Damnation Festival – Leeds University, 04/11/17 (Live Review)

Damnation Festival Header

It’s once more time to gather in Leeds for this year’s Damnation Festival. With another amazing lineup, this is a festival that’s a definite milestone in the yearly metal calendar.

Damnation Stage Times

Disentomb – 13:00-13:30 – Terrorizer Stage

Disentomb

Being unfamiliar with the work of both Disentomb and Body Hound, I opt to start the day off by checking out Disentomb, if only because of their name. This Australian death metal juggernaut did not disappoint either. They have a good, clear sound, and I’m pleased by the amount of people that have turned out to see them.

The band put on an energetic and enjoyable performance of brutal, slamming death metal that seems to satisfy everyone in attendance. With utterly sick, monstrous gargles, the singer stomps and throws himself around the stage, while the rest of the band make an equally monstrous noise behind him. The crowd are battered into submission and seem quite happy with it too.

I enjoy their brutal performance, and the 2018 Damnation Festival is off to a good start.

Wren – 13:30 – Tone Mgmt Stage

Wren

Occupying the unique position of being the only band not on at the same time as somebody else, it’s pleasing that a lot of people have made it down to witness their personable brand of post-metal. Despite a lot of more well-known names at this year’s Damnation Festival, Wren are actually one of the bands I’ve been looking forward to the most. Having greatly enjoyed their split with Irk, Host, and Auburn Rule, I was looking forward to seeing how they held up live.

With a strong sound, the band put on a mesmerising performance. From the very start they hold the audience in thrall to their layered, atmospheric sound.

Engaging and immersive, my attention doesn’t wander once during Wren’s all-too-brief set. Their music comes across very well live, picking up an extra vibrancy and immediacy, while still retaining all of its nuance and texture.

Wren have blown me away, and are just as good as I was hoping for.

Wiegedood – 14:00-14:35 – Terrorizer Stage

Wiegedood

After the straightforward brutality of Disentomb and the textured atmospherics of Wren, it’s time for some real blackened darkness. The sheer quality of De Doden Hebben Het Goed II made catching Wiegedood’s set a must.

The band open with a blistering delivery to a packed house. It seems that few people are willing to risk missing their chance to see a band of Wiegedood’s nature. Although some of the more subtle aspects of the band’s songs are lost in the sound mix, the key aspects of their music remain intact. Things do seem to improve with time though, and ultimately it doesn’t hold the band back at all.

There’s only three of them, but the band fill the stage with their scything blackened sound. The serrated screams of their singer are like liquid knives.

As the only pureblood black metal band here this year, Wiegedood have done the style proud with a razor sharp performance.

Pallbearer – 14:35-15:15 – Jägermeister Stage

Pallbearer

Missing Leng Tch’e is certainly a shame, but I had to witness the mighty Pallbearer. Travelling between stages takes longer than I anticipate, so I arrive to catch the band in full flow.

They seem even heavier live than they do on album, which just imbues their songs with even more power. It’s a testament to the high quality of today’s lineup that this is only the opening band of the main stage; they could easily be headliner material in their own right.

Bathed in purple for most of the set, the band give a spirited and animated performance, and are clearly loving every moment of it. The lead singer’s voice is just as clear and as full of emotional strength as it is on album, and he and the rest of the band play a very enjoyable set. When they play my favourite song of theirs – Dancing in Madness – I’m extremely happy. Simply stunning.

A fire alarm, (or something), goes off during the end of their last song. Although this seemed to necessitate a quicker attempted emptying of the room, with all of the lights turned on full while the band were finishing off, I don’t think most people even noticed.

Top songs, top performance, top band.

Psychedelic Witchcraft – 15:15-15:55 – Eyesore Stage

Psychedelic Witchcraft

Having to choose between Psychedelic Witchcraft and Vallenfyre is almost physically painful, made even worse in some ways by the fact that they are so different. In the end I decided on seeing Psychedelic Witchcraft, as they’re not the kind of band I usually get so heavily into, but there’s just something so incredibly catchy and infectious about their songs.

Full of riotous energy and bundles of enthusiasm, the band’s singer is the focal point of the band’s performance throughout. Her charismatic voice is full of emotive passion and she herself never stands still. She’s a one woman dancing machine. To be fair the rest of the band aren’t exactly idle either, and it’s obvious that this is a band that love what they do. While they’re playing, the rest of the festival just seems to fall away, so engrossing and intimate is their performance.

Psychedelic Witchcraft 2

Coming across heavier live than on record, they have a good earthy sound and they dominate the stage with their presence. Playing a selection of songs that span everything from soft, seductive, and sexy, to upbeat, punchy, and rocking, Psychedelic Witchcraft’s set is one of pure joyous entertainment and fun. Loved it.

Definitely, easily, one of the most captivating and enjoyable performances of the day.

Myrkur – 15:55-16:45 – Jägermeister Stage

Myrkur

I’ve fallen in love with Myrkur’s music, it’s as simple as that. Her journey from debut EP Myrkur, through to full length M, and recently the evolution to Mareridt, has been wonderful to follow, and I can’t get enough of her work so far. As such, I knew I had to see her perform at Damnation.

