Bolt Thrower photo above by Gobinder Jhitta

Damnation Festival

Leeds University

1st Nov 2014

Last weekend Damnation Festival reached it’s tenth iteration and to celebrate they staged one of the best single days of heavy music you’ll be able to find anywhere in the world this year. Louder Than War’s Andy Santiago and Dom Walsh were up to their knees, no, sorry, necks in it (the lucky bastards) and report back below.

Who’d have thought it? 10 years on and the independently run Damnation festival is not only celebrating a decade of heaviness but hanging the ‘Sold Out’ signs on the front door of Leeds University for it’s anniversary event.

Over the last 10 years Damnation has become a well established festival that is hugely anticipated by the Metal community and it was always going to be a big one to commemorate the 10th anniversary. This was reflected in the line-up of bands that was quite simply, stunning.

As with previous years, finding the venue after arriving at Leeds train station couldn’t have been easier. It was simply a case of following the long haired, tattooed, band T shirt wearing masses up the hill and past excitable teenage Asking Alexandria fans that had inexplicably formed a queue at 11am outside the o2 Academy.

On arrival at the venue the press pass was secured and it was off to the nearest pub called The Library, to meet fellow Louder Than War writer Dom Walsh, have that first ‘difficult’ pint of the day and formulate a plan of action. There was complete agreement on who the first band of a long day was going to be and that was the first band on the Eyesore stage, London 3 piece blackened doom outfit, Bast.

I really rated the debut album from Bast, so as we took our place at the smallest of the four stages of Damnation, expectation was pretty high. Even more so on my part as this was the first time I’d seen them. Bast certainly didn’t disappoint and their filthy amalgamation of Doom, Black Metal and a twist of Psychedelia hit the spot from the first crushingly heavy notes. Their half hour set flew by and closer ‘Outside The Circles of Time’ was quite magnificent. A better way to start the day would have been harder to find.

With a busy day ahead and many miles to cover I headed upstairs to catch a bit of Black Moth on the PHD stage and their female-fronted Sabbathy grooves was clearly popular with the packed room. (See contribution from Dom Walsh below for full report – ed.)

My next port of call was back downstairs to the press area for an interview with Leeds’ finest purveyors of all things Victorian and sinister, the quite magnificently charismatic A Forest of Stars, who told me everything they possibly could about their forthcoming album. More about that at a later date.

Here at Louder Than War we are all firm supporters of the unbelievably good UK Black Metal scene, and one of the premier flag bearers of that scene are Manchester’s Winterfylleth (See photo right © Tim Finch.)

The band have just released their stunning (and quite possibly a Louder Than War ‘album of the year’ contender) 4th album ‘The Divination of Antiquity’ and their late afternoon slot on the Terrorizer stage was one that I classed as totally unmissable. I got to the room just before it started filling to bursting point and found Mr Walsh pressed against the barrier as the band soundchecked.

Opening with the title track of the latest album, Winterfylleth laid down a masterclass in soaring, atmospheric and life affirming metal. An airing of the utter masterpiece that is ‘A Careworn Heart’ was nothing short of triumphant. This is a band that are surely on the verge of breaking out of the underground and rightfully taking their place in the very elite of worldwide Black Metal.

Magnificent on every level and by an absolute mile, my personal ‘band of the day’.

I had planned to slide over to the main Jagermeister stage at this point to catch some of the recently reunited Raging Speedhorn but after getting caught up in the congestion post-Winterfylleth I decided another Damnation essential was calling. The legendary Deli Kate ‘Damnation Burger’. And so after gorging on a surplus of meat, jalepenos and some nuclear chilli relish I felt suitably fortified enough to cast myself back into the confines of the Eyesore stage to await the band I was looking forward to the most, the previously mentioned A Forest of Stars.

