Damnation Festival @ Leeds University – Saturday 2nd November 2013


Review by Paul Castles

Damnation’s 10th anniversary proved to be a suitably celebratory day of all things extreme in the mighty world of metal.

For those whose tastes aren’t so easily sated by a Saturday sick bucket of Strictly and the X Factor, this all day aural assault at Leeds University is one ringed on the calendar with a ‘must’ in big red letters. With an eclectic line-up from all points of the compass, the 30+ bands attracted to the Yorkshire seat of learning have the common denominator of metal being the fuel that gets the pistons pumping.

The one-day festival embraced a fourth stage this year, and while at times that lead to some tricky choices as to who to catch at any one time, the cushion to soften the blow was that there were really very few wrong choices to make. When you add in a hectic interview schedule on the day my own viewing time was restricted more than most but it’s a small sacrifice for this Midlands Rocks hack to pay for witnessing a plethora of stunning acts under one roof on one day.

So to the action….

First up on the Terrorizer stage were Diamanthian for whom stripped to the waist frontman Troy Dixon bares more than a passing resemblance to Lemmy. If there were any crumbs still lodged in beards from the mid morning croissants, then a quick blast from this bludgeoning bunch would quickly have dislodged them.

announcement-6_500While Diamanthian were hammering through a set containing more meaty hooks than an abattoir, French visitors Dirge were more than living up to their name with a suitably morose set on the Eyesore stage. The Gallic mourners delivered a short sharp shock of disturbing intensity that took no prisoners. A wall of pure evil.

I managed to catch the first few numbers on the Terrorizer stage from Poland’s Tides From Nebula. This quartet have a lot in common with the brilliant Bossk, a guitar fused cocktail of noise with vocals not on the menu. The Poles conjured up some mighty riffs, showed a better understanding than telepathic twins, and switched effortlessly from heavy laden attack to puppy eyed desolation.

The main stage (Jagermeister) was the last to open but the corridor at Leeds Uni was already at bursting point with metalheads keen to get their first glimpse of self proclaimed supergroup Twilight of the Gods. This old school heavy metal act is fronted by Alan Averill, although the Irishman was not sporting the warpaint he always slaps on when performing with Pagan protagonists Primordial. While the latter trade in a world of folklore, myths and ancient ruins, Twilight of the Gods are a straight down the middle metal band consisting of performers who’ve already established themselves under other names.

Songs such as ‘Children of Cain’ and ‘Creature Man’ had the large crowd on side early on and with their passion for heavy metal shining through like a lighthouse beacon, it was hard not to warm to Twilight of the Gods. Averill is a consummate performer who you feel would be equally at home on a West End stage, effortlessly conducting the crowd as though it was Last Night of the Proms with every fist punching the air during songs of biblical proportions such as ‘Sword of Damocles’.

By way of contrast, back at the Terrorizer stage, the singer of Voices was sporting an identity concealing mask that made him look like a cross between the Lone Ranger and Zorro! While some of the content from Voices may push the barriers, make no mistake this crew can play. With a sharper edge than an Olympic swordsman, Voices conjured up a twisting typhoon of torment and tension that left you feeling aurally assaulted. This was barbaric brilliance. With the drums being pummelled to within an inch of their life, Voices operate with a wrecking ball mentality, simply demolishing everything in their path.

The welcome addition of a fourth stage this year (Electric) gave the Doom diehards a corner of the uni where they could wallow and weep to their black hearts’ content.

That was the case with the likes of Slabdragger. If you ever wondered what kind of noise a raccoon might make when it’s smacked to within an inch of its life by a passing mustang then just listen to Sam Thredder. The Slabdragger frontman let out regular screeches that were nearly as painful for us as they were for him.

As Dyscarnate consist of three fellas playing barbaric death metal it’s easy to see why they’ve had the tag of ‘the UK’s Dying Fetus’ pinned on them. It’s not without justification though, as the Southampton trio certainly delivered one of the heaviest sets of the day on the Terrorizer stage, sparking a mini circle pit in the process. Dyscarnate’s heavy handed performance with ferocious breakdowns during tracks such as the eye-socket exploding ‘In the Face of Armageddon’ ensured most necks were given a pretty punishing workout.

One performance that most people were keen to catch was God Seed, fronted by legendary black metal figure Gaahl. With his Gorgoroth days now firmly left behind encased in cobwebs, Gaahl is forging a new chapter in his fascinating musical life through God Seed. Gaahl controlled things from the Jagermeister stage with utter conviction, even if the trademark black metal corpse paint suggested he’d come off second best in a fight with a badger trying to escape the recent cull. Highlights from the Bergen beasts included the masterful magic of ‘Alt Liv’ from the latest I Begin album while Gorgoroth memories were revived with a rendition of ‘Wound Upon Wound’.

After Twilight of the Gods, the day’s other acclaimed ‘supergroup’ were Vallenfyre who I caught briefly performing on the Terrorizer stage. Consisting of members of Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride this was a home town gig for the Yorkshire men but a few sound issues probably meant they weren’t quite able to make the impact they had hoped for.

Back at the Jagermeister, Katatonia were to be found celebrating the 10th anniversary of Viva Emptiness by playing it in its entirety. Fully on top of their game after a recent tour with Paradise Lost, the Swedes put up on a devastating display with songs such as ‘Complicity’.

If I had to restrict the use of the word brutal to just one act at Damnation then it would have to go to Rotting Christ who completely ran amok on the Terrorizer stage with some old school death metal from their past interwoven with a number of songs from their remarkable latest album Kata Ton Daimona Eaytoy. Having made possibly the grandest, and certainly one of the most anticipated entrances of the day, Rotting Christ duly delivered an astonishing set of such blasphemic beauty that would have stirred the Greek Gods from their slumber.

When the likes of the monstrous ‘P’unchaw Kachun – Tuta Kachun’ and ‘Grandis Spiritus Diavolos’ were in full swing the entire Terrorizer Stage crowd were reduced to a mass neck creaking headbang orgy that threatened to have the St John’s Ambulance crew claiming overtime payments.

The Electric Stage down in the depths of the Uni, and aptly nicknamed the bunker by many, was a more than suitable home for the doom bands. Moss are a seldom seem trio live and when they perform it’s always worth catching them. They did not disappoint with the Sabbath influence pervading through every sinew of their  body on tracks such as ‘Bleeding Years’.

With Olly reinforcing the 70s ambience through his massive woolly sideburns and cheesecloth top, numbers such as ‘The Coral of Chaos’ were weighty works of wonder in which Moss obliterated everything in the room with their magnificent battering brilliance.

Closing act on the same stage were Conan and while they had the thankless task of coming head to head with Carcass, I felt my decision to watch the Liverpudlian trio was more than rewarded with another cavernous crushing performance. Having seen Conan headline Fearfest to great effect in Birmingham recently I was not prepared to forsake another dose of the Merseysider’s medicine in Leeds.

With people visibly flinching and covering their ears as Conan opened up with their titantic sinking sound, songs such as ‘Grom Tormentor’ and the coruscating ‘Hawk as Weapon’ again showed why Conan are as formidable and fearsome a force as any UK band operating within the doom genre today.

After Conan signed off with ‘Sea Lord’ I stepped out of Leeds Uni after a mindblowing 11 hours of extreme metal. I could see fireworks through the rain lighting up the Yorkshire night sky but thanks to Conan I couldn’t hear a thing.