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The annual Damnation Festival held in Leeds is, I think it is fair to say, the biggest indoor metal event in the North of England. Every year it sees a huge crowd of black clad fans bristling in patches and leather descending on the university for the all day event and bouncing off walls as they negotiate each other and the three stages, trying to pack in as many bands as possible through the day and evening. Clashes, are apart from lack of space at some of the stages, the festivals biggest problem and having attended several times in the past we knew that it was going to be a case of running about like a headless chicken trying to move from stage to stage and watch the bands we wanted to see. I guess we are blessed in London as many of the bands playing here have already been through our city earlier in the year or are just about to, or indeed are fitting us in either the day before or after this event. Still it’s great to get so many quality bands in one place and that is why so many make the pilgrimage from London and the South to this event on a yearly basis. Besides we like teaching our Northern comrades a lesson in how to drink beer…. Ok don’t write in all at once it was said in part jest.
The trip down unfortunately means missing a few bands we wanted to see including Ravens Creed who kindly gave me their new disc so I can at least review that and Witchsorrow who to be fair I have seen so many times lately I am not going to cry about missing. First group that hit my radar and were just coming on as I got in (no time to grab a beer even) were Hang The Bastard. Now I have reviewed this lot on disc and know they have played in my area at home a few times, they even had a member who I know for a while, but I am not sure if I have ever caught them live or not. HTB were the boot up the backside that I needed after all the travelling and instantly brutalised with powerful thudding drum beats and abrasive guitars and bass. The singer was obviously pleased to be here and he sounded completely breathless trying to remember the name of every band on the bill and keep up the momentum before charging into the next number. It would be easy to dismiss this lot as a ‘core’ band and they mix metal with a hardcore grit and determination but there is more to things than that, hell making it even harder to categorise is the fact that band members choice of apparel veers from Crowbar to Watain shirts. One thing is certain they are extreme and heavy as hell and if you ever thought about throwing a bull in a china shop the resulting noise would probably be quite similar. A new song ‘Lesser Gods’ was announced and the groove behind it was swaggering and enticing, there was a certain NOLA feel about it and it went down as well as that beer I was now finally necking. (PW)
Wodensthrone are the first band I was really keen to see, which is a shame as they were also the first band to highlight the fact that maybe the Damnation organisers may have to rethink their use of the smallest of the stages. It was packed to the point you couldn’t even hear the band at the back if you were under six foot six and possibly hundreds took one look at the state of the room and just turned round and headed to another stage. Shame because as I discovered by following some skilled potholers down the right hand side, Wodensthrone were on top form and playing a complex but brutal set. Well worth the crushed ribs to get there. (Gizmo)
We have encountered the smaller stage ‘The Mine’ I believe it is called in the past, the long thin shape of the room is one of the stupidest I have ever known a live band to play in and as Wodensthrone came on I tried to move through it to get a view and came to an abrupt halt. It was wall to wall, forget taking photos you could not even see the band if you were not in position well before they came on. I am not into factory farming and felt far from free range here. The Sunderland based band were obviously too popular here and as I had seen them recently at the even smaller Black Heart I decided to duck straight out of this mess, will not attempt watching anything else on this stage again. The band have subsequently said that not everyone including friends of theirs could get in the room so next time bigger stage for them eh? (PW)
By the time I had extricated myself from that, Winterfylleth were well into their set and unable to see much at my diminutive height I wandered back to the Mine and found a very sparsely populated room for Blacklisters which after a very short while, from my point of view, was unfortunately time to go to the bar and engage in a bit of a discussion about running orders and choice of bands as we could only assume Wodensthrone had been put below them to avoid clashing with Winterfylleth. Something went wrong anyway. (Gizmo)
And Winterfylleth were on at the medium sized stage next and seemed just as popular. There may have been more room but it still took a whole song to wade through the crowd and get into the photo pit. They do not play short songs either, crazy! Still, one good thing is that the band now with their third album out on Candlelight are obviously doing something right to have amassed such a large crowd here to see them. Again I guess with the amount of London shows we have seen them at we are lucky. Ever powerful the group are getting better and better each time, building up a solid wall of sound from the instrumentation but one where the oh so important melody always manages to shine through. Songs are epic, meandering and completely all consuming, at least the packed in like sardines crowd meant that if anyone swayed and went to pass out they would be held up by the people next to them. If the homeland ever needed defending there was an army to do so here but before that the new albums title track The Threnody of Triumph was a force to be reckoned with and looking around many knew it already and I reckon quite a few who did not will be picking up the album after this.
