The tenth anniversary of Damnation Festival was a sell-out and blast once again, and ZT were on hand to see what went down.
The ridiculously warm weather for a November morning meant it felt like festival season was in full swing, despite Damnation signalling the end of many metal fans’ festival calendar. And with a fine array of death, black and just plain heavy metal in store for the day, outside just didn’t feel appropriate. Thankfully once inside Leeds University Union’s dark and sweaty interior and surrounded by marauding Cannibal Corpse fans, everything fell into place for the second most important tenth anniversary this year.
“This one’s called Cunt…LIKE A SEWER!” bellows Amputated’s Mark Gleed, and the tenth Damnation festival was off. The Bristol quintet set an impressively low tone that’s never beaten with ludicrous song titles, a merciless sound and humorous approach.
They weren’t headlining but Bast have arguably the best slot on the bill as the only band not to clash with anyone else. Needless to say the smallest stage is packed to the rafters as plenty are exposed to their absorbing sludge overtones for the first time.
Xerath play their unique brand of tech-symphonic-prog metal back on the Terrorizer stage. Having recently released their third album most of the set is dedicated to cuts from said piece of work, which given its strength is no bad thing. Small elements of their more complex sound sometimes get lost in the live environment but they still put on a good spectacle.
Opening the main stage as last minute stand-ins for October File, Dyscarnate prove reliable as ever. For a trio they put on one hell of a racket with their backs-to-the-wall death metal. Barely moving except to pummel their instruments, they rely not on gimmicks or showmanship but the pure ferociousness of their songs alone. And it works!
Local band Black Moth grace the PHD Stage in a hall where until recently vocalist Harriet Bevan had been sitting university exams. Needless to say this is a far more invigorating atmosphere as they plough through half an hour of occult/doom rock. Despite being one of the less heavy bands at Damnation, they still put on a captivating performance.
Scottish folk metal outfit Falloch add a lighter quality to proceedings. Their long, drawn out songs prove a bit too airy for some, but it creates a calmer sensation in amongst the many more brutal and harsher acts of the day. Beguiling and often beautiful, it’s easy to drift off with the music until an accelerated section comes out of nowhere with a bit of bite.
With one of the most critically acclaimed UK black metal albums in years, it’s no surprise Winterfylleth pack out the Terrorizer stage as nearly everyone clamours to get a glimpse of the Manchester-based band. Rabid drumming and sharp guitars conjure a bitter and bleak vibe, doing latest release The Divination Of Antiquity and other cuts more than justice.
Headliners of the very first Damnation back in 2005 and initially reforming especially to play this anniversary event, Raging Speedhorn are immense. Injecting a bit of bounce with their dual-vocal attack that keep things beyond heavy throughout, they reflect the stance that if the band are having fun the crowd are too. Hinting that this is far from the end of Raging Speedhorn throughout, on this performance that’s a good thing.
Revocation are solid with their modern death/thrash combination, though do little to truly stand out. Tight and compact, they don’t really put a foot wrong, so it could just be the after effects of Speedhorn that mean they didn’t sparkle as much as they should have.
Apparently the most requested band to return to Damnation (well, according to V.I.T.R.I.O.L/Dave Hunt anyway) Anaal Nathrakh pretty much show why before they’d stepped on stage given the countless fans wearing their merch ambling around. Their carefree attitude is evident as they blast through various slices from their back catalogue. A couple of bass problems and pauses that go on a tad too long between songs slow things down, but do allow Dave to turn down another marriage proposal!
When a band has been going for over 30 yearsand still receives the adoration Saint Vitus do, it’d be gutting if they underperformed. Of course that’s not the Vitus way and they absolutely smash it on the main stage. Running through their legendary third album Born Too Late in full (backwards) amongst some other choice cuts, everything falls into place magnificently. The only down side is the fools leaving before the end to get a good spot for Cannibal Corpse.
Having said that, maybe those fools were onto something. Sticking around to see all of Saint Vitus means the stage is packed to capacity before Cannibal Corpse even get started, with a long queue outside. Instead Ahab are the other option and the German band’s ocean/Moby Dick worshipping funeral doom prove the polar opposite to what’s going on downstairs. Not as immediate and a little bit dull, they are a passable alternative.
After almost nine hours of extremity it could have appeared Damnation has nothing left to give. Most spectrums of metal seem to have been covered and standing for so long starts to be exhausting, but then arrives Bolt Thrower. As their only UK date this year, the only way Bolt Thrower can be shit is if their instruments are replaced by vegetables. And even then they’d probably beaten half the bands off with a stick (of celery).
Thankfully they’re not. A mix of their finest tunes played with the intensity they deserve shows why they are one of the UK’s greatest metal exports. They may not have recorded any new material in nine years, but no-one’s thinking about that as they burst through the likes of ‘The IVth Crusade’. As Karl Willets stalks across the stage roaring every line like they were his last words in front of 3,000 odd fans it proves how vital extreme metal still is in this country. Here’s to another ten years!
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