2014 sees Damnation Festival in Leeds celebrating its tenth birthday and rightfully, it's sold out. Being the UK's premier indoor extreme metal festival, adept at showcasing international acts as well as a glut of both established and emerging British bands, the festival's growth has occurred remarkably. In 2004, Damnation began life in Manchester at the now defunct Jilly's Rockworld across two stages. Now the festival is held at Leeds University Union, across four stages.
However, sometimes success can be a curse; over the past few years, Damnation has suffered from over-crowding with views available to those who did not arrive at certain stages in advance entirely obstructed and the slender corridors are frequently packed with dense human traffic. Attempts to introduce a one way system at one junction this year are met with mixed results and limited sign posting around the venue makes it challenging to identify where all the merchandise stalls are in addition to initial navigation between the stages,relying largely on pure guesswork.
Hailing from Spain, Obsidian Kingdom are on the Eyesore Merch Stage. Having played at Bloodstock earlier this year, these progressive metallers have had a taste of English festivals before and the audience is receptive. Formed in 2005 and signed to Season of Mist, their progressive metal is heavy without committing wholly to death or black metal, marrying melodic and melancholic prog metal passages to the foray. Those intrigued by creativity would benefitby investigating this five-piece.
Again on the Eyesore Merch Stage, London/Surrey-based metallers Code fuse modern progressive metal to black metal with unorthodox results. With three albums to their name, the quintet's black metal is predominantly traditional in sound and the dark and glum prog metal moments flirt with the avant-garde, arming the band with an undeniable uniqueness comparable to Ihsahn. A modest stage presence retains the audience's interest throughout their set that passes by seemingly too rapidly.
The gloomy mood is sustained with Icelandic post-metallers Solstafir on the PHD Stage and the room is so busy that late comers have to queue to get inside – assuming they possess the endurance to hustle for a decent view. Opening with 'Ljós í Stormi', the band forge doom-style abrasiveness alongside progressive rock tendencies compacted into a post-rock vessel with vocalist AðalbjörnTryggvason strained shouts contributing to a sense of agony. The setlist only concerns itself with later material with new songs from 'Ótta'– namely 'Dagmál' and the title track – hold up its own just as well as the more familiar 'Fjara' and 'Ljós í Stormi'. Closer 'Goddess of the Ages' promises Sólstafir have convinced a new slew of converted fans as the hearty parting ovation would suggest.
The UK black metal scene's resurgence in popularity undoubtedly catapulted A Forest Of Stars into the underground spotlight. These Leeds based gentlemen infuse their eerie black metal with folk and gothic flourishes, resulting in an inimitable multi-faceted sound. Complete with a flautist and violinist amongst their ranks, fitting on to the miniature Eyesore Merch Stage is no simple obstacle to overcome. Their intricate sound that alternates between the chaotic and the melodically refined is unfortunately mired in sound issues that reduce their crisp haunting atmosphere. Nonetheless, the venue is swollen with the support of fans who remain throughout these technical hitches and indeed it remains easy to become captivated by such a innovate take on black metal.
Understandably the largest English attraction to Damnation Festival after the headliners is black metal/grind Brummies Anaal Nathrakh but getting a decent view of them is a frustrating encounter with so many metalheads rammed into the Terrorizer Stage room. What is worse is given the sheer intensify of such aggressive music, it is very testing trying to get the sound in any venue right for AnaalNathrakh but tonight the guitars and drums blend into each other to produce an unfortunate wall of noise. New album 'Desideratum' is the focus of the set, with choice selections including', 'AcherontaMovebimus', 'A Firm Foundation of Unyielding Despair' and 'Unleash'. However, it is the rabid staples that really electrify the fans with 'Submission is for the Weak', 'Between Shit and Piss We're Born' and closer 'Do Not Speak' that have the attendees at their most vocal and frantic.
The audience slowly trundles across the corridors to the congested Terrorizer Stage for New York death metallers Cannibal Corpse. 'Staring Through the Eyes of the Dead' is the first instance of musical pulverising and mosh pits feed of the carnage on stage. Concert staples 'Fucked with a Knife' and 'Stripped Raped and Strangled' herald further violent appreciation from the fans with their influential and classic death metal sound. New album 'A Skeletal Domain' means the addition of 'Sadistic Embodiment', 'Icepick Lobotomy' and 'Kill or Be Killed' all bristling with the technical strength and stalker slow tempos that permeate the later Cannibal Corpse studio releases. The crowd firmly respond to these but it is the likes of 'The Wretched Spawn', 'I Cum Blood' and 'A Skull Full of Maggots' that see the most raucous reactions.
Frontman Corpsegrinder is his usual threatening self, windmilling at speeds and durations that would wear out the cartilage in a regular human's neck. The guitars and bass alternate between torturous technical flourishes and blunt force simplicity, each forming a song that fills the listener with a sense of dread. The most popular track 'Hammer Smashed Face' sees bodies flying around the venue as the bludgeoning signature riffs elicit an unforgiving response worthy of a headliner. 'Devoured By Vermin' affords the moshers with one final hurray before Cannibal Corpse vacate the stage with a destroyed but exhilarated audience in their wake. With temperatures unbearable and a decent view almost mythic for many, those who did not see these horror fiends should be kicking themselves.
Last but by no means least are the war machine Bolt Thrower on the Jägermeister Stage.This Damnation Festival spectacle marks the English horde's sole concert on British soil this year and the anticipation in the air is thick enough to cut with a knife. Opening with 'War' acting as an introduction to the pummelling 'Remembrance', these death metallers launch their militaristic salvo into an overjoyed venue. Gritty guitars and a range of speeds see the audience headbanging,moshing and crowdsurfing. All the favourites are here, such as the sinister 'Mercenary', the winding guitar melodies in 'Cenotaph' and the insistent 'No Guts, No Glory'.
Pulling from all eras of their discography, Bolt Thrower are sure to appease the entirety of their fanbase. Paces are slowed down with the crunchy 'IVth Crusade' headbanging follows a natural rhythm with the newest numbers'Anti-Tank (Dead Armour)' and 'The Killchain',and fans sing along to that incredibly memorable guitar lead in 'World Eater'. Naturally, the members carry themselves on stage with a formidable confidence that espouses their storiedexperience. The fans are constantlygripped by the throat, attentions fully focussed on the headliner's fine efforts.
'Powder Burns' from the monolithic 'Mercenary' album sees the set come to an end accompanied by a deservingly rapturous applause. But the show is not over yet; the five-piece return for a one-two punch beginning with the rich melodic textures in 'At First Light' and followed by 'When Canons Fade'. A second encore makes use of the heaving 'Silent Demise', concluding the night on a particularly heavy note with a highlysatisfiedand sweaty crowd raising the roof with their vociferous applause.Truly there is no band like Bolt Thrower, proudly waving the banner for English death metal since 1986, offering no compromise in their music and rejecting any cheap grasps at making money.
It is safe to say that Damnation Festival's tenth birthday has been a success. With a sold out gathering of 3,000 punters having enjoyed a well-rounded summary of young and veteran acts popping up in the extreme metal world, it is a wonder what the team will bring to attempt to surpass the festivities of this year. The only gripe was the physical limitations each of the rooms had accommodating such an overwhelming number of fans, many of whom undoubtedly missed acts they have travelled many miles for. Yet metalheads will struggle to find a one day indoor metal festival at as reasonable a price with beloved acts across four stages in England and this is why Damnation Festival is worth the pilgrimage.
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