When Axl Rose waxed romantically about cold November rain in back in 1992, he clearly wasn’t singing about Leeds on a Saturday morning. A cold, depressing day darkened by oppressive black clouds showering their misery relentlessly from above, there is nothing romantic about Leeds city centre. However, above the sound of rain pelting against umbrella canopies, and cars splashing through ankle-high lakes of dirty water, there is hope. Somewhere out there is Damnation Festival. Continue reading
Brighton-based quintet King Goat has been gathering plaudits for a couple of years now. While their brace of EPs has been highly regarded, however, debut album Conduit (Self-Release) rips up that benchmark and propels the band’s reputation skywards.
It’s the Progressive, Eastern influence within their Low-end metal that has held listeners in thrall, and right from album opener ‘Flight of the Deviants’ that blends with a quirky, Karnivool-esque base and some Gary Moore-flavoured leadplay. The whole is given vivid colour by the alarmingly powerful voice of Anthony ‘Trim’ Trimming, Averill-like in its tone and versatility and just occasionally touching on Ozzy Osbourne’s high notes.
Each track here is a story in its own right, ‘…Deviants’ switching pace in segments, the spoken elements rivalling the scene-setting qualities of this year’s debut from The King Is Blind. The instruments swirl and swell around the vicious rasp of the three-quarter section before dropping into a Trad Metal-tinged coda, the leads howling their agonies after being a hidden star throughout.
‘Trim’ reaches new heights on the ensuing ‘Feral King’ yet, while his staggering power and range is undoubtedly the lead factor here, the contorting body of the track shows all five protagonists to be stars of this pulsating show. Its winding, crushing centrepiece still retains delicacy in the incredible harmonising of harsh vocals, whilst the ominous drama of the close is a joy to witness.
The title track, a paradox of complexity and simplicity, sees the seamless blend of hulking melody and crushing brutality reach its apex, whilst rarely breaking a slowly skipping tempo. The heartfelt melancholy mixes sublimely with those soaring eastern patterns, its choir-assisted third quarter a soaring triumph leading to emotional euphoria and a roaring coda. That barrelling force segues into ‘Revenants’, the guitars dancing tremolo patterns through steady yet intricate rhythmic pummel; yet the gradual drop to the gentle, sinister interlude is a thing of moving beauty.
Closer ‘Sanguine Path’ is an Occult-tinged Death-Doom workout somewhat at odds with the rest of the album, yet no less striking and fully conveying the resigned despair. Quite simply this is the kind of accomplished, intuitive greatness most bands hope to reach by the third or fourth album of their careers, yet rarely do. The UK has provided the Metal world with one bona fide classic already this year: here is another piece of staggering magnificence to rival and possibly surpass it.
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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].
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]
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?!”
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]
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].
WORDS BY PAUL QUINN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY RICH PRICE
Half an hour after doors opened to the latest instalment of what is surely one of Europe’s premier indoor Metal festivals, my gig buddies and I witnessed a spotty oik giving lip to a (albeit somewhat intolerant) doorman; meanwhile, one or two of said security bod’s less experienced colleagues were being unnecessarily stringent in barring perfectly acceptable entries to the Leeds university Old Bar. Youth, it would seem, is not always the desirable status us old’uns seem hell-bent on recreating…
As if to prove a point, the experienced boys of Colchester’s The King Is Blind ripped the Terrorizer stage a new one with their Blackened Death Doom hybrid and, in doing so, gave Damnation 2015 a fiery opening. The initial crowd had bred tenfold by the end of opener ‘Devoured’, and it was obvious from frontman Stephen John Tovey’s grinning visage that this was as enjoyable for the protagonists. Tovey threw horns with gay abandon and the band produced drops with the weight of a crash of rhino. New track ‘Genesis Refracted’ was lapped up by a crowd which needed a little time to get going, but eventually whipped up a small but vicious ‘pit’.
