It’s time for the most hectic day of the year with no less than 27 bands playing over four stages. Celebrating its tenth year anniversary Damnation Festival has risen from strength to strength and actually sold out here today. It’s definitely the biggest one day extreme music event in the North of England and it’s a yearly pilgrimage for people from all over the country and beyond. There were plenty of highs through the day and lots of running around in an attempt to pack in as many bands as possible, even then it was impossible to cover them all and genuinely sorry to any that we missed.
First up on our radar after a quick visit to a boat down the road for a couple of beers, which has become a bit of a tradition are Amputated. It’s a breakfast of champions for many and the Terrorizer stage is suitably rammed straight away clearly to the delight of the brutally sick deathsters who promise to lower the tone in style. It’s not difficult for them to do so in fact the track titles alone are enough to leave you gagging if you are of a sensitive disposition. With the likes of ‘Cunt Like A Sewer’ and ‘Repugnant Genital Deformity’ spewed, gurgled, squealed and slammed out someone best get the University nurse on hand as it’s like a description of the aftermath of Freshers week in here! The sound is suitably thick and beefy and the musical brutality is viciously honed and destructive. Between songs it’s pretty ribald with some good banter between fans and band who are after certain songs being aired. It’s a case of “tough shit that’s not on the list but this one is” as they batter us straight back to first album ‘Gargling With Infected Semen’ with Anally Disembowelled (Weapons of Ass Destruction) and seriously you couldn’t make titles like this up. We are also urged to go and check out a new video for next number ‘When Whores Meet Saws’ which succeeds in getting the first pit of the day; it certainly won’t be the last.
Stepping down to the narrow and underground domain of the Eyesore Merch stage early is a cunning plan as it allows good views for Bast before the throngs pack this place out. The potency of the band’s debut album is not forgotten despite the fact it came out at the beginning of the year and the trio are quick to build things up to a mighty all-consuming mass that perforates eardrums and has people bowing down to its sludgy weight. It’s a hoary and weathered sermon and quickly it brings the masses to press themselves into the long room as the sound bounces off the walls and space it fought for. ‘Spectres’ the album title in question is delivered and there’s nothing ghostlike about this slab of sonic excess as I find myself moved from the very front to right by the back which is not as back as it sounds as that’s just where the bar is located. Still more try and push themselves in and now even the corridor outside is rammed as Bast lighten the mood with the airy and expansive caress of ‘Outside The Circles Of Time.’ The fragile calmness does not last for ever though and it rises to crush those already crushed as it echoes and follows me all the way outside to the smoking area the one place that it’s possible to finally breathe again after a stifling performance.
I had no idea what Atlantis were all about, in fact they were the only band on the bill here I had not heard of and wrongly guessed they could well be a progressive power metal band with a name like that. Bit of a difference from the trio just witnessed as this lot on the much bigger PHD stage were double the size as all six of them trooped on stage to pick up their instruments and start. The Dutch lot did nothing in a hurry particularly and after the first pretty nondescript number the one thought in my head was that with that many people in the band you would have thought they could have found someone who could sing. Nope not their modus operandi it would appear, best just tag this lot as an instrumental combo. They moved and grooved around the low lit stage and it was evident that despite no vocalist one of the players was pretty much focussing at the front as leader of the pack as they rocked away. One of the guitarists dropped out for a short while due to some technical difficulties, plugging himself back in I tried best to distinguish difference in sound and didn’t really notice any. This post rock sort of thing can be pretty bland and looking around at those watching, standing there like statues I came to the conclusion that this was neither the most exciting thing to watch or listen to. Paint drying experience, still plenty of other things to go and check out. (PW)
