Damnation Festival 2017 Review

We’re back at Leeds University for Damnation Festival 2017. There’s a sea of black t-shirts with mainly undecipherable band logos on them and more patched-up battle jackets than the usual varsity jackets and hoodies that roam this campus.

Heavy music has taken over Leeds Uni for the day once again and it’s not going to be for the faint hearted.

First band on and it’s suitably heavy courtesy of Disentomb. Yep, this is how Damnation works. We remember now. Tech-edged death metal and some terrific growling that gets us in the mood of some heavy stuff! You want heavy? Damnation Festival gives you heavy…

These guys are over here with Dying Fetus at the moment and as all Australians on tour love to do; they tell us how much better their country is than ours. “We’re from Australia, it’s just like the UK… except it’s cold here, and the food is shit…” blah blah blah.

You sir, have obviously never had a Damnation Burger and we happen to like dull and miserable weather. Honest.

We only catch a bit of Body Hound but they are not what we expect. Lots of booty shaking grooves. Yes, with actual booty shaking. Not what we expected…

But we’re a safe distance away up in the rafters, so it’s good and groovy. It all adds to the eclectic line-up. Variety is the spice of life.

Doing a bit of homework pre-festival, we took a shine to Wren on Spotify. Very atmospheric and brooding post metal style stuff with a bit of a black metal feel in places. So we imagined six-foot Norwegians with with a smattering of corpse paint… They actually, in real life, look quite normal. Not sure they are Norwegian either. Wherever they come from, they play a blinder on our first visit to the Tone Stage.

Cooking up a vibe similar to that of our old heroes Pelican, their soundscapes sound fresh and luscious and we won’t be forgetting this band as soon as we walk out of the door tonight.

That’s the first discovery of the day and we’re only on the third band. We bloody love festivals.

We’re back on the Eyesore balcony to catch some of pg.lost. This stage is definitely the more “Out there” stage so far today with the funky instrumentalists gently cooking up a storm compared to a lot of today’s harder edged bands appearing in Leeds. Probably at bit too “Out there” for us though.

Back to the Terrorizer cave, where Wiegedood are attempting to sandblast our faces off with some scalding black metal. That’s more like it, these guys are intense. Very intense.

We saw these guys on the Winterfylleth tour and they were a great support act, but down here in the deepest darkest boltholes of Leeds University, they are something else. They rip through a short but severe set and have us hooked throughout.

Right, so we’ve just about got our bearings now, but there’s another stage opening. Off we trot then…

The festival has been going for a couple of hours now, but it’s still pretty early in the day in gig terms. The Damnation faithful certainly don’t want to miss a thing, the main stage is rammed for the first band to grace it. Mind you, it is Pallbearer.

Not your average stage opener, really.

Pallbearer are not your average doom band either. They have all the slow paced riffs you could ask for from any doom-mongers, but with a more progressive outlook. We love doom but it can get a bit samey now and then. Any genre needs a kick up the arse once in a while, and Pallbearer do just that.

Shades of post-metal and Mastodon-style momentum make Pallbearer a big draw on the main stage with a grand finale of ‘Foreigner’ getting the place so hot that the fire alarm went off. Or maybe it was a faulty sensor…

First shift of the day for Greg Mackintosh as he leads out Vallenfyre. What a mohawk, sir.

We can only dream of growing old as disgracefully as this man. Surely he should be going into his acoustic years by now?

Not a feckin chance!

Vallenfyre are, most probably, only on this early in the day to space out Greg’s double shift (Paradise Lost later). Frankly, they could be one of the headliners if we were given the choice, but we aren’t doing the choosing. And we never will get our choice. Probably better for you really, or it would be Sabaton and The Wildhearts at the top of the poster.

But yeah, Vallenfyre blast out some sharp-edged hard stuff and Greg growls at us in his usual bouncy happy-go-lucky manner. Ahem…

We get songs about being “touched by a Catholic Priest” which the band have (apparently) experienced first hand, but we are forever waiting to hear the mighty ‘Scabs’ which is just perfect here in the Terrorizer cave.

Vallenfyre are everything that is right about heavy music. No fuss, just complete heavy bliss.

