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Friday, 7 November 2014

Another Point Of View: Damnation Festival (Review By Paul, contributions by Rhod)

Damnation Festival – Leeds University

A first trip to the Damnation Festival, brought to you in association with Terrorizer, Jagermeister and Eyesore Merch. A few musings before we get onto the bands. This is an excellent venue, with four stages and a host of bands mainly towards the heavier end of the metal spectrum. If you want your AOR or Black Stone Cherry this probably isn't your bag. If you want mind crushing riffage, indecipherable lyrics and beards that would have Amon Amarth retreating then get the fuck in. The organisation was decent, bands ran to time and the security and staff generally friendly. A few gripes have been raised on social media about the clashes and lack of space, but there is a balance that is needed and for me it worked a treat. Sure, the queuing for Bolt Thrower merchandise was a bit shambolic (although tee-shirts at £10 was very welcome) and the bar prices weren't great, but overall it ticked nearly every box.

Kicking off proceedings on the Terrorizer stage, Bristol death metal outfit Amputated (7) got the day off to a fine start with a solid 30 minutes of impressive extreme death metal. Amputated take no prisoners, inciting the day’s first pit action with some pile driving and quite terrifying riffage. The UK’s Cannibal Corpse, Amputated are similar in delivery and theme to their West Country cousins Flayed Disciple. Song title of the day was already secured with Repugnant Genital Deformity. If you can’t work out what they sound like you clearly need a subscription to Terrorizer for the next decade.

A packed PHD stage greeted locally based outfit Black Moth (7) with a very warm welcome and they soon got into their stride with opener Tumbleweave from recent release Condemned To Hope dark, doomy and atmospheric. Unfortunately a muddy sound masked the excellent vocals of Harriet Bevan and whilst the doom element of their music benefited the cutting edge of their more gothic and indie style got a little lost.

Meanwhile back on the Terrorizer stage Rhod was sampling the sounds of Aeon (8) from Osterund, Sweden. More death metal was the order of the day, with a startlingly good performance full of top quality crushing technical power. Our intrepid reporter was noted to enthuse “Pure death metal on an epic scale. I was this close to jumping into the pit”. No higher praise can be heaped onto a band than that.

First visit of the day to the smaller Eyesore stage for Glasgow’s Falloch (8) who delivered a stunning set full of introspection and melancholy, post-rock, black metal and rock. A large crowd reacted very favourably to Falloch’s 35 minute set, and their delivery was spot on, benefiting from a decent sound. Complex and intricate progressive tones combine with powerful riffs and breakdowns with Alcest amongst the obvious influences. Well worth checking out.

Whilst Rhod worked his magic at the Bolt Thrower merchandise stall, the unmistakable clatter of Raging Speedhorn (5) filled the Jagermeister stage and area. I'm afraid that I don’t get the ‘horn (sorry!) and their aggressive hard-core sound, with the dual vocals of John Loughlin and Frank Regan fail to inspire. A quick exit was called for.

Back in the PHD stage Icelandic outfit Solstafir (9) provided one of the weekend’s highlights with a 50 minute set which captivated the capacity crowd. A mesmerising delivery included two tracks from their rather bloody good Otta album. Front man Aðalbjörn "Addi" Tryggvason is enchanting, every inch the rock star in leather jacket, weaving a spell of light and shade around the audience, capturing your attention with his mere presence, vocals and guitar work. He is ably supported by æþór Maríus "Pjúddi" Sæþórsson who adds plenty of reverb, intricate fretwork and powerful riffs. Concluding the set of five songs with Goddess Of The Ages, Solstafir’s first UK festival performance was a true I was there moment. Beautiful stuff.

Racing back to the Jager stage in time to catch the final strains of Scorpionica, the mighty Orange Goblin (9) hit the stage at 100mph and absolutely destroyed the venue with a blistering set stuffed with more goodies than a Christmas stocking. A mixed set with old favourites like Saruman's Wish nestled comfortably alongside Sabbath Hex and The Devil's Whip from this year’s Back From The Abyss. Man Mountain Ben Ward stop grinning such is the rabid frenzy that greets each track. The guitar work of Joe Hoare sounds incredible, riffs and hooks raining everywhere whilst the driving rhythm section of bassist Martyn Millard and drummer Chris Turner propel all of the songs along at breakneck speed. By the time that Red Tide Rising closes the set, Goblin have the crowd eating from their palms whilst Ward is probably still grinning today. A triumphant performance from one of the best UK bands.

Amongst the legends that are gracing the Leeds halls are American Doom Merchants Saint Vitus (7), who are performing Born Too Late in full. A strong turnout saw the band open with Living Backwards before I Bleed Black demonstrated why these guys are icons of the doom metal scene. However, even with the constant urging of guitarist Dave Chandler and Scott “Wino” Weinrich, it all appears a little dull and attention starts to wander. Saint Vitus went on to play Born Too Late in the second half of their set but by then the dulcet tones of Sunderland’s Wodensthrone had lured us back to the Earache Stage. Arriving half way through their set, this made up for our inability to get to Winterfyllth’s earlier set. Wodensthrone (8) deliver an infectious brand of melodic black metal and they capture the attention of those who weren't attracted to the main arena. We are rewarded with a powerful set mixing tracks from both Loss and 2012’s Curse.

German funeral doom merchants Ahab (8) deliver one of the heaviest sets of the day back in the PHD stage where huge guitar and crushing chords combine with Daniel Droste's evil and guttural vocals which sound like Satan if he’d stepped on a plug. Meanwhile Cannibal Corpse (9) demonstrate their billing as death metal kings with a steam roller of a set in front of a packed out Terrorizer stage, with hundreds queuing to get in throughout their turn. Opener Fucked With A Knife sets the tone for Corpsegrinder and colleagues to lay waste to all around them. Sadistic Embodiment and Icepick Lobotomy from the latest release A Skeletal Domain stands comfortably alongside old school classics such as Hammer Smashed Face.

Due to the capacity of the venue, not everyone can get into see Coventry’s finest Bolt Thrower (10) in their first UK Festival headline set. Those who don’t miss an absolute master class in death metal. Opening with War/Remembrance Karl Willetts and co are in stunning form, laying waste to all in the hall. There is little time to draw breath as the band grind out classic after classic, Anti-Tank, This Time It’s War and an absolutely pulverising No Guts … No Glory with Barry Thomson and Gavin Ward powering on the crushing riffs whilst Jo Bench adds a third guitar such is the thunderous delivery of her bass which welds with the blistering drumming of Martin Kearns. And then it arrived; The Killchain sets everyone in the arena bat-shit crazy, heads banging and pits galore. Willetts grins and leave the stage before the band return for a double salvo of At First Light and When Cannons Fade before a final hammer to the head with Silent Demise which leaves the audience battered, bruised and enjoyably damaged. Incredible stuff and as the crowd leaves, the smiles are everywhere. The stuff of legends. Roll on next year.

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