Last weekend Leeds played host to the latest edition of the UKs premier one-day metal festival, aka Damnation. Louder Than War, naturally, were present in the form of Andy Santiago. Check out his review below.
And so it came to pass, on the second day of the eleventh month Damnation Festival 2013 was upon us once again.
After paying the extortionate price of a day return to Leeds from York, we trudged up to the University Union where it was all going to happen.
Wristbands sorted and entrance gained it was time to get a lie of the land and see what would be happening and where.
This is the first year the festival was running four stages and my particular favourite, the Terrorizer stage, had been relocated into the Riley Smith Hall. So that was to be my first port of call, to kick off the day with a hearty dose of Death Metal.
This was to come courtesy of Liverpool’s Diamanthian who played a set of competent if uninspiring Death Metal. Those at the front were getting into the spirit and heads were banging even at this early stage in the day. Diamanthian get the dubious honour of receiving ‘heckle of the day’ when some smart arse shouted “Put yer shirt back on” at their bare-chested frontman!
A stroll downstairs to catch a bit of ‘Doom’ on the Electric Amphetamine stage was next on the agenda and on entering the concrete bunker that housed the stage it was apparent straight away that I was in the right place for a spot of sludgy, down-tuned riffage by just looking at those assembled. Collosal beards as far as the eye could see, cut-off denim jackets and a whiff of patchouli oil competing with the scent of something a little more herbal was the order of the day in here! Iron Witch were just coming to the end their set and although I could never be classed as a fan of the whole Doom thing, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the crushing nature of the straight-up stoner sludge they played.
A quick trot upstairs next to see the first metal ‘supergroup’ of the day and the band opening the main Jagermeister stage, Twilight of the Idols (see pic right). The hooded figure of Primordial frontman Alan brandishing his mic stand like a mighty weapon whilst tearing into some of the most chest-beating, full-on Heavy fucking Metal you could ever wish to hear is a commanding sight. Horns were raised and heads were banged to this thoroughly entertainingly, over the top band. In fact, any band who have a song called Sons of the Hammer are more than worthy of raising a horn of mead to. A sea of smiling faces and raised fists throughout the room was testament to a great opening set on the main stage.
By now I was craving something altogether different and something extremely unpleasant and very wrong. This craving was satisfied ten-fold by a cold and savage ‘exhibition’ from Voices (see pic below), a band that truly defy everything acceptable and are impossible to categorise.
The masked frontman Peter Benjamin laid down some of the most unsettling vocals you could ever hope to hear and the frantic riffing and perpetual blastbeats all combined into a truly spectacular set that I very much doubt those who saw it will forget any time soon. A vast majority of the set was unreleased material from a part-recorded and to be released early next year second album, and on the strength of that, the future of UK extreme metal is a truly perverse and harrowing one. For me, one of the very best bands of the day.
Back across the hall and on the Jager stage the Norwegian band Shining were delivering their unique brand of ‘Black Jazz’. Clad in black and looking as well-groomed as any boy band, they noodled, widdled and parped away to a packed hall who seemed to be enjoying it, while at the same time not having a clue what was going on! As the bloke on ‘The Fast Show’ used to say … “Niiice!”
Unfortunately I missed Death Metallers Dyscarnate as I was camped out in the press area interviewing the previously mentioned Voices (see pic right), but my mate ‘Heavy Metal Pooley’ did see them and provided this insightful review. “They were fuckin’ well brutal mate”. Can’t say fairer than that and a glowing endorsement from an expert! I would like to have seen this brutality myself, but so it goes.
Once more into the fray and I’m back at the Jager stage where yet another band from Liverpool are tearing it up. This time it’s crossover thrashers SSS who’s spirited performance kicked off many a pit. It was the first time I’d seen them live and their mid-afternoon set was a good-natured and violent triumph.
Another band I was seeing live for the first time was Romanian Black Metallers, Negura Bunget. Not Black Metal in the conventional corpse paint and Satan way, Negura offered something altogether more hypnotic, earthy and spiritual. Boasting an array of instruments such as pipes, horns and something that looked like a plank of wood in an elaborate picture frame, they played a captivating set that, whilst not quite inspiring the out of body experience of, say, Wolves in the Throne Room, came close and were another personal highlight.