It was always going to be challenging to get a 7 piece band onto such a small stage but somehow they managed and after what seemed like a very brief soundcheck the sight of frontman Mister Curse seemingly slipping into a trance signalled the beginning of their set. On the previous occasions I’ve seen A Forest of Stars they have been utterly compelling and borderline hypnotic, but this time a sound mix that was doing their intricate blend of Black Metal and psychedelic prog no favours at all took the edge off what could and would have been a sublime set. Masterpieces like ‘Gatherer of the Pure’ and ‘A Prophet for a Pound of Flesh’ perforated by jarring feedback and the complete omission of Katheryne’s flute by the sound man was unforgivable. After the band lined up to take a bow before leaving the stage I found myself yearning to see them doing their own headline show again and hopefully that won’t be too long.

A quick trot upstairs back to the PHD stage and I was confronted by French Doom/Drone band Monarch (see photo right © Gobinder Jhitta) whose frontwoman was in the process of letting rip with some of the most unearthly screams and weird chanting noises I have ever heard over a snail-paced heavy as all fuck noise. I stood there bemused and watched as she howled down no less than 3 microphones and eventually, it was too much and I left the room in a state of disorientated confusion. I presume from the band’s point of view, that would be classed as “Mission accomplished”.

The next band on the Eyesore stage were also a band I was very eager to see again, Sunderland’s finest, Wodensthrone.

It seemed like the curse of the Eyesore sound engineer was blighting Wodensthrone too and after 10 minutes of  suffering the chaotic mix, I grudgingly left the room, bitterly disappointed that 2 fantastic bands on the same stage had fallen victim to a shocking sound.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m not a massive doom fan but I’m well aware of the reverence that Saint Vitus are held in so as the opportunity to check them out was available, I wandered into the Jagermeister stage to see what was going down. 4 hoary old dudes that looked like they had been left in the dessert for years with nothing but peyote to survive on were laying down the Stoner/Doom vibes with a hint of blues to a huge crowd that were well into it. I however, wasn’t, so made the executive decision to head back to the PHD Stage with Dom and check out his recommendation of the day, German Funeral Doom outfit, Ahab (see photo below © .

Dom promised something “crushingly heavy” and the last time he recommended something to me, it turned out to be an epiphany so I wasn’t going to dismiss this band as “just more doom”.

As Ahab started their set it became apparent the sound was superb and the vocals were absolutely magnificent. As good as Ahab were, the urge for something faster and maybe even a blast beat became stronger and bidding Mr Walsh farewell (whose review of these guys can be found below – ed) I headed off back downstairs to get my first dose of Death Metal of the day in the shape of the legendary Cannibal Corpse. Only I couldn’t as the security were operating a ‘One in One out’ policy that was causing a tailback of some magnitude. At times like that there’s only one course of action to take, get a beer and head out onto the terrace for a smoke. It was here I bumped into long time mate and metal warrior, Mike from ‘uddersfield.

Between us we agreed, it was time to go and check out Bolt Thrower (see photo below © Gobinder Jhitta) and their much-anticipated headline slot.

Anticipating a monumental crush to get in, we arrived probably 15 minutes before they were due to go on and found gaining access to the room was no problem. Straight in and a good vantage point near the sound desk. The atmosphere at the Jagermeister stage was thick with anticipation and I think it would be safe to say, a majority of the near 3,000 fans in that room would be seeing Bolt Thrower for the very first time. Why the band seem so reluctant to play on home soil is a mystery to me. It doesn’t seem like all that long ago Mike and I used to see them play at the much-missed Queens Hall in Bradford probably every six months.

As possibly the most pompous intro tape I have ever heard blasts through the PA and expectation levels rise even further, Bolt Thrower took to the stage to a returning heroes welcome from the Damnation faithful and let rip with their opening salvo of War, straight into Remembrance and Mercenary. “It’s great to be playing in the UK” shouted frontman Karl before the band unleashed THAT riff that that signified the classic World Eater. A sea of raised horns and banging heads signified the victory was indeed belonging to Bolt Thrower.

After about 30 minutes of Bolt Thrower’s triumphant set I decided to risk another venture back to the Eyesore stage to see some of the headline set from Fen.

