Memory of a Festival: 010: Damnation Festival 2010

Next time I do an all-dayer in a city 200 miles from where I live, I won’t be going out clubbing until 0300 the previous night.

Damnation Festival 2010
Live @ University, Leeds
06 November 2010

Oh yes. In preparation for going to Leeds for Damnation Festival 2010, I was at Inferno on Friday night. I used to go to the ‘Ballroom on a Friday a lot, back in my uni days, to what was then Full Tilt, of course. Happily, not a lot has changed. The DJs may have changed, but the setlist – and many of the clientele! – is pretty much as it was ten years back. So fuelled by alcohol, it turned into an enormous amount of fun, and we reluctantly dragged ourselves away before the end so that I could at least get some sleep.

Which is how I ended up at Victoria half-an-hour before my coach left at 0930, having had about four hours sleep. And I don’t sleep when travelling (seriously – I need to have been awake for about 48 hours to have any hope of getting some sleep on any form of transport). Still, I made it to Leeds in good time and was at the festival by, oh, 1430 or so. Which meant that I missed the first bands, but there’s nothing usually to bust your ass over, right? Well, it might have been possible to see more if the changes to the venue this time had been made clearer.

So let’s detail this now: a significant downsizing from last year saw the Refectory not used this time around – and not the terrace bar, either – which amongst other things made it very difficult to find any space to just chill out or sit down. Stylus was in use as the main stage, Mine as the second stage, and most surprisingly, Pulse’s enclosed space and low ceiling was used for the third stage. Little was marked anywhere to make this clear, and simply wandering around finally gave some idea of what was happening.

All this trying to work out what was where meant that I only caught the last few songs of Panic Cell. Somehow, I’ve never seen them live before, or in fact really heard much about them, but from what I saw they weren’t too bad. They are very much a US-influenced metal band, that’s for sure – as the chugging monster that is Save Me amply demonstrated – and judging on the reaction from the crowd, and their polished sound, it was something of a mystery how they were so far down the bill. Their latest single – and the closing song – may do something to push their profile a little further upwards, though. An unlikely choice of cover – Seal’s Crazy (!) – and a cracking lego-based video should do the job.

I stuck around on the main stage after the finish to get a drink, catch up with friends and to see at least some of Rolo Tomassi, a band who appear to have been hyped a lot in the last year or two, and pre-gig had them described to me as “Queen Adreena meets The Locust”. They’d have to have been pretty fucking special to meet that description, and sadly for me they were nothing of the sort. They look barely old enough to be out of high school, and peddle synth-drenched-bizarro-hardcore/mathcore-with-melodic-bits, while bouncing around like kids who’ve drunk too many drinks full of E102. The thing is, with such a chaotic sound, it needs something that has a focus, and for me none of it did.

Irritatingly, playing at the same time were Fen, and who appear to be this year’s highly tipped band that I missed. I would have loved to have seen these guys – even more so now I’ve listened to them, too – but getting into the tiny third room was a real trial at many points, so I only actually got in once (of which more in a moment). So instead, I saw a few minutes of The Antichrist Imperium, who really should have interested me more than they did. A death metal supergroup of a kind, they just sounded like a generic death metal band. Which for members of The Berzerker, Akercocke and Ted Maul, simply isn’t enough.

Much better were the reformed and gleefully silly Lawnmower Deth, whose age did not stop them from bulldozing though god knows how many songs in their alloted time, keeping the crowd laughing as much as they moshed, and happily admitting that due to the length of time since they last played some of the songs, “[they’d] fuck them up”. No-one seemed to mind, and in Sumo Rabbit And His Inescapeable Trap Of Doom, they have probably one of the best song titles a band has ever come up with.

After those cheap laughs, it was upstairs to the smallest stage to try and catch October File. I got in alright, and indeed was close enough to get some photos, but sadly the confined space and the band’s blistering power meant that the sound was a bit, er, muddled. If you’ve come across this lot before, think Killing Joke with a more metallic edge and you’ll be somewhere close. Much of the material played, as far as I could tell, was from the recent album Our Souls To You, so unless I missed them in the murky sound there was nothing from Holy Armour From The Jaws of God. Not that this mattered too much in the grand scheme of things, as the new material is ace, particularly a bruising Falter and the closing attack of Isolation.

