Live Review: Incineration Festival 2023 – London 13.05.2023

Phil Pountney

As the clock struck midday, I stepped out of the black cab, raised my head and I was met with the comforting sight of The Underworld on the horizon, the day had finally arrived, Incineration Fest 2023 was here. 

I thanked the cabbie and proceeded to grab my wristband and accreditation and then make my way down into The Underworld for the brutal Scottish Slam Death Metal of Party Cannon. I traversed my way around the confines of The Underworld and found my way to the main floor where I was then hit with a solid wall of bodies and noise, the sound coming from the stage was deafening and riotous, each beat orchestrated a full on assault of the senses. Stony was stalking the cramped stage with intent and ferocity, barking out the vocals with power and aggression, the two flanks being well managed by the strings of Mclaughlin and Robinson while the muscle was being injected with fluidity and ease from the digits of Ryan. The London crowd certainly knew how to show their appreciation and were duly obliging with the mandatory beach balls which were being venomously hit around the crowd, covering almost every square inch of The Underworld floor ad numerous unsuspecting craniums along the way. As the brief set closed out, together with a floor of bodies obliging with obligatory push ups, it had been a visit of celebratory proportions and one that certainly got this, ahem, party started.

After a pint in The Underworld bar and a catch up with friends, I positioned myself back in the main room so that I could catch a glimpse of the American Punk-tinged Black Metal of Devil Master. As the venue swiftly filled up the band hit us with pure ferocity and sadistic intent. The black psalms expelled from the iconic stage were raw and angst driven with a subtle undercurrent of melodic torment, the likes of ‘Enamoured In The Throes Of Death’ and ‘Black Flame Candle’ were impressive in their primal and brutal deliverance, allowing the vocalist ‘Disembody Through Unparalleled Pleasure’ to connect with the swollen crowd and orchestrate the dark essence from front and centre. 

An early exit from the infamous venue and a short stroll to the impressive Electric Ballroom allowed me time to catch the last couple of sludge driven muscular efforts from the hometown stoner trio of Urne. Long before the stage came into sight I was met with a barrage of muscular and beefy riffs backed up with a bass line and drum backbone which was crunchy and weighty with every stroke that was served upon us. As the house lights raised and the trio departed, I was left pondering why I had never caught this lot live before, from the limited excerpt I had just had carved into my soul I was impressed and these had become my first festival ‘discovery’ which have now stapled themselves firmly to my ‘not to be missed’ list for next time they play anywhere remotely accessible to me. Take a bow guys, I’m sure I won’t have been the only one converted today. 

I claimed my spot in the Ballroom and stuck to it as I awaited another new offering to my gig existence, Celeste, advertised as a cacophony of French Black, Sludge, Post Hardcore Metal, I was intrigued as to just what our European brothers were about to deliver to us and boy was I not expecting what I was witness to. A gargantuan and titanic barrage of heavy and pounding metal, splattered with an air of black arts and an all-out assault on your senses and very being. Celeste brought the visual awe with them as well as the aural mauling, the stage backlit with red spotlights and each fragment of the band donned a headlamp omitting just a single red light in order to identify their presence. The tracks were brutalising and hammering, causing a tsunami of movement from the pit and its surrounding constituents, this had been a true lesson in violent and mesmeric metal of the most brutal order. Another successful discovery for me and one I will not let go.   

Still reeling from the battering I had just been exposed to, I decided to head back to The Underworld so that I could catch one of my must sees, or ‘hear’ at least knowing The Underworld, Lamp Of Murmuur from across the Atlantic. Before the Americans had even graced us with their pleasure, the venue was packed beyond belief and the door staff were having to adopt the old ‘one in, one out’ strategy in order to maintain some sort of order but those lucky enough to have grabbed a spot inside the claustrophobic inducing basement were battered from the off. The black metal was raw, caustic and delivered with precision and authority, the strings were severing and stinging, piercing your essence very much reminiscent of a scalpel slicing through a prominent jugular. Heads were banging in unison and the whole floor was a swathing carpet of bodies and beer being flung in differing random directions, yet all in perfect time with every acerbic and callous chord being delivered upon us from above.  

Back to the Electric Ballroom and time for some genuine legends in the Death Metal world. Asphyx and their brand of Dutch Death Metal were in town, and it was evident from the start that they were here to rip London a new one as they delivered their set with brutal and barbaric precision and intricacy. Van Drunen stalked the stage, barking out each lyric with venom and spite, Baayens and Zuur tamed their strings with relative ease and produced fretwork which any accomplished string artist would be proud of and aspire to being able to replicate with the effortless comfort both of these metal stalwarts were exhibiting to the packed-out Ballroom. As track after track was liberated and consigned to the baying crowd before them, the Dutch masters were obviously relishing and loving spending their brief afternoon slot with us as the contentment was clear for one and all to witness. 

