You can tell how successful a festival is by the amount of people there and even as we enter the labyrinth Leeds University to negotiate the four stages that the event has been expanded to the first band on our list are playing to a rammed in audience. From then on the day is full on and non-stop. Damnation has excelled itself this year by managing to catch some fantastic tours and pull in some excellent bands so there is no time to do anything really apart from rush from stage to stage throughout the day. Certain things pretty much went out the window as eating, drinking and even pissing were literally done on the run, which sure is difficult when everyone else is pretty much trying to do the same. We had not even managed to work off hangovers from the equally packed pre-show in a Leeds bar last night but took in as much as we could even if it was with regret that we had to miss some of the bands who we would have loved to have caught and had some tough choices to make. As some old goths once said there was no time to cry about things just race around like headless chickens and take in the sights and sounds of the action packed day (PW)
I get an early stint at Damnation which means I’m sent down the Mine in search of an Iron Witch (better than being sent to see the Iron Chicken…). Knew the name, never heard them so beer in hand I watched the place rapidly fill which was great to see but made my concerns about only having two bands on at once a little real. Iron Witch do a spirited set of lead heavy sludge: Heads nod in appreciation, they get a good reception and clearly have a lot of fans there but, despite a refreshingly good sound down the Mine, for a new listener there is no real way into the sound especially when your front man has his back to the audience most of the time. Still they were good and tight and shook off the dust. (Giz)
Yes it is indeed The Afternoon Gentlemen and ladies of course, as we gathered on a newly utilised stage this year where sponsors Terrorizer had their banner flying. I expected this one to fill up after all the band were from Leeds so had a home crowd to play to as well as gatherers from all over England and further afield. They proved a suitably hefty wake up call as well as their brand of grindcore was intense and full in the face as they rampaged through their set at maximum velocity. These gent’s were a name that I had certainly heard over the years but never actually encountered them to the best of my knowledge but at least there was no need to question any political motive with songs burgeoning out the speakers after a fuck the Tories rant. This was true rebellious grind punk through and through, the vocal attack came from all sides with low grunts and some excellent higher placed squawks. Unlike a lot of bands of their ilk though songs had some substance about them and although some were over in a flash others bit in and had a bit more about them. Perhaps album wise this is a grind band who could fit 30 numbers in a half hours running time rather than the expected 60. Still I lost count of how many they did but a slower number with plenty of fuzz laden bass, strange discordant guitar tones proved pretty dramatic before it slewed into a crusty punk laden vocal assault. Ok fuck coffee I’m awake now! (PW)
Twilight Of The Gods were a big pull for me with their huge, rabble rousing Bathory inflected heavy metal debut album being played to death at home. They open with ‘Destiny Forged In Blood’ for a nicely filled main stage and it becomes clear that with a great sound and five guys having an absolute ball that no cobwebs are going to be left undisturbed. They may be a super-group with a huge list of bands to their names but today, led from the front by a hooded Alan Averill on superb vocal form they are a supremely tight, rousing heathen metal horde. From the brooding ‘Children Of Cain’, through ‘Preacher Man’ to the punishing ‘Fire On The Mountain’ and the bombastic ‘Sword of Damocles’ they just rock the place to bits. I’d been generally surprised by how many people haven’t heard them before Damnation but hopefully this grin inducing, fist pumping set changed that a little more. Where were you when the lights went out for the last time? Too busy headbanging mate. Catch them while you can, they are something special. Life affirming heavy metal almost perfect stuff for Damnation . (Giz)
Having seen one of the very first Voices exhibitions and already having been floored by how precise and perfect they were I am surprised by how much better they become each subsequent time I have caught them. On this stage they played in near darkness apart from eerie cold backlights and occasional bursts of strobe filled white light. It might have made photographs impossible for anyone without seriously expensive equipment but boy did it add to the demonic intensities and atmosphere of the performance. Peter Benjamin was sporting a mask covering his eyes too making the vocalist seem even eerier than normal whilst in the dark at his side you could just about make out the contorted gurning expressions of Sam Loynes as he scythed away and bent himself into contorted shapes. The sound too was phenomenal and massive layered burgeoning wrath and passages of crystalline shimmering grandiosity worked together with the gargling many-tounged vocals and David Gray’s solid battery to pretty much floor me as its combined weight blew out the speakers. Titles again seemed somewhat superfluous (well that’s my excuse) as the overall climatic intensity of this seethed through me practically possessing my very soul. Fragments were familiar but others struck again as new compositionally. At one stage an almost loose drumming sound rang out with strange jazz structure before a jarring chasm re-opened and dropped us straight in it. Be afraid be very afraid, Voices proved to be one of the best underground UK acts around with this show and all they really need is Portal to pop over so the intensity can be manifested as they are the obvious choice to support.
