Report: Soulcrusher Festival 2023

13 & 14 October,
Doornroosje, Nijmegen

Review by:  Erik (and Ingrid)
Pictures by: Ingrid

Doornroosje’s yearly Soulcrusher festival is getting more and more popular every year, and deservedly so. With a bland of known and lesser-known acts, Soulcrusher operates between different underground niches. From bone crushing riffs to devastating landscapes and back again to atmospheric ambient visions, it’s all there. With a varied palette of music, they manage to present acts with a distinctive sound, hailing inspiration from various underground dark arts.  Metal-exposure, Ingrid and Erik, was there to witness and report a vast majority of the bands presented these two days.

What makes Soulcrusher such a good festival? Well, besides the great musical adventure, the atmosphere and set up are great. There is vegetarian food and a bar where craft beer is served. Also, there’s enough space to sit and give your tired feet some rest. But overall, both staff as audience are very friendly and relaxed. The lenient atmosphere makes sure that this festival is a welcome stay, and did I mention that there’s enough of there’s plenty of good music to discover?

Because of work obligations we arrived around six o’clock on Friday. Just in time to attend Afsky’s debut in Nijmegen. With their recent record “Om Hundrede Ar” and playing loads of live performances this Danish band managed to get more and more fans with their brooding, depressive and haunting Black Metal. Songs as “Frosne Vind” and “Stormfulde Have” are superb songs, both on stage, as in the living room. However, the sound is rather messy and stands in the way of getting the ultimate experience. The drums are mixed so loudly that the guitar parts remain on the background. And that’s a pity because Ole and his live comrades sure can make some crafty tunes on stage (just read my Unholy Congregation review from 2022). Luckily, the sound gets better during the set and the majority of the audience cannot be hindered by this problem. Let’s hope Afsky can get a re-match soon, they certainly deserve it!

In the Purple Stage Belzebong (Poland) is crushing the stage. Before starting, they showed the back of their guitars on which is noted “Smoke Or Die”, immediately creating the right atmosphere. If you didn’t know what Belzebong is about they certainly made damned sure that you do now! Their Stoner doom Metal has a simple approach but does not miss its effect. In this case: fuzzy, crushing riffs which make a lasting impression on your eardrums. Except for a few samples, there are no vocals present. Instead, the groovy riffs and stoner atmosphere make sure that you get a real cool experience. I can only conclude this was a very good performance from these weed devourers!

I was really looking forward to seeing Panzerfaust live on stage. With their “The Suns of Perdition” trilogy these Canadians really showed what their capable of, namely: crafting dark, haunting songs with a lot of depth. Live, a lot of this depth is gone; the multi layered music is somewhat stripped, but this doesn’t hinder at all. What you get instead is a ferocious beast. With brute force they show no remorse and take no prisoners. The drummer’s spot is at the front of the stage while Goliath (vocals) has its own spot in the back and at times walking to the front of the stage grunting and screaming his guts out. Although his vocals could show a little more variety it really fits the harsh atmosphere presented.  Witnessing “Stalingrad, Massengrab” and other songs live was simply great. With loads of energy Panzerfaust managed to impress me and the rest of the audience with an overwhelming sound and surely must have gained some fans after this set. Conclusion: these Canadians conquered the stage, nothing more, nothing less.

Mispyrming managed to get quite a following during the last five years. Their unique Black Metal is getting very popular. With great albums in their pocket such as their latest “Med Hamri” these Blacksters hailing from Iceland manage to get more and more appraisal, both from critics as fans. In the beginning of their show there were some technical and sound issues but luckily this was solved during the set. What remains is a powerful and highly enjoyable set were songs as “Med Hamri”, “Engin Vorkunn” and many more are displayed with force, loads of energy and as tight as can be. Mispyrming has never let me down. The power and enthusiasm oozes from the stage and giving everything they can, wrapped in craftmanship, they made sure their show is one to remember. A justified (semi) headliner for Soulcrusher on Friday!