Last minute replacements for October File forced to cancel due to bass player Steve Beatty damaging his leg in an accident meant Night Of Salvation headliners, Dyscarnate, from the Damnation warm-up gig the previous evening stepped up to start the massive de-evolvement of metal fans on the main stage, which was opened up to the back, eventually, as a great number of punters were waiting for the Bolt Thrower merchandise. Scheduled to go on sale at 2PM only to arrive at their stall for a notice saying on sale at 5PM instead (this was changed by Bolt Thrower themselves it appears) much to the annoyance of the sizeable horde that had waited for quite some time. With a gait and politeness afforded bands of less brutality the UK death metallers plundered through a slightly nervy set of Dying Fetus styled riffing thuggery as fans nodded in appreciation at the slugging riff fest of “In The Face Of Armageddon”. Stage presence was a little staid due to the trio being fixed in vocal positions and playing bass and guitar but that didn’t stop the first step back in evolutionary terms as a few of the fans adopted more rugged pit credentials to start a minor pit much to the appreciation the band. Announcing a new tune was very welcomed for yours truly with “Of Mice And Mountains” fitting into the set perfectly and stamping a firm foothold for the band in Northern circles and most likely gaining a few new fans in the process. (MH)
“Last time I was in this room it was full of desks and I was doing exams,” chatty frontwoman Harriet Bevan of local Leeds band Black Moth remarks from the PHD stage, “This is much more fun.” Fun for us too. They are kind of a perfect band to introduce yourself to at a festival. I caught them earlier in the year at Temples and enjoyed them enough to want to check them out again. They are an appealing band visually with guitars to the fore and a fine expressive front-woman and the play a rocking out, rocked up brand of slightly sludgy stoner but unlike the majority of their peers I just think they exude a heads down sense of total enjoyment. Songs like ‘Tumbleweave’ and ‘Undead King Of Rock And Roll’ from their current album Condemned To Hope are perfect bluesy catchy tunes to get the blood flowing and my head nodding. Nice band and at least this time unlike Temples I managed to find where their merch was hiding so bagged a copy. (Gizmo)
Splitting up in 2006 but back on the resurrection trail there was plenty of enthusiasm for the band that had played their penultimate show here back all those years ago and Stampin Ground were determined to kick it off in style. We were more than happy when they burst on stage as it was feeling like all those years ago due to SOAD on the PA (ugh) but that was quickly brushed away as frontman Adam Frakes-Sime looms over us on the monitor rousing those on the dance-floor up to cause all out carnage. Sure the band may no longer have Ian Glasper with them but it wasn’t putting anyone off their stride and as circle pits erupt and any thought of tiredness are forgotten the main stage is completely energised as the band plough from one brutal slap-down to the next. Drumming is full on and incredibly powerful, the vocals seethe and rage and songs like Don’t Need A Reason To Hate’ and ‘Dead From The Neck Up’ are about as much violent fun you can possibly get involved in without getting arrested. This was pretty much how the crowd seemed to be tackling it all in the centre and nope I was not going in there, 10 years ago perhaps but was more than happy to watch them bruise themselves from the side lines. Unfortunately I had to cut it a little short as was the case a lot today as I had a feeling it was going to be rather busy as far as the next lot were concerned (PW)
Winterfylleth were of course one of three or four must see bands for me this year at Damnation, with their stunning album still on constant rotation at home. Deceptively unassuming, these four guys in black swathed in dry ice surge into ‘The Divination Of Antiquity’ and blow your preconceptions out of the room, scattering them down the hallways of Leeds Uni. Since the first time I caught them live, on this very stage a few years back they have grown in strength and confidence and, despite a few sound niggles, there is a huge sense of power about them. Austere, yes, but a huge, epic grandeur too that fills the nicely packed Terrorizer stage as ‘The Svart Raven’ and the melancholy of ‘A Careworn Heart’ just make my heart swell a little bigger. They also gave us ‘Whispers Of The Element’ live for the first time which was an absolute highlight for me, a standout track from one of the best albums of this or any year. (Gizmo)
Continuing on a British black metal theme and unfortunately missing Raging Speedhorn in the process it’s back down deep for <Code>. Apparently it was not a band that was drawing most crowds to things at the moment though but the Bolt thrower merchandise going on sale for which I was informed there was a mass scrum for with mayhem at the barriers to grab their shirts, which are only ever sold at their shows at cheap prices. I did notice there were plenty left later but guess people were not taking the chance. Back here and heading straight to first album with ‘The Cotton Optic ‘ the stage is a big ginger mass of motion as Wacian and Syhr pretty much take up most of the small space available leaving the other players left right at the edges. It’s a frenzied and jagged display and one that sees the audience left in near darkness adding to the somewhat macabre and avant-garde atmosphere of the music. I’m never really convinced of the suitability of this stage for the acoustics and some of the more subtle ghostly and ethereal sounds are lost a bit in the mire here. Newer songs from Augur Nox such as ‘Ecdysis’ illustrate more progressive paths which the band have moved on to and occasional clean vocal passages have the audience in a trance. Technical gremlins put a bit of a halt on things leaving the vocalist to try a bit of a comedy work out but ‘Smother The Crones’ puts them back on course and it’s difficult not to sing along with it. (PW)
