Monday 9 November 2015

Live Review: Damnation Festival 2015, Leeds University Union, 7/11/2015

By: Richard Maw

With a stellar line up, a venue within my own city and the opportunity to wear a battle jacket, attending this year's Damnation was a no brainer. This time around, the music was split between four stages, plus vinyl, merchandise CDs etc. The capacity was limited to a lower level than last year (when trying to get into the right part of the venue to see Cannibal Corpse was a matter of some difficulty) and this made for a much easier day all around, really.

The atmosphere was great from the off. I arrived around 2pm and settled in to watch the main stage openers Savage Messiah at 2.30pm. Really, it is this kind of thing that festivals are all about. I had never heard Savage Messiah before, but I will hear them a lot more now... Their show was absolutely superb. High energy and highly technical thrash/melodic trad came together in a whirlwind of precise riffs and excellent solos. With a new guitar player in tow (who played superbly), this was a show of very high calibre indeed. I was immediately converted as a fan and will be going to see them again when they next come through Leeds or somewhere else in the North. Fantastic band- kind of like Priest/Maiden crossed with Testament. Good singer too. Their (third?) album “Plague of Conscience” is available as a free download through the Earache website- I downloaded it this morning and have it on while writing this review. This evenings plans included ordering the back catalogue (or what of it I can afford) from Amazon/Ebay.  The band deserve to be much bigger, so check them out.

I then caught Sea Bastard on a much smaller stage downstairs- good, heavy doom, played slow and with conviction. I enjoyed their set, but must admit that I did not watch all of it. A little of that stuff can go a long way... Onwards and upwards to The Ocean, then! The German band's “Epilagial” was a superb release a couple of years back and I was looking forward to their set. They did not disappoint as, cellist in tow, they brought an atmospheric and powerful set to life. The front man gave a particularly committed performance- which included diving off the balcony (!) into the crowd. Great band, great show.

On to Keep of Kalessin, who I am not too familiar with; playing a tight and very professional set of extreme and epic metal. For a three piece band, they make a lot of noise and delivered a taut performance with some very fast sections. I enjoyed what they did and, again, will be checking them out on record. I checked out a little of Solstafir, but it wasn't my thing so I moved on for a little food...

For me, one of the main reasons attending was to see Asphyx. They did not disappoint. Complete with dedication to the recently departed Martin “Kiddie” Kearns of Bolt Thrower, the band oozed class and power. Van Drunen screamed his lungs out while his three colleagues played with conviction. Early classics rubbed shoulders with tracks off “Deathhammer” and “Death The Brutal Way.” The band were really, really good and I also must note that their t-shirts were priced at the wholly reasonable £10 each. I bought one- bands charging £15 a shirt is just about acceptable, but anything more than that is very pricey indeed. This was true death with some doom mixed in and their set was a real highlight of the day. Classic band.

Onwards to see another big draw- the mighty High on Fire! Matt Pike and co. turned in a great and loud show. Pike, shirtless, thinner than in recent years and moustachioed threw down his battle axe riffage with aplomb, while Jeff Matz and Des Kensel provided one of the best rhythm sections in extreme music. Plenty from this year's “Luminiferous” was played- I loved hearing “The Falconist” live for the first time- as well as old favourites like “10,000 Years”. Surely one of the bands that most metal heads agree on, HOF burnt as much rubber as their name suggests. I went on to watch some of Primordial who played a professional and entertaining set. Front man Alan Averill was theatrical and charismatic, with as much Maiden as Mayhem in his stage presence. I really must check them out on record, beyond the track on a Terrorizer sampler CD I heard in 1996!

Finally, having been somewhat mystified by Japanese instrumental rock lords Mono for all of five minutes, I headed to watch At The Gates on the main stage. I must confess, first off, that I did not watch the whole set. It had been a long day and the wife was waiting in the Fabia nearby, so I ended up ducking out half way through their set. From what I saw, though, the band are in that rare bracket of “ultra pro” festival act. They played some choice cuts from their “At War With Reality” - which I like but do not love, but really, I was there to see the stuff from “Slaughter of the Soul”. Yes, they played the title track, yes they played other songs and yes, I shouted “GO!!!!” along with everyone else. For me, At The Gates will never really be a current band- I heard “SOTS” first time around and had the Peaceville records too. I think of them as a band from the past- albeit one brought back to life. Maybe that is doing them a disservice- but I just think of them as a kind of extreme metal heritage act. I want to be clear, I love the band and that one record dearly and their performance was one of professionalism and strength- in no way am I knocking it.

Overall, it was an excellent festival and certainly my favourite one in the UK. I like that it mixes genres and bands and brings in some real big guns who I might not otherwise see. For me, band of the day were Savage Messiah- I had never heard them and they blew me away with their utter commitment to the metal cause. At the end of the day, that is what festivals can do. I always check out as much as I can because I might stumble upon a new band that really impresses. If you ever consider attending Damnation, I say do it. I got to see a new band who impressed, veterans who I had never seen and some current heroes who all turned in great performances. And all for £36?! What an absolute bargain.