Damnation Festival, Leeds, UK | November 2017 [In Review]

"...Well he had a giant sized boil on the side of his chin. the guy next to him couldn’t take it any longer and punched him in, you guessed it, his chin. Yes, it popped and I don’t know how many people the mess covered..."

Damnation Festival 2017 was held in Leeds, England, at the monstrosity that is Leeds University on the 4th of November. The venue has four stages, many bars and not to mention food choices as far as the eye can see, there was even a supermarket in there! The festival is in its 13th year and the line up for 2017 has proved why it is still going strong. Festival head liners included some massive names this year, Sodom, Bloodbath and Paradise Lost to name a few.

My hectic weekend started as I arrived in the university/ party city of Leeds on the Friday before the festival, to be led on a Heavy Metal bar crawl by a long lost pal. Naturally things got out of hand and I woke up spooning what was left of a kebab in my hotel bed, an empty whisky flask and a set of keys that weren’t mine. With some pain killers down the hatch and a double espresso, I hobbled down the road and arrived at the festival with good time. This venue is magnificent! What a rabbit warren full of treasure. Every corner you turned there were bars, merchandise stalls, smoking areas, food stalls, bars oh and did I mention the bars? For a festival everything was fairly priced as well. The set times were going to be tight today, so I tightened my Doc Martins and headed down to the Terrorizor stage for the first band of the day, Brisbane’s own death metallers, Disentomb, who are on the UK/EU Dying Fetus tour along with Psycroptic and Beyond Creation! The room was packed, the pit was full and eager, metal heads in the UK really get it going early. I remember seeing these guys play many years ago in my Brismetal days, but my how they have grown up. Their sound was immense. Vocalist Jord Phillip is so energetic running across the stage and engaging with the crowd, he says ‘C*nt’ about 30 times during the set and it makes me homesick. He growls, “Its good to be back in England, it’s like Australia but the weather is shit!” The crowd enjoys his humour and is sent into a breakdown frenzy for their final song, Vultures Descend off their 2014 Album Misery. They are really weaving themselves into this metal fabric of the world and its no wonder when they can pull off a set like that at one o’clock in the afternoon....

Three piece Wiegedood, hailing from Belgium are next up on the list and by this time, most of the 3000 festival goers had arrived. I found a great view point on the stairs for this set and I’m glad I caught it. They play post-black metal, no candles or corpses, just pure aural destruction. The stage is set with small banners sporting their logo of twigs made into the shape of a rune and after the wide popularity of their latest release, De doden Hebben Het Goed II, there is no wonder why there are many Wiegedood shirts among the crowd. There is not a lot of movement for this one, they are the type of band you just become hypnotised by and stand back to appreciate.

Now by this time we had realised you need a good 10 minutes to travel between stages, every stage had a queue waiting to get in as the smaller stages just didn’t have enough room to accommodate everyone, this meant things were getting serious. With the amount of overlaps, I had to pick my battles, considering that if you didn’t arrive 15 minutes before the band started on any of the smaller stages downstairs, you had no chance of a view of the stage at all. I managed to get the first part of Vallenfyre’s set, which was a ferocious one at that. Greg Mackintosh has death metal vocals as strong as his mow hawk and he certainly knows how to get the crowd pumped up, especially when they played Cathedrals of Dread. As Greg speaks to the room, a guy next to me whispers, “I think he needs a strepsil”. Making my move to see as many bands as I could, I headed in for the last of Italy’s Psychedelic Witchcraft. With a haircut and attitude straight out of Pulp fiction, Virginia Monti is a front woman not to be messed with. As I make my way to the stage, her audience is enthralled, her vocals are impeccable live and her stage presence is much the same. Their music is a perfect mix of 70’s rock, blues and doom. Their love of Occult Rock shines through, especially as Virginia kneels, arms stretched into the spotlight that adorns her and worships her gods. They finish off the set with their new single Rising on the Edge from their forthcoming album Sound of the wind.

Up to the balcony for a prime position for Denmark’s Myrkyr, we sat back and got ready to relax for the entire set. In a simple white dress, vocalist Amalie Brunn stares out through her icy blonde hair at the Audience, prowling around the stage, she is a performer and the crowd is completely enchanted by her artistry. The Jagermeister stage is packed right to the back and there are moments when you hear only silence and the shrieks of Amalie’s impeccably varied vocal talent echoing through the rafters. After the September release of Maredidt the set list consists of a lot of new songs, her guitar work on this album is superb and people really wanted to hear it. In the vocal changes of the title track, Maredidt, there is nothing but wide eyes and smiles in the masses...

Slinging a beer back, we headed back down to the dungeon to catch a glimpse atop the many heads in the audience, to see UK blackened death heads, Dragged into Sunlight. These balaclava wearing bandits have such an experimental style, with their crab walk stance, they play with their backs turned on the crowd and a punishing show ensues. These guys definitely win the Damnation candle award, the smoke-filled stage is set with oversized candelabras and horned skulls adorn their amps. Using varied and unique eerie sounds and clips; crunchy riffs and a light show so blinding, it was difficult to see the stage unless you were in the front row - the sound from the back was just as frightening. Next up was a band I had heard a lot about, but had never seen live, US hardcore, metal-punkers, Nails. Again arriving to the stage late after lining up for a while, I could only see small parts of the stage when I jumped up and down (damn short ass), but with the way the pit was going I was glad I wasn’t down there. It was the kind of pit that makes a girl with brittle bones fear for her life. Nails do not fuck around. Their sound is harsh and their performance is savage, their fans are loving it, finally watching them live after Nails had to cancel their Euro tour for last year.

