Live Review: Damnation Festival
5th November 2022
Words: Dan Barnes, Julian Pepper, Matthew Williams, Cat Finch
Photos: Tim Finch
Under normal circumstances to lose a festival headliner so close to a show could be a near-fatal blow; so, when Ministry cancelled their European dates back in September, one can only imagine the devastation felt at Damnation HQ. However, character is forged in the fires of adversity, and Damnation put on its Big Boy (or Girl) pants and found a solution even more enticing than the show most of us had bought tickets for in the first place.
The first band to take to the Pins & Knuckles Stage is Atlanta, Georgia’s Irist who are making their first ever European trek. Mixing progressive sludgy grooves and post metal sensibilities, they fill the air with a combination of ripping guitar and complex rhythms. There’s clearly a Meshuggah influence here – as evidenced by vocalist Rodrigo Carvalho’s stage moves – and the pounding, sheer crushing weight of the unstoppable riffs. Blending in moments of mellow, almost introspective post rock and the occasional earworm or two, Irist represent their excellent Order of the Mind album – and its EP successor Gloria – to a worthy degree. With a healthy crowd in attendance, Damnation 2022 is fully up and running. [DB]
A new discovery for me, and from the moment the Austrians Insanity Alert bounded onto the stage, this was a full on party that was all about getting the crowd moving about. And boy did they do that! Only at Damnation do you get an inflatable Pokeman in the pit, and the growing crowd duly responded to the madness and chaos created on stage by the diminutive figure of Heavy Kevy, whose range of home made signs included “lets circle pit” and “all mosh no brain”. All thrown into the crowd for them to keep as souvenirs for this energetic performance of crossover thrash. They got the crowd moving with such songs as 'I come/I fuck shit up/I leave', the insane 'Metal Punx Never Die' and the instant classic 'Why is David Guetta Still Alive'. This was exactly what was needed in the middle of the afternoon as they definitely came and fucked shit up! [MW]
As a mass of bodies empty the Eyesore stage, Full of Hell hit the stage to a massive cheer, charging straight into 'Halogen Bulb' feedback engulfs the room as vocalist, and chief noise maker, Dylan Walker, traverses the stage like a man possessed. After a few songs, the pit is a mass of heaving, sweating bodies, all worshipping a the bands feet and baying for more. They rip through crazy and frenetic and crazy set including 'Digital Prison' and 'Barb and Sap' but the performance seemed smoother and more composed in the middle section before going all batshit mental towards the end again. They definitely kept the crowd thinking, not knowing what noise was coming next, but this was pretty crazy and entertaining stuff. [MW]
And so the chaos begins! The hall is absolutely packed to the rafters, and the expectant pit is ready to tear the place apart for one of the special headline sets from Pig Destroyer. To hear the stunning 'Prowler in the Yard' in its entirety was something special. And from the opening bars of 'Jennifer' all the way through to 'Piss Angel' this is a grind masterclass, full of insanely fast riffs, flurries of feedback and rapid machine gun fire drumming. With frontman J.R. Hayes paying homage to Napalm Death to Bolt Thrower, he commands the stage and is mesmerising to watch, beckoning the crowd on to go full on crazy and they duly oblige from the word go. Truly awe-inspiring to watch, and a joy to behold. [MW]
Another alumni of the 2012 festival, My Dying Bride make their return to Damnation with an increasing rare appearance on Albion’s soil. Nobody does Gothic Misery like the Halifax sextet and they enthral the Bowler’s main room with half a dozen odes to rapturous woe. Kicking off with To Shiver in Empty Halls from 2015’s Feel the Misery record, it’s clear even My Dying Bride billing between Pig Destroyer’s cacophonous assault and Godflesh’s nihilism cannot rob them of their ability to devastate with desperation. Augmenting brutal riffs with classical keyboard and violin MDB somehow sound even more grim than usual tonight; the digital monochrome backdrop the perfect visual representation of their sound.
