Like what appeared to be all of the UK metal community, I headed up to Leeds yesterday for the long-awaited Damnation Festival, the biggest incarnation yet of the one-day metal festival that has had something of a nomadic existence over the past few years. The queue to get into the venue was huge at 1630 – most of the way down the hill to The Faversham, if you know the Leeds University complex – although the staff moved quickly to get punters into the venue, and that was definitely a good thing with the bitterly cold conditions outside.
Note – All photos were taken on my new Sony-Ericsson C905, as I was too late in trying to arrange a photo pass. The results aren’t perfect, but it is a surprisingly good compact camera! Some will appear on Flickr.
Inside the venue things weren’t quite as well organised, I have to say. Moving between the three stages (the main “Jagermeister” stage in the Refectory, the “Terrorizer” stage in Stylus and the “Rock Sound” stage in Mine) was an utter pain due to the narrow corridors, poor signposting and simply too many people, and I wasn’t particularly impressed to find the drinks prices jacked up for the night (at The Wendyhouse, of course in the same venue, £2.55 for a vodka and coke. Last night? £3.20). There were lots of other things than the bands to keep you occupied, though – all the bands had their own stalls, frequently with members of the bands there themselves, CD stalls, other merchandise stalls…
I spent much of the first hour in there getting in a couple of drinks to warm me up, and catching up with many, many old and current friends, and generally wondering around working out what to do. As I had noted a week or so back, the stage times generally meant that everything clashed, meaning that on the day there was lots of dashing around trying to catch some of certain sets to ensure you could catch the next band on another stage.
I missed the first round of bands in the melee, so decided to ensure I caught the beginning of Onslaught on the Jagermesiter Stage, an eighties thrash band who have reformed in recent years with no little critical acclaim. It was announced before they came on that they were filming the show for a forthcoming DVD, and a big crowd were there to greet the band as they finally appeared onstage, ten minutes or so late (already – they were only the second band on!). Opener Killing Peace – frankly the best new song released by any band during this current thrash “revival” – was like throwing a pipe bomb into the crowd as the moshpit simply exploded. They continued in this vein, too – as we noted at the time, what they do is nothing particularly difficult, but is executed so well it’s hard not to get carried along. Sy Keeler’s air-raid siren vocals were carried well over the galloping rhythms, although the effect of some songs was lost a little as the PA began cutting out on one side.
I only managed four or five songs of Onslaught due to the late start, at which point I reluctantly left to head downstairs to see Australian industrial-grind monsters The Berzerker on the Terrorizer Stage. This was the first time I’d seen the band in some five or six years (I saw them twice after the release of Dissimulate), and other than shedding their grotesque masks, things are pretty much “as you were”. That means short, hyper-fast blast beats, roared high-intensity vocals and walls of guitar shredding – although once again the sound balance was a mess. That didn’t stop the crowd going batshit, of course – and due to the layout of Stylus, with the sunken dancefloor, it pretty much meant that the moshpit was walled-in chaos. After a savage, light-speed No One Wins I chose to exit the carnage and head back upstairs, just in time to see Sigh take to the Jagermesiter Stage for their first UK show in over thirteen years.
And sadly, I was hugely disappointed. Nowadays bringing an almost cartoonish Black Metal sound, with added grooves and saxophone, they sounded flat and not especially interesting, and the half-hearted crowd response (in comparison, say, to Onslaught’s appearance earlier) seemed to suggest that I wasn’t the only one thinking this. I should have stayed watching The Berzerker – particularly as I was informed later that the sound improved hugely for the second half of their set.
