On the first weekend of November the gates of the University of Leeds opened once again for the fans of extreme and all kinds of metal. Damnation Festival, as the biggest organization of the North, entertained us with no less than 27 bands scattered through four stages within the walls of the University. It was obvious that after last year’s sold out edition the organizers wouldn’t give up with the festival and the 11th year was guaranteed – even if the festival has seen better line-ups during its decade-long existence. Most of the performers were invited from the populous camp of the underground metal scene and the crown on the bill was 2014’s biggest return act, namely At The Gates, but let’s start from the beginning.
The Terrorizer stage literally exploded as The King is Blind blasted off with their concise and merciless set. The quartet from Essex is still a relatively fresh formation with one EP under their belt. However, this time they promoted their forthcoming album with the second track on their set; which was an unbelievably massive composition with thick sound and tight rhythm that generated a riot outbreak within the crowd. The full album is planned to be released at the beginning of next year.
The King is Blind’s show was a cracking way to start the day and I was impressed instantly with the lighting effects as well. Light beams were pierced through the thick smoke and gave me the impression of a sea battle where the spotlights of several navy destroyers were scanning the water searching for the target to liquidate.
Luckily, due to the four-stage layout the technical crew had plenty of time to load in and out after each performance. The gap between the slots seemed to be beneficial in terms of some short soundcheck as well.
Not long after the kick-off gig, the Belgian Wiegedood was next on the same stage. The band traditionally performs their one and only entire album titled De Doden Hebben Het Goed. This time due to the tight time frame they had to skip the first track. Such a pity because that particular song called ’Svanesang’ contains the most beautiful melodies throughout the release. Despite the mutilated set, Wiegedood summoned the spirit of sorrow and fury – exactly what we expected.
Risen from the ashes of Akercocke a couple of years ago, I was in for a treat. Voices is a great band with a progressive soundscape that came through nicely live. When the bass amp head fell down and the show stopped I thought it stopped for good. But thanks to the crew the problem was solved rapidly and the gig continued as if nothing had happened. I especially enjoyed the guitar play in the song ’Vicarious Lover’. Despite the technical mishap Voices gave an intense, fast and engaging performance. (by Vivien Varga)
Female vocalists are always pleasing to see for me. Oathbreaker was just as satisfying to see as well as to hear the overwhelming screams of the front-wraith. Vocalist Caro Tanghe’s presence accompanied by her voice and movements looked as if she had been possessed by something.
The band shares a guitarist with their fellow band Wiegedood and probably also shares some of their hypnotising influences as well. These influences could possibly be linked to Ghen in Belgium, the same area and scene which both bands originate from. Oathbreaker likely gains inspiration from trash and hardcore sources rather than focusing only on atmospheric elements but both mentioned characteristics are noticable in their music.
The Ocean, for me, was one of the highlights at this festival. They played Damnation a few times before but this year it was the first time on the main stage. In the middle of their set, vocalist Loic skipped on the monitors and carried on singing from the balcony. And (not so) unexpectedly he jumped off the balcony and crowd-surfed his way back to the stage, while still carrying on with singing. They closed the set with ’The Quiet Observer’, their recently released song. The only downside I found was with the cellist who was a great addition to their performance but it seemed to be somehow lost. (by Vivien Varga)
Unfortunately, Witchsorrow and Sólstafir played at the same time so I had to be quick to at least try drain the essence of each shows. Witchsorrow filled the room in front of the basement stage with ease. Despite their British origin they are pretty much Southern rock influenced, however the two factors are not incompatible. Slow heavy riffs, tight solos, sleeveless denim jackets and patches. Listening to their traditional liquer-soaked doom rock, I imagined them playing in one of Tarantino’s Mexican road pub scene. Perfect match and cool scene in front of my spiritual eyes.
The members from Sólstafir are simply genius. We’ve all known it for a long time but with their latest opus titled Ótta they proved it for good. The band’s musical approach moves between Nordic ambient metal and somewhere the edge of psychedelic rock. All these elements were entirely represented during the gig. As far as I could tune on them, they created an incredible atmosphere with an incredibly massive sound. They could manage to summon pretty much the same feelings you can have when you listen to the studio albums. Even the most committed moshers took a short break during their short 50-minute slot. I can’t wait for their next UK tour to catch them again.
Asphyx dedicated their set to the late Martin Kearns, the drummer of Bolt Thrower, who sadly passed away not very long ago. Their balanced set covered songs from the first and last album. ’Deathhammer’ was definitely a highlight and as I was watching the crowd they didn’t need much encouragement to bang their heads and raise their fists in the air in appreciation. Also, vocalist Martin admitted nearly choked on his own hair while singing; so Asphyx couldn’t have been more apt.
I have to nail it down, High on Fire doesn’t belong to the camp of sophisticated rock assemebles but they can be described as an unleashed alcohol steamed locomotive that is on its way down to hell with full throttle. More than likely that’s exactly their goal and they want to take all of us with them. Vocalist Matt Pike was a tireless beast during the entire show. The tempo he dictated was cruel and exhausted the crowd as well as his band mates. It’s not easy to play this type of rock ‘n’ roll but if a band does it well it can lead to success and sold out shows. I would say we just saw the new Motörhead.
Sadly, the whole day flew by too quickly – literally with light speed – and then I realised it was already time to see the headliner of the day.
At The Gates is one of those bands which never disappoints and always delivers. Their set included mostly songs from At War With Reality and classics like ’Slaughter of the Soul’ and ’Nausea’. Of course, during the song ’Under a Serpent Sun’ the singalong with Tompa was inevitable. Constant crowd surfers and moshpits throughout the whole set. ’Night Eternal’ and ’Kingdom Gone’ closed the night and the festival itself. (by Vivien Varga)
Damnation is a festival for the fans by the fans and is like a big family. Compared to last year when I found it extremely difficult to move between the stages because it was so packed, this year the capacity was reduced to make it more comfortable for us. Additionally, every Damnation festival I have attended there has always been a band or two I hadn’t been familiar with which ended up being my new favourite; this only shows the quality selection by the organisers. So, all in all, great line-up for a friendly priced ticket.
For me as a first-timer at Damnation Festival, it seemed too complicated to navigate between the stages because the stage names were hardly visible. Nonetheless, I had a good time in Leeds where the prices were just as friendly as the people.
All live photography courtesy of Vivien Varga and MetalRecusants.com.