28.-29.10.2023 - Samhain Festival 2023, Muziekgieterij Maastricht (NL) + Katatonia + Panzerfaust + Darkspace +++

28.-29.10.2023 - Samhain Festival 2023, Muziekgieterij Maastricht (NL) + Katatonia + Panzerfaust + Darkspace +++

The Samhain Festival made its debut as a larger two-day autumn event last year, but its first edition, back then as a one-day event, took place in 2021. This year's edition on the last weekend of October 2023 had a lot of anticipation surrounding it. The organizers presented top-class acts such as Katatonia, Tiamat, Darkspace and Mysticum as headliners, with a strong representation from the underground music scene, as well.

  • von Haimaxia
  • 16.11.2023

The Samhain Festival made its debut as a larger two-day autumn event last year, but its first edition, back then as a one-day event, took place in 2021. This year's edition on the last weekend of October 2023 had a lot of anticipation surrounding it. The organizers presented top-class acts such as Katatonia, Tiamat, Darkspace and Mysticum as headliners, with a strong representation from the underground music scene, as well.

For the 2021 and 2022 editions, the festival was held in Hasselt, Belgium. However, the Muziekodroom could no longer accommodate the growing audience and the increasing number of bands. As a result, a new venue had to be found, and the perfect location was unveiled with the Muziekgieterij in Maastricht, Netherlands. This old carpentry and glass factory in Maastricht's Boschstraat, originally built in 1905, was transformed into a live music venue in 2012/2013. It emerged as an atmospheric and inviting place, offering two halls: the larger "Grote Zaal" with a balcony and a stage that had an almost cinema-like feel, and the "Kleine Zaal" with a more intimate theater-like wooden stage and columns on both sides.

The festival already made a significant impact in 2022 with an outstanding lineup. Acts like Triptykon, Zeal & Ardor and Primordial were part of it, yet for this year's program, in addition to the powerful presence of Katatonia, who presented their new album "Sky Void of Stars", there was Godflesh with their new work "Purge", and Tiamat, led by frontman John Edlund, taking a special old-school approach this time, focusing on the celebrated albums "Clouds" from 1992 and "Wildhoney" from 1994. Not to be overlooked are some hidden gems in the underground scene, as well: Panzerfaust from Canada, whose album trilogy "The Suns of Perdition" still resonates, were part of the game, and with Darkspace, Unru, (Dolch), Naxen, and Afsky, the Samhain Festival demonstrated they are at the heart of the underground music scene, delivering exceptional live performances.

But that's not all; the organizers had even more to offer this autumn: The infamous Japanese band Sigh was on tour, exclusively performing old tracks from their early 90s album "Scorn Defeat". Additionally, on tour were Heretoir, Firtan, and Outlaw, all of whom were also part of the festival's program in Maastricht. It is worth noting that the organizers managed to bring together many bands currently touring Europe, including Conan and Lord Dying, as well as several other double acts: Wolvennest and E-L-R, Downfall of Gaia and Naxen, Afsky and Panzerfaust, and finally, Abduction and Ante-Inferno. This is quite common in the autumn, after the summer festival season ends, as more bands are on the road, but it was a notable and striking aspect that caught our team's attention when we discussed the full lineup.

Day 1

Upon entering the venue on Saturday, visitors walked past various vendors, including Immortal Frost Productions, and entered the cozy drinking hall to the right, where they could find a rich variety of beers (we were kind of hooked on the Samhain craft beer, as well as the Kriek fruit beer). Locker rooms were available for attendees to store their belongings while spending the whole day inside the venue, tables and sofas provided a place to relax or engage in conversations before the program started or if anyone needed a break. It's important to note that, as is typical at most festivals nowadays, the prices, especially for food, were relatively high but reasonable. Implementing a cashless system is a convenience Belgium and the Netherlands seem to have figured out - something we appreciated very much. We won't delve into a commentary on the standards for events in Germany at this point! 

Day 1 began with UK-based Abduction, who set a high standard right from the beginning. Having released their latest work, "Black Blood," via Candlelight Records just about a year ago, this occult project, led by the versatile Phil "A/V" Illsley, is essentially a one-man effort but was brought to life on stage with several guest musicians. On the main stage, on the other hand, the first day of the festival kicked off with auditory escapism by the Swiss band E-L-R. They decorated their stage with flowers and carpets, captivating the audience from the very beginning. Both their albums, "Mænad" from 2019 and "Vexier" from 2022, were released by Prophecy Productions. Our team had the pleasure of witnessing this exceptional trio during their joint tour with Wolves In The Throne Room and at the Prophecy Fest in the cave of Balve this year. During their current tour, their original drummer Mischa couldn't attend due to health-related reasons. The band's light-technician, Daniele, stepped in for the gigs, ensuring that the performance stayed within the E-L-R family, as the band announced on social media. We can't emphasize enough how captivating their performance was and always is - for those not familiar with the band's discography, just listen to the opening song of their latest record, "Opiate the Sun", with which they also began their set, giving a very good display of their full potential. They nearly played "Vexier" in its entirety, and it was a very intense experience. However, our team agreed that the band might have been better placed in the schedule if they had performed later in the day. Especially since sometimes upon entering a festival site you need some time to accustom yourself to your surroundings.