The second sole reason for attending Damnation in 2014 was Boston, USA riff manglers Revocation whose superb guitar work has to be some of the most virtuosic but without the pretentions of jack hammering fret acrobatics for the sake of it. Watching the guys set up, the rather inauspicious looking quartet switched to stage personas instantaneously the moment “The Hive” was initiated like a riffing cyclone as David Davidson asked the crowd to ‘wake the fuck up’ which they obeyed fervently. Watching the crowd hearing the monumental guitar work by both David Davison and henchman Dan Gargiulo was quite possibly the surprise band for most that watched their stunning performance. New album offering “Deathless” gave them ample opportunity to barrage the pit demons with the title track and an older tune “Dismantle The Dictator” that followed. The technical tight shredding, and I mean shredding, by all guitarists including the bassist, who before the show looked like he was drinking coffee only to find out it had whiskey in it, was exemplary though nothing compared to the outright hook infested “Invidious” which has so many tempo and riff changes the audience were sent dizzy as the lead work even included an impromptu rendition of the “The Simpsons” theme much to the amusement of the audience. As ever bands like this are truly modest, appreciating the turnout and totally understating their impact on the day and with the guys on tour with Cannibal Corpse currently their tour merch had sold out, damn it. As the bands athletic set approached its end I knew my friend was awaiting his favourite tune “No Funeral” which he got much to his delight, and mine too. Again the swirling dervish guitar work was second to none on what I saw during the day as the crowd had now sworn their allegiance to the Revocation cause which leaves me only to ask for a headline tour of the UK please guys. (MH)
There’s no doubt about it and maybe it has something to do with excellent new album Ótta but Solstafir are definitely one of the audience hits of the day on the PHD stage and it gets so busy with everyone wanting to get a look at the Reykjavik cowboys that they have to start operating a one in one out policy on the door. It starts off incredibly mellow though as if the calm before the storm or even ‘Ljós í stormi’ which ebbs in taking us to ice-capped vistas. It builds up hypnotically and enraptures us before the unrestrained vocalist AðalbjörnTryggvason gets the chance to join in and quickly jumps into the photo-pit much to the delight of those pressed tightly on the barrier. He’s a mass of motion and obviously enjoying every second of things whereas the other two on bass and guitar strike much more rigid poses. The lead song off that new album follows and atmosphere is tense as the croons build up and the song sends shivers down the spine, green lights beam down from the stage, holding us in place swaying along. My view was by now hampered but I could hear some banjo! Solstafir continue to put us through the paces counterpoising really chilled out dreamy parts with huge glacial surges packed with action and adventure, close your eyes and dream of being on a sledge and rushing over ice capped plateaus, it’s easy to do. Last number Goddess Of The Ages has the band doing a stellar jam session, obviously really into things as much as those watching. I’m never going to get the fact that it so reminds me of ‘Like A Hurricane’ out my head though! (PW)
Walking into the Jaegermeister stage for the first time this year, and into the ever loving arms of Orange Goblin and the sounds of ‘Scorpionica’ is just about as fine a metal experience as you can get in the UK. The sound is spot on, the room is packed and the guys are clearly just there to party. With tracks all the way from their first album to their current monster, the Goblin are a windmilling, headbanging beast that just never let up. We get storming renditions, proper fist pumping metal anthems, of ‘Sabbath Hex’, the mighty ‘Devil’s Whip’ and the brilliant crowd sing-along of ‘Some You Win, Some You Lose’. ‘The Fog’ is dedicated to John Carpenter by a grinning Ben Ward, towering above the crowd with best zombie shamble thrown in for ‘They Come Back’ and the whole set is ripped into overdrive for a brilliant ‘Red Tide Rising’. Orange Goblin are always up for it, always a force to be reckoned with but tonight, tonight they absolutely nailed it and the looks of genuine pleasure on their faces at the crowd reaction was what Damnation is all about. Brilliant. But please put ‘Stand For Something’ back in the set guys, ‘cos you do that in spades… (Gizmo)
