@ Leeds University, Leeds
2nd November 2014
Review by Caitlin Smith & Ben Spencer
Photography by Graham Hilling
While festivals come and go in the UK, and with the spectacular collapse of both Kin Hell Fest and Northern Darkness recently, UK crowds have really shown festival organisers that they need to step up their game, that the usual bands are just not going to cut it any longer.
One festival that seems to consistently manage to pull the crowds is Leeds based Damnation Festival. Returning for its 10th year this year, it was obvious they have to do something special with the event, it was obvious they were going to need to pull out all the stops, and that’s exactly what they did. With the return of the mighty Bolt Thrower to a British stage alongside Solstifir and a rare performance from Ahab, fans were left desperately scrabbling for tickets as they sold out just a couple of weeks previous to the festival.
Opening up the Eyesore Merch stage, the melodic sound of Bast was certainly a good choice to get the ball rolling. The ambient guitars and sludgey pace of their songs provided enough intrigue from the Festivals early attendees as their set remained engaging throughout.
The husky vocals from the front man, mirrored the instrumentation flawlessly as the sombre atmospheres took route as the dense sounding drums drove onward.
Although these guys may have appeared as something of an outsider compared to the other bands on the bill they certainly stood out through a clear demonstration of what they do best. Impressive stuff (3/5)
Arriving to catch the beginning of Atlantis [3/5], it was obvious this year that the Plastic Head stage was doomed to be plagued by sound issues that day. While Atlantis themselves pulled out a tight set, the sound from the stage boomed, hiding any effort or attempt from the band. The lighter sections enjoyed cut through allowing for some enjoyable moments, however as soon as the distortion came crashing in a wall of noise kept the band from really cutting out any kind of convincing performance.
Heading to the Eyesore stage, it didn’t prove much better for Obsidian Kingdom [2/5]. While the sound in the room was a little better, their playing certainly left a lot to be desired. Harmonised vocals didn’t quite hit their marks and while the music made some attempt to make up for this it was hard to ignore.
It was disaster for October File who were forced to pull their set from the festival due to a car crash. Replacing them and returning for a second year were death metalers Dyscarnate [2.5/5].
Upgrading from last years slot on the Plastic head (then Terrorizer) stage, the guys took to the main Jagermeister stage this year to replace the British post-punkers. Despite the distinct change in sound for the bands, the crowd didn’t seem phased as they met an enthusiastic reception.
While the sound and playing was sharp and the band definitely benefited from the improved sound, the songs themselves proved repetitive and the set quickly became stale.
The female fronted Doom metal band Black Moth play through an ever increasing set at the PHD Stage. The infectious guitars and soaring vocals deliver well as the vocalist conjures up a strong rapport with the gathered fans.
The gritty sounding riffs of ‘The Undead Kings’ proves to be a favourite amongst the crowd as the drums collide in and the vocals pervade with clarity throughout. Meanwhile, the charging riffs of ‘Room 13’ race ahead at a more eccentric pace and prove to be one of their more memorable songs.
Whilst these guys remained consistent with their set, they lacked enough variety between songs to make them distinctive from their contemporaries.
However, they certainly put on a performance that kept the crowd hooked (2.5/5)
Wintefylleth waste no time in dishing out their modern Black Metal beast as ‘The Divination of Antiquity’ erupts with chaotic drumming and blood hungry shrieks, leaving the crowd eagerly anticipating more.
Revealing a more reflexive side in ‘A Careworn Heart’ the band’s use of melody is matched with a cathartic array of riffs and drumming, before dispersing into delicate guitars fronted with clean chants. However, it was the tight sounding solos of ‘Svart Crown’ that really showcased the band’s formidability amongst their contemporaries.
These guys have been on an uprsiing during recent years and their work is paying of well with a perfomance such as this. Great set (3.5/5)
As the seasoned Metal heads Raging Speedhorn took up arms on stage, ‘Knives and Faces’ carved out a healthy dose of anarchic riffs, heavy bass slams and visceral screams. The head banging crowd congregated toward the front as the catchy drum work was met with a wall of raised fists.
The tortured sounding vocals of ‘The Hate Song’ glided along with hard hitting riffs and relentless drum pounds that saw fans screaming along right the way through.
The immediate sounding guitar crunch of ‘Thumper’ also stood out as one of the band’s most solid tracks as the gritty sounding bass and unyielding screams craved a path of destruction throughout.
These guys have been around for some time and with a well refined assault such as this its easy to see why they have such a loyal following. (3/5)
It was all change for Xerath [4/5] that evening, having replaced both their bassist and guitarist for the performance. This did not seem to affect the sound however and they continued to churn out riffs with deadly precision.
