Damnation Festival 2016
@ Leeds University Student’s Union, Leeds
November 5th 2016
Review by Demitri Levantis & Nathan Slack
Photography by Graham Hilling
The city of Leeds is one with a very long and fruitful history. It is also a haven for many a great artist or musician, and is home to one of the finest universities in the United Kingdom. A univeristy home to one of the best regarded day festivals: Damnation.
First up were Scottish experimental band Dialects. An interesting group who fuse Math Rock and Post Rock and other kinds of experimenting for anyone who likes something a little more off the chart in their audible appetite.
Not a single lyric was sung from these bonny lads, for each instrumental track blended into each other like a nicely distilled whisky, taking fusions from all over the highlands and lowlands of their beautiful homeland.
Most good albums begin with an instrumental opening track and this felt like the ideal kind of opening for a festival laden with audible excellence. And this group did not disappoint. They were on point right from the word go and were certainly enjoying themselves as their chords and drums progressed well. A damn fine job.
After Dialects, I headed through the labyrinthine corridors of the union to the 4th Stage – right down in the bowels of the structure. Here I was greeted with what can only be described as the closest I’ve ever come to travelling back in time to the 1960s accompanied by the likes of Anton LaVey.
The Bristol based Doom Metal group Kroh were performing, and did a pretty evil job of blowing my mind several times over with their maddening pieces about devil worship and losing your mind to the most extreme of temptations.
Fronted by a vocalist who certainly had a touch of Jinx Dawson in her, I felt the wickedness wash over me as the band expressed many a number from their short but mighty fine history, with many from their recent album ‘Altars’.
Swaying and feelings of melancholy filled me up as Kroh gave the world the sign that Doom Metal and Psychedelic occultism in Rock based genres is well and truly alive and well and has shown no sign of dying in recent times.
Here’s to one very fine band that’ve revitalised my interest in occult themed music.
Bristol has to be making a name for itself on the UK Metal circuit because the next band to give me a very big surprise was Svalbard on the Terrorizer stage.
Whilst it took me a while to find the place due to the congested corridors I caught the band in the midst of their set. And what a set it was.
Chords chiming in such a jagged way one could only describe as black metal with extra bladed buzzsaw effects and then sudden chugging that wouldn’t look out of place on a good Crust Punk or Doom fusion album.
Slow or fast, this band who fuse classic hardcore with post-metal wowed me by the sheer anger delivered by frontwoman Serena Cherry – my god can that woman scream.
This was a true personification of the anger felt by the general UK public, especially students from the likes of Leeds towards the goings on in UK society in recent years. The crowd’s intensity certainly reflected how lots of people were feeling today.
All in all, a fantastic delivery of sheer terror burning brightly in the hearts of the likes of you and me given in the most delightfully dire form of modern music.
So there we had Bristol shining brightly on the UK Metal map – next it was the turn of the Welsh.
All the way from Swansea, in the south of the land of the dragon came Hark. A Stoner Rock band with a wide array of sludge and bits of thrash thrown into the mix.
What made this band stand out on the Jagermeister stage, was how they had some more energy and speed in their output which makes them somewhat different from a lot of the stoner rock that has passed this critic’s eardrums.
It felt like the band had taken all the right vibes and psychedelic relaxations of a good illegal bender and put it to the speed of classic thrash and NWOBHM to make you feel like you were diving headfirst into something acid and weed infused.
A very nice and high rage to open up the festival’s main stage. Hark are that band whom you’d go to if you like your music fast and dense but you like to puff the magic dragon whilst riding high on those audible waves.
After taking a short break for some refreshments in the union bar, the Jagermeister stage became my next venture for it was time to check out a band I’d only recently got into for (unfortunately) the very last time.
Hang the Bastard. Leading the way for London in the current day Sludge and Doom fusion scene stepped up to play their last ever live show. It was sad to see the boys go as I’d only really discovered them the year before at Bloodstock 2015.
But after nine years and two studio albums it was time to call it quits. And all one can say for this performance was they gave it all they had one more time.
One more time the deep melancholic riffs rang through the amps. One more time the vocals were screamed as vocalist Tomas Hubbard raged on about the hate and destruction rampant in the world around us and the hefty weight of the band’s droning and chugging tunes poured forth to make the world hear one very sweet and sweaty swansong.
A swansong that had the crowd in one very appreciative fix as the set sadly drew to a close and the guys were seen off with a very happy and satisfactory farewell from the hundreds of fans who were just as sad as I to see this band depart to metal scene.
