So, my annual expedition down to old London town for the mighty Incineration Fest had been thwarted in recent years for obvious reasons, although this year it was back, billed to be bigger and better than ever and with the addition of The Roundhouse to the venue list, it had all the makings to live up to the promises.
As my train rolled into Kings Cross, I got my bearings, hot-footed it over to the hotel to drop the bags off and then over to Camden to pick up my wrist band and draw up a battle plan. As the ticket/wristband exchange was open from 11.00, yet none of the venues opened until 13.00, there was no other option than to source the closest watering hole for a few pints and a spot of lunch. The local BrewDog came out as a favourite and was just around the corner from The Black Heart, so we found our way there, few drinks, an outstanding burger and the strategy for the day was born.
So, first up was Shrapnel in The Underworld, and who doesn’t love a bit of all-out thrash on a Saturday lunchtime to wake you up, although we were met with disappointment when we turned the corner to find a sign in The Underworld window letting us know that Shrapnel had cancelled. I’ve no idea why, but it was obvious that there were a few disappointed punters when you heard people talking throughout the rest of the day. I guess we just had to rely on Hellripper later in the day to deliver the thrash assault.
So, a quick check of the ‘Grid’ to work out our next move and it was Calligram on The Electric Ballroom stage. As there was some time before they were due to grace the stage we decided to still head over there and check out the merch, pick up a festival shirt, and await the arrival of the self-confessed black metal in shorts !! Having never checked these guys out before I was intrigued as to what they exactly had in store for us. The lights dimmed and the stage was hit hard by the openers for the day. The music being blasted out was raw and slightly chaotic. They drew a decent crowd for the time of day, and they all seemed to love the art that was being crafted in front of them. The tracks were built with enthusiasm and energy and the stage was kept busy with each member of the band moving as if they were the headliners, obviously loving their time in the capital. I would surmise that I need to give these another chance to totally appreciate their work but the numbers in attendance are testament to a decent following they have built up during their existence.
Next up was Noctule, and these had been highly recommended to me with gusto and excitement, so much so, that the rest of my group had made it to The Underworld before me and were front and centre for the black metal project from Serena Cherry of Svalbard fame. I had been assured that this incarnation was far removed from the chaos and power of Svalbard yet were more of an atmospheric black metal vehicle. As the lights faded, a masked figure stalked onto the stage accompanied by an intro tape before the band then made their entrance, Cherry took centre stage, her mike stand looking like it had been dragged through some woodland, being intertwined with foliage and leaves to create effect. The result of the Cherry mastermind is one of the hypnotic guitar sections and battering drum blast beats which all go some way to back up the passionate and formidable vocals. The Underworld was rammed for this spectacle and having witnessed it first-hand, I can truly concur that this is one band to catch on their next touring cycle.
I decided to fight my way through The Underworld crowd in order to make it back to The Electric Ballroom for one of my picks of the day. Spanish raw black metal in the shape of Noctem. Once I’d secured my spot, I looked around to take in my surroundings and noticed that this place was packed as well, the Incineration crowd certainly do have good taste! Noctem hit the stage, corpse paint donned and unleashed bloody hell onto the amassed crowd. Beleth prowled the stage and seemingly hunted out every soul in order to release hell into their very psyche for the forty minutes they had to entertain us with. Moss and Galan led the charge with their axes and manipulated the strings to create truly mesmerising fretwork while Varu and Voor kept the deeper end of the musical score in check with a pummeling bassline and drum work respectively. ‘Eidolon’ and ‘Sulphur’ were absolutely magnificent examples of the Noctem back catalogue and I know that the great success on The Electric Ballroom stage had many making their way to the merch stand to pick up any wares that were on offer there.
Back to The Underworld and judging by the previous experience of the crowd being rammed into the confines of the infamous venue, I didn’t hold out much hope of being able to get anywhere near the stage, or even being able to catch a glimpse of the brutal death metal juggernaut that is Blasphemer. How right was I!! I descended the stairs into the dimly lit venue only to be met by a solid impenetrable wall of black, there was no way through, not even for a rabid infested rat, so I had no chance. I decided to hang out in the bar area and allow the technical death metal to steamroll over me from a distance. The vocals from ‘The Ripper’ were masterful and authoritative, booming out from within the darkness, accompanied by a compelling and explosive musical backbone. Quick time check and I decided to head back to The Electric Ballroom in time for Unfathomable Ruination, and maybe catch even a glimpse of the stage and band if my luck was to change.
