Ah, November. for some people this means getting up in the dark for work, Bonfire night, and the implacable advance of Christmas, like a merry juggernaut of gluttony and financial ruin. For any metalhead in the UK worth his or her salt however, November can only mean one thing; the annual instalment of Damnation Festival at Leeds University Union, and the last hurrah of the festival season. November 1st this year is Damnation’s tenth anniversary, and as usual they have compiled an absolutely stellar lineup, with something for just about any extreme music fan including death metal titans Bolt Thrower, folksy black metallers Fen, doom masters Saint Vitus and even the grindcore stylings of Corrupt Moral Altar. Here Phil Whitehouse tells you about five bands you absolutely have to see; to check out Danny Heaton’s picks, click here, and to see Jack Traveller’s picks, click here.
Bolt Thrower – 22:25 – Jagermeister Stage
Considering it’s their tenth anniversary, it kind of behooves Damnation’s organisers to pull something special out of the bag for this year’s line-up to properly commemorate such a momentous occasion. In accordance with Damnation’s sterling reputation for treating their attendees to just such exclusives and must-see additions to the line up, they’ve managed to pull off several coups this year – far from least amongst which is the addition of UK death metal legends Bolt Thrower, who will be headlining the event on the Jagermeister stage in what is to be their only UK performance for the forseeable future. If you’re not entirely sure why this is a big deal, then perhaps you need to bone up on your death metal history – after all, they were a favourite of that legendary champion of excellence in music, John Peel – recording three live sessions for him. Bolt Thrower are titans of the genre, an act whose single-minded dedication to death metal so weighty and groove-laden that both their albums and live performances alike threaten to crush all who experience to them beneath battle-scarred tank-tread riffs. Their performance should provide a suitably apocalyptic end to proceedings. I’ll see you in the pit.
Bolt Thrower’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bolt-Thrower/136609366412112
Raging Speedhorn – 16:55 – Jagermeister Stage
In another considerable coup, Damnation Festival’s tenth anniversary also marks a return to the stage for one of UK metal’s most-missed acts, in the form of Corby’s own sextet of psychotic bruisers, Raging Speedhorn. Speedhorn‘s self-titled debut album, released some 14 years ago, was a knuckle-duster-clad fist to the face of the metal scene at the time – rather than baggy pants, over-sized wallet chains and shiny tracksuits, Raging Speedhorn delivered Iron Monkey-indebted, down-tuned sludginess shot through with the kind of unbridled, hair-trigger aggression one normally only encounters in the eyes of a coked-up lunatic in a city centre chippy at chucking-out time. Their raucous live showings and refreshingly unadorned aural viciousness saw them achieve a level of popularity seemingly incommensurate with their uncompromising sound, before the rigours of industry mismanagement saw the band call it a day in 2008. Their showing at Damnation this year will see them deploying the most destructive material from their essential first two albums, and will see me personally reliving the revelatory moment when I realised that nu-metal was far from being as heavy as music could get.
Raging Speedhorn’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Raging-Speedhorn/308893485822242
Saint Vitus – 20:10 – Jagermeister Stage
Damnation itself isn’t the only thing celebrating an anniversary – venerated Los Angeles-based doom metallers Saint Vitus will be marking the 35th anniversary of their landmark album, Born Too Late. Named after the Black Sabbath song ‘St. Vitus’ Dance’, Saint Vitus‘ key line-up (and the one that will be gracing the stage at Damnation) features such bona-fide metal legends as vocalist Scott ‘Wino’ Weinrich and guitarist Dave Chandler. Sadly, Born Too Late drummer Armonda Acosta passed away from ongoing health issues soon after the band’s original reformation in 2003, though current drummer Henry Vasquez has proved more than a worthy replacement, manning the drum stool for a rapturously-received headlining performance at Hellfest and remaining there since. While they may indeed have been born too late, the hardened veterans in Saint Vitus seem set to bring their many years of experience to bear on a Damnation set that promises to prove why this enduring, influential band can’t stick around long enough.
Saint Vitus’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/saintvitusofficial
Hark – 16:15 – Plastic Head Distribution Stage
While the story of Damnation Festival version 10’s line-up largely seems to be about reformations and anniversary performances, there are a few younger bands on the bill too. Amongst them are Welsh prog/sludge power trio Hark, whose debut album Crystalline (produced by the sure knob-twiddling fingers of Converge‘s Kurt Ballou) dropped this past March, and has been steadily impressing all who’ve given it a spin with its intricately-crafted combination of sludgy groove, punky bluster, and progressive complexity. By turns crushingly heavy and soulfully melodic, Hark‘s surface of churning sludge betrays shimmering, some might even say crystalline depths. The confidence of their songcraft should see them easily holding their own against all the venerated veterans they’ll be playing alongside.
Hark’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Harkband
Stampin’ Ground – 15:35 – Jagermeister Stage
For eleven years from 1995 to 2006, UK hardcore/metal act Stampin’ Ground found a way to re-unite punk and metal audiences who had inexplicably seemed to largely go their separate ways since the heyday of crossover. The key to their widespread appeal? Their ability to put on a fucking show. Their groove-laden, aggression-soaked, adrenalised songwriting meant that they had a surfeit of tunes with which to detonate a pit, and in charismatic frontman Adam Frakes-Sime (now shredding his lungs for Romeo Must Die), they had a ringleader par excellence – always able to whip an already frothing crowd into further frenzy. Their uniquely energising presence on the live hardcore/metal scene has been sorely missed – thank whatever deity you swear fealty to, then, that Damnation’s organisers have pulled off yet another considerable coup, and coaxed this firebrand of a band back to the stage for their tenth anniversary. Once again, I’ll see you in the pit – just be warned, I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to fully control myself once ‘Officer Down’ gets its inevitable airing.
Stampin’ Ground’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stampinground
Damnation Festival’s Website: http://www.damnationfestival.co.uk