So, escaping Sigh was a good plan, and so I moved downstairs again for my only visit to the Rock Sound stage to see Ramesses, who I’d heard of but not ever got ’round to listening to before. I was glad I did head down, too – this was marvellous, filthy, murky doom that didn’t go anywhere especially fast…but then, it didn’t really need to, and nor would we expect it to. The band feature two of the earlier members of Dorset stoner/doom overlords Electric Wizard, and it really showed. Other reference points include the dark, oppressive atmospheres of Sunn0))), but nothing of this band is quite as extreme (thankfully). And yes, this half-hour of doom, glorious doom has had me digging out the mastery of Dopethrone for the first time in a while…
Here In The Throat
She Is The Dark
From Darkest Skies
And I Walk With Them
The Cry of Mankind
The Forever People
The Dreadful Hours
Again, I sadly had to leave the set early, as I had decided to head back to the Jagermeister Stage to see My Dying Bride (therefore missing Napalm Death, a band I’ve still somehow never seen live), who by this point appeared onstage well over twenty minutes late. It was a strange set to an almost-hometown crowd, too. With a live violinist once again, the set appeared to be heavily slanted to songs that would show this to the max, meaning a few unexpected songs were played, particularly in comparison to the crowd-pleasing set played when I saw them nearly three years ago to the day. Of course, playing some less known songs is always perhaps a risk, particularly if you are playing to a crowd that may not be totally filled with people who know every single song, and so it proved. The balance was just about held, though, with She Is The Dark in particular sounding fucking immense.
By the end of the MDB set, things were getting very crowded indeed, and with a further delay before Carcass appeared onstage over half-an-hour late, the crowd in the meantime decided to occupy their time in other ways, including a mass singalong to Iron Maiden‘s Fear Of The Dark that was kicking off moshpits further forward than us. Carcass themselves, needless to say, were greeted like conquering heroes as they at long last took to the stage, and miraculously the sound was pretty damned good for them (why is it “support” acts always, always have such shitty sound?). Things got silly with the playing of Buried Dreams (which sounded awesome) and Corporal Jigsore Quandary back-to-back as the second and third songs of the set, with the latter inspiring a moshpit that went way back beyond the sound desk. The frankly dangerous, cramped and uncomfortable situation as a punter by this point not helped by the announcement from the stage saying “security want me to pass on the message that you need to calm down a bit. Fuck that – let’s go insane“…unfortunately this was taken a little too literally by many of the pissed up metalheads around us and after being soaked in beer more than once, punched in the kidneys and kicked and pushed more times than I’d wish, I’d had enough as Carnal Forge kept up the brutal power. Shame, really – I’d liked to have stayed but frankly I’d also like to leave in one piece.
Subject To Status
The one time where timings worked in my favour the entire evening was at this point. After ducking out of the Carcass crowd, I thought I’d pop downstairs to see where Pitchshifter were up to, to find to my astonishment that they were only just coming onstage – an hour late. And I arrived down the front – to a not surprisingly, sadly, half-empty room, although it did fill up as the set went on – just as the band tore into a savage Triad. Win! I haven’t seen that song performed live in nigh-on six years. Things got better as Microwaved followed it, and we were rushing headlong into yet another top-notch performance from a band who have kept on plugging away – in the live arena, at least – for many more years than I would expect. This was the fifteen time I’ve seen them in twelve years, and the set wasn’t an awful lot different to last year’s show in Nottingham, although one notable thing was that the new track aired then, Messiah, was much better this time ’round, a lot heavier and more in keeping with the “traditional” band sound. Not a second was wasted, either – with the band being on so late they clearly had less time to play with, and somehow managed to bulldoze through fourteen songs in less than an hour, finishing with five old classics that kept the crowd going right to the end (a riotous Virus and the usual WYSIWYG being particular highlights for me).
According to the band, there are now no booked shows to come, leaving the band at present with an uncertain future. With the twentieth anniversary coming next year, it would be nice to see them celebrate this, and how about more really old songs, eh? More stuff from Desensitized would be very nice (or even a remaster of this album?)…
So, final thoughts? There is no doubt that broadly the night was a success, but let’s be honest – there were far too many people in there for the venue to handle safely, and god knows what would have happened if something did go wrong. Thankfully nothing did, and I’m happy that I got to see what I wanted to see, as well as a bit more besides, and it will be interesting to see what happens next year…