I spent the first half an hour of my day of Damnation being lectured by a polite but frustratingly dull taxi driver who was obsessed with conspiracy theories. Not one to shy away from a little theatre, I engaged him with such pleasantries as “Queen’s a lizard, mate. Cameron’s a lizard. Even Winston Reid’s a lizard.” I was surprised when he nodded and said “ ‘xactly!”. I spent twenty minutes indulging his fantasy world of reptile kings before asking him whether he’d welcome the overrule of Shai-Hulud. It was at this point that he said “you’re nuts, mate”. Classic.
When I arrived at Leeds uni I went straight to the refectory to get some Breakfast. I picked up a plate of greasy hash browns, beans, mushrooms and veggie sausages which looked like the anal discharge of a rabbit with Chrohn’s disease. Nonetheless, I figured my 50 shades of brown would sustain me for the day, and I sat down to enjoy watching the confused and terrified looks on the faces of Leeds university students – still hungover from Halloween partying, and many of them still in their pyjamas – at the sight of their beloved cafeteria being filled with battle-jacket wearing metallers.
I met my colleagues and we began a quest through the caverns of the Mines of Fucking Moria to find the press area. As you will read in this article, there are many wonderful, wonderful things about Damnation but the two major criticisms I have are thus: 1) Please stop trying to fit so many people into so small a place. Seriously, this is a music festival – not a clown car. 2) Please find a better way to inform the security staff. For the first few hours hardly any of them knew where anything was and they were constantly giving us wrong directions. We honestly ended up in an underground beautician and hairdresser after asking where the cloakroom was (as if my self-image wasn’t damaged enough, you sarcy bastards). Anyway – onto the bands!
My first band of the day was Amputated. Opening any festival must be a nerve-racking experience, especially a festival like Damnation on its 10 year anniversary. The nerves are showing through. Amputated open the day with their particular brand of the musically and morally profane. Whilst the band are usually ferocious, the opening of their set feels rather flat and dull to me. However, this is likely due to being sound-engineer guinea pigs as the first band on. This seems to be supported by the fact that the set sounds better and better as it goes on, with their choice of songs getting better as well. What, to me, started out as a sort of sloppy/muddy display turns into a much tighter, much more aggressive sounding performance. Amputated are renowned for being a particularly sensitive bunch and the frontman shyly introduces their power-pop ballad…“Cunt like a sewer”. This is closely followed by “Repugnant Genital Deformity” and “Anally Disembowelled”.
What impresses me most about this is it highlights the transferable skills between music and proctology. It’s nice to see musicians working closely with the world of medicine. However, the disciplines change as the band move into the particularly gentle “Skullfuck lobotomy” which suggests to me that one of the band majored at the Neurosurgery school of Buffalo Bill – with all of their medical bases covered, soon the band will be able to open their own clinic. To sum up, though, Amputated were a little jittery and so I can’t sing their praises, but they did draw a massive crowd for an opener and the crowd seemed to enjoy it a lot. Despite sound issues, they pushed through and played a pretty damn decent set. My only request is that all brutal death metal bands should come with subtitles on stage.
I took a short break between Amputated and the next band I wanted to see by meeting some friends in the bar to have a drink. It was quite quickly pointed out that, whilst everyone else was dressed in appropriate ‘metal’ attire, I was wearing a shirt, coat and aviator sunglasses. “You look like you’re trying to sell me a house”, comments one of the group – “I never try” I said. I made my way to see one of my most anticipated bands of the day – Xerath. With their proggy twinges, melodic soundscapes and heavy, groovy riffs, Xerath are right up my street. Unfortunately, due to something of a mental moment, I came in slightly late and missed the first track. Performing on the same stage as Amputated, the existing sound troubles from earlier are still evident. Again, the crowd are loving it and the stage is packed. Heads are bobbing, all around me. Children Playing – having fun. Tis the season; for love and understanding. Merry Christmas, everyone.
I walk in as Xerath are starting the track “2053” from their latest album “III”. It’s a banger. Xerath have always had a symphonic undertone to them, but I feel it’s gotten a lot more mature on this latest album. The use of orchestral instruments in the mew material is really there to emphasise and shape elements of the songs and provide that enormous texture/timbre that makes the whole band sound like the theme tune to the apocalypse. With backing tracks used to support the band’s sound, this conveys fairly well live. Xerath do all that clever stuff with tonality and metric modulation that twist and turn the song around, but tend to do so in a way that keeps the song consistent which is what I like. The only disappointing bit about their set for me was that the guitar solos were really buried under everything and were largely inaudible – which is a massive shame because some of Xerath’s guitar solos are fantastic, and use great use of major keys which juxtapose against the heavy band dynamic (a la Devin Townsend).
When “Death Defiance” kicks in, the long haired guys either side of me turn into human gyroscopes, violently trying to headbang on the X/Y axis and windmill at the same time; the music was that good that they forgot their anatomy can’t do that. Xerath were also filming a music video for their track “Bleed this body clean”, which whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Altogether, Xerath’s stage performance was awesome, their music is phenomenal and their replication of it live is near to perfect. A contender for my favourite band of the festival.
The next interesting thing that happened to me was that, upon leaving the stage at the end of Xerath’s set, I and a group of about 8 people somehow managed to break into a spontaneous chorus of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” whilst making way for a man carrying an enormous load of plastic cups. Not something you read every day, but true. Due to having a lot of interviews to conduct, I wasn’t able to see another band until Aeon.