I was not moving far as the punk slot of the festival is normally one of my favourites and this year it was being taken by Extreme Noise Terror, surely there were not going to be as many ramming in here for this bunch of cider swigging crust bags? So Dean Jones is on the Special Brew and does not just have members of Desecration with him this time but also an Eastern Front affiliate and John Loughlin ex Raging Speedhorn performing on stage for the first time in four years. It’s difficult to keep up with who is in the band and thankfully it’s impossible to keep up with the obliterating speed of their grinding crusty assault too and the second they blow into things we are off. Cheers, camera bag full of cider should have moved that out the way really. The band attack from all angles with seven members to contend with there is lots going on but Dean is the focal point and as he rants about ‘Religion Is Fear’ there is no discrimination here, all organised faith is in his firing line. Of course there is someone missing, otherwise Big John would not be sharing vocals so ‘Raping The Earth’ goes out to Phil Vane who is sadly no longer with us. It’s odd considering he was last time I saw the band, life is so frail. Sure the place was not quite as busy as before but it was still pretty damn packed and the pit was certainly seeing some action as were some going over the barrier. It was easier to manage to stand on the stairs and watch the band tear it up as they were bathed in blood red lighting as angry as songs like ‘Fucked Up System (always the case no matter who is in control). It was over too quickly but the band had managed to fit a lot in and any more would have probably been unnecessary as a short sharp attack is what ENT do best. Now next year, same time, same place Amebix perhaps?? (PW)
I hung around for the reformed Bossk and was so glad I did. Not convinced by the ‘atmospheric sludge’ title but they were excellent and attracted a fine audience. They looked an unassuming bunch but turned in a set that was at turns moving, melodic, heavy and crushing post hardcore predominantly instrumental stuff performed with easy dexterity. It was my first meeting with the band and I was impressed enough to grab a CD (though I passed on the very nicely packaged hemp soap they were also offering!! The Damnation crowd seem to be very keen on personal hygiene though as it appeared to sell out.) My personal discovery band of the day. (Gizmo)
From now on clashes were going to be a pain in the bracket. the first was not too bad as it involved two bands that I was happy to split between, later it was going to be a bitch. So now I found myself in front of Irish oiks Gama Bomb who I have not caught in way too long. Amongst all the acts who are ranting, plain miserable or bonged out it is nice to have some genuine fun-time party music and that is exactly what we got here as ever from the self described neck snapping underpant teasing thrash metal band. With singer Philly Burn throwing shapes and shouting out hey hey it was almost as daft as song titles like ‘New Eliminators Of Atlantis Bc’ but behind it all they could play, throw out some wild solos and keep the adrenaline well and truly pumping. “Has there been drinks taken we were asked?” Hell yes was the answer shouted out to a band whose last release was called Half Cut. Looking around some were well on the way past that particular stage. Again I could not help T Shirt spotting and the group obviously have both crap and exquisite taste in films with a Top Gun and Goblin shirt being sported. Philly seriously does a great job but he needs a tambourine or something to keep him occupied and he is so into it he ends up air guitaring his microphone stand. Unfortunately as he starts on the next bit of between song blarney I realise time is on wrong side and it is time to go back to the middle stage to catch something much darker and more serious.
