@ Leeds University, Leeds
2nd November 2013
Review by Caitlin Smith
Photography by Michelle Murphy
Calling all the sinners and heretics, the gathering of the damned with once again take place in the unholy city of, well, Leeds. Perhaps the settings may not be dark, dank pits of hell, but the bands certainly make up for this. Damnation festival has returned bigger and better than ever this year, with an additional forth stage and hallways chock full of denim cutoffs and weathered leather jackets on men and women alike. As some things change though, others stay the same. CARCASS made their Damnation debut in 2008, and judging by the packed halls, this was a more than welcome booking.
For those that have been to Damnation before, Leeds University is more like a labyrinth than a venue, with intertwining paths leading to secret stages. After an hour and a half of wandering round, I am finally confidant I know my way around the university, catching the briefest moment of IRON WITCH in my travels. Being the only band of the day without a clash the tiny doom stage hidden at the back of the corridor was rammed, and I was greeted to a wall of heads and shoulders as I unsuccessfully tried to peer above the masses to catch a glimpse of this down tuned northern monstrosity of a band.
Wandering back through the venue, I arrive at the newly formed Terrorizer stage, where I squeeze in for some light entertainment with THE AFTERNOON GENTLEMENT [4.5/5]. Far from the civilized affair that many would expect from the likes of gentlemen, this quintet rips through a set of grinding madness. Although I can’t say I’ve ever been keen on their records, they quickly show how they fill rooms. Not only are they playing on home soil today but the impact of this band live is pronominal. Imagine riding a roller coaster without a safety harness. Got there? Good. That’s not even close to the sheer terror these guys provoke. Low grunts are interjected by perfectly placed squeals backed by a solid fuzz bass. It’s not often I feel shortchanged by a set time, but before these guys had even begun it was already over.
The screams of burning witches and cheers of the puritans could be heard faintly echoing down the hallway as I arrive to see Liverpudlian pastoral doom band BLACK MAGICIAN [3.5/5]. From the first note a spell seemed to be moving throughout the crowd, and a deathlike silence holds a spellbound crowd enthralled in the sound of warm valve amps and haunting melodies from the Hammond Organ sound. Despite being a slow trudge through the set, the march to desolation is strangely enjoyable although perhaps a bit too heavy on the breaks after AFTERNOON GENTLEMEN.
Most bands struggle to hang onto one drummer, but French doom band YEAR OF NO LIGHT [5/5] turned up having stolen two drummers for their show today.
It’s a long wait, as Damnation is showing hints of its famous late running times, but the French post-metallers rewarded us for our patience.
Despite not being quite as heavy as I had come to expect, especially after briefly popping in on an outrageously crushing TIDES FROM NEBULA song earlier also on the Eyesore stage, but the sheer brute force coming from the duel drum kits and slowly chugging distorted guitars the really made this the band of the weekend for me.
The only disappointment was having to dive out after the first couple of songs to head out for an interview.
Peering out through an over-zealous smoke machine are hints of brutal death metal band DYSCARNATE [2.5/5].
Unfortunately this was a double hit for this Surrey based trio, loosing their dominating stage presence to the smoke (and a mass of heads and shoulders for the shorter viewer) and the poor sound that has dominated the Terrorizer stage from the start of the day.
My biggest problem however is how out of place it is with the rest of the line-up. Their relentless brutality didn’t settle in well when weaved into the gloomy and dystopic atmosphere of the other bands that day.
Perhaps at another time in another setting I might enjoy this band, but Damnation for me was the wrong setting for this band.
Romanian export NEGURA BUNGET [4/5] certainly seem to like starting from the ground up again, replacing seven members of the band, keeping only founding member Negru.
This new lineup seems to working well for the Transylvanian black/folk mavericks as they draw from the powers of the forests and history of their country. Despite having only come together this year, the troupe seem to be in tune with each other, pulling out a tight and polished performance.
NEGURA BUNGET open with the usual Paminit section from Vîrstele Pămîntului, who goes on to pull out an array of impressive instruments including a hunting horn taller than he was! It’s these little things that really help make this band stand out from the mass of other folk metal bands playing out there.
Their history and tradition is not forced, neither is it separate from their music, but like the men themselves, the veins of their culture run deep within the music, permeating into every note, every sound and every rhythm.
GOD SEED [3.5/5] have never shied away from controversy, returning in force after Gaahl and King ov Hell’s long and lengthy battle to keep the name GORGOROTH from their former band.
GOD SEED are a different breed though. Gone are the naked women, the crosses and the ever-present references to Satan.
Having been so excited to see their studio album, I Begin, I was disappointed to find that what worked so brilliantly recorded, didn’t quite translate so well live. Whether it was the music or he sound problems plaguing the larger stages that afternoon, but GOD SEED were at a disadvantage right from the beginning.
The drums were overpowering, while the swirling keyboard lines that make this band stand out from the other was lost under waves of noise.
