Damnation Festival 2012

author EW date 17/11/12

London has its huge array of gigs, the Midlands has Bloodstock and the north has Damnation - a quick synopsis of UK metal geography in 2012 for you. Now boasting 8 years in existence, Damnation provides a bill as varied as any other one-day metal festival and is thankfully situated at the time of year when there is little else to note other than the ever-darkening nights and temperatures befitting an Immortal album cover.

Making my first appearance since 2008's Carcass-headlined year, 2012's on paper looked more doomed and spectacular than ever: there may have been thrash, death and black on show but this year of the supposed Apocalypse was a more doomy affair with the likes of Electric Wizard, My Dying Bride, Amenra, 40 Watt Sun, Bossk and Witchsorrow providing a bleak soundtrack to autumn. Never being one to look doom in the eye and say no, here is my report from this brief northern invsaion.

The festival

Based in the pleasant urban surroundings of Leeds University, Damnation has a ready-built venue that utilises all the conveniences of any modern university - namely three performance rooms of varying sizes, plenty of bars and opportunities to eat and drink and room to relax if the onslaught of metal gets too much. The supermarket on site is a convenient relief for anyone with snacking requirements on a tangent to the food stalls dotted around, and the student common room, replete with confused students perched at their laptops as the snaking queue for the makeshift cloakroom looms around them, make for unusual yet positive additions to any indoor metal concert I've become used to. Infact the only notable downside (aside from the sort of sound gremlins which plague any extreme metal show) are the problems coping with capacity in the bursting corridors and two smaller rooms (the Eyestore Stage and Terrorizer Stage). While over-crowding was not on the same scale as 2008, there was the added issue of arriving with no knowledge of where to head for the early bands, finding myself lost in a maze of torment, wondering/wandering through corridors to where my first fixes of metal and alcohol could be found, but as you may see below that problem was eventually rectified. Overall though, it is no surprise Damnation has found residence at Leeds University and long may that continue into the future.

Witchsorrow

The husband-and-wife team (plus third-wheel-drummer) of Hampshire doom residents Witchsorrow have been doing the rounds recently and stand before me for the third time in recent months. Propagating a sound that epitomises everything about true doom, Reverend Bizarre meets Wounded Kings style, circa 2012, is the direction Witchsorrow do well and though the finer subtleties of their music and Necroskull's vocals are not immediately apparent in the sound of the extremely cosy Eyesore stage the effectiveness of their performance as one of the day's early bands is apparent. Done well there is always something about the simplicity of a guitar/bass/drums line-up that can have a one-up on any of the more developed musical variations out there, and despite the obvious lack of middle ground during guitar solos, the slow pound of Witchsorrow provides a solid first 30 minutes of music for me and further confirmation that in the closeted world of true doom this a name moving slowly in the right direction. [7]

Wodensthrone

A quick refreshment sought away from the Eyesore stage following Witchsorrow brought the problem of squeezing back in for Wodensthrone. In short, there was no way - the rise to Candlelight and great new album "Curse" has made them a band to watch, so a third potential Wodensthrone gig goes missed for this writer in 2012. Argh. [-]

Winterfylleth

Presenting me the first opportunity to venture to the Terrorizer Stage at last was another British 'W' band (counting 40 Watt Sun in this list...) with which I, Woolley, would watch in wonder. Well, nearly - their discography at this point is a wonder to behold with "The Threnody of Triumph" their third undoubted success but a lack of clarity in the guitars and vocals robbed us of the finer melodies of their deeply layered sound, though the essence of what makes Winterfylleth Britain's greatest rising metal band was at the very heart of their show. The rousing, repetitive, hammering riffing of "Void of Light" and "Defending the Realm" make for a sophisticated take on the classic Norwegian school of black metal but with added choral vocal melodies and subtle folk ingredients Winterfylleth have cornered a sound much their own. In contrast, image is very much not Winterfylleth's forte and so by extension their live show was very much lacking in visual treats or stage movement, something I'd love to see improved upon, but even when all does not click as here I don't hesitate in signing them off as one of our brightest hopes of the current day. [6½]

Bossk

Quite probably the act I was most looking forward to seeing today was not one of the star-studded headliners on this British-centric bill, but the Cult of Luna-influenced sounds of Kent residents Bossk. After their dissolution in 2008 I felt sufficiently compelled to write a posthumous article and interview on a band that I felt had not received enough plaudits for a short career that had released only 2 EPs but judging by the number squeezed into the Eyesore stage I'm glad to see either plenty others agree with me or that my original appraisal undersold these guys.