Norwegian’s Vreid are not only a Pitch Black Brigade’ by name but also by nature and they play their set literally hugging the shadows shrouded in deep red and black hues leaving them as silhouettes most of the time. Musically they are equally as dark but with a gruff vocal performance and a chugging bass heavy demeanour as they hit a solid groove and plough into ‘Raped By Light’ No matter the band a hey hey chant is a metal way of life and along with the strobes the group worked this crowd and did not lose their impact even with some bass problems having an instrument momentarily cutting out. The gnarly tumult sometimes took on a punky feel that had a bruising bounce around feel to it and the amusingly entitled ‘Speak Goddamnit’ was a perfect example of this but somewhere and it always happens with this lot there is something about them that just does not do it for me. Having caught Vreid live at numerous times and giving every release that passes through a cursory listen, there is just something that does not fully engage for me and tonight is no real difference. It is annoying as the band do not seem to do anything wrong but it is just a touch to safe and formulaic and compared to the previously reviewed British black metal bands there are nowhere near the amount of people watching them here and I have to wonder how many will turn out for their brand of black rot n roll in London the following night? (PW)
My highlight of the day was 40 Watt Sun. They don’t exactly approach the stage like rock stars; Patrick Walker looking disarmingly like someone’s dad who has just wandered in from the garden shed but as soon as this thoughtful, talented trio open up those warm, lazy riffs you just don’t want to be anywhere else. A few sound difficulties aside this is music that transcends the doom tag and steps it into classic singer-songwriter territory. Clearly it is a little off-putting for a few curious onlookers but it is still a packed room that is treated to Restless, Between Times and the amazing Carry Me Home. A real treat from a real gem of a band. Shame they didn’t bring any merchandise.
Also sadly it meant I missed Aura Noir as try as I did, I just couldn’t go from 40 Watt Sun’s melancholy romance to their razor sharp violence in so short a time and had to retreat. (Gizmo)
Whoever decided it was a good idea to clash Primordial and Aura Noir together must have come from another planet, it was sheer stupidity and had annoyed practically everyone I had spoken to. Starting off at the former due to photos I thought that I would probably end up catching the whole set and as the Irish stalwarts passion fuelled performance gathered momentum I decided staying put was going to be a good idea. Starting with ‘No Grave Deep Enough’ they had the crowd in their grip and it was great music for drinking along to and shouting loudly to the ever soaring choruses. Alan as ever stole the performance, painted and warrior like beseeching the crowd and standing at the front of the stage almost as though he was calling troops into battle. The rest of the band somewhat unfairly get overlooked but are rock like and statuesque playing along solidly into ‘When Rome Burns’ the announcement of which got a huge roar of appreciation. The front man had an unsightly string of saliva hanging off his chin, so caught up in the moment he did not even seem concerned or to notice. We were happy to let him dribble, nobody seemed concerned as we were all busy singing to the slaves of the past. We were reminded how long the band had been around and it was then that it struck me that indeed they had and having seen them every single London date in memory including their first show and their most recent that although it was difficult to tear myself away, I was going to and Bloodied Yet Unbowed’ that is exactly what I was forced to do.
To be fair I had not seen Aura Noir anywhere near as many times and this split second decision was one that was borne of necessity to support the ugliest band in the world on their trip over fromNorway. It was also a feeling that a dose of black thrash was necessary and a rallying cry of “ooooogh” from the audience greeted the band just perfectly as they came on and unmercifully battered away at things with gnarly precision. It was a winding grinding assault and one that rather than throwing passion at us like it was being delivered from the main stage was more a case of spewing venomous barbed vomit over new song Abaddon. The front three were lined up neatly with Apollyon raging away at the front and grimacing in a way that certainly helped afford them their tag. Obviously Aggressor is propped up on a chair still and one wonders if he will ever fully recover from his mishap but still he looks comfortable and is not musically diminished in the slightest. They ripped and raped their way through the likes of Hades Rise with little in the way of mercy and it was good to go and grab a much needed beer and watch the tumult unfold in front of me. Possibly due to the clash the stage area was not so rammed as I would have expected but then again the band are playing quite a few shows whilst they are over here too. Of course they do it all for The Glory Of Satan and were on top form tonight ughhhhh!
