Damnation Festival – Leeds University, 03/11/18 (Live Review)

Damnation Festival 2018 Header

The UK’s Damnation Festival has once again rolled around, and it’s time for all good music fans to get themselves to Leeds and bask in the amazing lineup that the festival gods always seem to be able to pull together. As you can see from the above poster, this year boasted some great talent.

The running times I’ll post below, so you can get an idea of how the day ran. The festival was once again sold out this year, and really felt it.

Damnation Festival 2018 Times

Leeched – Tone Mgmt Stage

Leeched

Out of the two options available for opening bands I chose the chunky brutality of Leeched, assuming they’d be capable of starting things off with a bang. I was right, although I suppose it’s less of a bang and more of a gradual increase in feedback and distortion.

There’s a very good turnout for the band. They’re loud, belligerent, and warm people up nicely. Their set is essentially one near-seamless 30-minute performance piece of brutality and thunderous heaviness. Massive chugs, plenty of squeals, caustic blasts, huge sludgy riffs, industrialised beats, and very harsh roars; the day’s off to a decent start.

Hundred Year Old Man – Cult Never Dies Stage

Hundred Year Old Man

After Leeched it’s then a short hop over to the Cult Never Dies stage to see Hundred Year Old Man. As the only band playing today without a clash with anyone else, it’s absolutely packed, which is especially pleasing/surprising considering it’s still early.

The band are shrouded in primordial mist and near-darkness, only seeming to gradually appear, much like their music, which builds momentum and atmosphere as time goes on.

Hundred Year Old Man 2

The band’s intelligent grasp of post-metal mechanics translates live into an energetic and mesmerising performance. I find them utterly captivating, and the 30 minutes that they have allotted to them flies by far too quickly. They end with what’s probably their most accomplished song – Black Fire – and their entire set is a triumph.

Fukpig – Tone Mgmt Stage

Cranky, belligerent, and with a palpable energetic and spiky attitude, it’s time for Fukpig.

How to adequately describe Fukpig’s destructive mayhem? Six masked miscreants tearing up the stage with punky, nasty grindcore…this is accurate, but misses how visceral they are. Although it might initially seem a bit strange to say this about this sort of band, but there’s something joyously fun and life-affirming about Fukpig. The band just seem to be enjoying themselves so much on stage, and it’s absolutely infectious.

Fukpig (2)

The room’s heaving and I see my first moshpit and stagediver of the day. Fukpig know how to work a crowd, and their short, fast, violent music is tailor-made for this. They also play what’s my favourite track of theirs – Belief Is the Death of Intelligence – which makes me a happy bunny. Although I’m forced to miss the last couple of minutes of their set, everything up to this point has been great fun.

Cancer – Jägermeister Stage

Cancer (1)

With any high-quality festival lineup like this, there will always be clashes. Out of all of the bands playing today there are many clashes of two bands I would both like to see playing at the same time. Most of the time, however, which one to see has been a relatively easy decision to make – maybe I like one band better, or maybe I’ve seen one band more often/recently, or maybe one is more likely to tour the UK in the future, etc. However, with the Cancer/Møl clash, and I’ve been genuinely agonising about this for weeks. In the end I had to decide that this would be an undecided wildcard, and I’d end up seeing whichever one I felt like on the day.

I’ve probably been overthinking it…

Anyway, after that far too lengthy preamble, I ended up watching Cancer, because the lure of seeing their old-school death metal was just too strong.

Opening with C.F.C., the band start as they mean to go on, with song-based classic death metal that positively kicks arse. There may only be three of them on stage, but they fill it with ease. Although some clarity issues in the sound department do initially rob the band of their full power, it’s still great to hear these bloody cuts aired live.

Cancer (2)

The new songs from their released-the-day-before album mix seamlessly in with their decades-old classics, although it’s older cuts like Into the Acid that get the better crowd response, perhaps understandably. The sound slowly and reluctantly improves as the set progresses, and Cancer pull off a solid opening to the main stage, until something unexpected and unfortunate happens – a fire alarm goes off during Tasteless Incest, and the venue is evacuated. I remember the same thing happening during Pallbearer‘s set last year, but they just ended up playing through it, whereas Cancer’s power was cut mid-song and everyone was quickly removed from the venue. A definite shame.

Ohhms – Eyesore Merch Stsge

Ohhms

The decision of whether to see Ohhms or Lik is made for me, as upon being let back into the venue the lower level stages are still closed with a huge queue, whereas the Eyesore Merch stage is open for business. Set times are a bit all over the place for most of the rest of the day as a result of the evacuation. Not ideal, but understandable.

Anyway, I walk in to find Ohhms in full glorious flow, with their bassist in the middle of the crowd. Playing the immense Subjects off their new album Exist, (which is not released for another week), it’s a clearly emotive and meaningful performance from the band. Animated, full of energy, and clearly loving what they’re doing, Ohhms live are quite the titanic force.