For a band possessing songs mostly over 10 minutes with vocals spread few and far between it is not by chance that Bossk still manage to engage the audience fully during their brisk 30 minute set, as the bouncy tone of riffs in "Define" and "Truth" virtually request a concerted nod of the head to match the movement of band on stage. Moments of greatness and intrigue abound within their lengthy arrangements but it is when their vocalist emerges to scream (or attempt to, for his vocals were at times inaudible) that the songs peak and reach their most addictive. Showing great appreciation for the turn-out and that so many clearly remember the band fondly Bossk put in an early contender for band of the day with this show. Let's hope more follow soon. [8]

Pat Walker of 40 Watt Sun

40 Watt Sun

For an event featuring so many bands of interest to me it was surprising just the one major clash stuck out in my schedule, but it was a problematic one. Choosing to watch 40 Watt Sun meant missing Primordial, but on the basis of who I'd seen the least it presented a second and rare opportunity to witness Pat Walker & co deliver songs from last year's "The Inside Room", an album that in my opinion does not match either of the godly Warning LPs but which is still a tour de force of fragile emotional doom metal in it's own right.

As if he needed to prove anything after Warning's "Watching From a Distance", "The Inside Room" did at least confirm beyond all doubts Pat Walker's innately soulful take on the plodding doom template is high on honesty but low on showmanship and pretension, facts which make the performance of those songs an uncomfortable one at times. Walker gives the appearance of a man who is not comfortable performing such personal songs live, which when he is thrust to the front by a bassist and drummer who make no forward movement (metaphorically in the case of drummer Christian Leitch) makes the experience all the more awkward and perhaps explain why the band depart with barely a word a few minutes before their alloted set time is over. "Carry Me Home" and "Restless" are songs which are plaintive and heartfelt on record, on stage the minimal dynamics of the songs are met by similar levels of performance and so the 45 minutes drag to a tiring conclusion. Not what a man of Walker's stature deserves but you'll have found noone actually disappointed by this lacklustre performance. [5]

Aggressor of Aura Noir

Aura Noir

Being the first foreign band I set my eyes on this day, Aura Noir offered a much more direct and classic metal schooled set than anything to have come before. After years of slogging away it feels like the Norwegians are finally getting their due as a progenitor of black/thrash metal now the likes of Nekromantheon are on the scene and fast catching up; though it no doubt helps to have a current Immortal member and significant ex-Mayhem one in their ranks, AN quickly demonstrate the ability to rip those packed into the Terrorizer stage a new one. The dual vocals of Apollyon and Aggressor make for a contradiction in style and delivery - Apollyon the more hyper of the two while Aggressor plays the cool card pulling off fine metal style in the black aviators and relaxed posturing on stage but the two of them alongside Blasphemer thrash out numerous highly energetic black/thrash numbers with barely the odd let-up in their 45 minutes. "Deep Tracts of Hell", "Conqueror", "Hell's Fire" were but three of those to incite pitting and headbanging galore to mark another successful recent AN show on British shores; let's hope they return twice a year every year from now on. [8]