I was a bit worried that displays had peaked early but no great things kept on coming and without pause it was time for Shining (Norway) to play another absolute belter of a show. They had played here before and were great then but the main stage elevation was definitely deserved and they owned it from the second they came on bringing manic and furious carnival crazed intensity with ‘The Madness And The Damage Done.’ They also had the stage lights up nice and high and were an absolute pleasure to get some pictures of although standing with the bass bin up against my rib cage was like being in the grip of a hurricane. The speeds they hit at the technical limits they play it is enough to really take your breath away, sure it might be too much for some but for those of us that dug in and endured the ride it was pure sonic nirvana and this was before Munkby had even had a blast on the saxophone. New album ‘One One One’ was one of the maddest listens of the year and the stomp heavy but somewhat linear ‘The One Inside’ was a good choice to play here and get everyone bouncing around. Parts of it kind of remind of Nine Inch Nails in a bar fight with Atari Teenage Riot but again the sexy sax takes it to another dimension and the furious guitars are like a plague of locusts. We looked into the ‘Fisheye’ and it pretty much opened the space time continuum as the sci-fi sounding future burst annihilated all in its path taking me to another dimension in the process. Jørgen Munkeby had little time in the short set but took a second to thank the audience before serving up some naked lunch with his sax and getting a rousing cheer for the solo and as the last song was ‘I Won’t Forget’ I can only reiterate that this rings true for the spectacular set, it’s going to stay in my memory for a long time. Shining Sweden next year perchance? (PW)
Finding myself down the Mine once more, I brace myself for Slabdragger who are one of those bands who do exactly what the name says. Three guys who have no right to make such a huge, heavy racket. This real bowel shaking, bowl shattering stuff and even to someone like myself who has only ever caught them live before they are weirdly so easy to like. Their slow, heavy, filth gets a great crowd response from the once more full to bursting Mine and when they let rip and crank up the tempo they really do a number on you. It’s a great set and I’m limping out as though I’ve had a right old kicking. Excellent. (Giz)
It seemed to be year of no light on the similarly illuminated Eyesore Merch Stage but they had regrettably played earlier so it was case of stumbling down the steps to see Rosetta whose new album The Anaesthete had intrigued me. The last couple of acts would have been very hard to follow and the band seemed somewhat nervous as they took to the stage. There was a huge amount of effects pedals on the floor and it all took quite a while for things to gel with the vocals at first being lost in the mix. Once the band hit their post rock, doom groove things improved and they grew in confidence but audience wise things were completely static as every played statues perhaps just caught like deer in headlights by the mesmerising guitar tones. The barking vocals began to grate on my nerves, perhaps that was their point and I was really struggling here to find anything that resembled an actual song. A quick breather to clear the head taken I was drawn back like a moth to a flame by their joyless Cure etched instrumental weave and with the lack of light and the atmosphere found it easy to hide amidst it all. But this was too early for a come down and the trios soporific craft was again too much to take for any length of time especially when the 40 minute set seemed to be stretching for hours. (PW)
I’m probably the only person in the UK who has never seen SSS before. Animated, energetic, very hard working band and with a good front guy, but I’m a bit confused by the sound which up until then had been spot perfect for the Jaegermeister stage. I know this is hardcore influenced thrash but all I can hear is drums and vocals and no shape or song. Some guy starts a pit seconds into the first song The Kill Floor, but it’s a bit of a sound mess and leaves me unmoved. I am helpfully informed by a thrash fan friend that the mix is just awful so I’ll give them that. Shame. (Giz)
If you are looking for an example of a band that have been through the wars Negura Bunget certainly fit the bill. The Transylvanian band’s ranks have recently been decimated again and one wonders if Negru has been sucking on their blood and got carried away turning his ex band members into withered husks? Well now he is joined by a complete new line-up. Inia has gone and her replacement may not be as sweet to look at but he certainly is versatile, coming on and playing the piped sounds of Pămînt and instantly transporting us off to far away places before the rest of the band take up the chant and bring to bear the full weight of the musicianship. When they do it’s another amazing moment, perhaps Negru has also fed his new troops his blood, something has brought them up to speed that’s for sure as they are so tight instrumentally and the new vocalist has both feral bite and bark to replicate the parts of Om perfectly. Considering I was not really expecting this to ultimately win me over I found myself eating words very quickly literally being blown away by yet another set, something that happens rarely let alone more than once on the same day. Naturally new single ‘Curgerea Muntelui’ gets an airing and although I have only heard it a couple of times it has a suitably otherworldly presence but it is just an interlude to the massive storming drum thunder of ‘Norilor’ and the clouds part here dramatically before the final reckoning of the ghostly swirls of ‘Dacia hiperboreană’ fill the room and hit transcendental peaks. With blue lights and fog and a few horns cast in the air Negura were really hitting the mountainous mystic peaks and were nothing short of stunning. Long live the new blood, well at least for an album or two! (PW)
