Atmosphere was the key word at Damnation Festival and back over on the Eyesore Merchandise Stage as Portuguese act Sinistro unleashed a sonic tour-de-force. Though a relatively new act its members hold combined decades of performance experience, and there was something of the avant-garde about this set. Vocalist Patricia Andrade was as forceful in her dancing as she was elegant in her singing, and to top it off she was the beneficiary of carefully arranged lighting that ensured she was almost floodlit while her band mates moved behind and around her in relative shadow.
Amid the doom, sludge and much darker elements of the Damnation line-up there was room for some progressive metal in the form of Oceans of Slumber on the Jagermeister Stage. Perhaps the most technically proficient band of the day, they also more than held their own in terms of bringing the heavy. At times the whole group combined for a full on vocal assault, which together with the intense speed of the rhythm section and guitar mastery made for genuine sonic excellence.
After this aural assault, the Terrorizer stage beckons. This is easily one of my favourite venues to watch bands in, and the three tiers of the venue allow audience members to either look down on the stage or get into the fray in front of the stage. I opt for the former during Mithras’ set, standing towards the back, looking on with a beer in my hand, in order to fully take in this jaw dropping masterclass in Tech-Death wizardry. It’s an incredibly spectacle of tight, controlled virtuosity, blending harsh Death Metal tones with Proggy flourishes, the set-list borrowing heavily from the bands newest, critically acclaimed fourth record, ‘On Strange Loops’.
As 3.30 rolls around, I rush to the Refectory for the first of two times in the day to watch Hang The Bastard play their final show. And what a show it is; the band throw their all into their forty minute set, infectious grooves and confident swagger marking their show out as one of the more ferocious of the day. Needless to say, the packed venue gives them the send-off they thoroughly deserve. Were it not for a recommendation from my brother to go see them, I doubt I would have been there, and I’m extremely glad that I got a chance to see this show before they called it a day.
Back on the Terrorizer Stage, it’s time for what proves to be one of the highlights of the festival, in the form of Venom Prison, who put on an absolutely mind-blowing show. This is a set made up of gnarly Death Metal and crushing, crunching guitar lines that single them out as the premier Death Metal act on the bill. Borrowing heavily from their début album, Animus, which has only been out for a few weeks, and the Primal Chaos EP, this is a band that ties together old school Death Metal riffs and some great, punishing Hardcore elements, which make for a dark and haunting stage presence that’s not easily forgotten.
Employed to Serve, over on the MINE stage, up the ante during their set, providing what is arguably one of the most explosive and fierce performances of the day. They are visceral, sharp and jarring, with a hefty and substantial sound that hits you hard from the first note to the last. They may not have the longest or most attended show of the day, but few would argue that this was not the most aggressive and energetic on offer.
Ne Obliviscaris put on a display that is, like their music, extreme and awe-inspiring. It’s close to an hour of concentrated, polished musical prowess that carries the audience through primal, oppressive chaos and intricate, atmospheric moments. This bands name literally translates to “Forget Not” from Latin, and with a set as epic and glorious as this, it’s safe to say that those who got a chance to see them today won’t be forgetting this show quickly.
By this point in the day, it is 7p.m, and the sun is long gone, shrouding Leeds in darkness. It’s only fitting that the tone of the music should begin to take a turn towards the dark and the macabre as well. And the Infernal Sea are the band most fitting to take us into that darkness. I don’t think I can adequately put into words just how good this band are live, and how unbelievably amazing there are tonight. They’re a band that never fails to please when they play live, combining razor-sharp guitar lines, hellish vocals and unrelenting drums along with a powerful and theatrical stage presence. For me, they stand are easily the best band of the day, and illustrate that they are one of the shining stars of Britain’s contemporary Extreme Metal scene.
Back on the Terrorizer stage, Akercocke put on show that ranks as yet another high point of this year’s festival. Along with two new tracks, ‘Disappear’ and ‘Inner Sanctum’, the band charge through many of their established classics, such as fan favourites like ‘Leviathan’, ‘The Dark Inside’, ‘Song of the Morning’ and ‘A Skin for Dancing In’. Since the band returned to the stage in August (a show that I was lucky enough to catch), they have been going from strength to strength, re-asserting their position as one of the best Extreme Metal bands this country has to offer.
The second to last band that I see is one I’ve been waiting to see live for a while. I’ve spent most of the day talking about them to anyone who’ll listen, promising them a chance to watch “some incredible fucking Doom”. Off of the back of this promise, I’ve managed to entice a few of my friends down to the MINE stage to get a glimpse of Dread Sovereign. The Irish trio deliver a great show, pummeling those who’ve made their way down with thundering bass lines, grim, eldritch guitar lines and focused, primal drumming, wrapping the audience up in their spell for a whole hour and making fans out of my friends that I managed to drag along.
Speaking of highlights, one of the most anticipated sets of the festival was the performance of the entire Mariner album by Swedish rockers Cult of Luna and American vocalist Julie Christmas. The Jagermeister Stage was packed to capacity for this one, and expectations were high. With themes of space exploration it was obvious that this was going to be one of the more out of this world experiences of Damnation, and as the music began and all the players stood silhouetted against some truly ambient lighting, the performance definitely lived up to everyone’s hopes. There is nothing quite like the sight of rows upon rows of heads banging in unison to awesome music, and in the magnificent lighting of this stage it looked like waves on the ocean.
Abbath is a little bit controversial these days. Well most days really, but as the masses of by now fairly inebriated metal heads gathered once more at the Jagermeister Stage
for one of the festival headliners it was hard to ignore the persistent chatter and rumour. Some questioned whether the set would be any good, while others wondered if things were all right backstage, and gossip about unprofessionalism and on the job binge drinking were rife. As it turned out, the set was delayed by twenty minutes as the group’s lighting fixtures were put in place. Then, when the performance finally began, the former Immortal front man’s vocals were completely inaudible during the first number. Things did pick up from there though, and as the set went on the audience began to really enjoy themselves. As one of the more noteworthy (well notorious) figures of the black metal scene, Abbath Doom Occulta has understandable presence, and despite the late start and early technical problems the bombastic fun for which he is beloved was definitely there for all to see.
Electric Wizard, who bring proceedings to a close in a blaze of Psychedelia, fuzzy tones and unmatchable atmosphere. They are, as always, impressive to watch live, with their visuals, stage presence and potent music combining to create one of the most hypnotic musical experiences you’re likely to see. Churning through many of their fan favourites, including ‘Funeralopolis’ and ‘Witchcult Today’, as well as ‘Incense for the Damned’ from ‘Time to Die’, they do a great job of providing a fittingly good climax to a great Damnation Festival. It’s safe to say that by the time the last notes die away, and the venue begins to empty, that everyone has been completely blown away by the band.
Despite the sheer volume of human traffic in a partially under construction venue, not helped by the fact that the main toilets went out of order at some point in the middle of the day, this was a tremendous day of exquisite metal. Damnation is rapidly growing, perhaps to the extent that in the very near future they’ll need an even bigger venue to host even more acts. In 2016, it was once again one of the stand out underground festivals of the UK metal scene.
WORDS BY MICHAEL DODD AND DANIEL SANDERSON