Damnation Festival Part 2: Live at Leeds University

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After bumping into three-quarters of Undersmile who by their own admission were now “on a band outing”, it was time for tea, and also to enjoy half an hour with our “Pressed out” esteemed UK Editor. As Diego Costa massacred a defender’s facial features (odd that…) on the big screen, the magnificent Old Bar provided wondrous sustenance in the form of a chilli dog, death burger and storming IPAs for just around £15.00.

This was all damaged in time to witness one of the final showings of the majestic Altar of Plagues, a band still vital, still relevant, always adored and fully compelling. The Blackened Industrial outfit caused the first real queue into Eyesore, testament to the appeal of the Irishmen who showed with mind-blowing creativity and a little more action (plus a real drummer) what C.R.O.W.N. could have achieved. It was almost impossible to see through the – yes, you guessed it – ridiculous light display, but the drama that the Boys infused into all by the inflections of their riffs was impossible to ignore. Leaning on the cabs of the mixing desk it’s staggering to see the calm yet assured way mixers Johnny and Harry help to make this all sound so dynamic: indeed, as the impossibly youthful James Kelly issues a subtle “cheers Leeds”, you’re nevertheless almost unsure who to watch next. Especially as there were no flashing lights emanating from the lesser-known duo…the swell of the closing coda was a fitting climax to a blinding set in more ways than one.

The second journalist to take the stage today, Nick Ruskell’s Witchsorrow plied forth their Electric Wizard-esque Doom which, though musically strong and ripping through the packed room, is not augmented by Ruskell’s limited vocal and rather unimaginative stage banter [PQ].

Solstafir at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price

Solstafir at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price

Last year, Icelandic post-rockers Solstafir walked away with all the (non-Bolt Thrower) plaudits, with the second stage unable to contain their emotive, powerful epics, punters locked out and the room filled to bursting. Invited back to sprinkle their magic dust over the main stage, once again Aðalbjörn Tryggvason holds Leeds University effortlessly in the palm of his hands, their beautiful, lapping, and pervasive striking hymns swirling and rapturously received [ST]

Amenra at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price

Amenra at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price

 

Listening to Colin van Eeckhout, however, is like listening to a tormented angel. First harmonising in Benedictine style, then screaming in twisted agony. Barefoot and in shorts, he sprang as the incredible Amenra reduced the hall violently to tears in an instant; Eeckhout facing backwards, bounding and screaming maniacally whilst vast swathes of post-Black Metal crashed about him. There were few flashing lights here: just a black-and-white backdrop flickering between speeding clouds, rippling water and Flanders fields-style explosions. The drama, the mysticism, was as potent as the sparing chords shimmering from the guitars of the frankly alarming Levy Seynaeve: van Eeckhout’s head bowed, the aching wounds apparent in the ensuing screams. Halfway through ‘Nowena 9|10’, he spun and faced us ever so briefly, and the image was complete. Subsequently removing his t-shirt as he knelt toward the drums for the unnerving ‘Boden’, the tension and empathy could be touched. Shattered, spent bodies were somehow stood absorbing every last increase of sound. All bar the knelt, bowed body of the greatest living ball of intensity I’ve ever encountered.

Amenra were beyond moving and I’m unashamed to say that I was violently sobbing as I rocked back and forth with the troubling yet transcendent experience.

Robbie is in his fifties, and took his security role seriously yet with a degree of deadpan which endears him to the punter. “There’s never any bother here. Well, apart from it killing mi legs” he reflected with a cheeky yet droll sarcasm. Directing entry to both the Terrorizer and ‘Mine areas, it was an intense yet obviously enjoyable role for him.

Meanwhile, at ‘Mine, it was hard misfortune that saw arguably the UK’s best Occult Doom band slotted in between two of the best live draws in World metal, and clashing with High On Fire. As a result, the dungeon was half-full for a crushing set from The Wounded Kings. An atmospheric experimentalism married with a pulverising groove, Steve Mills’ solos were a real breath of air whilst George Birch’s oscillating vocal is almost unique, Pete Steele-like; his guitar squealing, his shapes mesmeric, the man has grown into a consummate frontman. It was great to see the two old friends duelling together in what is now a real unit, with closing track ‘The Message’ a whirling mass of pulsating noise.