Never entirely sure that Black Metal was ever really meant to be festival fodder, but if any BM bands are then (along with other Damnation players Rotting Christ) God Seed are among them. They just have that big a presence as a band really. With billowing dry ice and cold blue light they draw the walls of the big room just that bit closer and the band take the stage to an excellent reception. Gaahl, of course, comes on last to even greater cheers and you have to say that, whatever else you think of him, he is one very charismatic singer and one with a real following. Intense aura and understated steps onto the stage go a long way to pulling the focus of the band tighter and he knows how to use that so very well. There is a bit of a problem though that as soon as Sign Of An Open Eye hits us I am very aware that the issues SSS may have had are most definitely with God Seed. The drums are way too loud, the guitar too low and its making a lot of this stuff a bit unrecognisable unless you know it by heart. All of the keyboard subtleties and that odd almost seventies sound mixed in that I love on the album are buried for too long in the set and the guitarists struggle against the drums. The best thing is though that few people care: The response is excellent from the packed audience all the way through. The band are suitably imperious, serious and barely acknowledge the crowd but this is them being locked in to their music and the ritual rather than any disrespect and the fans love it. By the time Wound Upon Wound rears its head to split my skull the bands sheer attack, determination and belligerence has rightly won me over. When they stalk off I’m glad I caught them. (Giz)
As disappointing as it was to see Mourning Beloveth pull out of the festival, (and all at Ave Noctum wish Frank Brennan a speedy recovery), it was great to see emerging London doom heavyweights Serpent Venom get an opportunity on the bill. Despite directly competing for attention with Gaahl & Chums on the main stage, the audience down the Mine was very healthy as they took the stage and launched into ‘The Penance You Pay’, the first of several tracks from their recently recorded second album. Frontman Gaz Ricketts looks every inch the tortured soul as he raises his fists to the sky and beats his head to quieten the demons within, all the while commanding control of the room with his powerful and soulful vocals. Using the opportunity to give four of the new songs a public airing, the excellent ‘Sorrow’s Bastard’ and ‘Let Them Starve’ prove to be the most popular with the assembled crowd; but the biggest cheers are reserved for the familiar tracks from first album ‘Carnal Altar’, with set closer ‘Devilshire’ getting the fists pumping and heads nodding. Their slow, bass heavy and riff laden sound was perfect for the doom heavy line up in the Mine, and the near perfect sound gave the band the best possible opportunity to impress. Judging by the grins and approving noises made by the punters afterwards, they certainly did that, and proved once again that they are one of the standout doom acts in the UK today. (LK)
There is normally a bit of a punky / crusty spot on the bill and it is one I always look forward to. This year it’s the turn of local brigands Vallenfyre a veritable super-group with ties to the Yorkshire (with a bit of Swede) area featuring members of Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride, Doom and At The Gates . It’s a big departure for some of the members who play emotional windswept doom but not so much for the others and they all get right into the swing of things from the starting assault of ‘The Divine Have Fled’ from their to date only album ‘A Fragile King.’ Again it was a frustrating low lit experience to watch and this time it did not really suit the music as band members were really hidden in shadows and it was left for the music to do the talking more than anything else. One thing I did not realise was that the band had not played live much at all, this was we were told just their second UK gig and their first oop North, guess that was not too surprising seeing how busy members are with other bands though. One thing was for sure if any ex-wives were in attendance they got a dedication in the form of ‘Ravenous Whore’ which was a stormy number with a bitter message behind it. Things get grim politically with a real sense of Doom about them on the likes of All Will Suffer and Gregor saluted Celtic Frost before tribute is played with the foul death laden tumult of ‘The Grim Irony’ Sluggish down beat riffs fill the air and it’s gnarly slothful and full of ugh, which seems to be the description I jotted down and I’m sticking to it. Mixing both slow and fast parts together in a workmanlike but consuming fashion Vallenfyre did pretty much as expected. They even got the first crowd surfers I had seen of the festival and the album songs went down well. Now who is going to take this slot next year, Subhumans, Conflict, that would be interesting!
