Even the long journey to Damnation Festival 2013 (which began too early in the morning to speak of in polite company) could have no detrimental effect on my anticipation of seeing some of the best current metal acts in one venue.
The security and bar staff are all really friendly and helpful, plus the drinks priced quite fairly for a festival. I quickly obtain a pint and head off in time to watch the first band on the Jägermeister Stage: Twilight Of The Gods.
They do a great impression of Manowar, even if they are more like the diet version of those metal warriors. Though classic metal isn’t really my thing, especially when it’s top off with all the extra cheese you could ask for with a Big Mac, there’s no question that TOTG are setting the tone for a great day. The rapidly expanding audience at the main stage proves the point; as does the busy bar, crowded merch stands and the overall friendly atmosphere as excited metalheads get stuck in to their first (or third) pints of the day.
My lukewarm response to TOTG pales in comparison to my reaction to the next band I catch. Year Of No Light are playing on the Eyesore Stage, which is located in a fantastic room. There are raised platforms at either side and the back of the main floor, which means that you can get a really great view from pretty much anywhere you stand. It’s actually a better layout than the main stage, which is a shame, but there’s great sound in both.
Year Of No Light actually get off to a fairly slow start, but add layer upon layer of synths, guitars and drums (from two drummers) to build up into climatic frenzies of sound. Like a sludgier Godspeed You! Black Emperor, they move through hypnotic motions with a great light show. By the time YONL have finished their set, it seems like I’ve spent hours underwater, isolated from the crowd around me.
Back on the main stage, Shining (from Norway, not the Swedish group) are blasting their way through saxophone-led madness. They’re an interesting band, who are as much jazz as they are metal, and they have some great ideas of where to take their music. However, I have to rush off before the end of the set to catch the start of Rosetta, who play a brand of post-metal which owes quite a lot to the shoegaze songs of My Bloody Valentine as well as the more obvious Cult Of Luna and Neurosis influences. This results in a very thick sound which is quite comparable with their predecessors on the stage (YONL), but drenched in effects which spin around the room, leaving the crowd dazed.
Realising that I haven’t eaten all day, I grab a pasty and drink and sat in the main bar, which is full of other people taking a brief time-out. The friendly atmosphere that was established earlier in the day hasn’t waned – if anything, as more pints are pulled, the feeling of community only grows stronger.
Next on the Eyesore Stage is The Ocean, a band whose latest album I reviewed earlier this year (Pelagial), and is still ranking highly on my ‘albums of the year’ list. Luckily, they’re currently playing that album in its entirety at shows, and delivered one of the best sets of the day. Pelagial is a concept album based around a journey from the surface to the bottom of the ocean – as The Ocean reach the lowest depths on stage, the intensity is unbelievable. Vocalist Loïc Rossetti makes a couple of brave dives into the crowd, the second from one of the aforementioned raised platforms. Luckily for him, he’s caught and makes it back to the stage, and the rest of the band don’t miss a terrifying beat. An incredible performance from a band who are creating some of the best progressive metal right now. If you haven’t checked out Pelagial yet, it might well be time to do so, especially if you can still catch them playing it live.
After catching a few songs from Vallenfyre, I head back to the main stage to see another band playing a full album as their live set at the moment – Katatonia. Viva Emptiness is their 2003 release, considered a seminal album by many. However, perhaps it is not the best choice for a live show, which feels like it lacks energy after seeing so many heavier bands in the same day. The audience is visibly thinning towards the end of their set, and I disappear to check out the Electric Amphetamine stage, which is hidden at the far end of the building. Moss are playing, but they feel almost entirely without pace after the excitement other bands have brought today. I head back to Katatonia for the last few songs (and notice that the crowd has shrunk once more).
The reason people are drifting away, of course, may well be that Cult Of Luna are gearing up to play on the Eyesore Stage. Swamped with lights which are as apocalyptic as their wall of sound, they put on a performance that nobody is likely to forget any time soon. Their dense, repetitive guitar riffs and double percussion section threaten to rupture the skin, while the bass rolls through the room like a miniature earthquake. Without saying a word, Cult Of Luna take the joint award for performance of the day (alongside The Ocean).
Though the closest runner up is just a toe behind – you’ve guessed it (and a lot of you probably think I’m a blasphemer for daring to say that they’re behind those two) – it’s Carcass.
Tearing through old material and a fair amount of their new album Surgical Steel, Carcass’ tight death and grind noise marks a performance to be talked about for some time. The room is packed with fans of all ages cheering for these heroes of metal. Bill Steer and Jeff Walker are on fine form alongside new cohorts Ben Ash (Pig Iron, Desolation, Liquefied Skeleton) and Daniel Wilding (Trigger The Bloodshed). Even though Walker points out his age several times and claims to be in better shape than the tired crowd (asking if it’s past their bedtimes), Carcass rip through their set like they had never been away. An absolutely killer closing act to an amazing day of metal.
Damnation Festival has got a lot going for it. It’s held in a great venue, and presents fans with a huge amount of choice throughout the day, especially when you consider that unlike weekend-long fests, the organisers have only got one day to cram in as many bands as possible. It also probably finds a lot of fans who don’t care for camping – but I feel as exhausted now as I did the day after Bloodstock.
At £34 a ticket, this festival offers incredible value for money, and the opportunity to see a wide range of amazing acts in one place. I’ll definitely be coming back for 2014.