Aaron Stainthorpe of My Dying Bride

My Dying Bride

By this stage of the evening the increasing lengths of set were causing me problems at fitting in whole sets as the inevitable overlaps made catching full performances an impossibility. Such was the sheer delight of watching Aura Noir that I stayed til their conclusion and so missed the opening of Yorkshire doom legends My Dying Bride in the much larger Jaegermeister hall. A very spacious room this is and in most ways well suited to bands of this size, but the whitewashed walls provided a brightness to the surroundings that I felt detracted from the atmosphere of bleakness and despair that is painted in MDB's tomes, or is at least a plausible explanation for why I did not really feel it from their set this evening. Their formula of romanticised misery has undergone only minor changes down the years - the lack of growling in Aaron Stainthorpe's delivery the main one these days - but the forceful delivery of past experiences with the band appeared absent in this showing, leaving me cold at the restrained ways in which "Cry of Mankind" and "Like Gods of the Sun" were thrust upon this reporter. Before their closure I sought comfort in more extreme hands elsewhere...[6]

Helmuth of Belphegor

Belphegor

Some staggering number of years ago (in the sense of how old am I getting) the ludicrously OTT sounds of Belphegor rocked my stereo frequently, with the masterfully obscene "Lucifer Incestus" being the weapon of choice most often. Since then a quartet of identikit lacklustre releases on Nuclear Blast have robbed the band of the unpredictable extremity of earlier releases and the band have rarely passed my horizon either on stage or record, but as the mournful sounds of MDB faded the blastbeat and blasphemic vitriol of these goat-obsessed Austrians turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. 'Subtlety' is obviously absent from their dictionary - despite that mid-paced songs now litter the set alongside the more typical furious blasts, Belphegor's subject matter and pretensions as beasts of Hades marks their presence a sonic punch to the gut that can't be ignored within 50 yards. With mainman Helmuth no longer on vocals it is the throat of Barth that must handle the guttural glorification of Satan and he does so in a distinguished manner, goading the packed room (I can think of no band all day where this wasn't the case) to further pitting violence as the band's 45 minutes come to a close with the realisation that these goat-lovers might not be the most sophisticated act around, but a) they are extreme, and b) they can make songs like "Impaled Upon the Tongue of Sathan" surprisingly good fun to listen to. [7½]

Jus Oborn of Electric Wizard

Electric Wizard

By this point of the evening, after 4 hours driving, an unknown number of beers and 8 hours of almost unbroken standing I was began to feel one very weary metal warrior, thus making the usually enticing prospect of 90 minutes with Dorset's finest now akin to 9 rounds in the ring weighed down by boots of heavy, very, heavy doom. Back in the Jaeger room and with the Damnation backdrop replaced by three large screens showing clips from the occult/hammer horror movies which so inspire everything about my namesakes in EW, this experience was immediately set to be different to any other on this year's line-up.The past couple of years since the release of "Black Masses" has seen Wizard's star rise enormously, highlighted by a sell-out show at the Forum this springtime, as it seems as good number of the metal masses have realised what some of us knew long ago - not only is doom as relevant as ever but it's arguably the most honest and true of all the metals; it inspires devotion and worship like no other.

Wizard are the embodiment of this - their songs crush in the live arena as the slow druggy haze of "Dopethrone", "The Satanic Rites of Drugula", "The Chosen Few" et al inspires bewildering entrancement as if escape is futile from their Sabbathian-like grip. Jus Oborn & co are not the most dramatic on stage, allowing the intense atmosphere fuelled by the audial and visual inspirations to replace dramatic showmanship, resulting in that aforementioned sense of devotion and honesty that would not be present in the stage athletics of a band like Dragonforce.

By set's closure it feels as if the band could go on and on (whether under the influence of stimulants one can only guess) but the crowd are done after a long, doom-fuelled day, or at least that's how I felt. Ending with the timeless "Funeralopolis", closure on at least 50 shades of doom, the curtain was lowered on a highly successful Damnation, a festival that brought you top names such as Primordial, Pig Destroyer, Vreid alongside all those described above. Damnation may not be Britain's biggest metal fest but the one with the unrivalled underground punch and kudos, one which took me in after a four year absence and spat me back out a doomed, happy metaller. [8]

Liz Buckingham of Electric Wizard

All photos courtesy of Emma Stone on behalf of Damnation Festival.

Comments
comments powered by Disqus

Legal

© Copyright MMXIX Rockfreaks.net.