Live Review: Incineration Festival – London

Live Review: Incineration Festival - London
11th May 2024
Featuring: Amorphis, Anaal Nathrakh, Bütcher, Dead Congregation, Belphegor, Carpathian Forest, Thantifaxath, Devastator
Words: Richard Oliver

Incineration had arrived in Camden town. Both in terms of the long overdue warm weather hitting London and the majority of the UK and also in the form of a day of extreme metal spread across four venues right in the heart of Camden. Hosting the festivities of extremity were the Electric Ballroom, The Underworld, The Black Heart and The Dev with all four venues a couple of minutes walk from each other with metalheads only needing to contend with busy road crossings and the hordes of tourists that pour into Camden on a Saturday.

The festival is in its tenth year of existence and as such is a well oiled machine with as minimal clashes as possible given there are four stages and bands all starting bang on their allotted time slot. With four stages and a total of 25 bands performing, there was no chance this reviewer was going to see everyone but there was much running between venues to catch large chunks of the performances and I think I did pretty well to catch a total of 9 bands as there were periods where I needed to rest my legs and get food and refreshments.

After an unplanned heavy drinking session at The Black Heart the night before, a hefty lunch was needed to set me up for the day ahead and once tacos had been consumed and I had queued at the wristband exchange, it was finally time to fill my face with metal goodness. I headed over to The Black Heart, grabbed a nice cold pint and headed upstairs into the blazing inferno which was The Black Heart gig room for a blast of blackened speed metal courtesy of Devastator. This was the much needed blast of metal to clear any cobwebs from the night before and with this being the final show of the band’s current run of UK dates they were determined to go out with a bang with a high octane set of vicious old school metal worship which bowed at the altar of bands such as Celtic Frost, Bathory, Slayer and Motörhead.

The room was full wall to wall with bodies in no time and the temperature rose to almost unbearable levels as Devastator blasted out bangers such as ‘Worship The Goat’ and ‘Baptised In Blasphemy’ as well as plenty of songs off their killer new record “Conjurers Of Cruelty” with tunes such as ‘Walpurgisnacht’, ‘Black Witchery’ and ‘Ritual Abuse (Evil Never Dies)’ ensuring bodies were slammed, crowds were surfed, heads were banged and beer was spilled. The sound was a bit bass and drums heavy and the guitars could have been louder but the performance and energy was bang on and it was the perfect way to kick off the day.

Next I headed over to The Underworld to watch a band I had not heard of before they were announced for the festival and that is Canadian avant-garde black metallers Thantifaxath. Bedecked in hoods and gowns, this trio performed a trippy, discordant and psychedelic style of black metal which was at times completely unorthodox and progressive and at other times a nightmarish soundscape. This is not the type of black metal I find myself listening to at home but it is enthralling in the live environment and the 25 minutes or so I watched completely flew by such was the engrossing nature of their performance. The most unusual band I watched of the day but definitely a recommendation if bands such as Deathspell Omega, Imperial Triumphant, Blut Aus Nord and Oranssi Pazuzu are your thing. Applause must be given to the band performing in those hooded gowns in the heat of The Underworld as the temperature in the venue was intense.

The biggest of the four venues was the Electric Ballroom and thankfully they had the air conditioning running in the venue and so I was met by a welcoming blast of cool air as I walked in for Norwegian black metallers Carpathian Forest. Carpathian Forest are a band I have seen perform absolutely dreadfully and also extremely well and their inconsistency (usually dependent on how much the band have partied beforehand) means you never quite know what sort of performance you are getting from them. Thankfully Incineration was treated to one of the better performances from the band.

The band had a few sound issues for the beginning of their set with very quiet guitars being drowned out by the keyboards and the sound dropping out completely a few times but these gremlins were fixed as the band performed a solid career retrospective of a set with each album covered with highlights being ‘Death Triumphant’ and ‘Submit To Satan!!’. The room was packed out for the set showing that plenty have a lot of time for Carpathian Forest’s straightforward and punky brand of Norwegian black metal and plenty of heads were banged especially for the set closing duo of ‘He’s Turning Blue’ and ‘Bloody Fucking Nekro Hell’. A solid set from one of the mainstayers of the Norwegian black metal scene.