Continuing to rack up the mileage, it was back to the Jager stage for a band that I was hugely anticipating, God Seed. I had had a lengthy chat with infamous frontman Gaahl in the press area earlier in the day when I saw him sat alone, having a brew and minding his own business. The conversation went something like “Hey Gaahl, how ya doing?”, and “I’m good, thank you very much” came the reply. So after that, I was more than keen to see my new best mate and his band do what was only their second ever UK gig. And what a fucking gig.
Kicking off with the utterly freezing Sign of an Open Eye, God Seed brought a blast of icy Black Metal to Leeds straight off the wintery mountains of Bergen. A set comprising of the best of Gorgoroth and original God Seed flew by in a blink. Devastating renditions of classics such as Alt Liv and Wound upon Wound had me standing there in a grim rapture. The only slight criticism that can be aimed at such a flawless display was some of the ‘Rock God’ posturing from bassist ‘Tom Ov Hell’ kind of diluted the overall vibe. But that’s a minor niggle as God Seed were just fucking incredible.
After that it was time to sprint across the hall for the second metal ‘supergroup’ of the day, Vallenfyre (see pic above). It was a struggle getting in as the security was operating a ‘one in, one out’ policy due to the hall being rammed. When we finally got in, disappointment hit us like a sledgehammer. The sound was absolutely terrible and all that could be heard was kick drum and a bit of Gregor’s vocals. We tried to get in different positions around the hall to see if that made a difference, but it was a mess everywhere we stood. Totally gutted as Vallenfyre were a band I desperately wanted to see, but atrocious sound ruined it. We did, however, hear Greg win the award for ‘best song introduction of the day’ with the cracking “This is for all those who think Cold Lake is Celtic Frost’s best album”.
A stage I’d not really paid much attention during the course of the day to was the ‘Eyesore’ stage that offered the cream of the Post Rock scene. Time to get involved and try to put the great Vallenfyre disappointment behind.
I caught the end of Crippled Black Phoenix and what I did see made me wish I’d got there earlier as their vast soundscapes were truly epic.
I made the executive decision to miss Rotting Christ and check out the much talked about Cult of Luna who were the headline band on the Eyesore stage. One of the lads from York had been ranting in my ear all day about how good they are and how they’ll be band of the day by a mile so I took his word for it and approached with an open mind.
Maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to truly appreciate what Cult of Luna were all about or maybe I’m just a musical heathen, but I was a little underwhelmed. Not to say they were bad, but personally, I think, they are more suited to listening to at home, perhaps on headphones in a dimly-lit room rather than towards the end of a long day of the metal.
It was noticeable that some of the assembled crowd started to drift away towards the end of Cult of Luna’s set, I put this down the imminence of the day’s main headliner, The one and only Carcass (see video, shot by and therefore courtesy of¬ DT Masters, aka Mike and Tom, below).
Up the stairs and across the hall for the last time and I was fighting my way into the heaving main room where Carcass were already laying waste in no uncertain terms.
The last time I saw Carcass was in the dodgiest of dodgy Bradford nightclubs supporting Ice T’s comedy rap / metal band, Body Count. I had completely forgotten just how razor sharp a band they are. Riff after riff and solo after face-melting solo are delivered with a fluid effortlessness many bands could only dream off.
Playing in front of a massive white backdrop of surgical instruments and flanked by screens showing projections of such ‘Carcassy’ things as autopsy footage and mutilated genitalia, Carcass really did deliver a ‘proper’ set that more than justified their second headlining appearance at Damnation. New material such as Unfit for Human Consumption sat perfectly next to the older classics and the feeling of genuine emotion in the room when original drummer Ken Owen played a solo is impossible to describe. In short, Carcass wrecked it and those who say otherwise are wrong. End of.
All too soon Damnation 2013 was over and it was out onto the windy and rainy streets of Leeds to make our way back to the train station and home to York. The journey was spent pondering why all festivals can’t be like Damnation and speculating on who next years headliner will be. As it’s the 10th anniversary, I have no doubt it will be the most spectacular line-up ever assembled at a Damnation festival and that really is saying something.
Same time next year then? Damn right!
All thanks to the splendid organisers of Damnation, Becky the press lady and to the PR’s, Nina, Andy T and Daz for making a truly splendid day.
All words by Andy Santiago. More writing by Andy on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.