After Mispyrimng it is time to cool down with Blackgaze masters Alcest. It is already more than four years ago that “Spiritual Instinct” was released. Since then, they have toured, except during Covid time, extensively. I recently saw them touring with Cradle of Filth. Now, it is time to headline Soulcrusher on Friday. The sound is spot on and with songs such as “Solar Song”, “Autre Temps” and “Delivrance”, which proves to be the ultimate closing song of an Alcest live set, you can drift away with their catchy, introvert and dreamy music. Especially, “Delivrance” still gives me goosebumps after all these years. And I wasn’t the only one because I saw a lot of people in the audience enjoying one of France finest on stage. I’ve seen Alcest loads of times and probably will see Neige, Wintherhalter and their fellow musicians loads of times more. Great show and fitting headliner for the first day of Soulcrusher.

Although we missed the very last act today it was time to endure the heavy rain (it really poured) and get home. Get some sleep and get up in the morning to attend the second rejuvenated and ready to rumble!

The honor has befallen Witte Wieven (Netherlands) to open the second day at Soulcrusher. They quite recently released “Dwaallicht”, an album on which atmospheric, melancholic Black Metal is presented with loads of atmosphere. The music is introvert and dreamy yet contains some aggressive outbursts (which fits the genre). This duality seems to be a simple concept but does have its effect. Same can be said of the vocals of Carmen since she easily manages to combine clean vocals and black screams. I really enjoyed what was presented today. Aided with background visuals and a good sound this performance was over before you know it. Songs as “Koorddanser” and “Kringen” also proved that these Blacksters can present themselves on stage giving a solid and atmospheric performance.  Looking forward to hearing more from Witte Wieven in the near future. Great opener for today’s festival!

Today there are three stages. In the café you can find the Black Stage were acts such as Norn and Műtterlein can be seen. Norn (Netherlands) is the solo project of Peter. He creates unique visions where multi layered, dense and melancholic drones with a pulse are being presented. With his unique stage presence, he manages to surprise the listener. If you like a sonic musical adventure just listen to “Oneirophant”. But I must admit the location (café) doesn’t fit with this performance. It is best witnessed in utter silence, in order to let the apocalyptic ambient creep in your mind and body. Nevertheless, if you like the genre and have the chance: go check this out.

Műtterlein brings doom, dark ambient and a pinch of Black Metal:  brought in eclectic, hypnotic yet melodic form. It is hard to describe how much power sole member Marion Leclerq displays. An intense, brooding, hypnotizing experience is the result. You should have witnessed it yourself because words lack expressing what I’ve experienced. Műtterlein lets get reacquainted soon!

GGGOLDDD has grown massively over the past few years. Seeing this band in small venues at first this unique Dutch act has gained more and more critical mass during the last few years. With “This Shame Should Not Be Mine”, Milena Eva and company managed to present a dark, brooding and haunting album from which they deservedly received international acclaim. There’s also a new EP called “Ptsd” released a few days ago. Of course, a few songs are presented live from this EP, starting with “He Is Not” (an altered version from the original release). With this song I immediately was sucked in the dark, brooding, emotional world only GGGOLDDD creates.  They enthrall the audience with their introverted sound, pure craftmanship and emotional depth in their (mostly electronic) music. Speaking of sound: today the sound is crystal clear, and the songs themselves, in combination with Milena’s unique voice and movements made sure you are being seduced into fully submerging in a world no other band can.  Songs as “I Knew”, “I Let My Hair Grow” and many others take you on an emotional and personal journey. The journey ends with “On You”, a touching and very personal song expressing one of Milena’s personal experiences.  GGGOLDDD manages to present one of the highlights of Soulcrusher. The sheer intensity of emotions makes this a must see live. GGGOLDDD creates something unique and extraordinary….and I loved it (together with rest of the audience).