E-L-R / Frida Nordlys

Lord Dying set the people in the crowd on fire pretty quickly afterwards - they displayed their rough Doom/Sludge aesthetics not only with a glimpse into their upcoming new album “Clandestine Transcendence” (set to be released in January 2024), but also with a more aggressive tone in comparison to E-L-R and Abduction. The first small moshpit formed during their energetic performance and the US-based band managed to captivate many, but it is also worth noting that there were some voices saying the band did not really fit in. In our humble opinion Lord Dying left a strong impression - even though their unclean sludgy sound is not for everyone. Continuing the streak of rather bleak and emotionally intense performances on the main stage were Wolvennest. Coming from Belgium’s capital Brussels the fascinating band somehow combines elements of Psychedelic Rock, occult ritualistic spirit, a hint of Black Metal and a touch of Goth Rock and -put simply- always stands out. Their new record “The Dark Path To The Light” was only released a few weeks earlier and was presented with its title track and the closing piece of darkest magic, “Accabadora”. With their intense live shows Wolvennest always enchant their audience, not only with Shazzula’s great vocals, but also with the quite exceptional use of the Theremin as an instrument. 

After another strong Black Metal cascade by Ante-Inferno (seriously: Listen to the masterfully written downward spiral that is  “Nightmares of the Eschaton” from their 2022 album “Antediluvian Landscapes”) the third act on the main stage, (Dolch) from Germany, delivered another prestigious performance and marked the next band in the “Grote Zaal”, that did not let the Samhain crowd down. Part of our team has seen the band last together with Secrets of the Moon during their small farewell tour in 2022 - one of several bands from Ván Records, (Dolch) also never disappoint with their hypnotic soundscapes. 

(Dolch) / Frida Nordlys

For those who wanted to take a deep-dive into more emotionally stirring Black Metal waters, next up were Downfall of Gaia, also from Germany. The band demonstrated once again, veiled mostly in dense layers of fog and blue lights (something that added to the atmosphere, but became a nightmare for the photographers during various gigs of the whole event), that their cleansing music is something that has to be witnessed on stage. The songs develop a completely new and more intense facet that the studio recordings fail to transport. Their latest work, “Silhouettes of Disgust”, was released in March via Metal Blade Records, and hopefully will manage to hit some toplists for this year’s best efforts. 

The more famous entry on the billing, Conan, were the first band to make a greater use of the cinema-like screen above the stage and displayed scenes from the trippy and highly brutal, yet artistically very beautiful movie “Mandy” during their gig. Not much was happening on stage besides the hypnosis coming from the movie scenes, but one has to admit the sheer power of the Stoner/Doom sledgehammer from the UK, especially with their current album “Evidence of Immortality”. Sadly Conan did not manage to impress our team that much, even though many people in the crowd were looking forward to their performance. The venue was quite full from the beginning, but when Conan played people flocked together extremely. Due to the static character of the whole performance and maybe also because of the afternoon tiredness we were not taken aback after all. After that those who were blown away by Downfall of Gaia had the chance to see Heretoir, who recently released their new album “Nightsphere” and ended their release tour at the Samhain Festival. The musicians always take their audience by storm, especially lead singer Dave is an extremely likable and charismatic persona - and with songs like “Golden Dust” or newer pieces like “Wastelands” oder “Twilight of the Machines” the Heretoir gig at this festival, to say the least, might have been the most touching one we saw recently. Some of us had seen Heretoir already at this year’s Dark Easter Metal Meeting in the city of Munich, but at their current tour the band really added insult to injury - even though the band only performed with three musicians on stage at Samhain due to two people being sick and not even unleashing the full potential of the songs. 

