REVIEWED: Incineration Fest 2023 @ Camden Town, London
It’s a little past 1pm on another manic Saturday afternoon in Camden Town and every available square inch of space is already teeming with tourists as vacant-eyed teens glued to their mobiles amble idly down the high street, narrowly avoiding being mowed down by the local buses while questionable characters tout for business outside of shops crammed with all manner of assorted tourist tat and ‘Normal People Scare Me’ shirts. The intermingled reek of traffic fumes, industrial-strength skunk and Belgian waffles hangs thick and heavy in the air in amongst the endless hordes of pedestrians trundling aimlessly down packed pavements in the mellow afternoon sunshine. All very much business as usual, then? Well, not exactly…
For, blissfully unbeknown to the countless legions of tourists, shoppers and hip young couples pouring into this chaotic hotbed of bustling consumer activity – in amongst the overpriced cocktails, novelty keyrings, congealed pizza slices and air-conditioned canalside bars – something infinitely darker is currently afoot in the hidden, subterranean heart of Camden Town. With its arrival heralded by hordes of long-haired, leather-clad metalheads magnetised from all corners of the UK and beyond to this annual feast of frostbitten sonic extremity, it’s with tremendous excitement that the 2023 edition of Incineration Fest gets underway.
Preceded by a fairly extensive soundcheck and meticulous testing of numerous, intricately configured stage lights, genre-crossing French metallers CELESTE inevitably encounter a smattering of impatient heckling from a few already audibly tanked members of the crowd. But, as pale strains of light flicker fitfully in amongst great, looming expanses of blood-red stage lighting and a hypnotic slew of starkly percussive beats is engulfed in a mammoth tidal wave of turbulent riffage, those previously uninitiated into this rare and uniquely disquieting live spectacle quickly come to revise their prior impatience.
And while masterful latest album ‘Assassine(s)’ may have entranced many a listener on its anticipated release earlier this year, few could have anticipated the sheer, staggering enormity it would manifest here in the feverish heat and immediacy of the present moment. Indeed, with 'Des Torrents De Coups's' humongous slabs of weightily churning groove displaying impeccably synchronised placement in amongst vast sheets of blinding strobe lighting, this invasive yet sumptuously enveloping assault on the senses is quite unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed. And as frantic beams of crimson light spill across a stage heavily shrouded in impenetrable swathes of fog and lingering shadow, we’re left with the unmistakable impression of a presence far removed from this earthly realm.
Among the various, eerily entrancing compositions offered up for our delectation, these darkly transporting energies are particularly pronounced in the writhing, distortion-drenched throes of ‘Nonchalantes de beauté’, its expansive slabs of sleekly muscled fretwork and caustic screams audibly teeming with existential torment. And from the relentlessly bludgeoning blasts and synapse-scorching ferocity of 'Elle se répète froidement' through to the expansive layerings of sultry, ink-black riffery that rage within ‘Le cœur noir charbon,’ like some vast, primordial ocean, seldom does a band conjure so many varying shades of darkness to such uniquely intoxicating effect.
Widely regarded as legends of the genre, old school death metal mob ASPHYX display savage skill, pin-point technical precision and absolute command over their instruments at every bone-shattering turn of their thoroughly scabrous set. Filling every darkened nook and recess of the Electric Ballroom with their ferocious, heady sound, these guaranteed crowd-pleasers delight with choking vocals, thrash-like tempos and muscular riffage, while moments of soul-crushing doom lurk in amongst aggressive blastbeats. Ever-popular standout ‘Deathhammer’ resounds off the venue’s iconic embossed walls, sending the already pumped audience into an animalistic frenzy, while more atmospheric offerings from their most recent album, ‘Necroceros’, add a sense of grandiosity and elevate the music beyond its mere bone-crushing brutality into deeper, more absorbing realms. Yet, with a dynamic and energetic presence on stage and an enthusiastic mosh-pit at their feet, Asphyx’s set is, at its heart, a fun, churning overload of straggly-haired, beer-drenched mayhem that sets the pace for the epic acts to follow.
