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  • Review by Faye Coulman

REVIEWED: Incineration Fest 2024 @ Camden Town, London

It’s a little after 12pm in the ever-bustling and densely crowded heart of Camden Town, but festivities are already well and truly underway as punters pour into The Underworld in a shadowy profusion of shimmering black leather and band shirts, their dusky forms intermingling somewhat ghoulishly in amongst the smiling, plainly-clad tourists and tanned Aussie travellers currently clustered around the bar. Given the fact that it’s an uncharacteristically sweltering day in early May and, furthermore, a Saturday, these casual day-trippers certainly have plenty to be smiling about at present as the familiar hubbub of idle chatter and clinking pint glasses fills the room with a warm and genial ambience. But for those of us who’ve been drawn here by the tantalising host of delectably dark and visceral extreme metal on show here today for Incineration’s 10th anniversary edition, idle relaxation is the furthest priority from what’s guaranteed to be a truly unrelenting, jam-packed plethora of eardrum-rupturing subterranean delights. And so, eschewing the warm sunshine and cosy barside chatter, it’s with that that we collect our wristbands and head down into the building’s iconic basement venue as UK black metal collective ANTE-INFERNO set about beginning their visceral yet eerily evocative conjurations.

Headed up by an intensely energised and abrasive arsenal of darkly bristling tremolo and frantically hammering snares that instantly amass blistering momentum, the Scarborough-based ensemble kick off proceedings in pleasingly high-octane style. Pairing these decidedly primal and scabrous dynamics with a rich array of sleekly elongated riffage whose snaking, densely bass-laden throes recall the doom-tinged majesty of early Paradise Lost and Canadian blackened doomsters Woods of Ypres, theirs is a sound generously steeped in melancholic, oftentimes transcendental beauty. And while the deafening collective clamour of the starkly battering percussion and frontman Kai Beanland’s hoarse, vocal cord-shredding howls sometimes indelicately engulfs these sumptuous, elegantly unfurling symmetries, Ante-Inferno’s riveting underpinning dichotomy of the darkly scrabrous versus the stirringly grandiose makes for a nonetheless absorbing entry point into the day’s delectably dark, subterranean festivities.

Following the inevitable round of stiffly regimented frisking and bag searches that see the Electric Ballroom’s rather overzealous security staff mistake a container of loose facepowder for something altogether more exotic, we finally enter the venue’s capacious, aggressively airconditioned confines some moments before FEN commence their sweepingly majestic, pitch-black orchestrations. Beneath a suitably glacial haze of icily entrancing blue light that bears down eerily upon a stage richly bestrewn with ornately swirling, arcane-looking symbols, the atmospheric black metallers manifest a caustic yet sumptuously layered and expansive presence. Via explosive yet tautly controlled episodes of vocal cord-liquefying screams and brutally propulsive, double bass-laden blasts, tracks sourced from 2017’s ‘Winter’ showcase a seamless and impeccably balanced interweaving of undiluted viscerality and lusciously expansive fretwork. Moving ahead to masterful current full-length ‘Monuments to Absence’, ‘Truth is Futility’ comprises a luxuriantly layered and immersive standout, its sultry lashings of darkly swelling baritone and sleekly entangled fretwork abounding with obsidian-hearted grandeur in amongst various, intensely visceral implosions of thoroughly corrosive aggression.

Despite this being the very first time we’ve had the distinct pleasure of witnessing occult-leaning Greek extreme metal clan YOTH IRIA bring their gargantuan, ritualistic craft to UK shores, there’s no mistaking the impeccably sculpted artistry and morbidly engrossing vision these accomplished musicians purvey from the outset of their electrifying and eerily cinematic set. And despite their relatively recent formation in 2018, a casual peruse of the ever-enlightening Black Metal Archives confirms the deeply-entrenched levels of expertise each respective band member brings to the mix. But for anyone here this afternoon currently witnessing the band’s ghoulishly echoing opening sequence of grave-scented ambient noise erupt in a civilisation-levelling mass of densely battering blasts and bloodcurdling screams, the aforementioned mini bio will likely have proven wholly redundant as far as verifying the abundantly apparent talent being richly exhibited here before us. And across innumerable episodes of weightily churning grooves, sweepingly orchestral movements and elegantly sculpted passages of whirling, velvet-edged riffery, Yoth Iria are one of those rare breeds of bands whose knack for rhythmically compelling songwriting and synapse-scorching transitions make for an insanely compelling proposition.