Jumping on the band wagon of 'arriving at sets early' I head in for one of the head liners UK masters Paradise Lost for their second time playing at Damnation. They’ve been named as one of the pioneers of death/doom, have remained a staple in the UK metal scene diet since the late 80’s and they just keep on going. Now touring on the back of their 15th studio album, Medusa, released in September this year, it’s no wonder so many fans came out to hear the new material. They have their work cut out for them tonight, the crowd is ready and not to mention a few of them are doubling up on shows at Damnation. While Nick Holmes (who also sings for Bloodbath later on in the night) has such a versatile voice, moving from clean and flawless to heavy death, guitarist Aaron Aedy is all smiles and is a total pleasure to watch perform. With Steve Edmonson on bass and Gregor Mackintosh (Who is also vocalist of Vallenfyre) on lead guitar, these four have remained the constant stronghold in Paradise Lost since the beginning. The newest member of the band, Waltteri Väyrynen joined the band as their new drummer in 2015, and yet the newest blood to this doomy cocktail - he plays as though he was with them all along. They perform lots of heavy, older tracks as well as new songs which are received really well and the entire hall is one big doom party by the time they finish off with an old classic, Say Just words.

The queue to the Terrorizer stage to see Dying Fetus was too long, so we cut our losses and headed down to get a good spot up the front for my friends and fellow Aussies, Psycroptic. Speaking to festival goers throughout the day, Psycroptic were a main draw card for the a lot of them and this was a first time for many to see them play. On a massive EU/UK tour with Dying Fetus, Beyond Creation and Disentomb, they were more then ready for this show. With vocalist Jason Peppiatt, off for this tour, he was replaced by Lochlan Watt (who has also lent his vocals skills to Thy art is Murder), it is fair to say Lochlan's vocals are on point and he definitely made for a worthy replacement for this tech death outfit. Lochlan is very energetic on stage, we were worried he would hit the low roof with his high jumps at one point. Drummer Dave Hayley and his brother Joe Hayley on guitar have kept the band going since 1999 and have paved their way higher and higher in the Death scene. Joined by Todd Stern on Bass, they pump out a toilsome set and had a decent sized pit going on. Now, avert your eyes if you have a weak stomach, because in this pit, the most gruesome and metal thing I’ve witnessed at a show, happened. There is always that one guy in the middle of the pit, a relentless wanker that has to keep trying to start a pit by smashing into everyone, regardless of interest, well he had a giant sized boil (the size of an ice cube) on the side of his chin. He was infuriating everyone, until… the guy next to him couldn’t take it any longer and punched him in, you guessed it, his chin. (Turn away now, before it’s too late) The next mosh pit sequence is the stuff nightmares are made of, I will never erase it from my memory, but yes, it popped and I don’t know how many people the mess covered, I was just glad I wasn’t one of them. Considering Psycroptic clashed with the MIGHTY Sodom, the room was so full, it took me a good ten minutes just to exit....

We ran like the wind to get out of that horror film and into the main stage room to catch the last half of German thrash Beasts, Sodom. Arriving just in time for Napalm in the Morning, at the front of the balcony, we got a great view, right above the stage. The Sodom crowd was heaving, crowd surfers were coming from everywhere, including the back of the venue and security were having a whale of a time trying to cope. Markus ‘Makka’ Freiwald is having the best time behind the drum kit, his facial expressions say it all as he points up to us with his sticks. While guitarist Bernd ‘Bernemann’ Kost is keeping the crowd surfers coming, Tom Angelripper is our thrash metal Onkel, he looks up at us with a massive smile as he screams “Agent Orange” through the grit of his teeth. Finishing off with Ausgebombt, which is always good for fisting some air too, these guys have been playing together so long, they have it down pat, its great to see them having such a blast on stage after all these years. Moving on to something completely different, I decided to check out English Post-rock duo Nordic Giants and you cant get much more different to the rest of the bill then this band. Their stage attire is enchanting, looking more like creatures then humans, they are covered in large black feathers engulfed in thick smoke. Without vocals, their show is a feast for the senses, with the use of thought provoking sound clips, their songs are experimental and although they are only two, they manage to jump from drums, keyboard and even to playing bowed guitar. Their sound is slow, beautiful and all songs are accompanied by very moving short films, displayed on the large screen behind them and a smaller one at the very front of the stage. They seem very political in nature, their statement is clear with a strong message, begging for positive change in today’s world. I walked out of there wondering what the fuck I was doing with my life, but I enjoyed it and would definitely see them perform again!

The food stalls had all closed by this point, so people were messy, spilling beer all over each other, throwing food wrappers everywhere, the venue was slowly starting to look like an all night Mcdonalds at 2am. So as the festival drew to a close, I made my way through a very well lubricated crowd, set in front of today’s head liners, Bloodbath. Nick Holmes is ready for his second set to play for the day, trench-coated up and smothered with blood, they give us one last blistering onslaught of Swedish Death to write home about. Nicks vocals are nothing short of impressive especially on some of the older songs, like So You Die and Cancer of the Soul which were created before he joined in the band. It was great to see they still have the stamina and stage show that has remained consistent throughout their career. With a large farewell and thank you's to all those that made Damnation happen, it was time to head home.

Stumbling over busted fishnets, plastic cups and half eaten burgers we made our way out and into the fireworks war-zone that is the streets of Leeds on a Bonfire weekend, utter chaos. Damnation is a brilliant festival to have at the end of the year, inside it was a combination of nice and warm meets mean and keen. The beers were cold and lets face it, sometimes its nice to trade in those gumboots for comfort and a killer line-up!

See you next year Damnation...