Damnation Festival – Leeds University, 05/11/16 (Live Review)

Damnation Festival Header

This is the twelfth edition of the UK’s Damnation Festival, and although it may be cold outside, inside there’s more than enough incendiary metal to heat things up. Hopefully the recent preview whetted your appetite, and now it’s time to see how the real thing turned out…

Damnation Festival Bands

Attan 13:00-13:30 Terrorizer Stage


It’s with great excitement and expectation that I await Attan’s arrival. From Nothing is such a colossal opening statement for a band that I can’t wait to see how it translates into the live environment.

As Faith No More slowly fade from the sound system, Attan casually appear at the side of the stage. A respectable audience has appeared for this time of day, eager to see what is apparently Attan’s first visit as a band to the UK, (including a show the night before).

With a heavy and loud sound, stronger than most opening bands usually get, they unleash their crushing brand of apocalyptic hardcore fury on the assembled festival goers. The levels of passion, energy and enthusiasm that they put into their performance is downright electrifying.

I love the fact that they have a good sized stage and it still barely seems big enough to suit their singer, who takes any and all opportunities to climb up, on, over and around things, exploring his environment like some form of untamed missionary spreading the word of the end times, screaming his polemic into random people’s faces.

Any doubts I may have had about how those EP songs would present themselves live are banished in waves of aggression, vicious screams and painful feedback. New tracks are played too, full of bile and vigour.

They also perform a stunning rendition of my favourite song of theirs – Black Liquid Marrow – followed by the last song of the afternoon, (and closer of their EP), Edward. Fantastic.
Attan absolutely crush the Terrorizer stage with their heavyweight performance and Damnation is off to a flying start.

This was one of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing today and they did not disappoint.

Kroh 13:30-14:00 Mine Stage


After the swirling mayhem and intensity of Attan, I arrive at the Mine stage to find Kroh already in full flow. Tasty riffs and gorgeous, sultry vocals from their charismatics singer are abundant. Her presence and powerful vocals dominate the stage. It’s a different type of heaviness than that of Attan, but no less alluring.

The stage itself has undergone a significant transformation from what it was like in previous years and now has a much better layout/arrangement. As the only band playing today without a timing clash with another band, there’s no excuse to miss them and Kroh end up playing to quite a full house.

Kroh are effortlessly enjoyable. Their music rolls off the stage and even though I only know a couple of tracks their songs are so welcoming and their performance so solid that it doesn’t matter a jot. Kroh impress.

The sound mix is strong and clear, meaning that you can just listen and enjoy their music without inhibition. Their take on traditional doom metal is infectious and so well delivered that I suspect they’ve rightly made a lot of new friends today.

Erlen Meyer 15:00-15:35 Eyesore Merch Stage

Erlen Meyer

As I walk into the Eyesore Merch stage everything is surprisingly bright and well lit. This isn’t really a bad thing, but it is unexpected and mildly disconcerting. Erlen Meyer are soundchecking and before you know it, with no fanfare at all, they have started their set.

I must say, the Damnation Festival sound engineers are on fire today, with yet another strong sound that allows the band to shine and show their true colours. Erlen Meyer sound great, with the singer’s voice in particular coming off quite savage.

Erlen Meyer’s brand of sludgy violence is well met, and they put on a good show for the assembled crowd, which is surprisingly numerous. The band attack the material with enthusiasm and are obviously very into what they’re doing, which is exactly what you want to see in a live band.

Their songs work well in a live setting, with the band’s energetic and emotive riffs crushing everything around them. The heavy, clear sound even allows some of the more nuanced aspects of their material to shine through.

With riffs as heavy as a rhino and more than enough weighty atmosphere to go around, the band make a strong impression on the crowd it seems. By the end of their set Erlen Meyer have pretty much convinced all in attendance that their type of doomy sludgecore is definitely where the action is, and the band leave the stage victorious.

Venom Prison 16:15-17:00 Terrorizer Stage

Venom Prison

Now it’s time for the splendid brutality of Venom Prison. I can’t quite get enough of their first-rate debut album Animus, and the prospect of catching this replicated in the flesh, so to speak, made this a band I had no intentions of missing.

Arriving in time for their soundcheck, it soon becomes clear that they’re going to have a monstrous sound to accompany their performance, and this realisation whets the appetite nicely.

Venom Prison’s songs are unusual beasts and definitely not your standard death metal. All of the familiar death metal components are there, but they’re added to by a hardcore fury and a surprising amount of nuance and malevolent intention. Live, with their powerful sound and solid stage presence, this comes across strongly.