Oh the bloody irony, the one set-list I saw and was able to take a snap of all weekend was that of Katatonia and it was the only one not needed. Why? Well we knew what they were playing as they were running through their complete 2003 album Viva Emptiness. There was a difference though as they were doing it in reverse order, maybe to get the slower songs done first and the more upbeat ones last. Only problem was that the stage was over running and the band came on late meaning that I was going to have to make tough choices what to do and see. The Swedes certainly had an adoring crowd and shouts of ‘I Love You’ were flung out (not accompanied by any hurled knickers) by the more amorous members of the crowd as the band started to spread their heartfelt doom and gloom. I have to admit I have gone off the boil with the band of late, not even picking up the last album and its reworked partner. Indeed Viva has just been polished up too and whilst playing here I could not work out if it was exactly true to the original or rejigged a little for the show. It was difficult not to sway and sing along with the crowd to the likes of Evidence and Complicity though, the choruses are as potent as ever and even if Jonas is as always all hair and elbows hardly showing a hint of face you can’t help loving the songs themselves which have aged well over the last decade. It’s weird in a way, I never really go for album playbacks live and it took the spontaneity and any real surprises out of things and I ended up feeling a little disconnected by it all, slightly out of my comfort zone and missing that elusive spark. The band did nothing particularly wrong but it just all felt staged, which in a way I guess it was. What to write, what to say it was all there in front of us and we knew exactly what was going to happen. If it had been Discouraged Ones, Dance or Brave being run through perhaps I would have felt it more and it seemed really criminal having to leg it before they played the likes of (it’s not even worth the pun) but I had to be in another photo pit a way off and with a certain band headlining the Terrorizer stage I had a feeling leaving was going to be no real Greek tragedy.
Right choice most certainly made as Rotting Christ are just pitching up and from the second they start to the end of their 70 minute set they are absolutely bloody storming. With red lights a blazing they replicate the sound of a marching army as they open with the number of the beast itself and stomp heavily forward, conquering all in the path like Spartans of old. Sakis at the helm the front of the stage sees band members hair twirling in co-ordination with the musical clamour, perfectly co-ordinated and dizzying to watch. Invoking Aelo with ‘dub-saĝ-ta-ke’ things get all the more furious and I am not sure if it is just my jaw clunking to the floor at the technical prowess, grace and savagery of the song gel fantastically sounding way better than one could really expect in a live setting. I had recently made the tough choice of honing down album of the year lists and had placed ‘Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy’ in pole position (unless anything appears in next month to topple it) once the title track battered in not only was in no doubt I had made the right decision but was thinking they could also have snagged live act of the year with this in the process.
Of course it was not all about the new, the band have a massive history about them and it was time to get dragged back into their past by the likes of King Of A Stellar War which had everyone head banging and slamming fists in the air as it got into its harmonic groove. The strumming melody was completely infectious and with some squealing jagged parts this one went down a veritable storm. Mighty contracts sealed in blood it was time for ‘The Sign Of Evil Existence.’ With the wallop of modern sound behind it this updated the sound of 1993 and packed a huge punch and it was clear that the band were really enjoying mixing old and new songs and pleasing the audience hugely in the process. They even went on to play Thou Art Lord number ‘Societas Satanas’ gnarly thrashing away and rasping out the title track, something I really wasn’t expecting. The Satanic grandiosity of Grandis Spiritus Diavolos again proved why the new album is such a devilishly dark delight, the clean vocal parts really sending a shiver down the spine and as they played it bathed in eerie red light it was like being at a black mass. All in all this was a phenomenal set with nothing really left out, we wanted Non Servium we got that too and the multi-layered sound was massive. Yet again I had been bowled over by another absolutely unforgettable set. (PW)
Conan have the unenviable task of being on last in the Mine and opposite The Band Everyone Came To See so I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me that the mad crush I had feared was absent: Nicely full but still spaces dotted around. For me they also have the added problem of having forced me to leave the blinding-crackingly brilliant Rotting Christ set a song early so I’m a little wired.
