Damnation Festival 2015
@ Leeds University Student’s Union
7th November 2015
Review and Photography by M. Selim Yavuz
It’s Damnation Festival. The 11th one! This was only the second time I attended, but the greatness of Damnation Festival and the wonderful maze of Leeds Uni Student’s Union building was definitely one of motivations for me to move up North, and as expected it did not disappoint in any aspect. Damnation continues to be one of the greatest metal events that happen in the North. My thanks go to everyone who was involved in the organisation and made it a great memory for many people!
Being local, I was one of the first people to arrive at the building to re-familiarise myself with the setting. Even though the SU building can be a bit confusing, the organising team made sure that everyone was at the right place at the right time with plenty of sign posts, and once you know your way around, it becomes fairly straight forward anyway.
I was excited to see the opener, doom/death metallers from Essex, The King is Blind, and even though it was early afternoon, they were full of energy and as a result, they actually managed to get the almost packed Damnation audience in front of the Terrorizer stage moving. That is quite an achievement I would say.
Their setlist was a well-balanced one, starting with their faster paced works and moving onto more crushing material later on. Whole band’s energy was remarkable, but the special mention goes to Steve. His enthusiastic performance is the main reason why the usual early sleepy audience was not present at their gig. A superb start to a superb festival!
Next up on my programme for the day, there was the great Undersmile, sludge-y doom from Oxford, at the intimate Electric Amphetamine Stage. Finding out about Undersmile –embarrassingly- fairly recently, this was definitely the gig I was looking forward to among the 11 gigs I have attended this Damnation. I was also fortunate enough to conduct an interview with the charming quartet after their performance, so check that out if you are interested in their music!
This is still early in the day we are talking about, yet the Electric Amphetamine stage was packed! I did not know this style of music that Undersmile does so well could attract those numbers. Well, I guess that is a testament to the quality of their music.
Anhedonia is a fantastic album, and their set included a few from that as well as the earlier works. There was a slight technical hiccup towards the beginning of their set, but the Damnation crew was quick to help resolve the issue, and let the dread of Undersmile ensue and captivate the stunned audience. They ended the gig all huddled up on the stage, which was a great moment and a sign of how well the band’s ticking among themselves. Their stage presence overall was impressive, and I shall not be missing any of Undersmile’s concerts up North any time soon! Well, thankfully, they apparently do play the North quite a bit, but more on that in the interview.
I made my way back to Terrorizer stage after Undersmile’s performance to see the Belgian black metallers, Wiegedood. I had had the pleasure of reviewing their debut album in May on this site, so it was a great opportunity to see them live, after 6 months of great response to the album.
As you would expect, their performance was a tight one. The intensity of the album was with us, the Damnation audience, all throughout their performance. I am still impressed of their sound just as a trio. I would also like to mention the people responsible for lighting and stage for this gig. They made my job as a photographer both so much more enjoyable and easier. Their choices were just dead on! Definitely a good gig from all aspects!
After Wiegedood, I moved back to Electric Amphetamine stage. Well, this was actually my main route throughout the day, shuffling between these two stages, on which the organisers decided to focus doom and black metal bands I especially like to see! I guess a fortunate coincidence. Anyway, on the Electric Amphetamine, there was OHHMS from Kent, doing their sludge-y post-metal so well. Paul is just so enrapturing to watch!
Their performance was loud and very dirty, as it should be from OHHMS. The chemistry on the stage was great, Paul and Chainy, especially had a great interaction with the rest of the band, the music, and the audience.
I gave a break after OHHMS to catch up with Undersmile and in due course missed some of the great bands played, but listening to 14-15 bands a day is more exhausting than I would like anyway, so the break was actually welcomed, and further enhanced by the great chat with Undersmile. I made my way to Electric Amphetamine stage after my break to be pleasantly surprised by sludge/doom metallers Sea Bastard from Brighton.