Aeon are pretty easy to describe. Angry, angry, and who hurt you, guys? Their performance is as heavy as the burden of immigration appears to people like Tommy Robinson. But this is Damnation Festival – everyone is really heavy. So what sets Aeon apart from the rest? Two things – First of all, their riffs are insanely catchy for a band within their genre. So many death metal bands focus all their energy on being as brutal as possible that they forget to make their music interesting. Aeon don’t suffer this problem. Every song of theirs is memorable and their riffs are ear worms. The second thing is the unbelievable intensity of their performance. Their music demands an athlete level of stamina to execute live, and the amount of time they must have dedicated to making their live recreation as precise and energised as possible is stunning.
Nonetheless, along with how seriously they seem to take their music, they obviously still have a humorous side as the vocalist spends a good minute at the front of the stage during one of the instrumentals using his microphone to mimic masturbating and ejaculating on the front row of the audience. Yummy. One thing of note was that a fan jumped on stage at some point to sing along to a line of the song, the vocalist willingly handed him the mic and seemed quite stoked that this craziness was taking place. The security was not so happy, and one went to push him off, but the guy jumped down willingly. The security (from where I was standing) appeared to tackle him to the ground which was, like… totally uncool, duuude.
Next, I had a series of interviews to conduct which all went well (and you’ll be able to read them ominously soon). However, there were some missed/late appointments for the bands which meant I was frustratingly left waiting in the press area when I could have been seeing bands. Not one to mope, I cheered a group of tired looking press people up by playing sing-alongs on a piano that was in the area. Most of them were uncharacteristically cheery. I never expected to have a group of bearded adults wearing patch jackets joining me in a rendition of “I Can Go the Distance” or “A Whole New World”. It was getting late, and being trapped underground all day wasn’t doing wonders for my head so I went outside for some air. I had now finished all of my interviews, and; having previously been almost completely sober, I decided to immediately stop doing that. And in no time at all I was smashed. Woohoo!
The next band I got to see was Monarch. I wasn’t intending to actually see Monarch as they clashed with Anal Netflix (Nathrackh), but it was just way too busy downstairs for me to function; Monarch it was. Having tanked up a little by this time, I stopped caring about my life and lay down on the piss-beer-sick floor of the PHD stage, and began to let the doomy tones of Monarch osmose into me. All I can say of Monarch is that I stared into the void and the void reached out and fucked me. I’ve never been to a gig of quite this variety of doom before, and I had a real mixed reception. On one hand I loved it because it was so abstract and different to anything I’d ever watched, and on the other hand I got pretty crushingly depressed after about 20 minutes. Monarch have based their entire set lyrically around the words “Ahhhh, ahhhhhh!!!!” and most notably, “…aaaaaaaaaarghhh!” (as most of their work is a semi-autobiographical recount of that time when the lead singer stubbed her toe real bad).
Every now and then the band will hit a low note and they’ll rock back and forth on the stage like socially awkward zombies and the drums will echo for the next twenty seconds. It’s pretty cool and I actually really enjoyed myself – despite the introjected desire for suicide – and I guess you can call it “Art, man”, but I don’t think I could have stayed in there for longer than 40 minutes or so.
NEXT! – AHAB. Here are all the things I know about Ahab:
By the time AHAB came to the stage I was at the “I love everything!” stage of drunk. Fortunately, I bumped into one of the funniest people on the internet (check the pic below which was posted the morning after Damnation and the relevant news) who had just bought – and I quote – “about 24 gins” so I convinced myself I was healthy enough to keep going. Ahab are easily one of the most immersive bands I’ve ever sort-of-seen-whilst-misbehaving live. They are this enormous, cumbersome musical entity just getting all up in your shit with their heavy riffs. They also walk this tightrope of blending the slow, crushing atmospheres of funeral doom, with the ever important need for a song to be congruous and meaningful. They pull it off so well. I have nothing but positive things to say about their set. I enjoyed it enormously and the emotive, immersive k-hole they drop you in just leaves you speechless by the end of the set.
Finally, I saw BoltThrower, who were THE LOUDEST BAND I HAVE EVER SEEN. Apart from that, they were boring as hell and I have nothing more to say (or hear – ever again). That’s right, internet: a person just disagreed with your personal opinions about an art form and is unrepentant about it. Stop the presses.
I rounded off the evening at the Traveller’s Hotel and Fritzl Pit wherein we spent the evening getting very sleepy and stunk up the place, packed in like sardines, sleeping in which ever posture we could tessellate into with the other exhausted gig-goers who were passed out around us. We all woke 3 hours later, still ashamedly inebriated, and went off to the nearest Wetherspoon’s to get a recovery breakfast. Below is a picture of our accommodation, and the only photograph I took all weekend. (Disclaimer: The Traveller’s Inn was actually a beautiful residence and I’m very grateful to the dude for letting us all stay there. You are a gem)
“Welcome to the Traveller’s in. We’ve upgraded you from a double suite to the depths of despair”
My first Damnation was ruddy good fun. A well oragnised (except for the scale) festival with a brilliant eclectic line-up, a friendly audience demographic, food, drinks, and blurry memories. See you next year!
I forgot, but whilst I was in the fine city of Leeds, I was handed my first ever official business card by a “legitimate businessman”. I don’t know why. I wasn’t looking for anything, the dude just offered it to me. But seriously, this man has obviously never heard of the paper trail. He has a fucking website for god’s sake. Just look at this thing.