This was Incubate's 10 year anniversary, something I was not going to miss! With time being a luxury, this year I had to pick my days out of the customary generous week-long schedule very carefully. I’d miss out on Mitochondrion, Ritual Necromancy (who were, I heard from reliable sources, both superb), Skitsystem, Okkultokrati, God is an Astronaut, Falloch and Lantlos to name but a few, but in the end the choice was surprisingly easy. Wednesday was undoubtedly the pinnacle of the entire fest for me, with Dodecahedron and Krallice (both live debuts in their own way) on in tight succession at the very generously sized Midi, while Friday was to be the black-as-coal icing on the cake with a multifaceted all-Finnish black metal night. In between, a few very enjoyable accents made my second Incubate experience a success.
Here is part one of my chronicles.
Fittingly, the aesthetic role of the band members amidst this apocalyptic tale was mindfully conceived to remain understated. Hooded and masked, they were consistently measured in their stance, the front man sparsely yet solemnly miming the inconsequential demise of an arrogant, deluded human race.
Until all was silent. I felt mesmerised and took me a little while before I was ready to leave the venue. The audience and I had been through a truly powerful and emotional journey: to paraphrase a couple of lines from DDCHRDN’s “Vanitas", as the sun set in our hearts, we had just gazed into the god-less abyss…
Amazingly, it was only 10PM and the night had only just begun! I drifted inside the pub/venue next door, Extase, while waiting for the event of the festival. Experience had previously taught me that it isn’t always a good idea to play the venue-hopping game: as fun as it is, the understandable desire to see as many bands as possible, fighting against unavoidable overlaps, more often than not simply fires back. If a band is good, these days I just stay put, no matter what/who! But of course when the multiple venues are concentrated within a short stroll from one another, one can fill all the spare time with music as varied as there are stars in a still summery Tilburg sky.
The back of the narrow rock pub was heaving with metallers headbanging to their heart’s content at the dirty riffs of SVART CROWN, French purveyors of an old-school blend of blackened-thrashy metal I have personally not witnessed since the inception of death metal (nope, I am not the nostalgic type). Odd but fun to see this reincarnation, and certainly displacing, after the artistic and conceptual depth of the previous show. Some choose to view metal merely as a form of entertainment (with a pinch of teen rebellion at best), which is fair enough; at least this 80’s satanic cauldron feels genuine, if only for the testosterone-fuelled guitar poses and hair windmills flaunted with gusto. I could not hide a smile in thinking how once-upon-a-time this sort of metal was considered the epitome of evil! Clearly not so today (with the customary sporadic exception) in spite of its primitive edge, which is captivating for a couple of songs. The array of influences that this combo displayed was truly wide, and when it shifted into cheesy hair metal I made a swift exit. I was just in the wrong disposition to remotely enjoy this: my mind had been focused on the upcoming act for days, months!!!… And so was he, apparently: just outside Extase, Wovenhand's best friend looked skywards rather expectantly...
Strolling back, looking grimly cool from top to toe in his black Ray Bans and black Doc Marten’s boots shining ominously under the blazing sun, he steps out of an electrical shop looking puzzled: this small, quiet town must feel a world apart from his metropolis. Strangely, in spite of the universal metal attire, Mr Marston looked just soooo NY…
“Well, you can be safely expect your set to be invaded by smoke at fairly regular intervals, y’know…” I offered, wholly sharing their feelings.
“What?!! I’m not having that” replied a worried Colin Marston. Mick Barr promptly echoed: “I have asthma, I am not going to stand next to that!”
“You should have a word with the guy in charge then”
“We sure will!” they nodded in unison, eyeing the unsuspecting man behind the PA.
Go figure… I could not recall many gigs, particularly black metal ones, where smoke was not used to the max - effectively but also rather annoyingly so. Were these guys direct descendants of the now extinct Straight Edge movement? Nah, they were probably just intelligent, educated, health conscious people.
You know that quote well, right?… And if you had been at Midi tonight, you’d have known what it feels like too. Two seconds, two - fucking - seconds, in and we all felt like hapless idiots in front of something just too big to comprehend... The start and the end of the hour-long show merged into one, time-space was thrown upside down, eating its own tail: what once was commonly described as music now it had no name. A monolith that speaks a million tongues towered above us. There might have been four brilliant, focused musicians on stage giving their all (seemingly effortlessly), but what we were perceiving from the hall was something else. We simply beheld the Godhead: that which is Incomprehensible and Unfathomable was, after Dodecahedron’s apocalypse, tumbling down from whole in the fabric of the cosmos. Its language was undecipherable, the content of its speech unattainable, its tone devoid of anything remotely resembling human emotion: it was magnificent, majestic, terrifying and overwhelming. No-one was prepared for this.
