Greg McIntosh (Paradise Lost) is a great front man. Created to cope with the loss of his father, Vallenfyre is a beast with ‘Cathedrals Of Dread’ and ‘Humanity Wept’ commanding attention. Full of cynicism the vehement negativity spewing from the amplifiers threatened to crush you under the weight of filth, encrusted riffs. Inciting a chat of “Yorkshire, Yorkshire” for their effort from the assembled faithful this was a masterful performance which will have been a highlight for many.
Moss, however, were just plain derivative. Essentially Black Sabbath slowed to a drone. Front man Olly Pearson looked and sounded like Ozzy, even sporting the low-slung cross. It was an epic, ominous sound but incredibly generic all the same.
In Manchester the night before Damnation, Jonas Renkse had apparently seemed happy. ‘It’s taken long enough’, commented one wag. He didn’t seem too morose tonight either, possibly as the main stage’s apron was completely rammed for the first time. It showed in the might and superiority of Katatonia’s performance: playing, as they had throughout their mini-tour, much of their classic Viva Emptiness album, the undeniably shoegaze melancholia was augmented by a stoic power, Renkse’s husky tones lending the sad emotion of ‘The Longest Year’ a real poignancy. Surely there’s no more emotive band than this right now: muscular yet achingly beautiful, Jonas’ hand permanently fixed to his midriff and further conveying the heartfelt candour of the words. With one of us having to tear himself away in order to ensure entrance to the ever more problematic Terrorizer area, Rotting Christ set out to prove it was worth the sacrifice. A tolling intro opened out into a track so old it escaped the knowledge of even our two RC worshipping companions, followed by that Lamb of God groove and dragged into a unique sphere by eastern keyboard flurries, Greek bagpipes and all manner of indigenous influence. Sakis’ command of the Yorkshire brogue was both limited yet disarming and the crowd remained devoted to him to the end: his stuttering vocal delivery accompanied by roaring, occasionally rustic rhythms and crunching riffs. Early tracks such as ‘King of a Stellar Wall’ were delivered with a latter-day epic kitsch and no end of chest beating. There was gravity, humour and a quality of real metal in a stunning set which will go down in this year’s classics.
The gargantuan oppressive sounds of Cult Of Luna competed with RC across the hall in what has to be the worse stage time clash in the festival’s history. The Swedish outfit was not to be outdone however pulling in a large crowd in the main room who are captivated by the claustrophobic intensity and austere soundscapes. Towering numbers like ‘Adrift’marry sheer oppressive heaviness with a delicate morose beauty akin to Joy Division. This year’s Vertikal opus saw Cult Of Luna solidify their reputation as an unmissable act.
That the sonic might of Conan was required to close the day at the same time as the legends of Carcass is criminal. One of the heaviest bands in the world right now were woefully underrepresented in the crowd, yet still proceeded to waste the room with a sludged-out assault made even more impressive by the fact that the physically imposing figures of Jon Davis and Paul O’Neill were laying this stuff down in thick hoodies. The few who did witness this mighty set lapped up every shuddering note, every droning, vibrating chord, and every bone-shattering beat of the drum. Davis’ high wail complimented Phil Coumbe’s demented roar perfectly, with Headless Hunter rattling the foundations of the earth. It was easy for the majority to opt for the big name, but their fellow Liverpudlians were the true epitome of this festival. Conan, like its namesake, fucking slew.
Cynically, Carcass dissects us with ‘No Love Lost’. Jeff Walker is in fine form leading fans through ‘This Mortal Coil’ while Bill Steer and trade harmonies, which are greeted by a flurry of, devil horns.
‘Reek Of Putrefaction’ sounds as fresh as it did in 1987. Ken Owen’s obligatory guest drum solo, now played by new drummer Daniel Wilding, is always a heart warmer before the coup de grace of ‘Keep On Rotting In The Free World’ brings the curtain down on the finest Damnation yet.
The undeniable plaudits for Damnation 2013 must be delivered with a hint of caution. Many revellers attempting to take in all of the bands complained of exhaustion and certain overlaps, which robbed fans of either the beginning or culmination of many sets – often the most dramatic areas of a live set. There may be an argument for a few less bands in future: overall, however, Gavin McNally and crew once again deserve high praise for a truly mammoth event.
Words: Paul Quinn and Ross Baker
Photos: SAR PHOTOGRAPHY