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Wednesday, 7 November 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Damnation Festival (Review By Rich)

Damnation Festival 2018, Leeds University, Leeds

It was time for the yearly pilgrimage up north to Leeds for the fourteenth edition of Damnation Festival. With another stonking line up this was a sold out event boasting an impressive array of bands from the extreme end of the metal spectrum spread out across four stages within the labyrinthine confines of Leeds Students Union. Whatever your tastes in metal it is generally covered by Damnation and with so many bands across so many stages the day involves lots of rushing around and plenty of traipsing up and down stairs. There seemed to be a lot more people and as a result a lot more queuing this year which wasn’t managed very well by the event security resulting in lots of bottlenecks and vast amounts of people all trying to get down one small flight of stairs. This was a bit of an irritation and did cause me to miss bands but what I got to see made it all worth it in the end.

Unfortunately I did not make it in time for the start of the event missing VOLA who I really wanted to see. I arrived at the venue shortly before 2pm and after initially getting lost in the bowels of the venue I managed to find my way to the Tone MGMT stage (with some help from one of my friends) in time to catch Fukpig (6). This was one of the very few and very rare live appearances from the self styled necropunks. Battling against terrible sound Fukpig delivered a set of blackened twisted crust full of black humour, political commentary and utterly filthy music. Next up and kicking things off on the main Jagermeister stage were UK death metal veterans Cancer (8) who wasted no time in delivering crushing old school death metal to a packed out room with tunes such as Cancer Fucking Cancer, Into The Acid and Blood Bath. The band had just released their first new album in 13 years and new material The Infocidal stood up just as strong as the classic material. Unfortunately the set was cut short by a fire alarm and an evacuation of the building which seems to becoming a Damnation tradition with Pallbearer suffering the same experience last year.

After about 20 minutes we were allowed back into the building but the sheer amount of people heading down to the Tone MGMT and Eyesore Merch stages meant that I completely missed LIK. Opting to get some food and rest my feet instead of watching Ne Obliviscaris the next band I saw was the mighty Anaal Nathrakh (8) who are Damnation veterans but this was their first time playing on the main stage. With the huge sound system in the room Anaal Nathrakh sounded absolutely devastating and obscenely loud with some in the audience holding their fingers in their ears. Not known for being the happiest of frontmen Dave Hunt was in a remarkably cheery mood and the band played phenomenally well easily being the most extreme sounding band of the whole day. The set was far more leaning towards the bands more recent album with Obscene Like Cancer and Forward from latest album A New Kind Of Terror mixed in with cuts such as Depravity Favours The Bold, Hold Your Children Close And Pray For Oblivion and Forging Towards The Sunset. Older fans were serviced with In The Constellation Of The Black Widow and set closer Do Not Speak.

The next band I saw was Entombed A.D. (9). I had seen them play the night before in a mighty show with Vader but the performance was so strong that I simply had to see them again and they matched and even surpassed their Cardiff performance. The set was pretty much the same with Entombed A.D. cuts such as Back To The Front and Dead Dawn mixed in with plenty of classic Entombed material such as Living Dead, Stranger Aeons, Eyemaster and Out Of Hand, New song Fit For A King completely harks back to classic Entombed material and is a nice teaser for the upcoming new album. I left Entombed A.D. a little early to secure a good spot for Batuskha (9) which was a good idea as the room was at bursting point it was so crowded. The band were late getting on stage resulting in a bit of a restless crowd and opening with a rather drawn out ambient track resulted in the crowd becoming even more restless. When the band did finally perform their brand of atmospheric black metal a lot of the crowd had lost interest and were there chatting away loudly much to my irritation and the irritation of other people trying to watch the band. Despite the crappy audience Batushka played a mesmerising set of black metal with material pulled from their Litourgiya album.

Last time Ihsahn (10) had played in Leeds it was at the disastrous Ritual Festival where he was less than a happy fellow due to more than a many number of cock ups so it was great to see the full Ihsahn experience this time round unmarred by technical difficulties and behind the scenes cock ups. The man himself seemed delighted to be there and the resulting positivity bled through into the performance resulting in the finest set of the day. With a crystal clear sound and impressive light show Ihsahn completely won over the Damnation crowd with many jaws dropped including my own. The set was mostly from his latest two albums Àmr and Arktis with spellbinding renditions of Lend Me The Eyes Of Millenia, Sámr, Mass Darkness and Until I Too Dissolve. From older albums we got Frozen Lakes On Mars, A Grave Inversed and The Grave. The highlight of the set was the absolutely goosebump inducing Celestial Violence which had my jaw hitting the floor, my hairs standing on end and a lump forming in my throat. Magical moments like that is why I love music so much.

In much need of a rest due to my aching feet and realising that any other music would just sound inferior following that Ihsahn set I decided to sit out Vader and The Ocean and saved myself for the nights headliners - the godfathers of grindcore and all out extreme metal institution Napalm Death (9). I don’t believe it is possible for Napalm Death to perform badly as I have never seen anything less than a brilliant set from them and their headlining set at Damnation was no exception to this rule. Despite having been going all day and it being 11pm the crowd were hungry for some chaos and Napalm Death ably provided the soundtrack to carnage. The crowd were so eager to tear things up that they started a pit going before the band had even walked on stage but things truly erupted when the band opened with Multinational Corporations from their seminal debut album Scum. From there on we got treated to Napalm Death set staples, some very old material and cuts from their most recent works Apex Predator - Easy Meat and the recently released rarities album Coded Smears And More Uncommon Slurs.

This was truly a chaotic, hot and sweaty set with temperatures rocketing in the room as people surged and smashed to crushing grind anthems such as When All Is Said And Done, Unchallenged Hate, Smash A Single Digit, Practice What You Preach, Scum, You Suffer, Dead, Suffer The Children and Silence IS Deafening. We also got the obligatory covers with set staple Nazi Punks Fuck Off by Dead Kennedys paired with Victims Of A Bomb Raid by Swedish hardcore legends Anti Cimex. The band brought things to a crushing finale with a furious Siege Of Power leaving a sweaty and exhausted crowd to make their way either to the Damnation after show party or out into the chilly Leeds night.

Yet again Damnation was a fantastic event though severely exhausting. It’s one of those events where you wish you could be several places at once as there are so many bands playing worth watching but it’s also a relentlessly punishing schedule where you unfortunately need to miss bands in order to rest, grab food, have drinks or simply go to the toilet. There was stuff I missed this year which I wanted to see but it’s always the case with a festival that you can’t see everything. I hope to be back up in Leeds same time next year with an equally incredible line up.

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