Incineration 2015

Alcest and God Seed head up London’s most extreme metalfest

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Bumped up from last year’s upstairs/downstairs Garage experience to a Desertfest-aping Camden crawl across three venues, Incineration has rapidly made its mark on the metal calendar, drawing a large, international crowd on only its second year – most of which, sadly, starts the day by queueing outside the Black Heart and around the block for wristbands for over an hour.

With the initial hiccups limiting the Underworld crowd to a handful, the fresh-faced **PREMATURE BIRTH [7] **don’t get the audience their enthusiastic and textured black metal ferocity deserves. Down the road, meanwhile, the small number of early wristband-bearers make the Electric Ballroom look even more cavernous, all the more unfortunate as Finland’s WOLAND [7] (a name that’s hard to say out loud if you remember 80s Grange Hill) are clearly a play-to-the-rafters kind of band, their strident black metal full of grand gestures rather than any obvious Satanic intent, despite the huge inverted cross draped across the frontman’s chest.

Sounding far more frostbitten than their Colchester origins would suggest, the no-nonsense intensity of JØTNARR [7] belies a subtlety that keeps a now-wristbanded Black Heart audience’s attention long after the initial impact of their dirty attack has worn off, while the Underworld hosts** BAST’s [7]** roughened rumble, each song gradually expanding as if it’s ingesting both all the oxygen in the room and High On Fire’s back catalogue.

It’s still a mightily impressive act of tension-building, though, the drummer’s 360˚ clatter coming across like a stampede of mammoths. The delayed emergence of OTARGOS’s** [5]** dirty faces is initially overcome by the opening death metal blast. Sadly, their stripped-down appearance in recent times means the atmosphere of their older, black metal songs loses out.

Playing a radically different set to the one seasoned ORANSSI PAZUZU [9] gazers are used to, the Finns drag black metal even further down the wormhole, to the point where they sound like the respiratory system for some omnipresent cosmic deity. Pulsing mantric rhythms are bathed in whorls of simultaneously claustrophobic and immeasurably vast, keyboard-fried atmospheres; the whole feeling is like some alien entity is scanning your DNA. By the time the singularly immersive, consciousness-altering experience is over, you half-expect to walk out of the Ballroom into the empty reaches of space, rather than a bright and busy Camden High Street.

It’s a terrible shame that KEEP OF KALESSIN [6] are missing drummer Vyl, as his stand-in simply cannot cut it on the lightspeed double bass drum kicks, sounding too sloppy for the slick, taut guitar work to hit as hard as usual. The epic black metal, usually excellent, is off the money today. Not something the immense MELECHESH [9] can be accused of, with a particularly thunderous Triangular Tattvic Fire electrifying a big, appreciative crowd, before an anthemic Rebirth Of The Nemesis sees fists pump and hair whirl.

At the Underworld, ENDSTILLE’s** [6]** route-one testosterone-heavy black metal isn’t offered any added depth by the PA, and if you’re not of the opinion that BM was always about more than just the music, their rollicking set will no doubt leave you content. VERDELET [7] take the prize as Incineration’s skinniest band, but there’s a broody menace to a set that veers from mid-paced, black metal trudge to knives-out flurries like they’re on a single-minded mission of vengeance. **FUNERAL THRONE [8] **have the same Black Heart room packed beyond capacity as their rough’n’tumble black metal still takes on an imperiously occultic air – the musical equivalent of knuckledusters engraved with sigils and brandished by a bunch of Victorian ruffians.

“Are you feeling good? We’re going to change that.” That, however, depends on how you feel about extended drum solos, but then SHINING [8] aren’t guided by the rules of black metal so much as Niklas Kvarforth’s scabbed psyche, and one he can’t help scratching. Tonight shows them at their most incensed, only turning down the volatile, wayward charge for Låt Oss Ta Allt Från Varandra’s Brechtian cadences as Niklas incites an already fully pumped crowd. The ghoulish appearance and evil rocking rhythm of TRIBULATION [9] makes their Underworld set feel like a curious cross between Watain and Motörhead and, on this performance, they would not be out of their depth in either’s company. Intense, imploring and catchy as hell, this is an exhilarating triumph of a set that’s over far too soon.

Despite several false starts, when GOD SEED [8] finally get onstage, the captivating presence of Gaahl, the energy of the musicians around him and the ferocity of the songs is a heady, adrenaline-surging mixture. With the mood switching from raw fire (Carving A Giant) to majestic implacability (Alt Liv), the Norwegians are infernally sublime. If** IMPALED NAZARENE [8]** have ever let themselves down live then it’s been kept quiet, their stripped-down approach to songwriting and rabid stage demeanour proving a winning combination. Today is thankfully no different, the vitriolic set flying by in a sea of three-chord riffs and percussive bombardment.

Despite some well-reported controversy, NECROPHOBIC [8] have done a very good job lately of capitalising on their veteran status while keeping themselves relevant to a new generation of fans. The fact that they still play with such dedication and energy – not to mention the undeniable quality of their back catalogue – makes it easy to understand why. ALFAHANNE [8] have been busy earning themselves quite a reputation over the last year or so, their gutsy blackened rock’n’roll taking many a hardened metaller by surprise. Today is no different and the appearance of Niklas from Shining (and the cosy confines of the Black Heart) adds an intense and confrontational edge to proceedings. They may not be the most mobile onstage, but the problem for UNLEASHED [7] is more that their straight-up riff-led death metal feels a little mundane after a day of otherworldly evil. That said, when your riffs are quite this good, the audience is inevitably won over. INGESTED’s** [8]** dense but groove-pummelled death metal, meanwhile, provides a meaty end to the Black Heart’s proceedings as the crowd implodes into a flurry of limbs.

Affecting and emotive on record, ALCEST [9] have the potential to enter near-transcendental territories live and, armed with the stellar sound that the Ballroom has offered for much of today, the closing set is predictably rewarding. It is perhaps a paradox that a festival offering such aggressive music sees so many of its participants gathered for such pastoral delights, but for a feelgood end to proceedings it’s hard to think of a better choice.