Like Gods of the Sun arrives with a heavy stomp and the unmistakable introduction of The Cry of Mankind lets everyone know there will be no let up in the melancholy. The reintroduction of the violin to My Dying Bride’s musical arsenal over the last few albums means they are able to revisit their past without it feeling jarring. Divided only by a magnificent She is the Dark, Damnation gets Your River and Turn Loose the Swans from the sophomore album, giving us long time fans a gloriously epic trip down memory lane. [DB]
Playing their 1989 seminal masterpiece 'Streetcleaner' in its entirety, Godflesh was THE performance of the day, and felt like the headline act. The brummie duo drew in a massive crowd, thanks to the Damnation crew for no clashing with these sets, and it felt like a spiritual procession. The sort of performance that will be talked about for years to come with many 1000’s more proclaiming that “they were there”. But if you weren’t, you missed a classic set. With the enigmatic G.C. Green on stage left, and the raucous, dynamic, angst ridden Justin Broadrick on the right hand side, they burst through 'Like Rats' and 'Christbait Rising' in next to no time, with the crowd just left transfixed by the music and huge visuals on the big screen. This was just perfect and they make it look so damn easy, with 'Dream Long Dead' and 'Life is Easy' my two personal favourites of a truly awesome set. This was an event all by itself. [MW]
The chance to see Swedish legends At The Gates perform their seminal 'Slaughter of the Soul' album in full was worth the ticket price alone, to have twenty three other bands thrown into the mix on top was just a bonus.
From the open notes of 'Blinded by Fear' to the last drop of 'The Flames of the End' we are treated to pure, unbridled mayhemic mastery. The circle pits are whirring, the limbs are flying, those who enjoy a surf are launching themselves over the crowd. The band are tighter than they've been for years, this the first show with Anders Björler back in fold and what a welcome return it is. It has tightened the bands performance to a more precise battering than I have seen in a long long time. This is death metal perfection! [CF]
We've been treated to some very special performances over the course of the last two days, so to top it off with Converge performing 'Jane Doe' in full was something special. Hats off to Gav and Paul for pulling this off.
Throughout the hour plus long set we are treated to something unique, unlikely are we to see this again. Just as the album does, the performance builds, the show gets more intense with every note, every song. The six thousand strong crowd enveloped in the visceral performance love every second of it. 'Jane Doe' is a masterpiece, and this set highlights that perfectly.
To follow that would have been impossible, and the rightful headliners steel the show, topped off with a cover of Entombed's 'Wolverine Blues' as an encore. [CF]
Fresh from its use yester-evening for A Night of Salvation, the Holy Goat Stage has been shorn of its merchandise tables and is ready to host an octet of some of the scene most devastating bands; seven of the bands gracing the Holy Goat today are touring partners who have been smashing up Europe on two separate treks across the continent.
First up is Holland’s Distant who have spent the last few weeks destroying audiences as part of Despised Icon’s tour. Harsh, destructive riffs and colossal breakdowns prove Distant are Deathcore to their – well, core. Early calls for a circle pit meet with an enthused response as does a wall of death. Vermillion Rivers comes complete with a massive double bass kick; Aeons of Oblivion is dedicated to all those who are seeing the band for the first time and Distant even managed to slot in a new track, Exofilth from the forthcoming album. Early indication suggest we’ll find progressive flights of fancy among the brutality. [DB]
Also touring with Despised Icon is Illinois scene survivors, Oceano. Having one of the most stable line-ups in the band’s history has brought an onstage understanding between the four members and, whether it’s Adam’s slamming vocals or Scott’s huge riffs or even Matt’s skipping drums, watching Oceano makes you wonder why they are not lauded in the same breaths as Whitechapel or Despised Icon themselves. The band drop a couple of newbies into the set in the shape of Living Chaos and Mass Produced, focusing the bulk of the time to 2015’s Ascendants record. Old school fans have to satisfy themselves with District of Misery from the debut, although it’s not like Oceano have much mellowed over the years. [DB]
The first band of the other touring package is the Bell Witch/ Aerial Ruin hybrid, playing under the name of Stygian Bough, the resultant record of the bands’ collaboration. The three-piece appear to be wanting to give My Dying Bride a run for their money when it comes to the establishing of morose and mournful riffing. Slow, plodding progressions of almost funereal tempo fill the room, atop a droning bass and haunted vocals. Each series of notes hitting like massive objects colliding in the vastness of space; yet there is some respite from the sorrow as creeping keyboards begin to rear their heads, adding something of a progressive element to Stygian Bough’s overall sound. [DB]
Formed in the first wave of the late-eighties Death Metal scene, New Yorkers, Incantation, have been steadily going about their business with little fanfare but with an unwavering dedication to the craft. Releasing a steady stream of albums since 1992’s Onward to Golgotha up to 2020’s Sect of Vile Divinities, Incantation take to the stage with a quiver loaded with stone-cold classic Death Metal. It’s strangely refreshing to hear some old school DM among the Deathcore and the veterans are more than happy to serve up cuts from the early years, in the form of the debut’s Christening the Afterbirth, up to newest tracks Propitiation and Siege Hive, touching base at various points in their long history. Still retaining that Florida-sound so prevalent back in the day, those of us of a certain age cannot help but feel all nostalgic as they carve out filthy tunes of evil riffs from strangulated guitars and muscular death growls. [DB]
The third and final band of the ‘other’ touring package appearing on the Holy Goat stage is Washington State’s Wolves in the Throne Room. The eco-Black Metallers have the daunting prospect of entertaining the masses who have just witnessed Pig Destroyer annihilate Damnation with a flawless rendition of Prowler in the Yard. Yet, these Wolves are long enough in the tooth to be able to enchant while they bludgeon and begin their rite with two from their newest release, Primordial Arcana. Mountain Magick starts with an ambience broken only by a building beat before the brothers Weaver take to the stage and dole out some hefty slices of modern black metal. The stage setting is minimalistic as Wolves mine the Varg playbook on how to create vast epics of unholy sound.