Well, what a refreshing change, I could actually traverse the crowd without actually brushing against anyone. That’s not to say a healthy crowd hadn’t gathered, far from it, it was just fantastic to be able to see the stage and have some space to myself. The crowd swelled just before the Londoners launched into their set. I was keen to catch these guys as I’d seen on social media the night before that Ben wasn’t able to join the band on stage, instead they had Mallika Sundaramurthy filling in on the vocal duties. Wow, just wow, the vocals being spat out by Mallika were nothing short of brutal and hypnotic. The band are a well-oiled machine and never disappoints, but Mallika brought a new dimension to the party today. She prowled the stage with menace and intent, each word delivered with pinpoint precision and dedication. She stated that it had been three years since she last took charge of a stage, you wouldn’t have known, far from it. Piazza and Herrera were impressive on the flanks, swirling and assaulting the tracks as if they wanted to beat them into submission. Anderson and Law are also worthy of a nod to their work rate and effort they had poured into the set this afternoon, absolutely commendable and applaudable. Great effort one and all.
As I wasn’t sure of the route to The Roundhouse, I made the one-stop tube journey only to be met with a massively impressive queue outside the venue. The doors were meant to have opened by now and the band were due to be on in ten, so I stood in line, waited for it to start moving and made my way into the utterly impressive and grand Roundhouse. Winterfylleth have always been on my radar, and I have had many encounters with them, even including an intimate acoustic event in Leeds a few years back, so I was very intrigued as to what tonights set had in store for us. The floor of The Roundhouse was sparsely occupied when the atmospheric and ambient inspired black metal warriors took to the stage to invoke emotion and passion with their brand of sentiment inducing black arts, but the place soon filled up and the volume increased with everybody that entered the round venue. Naughton commanded the crowd with ease and the whole collective let the music do most of the talking, it was technical, imposing, and majestic. Bathed in red lights for pretty much all of the set, this only added to the luxurious swathing emotion which pushed from behind the epic soundscape being formed on stage this evening.
I decided to hotfoot it back to The Electric Ballroom for October Tide, and while I reached the venue after the band had started, I was still able to find a vantage point to enjoy the Swedish melodic death and doom. I was first introduced to October Tide when I picked up one of their back catalogue CDs which enticed me in with a sticker on the front that merely said ‘for fans of Slayer’, they had me hooked and I was impressed with the offering being poured out of the speaker, although still to this day I would argue the resemblance to Slayer, I really wouldn’t put them in the same camp at all. That being said, it doesn’t detract from my enjoyment of these swedes and tonight they were on form. They were fierce, callous, and ruthless with every beat and chord being delivered to the London crowd. Each track builds on the success of its predecessor and the band could be seen to visibly build momentum throughout the set. Every inch of the stage was being used to good effect and the crowd evidently enjoyed their choice to spend forty-five minutes of their Saturday with these lads. Hogbom even announced that they bet they were the slowest band on the festival today, I wouldn’t say that though, we still had the exquisite, evocative, and elegant Jo Quail to come yet.
Band of the festival for me, the raw satanic and downright malevolent Tsjuder from the Barren landscapes of Norway, were up next in The Roundhouse. The stage was fairly sparse, just a drum kit and a duo of microphone stands in situ, the house lights then dipped away and Nag et al strode onto a rapturous response from the massive crowd who were waiting to be delighted with power and passion from an all-encompassing demonic and diabolical set.
The set was packed with anthems and colossal tracks, all delivered with an appetite and rage, the precision was awe-inspiring and the dedication with which the tracks were generated was mesmerising. The set kicked off with ‘The Daemon Gate’ and swiftly morphed into ‘Helvete’ and then ‘Kill For Satan’. There was no respite, it was track after track, sinful connotation after vile undertone and all exhibited with perfect precision and accuracy. The band signed off with ‘Antiliv’ and this left us wanting more, hungry for more true Norwegian raw black metal delivered in the only way these masters know how to.
I decided to stay in my spot at The Roundhouse only to be met with reports back that I missed a treat by not venturing up to The Underworld for Hellripper, whom I am enthusiastically informed, may just have been the band of the day (Whoa hold onto those words until we have been witness to the mighty Emperor later). Hellripper were ferocious and merciless, forging a speed to the blinding and mesmerising tracks in equal measures. They created the largest pit of the day in The Underworld, the whole floor moving, left to right, front to back, and a sea of stage divers descending onto the stage before launching themselves back into the mass of bodies below them. Damn, ah well, they are on my list of regrets but also on my list of bands not to stupidly miss next time they are around. Huddersfield, it’s a date!