Despite being one of the more usual bookings of the year, not entirely fitting in with much of the line-up, they still managed to fill the room as people battled their way to the front for the Reading based thrash band.
It’s been a big year for Icelandic based Solstafir [4/5].
The release of their latest album Otta has seen this band reach new heights on the UK music scene, and that is certainly evident in the room tonight as people struggled to get through the doors as the band began to play. While the previous bands oozed energy, there is something oddly still and calming about witnessing Solstafir’s brand of progressive post-metal.
While such drastic changes of pace can be disorientating, it proves testament to the quality of the band that the room was stuck enchanted and silent, glued to the stage from start till finish.
Cranking back the years, it seems almost fitting that A Forest of Stars [4/5] take to the smallest dingiest stage to bring with them the degradation of the Victorian era.
Fitting was not quite the word for the band however, as 7 members crammed themselves on for the performance.
While vocalist Curse unnerves the crowd with uneasy strings of spoken word before delving into harrowing screams, the music backs up with stems of black metal branching out with veins of progressive and folk inspirations making for a truly unique experience.
The Terrorizer stage descended into a frenzy of fists and limbs as Birmingham/American based extreme metalers Anaal Nathrakh [8/10] kicked off their set.
What they lacked in sound quality, something that can usually make or break an Anaal Nathrakh set, they made up for in sheer brutality and today everything seemed to be working for them as they blasted through tracks across their discography.
Heading over on the back of the release of their latest album, Desideratum, the set opened with a few off the beginning of the new album before returning to older favourites, only bringing back one song, ‘A Firm Foundation of Unyielding Despair’ towards the end.
Rolling back to a more old school sound, St. Vitus [3/5] bring back the more traditional brand of doom. They may have been around the UK shores a few times in the last few years, but this was certainly something special as they celebrated their 35th anniversary.
Playing ‘Born too Late’ in its entirety, its pretty certain that many of the younger faces in the room can easily relate to that title, as the band take us right back to a sound now buried deep in stoner/doom identity.
While the album may not be too far off any Vitus’s set list, its hard not to get lost in their hazy trip of fuzzed up classics like ‘Dying Inside’ and ‘Clear Windowpane’ before they drew it all to a close on the epic title track ‘Born too Late.’
When it comes to British black metal, there are few bands that can rival the quality of Wodensthrone [3/5]. They may often be surrounded by controversy but there are few that can deny the quality of 2012s Curse or 2009s masterpiece Loss. Mixing majestic guitar lines with desolate screams, there only the briefest moments when the audience break form the desolate assault of noise that emulates from the stage, but why would you want to. What carries this band is their sheer unyielding intensity broken only by small sections of synth and that night they use it to full effect as they blast their way through a spectacular set.
Despite the UK’s long naval history, it is only the second time on British soil for Ahab [4.5/5] but they have more than worth the wait.
The German based band has steadily been building a solid reputation amongst doom fans across the UK, particularly since the release of their latest album back in 2012. From The Call of the Wretched Sea to The Giant, we were treated to a solid choice of songs from across their work, finishing on 10-minute epic title track, ‘The Giant’.
Both crushingly heavy and infinitely still, the mix of distorted guitar and gentler moments is used to devastating effect, and even moving seemed like it might break whatever spell the band was holding the audience under.
Their performances may be rare, but that’s what keeps Bolt Thrower [4.5/5] as one of the most sought after bands in the UK. For those that had missed Boltfest 2 years earlier, billed as their only UK show for the foreseeable future, their return at Damnation was a welcome surprise to many.
Luckily we were not disappointed. Despite their recent inactivity, Bolt Thrower was a force to be reckoned with. Filling the room with a wall-to-wall onslaught of sound, the energy from the stage was only matched by the energy of the enthusiastic crowd members.
When it comes to set list, the band are not exactly hard up for choice. Opening on ‘War/Rememberance’, it’s a quick cycle through the staples ‘World Eater’, ‘Warmaster’, ‘The IVth Crusade’, ‘No Guts no Glory’ and ‘…For Victory’ .
Returning for an encore it was a short, sharp pummelling as ‘At First Light’ and ‘When Canons Fade’ round the set off.
Just when the set seemed to be over, Bolt Thrower proves they are not to be outdone with a second encore, closing off an incredible set with ‘Silent Demise’.
As the lights rise and the bodies mass, counting their various wounds and stumbling towards the exit another successful Damnation draws to a close. With this year completely sold out, the organisers are making it increasingly hard for themselves to keep up with their own pace and the question on our lips after this year is simply this, how will they ever top it?