I stuck around in the Electric Ballroom for a much needed sit down and a replenishing pint and waited it out for the next band - Austrian blackened death metal horde Belphegor. I’ve seen Belphegor perform a good number of times and this was one of the best performances I’ve seen of theirs. The sound was absolutely spot on with the drums sounding absolutely monstrous yet a perfect mix allowed all instruments and vocals to have perfect clarity.

The performance itself was as theatrical as it was blisteringly intense though the set was made up of a nice mix of songs from the most atmospheric and dramatic such as ‘Virtus Asinaria - Prayer’ and ‘Der Lightbringer’ to full on blast-beat filled assaults on the senses such as ‘The Devil’s Son’, ‘Belphegor - Hell’s Ambassador’ and ‘Lucifer Incestus’. An extremely tight performance, fantastic sound and a nicely varied setlist ensured that Belphegor were one of the clear highlights of the day.

BELPHAGOR - Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography
BELPHAGOR - Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

It was back over to The Underworld to catch UK caveman doom trio Conan. Incineration Festival is not one that generally caters to doom metal bands but Conan are one of the most sonically destructive doom bands out there and their sounds more than fits in with the Incineration ethos. The room was absolutely packed out and the heat was completely oppressive but this added to the atmosphere of the performance. The air was thick with heat and the crushing and meaty soundwaves coming from the band were the perfect matching soundtrack. Conan play with enough sonic might and low end that venues genuinely vibrate and Conan’s performance must have reverberated to the very foundations of the building. I only stuck around for a few songs due to the unrelenting heat and the need for food but what I saw was Conan doing what they do best.

After a much needed food break it was back over to the Electric Ballroom for one of the most vicious sounding bands that the UK has produced - the mighty Anaal Nathrakh. Anaal Nathrakh have a very intensive and multi-layered sound and there are times I’ve seen them live where the sound mix has let them down. Thankfully at Incineration this was not the case as the band had excellent sound throughout which very much matched the intensity of the studio recordings.

Originally formed as the duo of Dave Hunt and Mick Kenney, only Dave was performing as Mick now lives in L.A. being “really fucking famous” as Dave put it but Dave was flanked by a backing band of big names from the UK extreme metal scene who all put in an absolutely furious performance. Dave especially was on incredible form with both his harsh and clean vocals sounding the best I’ve heard on stage. The setlist was very similar to what was performed at Damnation Festival in November 2023 mainly focusing on latter day material such as ‘The Age Of Starlight End’, ‘Obscene As Cancer’ and ‘Forging Towards The Sunset’ there were a few gems for older fans such as ‘Between Shit And Piss We Are Born’ and ‘In The Constellation Of The Black Widow’ which went down a storm. A fantastic performance from one of the best extreme metal bands in the UK which packed out the room at the Electric Ballroom.

ANAAL NATHRAKH - Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography
ANAAL NATHRAKH - Photo Credit: Tim Finch Photography

Like a heavy metal yo-yo I was back over to The Underworld for this stage’s headlining act and a band I had never seen perform before - Greek death metallers Dead Congregation. Thankfully things had cooled down somewhat in the venue although it was still warm just not unbearable but Dead Congregation heated things up with their death metal attack.

Dead Congregation are one of a number of bands taking death metal to its roots with a simplistic but utterly effective sound that at times evokes death doom but is hugely influenced by legendary bands such as Incantation and Immolation. As I’m only a fairly recent convert to this band, what songs they played escapes me but this was a utterly merciless death metal assault. The sound was murky and muddy but in the most fitting way with a guitar tone that was like boiling sewage oozing out of the speakers and a bass tone that had enough low end that it could have caused a black hole to form in the middle of the venue. The vocals were about a guttural as it gets, perfectly matching the wonderfully disgusting tone of the music. There are many bands doing this murky style of death metal right now but be assured that Dead Congregation are one of the best and definitely a band worth seeing live.