So time to go slow for the rest of the night, not really being a fan of Pig Destroyer it was an easier choice and to stick to the main stage for the rest of the evening. It was a bit of a case of déjà vu to a few years ago seeing My Dying Bride here again but the local band are one that I am happy to catch up with as much as possible, besides they had some new songs. It was with one of these they started with ‘Kneel Till Doomsday’. I have to admit I heard a lot of moaning about sound throughout the day including this set but to me it sounded great, perhaps I was already tone deaf but no complaints here. Everything sounded perfectly co-ordinated and I could pick out everything from Lena Abé’s thick bass tones to the violin parts and naturally Aaron’s wailing clamour. I have to admit there was hardly a better set list they could have chosen in the time they had as far as I was concerned and I was transfixed throughout the hour long show. We were treated to ‘Like Gods Of The Sun’ and my all time favourite number ‘She Is The Dark’ leaving me shivering down the spine and feeling somewhat overwhelmed by it all. The lighting was perfect and the spotlight caught Aaron as he contorted and moved himself into almost wretched shapes. ‘My Body, a Funeral’ is a recent song that is already ingrained upon us but one that stands out going right back in time is The Cry of Mankind, the intro immediately giving it away and causing a big cheer as it was just what we wanted. Finishing it all off on a high note with the galloping strains of ‘The Dreadful Hours’ left me in no doubt that this was by far the performance of the day and I limped off dejected and happy in my misery knowing that this lot have to be seen again when they play London in December.
So the last dance then for headliners Electric Wizard, I had high hopes for this (no pun intended) especially as they put on a really good show inLondon earlier this year. The bass tones were thick and fuzzy laden as the Supercoven was stirred and I wondered where on earth all the photographers were as there were not many here for once. The excellent visuals which were provided by Hawkwind light technicians were on the whole hidden behind the drum kit and were nowhere near as good as they were in London and the sound just really was lacking the oomph behind it that we would have expected, one thing that was constant was a certain smell in the air it was herby and no doubt making those partaking feel as leaden as the music. Another thing that surprised was that Jus was not this time completely hidden in silhouette, blimey perhaps he wanted his picture taken this time around and it made a bit of a change from before when I have attempted to do so. ‘Witchcult Today’ sounded really meaty and I rested my chin on a bass bin to get the full effect of the bass driven fuzz almost losing my jaw in the process. Some pure Hawkwind sounding space rock hit as we moved forward into the outer reaches and with the likes of ‘Dopethrone & Legalise Drugs & Murder’ being included in the set it was one that they obviously decided was going to do its best to mash up the audience. Looking around though I wondered whether they were the perfect choice of head liners, I think many had by now left, perhaps 90 minutes of the Wizard was a bit too much and as I discovered most of the lager had run out (well we are oop North Tetley’s it is). I have got to admit my mind wandered and so did I. Popping out to see what all the fuss was about with Pig Destroyer I timed it with instrument malfunction and then caught one number which really did not do anything for me. So it was all a bit of an anti-climax to be honest. I span out and saw Satanic Rites of Drugula being exorcised but then basically wandered off chatting to others who were also reflecting on their day and wondering whether to carry on the drinking or shuffle off till next years event. As for any closing remarks I think my colleague in arms has summed things up perfectly (PW)
Damnation 2012 was a bit odd for me. Socially it was brilliant but musically it left a lot of questions in my mind about a bill that had to be scheduled in such a way to make sure numbers were under safety margins at any time rather than to enable punters to get the most out off the line-up, and the choice of bands for the smallest stage was odd. Plus a decision that meant most of the ‘main’ bands had already been on theUKroad meant there was no real big draw of ‘onlyUKappearance’ for some who live further away than me. I know there will always be issues, and I know it is a thankless task for the organisers (and the Damnation guys still have my respect and admiration) but this year I had too many clashes and too many holes in my schedule left me a little underwhelmed. Maybe it has outgrown the venue?
I also wish I’d seen more of Pig Destroyer and less of Electric Wizard, which I never thought would be the case.. (Gizmo)
Reviewers Gizmo and Pete Woods
Photos © Pete Woods