Back to The Roundhouse and this time the penultimate band on The Roundhouse stage, death metal veterans, Bloodbath. The crowd had thinned out a little for these death metal maestros which baffled me a little but that didn’t seem to stop the band delivering an absolutely crushing and intense lesson in classic, stripped back, violent, and ruthless death metal. Nicks’s vocals were on point, and he commanded the stage with his usual confident and charismatic aura. ‘Bathe In Blood’ was pounding and pummelling, absolutely destroying the crowd that stood before them. The string work on the track was admirable beyond belief and the drums crushed to within an inch of their life. A solid set had been exhibited tonight and one which saw the crowd lap it up in their droves.
I decided to wander back up to The Electric Ballroom to catch the intriguing Jo Quail before the mighty Emperor closed the day back at The Roundhouse. Now, this was a nasty three-way clash, do you stick to the larger venue and be in with a shot to actually see the artist, do you head to The Underworld to catch the mystical black metal from France in the form of Regarde Les Hommes Tomber or do I head to the tiny Black Heart to catch Greek black metal, Lucifers Child, with George Emmanuel of former Rotting Christ Fame? I weighed it up and concluded that it would have been rammed in The Black Heart and The Underworld, so I headed over to catch Jo Quail. What I was met with when I entered The Electric Ballroom was a massive feeling of disappointment. I couldn’t believe the meagre crowd; I could literally count about 40 people spread out before the stage which was adorned with a single microphone and modern cello. Okay, I get that Jo is far removed from the headliners, Unleashed, who pulled out at the eleventh hour, and even original booking, Dark Funeral, but the very talented and intriguing Jo Quail deserved a bigger crowd than the one that had turned up. That being said, when Jo graced the stage and treated us to the ambient and mesmerising art she creates with the cello and a loop, the crowd showed their appreciation enthusiastically.
The soundscape being washed over the crowd was calming and sedative, hypnotic and gentle in a totally enduring way. The passion being omitted from the bow and strings was haunting and entrancing. Jo had the crowd in complete awe, silent as she displayed her art in a stripped back form so that all of its angles and trajectories could be seen and appreciated for the beauty that they are built upon. A monumentally colossal set and one which will not be forgotten by all of those in attendance. So, what could have been a failure, turned out to be a resounding success and soon turned into an intimate gig for the chosen few. The lights were atmospheric and moody and helped add to the feeling of intimacy created inside The Electric Ballroom. For the few that had bothered to show up, this had been a special set in many, less than obvious, ways.
Hell, here we go, this is what we have all been waiting for, and it’s taken 2 years of postponements to reach this point. The Roundhouse was packed, the colossal backdrop was hung, and the stage was set. Emperor then took to the stage to a deafening roar from the impressive crowd. The set was built around two halves tonight, the first with Torson on the drums, the second with Faust taking up residence on the drum stool behind a second kit on the stage, we were then also treated to an encore as well. Torsons time on stage was punctuated with highlights in the form of ‘The Acclamation Of Bonds’ and ‘With Strength I Burn’ While Faust got to be decadent with ‘Inno A Satana’ as well as a cover of the Bathory classic, ‘Call From The Grave’, and a rendition of Celtic Frosts ‘Innocence And Wrath/The Usurper’ as well as an outstanding ‘I Am The Black Wizards’. The set was closed out with an absolutely awe-inspiring ‘The Majesty Of The Nightsky’.
The vocals from Ihsahn were pulverising, so powerful and emotional, potent, and impressive. Each word from Ihsahn was haunting and intense. The stage presence depicted was one of a commanding master and grabbed the attention of every being in the room and made sure that they didn’t stray from the art being built on the stage tonight. The bass duties were pummelling from the off, the left flank being patrolled with passion and muscle, the bass acting as a swathing beast, controlling from a distance while Samoth was perfection personified on the six strings.
The whole band blended into one unit, one entity, which helped create blissfully beautiful black metal of the highest order. Tonight, we had been witness to a lesson in raw and majestic black metal, decadent and resplendent in equal measures, true masters of their genre and a justly worthy owner of the label as one of black metal’s most respected, revered, and important black metal bands of our times.