Memory of a Festival: 008: Damnation Festival 2009

This year’s variant was in the same location as last year’s very busy one, but with some much-needed changes to the way things were run. The good news, for a start, was that the stage times over the main two stages were at least partly staggered so that not everything clashed, and with a reduced capacity this year it wasn’t half as crowded – although it was painfully obvious at points that it was nowhere near sold out. One item of bad news announced the day before was that due to illness Negură Bunget had cancelled, which was a shame – they were one band I was really looking forward to seeing.

Damnation Festival 2009
Live @ University, Leeds
24 October 2009

Rinoa were first up on the Rock Sound stage. Seemingly named after a Final Fantasy character, they reminded me very much of what The Mirimar Disaster managed during their short tenure as an active band, but without the memorable tunes or much else other than a lot of screamed vocals and chugging riffs. Good to watch for a couple of songs, I rapidly got bored.

Nazxul @ Damnation Festival 2009

It was helpful, actually, that I was able to get away quickly, as it gave me the chance to get upstairs to the Terrorizer Stage to see Nazxul take to the stage for what was apparently only the second time they’ve played outside of Australia. An intriguing band sonically – vicious black metal with a number of progressive/dark ambient touches – they perhaps didn’t help the flow of their set by use of the overlong interludes between songs, but when they did “click” they were awesome, and I’ll certainly be looking out for these guys on record at some point. Bizarre fact of the day: comedian Steve Hughes used to be part of this band.

Charger @ Damnation Festival 2009

With, at this point, little else I wanted to see elsewhere for a while, I stuck around to see Charger, a band who seem to have been around for ever, played just about everywhere, and I’ve managed never to get ’round to listening to them or seeing them live. So I thought it only right I should take the chance to watch them. They were…ok. Somewhere in the realms of Iron Monkey-like sludgecore, to my ears, but not nearly as memorable, but the brutal tracks they did dish up certainly were interesting for a fleeting moment or so. I probably stuck around too long here, as I headed back down to the Rock Sound stage to see only the latter half of And So I Watch You Far From Afar‘s set. For what I saw, their bruising post-metal was fantastic – heavy, funky (yes, really) and really interesting in ways that other bands in this realm often are not. Seeing as I’ve already missed them play in Sheffield of late, I need to make sure I catch them next time they play locally.

Following up on the same stage was yet more grimy doom in the form of Manatees, a local band who were really pretty impressive. Making an immense sound for only a three-piece, their tracks broadly were at a pace that could charitably be described as lethargic, but had the nasty, oppressive feel that this kind of music should have, as far as I’m concerned. So that’s a thumbs up from me. Talking of doom, there was yet more upstairs on the Jagermeister Stage from the first band I saw on the main stage.

Electric Wizard @ Damnation Festival 2009

Electric Wizard were by some distance one of the loudest bands I’ve ever heard – and I had decent earplugs, too. Not that this was a bad thing – their dirty, filthy doom metal is best experienced as loud as possible and they delivered forty-minutes of it in top-class style. A big surprise was them opening with a titanic Dopethrone, more expected were the seventies, Sabbath-obsessed grooves of Dunwich and Satanic Rites of Drugula, and a closing, bulldozing Funeralopolis. The right way to close seeing that would have been to light up a fat one, but needless to say that’s something of a problem in a no-smoking venue, so instead it was time to head back downstairs to the Terrorizer Stage.

Mistress @ Damnation Festival 2009

I got there and Mistress were already in full swing, playing their last ever show to a packed and racous room. Dave was belligerent and very funny indeed between songs, this being their last gig they clearly didn’t care who they offended, picking on random audience members, dealing ruthlessly with hecklers, but then happily allowing any number of stagedivers to get involved in the chaos. A short interlude for a lot of beer to be supplied to the band, before they continued with their savage, dumb-fun grindcore metal that happily enough never took itself too seriously and was another that I wished I could have stuck around for more of – but I had other bands to catch. Bizarre fact: somehow I never knew that they appeared on Never Mind The Buzzcocks a few years back [Youtube link].