Through it all, Gaahl had a formidable presence, standing like stone at the center of the stage, while King ov Hell bounced behind him.
This energy seems lost though, with the only real energy stirring when GORGOROTH classic ‘Carving a Giant’ which proved more instantly recognizable to fans than the newer album.
Their sheer determination pushed through to the end of the set, and despite it all, many seemed pleased to have caught them.
Having seen VALLENFYRE [3/5] before and been completely blown away, I was excited at the prospect of seeing this northern based super group again.
Brainchild of PARADISE LOST guitarist Gregor Mackintosh, he takes on a new role as both guitar and vocals.
Sporting a temporary live bassist Sam Wallace (former L SOL TACE), this was set to be a killer performance for the 5-piece.
Despite post-rock legends CRIPPLED BLACE PHOENIX playing on the doom stage, the chance to catch VALLENFYRE was too much of a temptation for many, and its no surprise when they announced that Damnation was only their second UK show, and their first vising the northern lands as a band.
Like the Jagermeister stage, the Terrorizer was also experiencing sound problems that really let VALLENFYRE down on this occasion.
The sound was muddy and devoid of their usual clarity, it was hard to really get into the performance.
With the crowd seeming in a suitably merry state already this didn’t seem bother them too much, with a suitably loud cries of approval and even the odd crowd surfer.
Marking the 10-year anniversary of the album, what better way to celebrate than running through Viva Emptiness in full.
Despite the name, the floor for KATATONIA [3/5] is anything but desolate as the Swedish legends take the stage.
Starting from the end of the album and working forward through from the slower mournful numbers through to more lively and upbeat tracks to close off the set.
Being well known as masters of depression doesn’t seem to have taken its toll on the popularity of the band, which seem to be riding and eternal high.
This is reflected in the audience who seem to know much of the album word of word and enthusiastically mouth along with vocalist Renkse.
CULT OF LUNA [4/5] really should have come with an epilepsy warning. Flashing strobes left the men themselves switching between darkness and blinding light and looking at the album cover of Vertikal, this seems like the only way this band could be viewed.
CULT OF LUNA have gone from strength to strength of late, and anyone who knows anything about post music will be keeping a close eye on this band. No matter what this band seem to write about, their outlook is undeniably bleak, lacking any form of colour.
If there’s ever a band that has totally embodied greyness, it’s CULT OF LUNA. Far from being a bad thing, it’s refreshing to see a band who genuinely represent absence
Running through parts of Vertikal, a few off Salvation, and a couple off both Owlsla and Somewhere Along the Highway, CULT OF LUNA were striking from start to finish.
Leaving only the briefest moments rest before launching us back into their bleak attack of distortion. It’s hard not to notice the slowly space that opened around me towards the end of the set, a steady combination of those who either did not understand the sound and those rushing to grab a place for CARCASS.
They proves to be more divisive than expected, with an equal number of faces in rapture, as there were sporting glazed and unfocused eyes. For those that understood what this band was about, the experience is almost unrivaled, but todays show really proved how this music remains for the minority rather than the vast majority.
They say that you can only love or hate marmite. Unfortunately for the marmite purists, I am rather indifferent to its dark charms. The same can be said about CARCASS [3/5], as a pre-Heartwork fan I can’t help hoping that we will one day see the return of the grind superstars rather than the melodic death styling of the later albums.
This means that however good CARCASS are, their set will always be tainted with a slight sense of disappointment for me.
The talent of the players however is undeniable. Sporting their two latest members, Ben Ash and Daniel Wilding, they prove themselves to be a formidable force: fast, tight and unrelenting.
Judging by the size of the crowd it’s obvious that CARCASS were the reason most people were there that day, and as the room heats up through the sheer mass of bodies, you can’t help but feel sorry for the ever hard-working CONAN who bore perhaps the worst clash of that day.
The subtle Surgical Steel display lighting the screen behind the band, reminds us that this band are not done with music just yet.
These guys are living for their glory days, miming the hits of old successes. It’s not all new however, with a touching and surprising moment when ex-drummer Ken Owen was brought back to the stage to perform a brief drum solo. Having suffered from a brain haemorrhage in 1999 leaving him comatose for a year, his drumming career was destroyed despite making a full recovery.
The crowd let out a roar of approval showing their support and appreciation for the man that has been so influential on everything extreme metal is today. Finishing on ‘Keep on Rotting in the Free World,’ CARCASS has easily proved they are still alive and strong, despite their long absence.
Damnation is really showing itself as one of the brightest UK underground festivals around at the moment. Although it may still have some issues to iron out, it certainly set a high level for many others to step up to. By the end of the day I was left broken and altogether drained.
Packing in band after band, with 4 stages brimming with the finest in metal talent from both the UK and the rest of the world, it serves as both a work out and a festival, leaving you running between stages, desperately trying to squeeze as much as much as is physically possible. With hints of a possible 2-day festival to mark their 10th anniversary next year, all I can say is; bring it on!