Black metal played by a woman dressed all in white? Yes, it has been done before but Myrkur do it really quite well. It’s an odd one to have on the main stage when the likes of Nails are playing downstairs, but the Damnation crowds have filled out the room nevertheless.

The mix of atmospheric operatic-styled vocals with scathing black metal has also been done before, but again, Myrkur have it nailed down.

The hooded guitar dudes flanking Amalie take none of the limelight away from the frontwoman as they deliver their parts with a blank stare and very little interaction. Seeing Amalie go from a happy smiley face to full on black metal scowl on regular rotation is awesome. This band don’t do things by halves.

We can’t really call ourselves superfans of Myrkur but this is an early highlight in the day and one that was a little bit unexpected. The theatrical stage show and atmospheric energy of the band and their music is a stark contrast to a lot of the death and grind on the bill. Variation is key at festivals and that was a curveball to keep everyone on their toes.

Now for something a little more straight forward and to the point.

We’re back up on the balcony to catch some of Big Business’ set.

Towering riffs, thunderous drums and those epic vocals. Big Business are BIG! They seem to pinch all the best bits of The Melvins, Clutch and Mastodon and roll it up into some mighty fine stoner tinged sludge. Lot’s of smoke and red and green lights dominate the stage while the dudes get on with powering through their show. Why is it always the duos and three-pieces that make the most noise?

Speaking of noise…

Well, lack of noise. We have an extended wait for Mutation. The cavernous Tone Stage is filled up nicely as it has been all day and we are treated to a lengthy show of roadies chasing cables across the stage and unplugging, plugging in and swapping them around again for a while.

Once Mutation get going, they don’t stop. Their show is stripped down to thirty minutes due to the settting up delays, but they fill their allotted time with some non-stop manic noise.

Ginger told us he wasn’t going to play ‘Friday Night Drugs’ in our preview interview, but he did and it was gloriously chaotic with all that melody hidden under the blanket of distortion. Other tunes that leap out from the noise are the ultra catchy and beautifully sweary ‘Irritant’ and the full-force of the mighty ‘Bracken’ is a set highlight.

Denzel is up at the front of the stage hammering away as the Mutation machine goes into overdrive while Scott is hidden away in the corner, thrashing out clean and distorted vocals and some big dirty stinking bass too.

The crowd play their part. There’s plenty of dancing/moshing going on down the front and as a few punters slip away upstairs to catch Nails, the moshing gets even more enthusiastic with a little more space to utilise.

Mutation really makes more sense when you hear it live. That was a monster of a show.

The Terrorizer Stage is always busy, you have to get their early to catch most bands but Nails is something else. As we make our way upstairs straight after Mutation, Ginger actually overtook us to go and catch Nails too.

We’re a little late but manage to sneak in through the side door where there is a lot of people in attendance. A lot of people going nuts too. No photos for this one, there was no way in hell we were getting anywhere near the photo pit and we can’t see a thing from the back of the room. Hells bells, Nails don’t half sound brutal though!

There’s the inevitable mutterings of “Should’ve been on the main stage” from those who can’t get in on the action and perhaps in this case, they might be right. But there’s no room on the main stage because it’s Paradise Lost time!

Yep, it’s only seven o’clock and we have bands like Paradise Lost on stage. This line-up is getting ridiculous now, there’s certainly no time for a break. We’re going to be up and down these stairs a lot this evening…

Paradise Lost are a Damnation favourite here in Leeds but they’ve never been more suited to this festival than right now off the back of the gloriously heavy ‘Medusa’ album. ‘From the Gallows’ is a suitable introduction to that LP if anyone hasn’t heard it yet as the band pummel it out for the first song of the set.

There’s a bit of interference with Nick’s microphone which makes some nasty buzzing noises for the first few songs but as they glide through their set, they become more and more mesmerizing. ‘Faith Divides Us…’ is one particular set high but the ever-cheerful ‘No Hope In Sight’ just about takes the prize for the best bit.

Greg is on his second set of the day and spends the majority of the set backlit with a really bright light. The new mohawk looks splendid in silhouette form and he looks almost (un)holy with all the white light behind him.