It is time to launch oneself into the very jaws of hell as Anaal Nathrakh are setting up to destroy the Terrorizer stage. It’s good to note straight away that Mick Kenney is present and correct and with their new album ‘Desideratum’ on constant rotation (damn it’s good) at the moment I was looking forward to this. Unfortunately so was everyone else at the festival or that’s how it seemed. Dave Hunt is at side of stage bouncing around and obviously psyching himself up for what’s to come and when it does, wallop! Instrumental opener from the new album preludes the inferno and then ‘Unleash’ explodes, welcome to your worst nightmare. It’s intense even in the relative safety of the photo pit and the barrier is stormed by crowd surfers unable to contain themselves. The filth and scum from Birmingham’s darkest drinking holes that makes up the rest of the live band dig in and fire out venomous flailing riffs as we fly from one nihilistic and animalistic slab of distempered noise. Dave’s in fine form and is waving a large pair of some ladies nether garments about, I was a bit deaf and did not pick the whole story up but it seems like they may have some mad fans, there were certainly plenty in the pit as we furrowed ‘Forging Towards The Sunset’ and got caught in ‘The Constellation Of The Black Widow’ It was a bit too much though space was at a premium and so was breathing and I found myself pretty much jettisoned through the doors like a cork from a bottle aptly during ‘Submission Is For The Weak’ Yep it’s not often I submit but this was one time I admitted defeat.
Luckily drawn like a moth to a flame this gave me the chance to check out Monarch who I had never heard before, I’ll be putting that right from now on as it was quickly evident I had walked in on the tail end of a sublime and excellent performance. My first encounter with singer Eurogirl will not be forgotten in a hurry due to an at times ferocious voice that snapped and bit heads off from quite a distance. Still there was a lot of soothing parts to in total contrast to the mayhem on the other stage having us swaying away and wilting in its doom laden caress. Vocals are also quite hymnal in places with gorgeous choral peaks. Just as I was getting used to this hellish screams are demonically unleashed, there’s two sides here for sure and it seems like the singer is possessed. Shame it was almost over but with a storming riot grrrl flourish it was over but Monarch had definitely left their mark. (PW)
Even just shambling on stage, doom legends Saint Vitus wear every inch of their mileage on their tattooed bodies. Veterans doesn’t come close to the road wars these guys have seen. Alas my perch to the side under the balcony means I can understand not one word that is spoken from the stage, however if I’m not mistaken (though I usually am) they open with ‘Living Backwards’ from V and that guitar sound is just… ah, well it’s just Saint Vitus. Looking like a strange biker goblin, Wino clutches the microphone stand and that voice howls out. We get a fine shot at ‘Bleed Black’, and unexpected but heart wrenching rendition of the brilliant ‘Let Them Fall’ and the punk days revisited of ‘White Stallions’. It’s a packed crowd who respond well and get into it all easily, being treated to a performance that you do wonder if they could just crank out anywhere from a car park to an embassy. It’s not that this is by any stretch mechanical, but they really have been there, done that, got the tattoo and the road rash and are still standing and there’s an inscrutable quality to them these days. A feeling that you will never know if they are really enjoying it and how much because, after all this time, this is the skull they look out from and it betrays nothing. Closing with ‘Born Too Late’ having done most of that album by my count, the crowd thins as people leave to book their place at Cannibal Corpse but Saint Vitus don’t care. They are survivors and if only for ‘White Stallions’ and ‘Let Them Fall’, they delivered the goods. (Gizmo)
On the announcement that Bolt Thrower were to headline Damnation 2014 very early in the year I bought a ticket instantly, follow that by announcing Cannibal Corpse as well and the rumour mill of band clashes for two of the biggest names in death metal were rife but thankfully the organisers stated there would be no clash between the heavyweights though the five minute breather between Cannibal ending and Bolt Thrower starting was always going to be a tough one for me to make. Having camped up at the second main stage to watch Revocation earlier and then see Anaal Nathrakh murder the audience prior to Cannibal Corpse the death metal veterans had a lot to prove and they hit the stage on time with a trio of slaughtering old school tracks from “The Bleeding” album, which is on its 20 year anniversary and started with “Staring Through The Eyes Of The Dead”. George hit the front spinning his gigantic neck like a spin dryer as he bellowed the announcement of “Fucked With A Knife” without any prior statement saying it was for the girls. Never failing to ignite the crowd Paul’s bomb blasting precision was animalistic and set about demolishing the now Neanderthal like masses into a brawling and seething cauldron of flailing bodies, as I did see someone with an inflatable club to prove my point during the day. Massive crowd favourite “Stripped, Raped And Strangled” ended the trio and gave a short break for the pit and the guys in the band to take a drink.