Anathema @ Damnation Festival 2009

I was in a hurry to get upstairs, you see, to catch all of Anathema. Yes, I saw a full set from them last year, but they were so good I wanted to see them again, and they didn’t disappoint. This time Closer‘s odd vocal treatments got things going, before Deep once again swept me away into my own blissful world. No new material this time, not that it mattered – this was forty minutes of a quick glimpse at the vast wealth of top-class material this band have, taking us through the likes of Empty, Sleepless, before closing with a glorious Fragile Dreams. The astonishing highlight of the set, though, was A Natural Disaster, with the original female vocalist Lee Douglas introduced onstage to perform it. It should also be noted that, perhaps sadly, she was one of only two female musicians onstage all day that I saw (Liz Buckingham in Electric Wizard being the other).

Akercocke @ Damnation Festival 2009

Straight from that, it was time to hotfoot it back downstairs again to the Terrorizer Stage, to see Akercocke – a band who I’ve followed for a good many years, and had never seen live. I wasn’t hugely sold on the last album Antichrist, though – it went too far into the prog-exploration and not enough of the searing blackened death metal that they are so good at. So, it was great for me to find that live these explorations are curtailed, instead concentrating mainly on the metal. And fuck me, they were good, providing conclusive proof the devil has the best tunes after all. Technically – once initial gremlins were resolved – they were astoundingly good, and they rolled out pretty much all of my favourite songs. The sheer malice (and quality) in Summon The Antichrist and Man Without Faith or Trust suggest that I should perhaps revisit Antichrist again, while Leviathan and A Skin For Dancing In were fantastic blasts from the past. The closing Verdelet, though, was seemingly played with unbelievable menace (as it should be), and turned the moshpit into a battlefield. Band of the day honours for me lie with Akercocke.

Rotting Christ @ Damnation Festival 2009

Asking anyone to follow that was going to be tough, and Rotting Christ for me fell a little short. Again glitches seemed to affect their sound, and while they started well it kinda all merged into one, with it all sounding like death metal by numbers. Sadly, back on the Jagermeister Stage, Therapy? didn’t fare much better. Sticking resolutely to newer material, in the main, it meant for a set that I knew little of, and frankly the somewhat sparse crowd were mainly in the same boat as me – proven by the roar of recognition when Teethgrinder was finally rolled out mid-set. Stubborn or not, this was not a way to “celebrate” twenty years of Therapy?, and a closing run through Turn, Screamager and – best of all – their cover of Isolation to close only went part of the way to making up for what was little more than a lacklustre set.

Jesu @ Damnation Festival 2009

Another band I’d not yet managed to see live was Jesu, and in between other bands I finally got the chance to see at least part of a set. I never saw Godflesh either, much to my regret, and to my surprise what I saw of Jesu at points had beats and sounds live that were leaning towards Justin Broadrick’s old band – a wierd fit with the near-shoegaze of Jesu otherwise. Clearly I caught this on a bad night, though – it was noted by Justin from the stage that he couldn’t hear himself in the monitors, and frankly he appeared to have his mind on other things. I’ll try again next time.

Life of Agony @ Damnation Festival 2009

To close the day, it was back to the Jagermeister Stage to see Life of Agony. I saw them just after the original reunion about six or seven years ago, and they were awesome – and pretty much they were the same this time around. While not a massive crowd – there were significant gaps further back – the crowd that was there was a hugely partisan one, knowing almost every word and breakdown, and clearly relaxing the band from the off. Perhaps not surprisingly, the set was heavily biased toward River Runs Red (opening with River Runs Red and This Time, closing with Underground and Through and Through), presumably as part of the band’s 20th birthday celebrations (they are playing the whole album in it’s entirety in New Jersey next month). Either way, they are perhaps the only band that ever managed to successfully fuse tough, New York Hardcore with soulful vocals, and although Keith Caputo didn’t look entirely with it for much of the show, as soon as he began to sing all that was forgotten. His voice, even after these years, is still astonishing and there is no doubt that without him this band would never have had the critical or popular success that they did. No encore as such – I suspect there wasn’t time – but after the thankyous and greetings to the crowd, there was one last rush through Lost at 22, and the day was over.

Much, much better organised than last year – although actually signposting the different ways to enter the building depending on what kind of ticket punters had may well have been a great help – it was a shame that numbers were down significantly. Part of that, perhaps, will be blamed on the recession, but frankly the lineup was not as strong as last year’s, even if it did, as it turned out, to have a number of unexpected gems. And like last year, I once again missed a couple of bands on the Rock Sound stage that I really should have made the effort to see – and I would have done if time allowed. Never mind, anyway – this was money well spent for the ticket, and I’ll be back again for Damnation 2010.

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