It is a real treat to see Paradise Lost in full flow and they are still up there as the best of British. You can’t really beat a bit of Paradise Lost, but there’s plenty of bands waiting in the wings to try.

We weren’t expecting to be raving about Dying Fetus today but it doesn’t take us too long down in the pit for us to realise that we should have been. Of all the big names at the top of the poster, Dying Fetus was probably the one we were least excited about.

Cometh the day however and they are actually blowing our tits off. The sound in the Terrorizer stage is often all over the place. The layout makes it an acoustic nightmare but at the same time that chaotic nature suits the type of bands you find lurking in here during Damnation.

You can feel the kick drums pounding your chest down in the pit and some of the guitar solos sound a bit washed out under the immense rhythm section. The all important bowel-shaking riffs are all present and correct however, and it’s these along with some scouring dual vocals that really impress us.

The crowd surfers keep on coming over the barrier as the Showsec staff put in a heroic shift. Somehow the smallest four security guards in the building ended up at the most brutal stage. But, they played a blinder catching several half naked sweaty blokes as they flew over towards the front.

Dying Fetus absolutely smash it and we skip off to buy one of their t-shirts before they bugger off home. Maybe there was something in the old #whynotDyingFetus debate after all!

Time for some Teutonic thrash metal then. We’ve already seen Kreator and Destruction this year, so it’s only fair that we get to see Sodom too. It’s not often that you can do the ‘Teutonic Thrash Three’ in one year. Hats off to 2017!

It takes three attempts to get the gig going. The intro tape rolls for the third time and the band actually come out. All guns blazing!

We always say it, but every festival needs a dose of thrash and Sodom bring us a massive dose of the thrash. They smash through a seriously blistering set. Predictably ‘Agent Orange’ is the centrepiece of the show and is quite simply, simply lovely.

Bernemann is more energetic than he looks, he pulls all the poses of a thrash axeman half of his age and has all the great facial expressions of a true guitar god! Gurning central!

Another band on the Terrorizer Stage and another master-stroke from Damnation Festival. Last time we wanted to see Agoraphobic Nosebleed we had to go all the way to Hellfest! A bit closer to home this time and the UK finally gets to experience the barrage that is Agoraphobic Nosebleed.

Unique selling point for this band… there’s no drummer. There are drum sounds but no drummer, just a big pile of speakers at the rear of the stage.

Up front, there’s a whole lot of noise courtesy of the three vocalists who snarl, growl and bark their way through some speedy old grindcore with some girthy riffs too. The Terroriser stage is once again rammed as the place goes mental for these Maryland noise-mongers.

They rampage through a set of brutal anthems and we think that may have been one of the sets of the day!

One more to go… Nick’s back!

“We are Bloodbath from Sweden”, grins Nick (in his broad Yorkshire accent). Yeah pull the other one!

We must admit, it’s coming up to midnight and we picked up our passes at midday. We’re flagging. This doing festivals sober is not easy you know.

There have almost been too many great bands and performances today and nobody would be excused for ducking out early having had their fill.

It would be the wrong move though. Bloodbath, quite simply, are fooking brilliant. Nick is settled in this line-up now and obviously feels at home. Visually they are stunning, but sonically… they are just relentless with their blood-curdling brutality.

Which signs off Damnation Festival 2017 perfectly.

It has to be said, you know what you are going to get with the major festivals these days. Some gather together the biggest names they can find regardless of how heavy they have toured over the last few years. Others try to span the genres to pull in as many punters as possible whilst the rest just book whatever they can get hold of…

Damnation Festival has a reputation of bringing something a little different to the table. Yes, there are the likes of your Paradise Lost’s on the bill, but who the chuff doesn’t want to see Paradise Lost in their ever-lasting prime? But you also get the ‘hard to come by’, the ‘never seen before in this country’ and the ‘left of field curveballs’. It all makes for a day of the most exciting heavy music you are likely to see and this year has been a mighty fine example of the Damnation team bringing us just that!

A non-stop day of sublime heaviness that even a few queues, fire alarms and traffic jams can’t spoil! A short-sharp blast of perfect mayhem (and pasties).


Words and Pics By Rob W