged” and proceeded to power through a killer set culling the very best material from across their back catalogue — including “Triangular Tattvic Fire” from Sphynx, “Deluge of Delusional Dreams” off Emissaries, and “Grand Gathas of Baal Sin” from The Epigenesis — concluding with a frantic rendition of the classic “Rebirth of the Nemesis”.
Still, as great as their set was, it wasn’t without a few niggling issues, mainly the unnecessarily clicky, triggered kick-drum sound, and the oddly unnecessary use of taped backing vocals during several tracks (despite having two other members also adding vocals). Still, none of that took away from the band’s stellar performance, though it was (arguably) surpassed by what followed.
Because up next were the devilish deviants of Shining, with Kvarforth and his callous cohorts also riding high on the acclaim of their new album – although only one track from it would get an airing tonight.
With a more organic, more dynamic, and above all better sound (it seems that the last of the technical gremlins plaguing the venue’s PA must have been exorcised by the alchemical conjurations of the preceding band), the quintet put on an absolute masterclass of swaggering riffs and predatory grooves, spasming Black Metal aggression, tormented vocal catharsis, and sweetly sinister melody, that showcased them at the absolute top of their game.
Despite asking us several times if we were having a good night… and then promising to try and change that… the band’s all-too-short set of slit-wrist ballads and murder anthems somehow had more of a sense of life and energy to them than any of their predecessors, closing with a suitably climactic run-through of “For The God Below” (which I hope remains their signature closer for a long time).
In contrast to the poisonously proggy leanings of Kvarforth, et al., it was back to The Underworld next for a dose of something altogether more brutish, courtesy of the crusty, lo-fi blackened filth of Impaled Nazarene.
Punk-fuelled, pissed off, and punishingly primitive, the Finns barely paused for breath between each song, each gnarled riff and bellowed vocal inciting an ever-greater response from the packed crowd, with churning pits opening up in seemingly the smallest of spaces, unleashing wave after wave of claustrophobic chaos as the set barrelled towards its frenzied conclusion.
I didn’t have to go very far after this to see the next band I was eagerly awaiting. In fact I didn’t have to move at all, as Necrophobic were up next on The Underworld stage, with returning vocalist Anders Storkirk now back at the helm.
With a setlist running the gamut from their most recent album (“Splendour Nigri Solis”, “Furfur”) to their now over 20-year-old debut (“Before the Dawn”, “The Nocturnal Silence”), the show was as much a celebration of the band’s history as it was a tribute to their continued life and vitality, with a propulsive rendition of “Revelation 666” and a crowd-pleasing run-through of “Blinded by Light, Enlightened by Darkness” being personal highlights for yours truly!
And so it came time to pick my last band for the evening, and I couldn’t think of a better way to cap off my night than with the ethereal majesty of Alcest, whose particular brand of frail beauty and soaring melody would serve as a brilliant contrast to the rest of the evening’s more savage fare.
It turned out to be a very good choice on my part as well, as this was probably the best I have ever heard them sound in the live setting, both in terms of their flawless performance and the sheer sonic clarity they were afforded by the venue’s sound.
Personal favourites from the band’s dreamlike performance were a truly beautiful version of “Autre Temps”, along with a startlingly perfect “Écailles de Lune – Part 1” (including a truly intense ending) and a similarly stellar “Percées de lumière”.
Though they were easily the lightest band on the bill, the sheer quality of the band’s songs, and the utter conviction of their performance, meant that, for me at least, they more than held their own against the rest of the day’s more “extreme” acts, and in doing so reminded me just how much I love their music.
So that’s it! I’d like to give thanks and praise again to everyone who was involved in putting the festival together, as well as to all the bands who made the day such a fantastic musical experience.
Roll on next year!