As Damnation Festival turns 14 years old, the heavy metal brethren arrive in Leeds for the latest edition of the event. Walking through town down past the Dry Dock and other watering holes, fans are milling about awaiting the door to open on another day of festivities.
Gav and his team have worked tirelessly this year to bring a stellar line up to the city and sell out the event yet again, testament to the strength of the twenty seven band bill across the four stages today.
Opening the day on the newly christened Tone Mgmt stage were Mancunians hardcore merchants Leeched delivering a high energy, agnsty performance which set the tone for the rest of the day. Down on the Cult Never Dies stage were Hundred Year Old Man with their post metal doomy drone sound wetting the appetite of many a fan.
It’s the return of Fukpig after a lengthy absence which really kicks starts the day. Birmingham’s brutal necro punk legends have reformed, and with good reason, the world has gone to shit and now they have something to write about again. The upgrade of the band into a six-piece angry ensemble gives them a new edge, dual vocals scream as the pit becomes a sea of flailing limbs. Fukpig are back, the future is dark, the future is brutal.
Opening the Jagermeister stage are British death metal stalwarts Cancer with an exclusive UK show the day after the launch of their first new album in thirteen years. They are the UK’s finest purveyors of traditional death metal and the trio of Ian, Carl and John put on one hell of a show mixing classics with new tracks to perfection. Down The Steps, Garrotte and The Infocidal mix perfectly with Cancer Fucking Cancer, Death Shall Rise and Hung Drawn and Quartered. Not even a building evacuation for a fire alarm can put a downer on this set.
On return from the evacuation OHHMS hit the Eyesore Merch stage. Canterburys eccentric doom masters open with the 22-minute progressive wonderment of ‘Subjects’ from their forthcoming album. As their bassist heads into the crowd to perform the bands musical wizardry comes forth, music you can easily get lost in, this performance is on par with their recordings as 40 minutes pass all to quickly they leave you wanting more.
Dave Hunt and Mick Kenny are more than familiar with Damnation Festival goers, having appeared in several different bands at the event over many years. This is Anaal Nathrakh’s first appearance here since 2014 and it’s a step up to the main stage for them. If you are looking at a scale of extreme metal, Nathrakh are at the most extreme point on that scale and that is borne out from the opening notes of Obsecene as Cancer. Despite a set plagued with technical problems the crowd lap it up. New song Forward! immense in recording is just as brutal live and the wall of death destroys not only the room but the fans within it.
Back on the Tone Mgmt stage, Batushka bring atmospherics and theatrics to the fore. A multitude of religious iconography fills the stage, a pulpit, candles and a plinth upon which sits a sacred text. The lights are low red and dry ice fills the air as one by one figures dressed in cloaks, their faces hidden, take to the stage. The ultimate in theatrics, on a par with Ghost at times, but with that dark black metal twist that fills the room with an eerie feeling. A wondrously dark hour was had.
Ihsahn returns to the UK following his critically acclaimed appearance at Bloodstock with Emperor now making a fleeting appearance with his solo project. Following Batushka and keeping with the black metal theme, but no theatrics now, this is all about the progressive side to the genre. The performance is all about musicianship, letting the artistry do the talking and shows why the man is so well respected.
To close the Tone Mgmt stage we have Eastern Europe’s most successful musical export; Vader. Piotr’s throaty vocal girth accompanied by his and Marek’s duelling guitars deliver excellence in the extreme. Death metal perfection. They have no problem filling their hour long set to a packed room all banging their heads and pumping fists in unison. Between themselves and Cancer the death metal fans will leave the festival happy.
Back down in the dungeon of the Cult Never Dies Stage, Ghost Bath round out the day downstairs. Having had mixed reactions at Bloodstock back in 2017, they are out to prove they have what it takes and an hour-long stage headline slot to prove it. Atmospheric black metal in sound, but having dropped the theatrics of previous years, the set is perfection and has one over myself and many more fans today.
Festival headliners Napalm Death close out the Jagermeister stage and day with a brutal display of grind perfection. They’ve been going too long to drop the ball on this one as we head towards the witching hour. Much as with Nathrakh before them, the crowd is up for a bloody battle and the heat is on as Barney growls his way through Instinct of Survival and When All is Said and Done. Brutal riffs and Shane’s chugging bass drive the band through their set including the ever present You Suffer.
The day has been a raging success, the sold-out crowd subjected to a sensory assault from the outset and perfectly closed out in a grindcore battle. From year to year Damnation gets stronger and stronger. We wait with baited breath to see what Gav and his team have to offer us next year.