I say surprised, however pleasantly, as this was the first time I have had the change to catch them in concert, and wow that was good! The friendly giant Oli is a fantastic performer on stage. I am not just singling him out of course, the whole band was very violent, very angry, definitely an awesome gig in front of a packed stage. I was scared to turn my lens to Oli though, he just looked angry I was there! All joking aside of course, cheers for the great gig!
As my day was going doomy enough, I decided to take a break from doom and see the folky black metallers Vreid from Sogndal, Norway in action on Terrorizer stage.
Their connection with the audience was great, with some old fashioned horns up in the air chanting together going on. I would not expect this from the newer, more atmospheric black metal bands of course, as their music is just so intense anyway, but Vreid combined some great folk and black metal as per usual, and ended up with an exciting performance.
After Vreid, I got the chance to catch up with Steve from The Wounded Kings to talk a bit about how things are going with the new album. Check the interview out!
Next up on my programme I had the atmospheric black metallers from Cork, Altar of Plagues on Eyesore Merch Stage, unfortunately giving their farewell gig.
They obviously played an absolutely packed audience, in fact this was a gig if you came late you couldn’t even make it into the hall! Their performance was top notch. I was especially intrigued by the way they almost gave a break and filled the hall with feedback noise for several minutes. I don’t know what went on in the back (to be honest they might have been just waiting), but that noise filled hall was an experience!
They played very intensely, resulting in the stillness of the audience. I am not sure whether it was the force of the music or people were sad that it was the last time, but there was a deadness which played well into the atmosphere. But in any case, it was a good farewell, and they will surely be missed.
On Jägermeister stage, I caught the excellent Icelandic no-one-can-categorise-them-properly-so-let’s-just-call-them-metal band, Sólstafir. They were definitely a contrast in the otherwise ‘extreme’ line-up of Damnation, but it was also the sign of things getting slightly softer as well with Amenra and Mono following Sólstafir, although I opted for Asphyx and Primordial instead, so I unfortunately missed those great bands, but can’t win them all I suppose.
Anyway back to Sólstafir, they gave a respectable performance with a good connection to the audience. Aðalbjörn didn’t stop moving on the stage, including the monitors in front of the page. It was an energetic concert. The communication with the audience was great with Aðalbjörn asking whether they want the more ‘metal’ Sólstafir or more ‘romantic’ Sólstafir. They had the banjo on stage at some point, which shows how aware they are of the fact they were in contrast with the rest of the day.
The Dutch death/doomsters Asphyx were ready to take the festival next level, and they definitely did. Starting with really the Altar of Plagues gig, you got the sense of how many people actually attended the festival. All these concerts were just packed to the brim. We started seeing some crowd surfing too with Asphyx. Their set was highly energetic throughout, and they bridged the way perfectly into the headliners. Since Doom over London V this April, Asphyx released a boxed set.
Electric Amphetamine stage then hosted The Wounded Kings, with, unfortunately, a relatively small audience. The elitist in me would say that I would rather see The Wounded Kings (and Undersmile to be honest) with much smaller audiences than their music deserves anyway, but I guess they lost the audience to the legendary High on Fire playing on Jägermeister stage simultaneously.
This does not take anything away from the gig itself of course. George is back and he is wonderful to watch. The band was playing away their huge sound in perfect harmony pre-release of their album in the coming months from Candlelight. They were also enjoying themselves on stage a lot, which reflected well onto the audience. They will also be embarking on a European tour this March, be sure to catch them if they are coming your way!
Last gig I caught this time around was Primordial, they hardly need introduction to be fair. If you have ever seen Primordial live, you would know how intense Alan gets during their performances. This was no different. I would rather let my photos attempt to tell the Primordial experience this time around. I feel I wouldn’t be able to properly describe the gig. It was just beyond fantastic!
Well, the 11th time around, Damnation still is going strong, and has a lot to offer, I will be there every year as long as I am in the UK, and if you haven’t had the chance to attend yet, just get up here next November!