The band’s collective individuality and personality come through strongly. Their performance is purposeful and vibrant with life, but in a very different way to Fukpig earlier. Ohhms dominate the stage with their presence, and they put on a riotously good show. With so much charisma and character it almost hurts, Ohhms are a shockingly good live act.

Ne Obliviscaris – Jägermeister Stage

Ne Obliviscaris (1)

On the main stage now it’s time for Ne Obliviscaris‘ refined and sophisticated take on progressive extremity. I was so captivated and enthralled by Ohhms that I couldn’t drag myself away, so I expected to miss the start of Ne Obliviscaris. Turns out I needn’t have been concerned, as everything is now running behind, as mentioned above.

The band start their show with a largely clear, powerful sound. They make the most of this admirably, while it lasts anyway. The clean vocals in particular sound very…well, clean. In contrast, the other singer’s growls spend most of the time too low in the mix. The violin is exquisite, however, (at least until it’s dropped later on in their set, and it then takes a while to work its way back up the mix). There are some other sound gremlins too, but not enough to really hold the band back too much.

Ne Obliviscaris (2)

Clearly a popular band, they don’t disappoint the crowd that has gathered to see them. The songs aired, mainly from Urn and Citadel until the end of their set, all get a good reaction, and the band’s precise, professional delivery sees them more than worthy of their main stage slot.

Overall Ne Obliviscaris were very enjoyable indeed.

Rosetta – Eyesore Merch Stage

Rosetta

I’ve been a big fan of Rosetta for many years, and they’re one of those bands I never thought I’d get to see live. Thank you Damnation Festival!

I miss the start of their show as set times are still a bit funky since the fire alarm. What I do see is both impressive and enjoyable, however. The band reproduce their expansive and nuanced sound well live, and the songs come to life in the band’s hands. Taking on a raw primal aspect, the post-rock elements of the band’s sound seem to have been marginalised a tad in favour of their rhythmic and heavier components, at least for a some of the time.

The band’s frontman is personable and friendly, and he also announces a new record at the end of December, which goes down well. I look forward to it.

Rosetta prove themselves to be a capable and worthwhile live act.

Anaal Nathrakh – Jägermeister Stage

Anaal Nathrakh

After releasing one of the strongest albums of their careers – A New Kind of Horror – it’s great to witness Anaal Nathrakh tear up the main stage with their individual and utterly merciless style.

They open with Obscene as Cancer, and even a dodgy sound can’t completely rob the song of its potency, although it tries. The drums do their very best to overpower everything, but even despite this it’s hard to deny just how ferocious Anaal Nathrakh are. The sound manages to balance out somewhat over time, and the true strength of the songs starts to come through. Another new song aired – Forward! – sounds particularly crushing.

Blessed with a singer who can not only scream, shout, and sing incredibly well, he’s also a natural frontman with bundles of charisma. Between songs he effortlessly entertains the crowd with humour and wit.

Anaal Nathrakh rule.

Entombed A.D. – Jägermeister Stage

Entombed AD

Running behind still, but it’s time for Entombed A.D.

I’ve never heard any Entombed A.D. songs, so this material is totally unfamiliar to me, but I do know the classic Entombed songs that are played, of course.

Most of my time spent watching Entombed A.D. is split between their bassist with his unfeasibly long hair, and their singer who stomps around the stage like an enraged bear.

The set is entertaining enough, but I’m forced to leave early, (after the mighty Wolverine Blues), in order to see Batushka.

Batushka – Tone Mgmt Stage

Well, in hindsight I should have left much, much earlier. Holy crap, I knew Batushka were going to be popular, but this is ridiculous. By the time I get down to the entrance to the lower stages there’s a loooong queue and it’s moving sloooow. After far too long I eventually get in, although ‘in’ just means a few bodies into the top of the room. I’ve never seen the stage this packed – it wasn’t even as bad as this for Nails last year, and that was pretty full. You’ll note the lack of pictures of this band, as I had no chance of getting any.

Anyway, what little I do see and hear – about three or four song’s worth – is great. The band have an impressive stage show and presence, all hooded garb and ritualistic occult accoutrements, and the heaving crowd laps it all up. Maybe it’s just me, from where I was located, but the sound seemed a little on the quiet/weak side. As I say, it was probably where I was though.

Having annoyingly missed this band earlier on in the year when they played with Schammasch, I was overjoyed when they were announced for this year’s Damnation. I can’t wait to properly see them in the future, when I have a good view of them and am not hidden away at the back far from the action. Judging by their popularity today, it’ll be the main stage for them next time.

Ihsahn – Jägermeister Stage

Ihsahn (1)

What a legend. In many ways this is the highlight of the festival for me. After listening to Ihsahn’s work for almost 25 years in one form or another, it’s great to finally witness him in the flesh. He doesn’t disappoint, either.