As the crowd shouted plenty George ignored them before returning stage front for a little banter and asking if anyone had the new album, which can be fatalistic for some bands and whilst the cheer wasn’t loud (at least the crowd was honest) George said we’re going to get some new ones and since “A Skeletal Domain” is a cracking album I was exceptionally pleased as the new stuff is as potently pulverising as anything they’ve done and started with “Kill Or Become” the first of another trio of tunes from the said opus. The sound really was a bombarding blitzkrieg, the drums were pummelling and the guitar work was ear slashing wrath. Into “Sadistic Embodiment” and the now rammed crowd was undulating in waves of frenzied controlled violence. Crowd surfers gave the security a job to do and I heard one got injured when one landed on his leg, oops, occupational hazard I guess. “Icepick Lobotomy” was ritualistic carnage from the start as the band set about affronting the audience with swathe after swathe of skull caving pandemonium.
Half way into their set and some decisions had to be made as this festival was massively over sold for the capacity of just running two stages at a time and that meant with the main room capacity being around 2000 and with nigh on 4000 in attendance (that total reflects capacity if every stage is running at the same time I believe so someone needs some arithmetic lessons) it was announced a one in one out policy would run for Bolt Thrower’s set meaning I had to decide whether to stay and watch Cannibal Corpse in full and risk not getting in to see Bolt Thrower which was not easy to make as Cannibal Corpse were ferocious and continued with “Scourge Of Iron” from the “Torture” album, but not before George berated the crowd for not headbanging enough, after which I made my sloth like exit towards the main stage for Bolt Thrower, via the merch area to buy a Cannibal Corpse tour shirt. (MH)
I miss the first song by German oceanic funeral doom band Ahab(a monolithic Old Thunder PW) due to the slight Saint Vitus overrun but they greet us politely all and thank us for going to see them and not Cannibal Corpse (no contest for me mate…). On record their sound has developed from a harsher, storm ridden ocean to the huge tidal force they have on their last album The Giant and musically this four piece deliver. Slow, sedate, but of huge depth this is proper funeral doom with crushing riffs and melody cresting the waves. The clean vocals however are a bit of a let down to say the least; whether it was monitor issues or not, their singer wavers way off line too many times for it not to be noticeable and it does hurt the melody and majesty. Despite this however they give us the mesmeric ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Further South’, and are closing with ‘The Hunt’ as I realise I have to leave if I am to have a chance of actually seeing Bolt thrower. I’m not alone. (Gizmo)
Bolt Thrower’s last appearance in the UK was in 2012 for the charity gig Boltfest but the last tour here was back in 2010 for a band who have been around for over 25 years and closer to 30 really. Currently on their ‘Overtures Of War’ tour this was the only UK date and I know it causes much consternation to fans over here as the turnout for the band at the festival was massive as the growing number of battle hordes gathered ranks at the main stage awaiting the bands call to death metal war which began with the “Battle Of Britain” theme and with a deluging amount of smoke emanating from the stage the scene was set perfectly. Standing near the front the erupting warmongering guitar work of the intro “War” steadily increased the tension of the crowd before the thundering riff of “Remembrance” and the de-evolvement of the crowd was complete and back to Australopithecus like brutes chanting the band’s name which was a feat in itself judging by how inebriated some looked. I’m not certain “Mercenary” was the right follow up, being longer in duration the song lumbered along like a slow moving tank before the crushing tones of “Cenotaph”. More smoke drifted towards the crowd and even stood near the front it was difficult to see