One more visit to the Electric Ballroom for the day and it was for the stage’s headliners - Finnish metal legends Amorphis. Amorphis are easily of the most influential metal bands to come out of Finland originally forming as a pure death metal band but soon incorporating melodic and progressive influences helping to create the melodic death metal genre as well as the folk metal sound.

They haven’t been an extreme metal band for a long time so their announcement as headliners did cause a bit of confusion amongst regular Incineration attendees but also speculation that maybe the band would do a set of mainly older material. This was not the case however as the band played pretty much the same set that they’ve been performing the last few weeks with a greater emphasis on the Tomi Joutsen fronted era of the band. For old school fans there were renditions of classics such as ‘The Castaway’, ‘Black Winter Day’ and ‘My Kantele’ but the majority of the set was the melodic and progressive sound that Amorphis are now known for with songs such as ‘The Moon’, ‘Silver Bride’ and ‘Wrong Direction’. It was still heavy though and Tomi Joutsen has a fearsome death growl as well as one of the finest singing voices in metal and it is unbelievable how he is able to effortlessly switch between the two and sound just as good live as he does on the studio recordings.

Despite being lighter, more melodic and more emotional in tone than the bands that had preceded them, Amorphis still went down incredibly well with a very loud, receptive and appreciative audience. The crowd were especially loud for the classic ‘House Of Sleep’ which might have been the first ever big singalong that the festival has ever had. Amorphis may have stuck out a bit from the traditional Incineration band but the crowd reception shows that there is a place for something a bit more melodic amongst the extremity. The band could have been a bit on the louder side but Amorphis played as flawlessly as they always do on stage and were a worthy headliner for the Electric Ballroom stage.

There was one band left to go and the final band performing at the festival. Due to them playing the limited space of The Black Heart I made a quick dash over to the venue just as Amorphis finished performing to secure my place and I’m very glad I did as the gig space in The Black Heart filled up quickly and it soon became a one in, one out situation. I ended the festival as I had started it with another gnarly dose of blackened speed metal but this time from Belgian metal maniacs Bütcher.

Bütcher are one of many bands worshipping the old school ways of metal alongside bands such as Midnight, Hellripper and Bewitcher but Bütcher stand out due the sheer over the top nature of their music. They play harder, faster and with bagfuls more intensity than many of the bands in the blackened speed metal movement and it is safe to say that they stole the show at Incineration. The room was as rammed as possible, it was incredibly dark apart from the stage lights and the heat was intense but it was the perfect environment to see a performance such as this.

The soundcheck gave us a sample of what was to come and when the band’s performance started the crowd immediately went totally nuts with bodies slamming into each other and the walls and pints of beer flying out of hands and into the air dispensing their contents over the thrashing hordes. And who could blame them for going crazy when Bütcher were dishing out tunes such as ‘Iron Bitch’, ‘Bestial Fukkin’ Warmachine’, ‘45 RPM Metal’ and ‘Blakk Krusader’. We did get a break from the thrashing speed and chaos with the epic metal of ‘666 Goats Carry My Chariot’ which had US epic and power metal vibes to it complete with anthemic woah’s from the crowd. The speed and aggression was soon to return with songs such as ‘Metallström/Face The Bütcher’ and ‘Speed Metal Attakk’.

We were even treated to some new material from the band from their upcoming album out later on in the year though unfortunately I did not catch the name of the song but it did sound absolutely glorious. Bütcher were the perfect end to a glorious day of extreme metal goodness and The Black Heart was left in a right state by the time they finished with gig goers so drenched in sweat they looked like they had just stepped out of the shower. The room was so wet with condensation that the walls were damp to the touch.

After the bands were finished I had one more pint in the downstairs bar area of The Black Heart but I soon realised after sitting down that I was aching, my legs felt like they had been set in concrete and my feet were red raw. It was all 100% worth it though and I slept like a baby once I got back to my accommodation. It is safe to say that Incineration Festival is a fantastic day and extremely well organised and I really can’t recommend it enough if you are an extreme metal fan. Let’s hope it continues for another ten years!

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