Earthtone9: Damnation Festival 2010: 06-November 2010

earthtone9 were, frankly, the reason I headed to Damnation 2010 and they didn’t disappoint. Their reunion this year came as something of a surprise – a band that seemed to pass under the radar of many the first time around, even if they were critically lauded – but the more I heard about it, the more it made sense, particularly as the release of the (free to download) “best of” this summer was created partly as a way of commemorating the tenth anniversary of their last album Arc’Tan’Gent. And as they took to the stage – thankfully with no clingfilm-based clothing on show – to the biggest roar of the day from the crowd, suddenly what this actually felt like was an underrated band finally getting the recognition they deserved. I saw them live a lot in the late 90s period – I think it’s anything between five and ten times – and they were a spectacularly good live band, and they were frankly even better here.

earthtone9 Setlist:
Grind and Click
Off Kilter
Star Damage (For Beginners)
Tat Twam Asi
approx. purified
Vitriolic HSF
Evil Crawling I
[untitled new track]
I Naugual Eye

Technically they remain as tight a band as ever – in particular their incredible drummer Simon Hutchby, but what this set rammed home more than ever was just how many great songs they have. As a beginners guide and something equally to please the (many) fans in attendance, what they played could not be faulted. We got the singles and long-time fan favourites, album tracks and even a new track – and the crowd bellowed along to as much of it as they could, particularly to an absolutely storming Tat Twam Asi. Also of note was a change in demeanour for the band – back in the day, they had something of a (deserved) reputation as being somewhat difficult and standoff-ish, making it pretty hard for fans to “connect” with the band. Here, they were all smiles, friendly banter between songs, and the look of a band genuinely taken aback by the reception. Keep up this kind of performance, guys, and you’ll have to get used to it. By a few leagues the best band of the day.

Paradise Lost: Damnation Festival 2010: 06-November 2010

Following that, the clash between Paradise Lost and Anaal Nathrakh was hugely frustrating, and I’ve wondered since if I made the wrong choice in staying in the main room for PL. For a start, with a couple of tracks trimmed from the set, it was basically the same as I heard this time last year on their last UK tour, and also it was notable that the band didn’t really seem to be putting too much into it.

Paradise Lost Setlist:
The Rise Of Denial
Pity The Sadness
I Remain
As I Die
The Enemy
One Second
Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us
The Last Time
Say Just Words

Yeah, the songs were as evergreen and marvellous as ever, but Nick Holmes’ belligerence and general sense of “can’t be arsed” did grate at points, particularly when introducing As I Die as a song he “hates and always has hated”. But then, there were moments when everything just clicked and a sense of just how brilliant a live band PL can be – like a bloody glorious Erased, seemingly the only song from the band’s hugely controversial period from Host for about three albums onward that the band will now even consider playing live, not to mention the slow-burning elegance of Enchantment. A real mixed bag, that having seen most or all of it before, really did leave me thinking I should have gone to see Nathrakh instead.

I had no conflicts with Dillinger Escape Plan – there simply wasn’t any of the other headliners I was considering. Another band I’ve seen in recent years, but this time DEP concentrated heavily on their newer material, which did a pretty good job of ramming home the point that their new material remains light years ahead of other bands that are supposedly “peers”. Honestly, there is not a single band I’ve ever come across that have the musical variety and astonishing technical skills that allow them to perform in perfect sync while apparently flailing around on stage in the midst of an invisible riot. By halfway through their set, though, I was finally hitting a brick wall of tiredness after a pretty heavy-duty 36 hours, so decided to bail (and muchos gracias to Matt for his hospitality). Staying the course would have been nice, but really, it was not an option. I did hear a fabulous Milk Lizard, though, so all wasn’t lost.

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