though the diffusion of red and green light but it was ominous and highly appropriate. Karl asked if anyone had seen the band before and I was shocked at how few it seemed had as “Anti-Tank (Dead Armour)” was dedicated to us old school crusties of years ago. Its stop start riff start was charismatic and signalled the militaristic riffing to set in unison the head banging. Bolt Thrower’s music is a power house of bass, double kick and riffing monstrousness and whilst not the best sound I’ve had skirmishes with over the years it was punishing nonetheless, though the cut out of the PA caught a few out thinking they’d lost their hearing during “Anti-Tank”. “Warmaster’s” inimitable gargantuan riff was seismic as Jo’s bass plundered the ears of the crowd, it really was abominably beastly throughout. Quite how Bolt Thrower achieve such an earth devouring sound is beyond me, as the obvious riff of “The IVth Crusdade” was unleashed upon Damnationkind, it was gnarly, guttural and rammed with the double kick onslaught by Martin Kearns, his drum work equated to standing next to an old British Rail diesel locomotive. Deciding to move back away from the sweltering heat of the front Karl teased the audience by shouting ‘No Guts’, followed by snorts back of ‘No Glory’ once the unfettered battering of “The IVth Crusade” had completed its mission of torso implosion. This back and forth continued for a little while before the song was unleashed. Following neatly after “The IVth Crusade” the song was similar in tone and density as the crowd bellowed the chorus at the band and even where I was stood at the back by now the crowd was joining in linking it into the formidable “…For Victory” the song always sets my skin crawling, it really is a monstrous song, and captures the essence of Bolt Thrower and for me this signalled the end of my time watching the band preferring to escape before the encore plus I was fucking knackered. (MH)
After being impressed by Bolt Thrower I make the tough decision to witness a couple of songs by Fen as feel they deserve some people watching them and luckily discover there are a good few. I just walked in as they are busy unleashing brand new song Menhir-Supplicant from upcoming album Carrion Skies. It’s a full on barraging force which drops out to flirt with some lush acoustic parts throwing the audience through various emotions at the end of a very long day. I stood at the back letting it sweep over me and being rattled by Derwydd’s ever impressive drum battery. The Watcher’s vocals are really barking, incredibly high in the mix and savagely launching themselves right to the back of the room. Occasional clean parts also are added to the mix. Having seen the band many a time I have to admit the sound here was again not the best for them but with ‘Exile’s Journey’ ringing in my ears as a last song there was little to really complain about (PW)
In retrospect Damnation 2014 for me was an odd one. The overriding sense of those additional 500 or so attendees was that it became a footrace to get from one hall to the next if you were to have a chance of securing a perch to see things (if you’re neither 6 foot tall nor able to physically or mentally cope with being deep in crowds this will be familiar to you, if you’re not either it probably won’t have mattered one iota).
I was also a bit confused by the location of the various bands merchandising. Space had gone missing from the main hall due to shifting of layout, but those bands that might have been there didn’t appear to be anywhere else. Probably my bad map reading (and yes I was stone cold sober) but I wanted to give them money!
On the plus side though it was at least on the surface its usual seemingly smooth running to us punters by an incredibly dedicated and organised team. I am again in awe of them. And if nothing else I take away a storming set from Winterfylleth, a weird and wonderful one from eccentrics Solstafir and Orange Goblin just doing what they do best – rocking the house down. Happy birthday Damnation, the UK metal scene needs you so much. See you next year no doubt. (Gizmo)
Reviewers: Gizmo, Martin Harris and Pete Woods
Photos: © Pete Woods