Undersmile had the crowd to themselves in the day’s only ‘non-clash’ slot on the Electric Amphetamine (referred to as the ‘Mine), third, stage, and every note of their shuddering Grunge Drone splintered bone. The screamed “Swim on” refrain of set opener ‘Atacama Sunburn’ disembowelled, the bewitching defiled dolls Hel Sterne and Taz Corona-Brown holding court whilst rhythm partners Olly Corona-Brown and Tom McKibbin waited to deliver the crush. A snaking, pulverising ‘Sky Burial’ concluded a hypnotising yet visceral set and surely gained this prepossessing quartet more fans in the process.
The first offering of three from the Belgian ‘Church of Ra’, Wiegedood’s blackened assault packed out the second stage, no doubt partly due to the Amenra connection, but that doesn’t take away from the deeply meaningful assault; whereas our first visit to the Eyesore saw the fiddle-graced Post-Rock of Talons compel a sizeable throng, and my first encounter with the dreadfully affecting, strobing lights.
Beer was flowing freely in the University’s Terrace bar so it was somewhat surprising to see ‘Jack and Alice’s storming burger joint doing less well. Guys, the cheese and bacon special was to die for…!
Positively shocking was the crush to get to see relatively unknown Kent outfit Ohhms at ‘Mine: two minutes into their set showed the reason. Their bluesy, low-end Reef-esque workout was injected with added spice by vocalist Paul Waller whose mad barefoot ‘surfing’ was the Heavy world’s Bez / Ian Brown hybrid. Captivating, dangerous, infectiously active, the whole band created one of the festival’s most talked-about sets.
French duo C.R.O.W.N. sought to wrest that mantle but their nevertheless atmospheric, Industrial post-Sludge was lacking in movement. Their hypnotic beats graced by static imagery it was a creative and sonically violent set, lazy yet striking, and musically brilliant which almost switched attention from the lack of stage presence – and those fucking lights that also plagued a dramatic set from Voices, for whom the Akercocke spin-off tag was firmly banished by the incredible London (Candlelight); their technical darkness holding the room in its thrall despite missing a certain mobility. Over at Jӓgermeister the Church of Ra’s second offering was laying waste: Oathbreaker’s Blackened Hardcore onslaught drew a huge crowd; vocalist Caro Tanghe leading a frantic, animated delivery.
It would have been interesting to see if Sea Bastard would have filled the main room, as ‘Mine was utterly rammed for the eleventh-hour replacement for Black Tusk. This is a band of implosive power, Oli Irongiant’s lofty stature possibly the only thing to dwarf the power of The Riff, and let rip with the set of the day to this point. Oppressive, the shudders displaced vertebrae along with Monty’s coruscating rasp, while Steve Patton and George Leaver based rhythms that would have crushed Everest. Never has the world seen a guitarist who feels every chord like Oli: grimacing, building the riff with sways of his giant body, his roars needed no microphone. Monty’s dreadlocks hung from his face like the monstrous sea creature they portray during forthcoming track ‘The Hermit’, the rare faster sections still trampling most other acts to dust.
In complete contrast to Vreid’s vicious yet occasionally inventive Black assault over at Terrorizer, Maybeshewill have decided they’ve been peddling their melodic heaviness for long enough and that’s a great shame. With more than a nod to the likes of Sigur Ros they packed out the notorious left upper room and left few dry eyes in the process: their sound icicle-cold yet sweet, nostalgic and heavy, their effusive thanks incredibly moving. Closing one’s eyes and allowing the pulses of light and utterly heart-breaking sound to wash over the head, it was easy to underestimate the fact that 40 Watt Sun was still to come.
The brittle beauty of the outgoing quintet’s melodic sweep seems apt for the story of Jim Willumsen, once of The Wounded Kings and the late, great Ishmael, now doing his fifth festival of the year as a fan. A protagonist of my favourite-ever gig, he is nevertheless happy with his lack of band involvement for now. “It gives me a chance to see loads of different stuff” said this quiet legend of the low-end. It’s also a fitting soundtrack for a meeting with Ian Davis, as former drummer of Grimpen Mire another crucial ingredient of that night and still mourning his former bandmate Paul van Linden, outside the room.
