Incineration Fest 2023 @ Camden Town, London – Saturday, 13 May


Review by Emily Castles
Photos by Artur Tarczewski

We are back on the streets of Camden Town for a full day of the world’s blackest, most devastating and satanic music. Nine years since it was birthed from Lucifer’s loins, Incineration Festival has brought together some impressive line-ups and this year is no different. The north London streets are crawling with unholy spawn, hungry for more.

First up are a band with a somewhat ‘atypical’ metal name; it’s, of course, Party Cannon. However, as anyone who has had the joy of seeing these Scots before know, there is nothing light-hearted about their brutal death sound. Yes, there may be an inflatable shark bouncing off the numerous bald heads in the Underworld crowd, and yes there is a moment when frontman Stony tells everyone in the pit to get down on their hands and knees for a push-up challenge – but the music is as serious as it gets. Fast and brutal, this is animalistic and guttural death metal that awakens the festival from its early afternoon slumber. 

A stone’s throw away at the Electric Ballroom, Urne take to the stage with their distinct sludge, stoner sound. With a much-anticipated new album due to be released in August, A Feast On Sorrow – via Candlelight Records – this London-based trio put on a great show this afternoon. There is a distinct post-gaze element to their sound, something dreamlike and melancholy.

They are followed by the almost alienistic Celeste from the harsh streets of quaint Lyon in the south of France. The set appears to get off to a bumpy start. They enter the stage in dimmed light, with awkward waves to the crowd. Twenty seconds into the first track, the lights completely go out and we are plunged into darkness. There is fumbling, crackling coming from the depths of the stage. Is there some sort of technical issue?

And then, suddenly, there is an explosion of sound and four single red lights appear on the stage, swaying in unison – and that is what we see for the rest of the set. Mysterious, extra-terrestrial figures with red lights for eyes, lurking in the darkness to terrifying music. The blackened post-metal sound transports you to a desolate landscape where the Earth has been taken over by an other-worldy force – complete with screams of agony, fast drums and delicate and often poignant guitarwork. 

Shortly afterward, Dutch death metaller’s Asphyx slam onto the stage – frontman Martin van Drunen ever the entertainer as he declares: ‘Me? I’m the real King Charles.’ Clearly, we’re not over the Coronation jokes just yet. The band welcomes the first crowd surfers of the festival, with their fast, catchy riffs.

We then have a short wait before the Greek Titans Rotting Christ join us in the Ballroom – it wouldn’t be a black metal festival without these legends, right?! On the scene for over 25 years, and fronted by the captivating and joyous Sakis Tolis (who regularly puts his palms together in humble thanks to the crowd before him), it’s always a great pleasure to see this band live. Performing the likes of ‘666’ and the gut-wrenching ‘Fire, Death and Fear’, the crowd is barely contained inside the walls of this narrow venue. 

We are then graced with the magnificent presence of everyone’s favourite Norwegians, the friendly giants that are Enslaved. These black metal veterans, established over 30 years ago, embody everything Viking. They look and sound as though they’ve just returned from a voyage on the longboat, returning home to tell us of their tales of battle and hardship – particularly with the ever-popular ‘Havenless’ which starts with an angry, sea-shanty style chant.

Frontman Grutle Kjellson is a mythological figure himself, one of the only founding members still in the band, alongside Ivar Bjørnson on guitar. It is no secret that the band have had various line-ups over the years, and as Grutle introduces the final song ‘Allfǫðr Oðinn’, he remarks that the keyboardist Håkon Vinje wasn’t even born when it was released in 1992. Especially considering Vinje had a near miss with a collapsing keyboard stand during the track, I think he handled it pretty well. 

Closing the evening and this devilishly superb festival, are Marduk – who never fail to make their mark. Although, on this occasion, their antics are less well received. Bassist Joel Lindholm, only in the role since 2020, causes havoc on stage with his drunken antics and has since been struck off by the band as a result. Despite this, Marduk put on a fierce performance straight from the depths of hell, including crowd pleasers ‘The Blond Beast’ and ‘Werewolf’ – the heaving Electric Ballroom swarming in a collective circle pit. 

As the lights come up and the drunken Lindholm lingers, we say goodbye to another year of the UKs most prestigious black metal festival.