Heretoir / Frida Nordlys

When Darkspace hit the stage our team was very much “in the zone & out of this world” - the Swiss Cosmic Black Metal astronauts -not different from their appearance at Prophecy Fest- played one new 47-minute song giant from an upcoming release. The band had only a few big festival gigs this year - and with many titles longer than 20 minutes not a huge amount of songs could be played. Since cutting down some pieces is not an option for the trio from Switzerland the one song had to suffice - maybe there were people disappointed or just baffled by this fact, but the song grasps quite well the essence and the full variety of Darkspace’s music. Long instrumental passages, recurrent samples, the drum machine, the harsh, piercing vocals that appear to come from afar, the progressive songwriting… Yes, not much was happening on the stage either, but if one is familiar with the Darkspace experience and is able to get into the spheric sounds of the band, the influential and powerful maelstrom will take him or her completely. People who had seen Darkspace in the past might have been also surprised by the new musician on the Bass, Yhs, who replaced Miss Zorgh, who was part of the trio until 2019. Something else we have to put an emphasis on at this point, though, is the fact, that especially during the concert of a band like Darkspace, making use of silence and monotonous parts as a stylistic device, people in the audience should be quiet, not having private conversations or behaving too loudly. Sadly, although the festival organizers displayed “Respect the artists” on the screens in the hallways, some people did behave inconsiderately and disturbed the concert experience. Read the room, guys. You do not do stuff like this at the movies - why do you do this at a live concert?   

Darkspace / Frida Nordlys

Afsky did manage to become one of the strongest aspiring Black Metal entries in the whole scene in the last couple of years. Their songs are extremely intense, often culminating in breathtaking, powerful finales, and at least our team would not be surprised to read their latest effort “Om hundrede ar” on many Top 10-lists this year. Charismatic musicians (just follow their social media, you’re in for  treat), an astounding drive and an intricate atmosphere - Afsky definitely do not fail to amaze. During their tour with Panzerfaust some people will have seen the band package in smaller venues -we already discussed their gig at Trompete Bochum during our Podcast review (German, LINK)- we highly recommend to opt for locations in which one can stand close to the musicians.  We guarantee you a thrill of ecstasy and a rollercoaster of emotions.

Afsky / Frida Nordlys

Next up were Godflesh - a project that had the longest history of all acts of the Samhain festival, almost reaching back 40 years. A fact that has to be recognized  - but seriously: Our team is not as familiar with the project as some other people who worship the musicians behind Godflesh. But somehow the songs felt unfinished, they stopped after a minute and the show felt "fractured", always hopping from one melody to the next - some said this ist typical for Godflesh's Industrial-esque approach to Metal music, some agreed that something went seriously wrong. After some calculated chaos with the “mighty” Godflesh on the main stage (the two-people gig inbetween Afsky and the following Panzerfaust felt displaced and we did honestly not get the band) Panzerfaust from Canada did also take the crowd by storm, even though it was a shame to have the strong entry play at the smaller stage, because this way many people could not see the band, as there was simply no access to the Club Stage any more. What our team likes the most about the live concept of the band is the constellation of the musicians - if the stage is big enough Panzerfaust would often position themselves in a unique manner, with the drummer in the front and in the middle, the guitarist and the bass player to the left and to the right, but with a big pulpit in the back behind which the masked lead singer takes place. Intense facial expressions, an intriguing choreography, strong songwriting and a hermetic poetry in their philosophical lyrics let the band stand out as one, if not the highlight of the day - and those who stood in the first row could witness the extreme power that the band blasts off with pieces like “The Day After Trinity” from the first album of their great album trilogy “The Suns of Perdition”. Do yourself a favor and go witness this barrage! 

Panzerfaust / Frida Nordlys

Closing Day 1 were Katatonia from Sweden, who presented a finely distilled best of show with a slight nod to their current album “Sky Void of Stars”, which was released in the beginning of 2023. If you tried to take in every band of the day, by this point, you might have been as exhausted as our team was - yet again, part of our group fell in love with the band’s “hits” like “My Twin” (a song to which X always tells the story that this is their “only true hit song”, since it was in the Swedish charts back then), were excited when the first tunes from “Lethean” or “Forsaker” sounded from the stage and simply looks forward to every chance to see the band. Lead singer Jonas Renkse’s announcements were kind of striking to some degree: He often throws in a “Hail Satan”, which sometimes feels a bit strange because Katatonia is neither a Raw Black Metal band nor displays this attitude at all. He also commented on the fact that the second day of the festival took place on a Sunday, wishing his audience a great day 2 and saying: “Sundays are for church-goers.”  

The overall sound quality was very good - without exceptions. Sometimes the first song was not perfectly balanced, yet existing problems were mostly settled right away. As far as lighting is concerned, the excessive use of fog on the 2nd stage and the sparse use of front lights on both stages added to the atmosphere and the mysterious vibes of the acts. Of course, it is a noteworthy aspect that often bands would like the music to stand for itself. After an unforgettable Day 1 we returned to our hotel and tried to get at least some sleep, before the Sunday program began.

Photos: Frida Nordlys

Review: Haimaxia



  • 16.11.2023

He whispers, when the demons come. Do you make peace with them or do you become one of them?