The Ocean came complete with cellist and a whole host of atmospherics, aided by my Bee 17 hybrid lager which, at £4:00 for a coke-sized can, seemed steep but it was a very pleasant change from the swill usually found at such events. This all embellished the German ensemble’s largely Prog effect but also contrasted superbly with the harsher elements of their sound. Jӓgermeister’s main stage was suitably packed, making it hard to believe there was a capacity cut for this year, but their set in 2013 benefited more from the vantage points of this year’s Terrorizer room. Ghold’s appearance at ‘Mine didn’t attract the numbers that previous bands had brought to that area but their darkened doom, like a Death-riddled Conan, rattled already battered heads. The inclusion of a guitarist gave their live presence another, more beneficial dimension to that on record.
WORDS BY PAUL QUINN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY RICH PRICE
Like spaghetti bolognese, it is hard to dislike Nuclear Assault, a thrash metal band who released a three well regarded albums in the mid-to-late 80’s, before internal combustion and some lesser offerings. Like spag bol, they were no nonsense, popular and easy to digest to the taste buds of all who liked their metal fast and thrashy. However, to over-extend the metaphor to the length of a string of tagliatelle, they weren’t as flavourful or complete as others, lacking the depth of ingredients in comparison to their contemporaries, and it’s very unlikely many would call NA their favourite dish.
Since announcing his impending retirement from live playing Dan Lilker has been a machine, blurring (sic) at the pace of his picking hand, bringing each of his projects to a concluding fruition, which has included the Lazarus act being applied to Nuclear Assault once again. Setting out to intentionally write “four killer old-school thrash songs”, the Pounder EP (Sidipus) is the band ramping up to a “Final Assault” tour and album in the second half of the year.
Achieving the majority of their pre-conceived idea, they have written four old-school thrash songs (well, three, and one, ‘Died In Your Arms’, that sounds as if Alan Averill was wailing along to a Metal Church outtake but not able to hear himself through noise-reducing headphones), though they’ve failed to live up to the “Killer” part of that promise. With what could kind-heartedly be called a “raw” lo-fi and DIY production, Pounder displays uncultured punky, chromatic thrash, a dearth of songwriting ideas and John Connolly’s once distinctive yelp having clearly seen better days.
One hopes this is merely the itching to get out of the blocks, let’s get something out there, false-start that serves as a irrelevant pre-cursor to a gold medal winning final sprint, but the portents don’t look promising for the final assault to do anything other than flounder and perish meekly.
On an ever-poignant date for Manchester, and in a venue situated within a small area of the city known as ‘Little Ireland’, it seems apt for the morose, blackened death of Eireann quartet Malthusian to be laying waste. Through the bloody annoying strobe effects, impressive frontman Pauric Gallagher stood behind his bass like a colossus, his Lemmy-style stance and ferocious, deep scour complementing the blackened rasp of co-vocalist Andrew Cunningham. Brutally savage yet with added elements of crushing doom, this was a huge assault on the senses and a delicious aperitif.
Minor issues blighted the early Winterfylleth sound but old favourite ‘Ghosts of Heritage’ had the floor bouncing. Emotive new track ‘Careworn Heart’, from the band’s The Divination of Antiquity (Candlelight) opus, was led in by a beautifully taped acoustic intro; the more subtle yet crashing, almost mournful feel which displayed the new expansion and versatility of the band grasping the room in the palm of its hand. It’s this creative freedom, embodied by much of Dan Capp‘s delicate, post-style leadwork, which has propelled these local boys-next-door to hero status. Crowd favourite ‘Defending the Realm’ was greeted with unfettered joy, yet there was more an awed reverence rather than a pulsating throb for this adored outfit.
A stirring Irish lament played Primordial to the stage, whence the unmistakable figure of the painted, hooded Nemtheanga roared “Are you with us?”. Generating rapturous, impassioned crowd accompaniment, one of Metal’s truly great frontmen stared wildly and prowled like a possessed madman through the rousing ‘Where Greater Men Have Fallen’, sorely apt given tonight’s close proximity to the site of the 1819 Peterloo massacre. Fiercely expressive, yet allying the bitter anger to a dark humour, the spokesman for The Committed announced the outrageously powerful, emotive ‘Babel’s Tower’ as “my confession”; whilst the ‘skipping bullet’ guitar line of ‘As Rome Burns’ is introduced to ecstatic roars with the tagline “This is the United States of Europe – you have the right to hate who you want”. The constant wall of resonant riffs were part of the defining proof that this is no mere backing band, subtly and skilfully producing a thunderous swell of sound, the rhythm and drums a colossal thunder. Tolling bells blending with brutality, classics ‘The Coffin Ships’ and ‘Empire Falls’ were greeted like old friends and closed not merely a scintillating night, but the most passionate, moving, Herculean live performance I have ever seen.