Still our caveman battle doom practitioners could care less about me and, two thirds in their usual black hoodies, they split the sky with opener Krull. They are in fine form and again the sound down here is great and songs like Dying Giant come across very well and the bass almost makes you shed your skin with its vibration. If by some fluke you have never heard these road wandering barbarians, they can justifiably vie as one of the heaviest, most bludgeoning bands on the planet right now and are redefining slow down to corrupted levels of non-movement. They ride the spaces between notes longer than some bands songs but, weirdly, never hit the drone. Somehow Conan is always about the songs and those great, drawn out crying vocals that bring colour to the sludge. The now classic Hawk As Weapon just crushes and the guys seem to be enjoying pounding this place into the centre of the earth. Drummer Paul O’Neil often holds sway in the set; his beats are the slavedriver goading the guitarist Davis and bass Coumbe onwards one more time and it really works. They really are a remarkable band that you need to see live to appreciate: In a genre of sludge that is veering perilously close to too many bands sounding exactly the damned same, Conan are priceless.
Alas my enjoyment is disrupted by some guy hitting the deck hard seemingly out of nowhere a few feet in front of me. But security are there in seconds and the St Johns guys similarly quick and they keep him safe and look to him quickly and efficiently which is comforting and appreciated even by onlookers I reckon. Hope you’re OK dude. Mood disturbed I decide to take advantage and check out the end of the Carcass set which proves to be a really sparkling display and a cool end to an excellent festival. (Giz)
The more things change, the more they stay the same. When Carcass last headlined Damnation Festival in 2008 it was the biggest festival turnout to date. Once again their headline slot on 2013 led to ticket sales being at an all-time high as the Carcass-Effect was well and truly proven. The changes have been significant however, with two new band members in Ben Ash and Daniel Wilding some youthful exuberance has been added to the mix, and with a fantastic comeback album in ‘Surgical Steel’, Carcass’s stock has rarely been higher. Looking around the venue all day and talking to the fans it was clear that when the time came almost everyone was there to see Carcass, and it was a thoroughly packed and rabid crowd that greeted them as they took to the stage with opening track ‘Buried Dreams’. For one reason or another, (perhaps the extremely watered down beer that was being served all day), a lot of the day’s performances had passed by with little in the way of pits and crowdsurfing; but it was limbs and bodies flying in all directions as the band tore through rampant renditions of ‘Incarnated Solvent Abuse’ and ‘Carnal Forge’. The new material did not get quite as much of a run out as I was expecting, but the likes of ‘Captive Bolt Pistol’ and ‘Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System’ sounded seamless alongside the old material, with the crowd kicking off with gusto for them as if they were long time classics.
Jeff Walker was in fine form throughout the night, punctuating furious blasts of his filth ridden vocals with a top line in crowd baiting banter, “We’ve got a new album out. How many of you have downloaded it for free?” Not stopping there, Walker managed to get in digs at the new band members, in particular drummer Dan Wilding who wasn’t born when Reek of Putrefaction came out. Tonight due reverence was paid to old friends as well as new, and following a punishing rendition of ‘Heartwork’, original drummer Ken Owen was introduced to the crowd. As I’m sure you are aware, Ken suffered a brain haemorrhage which left him in a coma for almost a year, and whilst he made a full recovery a return to full time drumming was never an option. He has made occasional guest appearances with the band and tonight’s short drum solo was well received by a knowledgeable and appreciative crowd; a small circle pit even opening up in his honour as he played. Closing their set and the festival with a rendition of ‘Keep On Rotting In The Free World’, Carcass had arguably provided the set of the day and provided the brutal finale for what may well have been the best Damnation Festival yet. With next year being the 10th running of the festival, you have to wonder how they are going to manage to top this one. Did someone suggest 2 days?…(LK)
Reviews by Giz, Lee Kimber & Pete Woods
Photos © Pete Woods