From hitherto undiscovered gems to frequent and well-loved fixtures of the European tour circuit, malevolent black metal horde BELPHEGOR have graced more than their share of London venues and festival slots over the past few decades. And with Incineration Fest commemmorating its 10-year anniversary on this fine, sun-drenched evening in early May, the iconic Austrians were all but guaranteed to be an essential addition to this year’s landmark instalment. Windmilling and headbanging frantically atop a stage flanked by two extravagantly ghoulish totems, each bearing a skull draped in darkly flowing ceremonial cloth, the band are more than appropriately decked out for the occasion, their corpse-painted faces glinting cadaverously in the feeble half-light now murkily illuminating the stage.

Following the exquisitely grandiose orchestral flourishes and airily entrancing choirs that comprise epic instrumental opener, ‘The Procession’, it’s with spinal cord-spanning velocity that we’re hurled headlong into the weightily lunging grooves and sound barrier-shattering percussive insanity of ‘Baphomet’. From frantically energised implosions of frenetic, ceaselessly blasting warp speed to gargantuan slabs of blackly contorting bass that palpably reek of the grave, the Austrians display impeccable handling of these many and varied tonal shifts and tempo changes. And as well as the absolutely bone-shattering levels of blistering, sinew-laden aggression on show here this evening, every decay-stricken howl and lethally bristling spiral of tremolo is tangibly dripping with deathly atmosphere. In particular, the tombstone-heavy, elaborately unfurling throes of mid-paced banger ‘Sanctus Diaboli Confidimus’ reside in exquisitely morbid and putrescent territories, while ‘Virtus Asinaria - Prayer’s’ elegant, blackly writhing riffery and mammoth layer upon layer of sumptuous choirs elevate the piece to the stuff of apocalyptic brilliance. Within a layered and ghoulishly engrossing repertoire that’s as raw and bristling with ultra-violence as it is frequently awash with cold-blooded malice and ornately crafted majesty, there truly is no extreme metal band quite like the inimitable Belphegor.

“Well this is certainly a larger bunch of weirdos than we usually play to,” jests ANAAL NATHRAKH frontman Dave Hunt, surveying the teeming mass of leather-clad punters presently swarming the dusky, windowless interior of the Electric Ballroom. But however much the famously self-deprecating vocalist might attempt to downplay what is quite evidently something of a landmark show for a band whose genre-obliterating craft has evolved and progressed at a pace bordering on bewildering in recent years, there’s no disguising the jaw-dropping enormity of what we’re about to witness here tonight.

A wondrously malevolent and calculating entity from the get-go, Nathrakh take ample time to ramp up nerve-shredding levels of suspense and disquieting atmosphere in the opening portion of their set, forging an immense, tautly orchestrated tapestry of ceaslessly writhing, distortion-drenched riffage. With their every gnarly, sinew-laden groove and airily lacerating strain of tremolo audibly bristling with hostility, it’s with insanely propulsive momentum that we’re plunged headlong into the frantically bludgeoning throes of ‘Unleash’. Striding hither and thither atop a stage steeped in a pitch-black profusion of shadows, Hunt commands the crowd with manic, joyously unhinged energy, his chameleonic repertoire spanning a rich, morbidly engrossing plethora of assorted moods and sonic energies. From guttural, diaphragm-rupturing howls of abject torment to stately expanses of soaring, impeccably sculpted operatic verses, the endlessly expressive frontman demonstrates masterful vocal prowess throughout the turbulent contortions and luxuriant, riff-laden crescendos of apocalyptic banger ‘The Age of Starlight Ends’.

With its every caustic, thickly clotted expulsion of bile and and deliriously whirling operatic crescendo audibly dripping with all the unfathomable horror and desperation famously evoked within the historic World War I-era poem of the same name, ‘Obscene As Cancer’ easily ranks as one of the most ghoulishly compelling compositions these visionary aggressors have ever created. Melding searing extremes of frenzied, staccato-laden acceleration and densely bludgeoning brute force in amongst a blackly entrancing wealth of atmospheres spanning everything from mind-altering flurries of electronica to sweepingly grandiose orchestral flourishes, Anaal Nathrakh have once again performed a feat of pure, genre-obliterating alchemy. And having long eschewed tedious genre norms and tidily compartmentalising convention in favour of a sound guided by nothing but pure, unadulterated feeling and instinct, it’s a truly exhilarating and unsettling pleasure to observe in motion.

Keep up to date with all things Incineration Fest-related over at INCINERATIONFEST.COM Special thanks to Artur Tarczymił photography


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