If there was any question of the immense, frankly unparalleled prestige attached to genre-smashing Greek aggressors ROTTING CHRIST, a swift, cursory glance around the Electric Ballroom’s utterly rammed, sardine can-like interior illustrates only too clearly the towering stature and influence of the extreme metal legends we’ll very soon be in the presence of. With portions of the crowd tightly packed onto various staircases bordering the main hall or spilling round the rear of the upstairs balcony while those in the pit are seen physically straining, shoulder to shoulder, against one another, not since the frenzied bloodlust and pageantry of the amphitheatre have we witnessed such absolute, electrifying fervour.
Ushered in on a coldly entrancing undertow of horror movie-worthy atmospherics and ritualistic chants whose grandiose, baritone utterances swell to an explosive climax of bloodcurdling screams, ‘666’ comprises the perfect, jaw-droppingly epic entry-point into tonight’s relentlessly electrifying proceedings. Instantly bludgeoning punters into submission through frantically accelerating episodes of pulverising blasts and sleekly elongated lines of fretwork that audibly drip ink-black malevolence, a flurry of white-hot lights spill forth onto a stage that’s visibly teeming with ecstatic energy and flawlessly aligned band chemistry. With hair flailing and triumphant fists raised to the sky, the lacerating leads of ‘Fire, God and Fear’ display impeccable, stratospheric agility above a battering percussive core as ferocious frontman Sakis Tolis spits forth an intensely vitriolic assault upon tonight’s uncontrollably ecstatic crowd. Bookending their blistering and impeccably executed set with one of the most exhilarating offerings from 2013 epic ‘Κατά τον δαίμονα εαυτού’, ‘Grandis Spiritus Diavolos’s’ intoxicating layers of luxuriantly expansive fretwork and battleground-worthy chants encapsulates, only too perfectly, the wondrously diabolical essence of this towering institution of an extreme metal band.
“Open this fucker up, let’s go!” barks SUFFOCATION main man Ricky Myers mere seconds before this breathlessly suspenseful lull in proceedings ushers in the hammer-blasting throes of 'Effigy of the Forgotten' with manic, spinal cord-snapping momentum. Underpinned by gargantuan whorls of majestically elongated bass work and vocals so unspeakably wretched as to have been wrenched from the depths of the very abyss itself, theirs is a ruinous, darkly engulfing calibre of carnage. With their black-clad forms reduced to an indistinct blur of frantic, windmilling motion as the Underworld erupts into a raging tsunami of frantically flailing fists and hair, a tautly rendered tangle of searing dual guitars finds a razor-keen crescendo atop a bone-shattering backbone of gnarly bass groove.
Elsewhere, ‘Thrones of Blood’ revels in countless layers of sinewy, subterranean riffage, amassing a collectively monstrous presence brought to the fore still further by Myers’ inconceivably low-slung, guttural snarls. Generously laden with numerous episodes of brutally pummelling aggression that instantly set the synapses aflame, the Americans illustrate no shortage of imagination in the various shades of hostility they harness with practiced, seamlessly assembled ease. Among the many feats of crippling, sharply executed carnage being displayed here in brutally arresting abundance, ‘Clarity Through Desolation’ underpins a particularly rich array of searing, weightily bludgeoning and nimble-fingered musical dynamics. Above expansive strains of densely reverberating bass whose crushing, blackly turbulent contortions audibly bristle with malevolent intent, lashings of finely sculpted lead riffery and explosive clusters of percussion display strategic, intelligently calculating placement in the mix. Gratuitously aggressive yet tautly controlled and, at moments, utterly dripping with malice, Suffocation are an exceptionally vicious yet thoroughly engulfing specimen of the genre.
Proving by far the darkest and most utterly decimating collection of extreme metal talent the UK has ever witnessed, Incineration Fest has, yet again, triumphantly surpassed all conceivable expectations. Here’s to another year of prestigious, uncompromisingly punishing sonic extremity.