Thursday, 2 October 2014

INCUBATE 2014 - PART 1

INCUBATE, 15-21 September 2914, Tilburg (NL)





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.





WEDNESDAY 17TH



DODECAHEDRON: Revealing the Crown




For their first ever live appearance, Dutch dark entity DDCHDRN chose to hide behind black hoods and black cloths wrapped around the face, but their show revealed a perspective on its uncompromising music I was perhaps not expecting. In my mind, I had pictured myself watching this mysterious hateful creature perform amongst the grey mists of a small, dimly-lit stage sparingly illuminated by sensorially-challenging flashes of blinding white light. I had imagined being ruthlessly sucked into a head-spinning nihilistic void densely saturated with toxic human emotions, in subconscious astral alignment with the torturous live appearances of Dragged into Sunlight as well as the glacial pitch-black cosmic performance by its close relative Nihill at Roadburn 2013. But no, this one went on to be a far grander, deeper experience… 

Having in the past often being likened to the almighty Deathspell Omega for its love for dissonant avant-gardeness, DDCHDRN is displacing and shifting by nature, willing to roam within the bleakest spheres of chaos to graze on the most terrifying offshoots of the human psyche. Their 2012 eponymous debut album is still one of the most powerful, evocative and superbly executed musical statements within a genre-defying niche that thrives on pushing boundaries, nestling between the spellbinding metaphysical approach of the kind of French black metal that is sadly never performed live and the harsh reality-check of an uncompromising artist such as Gnaw their Tongues. With a pace ranging from slowly expanding, krautrock-like ambient to exhilarating blasts, DDCHDRN possess on record a unique, eclectic and eminently cinematic narrative: how will the sublime touches of melodic sophistication, the heart-wrenching metaphysical gashes, the bucketfuls of technical grandeur powerfully juxtaposed to breathtaking ugliness, fare on stage? Incubate provided the chance to go one step further by allowing them to create a complete show in a larger venue, an enticing - yet dangerous - proposition…




DDCHDRN to me is like a Goya painting, a dark beast that needs no embellishments. Creating a breathtaking show which would enhance the horrific, poignant tale told entailed meticulously constructing a work of art solely through the universal language of Sound and Light: the two quintessential elements which embody and subliminally capture the drama of existence. A basic visual palette of cosmic might was chosen to blind, terrify and move us. Yes, move us. And this is where I was surprised the most. The hour-long set depicted the tragic fall of the human race by erecting a spellbinding sonic monument bathed in cold, eerie Blue uneasiness, in the primordial, apocalyptic violence of flaming Red, and suggestive Black & White blazes ruthlessly beaming from high above. This majestic simplicity, delivered with clockwork perfection, unfolded to enhance the ever-mutating soundscapes; the weighty poignancy and foreboding drama was somewhat akin to what The Ruins of Beverast offer on stage today, yet, DDCHDRN managed to go one level higher by making full use of the good lighting provided by the venue, going for breathtaking stark contrasts rather than eerie murkiness.
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. 







Lyrically DDCHDRN are brilliantly highlighting this perspective through a plethora of metaphors on Death, from graphic, distasteful physicality to a feverish escalation of biblical imagery, but even to those who are unfamiliar to them, the show delivered the essence of the message in full: if for some our human civilisation has barely reached its autumnal phase on earth, many of us feel that our last winter has already begun. Musically speaking, the apocalyptic might of clever, highly proficient shape-shifting, forward-looking black metal, bi-rooted in chaotic complexity and baffling dynamic starkness, takes shape through a hefty dose of bone-chilling slower parts completing an act of creation that speaks profoundly to the human spirit. Whether it is a descent or an ascension of one’s soul, it is totally up to the individual. I have always stood for keeping art pure, so that it could be used as a powerful portal into the deepest recesses of our collective and individual consciousness: DDCHDRN seem to share this view, demonstrating along the way that a stunning level of excellence can be reached in refining one’s creative processes through simplicity, directness and personal modesty as well as tireless rehearsals. And by doing so their live debut threw the often fatal “big stage syndrome” completely out of the equation. Well done.







But that wasn't all… DDCHDRN’s most unforgettable moment was the emotional unfolding of its set, depicting mankind’s passage from being to un-being. Michiel Eikenaar (whose vocals were not loud enough from where I was positioned, which was a pity, given the quality of his performance with Nihill the previous year) stood mightily still amidst glacial storms of sonic doom, awash with blinding white light, for what felt like a very long stretch of Time. As the Last Man Standing before its ultimate demise, he offered one final proud act of human courage, albeit touchingly drenched in solitude and regret. Then the white light extinguished itself and a gloomy blanket of cold cosmic blueness submerged us all; and so he left, head bowed, heavy hearted. The rest of the musicians were left on their own to describe the last chapter of a now human-less earth by forging one unforgettable atmospheric finale, a tragic, melancholy and beautiful farewell modulated by crying liquid guitars. 
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… 












  
                                   
PRELUDE

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...





