Damnation Festival 2017, Leeds University Students Union
The annual gathering of some of the more extreme end of the metal spectrum boasted a rather fabulous line-up this year and it was no surprise when the event sold out many weeks before the date. An early start from South Wales saw us arrive in a bright but cold Leeds in plenty of time for lunch and a pint of Black Sheep before heading to the Union where we would spend the rest of the day.
My last visit to Damnation was in 2014 where the overcrowding was quite uncomfortable and the organisers have since cut the capacity by a quarter. It still meant that in many cases, early arrival was essential if you wanted to catch bands in all but the main Jagermeister Stage. So, apologies to Vallenfyre, Leprous, Nordic Giants, Dying Fetus and Grave Pleasures. We tried but couldn’t get near!
First up for me was the three-piece Belgian black metal outfit Wiegedood (8) whose recent support slot to Winterfylleth had received positive reviews. Their wall of sound is like the Manchester legends and it was no surprise that the Terroriser Stage was bursting at the seams when the band launched into their set. Blast beats, magnificent technical riffing and the darkest of vocals all combine to make a sound which is exactly as you’d expect for a band whose name translates to ‘death in the cradle’. With viewing severely restricted it was soon time to move on to the next band.
Arkansas outfit Pallbearer (6) were the first band to hit the main stage and a healthy crowd gathered as they were introduced in a fuzzy haze of green lights. Their album Heartless made a good impression earlier this year but unfortunately despite their sound being predominantly doom, the sound was so muffled that it was impossible to catch the melancholy of vocalist Brett Campbell clearly. Frustrated with the sound, we decided to seek out some refreshment at the overpriced bars before the next band.
In the Eyesore Merch Stage Italian outfit Psychedelic Witchcraft (8) took the stage with a crash and proceeded to deliver a set of Sabbath infused psychedelic rock which was most impressive. Their third album Magick Rites And Spells is a top listen and the band mixed tunes from this and their other two releases as they powered through their set. Vocalist Virginia Monti is the focal point of the band, dancing maniacally around the stage with great enthusiasm whilst guitarist Jacopo Fallai ground out his Iommi style licks and riffs.
Back to the Jagermeister Stage for the intriguing and mystical Myrkur (6) the black metal outfit which consists solely Amalie Bruun. Her second album was released about six weeks ago and is a more ethereal approach, which was demonstrated in the opening track before she and her band launched into a more traditional black metal track, complete with banshee screams! Unfortunately, despite being much anticipated, the wailing did little for me and I headed out for another beverage and more metal.
American two-piece Big Business (7) were making hell of a racket when we got to the Eyesore Stage and it soon became apparent that these guys would probably kick Royal Blood in the head rather follow their sound. Huge chunky bass riffs and chaotic rampaging drums filled the small room but with less blast beats than most, it was a welcome relief for a short while. By now the heat in the venue was beginning to kick in and despite the promises of a reduced capacity, there were people everywhere with large queues for the toilets and crushes at the bars.
A rare appearance by UK doom merchants Warning (8) meant a large crowd for the next act on the Jagermeister Stage, with Patrick Walker and co having reunited again this year after an eight-year absence. The down-tuned guitars, introspective lyrics and crushingly heavy doom allowed the hardcore fans an opportunity to relive The Strength To Dream and Watching From A Distance whilst those less familiar with their work could enjoy a stunning set. There was the sight of members of Winterfylleth losing their shit on the balcony and a marriage proposal delivered superbly by Walker. Whilst their lengthy tunes meant the set list was limited, Watching From A Distance was immense.
After a rather tasty hummus and falafel pitta time to get back into the main arena for the most anticipated set of the day. Halifax miseries Paradise Lost (9) delivered an hour of magic, despite some typically frustrating microphone problems for Nick Holmes which clearly pissed him off and enabled him to be even more dour than usual. With Gregor Mackintosh sporting a nifty new Mohican haircut and ripping out the riffs, it was left to Aaron Adey to inject a bit of happiness, his beaming face as he riffed the shit out of his guitar always a joy to watch. The set-list was crammed full of superb Paradise Lost classics as well as three from this year’s crushingly good Medusa in From The Gallows, Blood And Chaos and The Longest Winter. It’s taken a long time, but I truly believe that the band are now finally getting the recognition they deserve. Closing with Say Just Words a lot of happy punters left the main hall content.
One of the big three of Germanic thrash, it’s fair that Sodom (8) are classed as legends within the metal world. Now I think they are the weakest of the three, with Kreator and Destruction superior in my view. However, Sodom may have changed that with a blistering hour during which they blasted through 11 tracks and only stopped when bassist and vocalist Tom Angelripper was informed that they had run out of time. With Bernd Kost slicing and ripping flesh with his guitar and drummer Markus Friewald hammering away at the rear, Sodom hit hard with classics such as Outbreak Of Evil, Sodomy And Lust, Agent Orange, and Napalm In The Morning cheering the crowd and encouraging some brutal mosh pits. An excellent set which enhanced their reputation.
By now the day was running away from us and exhaustion had set in. It was a relief when headliners Bloodbath (7) finally hit the stage, opening with Let The Children Come To Me, Nick Holmes second shift fared better than his earlier mic problems with his growling vocals delivering the death metal to perfection. A set which was well paced and packed with favourites, highlights included So You Die, Anne and the ever brutal Eaten which closed the night off.
So, a highly enjoyable day, some good performances but oh so tiring and crowded. Will I return? I’m not sure. Despite the great value price of the ticket, the long drive and overnight accommodation make it a challenge. With a venue that has little flexibility I’m not sure I have the strength to manage it year on year. But a good day out and some excellent music.