Thunder and a banshee howling wind form the bridge to Spirit of Lightning with such authenticity as to feel like we are standing on a barren plane in days of yore. As on record, Wolves in the Throne Room imbue their performance with a journey through the broad church that is black metal; one moment they are pummelling raw-throated odes to the Elder Gods, the next they are mesmerising with delicate, pastoral interludes. So much so that, in retrospect, the ambient drone of 2014’s Celestite album seems a natural development for the band. Prayer of Transformation leads into the finale of both Two Hunters and today’s set, the epically titled band magnum opus of I Will Lay Down my Bones Among the Rocks and the Roots. If ever a song represented a band, here it is: a massive, multifaceted showstopper that ticks every Wolves in the Throne Room box. Magnificent. [DB]
Misery Index is the only band appearing on the Holy Goat stage today who isn’t here as part of a touring package. But that doesn’t mean the Balitmore bruisers are Damnation’s Billy-No-Mates, as drummer Adam Jarvis had barely had time to catch his breath after marking Pig Destroyer’s time, before having to pop behind the kit of his day job. Misery Index’s death/ grind assault is hardly a respite for the sticks man as they attack with the ferocity and intensity of any band you could chose to mention. Brilliant white spots sweep the crowd like searchlights as the band promote this year’s Complete Control record, through Rites of Cruelty, Infiltrators and the title track.
Such is the depth of Misery Index’s back catalogue that they can plunge into it anywhere and not experience a drop in quality or intensity. I first saw the band at Hellfest back in ’09 and whenever they play anything from their Traitors record it is always a welcome nostalgia trip, so Ruling Class Cancelled and Traitors were particular highlights for me. Conjuring the Cull, The Carrion Call and the like give you a reasonable idea of where Misery Index are coming from – as though the band name itself isn’t clue enough – and their uncompromising, bludgeoning aggression suggests here is a quartet of angry men needing to vent their collective spleen. And what a gloriously ungodly racket it is too. [DB]
Deathcore giants Despised Icon have the unenviable task of playing to a crowd filing in from Godflesh, so it is a testimony to the Canadians that they grab Damnation 2022 by the scruff of the neck and beat the audience into a state of submission. Cranking guitars and relentlessly pummelling drums express the band’s unwavering dedication to their craft; polyrhythms hit like grindingly brutal trip-hammers, yet the songs are never without texture or scope of intention. Crunching riffs and massive breakdowns are all crisply executed as vocalist Steve Marois prowls the stage blasting destructive words at the frenzied crowd. Pulling a set from all but their debut record, Despised Icon leave no one alive, demanding total commitment from the crowd and getting it in spades. With Distant and Oceano also having played today and having received such enthusiastic receptions, it leads one to consider whether Deathcore is about to make a whole-hearted return. [DB]
Bringing an end to the Holy Goat Brewing stage are Polish death metal heavyweights Decapitated. You could feel the anticipation in the air, as the room was heaving, and when the intro music kicked in, the band are welcomed on with loud applause. With the backdrop showing the cover of their latest album 'Cancer Culture' singer Rafal Piotrowski, fills the hall with his immense power and they begin to lay siege to the room. They are immensely brutal, and so much faster that I remember them from previous shows I’ve been at. The full on assault is encapsulated best by drummer James Stewart, who was truly immense, and with songs like 'Just a Cigarette', 'Last Supper', 'Spheres of Madness' and the spellbinding 'Iconoclast' this was a setlist that perfectly brought proceedings on the Holy Goat Brewing stage to a fitting end. [MW]
Damnation’s third and smallest stage is the Eyesore Merch Stage, conveniently situated between the two main arenas and host a plethora of bands to slack the appetite of the most ardent sludge-hound.
