OneMetal music LIVE REVIEW: Festival Review: Damnation Festival 2016


The premier metal festival of the winter was at hand and two intrepid reviewers – Jack Traveller and Danny Heaton – made pilgrimmage from the dingy halls of Onemetal Towers to Leeds Union for the annual Damnation shindig. Featuring storied Legends like Electric Wizard, fiesty up-and-comers like Conjurer and interesting curiosities like Sinistro, it promised to be a fine year.

Attan – Terrorizer Stage – 3.5/5

attanKicking things off with an with an impressively ball-grabbing set, Norwegian blackened hardcore peddlers Attan delivered a rude awakening to Friday’s befuddled pre-show attendees, serving up a feast of tasty dissonant riffs of the kind so favoured in certain strains of contemporary black metal. What’s nice about hearing these tonalities in hardcore song structures is that the band are never in danger of wandering into self indulgent territory, the impenetrable nature of the guitars being tamed by a cage of D-beats and short, sharp song structures. Sadly they suffered from the same old problem of basslines with no position of reference to the drums, but weighing things up this was more than made up for by the band’s impassioned shrieks and sheer performance. [JT]

Attan on Facebook:

SVALBARD – Terrorizer stage [2.5/5]

svalbard-_bandBristol’s Svalbard are kicking things off with decided aplomb, Serena Cherry (guitar/vocals) giving it more beans than a burrito stand, windmilling away like a woman possessed between acerbic outbursts which are distinctively and effectively combined with downpours of shimmering lead. As is so often the case on the Terrorizer stage, however, much of the low end is stifled beneath the overpowering barrage of drums, leaving bass and rhythm guitar struggling like stunned bunnies. The result is an imperfect and slightly disappointing set. I’ve seen this band live before with better sound and been absolutely floored by them, but Damnation it seems was simply not the venue to do justice to their abundant talents. That said, their more prominent numbers like ‘Disparity’ elicited a great response despite the issues, and those at the front seemed to relish Cherry’s parting crowd address, which I’m sure was very genuine and heartfelt, but from my vantage point sounded like moths in a box. Bottom line, go see this band, but hope for better sound. [DH]

Svalbard’s Facebook:

Conjurer – Eyesore Merch Stage – 3/5

conjI had prepared myself for the worst with Conjurer being slotted on a stage which traditionally suffers from a bad mix early in the day, but was pleasantly surprised by the sound, though I found the band’s set a little bit end loaded. To my ears they’re at their most engaging when they’re leading with blast beats and faster riffs, and the first half of their performance relied rather too heavily on mid-tempo prog grooves for my liking (and what’s more, thanks to the relatively tidy sound it was quite noticeable when they tried to stop dead and weren’t quite together). That kind of thing requires a little more finesse in arrangement if you’re going to run with it, and I thought it would have been nice to hear a band who are clearly so rhythmically competent get out of their comfort zone with a bit more counterpoint and a bit more allowance for the arrangements (particularly the clean breaks) to grow and build naturally. Still, the kind of Akercocke style dissonant arpeggios that are Conjurer’s bread and butter certainly are harrowing, and the band can’t be faulted on their stage presence. For a performance that’s very ‘on trend’ with the proggier end of extreme metal you could do a lot worse than Conjurer. [JT]

Conjurer on Facebook:

GETS WORSE – The 4th Stage- [3.5/5]

gwSound concerns are getting the better of Gets Worse guitarist Tom Goodwell-Garner, as he grows visibly more agitated between tracks, complaining to the sound man that ‘There’s no guitars it’s just like eeeerrrr!’. Despite this, they actually sound really tight, and their sound has an extra crunch to it, presumably due to their recently doubled-up guitar quota. This is the first time I’ve seen these Leeds locals with Paul Priest on bass, and to be frank I was concerned about how he’d fit the band dynamic, but these concerns prove unfounded as the tracks are imbued with an additional heft, particularly in the sludgier sections which hit like an inebriated bare-knuckle fighter. What’s more the crowd seem to be lapping it up, the four-piece providing the perfect soundtrack to the rapidly rising blood alcohol level in the room. [DH]