Thank you Hang the Bastard for all your excellent work over the years and hopefully see you again someday.
For those missing out on catching Warduna play two sell out shows in London a few weeks after Damnation, fans of all things pagan crammed into the small room that housed the Mine stage to catch the aforementioned bands support, Darkher.
Congestion held me up but I manage to squeeze down and get a good view as they start their set. Lead singer, Jayn H. Wissenberg instantly drew our attention as she stood in a dark greenish light, extra long wavy hair hanging in her face.
It’s a powerful and beautifully haunting performance that marred only slightly by the constant chatter of people talking over the bands more ambient and quiet songs.
Towards the end of her set Darkher gave us a brief glimpse of her face as she finally looks up from her guitar and looking down over her nose she gives the crowd a long macabre stare.
Darkher really impressed me here and made me think that those lucky to bag a ticket for the festival.
So far the finest of the UK Metal world had graced the four stages of the festival, but now it was time for something a little further afield. In fact something all the way from the land down under.
Hailing from the fine city of Melbourne, Australia came the Progressive outfit Ne Obliviscaris – the only band one can recall having a violin player that isn’t part of the ranks of Folk Metal/Viking Metal etc.
This band gave us some of the longest songs showcased, on average 10-12 minutes about the ongoing suffering and brutal mundane feelings of everyday life in a world like today.
Australia and its open vastness might be the main influence on this band for they gave a truly vast performance of grim magnitude to keep the crowd high and angry for some of the longest of times given to one band this day.
Everything held firm musically and the appreciation from the crowd was uplifting for both the revellers and the band who happily thanked everyone for coming and gave each and every one of us the most pleasing of their tracks.
As someone who isn’t into progressive music in a big way, it did feel the songs dragged every now and again and it did become hard to tell how many they played in total, but this was a band who’d found themselves and were enjoying their output as much as the fans.
Arguably the most anticipated performance of the days festivities, Cult of Luna with Julie Christmas take to the stage to a packed main stage and I think got the biggest crowd out of everyone.
They certainly didn’t disappoint as Julie practically glowed in the dark in a her white dress as she trashed about the stage. More and more people crammed in as most stood there transfixed.
Not ashamed to say that i spent most of the gig, mouth agape, totally gobsmacked at the sheer volume of Mariner and the band and Christmas’s energetic spasm’s on stage. Catching this made the cost of the ticket worthwhile and will surely go down as one of Damnations finest performances.
Over all too quickly, the band leave the stage without uttering a word and to be honest i barely noticed them in the darkness. Never to be played again live, Mariner will be remembered as the band’s finest hour.
Coming back up from that brief trip down under, the 4th Stage, all the way down in the icy depths of the university called once again for the British metal scene to take to their ships and sail forth towards The Infernal Sea.
This is a band that has made one very keen mark on the UK Black Metal circuit. Their songs drone with the blasting of a good old Norwegian band and their vocals ring well with themes of English legends and history which I find very suiting to their choice of band uniforms reminiscent of the great plague.
The impending doom and destruction of humanity delivered with a high level of misanthropy was on the cards with this band. The crowd swayed in unison like a roaring sea in a gale and the band led the fleet of anguish over the chopping waves of conformity that this music rages against in the most brutal fashion.
The Infernal Sea put on a show that dazzled more than just this reviewer. Cries of happiness and appreciation for such a show went up to show the boys they have gone from strength to strength in their short but very productive history.
UK Black Metal is as putrid and brutal as ever and it’s bands like this who can tell just how strong and how much willpower and devotion has been put into the music to make it the true sound of evil it is best known as today.
Excellent job Infernal Sea.
If you thought that was one hell of a trip into the Black Metal abyss, please think again. For next in line to give Leeds another fine dosage of the greatest music genre ever were a bunch of lads from London who’d recently resurrected to show the world how some time away from the studio can have some excellent effects on your musicianship.
Akercocke. The satanic band who made Faustian themes something beautiful in the most progressive forms of Black Metal arrived and had the crowd hypnotised in a violent trance that had them spiralling out of control in a more than wild pit.
Pits and walls of death met the melodies and ferociousness of the progressive fused BM that these city boys had concocted in ages past and left to ferment dangerously into something of putrid brutality in the vats of evil over the four years they’d been out of the BM picture.
And from the reactions of the band, they were as surprised as the crowd were to be putting on such an incredible show. This band made the whole room appear to cave in and feel all the more delightfully claustrophobic as the crowd went nuts elegantly.
This was what a truly evil ritual of devil worshipping and selling your soul to the other side would be like put to music. I lovingly welcome Akercocke back onto the UK Black Metal scene with all the passion one can muster for this music.