Reluctantly I had to depart the party early in order to hot foot it across to The Black Heart in the hope that I was able to gain access and get a view, albeit a partial view, of a rising underground talent, UK Melodic Black Metal troop, Spider God. I had heard many impressive things around this Black Metal faction and the tracks id managed to unearth from their discography only went on to corroborate these so I was very keen to be able to bear witness to the brief set, turns out so were a lot of others as I couldn’t even penetrate the Black Hearts upstairs abode so had to settle to soaking up the aural onslaught from the doorway. Nevertheless, I was impressed, the vocals were malevolent and foreboding, ominous and menacing with every word being spat out at the cramped confines of their new lair. The manipulation of the axes was sublime and sinister, melodic and meticulous whilst keeping a raw and dirty edge to the tracks which they etched into our tympanic membranes, the drums were violent and ruthless, each beat seeming to command a more ferocious response from the gathered masses.  

So, after another high recommendation, I took an amble down to The Dev for some British Ambient Black Metal courtesy of Crimson Throne. Again, The Dev filled up at an immense rate, and if there were any rafters on show I’m sure there would be plenty of observers hanging off them in order to catch a glimpse of the elegant and swathing Black Metal which was being conjured up on the ankle high corner stage. The vocals were decadent, luxurious and backed up with soundscapes of blackened opulent riffs and crunching chords. The tracks were dispensed with unfaltering ease while the passion being injected into every note was continuous and applaudable, the ability that Crimson Throne had in order to create such a soundscape in such a tiny residence was certainly commendable and emphatically notable of a titanium standard. 

Hellenic Black Metal, need I say more? Electric Ballroom, Rotting Christ, let’s go!! Rotting Christ never disappoint in the live setting and their late afternoon set at Incineration fest was no exception. ‘Χ Ξ Σ (666)’ hit us like a freight train, Sakis et al were so tight it was mesmerising to watch, the power they generated was unbelievable, it was dominant, formidable, violent and polished. The crowd were the loudest they had been all day discharging every single lyric back at the Greek Black Metal masters with perfection and pride. Each and every faction of the setlist was an anthem in its own right, ‘Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy’ was colossal and ‘Non Serviam’ was absolutely brutal, Sakis barking out the lyrics with a heightened brutality and barbarism. The set then came to an all too early end with ‘In Yumen-Xibalba’ and the truly epic and emotive ‘Grandis Spiritus Diavolos’, each one cementing the fact that Rotting Christ could have quite easily headlined tonight but also reaffirming that we had just been witness to one of the most impressive displays and exhibitions of precise powerful Black Metal you will ever be a part of, Sakis himself thanked us for welcoming them back to London within 12 months of last being here, it truly was our pleasure to receive you back on our soil tonight and I for one sincerely hope that they make that a repetitive habit. 

Next up on the Electric Ballroom was part one of the headliner dual, and first to enter the fray were the Viking Black Metal Norse lords Enslaved. Bjornson, Kjellson et al hit the stage like a pack of rabid wolves, launching into ‘Jettgryta’ with precise maniacal brute strength. The set teased us with jewels such as ‘Allfáðr Oðinn’ off the 1992 ‘Yggdrasill’ demo and ‘Havenless’ off 2003’s full length ‘Below The Lights’ but for me the set was too top heavy focusing mainly on the more recent sacrifices ‘Utgard’ and ‘Heimdal’, that being said though, each song was delivered with copious amounts of muscle and intent. The musical score which sat behind the vicious and rancorous vocals was transcendent and elevated, the keys from Vinje were intricate and delicate supporting the whole movement with flamboyant ease as well as effortless, convoluted, sophisticated confidence. The set from start to finish was a fine lesson in the delivery of legendary hypnotic Black Metal with an overflowing confidence alongside well established, well deserved and a well celebrated reputable status.  

It was with a heavy heart but at this point I had to admit defeat and bid a fond farewell to the Fest as various logistical nightmares and train strikes meant I had to leave before Marduk hit the stage and I was absolutely gutted to have missed the Germanic Black Metal riot that was surely going to ensue. Reports back from those lucky enough to be able to not be tied to logistical constraints were that Marduk delivered a violent, callous and ferocious lesson in how raw blasphemous Black Metal should be dispensed, the true epitome of live profanity bestowed upon the gathered by a collective at the pinnacle of their trade. Maybe next time, just maybe next time. 

Three simple words are all it takes to sum up Incineration Fest 2023……………. Perfection Personified, again.

Previous Meet: Californian (N.W.O.T.H.M.) band Night Demon
Next Album Review: Raz Ohara - Tyrants


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