The band’s energetic brutality gets the crowd thoroughly moving, and I witness, (and feel), my first mosh pit of the day.

The singer’s voice is in exceptional form and she acts as a formidable focal point in the band’s relentlessly aggressive set. Relentless is very much the word. The music is delivered at breakneck pace, with barely any room for a breather from one song to the next, (bar one brief interlude). It all blurs into one giant wall of brutality, one that’s gratefully scaled by the rather packed crowd.

Venom Prison put on a blinder of a performance. Definitely one of my highlights of the day so far.

Oceans of Slumber 17:00-17:50 Jägermeister Stage

Oceans of Slumber

Oceans of Slumber are not a band I’m familiar with, and after catching only the last part of their set it seems this is a big oversight on my part.

The band have a good stage presence and clearly know their way around their instruments. Their singer has a lot of charisma and her performance is top quality, with a clear, powerful voice that cuts across the progressive music with ease.

The band are obviously at home in the live environment and, like every band so far, they have a strong live sound. Professionally delivered progressive metal is always nice to hear, and I very much enjoyed what little I caught of Oceans of Slumber.

No matter whatever else they may have done tonight, they’ve made a fan of me.

Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas 18:40-19:40 Jägermeister Stage


Now this is the big one. It’s only a mild exaggeration to say that this is the show that everyone’s here to see, and the stage is jam-packed accordingly.

Even before they appear on stage the expectant atmosphere in the considerably-sized room is palpable. This is a rare opportunity, of course, to see the show that they originally said would never be played. Mariner is such a ludicrously good album and the chance to catch all of it performed live by the combined might of these imposing artists is not too be missed. Judging by the amount of people crammed into the Jägermeister stage it looks like a lot of people obviously feel the same way.

As the first song – A Greater Call – slowly unfurls, it’s clear we’re in for quite a treat. I’ve seen Cult of Luna many times before, and they always have a stage presence that speaks of a subtle power; a restrained force of nature. In Julie Christmas, however, that force of nature has found an outlet, and all of the potent, pent-up intensity has been unleashed and focused into a pure powerhouse of a frontwoman. She dominates the stage with her compelling presence and personality.

With Julie resplendent in, (mainly), white and the rest of the band in black, it reinforces her status as the focal point of the live show. She’s excitedly animated throughout and it’s hard to take your eyes off her. With one of the most unique and powerful voices in the business, she sounds immaculately unfettered in the live environment, and listening to her contribution to these songs is pure heaven. Of course, Cult of Luna themselves aren’t slacking off either.

The songs seem to take on a new shape live, expanding into space to fill the airwaves in subtly different ways than those of the album. It’s an utterly mesmerising and compelling experience that’s transformative and has such an impact it’s hard to not overstate.

Song three, The Wreck of S.S. Needle, is especially spellbinding. It’s enough to cause shivers to run down my spine and it’s probably the closest any band has ever got to reducing me to tears. That’s how powerful this stuff is.

Their spirited frontwoman disappears during Approaching Transition, leaving a hole that’s filled by the force of the music and the understated power of the remaining band members. She returns for the final, and longest, song of the evening; Cygnus, during which the intensity levels reach peak capacity and it’s almost as if the venue is going to burst.

Taken together, and with the strength of Mariner behind them, this is a performance that’s impossible to beat. The experience is quite overwhelming, and an hour or so after they first hit the stage the audience is spent, elated and very, very satisfied.

Expectations were high, expectations have been met, expectations have been obliterated.

Breathtaking and transcendent.

Dread Sovereign 20:30-21:30 Mine Stage

Dread Sovereign

After the uplifting and heady experience of Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas, as well as a cooling-off period where I sat numbly on the floor in a state of satisfied bliss, it’s time to come back down to earth with a fix of rough, gritty doom metal in the bowels of the Mine Stage.

I fucking love Dread Sovereign. There, I said it.

With a huge amount of people watching Abbath, I am joined by a relatively sparse gathering of like-minded folk who would rather see Dread Sovereign’s raw and engaging take on doom metal.
The lack of people means that we can easily get up close and personal with the band, which, combined with the smaller stage area, makes for an intimate and personal gig.

Fronted by the larger than life personality of Alan Averill, (also of Primordial fame), Dread Sovereign take to the stage with confidence and no messing around.

Their noteworthy singer has a very distinctive voice and tonight it’s sounding as good as ever. He has a commanding presence, no doubt honed through years of fronting Primordial, and with Dread Sovereign he uses his stagecraft to full effect, wielding his bass guitar like a weapon.