Primordial at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price

And so to the Greatest Band in the World™. Certainly, surely, the greatest frontman. It’s staggering that there’s room at all to get in to see Primordial, but thank the Heavy Metal Gods that there were a few slivers for a chubby dude to slip in to. “We meet again!” hollers Nemtheanga after a rapturously received ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’, and once more a rapt throng is in the palm of his hand – if there was ever any doubt. ‘Babel’s Tower’ saw a worshipping collective almost motionless as they dropped on every word, every dramatic itonation, every plaintive act of defiance, every indelible scream. “Everywhere I look I see old friends” uttered a typically effusive Alan Averill, subsequently leading the audience participation of ‘As Rome Burns’, a powerhouse which grabbed all in roared intonations. The euphoric yet moving ‘Wield Lightning to Split the Sun’ had Averill beckoning and clawing his belly with wrought passion, asking the usual question: “Are You With Us?!”

Primordial at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price

Primordial at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price

As ever, as One, we were.

As is always the case, the closing band on the ‘Mine stage was half-attended. As always it was a big miss for the ovine hordes. Tonight 40 Watt Sun were minimalist, light yet crushing, and utterly heartbreaking. This band transcends Doom heaviness, Post musicality, Shoegaze emotion, and Folk personification, to create a chilled yet pained entity which simultaneously relaxed and tweaked every synapse and demanded to be heard and enjoyed. Patrick Walker delicately strummed his guitar, whilst his edgy Folk voice shattered the soul with its poignancy. And still, people didn’t shut the fuck up. The delight is that new songs were being played, the second of which – if Walker’s hushed whisper is to be correctly interpreted – was called ‘Beyond You’. It’s arguable whether such pared-back, Funereal balladry belongs at such an event, but not for the lachrymose souls like myself and what seems like most of the Belgian contingent, one of whom tells me to ‘Ssh’ quite vehemently as I’m instructing a fellow watcher to do the same; go figure… ‘Carry Me Home’ was received like a long lost friend and intoned lovingly and emotionally; there was a growing fear that the early finish was permanent before the trio returned to deliver a hackle-raising ‘Restless’ which, in true ’Queen in Rio’ fashion, was sung emotionally and lustily to Walker for the most poignant, tear-inducing end to a night I’ve ever been a part of [PQ].

The reason for the thinner crowd than deserved for 40 Watt Sun? A triumphant conquering from Swedish legends, and festival headliners, At The Gates; a barnstorming non-stop roil of jagged riffs and powerhouse anthems spilling forth in a slew of genuine metal classics. Liberally sprinkling the set with visits to last years At War With Reality (Century Media) showed the newest addition to their canon more than holds its own in the presence of greatness.

And if you wanted extreme metal greatness, you got it. ‘Death And The Labyrinth’ begat ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’ running headlong into ‘Cold’ in a set opening par excellence and par violence, matched only when ‘Under A Serpent Sun’ vomited into ‘Windows’ into a vitriolic ‘Suicide Nation’. Elsewhere ‘Nausea’ brought the sickness, and ‘The Book Of Sand’, amongst others, crushed as ATG delivered their strongest live performance on these sceptre isles since reforming.

As the beers (by now the in-venue piss of Red Stripe) flowed as quickly as the riffs, an encore of ‘Blinded By Fear’ and an unbelievably scything ‘Kingdom “Fucking” Gone’ devastated, before the fuck you of ‘The Night Eternal’ sent the throng home sated in HEAVY metal brilliance. [ST]

 

At The Gates at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price

At The Gates at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price

Damnation is always one big rush: for fan, organiser, band member, reviewer, and every one of those wonderful unsung heroes that help to run the day. That situation is made worthy by the realisation of the anticipation: all of the friendships forged throughout the day; the fan rubbing shoulders and glasses with the performer; the scribe meeting old friends in the form of fellow scribes, interviewees and Legends. For all of the magical days on a Metal fan’s calendar, there aren’t many to compare with the sheer enjoyment and camaraderie of this first Saturday in November. Amenra didn’t so much steal this one as clutch it to their fractured breasts for all eternity, but there were many more acts making this one so special. This has to be the greatest value-for-money exercise around right now, and the small but heroically dedicated band of organisers has left itself one massive, collective headache to work out how to match this for next year [PQ].

At The Gates at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price

At The Gates at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price

 

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WORDS BY PAUL QUINN

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RICH PRICE