On the other side we had the rhythm section formed by short haired drummer Lev Weinstein and bassist Nicholas McMaster (whose rounded prowess I had admired in the Nader Sadek albums, and has also noticeably been a latter member of Castevet). They do worked together as one unit to perfection, in fact they are (and have been) in other bands together, of which Geryon was included in the Incubate line-up for Thursday. On stage these guys displayed the highly physical and emotional involvement of old-school hardcore musicians, inevitable traits for anybody involved in the NY death metal scene, where the good old ethos still seems to survive amongst the filth of the Big Apple, and that was particularly nice to see. Nicholas plaid his bass in an extremely physical, organic and skilful manner, his body contortions matching the rawness of his screams. He truly embodied, in my eyes, the evolution of hardcore experimentalism.
Beside these few observations, it was impossible for me to stay rooted on the ground for long. By half way through the set my mind was in a magnificent meditative state, one purified of any human morality (to be clear, this was not a Cynic concert, where the music is designed to lead you towards a certain mindset and spiritual goal): the might of this cacophony of alien tongues was overwhelming and simply ineffable. I had experienced something similar before at Allan Holdsworth concerts, where I felt as if I was truly traveling into the cosmos, but with Krallice for the first time I actually heard the sound of a superior entity which, from somewhere in the cosmos, reached unthinkable evolutionary heights, and is no longer tied to the small human concepts of Good and Evil, and just is. Who is this unspeakable Godhead? I am an atheist (I like to reiterate this since I often speak of the importance of spirituality) so for me, particularly after the Dodecahedron tale of doom told from a poignantly human perspective, I felt as if Krallice conveyed this superior entity’s voice to give us a completely unexpected peek into a human-less dimension, opening up a post-apocalyptic scenery where mankind has no rightful place. I am sure that some, particularly scientists, are refusing to let go of the dream of reaching an age where technology can make us semi-gods, perhaps immaterial, close-to-immortal beings who speak all the languages in the universe at once. Whether self-destructive cynicism or determined folly will prevail, we can only guess, but tonight Krallice gave a lucky audience an insight of what it can be like somewhere out in the remoteness of the universe, where nothing and everything is. They simply delivered an unforgettable mystical experience.
I looked around me once again. A few people had remained in front of the stage, soaking in the experience. A girl in a green anorak was holding her rucksack tight to her chest, eyes closed. I know exactly where she had been, and she did not want to let go…
My senses felt altered, elevated, and I did not wish to leave, afraid to break the spell. I contemplated returning immediately to the hotel, closing the night right there in order to keep gravitating inside the most remote and bewildering cosmic dimension I have ever known. But my legs led me towards the darkened street where people had gathered, exchanging elated comments or simply to stare into the night in silence. What had just happened inside the venue had been truly remarkable.
Their start was threateningly subdued, like a boa constrictor slowly waking up after digesting its whole cow meal. Still on a high, I realised pretty quickly that I was going to perceive this music as intensely trippy, in fact the beast eventually decided to reveal its true colours. It flared a blaze of fire from its dragon-like mouth, lifting its ugly head upwards, staring at us in the face: then suddenly took to the sky like a gigantic leviathan. I frantically reached out for the tip of its coarse black tail and I was swept off my feet… Tightly holding on to the vile reptile’s end, I shot through darkly primitive skies dense with volcanic vapours and electric discharges. We were heading towards the narrow eye of a densely swirling, extremely nasty storm...
I stood close to the bass player, eyeing his hardcore style of playing: he powerfully curled and uncurled around his instrument, which hung low on his lap. He struggled to keep a lid on his energy: had he not been constrained by the small stage, this guy would have certainly leapt high in the air like in the good old times! I guess this is the appeal of the many local bands I have recently come to appreciate: their line-ups comprise musicians with different backgrounds who complement and support one another in the name of good music. And they all show such passion and commitment that the end product never fails to satisfy. On the night I learnt that Ggu:ll, whatever that might mean, speak a diverse and exciting language, fully drenched in darkness and fuelled by the deepest, most toxic fires from the recesses of the human mind. And that they are at their best when they are on collision course with the universe. Definitely a band worth investigating further, as their ever-mutating, gripping doom is one beautiful, dark and intense mindfuck.
All photos by Alex Mysteerie