London-based Progressive Black Metal group code wanted to revisit some older material on their Lost Signal (Agonia) EP to see if they could cast it in a new light. This EP is six songs in total, comprising of three from the album Mut (Agonia) and three from their first three records. The band produced and mixed the EP themselves to show rich power melody and dynamics. Continue reading →
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 ElectricWizard-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
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
Listening to Colin van Eeckhout, however, is like listening to a tormented angel. First harmonising in Benedictinestyle, 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
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
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
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…
The King Is Blind at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price
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 Damnation2015 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 at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price
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.
Wiegedood at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price
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.
Voices at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price
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.
Sea Bastard at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price
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.
maybeshewill at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price
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 at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price
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.
Ghold at Damnation Festival 2015. Photo Credit: Rich Price
Saturday 7th November sees Leeds University host the 12th annual Damnation festival, one of the largest one-day Metal events in Europe and with, arguably, this year’s 27 bands providing its most potent bill ever. Swedish MeloDeath pioneers At The Gates lead the event but, with Irish Black / Trad legends Primordial, Belgian tortured ‘Posties’ AmenRa, Oakland power-Stoners High on Fire and Doom heroes 40 Watt Sun in accompaniment among other giants of the extreme scene, there is no shortage of serious competition.
Festival team member and Press Officer Becky Laverty is suitably enthusiastic about the event, which will be opened by UK outfits Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster and The King Is Blind. “It was great to nab At The Gates as our headliners, they’re an awesome outfit. But we’re incredibly happy with the rest of the line-up too: there are some cracking bands, each of which will be bringing something unique to this year’s table. Japanese Post-instrumentalists Mono, for example, couldn’t be more different from, say, High on Fire: yet both are perfect fits for us. We pride ourselves on having both up-and-coming bands as well as big names, so we’re confident of delivering another eclectic and exciting day.”
Capacity has been reduced after criticism was levelled with regard to much overcrowding during 2014’s tenth anniversary show. Becky confirms: “We listen to the feedback we get after each event, and always take it on board, so it made sense to respond this way when people complained. We can’t perfectly predict how many will want to watch each band – although we do give a lot of thought into every band’s slot on the bill – so we removed some of the pressure this year. Hopefully this should mean no more queues to get into any of the rooms, and a bit more room to move around unhindered throughout the day.”
Savannah Sludgers Black Tusk were scheduled to play, but recently had to pull out. Fortunately some high-quality help was at hand. “Unfortunately Black Tusk had to cancel their present tour plans entirely” Becky explains. “We shuffled things around as a result, and we think Brighton crushers Sea Bastard are total heroes for stepping into the gap. Such is the nature of the business: delays and cancellations do happen. Our fingers are firmly crossed that we’ve got that out of the way, and it’ll be all plain sailing from here!”
With so many fantastic bands over four stages, it must be hell to avoid catastrophic clashes, though largely these seem to have been negotiated this year. “We put a lot of time and energy into getting the line-up right. Gavin McInally, Paul Farrington and I go back and forth for weeks to try and create a timetable that does justice to all of the bands, but also to the fans who will have a jam-packed schedule on the day. We can’t keep everyone happy of course, but we certainly try our best.”
That’s a colossal understatement for one of the smallest, hardest-working festival teams around right now. At the time of writing, tickets are still available for what promises to be as intense an event as ever. £36 for 27 bands?
US sludge outfit Black Tusk and English post-rock act maybeshewill have been added to Damnation Festival.
They’ll be joined at Leeds University Union on Saturday 7 November by a selection of some of the UK’s best rising death, doom and black talent; namely The King Is Blind, Witchsorrow and Voices.
And making their debut UK performance will be Belgian black metal trio Wiegedood.
The six new additions join a packed and diverse roster already boasting At The Gates, High On Fire, Mono, Asphyx, Solstafir and a posthumous return to live action from the much missed Altar of Plagues.
With eight bands still to be announced and capacity reduced by 1,000 tickets in response to fans’ concerns about overcrowding last year, it promises to be an 11th instalment of Damnation Festival to remember.
With the Australian underground scene arguably one of the best in the world at the moment, US big-hitter Relapse Records has struck gold with the signing of Brisbane, Queensland quartet HopeDrone, for début album Cloak of Ash. Eschewing the morbid bleakness of fellow countrymen Woodsof Desolation, Hope Drone have embraced the quintessentially American sound of post-black metal, with furious riffs, mournful soundscapes and tortured vocals the order of the day. The cover art is fantastic and worthy of mention; an arresting image of cloud and wave merged into an enveloping maelström that threatens to consume all and sundry. It’s the perfect metaphor for the band’s sound.
Starting any record, let alone your début off with a twenty-minute track is a seriously brave move, yet Hope Drone appears to be utterly unfazed. ‘Unending Grey’ begins with a torrent of cascading riffs and anguished howls before the pace stems and the listener is guided through a devastatingly beautiful section of sombre guitar notes and stark percussion. However the respite is short-lived, for when the pace picks up again, it’s utterly ferocious, with the band reaching speeds that the likes of Deafheaven can only dream of. That they do it while maintaining the same feeling of alien bleakness through the entire twenty minutes is nothing short of amazing.