I entered the room to find about 80 people watching the band who had a superb sound mix! Last band of the day and the engineer got it right!

I’d only seen Fen live once before at a previous Damnation festival and their blend of atmospheric Black Metal that was sometimes borderline shoe gaze was quite superb. This incarnation of Fen was a whole lot different. Stripped back to a 3 piece Fen had got heavier. Much heavier in fact. I have to say I really enjoyed what I saw of their set and in hindsight, I would probably have sacrificed seeing some of Bolt Thrower to have caught it all. On the strength of what I did see, Fen were my second best band of the day and I’m very much looking forward to the forthcoming album ‘Carrion Skies’

~
(Dom Walsh has contributed the following about three bands Andy missed. We’ll squeeze them in here before Andy’s conclusion – Ed.)

Local band Black Moth (see photo to the right © Tim Finch), have seen the buzz around them grow considerably over the last year. Their second album, Condemned To Hope, is an absolute stormer of an album, and as a live act they never disappoint. The room for the band at Damnation was suitably full and they delivered a set that picked from their 2012 debut, their latest release and last years single release, Tree of Woe. Of the new songs, Undead King of Rock and Roll sees singer Harriet Bevan deliver sinister and hypnotic lyrics over an excellent doom drenched riff. Another highlight was lead single from the new album, Room 13. It packs a serious punch and tramples all over your senses for its short duration. Black Moth certainly knocked the ball out of the park on home turf.

Orange Goblin (photo above © Gobinder Jhitta) are finding it hard to do anything wrong these days. 2012’s Eulogy for the Damned was a masterpiece; there is no two ways about it. Their latest release, Back From The Abyss is just as composed and clinical. Their set at Damnation saw the band tear through a hefty set littered with new songs, and what can only be described as ‘hits,’ from their great back catalogue. The Devils Whip from their new album is a straight up Motorhead homage that smashes you around for just over two minutes. Ben Ward delivered the frenetic vocals extremely well. Earlier tracks like Sauruman’s Wish and Some You Win, Some You Lose had the crowd in fervent mood. The true highlights of the set came towards to the end of the set with Joe Hoare crushing the main room with the main riff to The Fog. Set closer, The Filthy & The Few saw the band exit the stage to rapturous and emphatic applause. A job well done…again! This band should be treasured, and make sure you go see them if you get the chance.

A real treat for the Damnation crowd was German Funeral Doom outfit, Ahab. This, only their second (I think) gig on British soil was a doom feast. The slow, doom tempo sounded absolutely astonishing. The band sound checked very meticulously beforehand. The band expressed their thanks for so many people choosing their set over Death Metal lords, Cannibal Corpse. Of the bands set, the tracks from 2012’s The Giant sounded grandiose and ethereal. Although tagged with the doom label, and rightly so, the shift in vocals  from gutter scraping horror laden growls to tender and lamenting clean  vocals make the band a versatile and unique proposition. Hopefully it wont be too long before Ahab choose to venture overseas back to the UK.

~
 

Andy concludes…

A long day was now coming to a close and the legions of Metal spilled out onto the chilly streets of Leeds in various states of inebriation, wide eyed and smiling. Kudos to the lad in the Dripback shirt sat near the exit who bade everyone farewell as they left the building with a spirited cry of “Hail Satan!”.

There was no doubt that the 10th anniversary of Damnation was a roaring success and all the moaning that has appeared on various social media websites about the congestion between stages and arsey security pales into insignificance when the bigger picture is viewed. I left the venue more than happy with how my day had been and would like to thank the organisers and Becky the press lady for all their efforts and hard work that made Damnation ’14 the metal event of the year. Long may the legacy continue and see you next year for more.

~
 

Damnation can also be found on Facebook and twitter: @damnationfest.

Words mainly by Andy Santiago, whose Louder Than War author’s archive is here. Extra words by Dom Walsh whose author’s archive is here.

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