The annual Damnation Festival started in 2005, and from its humble beginnings in Manchester, has grown to a three-stage behemoth of a one-day metal festival, and an event capable of pulling in some impressive bands for its lineup – Entombed, Carcass, Napalm Death, Akercocke and Cathedral are just some of the bands to have strutted their stuff on the Damnation Festival stages. This year’s installment of metallic mayhem, held at the Leeds University Union and sponsored by Terrorizer, Rock Sound and Jagermeister, once more boasted a hugely impressive gathering of acts from all corners of the metal spectrum, and as a Damnation Festival virgin, I was eager to attend. So it came to pass, that after over four hours of travelling from my home in darkest Darlaston, and after having availed myself of some of the life-giving properties of the free cans of No Fear energy drink being handed out outside the Union, I found myself strolling directly to the Jagermeister stage…
The first band of the day were London-based, sci-fi-obsessed thrash quartet Mutant (http://www.myspace.com/mutantmetal), who provided a suitably energetic opening to proceedings with their gnat’s arse-tight, old-school thrashings. Though the band tore through their set with urgency and skill, unspooling hyper-melodic twin guitar harmonies and urging the audience to engage in air-punching and sing-along choruses, presumably the gathered crowd hadn’t partaken of the energy drinks to quite the extent that I had, and seemed curiously muted in their reception. That didn’t prevent me from enjoying the frenetic soloing and headbang friendly grooves on offer throughout tracks like ‘The Rauncher’, however.
The next band I saw were Manchester-based quintet The Construct (http://www.myspace.com/theconstruct_band). Actually, that’s something of an inaccuracy – I didn’t really see the band as such, as the Rock Sound stage was the smallest of the three, and was pretty much constantly crammed wall-to-wall and front-to-back with people throughout the day. Still, despite a view of the band that was severely limited at best and totally non-existent at worst, the sounds emanating from the stage were enough to keep me in the room. The Construct deal in down-tempo, noise-laden bludgeon with a progressive core – think Will Haven, with hints of a tar-covered Devil Sold His Soul. Lurching from hypnotically repetetive grooves to rhythmically intricate down-tuned hammerblows, The Construct had heads nodding throughout, and I made sure to grab hold of a copy of their debut EP, Titan.
Next band on my to-see list were Colonel Blast (http://www.myspace.com/colonelblast), a band whose debut album For The Greater Good received a very favourable review right here on this website not so long ago. The band have recently undergone a lineup shuffle, with former vocalist Matt Bolton giving way to newcomer Darryl Jones – so naturally, I wondered how the band would translate the record’s Converge-meets-Cryptopsy technical insanity in the live environment. Well, as it turns out, Colonel Blast live are a near-terrifyingly intense experience – Jones constantly looks on the verge of submitting to inner demons and launching himself murderously into the crowd, while the band wrench flurries of twisted riffage and hyper-speed blastbeats from their instruments and fling them at the crowd like fragmentation grenades. Even guitarist Ben Whitfield’s struggles with a broken guitar strap (and his comedic, yet apparently injurious collapse on to his back at the set’s end) couldn’t dent the band’s relentless inertia, and each song’s ending was met with roaring approval.
After a brief interlude during which I caught my breath, got myself a pint (and fell ever-so-slightly in love with a particularly fetching blonde bartender at the Terrorizer stage) and generally mingled, I headed back up to the Rock Sound stage to catch Brit quartet Fen (http://www.myspace.com/fenband) weave their tapestry of melancholic, atmospheric, post-rock influenced black metal. Once again, the Rock Sound stage was filled to capacity – though after clambering onto some seating, I managed to gain a view of the stage. The admirably clear sound allowed the intricacies of Fen‘s material full breathing room, as the band captivated the crowd with the likes of Burzum-esque ‘As Buried Spirits Stir’, and while there wasn’t much on-stage room for attention-grabbing moves, none were required, as the material was arresting enough to stand by itself.
Back at the Terrorizer stage, London-based extreme metal trio The Antichrist Imperium (http://www.myspace.com/theantichristimperium) launched into their set of unrelentingly top-speed, unsubtly extreme cuts. Blending the lightspeed velocities of thrash, the brutality of death metal and the sinister trappings of black metal, the trio (consisting of Akercocke‘s David Gray and Matt Wilcox on drums and guitars/backing vocals respectively and Ted Maul‘s Niki Hassan on bass guitar and vocals) turned in a set that, while impressively performed and undeniably savage, was somewhat lacking in hooks. The overall impression was that if mid-90s Cannibal Corpse played about 80% faster, you’d have The Antichrist Imperium. Still, the crowd seemed to enjoy it, and Matt Wilcox’s fret-melting solos were a highlight – but after a time, I felt I’d seen all the band had to offer.
So, I toddled off to the Jagermeister stage to catch Lawnmower Deth (http://www.myspace.com/lawnmowerdeth) – and caught perhaps the most raucously enjoyable set of the day. Whether trying to figure out which faction of the attending crowds were louder (the choices being ‘those from Yorkshire’ and ‘everyone else’), or getting an audience member onstage, making him don a devil’s mask and bounce on a trampoline for the entirety of ‘Devil’s Trampoline’, the band were clearly having the time of their lives – and their sheer joy was hugely infectious. The band have never been the most technically adroit, but their knockabout, tongue-in-cheek thrash and fantastic stage banter kept myself, and the rest of the crowd, grinning from ear-to-ear throughout their set.