But like all good days out, this one had to come to an end and the twilight hours set in around the quaint city as the crowd descended upon the Jager stage to watch the first of the headliners.
All the way back in 2011, I’d been blown away by a Norwegian band named Immortal – playing their first UK show in nine years in the Derbyshire field that houses Bloodstock Festival.
Since then, said band has sadly disintegrated and the main man of the band has now gone his own way and graced the stage with a lively rendition of his latest solo material.
Abbath, probably the walking, talking punch line of the Norwegian Black Metal world arrived and started to play something along the lines of the music he’s most famous for, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on whether or not I liked it.
To begin with, the sound engineering was bad so too much bass was coming through and I could barely hear the guitars.
Then when they kicked in we had something sounding like a form of black metal with some classic NWOBHM style riffs thrown in which had me feeling pretty alive and well and the crowd seemed happy – but it didn’t feel like it was all there.
There was something missing. Not the hilarious ‘crab walking’ the man is famous for, but something of a spark that has put him and Immortal on the black metal map.
I feel Abbath lacked the charisma he had in the old days and his new material hasn’t topped what he’s done for the extreme metal world.
It’s still early days so he could do something amazing sometime soon, but for now I wasn’t that impressed.
Something of a charm was alive and people seemed happy with it but I wasn’t. Only time will tell if Abbath can be as mind-blowing as ever on his own.
Enslaved, in my opinion, deserved a bigger stage than the Jagermiester stage but they didn’t seem to let it put them off as they hit hard early on with the fast paced opening track Root of the Mountains.
Currently on their 25 year anniversary tour, Enslaved play Leeds Damnation Festival as an exclusive before heading on a full European tour with Aussie’s Ne Obliviscaris and Oceans of Slumber, who have both wowed the crowds at Damnation earlier in the day.
After several tracks from recent albums the band delve into their older more black metal tunes like Fenris from their 1994 album Frost.
The crowd, though enthusiastic seem subdued and its only towards the end of their set when they play songs One Thousand Years of Rain and Alfodr Odinn that the crowd really starts to respond with a small circle pit opening up. Really guys…how heavy do you want it?!
Not the band or the organisers fault but the acoustics and sound in general on this stage has been pretty poor all day unless your front row centre and if your upstairs in the upper balcony it sounds less than great.
Also I felt that an hour was just not long enough to fully grasp the weight of material and variety Enslaved can bring to bare and thought that maybe they would come across better with their own headline slot.
Shame really, love the band and will try to catch them again sometime.
They leave the stage and raise a horn and I head off in the hunt of a decent mosh pit.
And finally it was the turn of the swansong band of the whole day. A band hailing all the way from the green and pleasant land of Dorset who somehow managed to summon and exploit some of the most deep and grimmest demons of the occult.
Electric Wizard. The gods of Stoner Doom. The band who took the works of Anton La Vey, Crowley and other such greats of the occult’s eclectic repertoire and managed to give it an edge best described as a near twenty year fuelled bender that rewrote the ‘how to’ book of psychedelic rock music.
There was no need for audience interaction with this band, for they were to conduct the crowd like the huddled masses at a witches’ sabbat. We were the coven, they were the masters. And the sacrifice began with true aplomb.
Riffs rang out across the room making the crowd sway and fluster in some sort of trance that might have been put about by the wailing blend of riffs and bass.
Frontman Jus Osborn, while not speaking to the crowd made it look as if he were a preacher conducting some black mass via the means of his guitar and wailing voice.
The distortion was so high I felt like a voice from another dimension was calling forth to me as I swayed with the crowd. A mosh pit of sorts was taking place, one you could only see at a Stoner Doom gig because people were swaying into one another instead of banging into each other.
I’m not a fan of videotape being used at concerts, but this time we had a good array of clips from classic horror movies and occult flicks being played on the backdrop of the stage to give us just the right taste of what this band meant to the world of metal.
University is sometimes seen as a place where strange things occur amongst young people. So here we had the band who encapsulate all such exploits and threw it back into the world of higher education and music fetishism in the most sinful of manners.
Well done Wizard. Your magic and wonder brought all the right evilness into our hearts that day and you will be forever remembered for giving Damnation a whole new meaning. This really was a festival of the damned.
Once again this humble festival has told the North of England that metal is in no way dead or waning in terms of fandom, loyalty or originality. The majority of these bands came from the green and pleasant land which gave me the impression that England won’t be losing its musical sting anytime soon. See you again next year Damnation!