Myrkur initially appears without fanfare. (soundchecking her guitar), to a suitably large and expectant crowd, but I don’t think most of them notice. When she ‘properly’ appears though, you can tell.

Her impressive voice is flawlessly reproduced live with all of the expressive depth, emotional strength, and withering range that she shows on record. Even more impressive than her clean singing voice in some ways are her piercing screams, as these sound even more pronounced and sharper than they do on album.

As well as an extremely capable singer, she’s an accomplished showwoman too. Dressed mostly in white she dominates the stage, in contrast to the rest of the band who are all in black with hoods and face paint. Most of the time she stalks around like a seductive predator, only truly baring her fangs and letting loose during the blistering and aggressive black metal sections, when her inherent power is unleashed scathingly.

Sometimes the songs don’t so much start and end as bleed into each other, providing the impression of an easy flow to the collection of music that is aired.

Although all parts of the band’s set are flawlessly delivered and highly engaging, there are times during some songs when everything comes together perfectly. During moments like these, the full power and potential of Myrkur is realised, and is absolutely jaw dropping.

A rich and varied show.

17:30-18:20 – Warning – Jaegermeister Stage

Warning

Opening to a decent amount of people, but far fewer than both Pallbearer and Myrkur, Warning are treating those in attendance to a full outing of their classic 2006 album Watching from a Distance.

One of the most unexpected parts of the show is when the singer facilitates a marriage proposal between two people on the balcony above the main floor. I assume she said yes, as the couple seem very, very happy from where I am sitting, and watching them I feel quite touched.

As for the show itself, Warning put on a blinder. Benefiting from a strong, clear sound, the songs ring out with presence and force. The band’s emotive traditional doom metal delivery is very well received, and I can’t help but get swept away in the mournful melodies and evocative riffs. There’s a hypnotic quality to some of the parts of the songs. Repetitively effective and melodically affecting, it’s easy to get lost in the band’s music.

I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of Warning’s show today. More power to them.

18:20-19:10 – Nails – Terrorizer Stage

Nails

In complete contrast to the slow, stately place of Warning, it’s now time for the destructive chaos of Nails. On their devastating 2016 album You Will Never Be One of Us, Nails showed that they were the masters of focused savagery. Today, they utterly demolish the Terrorizer stage.

Speaking of, it’s absolutely jam-packed in here. Nails were always going to be a band that people wanted to see, but this is ridiculous. It’s also the first time today that I’ve really seen a crowd go crazy, complete with a fully fledged pit and crowd surfing.

Still, the band sound great – they sound immense – and play vicious song after vicious song. The singer sounds more brutal than ever live, and he commands the stage with complete authority. Considering his ferocious persona when he’s playing, he’s surprisingly amiable between songs, even apologising for last year’s cancellation.

The band are on for 40 minutes or so, blasting out scathing music that’s harsh, abrasive and merciless. You might think that 40 minutes of punk-fuelled grindcore would get boring. You’d be dead wrong.

Ending with a GBH cover of Sick Boy and then their own Unsilent Death, they’re gone. Savage aggression incarnate. One of the best shows of the day.

19:10-20:10 – Paradise Lost – Jägermeister Stage

Paradise Lost

The clash between Paradise Lost and The Great Discord is every bit as painful as the one between Psychedelic Witchcraft and Vallenfyre. Damn you gods of Damnation! Ultimately though, I had to see Paradise Lost, a band I’ve been listening to for well over two decades now.

Paradise Lost have lost none of their appeal, and the place is packed. Working their way through their extensive discography, the band play a wide selection of songs from multiple eras of their existence.

There are some sounds issues, mainly around the singer’s microphone, but these are soon rectified. From then on, the band really start to hit their stride, and as the show progresses the sound gets better and better.

I think that this is one of the most enjoyable times I’ve seen Paradise Lost. The variety of material alone is something to savour, and unless you follow these things, it’s hard to guess what they’re going to play next. The crowd are clearly enjoying themselves too, and this only adds to the atmosphere that the band foster.

Each song they play is as catchy and anthemic as the rest, either blatantly so, via huge hooks, or subtly so, via mood and feeling. Either way, tonight Paradise Lost’s music shines brightly with Gothic allure. The band’s latest material off this year’s Medusa is warmly received too, and slots in nicely alongside their older tracks.

All of the songs they play are top quality, but some fill me with such rampant joy it’s hard to describe. As I Die is a great example of this, and the cleanly sung version that’s trotted out tonight is just as brilliant as the decades-old original. As for Embers Fire which swiftly follows…well, I’m in metal heaven.

There’s real joy to be had from watching guitarist Aaron Aedy too, as he tends to spend most of his time in his own blissful little metal world, so obviously enjoying what he’s playing that he seems largely oblivious to everything else.

They end with Say Just Words, the crowd is suitably excited, and everyone leaves happy.

20:10-21:00 – Dying Fetus – Terrorizer Stage

Dying Fetus

Dying Fetus are a death metal institution. The band’s latest smasher Wrong One to Fuck With is every bit as ferociously enjoyable as anything they’ve released, and as far as I’m concerned this is a band not to be missed today. So here I am, stuffed into the Terrorizer stage once more. It’s every bit as busy now as it was for Nails.