After the devastating fury of pretty much a full EP’s worth of material as a mere opening track; the ten minute follow-up ‘Riverbeds Hewn in Marrow’ almost feels trite by comparison. However any doubts are soon washed away by the soaring guitar-lines and restless, pummeling percussion. This is continued with the billowing darkness that opens ‘The World Inherited’ but the rug is once again pulled from under our feet as the track decays into a tortuous crawl through near-funeral doom territory where release is an abstract hope.
The influence of noisy US black metallers Ash Borer and sadly missed Irish trailblazers Altar of Plagues is keenly felt throughout Cloak of Ash with Hope Drone devoting equal time to the crushing slow section as well as teeth-rattling speed. However, rip-off merchants they aren’t, for there is none of the tree-hugging, ritualistic elements of the former influence and little of the urban, ambient coldness of the latter. Instead, Hope Drone appears to have cultivated a vaguely nautical feel with song titles such as ‘The Waves Forever Shatter Upon Our Shores’ and ‘Carried Apart By the Ceaseless Tides.’ Indeed the overriding feeling is being swept up and torn asunder in the teeth of the almighty ocean; bereft of hope and powerless to withstand the awesome power of nature.
While they need to be careful to avoid falling into the trap of fast bit/slow bit/fast bit, and let’s be honest; seventy-seven minutes is way too long for any album, Hope Drone have done pretty much everything right on their first effort and even in a scene full to bursting, prove that it just takes a bit of imagination and ambition to stand out from the pack. Fantastic effort.
A side project of Mourning Beloveth, Abaddon Incarnate and Altar of Plagues members, only a demo has previously emerged in the three years of Malthusian‘s existence. A support slot on the recent Primordial UK tour raised a few surprised heads in appreciation, and this downright dank, evil EP, Below the Hengiform (Invictus) enhances that growing reputation.
Coated in a production dripping with rotting tendrils and assorted filth, a crushing Doom-like weight yields to a more technical, less chaos-infested version of infernal Portland duo Aevangelist, and when a production is deliberately engineered to augment the sound I’m all for it,
The rasping screams of opener ‘The Gasless Billows’ lead into an eerie, Blackened-Doom corridor of fear before the blastbeats and subdued, skewed riffs emit increased energy, yet remain utterly devoid of hope. The fetid atmospheres of the dark, possessed ‘Slouching Equinox’, it’s crashing roars subterranean, are positively rancid and reek of decaying life; the cavernous roar near unintelligible yet the mid-paced bridges, whilst steeped in swampwater, display elements of Classic Metal and the disgusting filth the crashing coda washes the ears in is as delicious as it is diseased. The full cacophony is utterly monstrous and, while the Doomy mid-section does occasionally feel a little empty, the omen of horror remains and is borne out by a chilling, screaming coda.
The weight of those riffs and pounding drums in closer ‘Forms Become Vapor’ is nauseating, yet not enough to prevent a return to Aevangelist’s swerving riffs and harrowing choruses. It’s a finale that continues the blend of twisted horror and monolithic power this band, with all its experience, seems destined to purvey to perfection.
With a sense of longing Bast’s debut Spectres(Burning World) eases itself into the speakers, as ‘In The Beginning’ whispers a post-Black Metal (minus the shoegaze) prelude to what is to come, a Wolves In The Throne Room vibe permeating the waves of the first 5 minutes, before seguing into a heavier, doomier latter section. Excellently crafted, for an opening track it serves to not only introduce you to the melancholy of the band, but also their versatility and diversity, a bonus in an age of bands defining themselves within and of a singular sub-genre.
‘Denizens’ picks up the doomier mantle, stretching epic darkness reminiscent of Anathema’s Pentecost IIIthat lurches into faster, eloquent post-Black Metal before bringing things back to the Peaceville doom via some tremolo picked guitar. Vocalist Craig Bryant showcases adaptability, gruff in the darker sections, and with a Winterfylleth tone to his black metal throat-rips.
Title-track ‘Spectres’ is up next, with a more traditional, upbeat flavour to its doom-tinged blackened metal, like My Dying Bride playing Darkthrone before hitting an unexpected head-nodding stoner groove. Sprawling closing pair ‘Psychonauts’ and ‘Outside The Circles Of Time’ build with post-Metal excellence, the former creating genuine tension and a feeling of building and foreboding without release, while ‘Outside…’ is a bleak downer that calls to mind Neurosis and with its 11 minute frame stretching, uncoiling, brooding, closes the album as we began, but this time with the gruff vocals juxtaposing with the Deafheaven melodic black metal beauty underneath.
Far from being schizophrenic, despite moving between three distinct genres, the quality of the writing makes this a seamless and thoroughly rewarding listen. For a debut that throws up comparisons to Altar of Plagues and ISIS, and much in between, this is a highly accomplished set of compositions that belies their early stage of development.
Spectres is dissonant, brave and intelligent, displaying a great album dynamic, as Bast take the listener with them through an expertly sound-scaped journey of post-Black Metal, UK doom and out the other side into the cold, harsh world of post-Metal. Continue down this path, and the follow-up should be some album.
Sweden’s Arckanum have been ploughing their particular black metal furrow for over twenty years now so the arrival of a new album gets greeted with something akin to a shrug of the shoulders rather than a sharp intake of breath such is the short attention span of many a music fan these days. The old adage that there is a thin line between genius and madness has often been stretched to and beyond its accepted limits by Arckanum and their eccentric, single minded leader Johan “Shamaate” Lahger, an artist who varies his time between this project and writing books about witchcraft, runic tradition and chaos-gnosticism. Continue reading →