And so the return to Manchester begins for Damnation Festival, albeit in a much bigger venue than their humble beginning 16 years earlier. The day starts on the Eyesore Merch Stage, with dark and mysterious American doom band Frayle. As the crowd starts to drift in, the heaviness of the music fills the room, with vocalist Gwyn Strag dominating the stage with her alluring voice. With songs 'Treacle and Revenge' and 'Bright Eyes' drifting together effortlessly, and aided by a stunning light show, the crowd seemed to rally enjoy the band and it was a great way to start the day. [MW]
Although beset by technical issues at the start, this clearly didn’t dampen the crowds enthusiasm for what they were about to witness from French post rock band Bruit. With classical instrumentation mixed with loops, drums and guitars, they were greeted with big cheers when their sombre, haunting melodies were blasting through the PA system. They put the audience into an almost trance like state as the music goes through many journeys, dark, mysterious, mythical, gloomy, yet wonderfully hypnotic. Certain parts were heavy as hell, but throughout the shortened set, my overall conclusion was that these were the find of the day, as they were enchanting and uplifting. [MW]
The Eyesore Merch stage was ideally suited for those slow, more atmospheric bands and thats exactly why So Hideous shone through the gloom during their set. As the smoke machine created a fog across the audience, through the murkiness appeared a band who's post-black metal ambience was able to shine a light through the darkness. The menacing atmospherics, haunting and chilling in places, worked so well in a room packed with what must have been 1500 festival goers. [CF]
As the blue lights descends up on the expectant crowd, the melancholy music begins and We Lost The Sea emerge to a great applause. Once again, the crowd are swaying, trapped in their own world, as the instrumental band from Australia, delight and tease the audience with their genius. Building on their set from the previous evening, the performance is captivating, with the dazzling light show enhancing it immeasurably. I found my mind drifting off to dark and mysterious places whilst stood there listening, but the music they create is stunning, and goes from sombre to enchanting, from haunting to atmospheric. Another epic performance. [MW]
After having to pull out of last years Damnation at the last minute due to the dreaded plague it was great to see Green Lung on the bill this year to make up for it!And make up for it they did with (in my opinion) the set of the day! Fresh from the announcement of their signing to Nuclear Blast Records you could tell from the off that this was going to be a special set! Throughout the rabid crowd were singing along and banging their heads in unison to the occult rock sounds emanating from the stage. And what sounds they were as they ripped through tracks from both Woodland Rites and Black Harvest albums! The sound was great throughout and made tracks such as Graveyard Sun, Templar Dawn and closer Let the Devil In sound huge. Lead singer Tom finished the set being held aloft by the crowd whilst singing, which was the perfect way to end a superb performance. [JP]
Over on the Eyesore Merch stage 40 Watt Sun were an oasis of soothing sounds in a desert of heavier bands. As usual this was an emotional and cathartic set for the crowd, who were visibly moved and totally engrossed by Patrick Walker and his superb band.Songs from the 2022 released album 'Perfect Light' sounded great in the live environment, with 'Until' and 'Stages' (from Wider Than the Sky) being particular highlights of the set. [JP]
This is the last stop on Elder and Pallbearer’s 7 week long European tour and both bands go out with a bang at Damnation!Pallbearer come on to ecstatic roars from the crowd and immediately commence to flatten all in front of them with their heavy doom metal! Playing a career spanning set, that starts with Forgotten Days and ends with the legendary Given to the Grave from their (now 10 year old) classic debut Sorrow & Extinction, the band are in fine form. The riffs are heavy and the crowd are lapping it up as the final chords ring out! [JP]
Elder also receive a rapturous welcome as they take to the stage and launch into Compendium. They play the set with huge grins on their faces, which are replicated in the crowd as their psychedelic stoner rock sounds wash over them.Like Pallbearer before them they play songs covering their career to date with crowd favourites Dead Roots Stirring and closer Sanctuary sounding particularly huge. All 4 band members are at the top of their games and this set is a superb way to close out proceedings on the Eyesore Merch stage. [JP]
It is to the eternal credit of Damnation 2022 that the withdrawal of Ministry did not signal the death knell of the show, rather spurned the organisers on to a more creative solution. As big a fan as I am of Uncle Al and company, getting to see album sets from Converge, At the Gates, Godflesh and Pig Destroyer more than made up for their absence.
In the foyer, between the Pins & Knuckles and Holy Goat stages, hung a graphic showing the bill posters of all the Damnation shows to date – even 2020’s Cancelled as Fuck show gets a place. From the humble beginnings at Jilly’s back on a Sunday afternoon in 2005, through the excesses of the 2008 and 2014 shows, to the final Leeds festival last year, scanning through those posters is a real trip down memory lane. Yet, here we are at a liminal point for Damnation, a new beginning built upon the foundations of those shows and ready (and able) to soar even higher into the festival skyline.
Check out the rest of our Damnation Festival coverage!