Gets Worse’s Facebook:

MITHRAS – Terrorizer stage – [3/5]

mithrasHaving previously seen Mithras’ live show at the Damnations of yesteryear, I’d unconsciously consigned them to a file marked ‘Akercocke, only not as good’. As is often the case, when feeling over-faced by the sheer volume of metal bands to get to grips with, I’d done them something of a disservice with this generalisation. Whilst my summary hit the mark in terms of drumming as, beat for beat, few would have matched David Gray so nearly, the proggy guitar work went down another path entirely, venturing into interstellar territory. Imagine the intensity of Morbid Angel paired with the cosmic insanity of Demilich and you’re much nearer the mark than my original appraisal. Although the tight changeover times and droves of attendees mean I have to curtail my experience, Mithras were a very pleasant surprise, and certainly worthy of a revisit. [DH]

Mithras’ Facebook:

Hang the Bastard – Jagermeister Stage – 4/5

hangI’m glad I finally got to see Hang The Bastard at Damnation. I didn’t realise until someone mentioned it moments before they went on, but it turns out this was their last ever gig. Since that moment I’ve been kicking myself for not getting off my arse and seeing them sooner. Sticky, white hot blues riffs like bubbling magma seep viscously from the drivers of Hang The Bastard’s amps, while vocalist Thomas hubbard emits a kind of screeching gurgle that sounds like the grinding of tectonic plates. This is how sludge was meant to be played and I couldn’t fault Hang The Bastard themselves, but sadly the sound (a perennial problem in that particular room) wasn’t up to much. Finding myself fighting an overly loud wall of mush I had to float around for a good three songs before I managed to find a sweet spot where I could fully appreciate the righteous blue thunder HTB had to offer. That little niggle aside, it was a fine farewell. [JT]

Hang The Bastard on Facebook:

DARKHER – The 4th Stage [2.5/5]

darkher-09-2015-02Returning to the room which had been alive to Gets Worse half an hour beforehand, it seems the buzz is now in full swing. Damnation is a beautiful time when friends from all over the country unite in their appreciation of horrible music, or simply take the opportunity to smoke endless tabs and shoot the shit on the terrace. A phenomenon which is seldom done justice in reviews of the festival is the intangible buzz in the air this creates. Unfortunately for Darkher, it seems that a large portion of the attendees are taking this opportunity to catch up. Loudly. Whilst embodying the spirit of the festival, it does have the drawback of playing merry hell with any sense of atmosphere the band attempt to create. What’s more, everything just seems so quiet. Even when a heavy part drops in, you’re almost having to strain to hear over the clamour. So, whilst they played well, and their material is solid, it saddens me to deliver a sub-par score to another band who deserved more, but who were ill-served by the environment. Again, see this band, but on their own terms. [DH]

Darkher’s Facebook:

Sinistro – Eyesore Merch Stage – 4/5

sinOne of the most intriguing bands of the day, Sinistro hail from Portugal and offer a brand of sludge that’s sensual and decadent while also being creepy and off-putting. There’s something a little… I don’t want to go as far as saying ‘obsecene’, but certainly taboo about their music. Considering how consonant the music is and how pleasant vocalist Patrícia Andrade’s voice is, it’s a surprisingly uncomfortable listen; I mean all this by way of compliment, by the way. The band’s majestically unfolding string arrangements and Andrade’s rich Latin croon spoke of the fall of Rome, keeping the crowd spellbound for their entire set (mostly taken from excellent new album Semente). Musically, if you haven’t yet checked Sinistro out (and I highly recommend that you do), they’re a bit like a sexy version of Monarch!, if that makes sense. They channel that same avant garde weirdness, but within the context of arrangments and tonalities that are a lot more sensual, and less overtly violent. Recommended [JT]

Sinistro on Facebook:

VENOM PRISON – Terrorizer Stage – [2/5]

venom-prisonI’d heard good things about Venom Prison prior to the big day and there seemed to be a buzz surrounding them. They played tightly and guitarists Ben and Ash seemed to be getting into the spirit of things admirably whilst vocalist Larissa seemed content to linger listlessly on her spot. My problem was that their riffs just seemed inescapably generic. If you’re familiar with my contributions to this site you’ll know I’m no stranger to death metal, but lately I must admit I’ve fallen out of love with the genre. Personal preferences aside, however, they failed to really provide me with anything to latch onto; no vocal hooks in particular, no melodies, just low end chugging and harsh, well-delivered, yet otherwise unremarkable vocals. It could well be the case that Venom Prison like Svalbard and Darkher had been victims of cruel circumstance, but having never checked out their recorded output, I can’t be sure.[DH]

Venom Prison’s Facebook:

Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas – Jagermeister Stage – 5/5

cultThis was it. The moment I (and judging by the enthusiasm of other gig goers I spoke to) and everyone else had been waiting for. Having absolutely smashed it with what is unquestionably one of the best metal albums of the year, surprise collaboration between Julie Christmas (late of Made Out Of Babies) and Cult of Luna, sounds like an unorthodox pairing, but on record is utterly sublime, and I was very excited to see them perform their opus Mariner in full at Damnation. Christmas was note perfect, sounding by turns like an entranced soothsayer declaiming unholy prophecies and by turns like a drowning witch, holding the audience spellbound with her presence. Cult of Luna, always decent in the live arena were on form too, their carefully woven pools of texture sounding all the better for the extra sub you get in the flesh. So transfixed was I that by the time I broke out of my reverie, the set was over. I stood a while, trying to parse my impressions of the set, while people milled around me in small groups or alone, some weeping, some staring dumbfounded into space. A truly religious experience. [JT]

Cult of Luna on Facebook:

AKERCOCKE – Terrorizer stage [3.5/5]

akercockeMendonca’s merry men are no strangers to the Terrorizer stage, and own it like they never left. Sallying forth with a rousing rendition of ‘Leviathan’ the audience comes alive like never before. The energy really gets flowing as Mendonca’s crowd addresses convey genuine humility and gratitude. The set flies by in what seems no time, rounded off by ‘Son of the Morning’ and ‘A Skin for Dancing In’. Although there is a disparity in volume between Mendonca and Paul Scanlan’s guitars, this is the best sound I’ve heard all day. Furthermore, in contrast to the less-than-beguiling performances detailed above, they hold all in the palms of their pentagram-ringed hands. As such, an eight-song set seems all too short for these prodigal sons, and personally I’d have liked to hear ‘Summon the Antichrist’, but hopefully we’ll be given an opportunity to see a more extensive set before too long. [DH]

Akercocke’s Facebook:

Electric Wizard – Jagermeister Stage – 2/5

wizI’m sick of giving Electric Wizard chances, guys. They’re one of my favourite doom bands, and the first few times I saw them they were one of the best live bands I’d ever seen. Then came their disastrous Temples Festival headline set in 2014, in which they fucked up to the point of having to re-start songs on stage, and since then they just haven’t been able to re-capture the magic. Farting their way through a sloppy swamp of a set, it definitely seemed to this author that the Wizard would much rather have been ensconced in their tower researching herblore than trafficking with the likes of us. Jus Oborn looked and sounded for all the world like he couldn’t wait to get off the stage and check his Facebook, and the band were so out of step with each other in places that any heaviness therein was effectively undermined. I don’t want to say this. It’s not a nice thing to say about a band you love, but seriously, it’s getting to the point now where I can no longer chalk it up to having a bad day and making excuses. When a band reaches a certain level, you should be able to expect a certain level of engagement and competency. I’ll definitely be thinking twice about making Wizard’s sets a priority again. [JT]

Electric Wizard on Facebook:

Bottom Line

Another excellent effort from the Damnation team, fantastic performances from a beautifully curated lineup and much festive winter cheer. Just go to Damnation already!

5/5 - Awesome!

Find this article interesting?
Please be awesome and leave a comment. We live for comments :)