We also seem to be back on track with set start times too. The crowd is surprisingly empty at first, but that’s probably due to Batushka absorbing seemingly the entire venue into one too-small stage.

Opening with Lend Me the Eyes of Millennia it’s a huge and impressive sound that the band have. It’s the best sound of all of the main stage bands so far,  although it could still be clearer in places.

Ihsahn (2)

Rich and varied, Ihsahn’s music is translated live with professional ease as he and his band run through song after song of exceptional progressive metal delights. Songs like Until I Too Dissolve, The Paranoid, and My Heart Is of the North, are very well-received, although to be honest you could pick any of the songs aired tonight and say that; it’s a very strong set. Featuring a great mix of accessibility, catchiness, aggression, and complexity, Ihsahn’s music goes down a storm.

I’m especially happy that Celestial Violence is played as it’s one of my favourites. Amazing. When this is followed by Frozen Lakes on Mars the crowd eat it up. I’m absolutely overjoyed when A Grave Inversed appears, (another strong favourite); this song is quirky intensity made manifest. I’m floored.

Closing with Wake of his latest album Ámr, Ihsahn has been more than worth the wait.

The Ocean – Eyesore Merch Stage

The Ocean (1)

I’m unhappy about not seeing the mighty Vader, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to once again bask in The Ocean‘s excellence. The band’s latest album was only released the day before, but still features heavily in their set tonight.

The queue for The Ocean is unpleasantly large by the time I get there. I can hear them start though, (Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence), which is better than nothing I suppose. By the time I get in there I’ve missed about 10 minutes of the set, and they’re playing Ordovicium: The Glaciation of Gondwana. For a few glorious moments I thought that they might be playing the new album in its entirety, (it’s that good), but no, as the next song up is Hadopelagic II: Let Them Believe off their previous album Pelagial.

The Ocean have a lot of excellent songs, and tonight the lucky people in the Eyesore Merch stage get an hour’s worth of them.

The stage is jam-packed, but does thin after a while. Mysterious, yet still personable and not off-putting, The Ocean’s presence is palpable as they move in a highly animated fashion through a stage wreathed in fog and low lights. With a strong sound the band’s music shines through the atmospherically dim lighting to enthral and captivate the audience. And move them, too.

Between song drone keeps us company while the band collect themselves for the next epic to be unleashed, but unlike previous times when I’ve seen this band, the singer does say a few words to the audience now and again too. During the songs, his expressive and versatile voice impresses live, and his performance is definitely a focal point. He’s all over the stage, and sometimes off it. About halfway through the set he jumps into the audience and sings from atop the crowd for a while. It’s not the only time he does this either.

The Ocean (2)

The band seem to just get better as the evening progresses too. Silurian: Age of Sea Scorpions is colossal. After this we get an instrumental track off their Precambrian: Proterozoic album – Statherian – which is stunningly rendered, with the heavy parts getting the crowd moving more than ever. I’d be hard-pressed to name my favourite album by The Ocean, so good is their work, but Precambrian: Proterozoic would be in the top three. This is why I particularly enjoy Statherian and the one that follows – Orosirian. Not only is the latter a great song, but the band are joined on stage by the singer of Rosetta. Both the band and the crowd seem to explode.

They end with another first-rate cut off the new album – Permian: The Great Dying – and although they may be overrunning and eating into Napalm Death, it’s more than worth it to witness their fantastic show.

The Ocean (3)

Napalm Death – Jägermeister Stage

Napalm Death

I’ve seen Napalm Death live more times than I can remember, but they never lose their raw, visceral impact or their ability to put on a blinding show. It’s been quite a few years since I saw Napalm Death last, actually, so although I’d like to see Ghost Bath again, I saw them not so long ago with Katatonia, so Napalm Death are my headliners of choice today.

By the time The Ocean have finished and I make my way to the main stage, Napalm Death are unleashing chaos in their own inimitable way. I enter just prior to Practice What You Preach and it’s obvious that the band have lost none of what makes them such a great proposition since the last time I caught them live.

Passionate and lively on stage, the band are headliners through and through. The singer is as entertaining between songs as ever, and of course during them his brutal bark sounds like nobody else around.

After experiencing the nuanced and intricate deliveries of Ihsahn and The Ocean, it’s easy to forget just how enjoyably effective grindcore can be in the hands of masters like Napalm Death. With an immense back catalogue to plunder, theirs is a set that couldn’t disappoint if it really tried to. Spanning decades, songs old and new are blasted out with the subtlety of a sledgehammer and the forceful impact of the same. They play a few tracks off their latest compilation album Coded Smears and More Uncommon Slurs too, which I was pleased by.

The band end with a crushing rendition of Siege of Power, and then leave the stage as kings.

A tiring, excellent day.

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