Before the gig even started, Svalbard already made quite an impression on us with their t shirt design.
Vocalist Serena her cat proudly prompts on the front design of their t shirt and got quite some funny comments and reactions out of many visitors of the festival. The cat’s connection to the band and their music remains unclear to us, but that doesn’t matter because they gave us quite an impressive show.
We were treated to a few ‘firsts’ (‘Lights Out’ and ‘To Wilt Beneath The Weight’), the band debuted multiple songs live during this performance, which isn’t that surprising, since they just released a new album, a week prior to Soulcrusher.
Their energy got us, and the rest of the audience going, the only remark we have is that the clean vocals need some work and were off-pitched a bit too often.

After a short break, it was time to watch one of the few Doom bands present this year: AHAB. Though watching them became quite a challenge since the smoke machines were running overtime. But alas, it does fit their deep rumbling sound presented to us in the short hour they played. They play a solid and steady show. Their slow, soul piercings songs presented a nice contrast after Svalbard, and that’s one of the reasons we like this festival so much; the variety in bands is very nice balanced.

I was really surprised at what impact Múr had on me during their live performance.  Never heard of this band before (and if I hadn’t visited Soulcrusher I probably would have missed this band in its entirety). Hailing from Iceland Múr’s debut performance left a solid impression with its own and unique concoction of Post-rock, Doom and Shoegaze. Five young lads on stage giving hell. I must have frowned my brows when I saw the vocalist using keytar. While other bands use it as a cheesy gimmick the keys amplify the brooding atmosphere. Together with enthusiasm, a great sound and a healthy dose of energy, Múr took the crow by storm.  I’m curious how this band will develop in the following years, and so should you. Múr presented a welcome surprise today.

One of the bigger names this year is the mighty Enslaved. They have played many festivals this year, including a couple of ‘special sets’ and are finishing up this year’s festival tour, Soulcrusher being one of the last festivals they played. We were glad to see them, since we had to miss them two years ago, when they were supposed to play as well, but couldn’t make it because of Covid-19. The band truly was on fire today, I might even say they gave one of the best shows of the day. It is obvious that they feel at home on stage with their 30+ years of experience, and they’re a well-oiled machine. Their jokes, interaction with the audience and flawless performance made them a true highlight. The setlist was a nice variation between some old classics such as ‘Havenless’ and ‘Isa’, and songs from their new release ‘Heimdal’, as the title song of the album and ‘Forest Dweller’.

Iskandr has its roots in Black Metal but does not seem to have any boundaries. On their newest offspring “Spiritus Sylvestris”, no trace of this genre can be found.  A combination of (psychedelic doom) Folk, Ethereal and Post-punk is concocted where sound and vision come alive. Live O together with M. Koops on drums (Fluisteraars) and the aid of a musician playing trumpet Iskandr slowly drowns you in their own world. Of course, the fitting visuals surely help but the quality of the songs itself create a world full of green visions combined with a dose of melancholy.  A world where the tracks “Waterwolf” and “Nachtvorst”, just to name a few, shine. It takes a while getting used to the vocals of O., but in the end the music feels like a warm blanket near a campfire or meandering in your own thoughts through the woods. When this performance ended, I was left hungry for more and immediately bought a ticket for the next live performance. And that says enough.

The headliner of the second day was Cult of Luna. The eagle-eyed visitor might have noticed that this band doesn’t have just one drummer, but two drummers, which makes them quite unique. But as said, only the eagle-eyed visitor might have spotted this, since the smoke machines were on overtime again, nonstop. If you thought that by now, visitors would be tired and slow, you’re wrong. They had the biggest audience of the festival and people were clearly enjoying themselves. Singer Persson shows the is an experienced showman and knows how to handle this energy from the crowd. He moves all over the stage to interact with the crowd while producing a wall of sound out of his mouth. Supported by superb guitar play and both drummers, this wall of sound Cult Of Luna produced was definitely worth a headlining show.

As you must have concluded by now: Soulcrusher was a real treat for the ears. Besides that, the ambience was nearly perfect to discover or re-discover great music. I’ve met a lot of (old) friends and acquaintances who are willing to enjoy the same musical adventures. The music was dark yet the general feeling I get from Soulcrusher is uplifting. When the stars favor it, I will attend also next year. If you’ve enjoyed our impressions of this two-day festival: you should be there too!



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