Words by PAUL QUINN
Photos by LUKE DENHAM
The toms stir, an introductory galloping battering, a rhythmic tribal call to arms, as the simple lead guitar line rides up and down the front of the horde, rousing, preparing, hinting at what is to come, as the opening track of Where Greater Men Have Fallen (Metal Blade) builds to kick into a timeless opening, an initiation where all the trademarks of the very best of Primordial are evident. Our title track erupts with ‘Hammerheart’ (Bathory) meets ‘Blood Of My Enemies’ (Manowar), driving, open, churning chords and Alan ‘Nemtheanga’ Averill’s distinctive, powerful vocals, preaching, imploring and then leading a stirring chorus to what is, unconditionally, one of the anthems of the year.
After a gap of three and a half years since the Redemption At The Puritan’s Hand this is a mighty return, with the weight of expectation not just shrugged off, but decimated by the pounding Pagan Metal delivered by the hands of the best in the business. For, at their peak, Primordial have no peers in the field of the epic.
Emote is what Primordial do best, and this is an album that drips with feelings of regret, reflection and, conversely, inspiration; Averill’s intelligent themes, authoritative words and voice enhance the profound interplay of Ciáran MacUiliam and Michael Ó Floinn’s guitars, whose interaction on tracks like ‘Come The Flood’ call to mind Anathema’s grandiose The Silent Enigma (Peaceville). ‘Born To Night’ gradually unfurls to reveal a ‘Battle Hymn’ most proud, while ‘The Seed of Tyrants’ releases the rage, nodding to a more extreme past, both musically and lyrically. While Primordial are oft mislabelled as a Black Metal band, ‘…Tyrants’ serves as a reminder from whence they came, but, as ever with those touches of class the band possess to enhance, colour and immerse.
Yet, this is not a flawless album, as with blood both stirred and pumping by our introduction, ‘Babel’s Tower’ and ‘The Alchemist’s Head’ are downers; decent if unspectacular down-shifts of pace, which, while still intrinsically “Primordial”, call to mind the unhurried moments of Imrama (Cacophonous), and despite Averill’s impassioned story-telling, neither grab or evoke like the opening track, or the crushingly pessimistic ‘Ghosts of the Charnel House’. That can be the problem when you start that strongly, as it is a high watermark for the rest of an album to live up to.
After establishing their sound on second album A Journey’s End (Misanthropy), it has been since their fifth album, The Gathering Wilderness (Metal Blade), that the band have truly matured and hit an exceptional run of form that takes them into Where Greater Men Have Fallen, their eighth full length, and its moving combination of classic Bathory inspired metal, doomier tropes and an unmistakable grasp of the epic, all draped in those characteristic Primordial effects.
Yet, are Primordial victims of their own success? The previous three albums are of such a high standard, and are pregnant with anthems that, like the title track or the exceptional closer ‘Wield Lightning To Split The Sun’ – murky, bleak, earnest, wringing with remorse and possibly the best piece of music the band has delivered over the course of their career – means that when Primordial deliver “good” it can, initially appear disappointing.
Bookended by two incredible tracks is a layered, powerful and impassioned album, resplendent with mood changes, from reflective, to angry, to moving – the leads that pull ‘Born To Night’ to its close soulfully uplifting – and to judge by the merits of others Where Greater Men Have Fallen stands tall. Yet measured by their own imperious canon, this latest release, while showcasing everything that is respected and esteemed of Primordial, is not first among equals.
Primordial are too proficient an outfit to release anything other than an excellent album. Just how excellent, when compared to their own standards, is the question at hand, but Where Greater Men Have Fallen is laden with dark anthems and fervent sincerity and, chest out, stands proudly as a laudable addition to a most impressive catalogue.