Live Review: Damnation Festival 2019
As we drive through the outskirts of Leeds, rains pours down upon us, the sky is grey, the city skyline obscured by cloud. Autumn is here and winter is most definitely coming. However the reason we are in Leeds is the most extreme of metal reasons for today is the day of reckoning. It is DAMNATION.
With twenty eight bands spanning four stages over an afternoon and evening to do this festival justice in written form is simply impossible. So we bring you our highlights from the festival, those bands that stood out and went above and beyond to impress.
Straight out of the blocks Alunah are waking up this early risers. The doom infused Birmingham bred quartet open the day on the Eyesore Merch stage. Heavy as hell; their music reverberates around the room and resonates to your very soul. Sian’s vocals add depth to the bands performance, haunting in delivery creating an atmosphere that sucks the crowd in. As the doom element of the festival goes, these guys and gal stole the day.
Fourteen years ago Raging Speedhorn headlined the very first edition of Damnation Festival, today they make their fourth appearance. Their blood courses through the festivals veins, they are Damnation Festival! Today the festival is a much bigger beast than it was in the beginning and they have the coveted opening slot on the main stage.
The main stage is busy all day but Speedhorn get the blood pumping from the off. Dan Cook, recently added to the bands line up, has injected new life and soul into the party and they perform a blistering set. Forty five minutes of brutality, Dan a whirlwind is straight into the crowd whilst Frank reigns supreme on stage. Whilst the vocalists do their thing, Andy, Dave, Jim and Gordon produce a cacophony of joyous noise. Heavy riffs, throbbing bass and barbaric drums assault us for the entirety of what turns out to be the best set of the day. Raging Speedhorn once again prove why they are the unsung heroes of the British metal scene.
We’ve covered Dawn Ray’d a few times over the past weeks (reviewing their new album, interviewing them and witnessing their album launch) so to see them again so soon is an added bonus for us. Their political message, which is in stark contrast to other performers views here today, drives their music. Their passion for their beliefs flows into their art and it’s no surprise that the room which hosts the Cult Never Dies stage is packed, there is simply no room to move as they start their set. Melding guitar, drums and violin into a barrage on your senses. This is black metal with meaning and it works so very well!
There’s something different happening on the Eyesore Merch stage. Jo Quail, a cellist, performs on her own, no backing band, no vocalist, just one woman and her cello. This may not sound like the right festival for such an act, but you would be totally wrong. Jo mesmerises from the off, using her electric cello and pedal board to great effect. She makes a sound with her cello, uses the pedal board to record and repeat the sound on a loop, then layers it with more sounds and so on. As each song develops in front of your eyes (and ears) the sound grows, Jo adds depth and feeling as the songs build. It’s a mesmerising performance that I know my words can simply not do justice. An inspired booking from Gav and the Damnation team.
French duo Alcest a quite something, performing at the festival on the main stage. Their look and stage presence understated, they let their music do the talking. Having recently released their 6th studio album, ‘Spiritual Instinct’, they meld elements of black metal, shoegaze and even a hint of prog into a performance that encapsulates the gathered crowd. Whether you like black metal or not, Alcest transcend this genre and their live performance wins over even the most sceptical of fans.
Iceland’s The Vintage Caravan mix things up on the line up for the day. A hint of stoner rock mixed with hard rock they are more up beat, a little lighter than many bands on show today. Their enthusiasm knows no bounds as they bound around the stage enjoying every minute of their set. The fans feed off them and the atmosphere is electric as they provide one of the performances of the day.
Venom Prison are another band festival goers will be familiar with. A few years ago they performed in an early slot on then the Terrorizer stage, now back on the same stage (rebranded the Tone Mgmt Stage) they are headliners. It shows just how far they have come in a short space of time and what waves they are making in the industry.
Kicking off the set with a guest appearance from Jo Quail on cello performing a new song composed specifically for her they are soon into their usual extreme assault. The darkened room illuminated sporadically by their strobe lighting as Ash and Ben thrash away on their guitars. Larissa holds the audience in the palm of her hand with her gripping performance, gut wrenching vocals and messages of the state of society and immigration. With this performance Venom Prison have proven their worth; they are the future of the British scene and long may they reign!
To close off the day, back on the main stage, are Swedish progressive outfit Opeth. They may have a cut down stage show from the one they are touring elsewhere, but the simplified set dressing fit’s in with the festival’s image.
The performance itself is no less encapsulating than other audiences have been receiving across Europe. Opening with new number ‘Svekets Prins’, the band are proud of their latest album, and with good cause. But alas only two new songs make the festival setlist, as the band roll out some fan favourites and all time classics. A majestic performance from a band worthy of their headliner slot, they finish with ‘Deliverance’ much their fans delight.
Thus the fifteenth edition of Damnation Festival comes to a close. There are the usual comments online post event of stages being hard to find and security being over zealous, but alas that is the same with any other festival not just this one. When I first attended in this venue in 2008 part of the charm was finding your way round, discovering the stages and the bands within them. Despite knowing the venue like the back of my hand these days, the layout is still part of what brings me back year on year, darting between stages and catching bands I’ve never seen before, discovering new music that will live on with me for the rest of my days. Damnation Festival is now established as the king of indoor metal festivals in this country, and with all its quirks and idiosyncrasies we love it more with each edition.