More catchy and infectious than any brutal death metal band has any right to be, the death metal killing machine that is Dying Fetus tears and rips the stage up with full force, and the crowd respond equally as violently. Even with a sub-standard sound the band still slay.  The crowd are putty in the band’s hands. A circle pit is requested, a circle pit is granted. The crowd, as they say, goes wild.

It’s impossible to stand still while Dying Fetus are playing. If you are, it’s because you’ve already been smushed to a fine paste by the band’s brutal assault. I haven’t been compelled to completely let loose like a headbanging maniac like this in a long time.

Dying Fetus were absolutely fantastic, there’s no other way of putting it. Pure, visceral, energetic, death metal bliss.

21:00-22:00 – Sodom – Jägermeister Stage

Sodom

Although I’m severely tempted to check out Psycroptic‘s technical death metal next, I actually decide to brave the main stage once more to experience legendary German thrashers Sodom.

Sodom take to the stage to rapturous applause and get a spirited crowd reaction throughout, their jagged thrash assault finding many welcome ears today. I’m not overly familiar with Sodom’s material, but that’s clearly not the case for a large portion of the audience, who make their approval well known. Worshipped and cherished like the metal legends they undoubtedly are, their performance tonight befits that veteran status. In a similar fashion to Dying Fetus; circle pit requested, circle pit granted, at least for a time.

It also turns out that I know a surprising number of the tracks that are aired, which I wasn’t expecting. This is largely due to them having been covered by other bands, to be fair. Sodomy and Lust, (covered by Exhumed), is just one such example.

I’m forced to miss out on the latter half of the band’s set unfortunately, (after the whiplash-inducing Outbreak of Evil – which I know from both Abyssus and Vader’s versions of it), as I’m determined to not be caught out by the hordes of grind freaks that will inevitably be crowding the Terrorizer stage for Agoraphobic Nosebleed. However, Sodom keep me suitably entertained until that point, and I leave satisfyingly thrashed, and actually quite disappointed that I didn’t see their full set.

I’ll have to make sure I check our some Sodom albums when I get the chance, as based on what I witness tonight, they’re right up my street.

22:00-23:00 – Agoraphobic Nosebleed – Terrorizer Stage

Agoraphobic Nosebleed

Now here’s a band I never thought I’d see live. A huge fan for almost two decades now, if you’d have told me I’d eventually get to see them, I’d never have believed you. And yet, here I am. Although certainly busy, it’s not completely packed to the rafters like it was for Nails and Dying Fetus.

Nobody quite sounds like Agoraphobic Nosebleed. I have kept myself wilfully ignorant of what kind of set they might deliver at Damnation, hoping to be (un)pleasantly surprised. The band do not disappoint, on any front. With a crystal clear sound that’s as heavy as Hell, this is a performance like few others.

The blistering, abrasive music unfolds one track of unhinged carnage at a time, but all rolled into one huge amorphous mass. Drawing material from an obscenely wide variety of the band’s considerable history, this is like some form of unhinged, insane, free-form stream of consciousness performance, where the only constants in the chaos are heaviness and intensity.

Agoraphobic Nosebleed 2

One guitar, one bass, one digital drummer, two singers; all mayhem. Jay Randall surely has one of the most distinctive voices in extreme metal, and Kat Katz surely has one of the most ferocious.

Ending with the crushing sludge/doom onslaught of Not a Daughter, Agoraphobic Nosebleed leave the stage completely wrecked, with the crowd in a similar state.

Quite simply, Agoraphobic Nosebleed are brilliant and hideously entertaining. I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but the band have surpassed every wild dream I had about experiencing them live. I am so glad that I had the privilege of witnessing this. I’ve finally seen Agoraphobic Nosebleed in the flesh, and it was glorious.

23:00-00:00 – Bloodbath – Jägermeister Stage

Bloodbath

After the insanity of Agoraphobic Nosebleed, it’s late, I’m tired, but there’s more to come yet. Yes, there’s always time for some death metal, especially when played in the Swedish style and has the pedigree of Bloodbath.

Boasting the second set of the day to feature the singer of Paradise Lost, Bloodbath are a more atavistic and primal proposition than that of his main band. He’s on fine form though, both between songs and when delivering them. He also appears to be dressed as some form of evil priest, so there’s that too.

The band are covered in blood and filth, as befits their name. They enthusiastically tear through the material, old and new, with enthusiasm and style. Given the experience of some of the members of the band, I’d expect no less.

Bloodbath 2

Bloodbath go down very well, and the crowd rightfully lap it all up; they clearly still have enough energy left in reserve even after a long day of metal, which is great to see.

Bloodbath bring the 2017 Damnation Festival to a blood-soaked, sweaty conclusion. A fitting end to a day of top quality music.

So there you have it, another very successful Damnation Festival. This is an event that just seems to get better every year. Although the UK has many good festivals, Damnation has long been my favourite. Based on today, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. If you didn’t make it down this year, make sure you make it for 2018.

Check out the Damnation Festival website and Facebook.

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