REWIND: 09:45AM. As I descended for breakfast in my usual Tilburg hotel (a damn expensive but very comfortable second home), I spot him at a table at the bottom end of the room: glasses, long mousy hair unsure whether to stay lanky or break into waves, very pale complexion. Yep, that must be HIM: in spite of my famous ineptitude in recognising people’s faces, not many manage looking so damn clever while boringly sipping a cup of coffee on their own. Colin Marston, king of all nerds, belongs to such lofty realm. I lump a slice of brie and a bunch of grapes on top of my already heaving plate, sit at the opposite end of the room and tuck in. You see, I do not even remotely belong to the fan-girl category, hence perhaps my lack of skills in recognising well known musicians in mundane circumstances, not to mention my forgetfulness when it comes to album and song titles,no matter how much I love them. That’s how it is: Music is what matters to me. Eventually he decides to get up and head for the exit, not before pouring himself another fresh cup of coffee. I terminate my breakfast ritual in a hurry; a gruelling affair, in the stubborn yet deluded hope to skip meals until night time. I then take a stroll in Tilburg centre to check if everything is safely as I had left it back in April. I still missed the huge elderly Terranova dog who used to lie across half of the pedestrianised street, keeping a benign eye on his shopkeeper owner, while the cake and chocolate shop further up the road was still enticingly there. I am also reminded of home when I bump into an iron Scotsman: referendum day is looming - I had already voted YES for independence by post, but I do not expect a victory. 





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…



FORWARD. 08.45PM. Amazed by the still very warm temperature, I approached Midi for Dodecahedron. Along the way I saw some familiar faces, making a few useful discoveries that give me an insight on the great fluidity of the local metal scene, and finding out that DDCHDRN’s sound-check was fantastic: I could not wait any longer, so much so that I was the first one in! The venue was steeped in darkness. Three people, myself included, were scanning expectantly - for entirely different reasons - the large empty venue. Suddenly a plume of thick smoke hissed out of a large smoke machine placed on the right hand side of the stage, followed by another couple of puffs which filled the air with dense swirling fog. The two guys looked at each other aghast, expressing in unison their discontent. 
“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. 

10:30PM. One cheeky puff of smoke penetrated the sparse beams of light flooding the dimly lit Midi stage. Then the machine seemed to freeze. A few seconds after KRALLICE appeared out of nothingness to kick off what was their first and - for the time being - only show on European soil. 




KRALLICE: Thus Spoke Zarathustra


The higher we soar the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.

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. 





At times I forced myself to switch viewing-hole, focusing on the flesh and bone musicians. Technically they were all equally mind-blowing in their own individual way, although it was apparent that the band was formed by two pairs enjoying and learning from their respective knowledge and backgrounds,while forming something harmonious and astonishing. On one side we had the two long haired guitarists, Colin Marston and Mick Barr, 100% metal throughout their backbone, both gifted beyond imagination and different in their styles: the first one possessed the fluidity and experimental genius of an Allan Holdsworth, employing a ruthlessly clean sound that can be only be described as detachedly divine; the latter being the eclectic self-taught experimentalist, with a dirtier, fuzzier sound aiming towards the darkest side of sonic mindfucks. Obviously, the two complemented each other like caramel and salt, creating something simply indescribable, even more so live. Even their physical stance reflected their musical styles, long-fingered Colin being cool and focused, while Mick seemed to be more edgy and had shorter but quicker fingers to make up for the lack of extension across the fret.






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. 





As the music soared, I took a look at the reactions of the people who surrounded me. One guy, who traveled with a few mates from Germany especially, was going completely mental: he grabbed his head and covered his eyes as if he was being put through something gruelling and painful, only to burst out with laughter, raising his hands to the ceiling in delirious happiness. Others just looked towards the stage in total amazement, mouths agape and shiny eyes, shaking their heads in disbelief every now and then. We all felt the same: how could this be true, how could it keep getting better, and better, and better, and better?… 




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.





Oh when they left the stage we felt robbed: we wanted more, as if life depended on it! We clapped, cheered and loudly stomped our feet until they returned, only to play the most amazing, mind-boggling, insanely escalating long piece which - incredibly - managed to transcend all that was played before... Then they left, little gestures of acknowledgement made in a hurry. Had it been hard for them? Were they feeling exhausted, empty, high? Were they conscious of what they had created before us? Frankly, I doubted it. 
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.












GGU:LL: Waaning and Hooning in Darkness

Still disorientated and light-headed from the overwhelming experience provided by Krallice, I sneaked half-heartedly inside the cavernous Extase, by now suitably hot and murky. I had enjoyed flashes of this local doom band before, and I was indeed promised a perception-altering performance. Frankly I felt a tad doubtful: there was no way I was risking overdosing on brilliance after reaching such unimaginable dizzying highs back at Midi… I felt emotionally drained, wondering if I’d be able to fully connect with Ggu:ll.’s torturous, displacing moods. I often asked myself what it would be like to approach music in a dispassionate, upbeat, less intense way. I guess I shall never know, although this band’s darkly claustrophobic sound would have been ideal ground for gruesome self-mutilating experiments. 




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

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