Damnation descends on Leeds once more
Damnation Festival has become a yearly event for fans of the extreme; fans of the more left field bands that wouldn’t ordinarily find themselves upon the billings for other UK metal festivals. This musical melting pot offers up a delightful Smörgåsboard of varying delights for a mere £36. The events of the previous night leave me and my companion Jimmy somewhat hungover; cobwebs had formed and our get up and go had…well, got up and fucked off – but we clamber onto a bus, tuck into a can of rum and coke and by the time we arrive on site, we’re good to go.
Despite best intentions, the first band we manage to see is Savage Messiah, and despite being formed in 2007 they look and sound like they’ve just clambered from the eighties. Their brand of homogenised thrash by numbers goes over well with the ever increasing crowd at the Jägermeister stage but their set never seems to really take off.
Voices formed from the ashes of Akercocke back in 2012, picking up much where their previous incarnation left off (albeit with new members) and taking their trademarked blackened death metal and kicking it in to touch with some avant-garde depth and some grandiose yet hypnotic touches. Coming off the back of their 2014 full length London, the band would be taking Damnation by storm…if they weren’t plagued with technical difficulties, most notably when a full bass cabinet, head and Kemper amp all take a tumble mid set, leaving the audience bemused but somewhat impatient – but this isn’t the bands fault; shit happens and they persevere. Tracks like “The Actress” and “Endless” show the band in full force, with an abundance of riffs and vocal harshness that is pretty damn special.
The Electric Amphetamine stage is awful. There, I said it. Its awkward position and peoples’ unwillingness to move past the steps mean that actively watching a band in there is a write-off unless you’re willing to miss a band beforehand to be able to get your way to the front. Nevertheless, Sea Bastard are more than worthy of becoming sardines for; their doom-laden assault is a welcome change to what has been encountered previously today. The uncompromising and confronting depth is so well maintained that in a world of over-saturated quasi-doom bands, these chaps shine through, albeit in a miserable and gloomy light – but the light is still there.
Multinational collective The Ocean take to the Jägermeister stage like summer flowers, their ambient intro “Siderian” brings them forth and out into “Rhyacian“; both from the two-part album Precambrian, and something of a rarity live. This isn’t The Ocean as you know them though; this time they bring some extra personnel in the form of a keys player and a cellist. These additions bring a texture to their live sound that I’ve always felt to be lacking. Frontman Loïc Rossetti lingers behind the instrumentalists delivering his vocals as his bandmates turn up the intensity. “Hadopelagic II: Let Them Believe” sees the band fully bloom on stage; the crowd is at capacity and completely transfixed by the relentless wall of noise being cast at them. “Demersal: Cognitive Dissonance” sees Loïc go for a jaunt across the 20+ foot balcony before hurling himself into the waiting crowd and crowd surfing back to the stage. His shenanigans are met with applause as the band take a step back for their newest track “The Quiet Observer“, fresh from their split with MONO. The delicate and heavily textured approach feels more surgically precise and less like blunt force as the keys and strings really come into their own. If this is the direction The Ocean are taking with their next release, colour me excited.
It takes a while after witnessing something so intense to compose myself. It was time to hit up the legend that is Deli Kate for one of her brilliant Damnation Burgers!
It takes a certain pedigree of band to win over an entire room of casual fans to the point they’re begging the organisers to book the band again the year after. Well, that was Sólstafir last year, and they’re back for a second on the trot and playing the Jägermeister stage. Having followed this band for years it’s somewhat satisfying to see them finally attain the recognition they deserve in the UK. Their evolution from Icelandic black metallers to post-rock gods has been intriguing and spectacular. Their five song setlist appears small, but with long tracks this isn’t a problem. Drawing from across their expansive back catalogue newest tracks “Dagmál” and “Ótta” sit well next to Köld‘s “Pale Rider” and Svartir Sandir‘s “Fjara“. Frontman Addi Tryggvason really is the personification of rockstar; his charisma and performance magnifies the brooding and textured depth of the songsy. During the ten minute epic finale “Goddess Of The Ages“, both guitarist Sæþór and bassist Svavar come forward as Addi leaps into he crowd during one of the most bizarrely mellow crowd surfs ever witnessed. There can be no doubt that Sólstafir have well and truly conquered the UK. Well done chaps!
Beer was to be had; all the beer. One of my favourite bands just conquered Damnation for the second time. This was a cause for further celebration. It’s then on to see Amenra, the Belgian post-metal masters, deliver a masterclass in making sheer brutality an artform. Their simple yet elegant stage design of swirling cloudscapes with a stage devoid of light adds to the intensity. “The Pain It Is Shapeless We Are Your Shapeless Pain” creeps in before frontman Colin Eeckhout takes his usual position with his back to the crowd. His raucous tone is sharp and unforgiving as the band power through their set that includes “Razoreater” and finishing with the grand and sinister “Silver Needle, Golden Nail“. These post-metal heroes may bear the weight of the burgeoning post scene, but despite their imitators Amenra deliver a set that ultimately proves no-one can come close to their magnitude. All worship at the alter of the Chruch of Ra!
The Ocean, Sólstafir and Mono had been slowly trekking their way across Europe bringing their individual aural magnificence to the ears of the masses. Last up on the Eyesore stage is MONO, but the Japanese instrumentalists have a hard time following Amenra. Their meandering post-rock is both entertaining and well delivered, but despite its heavy flourishes it never seems to quite take off. The band trail through a six track setlist that flows effortlessly and brilliantly but the feeling that they should have been on earlier in the day is unrelenting.
This year’s headliners are a bit special. Not only does this appearance mark their 25th anniversary, but alongside a clutch of other bands, At The Gates were heavily responsible for the Gothenburg sound; a sound that has been become a blue print for every death metal band worth their salt. 2014 saw the band deliver At War With Reality; their first album in 19 years, a nod to the scene they created, and a gift that their fans had longed for all these years.
They take to the stage in front of the biggest crowd of the weekend; the balconies above are just as packed as the floor below and as the opening notes of “Death and the Labyrinth” ring out the floor opens up and the barrage begins. It’s a well trodden cliche to claim that limbs are flying everywhere during a live set, but in this case it’s never been more apt. “Slaughter Of The Soul” kicks in and there is not a still head in the house. The band are on point and blisteringly tight; frontman Tomas Lindberg is powerful and terrifying, and as the old tracks meet head on with the new this set is designed to ensure that no-one is stationary. The pits are swirling and as we get to “Under A Serpent Sun” the wall of sound becomes palpable. As the band finish with “The Night Eternal” the crowd give it one last go: one final pit; one last crowd surf; one last trip into Damnation.