“You want fucking doom?” He asks. Why yes, yes we do. He’s a charismatic and entertaining frontman who talks and interacts with the crowd more than any other band I’ve seen today so far.

As a three-piece group they have a much fuller sound than you might expect. They sound huge and their music is perfect for the live environment.

It’s hard to oversell just how enjoyable it is too. The band deliver their songs with gusto and enthusiasm, peeling off quality tune after quality tune from their stellar debut album All Hell’s Martyrs. The live incarnations of these songs, (all of the ones they play, in fact), are formidable beasts, full of weighty life and indomitable will.

They’re at their most energetic when they cover Venom’s Live Like an Angel, Die Like a Devil. They end with Cathars to Their Doom, a favourite of mine, and you just can’t stop me from moving like a crazy person.

Dread Sovereign have been an absolute revelation. Their show was severely, incredibly enjoyable. Pure, honest metal. If you get the chance to see Dread Sovereign, don’t hesitate.

Enslaved 21:30-22:30 Terrorizer Stage


Well, as Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas crushed me emotionally, and Dread Sovereign got me moving like a motherfucker, I’m physically and mentally drained by the time it comes to Enslaved. Well, not quite; there’s more in the tank yet. Enslaved are, after all, worthy of investing every last once of remaining energy in.

It’s good that Enslaved are only playing on the very next stage to Dread Sovereign, so as soon as the latter finish I hotfoot it over to the Terrorizer stage just in time for the former’s intro tape to start. Nice.

Consummate professionals, they own the stage as soon as they set foot on it. Opening with Roots of the Mountain, their set is an hour of blackened hits that sees them playing at the top of their game.

Enslaved’s songs are highly emotive and their black metal combines aggression and atmosphere in such a way that’s rightfully seen them ride to the top echelons of the genre and stay there for a very long time. By this point in their career the band know how to put on a good show and tonight they’re all high-energy and atmospheric intensity. The heaving crowd lap it up.

All of their songs are flawlessly rendered into their live counterparts. Ruun is phenomenal. The Watcher‘s anthemic chorus is infectious. Building with Fire, off their latest album In Times, shows how effortlessly their newer material slots neatly alongside their older songs.

Speaking of, as they are celebrating 25 years of existence they even get a birthday song from the crowd, before launching into one of their older songs, Fenris, off of 1994’s Frost album.

The epic middle section of Ground is hair raising, with the guitar solo acting as a stunning centrepiece of the entire piece. One Thousand Years of Rain suitably impresses with its scything delivery and emotive melodies. Bringing out the older tunes once more, the band end with Allfǫðr Oðinn from their 1992 demo Yggdrasill, and the crowd seem satiated.

A thoroughly professional, polished and flawless performance. Here’s to another 25 years…?

Electric Wizard 22:30-23:30 Jägermeister Stage

Electric Wizard

By the time Enslaved finish and I battle through the crowds to get to the Jägermeister stage, Electric Wizard have already emerged into the Damnation arena and are playing the title track to 2010’s Black Mass album. Their filthy, atavistic doom metal is a fitting comedown after Enslaved’s high-octane performance and the perfect way to see out 2016’s edition of the Damnation Festival.

Tonight the band have a heavy, fuzzy sound that hits you like a wall of bricks. They sound colossal. The crowd give them a suitably good reaction throughout and it’s clear they’re much-liked.

Heady vibes full the room and their ancient doom metal is accompanied by a retro lightshow and backing videos, firmly putting everyone in the mood for their trippy songs. Electric Wizard effortlessly suck me in and all fatigue and tiredness is, (mostly), forgotten in a haze of smoky metal.

There band exude confidence as they play material off a range of their albums. Their set is a massively satisfying collection of huge, monolithic riffs and psychedelic doom workouts. Some of the groovy riffs seem to take you down and draw you out of yourself; their repetitive, droning nature is infectiously reproduced live.

I’m pleased to hear Crypt of Drugula make an appearance, and it gets lots of heads banging by the time it’s done. Let Us Prey is one of my favourite releases from Electric Wizard, so I’m very happy that …A Chosen Few gets an outing. The band finish with the ever-popular Funeralopolis, and from the start of the opening riff the crowd go wild.

What a great way to end a great day.

Damnation Festival, you never disappoint, and I will very definitely see you again next year.

43 thoughts on “Damnation Festival – Leeds University, 05/11/16 (Live Review)”

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