Damnation secures itself as a cornerstone of the metal scene

Damnation Festival 2011 review

published: Thu 10th Nov 2011

Ulver

Saturday 5th November 2011
Leeds University Union, Leeds, LS1 3HE, England MAP
£29
last updated: Thu 3rd Nov 2011

As the last signs of life fell away from the trees, surfaces began to crack with frost and night time began its dark purpose of eating away at the day, Leeds Student's Union opened up its doors to fans of the darker side of music for Damnation Festival's seventh event. What better way to celebrate the death of all things bright and green than to guzzle beer in a dingy venue, listening to some of the UK's most brutal, and creative metal acts?

Altar of Plagues
The Zero Tolerance stage, situated right down in the bowels of the building was host to a myriad of styles and approaches to distorted music. With A Forest of Stars and Altar of Plagues breathing new life into the Black Metal genre; Astrohenge and Conan bringing the necessary Doom aspect; Amplifier weaving their faithful prog sound; and finally, a slightly unexpected performance by post-rock pioneers God Is An Astronaut ending the evening on a relaxed tone. This was the stage where the most creative acts were to be found.

A Forest Of Stars were a pleasure to behold, both visually and aurally. Their 'Victorian Black Metal' aesthetic had them dressing in the finest attire of England's 19th century, while the discordant tremolo of the guitars and the shrieking of the fiddle spoke of all the atrocities of the era. Something has to be said for the excellent sound quality and levels.

Another act on this stage that deserves praise is Altar of Plagues. Opening with the beautiful Earth: As a Womb, from this tiny stage they unleashed a whirlwind of sound that was all encompassing. A tragic portrayal of the state of humanity's relationship with the planet, vocalist Dave Condon screamed wretchedly "Awareness will come slow, if at all..." at which point guitarist Eric Netto's heart breaking melody surfaced from the crackling distortion, giving an incredibly emotive crescendo. It's rare to feel choked up at a metal gig, but I imagine it's a regular occurrence with these boys.

Fans of their more ambitious album Mammal, will not have been disappointed, with Feather and Bone's crushingly heavy beginning subsiding for a melancholic and introspective conclusion, both to an incredible song and to an unforgettable set.

Shining
The Terrorizer stage, backed by the magazine, brought another eclectic selection of acts. On the experimental side of things Shining brought to the stage a vibrant mix of metal, prog rock and a healthy dose of jazz. Their sound was extreme, technical and colourful, swinging from heavy catchy metal riffs to syncopated jazz infused flurries.

Despite the layered, fast and sometimes confusing nature of the music, the sound quality was such that every discordant note could be picked out and mulled over. This band bought one of the most interesting sounds to the weekend, and an unrivalled energy to the stage.

Blackened doom metallers Dragged into Sunlight, however, did not enjoy the same quality of sound engineering. In an attempts to replicate their muddy, lo fi sound in the live arena, the speakers threw out a sound that too loud, and too blurred to give much enjoyment to the listener.

Enjoyment could be derived, however, from the formidable stage presence. The platform was completely dominated by a huge shrine placed at the front, made up of a tall gothic stand holding up the giant skull of a goat. The band took up their places, standing all with their backs to the audience, and they kept this up for almost the entire show while the stage was routinely filled with smoke. A nightmare to photograph, but a great spectacle to watch.

Godflesh
The main stage of the weekend, the Jagermeister Stage was host to two of the most influential names in the metal scene: Godflesh, and Devin Townsend. The former gave an absolutely brutal showcase of clamouring industrial beats with relentless roaring distortion. Playing a healthy selection of songs from throughout their career, it was particularly good to hear tracks from their debut – and still so widely revered – 1989 album Streetcleaner. This was everything you could want from the roots of industrial metal: it was loud, devastating and angry. The thundering bass felt a little too close to the resonant frequency of the human skull, but this only enhanced the visceral nature of the music.

As is the way with such events, there is always an impossible choice to make. The headliners of Damnation festival 2011 were a particularly sad case of this. On the Zero Tolerance stage was God is and Astronaut, while the Jagermeister Stage presented one of heavy metal and prog's best loved names, Devin Townsend. But hailing from Norway with a history that traces right back to the beginnings of the Norwegian black metal scene, it was Ulver that I went to see.

Ulver
Knowing that their style had come a long way from their necro-sound roots, I went in with an open mind. The band stuck primarily to their new music, taking plenty from their latest release Wars of the Roses. The textures of sound certainly lived up to their reputation as 'experimental' taking samples from a wide array of sources, expertly produced and recreated them as to give the illusion that they were all part of the same sonic landscape. Ulver take heavy influence from trip hop, and noise artists in this respect.

This quality of sound, along with the psychedelic and satisfyingly responsive visuals, made this a welcome relaxed and introspective end to what had been for the most part a loud, chaotic but brilliant day of metal music. Damnation festival has secured itself as a corner stone of Britain's metal scene.
review by: Robert Knowles

photos by: Robert Knowles

Saturday 5th November 2011
Leeds University Union, Leeds, LS1 3HE, England MAP
£29
last updated: Thu 3rd Nov 2011


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