After Lawnmower Deth, I required another breather, and so the next band I caught were Sabbat (http://www.myspace.com/officialsabbat) – and they proved themselves just as vital a force as they were back in the 80s. Martin Walkyier’s snarling vocals and armoured appearance provided a great focal point, backed up by Andy Sneap and Simon Jones’ blistering riffage and screaming solos. The audience lapped it up, great manes of windmilling hair flashing through the air before the stage, and the band were clearly loving every minute, throwing rock-star shapes and soaking up the adulation of the crowd. Any chance of some new material, lads?
Next up on my must-see list were Birmingham-based crust punk/grindcore lunatics Fukpig (http://www.myspace.com/fukpig13), who were up there with Colonel Blast and Anaal Nathrakh as the most eye-wateringly intense acts I caught that day. Blending the grinding, lightspeed tempos of Extreme Noise Terror with the all-encompassing nihilistic aggression of Mayhem at their most unhinged, Fukpig managed to turn the audience in front of the Terrorizer stage into a churning mass of moshing, slamming lunatics with the sheer force of their pyroclastic riffage. Despite some sound issues relating to the volume of the vocals and the guitars, the mask-clad band still managed to put on an exhileratingly destructive masterclass in crusty grind.
After the balls-out adrenaline rush of Fukpig, I felt it was time for a change of pace – so, for an experience on the diametric opposite of the velocity scale, I headed back over to the Rock Sound stage to catch experimental/doom metal quintet Esoteric (http://www.myspace.com/esotericuk) – and this time, I even managed to see what was going on, thanks to a briefly unattended side-door leading to the front and side of the stage. Of course, this position saw me directly in front of one of the large speakers, but really, what better position to be in to be fully absorbed by the monolithic riffage, thunderous drumming and washes of reverb and feedback summoned by Esoteric? The band’s use of effects pedals to create climactic, wailing climaxes of echoes perfectly matched the tectonic despondancy of their material, leaving the audience mesmerised during their 10-minute-plus anthems of despair – even guitarist/vocalist Greg Chandler’s howls and screams were fed through effects, giving the band’s whole set a cavernous, abyssal vibe. So absorbed was I by the sheer weighty depression conjured by the band, in fact, that I ended up not noticing that they’d run over time, leading to me pretty much entirely missing Earthtone 9. Still, I couldn’t be too upset – Esoteric had delivered a set of epic grandeur and kept me engrossed throughout.
Back at the Terrorizer stage, Birmingham-based grind/black metal titans Anaal Nathrakh (http://www.myspace.com/anaalnathrakh) tore through their spite-fuelled set like things possessed. The sheer in-your-face aggression of the group’s set was particularly impressive, seeing as guitarist Mick Kenney and vocalist Dave Hunt had been performing with Fukpig not too long ago. The audience, too, was largely made up of people who had already tore things up with Fukpig, yet they seemed as immune to fatigue as the band themselves. Crowd-surfing, frantic pitting, and general insanity terrified the clearly surprised security staff, while the band tore through tracks like ‘Submission Is For The Weak’ and ‘Lucifer Effect’ with fury and purpose – not a blastbeat was dropped, nor any of the napalm-like riffage fluffed, and Dave Hunt’s demonic roars and shrieks exhorted the crowd to further violence – which they were only too eager to provide. A fantastic set.
Finally, I headed to the Rock Sound stage to catch my last band of the night, French atmospheric/post-rock/black metallers Alcest (http://www.myspace.com/alcestmusic). As a closing band (and particularly after the insanity of Anaal Nathrakh’s incendiary set), Alcest were the ideal wind-down to the festival for me – the metal equivalent of time spent in a nightclub’s chill-out room. The gorgeous melodies, wistful clean vocals and lazily unravelling structures invited quiet contemplation and lazy head-nodding, lulling the audience into relaxingly comforting dazes. Once again, the Rock Sound stage was packed to capacity, severely hindering my ability to see – but by that stage of the day, I was perfectly content to squeeze myself into one of the seats opposite the bar and allow myself to be soothed by Alcest‘s soaring tones.
Alcest‘s set over, I began the long journey back to Darlaston. I was regretful that I couldn’t have somehow cloned myself to see more of the bands – missing Diascorium, Rolo Tomassi, The Ocean and Paradise Lost had been particularly hard. That said, the festival had been an overwhelmingly positive experience. For such an affordable ticket price (a mere £27), the line-up and scope of the festival made it staggeringly good value for money, and the organisation was exceptionally smooth. About the only gripe I had was with the over-crowding of the Rock Sound stage – but Damnation Festival director Gavin McInally has already stated his awareness of that issue on the festival forum. In the final analysis then, all that’s left to say is “Roll on next year!”
Damnation Festival Website: http://www.damnationfestival.co.uk
OneMetal.com would like to thank Lisa Coverdale for sorting out our press pass, providing sweets and sandwiches in the press area, for all her hard work on the day and especially for (as yet) not posting the photo of Phil clutching two pints and screaming along to Pantera before Colonel Blast‘s set.