Live Review: A Night of Salvation
3rd November 2022
Words: Dan Barnes, Julian Pepper, Matthew Williams
Photos: Tim Finch
An appetiser to the main event, the Night of Salvation presents in its third iteration for 2023 as the biggest and most ambitious event Damnation have attempted. Three stages, five bands each is a world award from 2021’s four-band bill or even last year’s extension to five.
Only the second area of the Bowler’s was used last Night of Salvation, but for this event, the other two stages are being given a run through their paces, prior to tomorrow’s main shenanigans. The main arena, the Pins & Knuckles sponsored stage is host to the mouth-watering prospect of five bands all running through one of their classic albums and, as five o’clock strikes, Corby-based rockers, Viking Skull take the stage, Chapter One locked and loaded. Although the shortest of records on the play-list tonight, the band’s debut is nothing short of a Biker Rock staple, one I first encountered back in 2004, when the band opened for Dio, no less.
Those yearning gothic nuance, trippy passages or musical experimentation will have to wait a little while longer, for Viking Skull’s manifesto is to provide the perfect soundtrack to early evening drinking. Beers, Drugs and Bitches, Wizard’s Sleeve and Frostbite all have those dirty riffs and obnoxious swagger the music scene so desperately needs. “It’s fuckin’ freezing in here,” states frontman, Roddy Stone, “get the heating on, Gav!”, but that’s the nature of the Bowler’s this early in the show. Give it time and it’ll be toasty-warm naturally.
“Any truck drivers here?” is the opening segue to Crazy Trucker, a place where Skull’s sound deviates slightly from the norm. Raped, Pillage and Burn drops a Sabbath-vibe, while Skull Heaven takes an Orange Goblin sort of turn. Red Eyed Woman and Devil’s Hand see out the set and A Night of Salvation has begun for sure. [DB]
Second band on the main stage is Damnation regulars, Post-Rock, Post-Metal, Trandoshian-titled Bossk, who are bringing their debut record, Audio Noir, for a full work through and, you know what, they could have stolen the whole weekend from under everyone’s noses right here. A smidge over forty-five minutes is all the band have – all the band need – to prove they own Damnation 2023. (Further evidence of that would come tomorrow, but that’s for later).
Using the video screens at the back of the stage to greater affect than anyone this weekend – with the, possible, exception of Amenra – Bossk take the stage before images of cosmic movement; the Vangelis-like opening bars of The Reverie ooze from the PA with a beautiful fragility. But that cannot last, and it is replaced by loops of sludge-laden riffs of such an immense size as to be relative to the graphics projected behind, a force continued through Heliopause. It is here that we see the first of few appearances by Bossk vocalist, Sam Marsh, who comes and goes throughout the performance, allowing the spirit of the music to build organically.
Relancer, coupled with the imagery, give pause to reflect on our insignificance in the face of cosmic scale, Kobe leans into the band’s post-rock sensibilities for the most part, whereas Atom Smasher, as its name might suggest, is a full-on ripper. I don’t think it was intended to go this way, but Bossk caught the mood of the room perfectly and laid down a marker for the whole festival; delivering a set of delicate intimacy and vast scope, all at the same time. [DB]
The first of two Enslaved sets this weekend sees the band running through their 2003 album, Below the Lights. The last album before Enslaved found a wider popularity through the back-to-back of Ruun and Isa, Below the Lights was an interesting choice. As Fire Swept Clean the Earth retains some the band’s Second Wave Black Metal roots, combined with the broader and more inventive progressive tones that would inform their work from here-on-in. As it’s the album’s twentieth
anniversary and marks a liminal moment for Enslaved, maybe Below the Lights isn’t as curious a choice as first thought. The Dead Stare is fast and furious and has some Priest-like guitars in the mid-section; it also has great swathes of the crowd dancing and dissolves into a distinctly Hawkwind-esque Space Rock feel. The band earn their proggy spurs on The Crossing and give UK live debuts to both Queen of Night and Ridicula Swarm, leaving one to wonder why these songs have been omitted from the British roster for two decades.
Havenless harkens back to the early days of Enslaved and is the kind of tune those of a mind to would gladly quaff mead from a drinking horn and pass an evening stroking their beards. Grutle Kjellson swaps out his bass for a small synthesizer, giving the song a more traditional sensibility. A Darker Place ends the show in suitably epic fashion, slipping into eerie Black Metal tropes alongside the Folk and blatant Heavy Metal and, as ever, Enslaved prove themselves incapable of mediocrity. A point of note: Roddy must have been right about the temperature in the Bowler’s tonight, as Ice Dale, most often stripped to the waist, has decided to keep his vest on for this one. [DB]
Fellow Norwegians and one-time Ihsahn backing band, Leprous, take the stage for a tenth anniversary run through of their Coal record. It is an album frontman, Einar Solberg, announces saw the band find their own sound and push forward on their own terms. Previous records, Tall Poppy Syndrome and Bilateral had seen the band with some technical death metal elements to their sound, but Coal found the band forging a more modern, progressive path.
Foe sees the band starting before a digital representation of the album cover and with sparse lighting the members of Leprous are little more than shades on the stage. Chronic takes a turn for the heavy with thumping bass and crunching guitars; the title-track shows here is a band not afraid to get down and dirty. The Cloak takes a turn for the more emotionally charged and Leprous mange the change of direction effortlessly.
I’m reminded of moments from Marillion’s Bitter Suite during The Valley, Salt gets a rare live outing and Echo might not be as pounding as Bossk, but can match the Ashford band in scale and scope. Leaving only Contaminate Me, which Einar counters the claim Coal is Leprous’ transitional record by reverting to an older sound off the first couple of albums. [DB]
Ten years on from their last Damnation appearance, the Kings of Swedish Gothic Melancholy, Katatonia, return for two shows. The first is this Night of Salvation headline where the band will run though the 2012 masterpiece Dead End Kings. For tonight, Katatonia are a five-piece, with the addition of second guitarist Per Eriksson, who briefly reacquainted himself with the band for this performance. The Parting opens the set in a gloriously morose manner, while the band are joined by Silje Wergeland to contribute additional vocals to The One You are Looking for Is Not Here. Both Hypnone and The Racing Heart feel like the musical versions of Bronte novels and the booming drums and huge guitars give Buildings a menacing façade.
By the time we get to Leech we’ve already reached the conclusion that Katatonia are unique in their field: no one sounds like this band, and no one can align sorrowful riffs with pounding percussion, all held together by Niklas Sandin’s bass work and topped by Jonas Renkse’s melancholic vocal delivery. Granted, you’re unlikely to get a broken nose in a circle pit, but you might get a broken heart when Undo You is played, showing all those Emo bands precisely how to do emotional content. Jonas states it’s a song they don’t play very often but confirmed even the band think “it’s great.”
Tonight’s rendition of Leathen is punchy and powerful, First Prayer hits as hard as most this weekend and the finale of Dead Letters ends the show and the evening on a high. The band will return tomorrow but for tonight, they are the Dead End Kings of Damnation. [DB]
Black Metal label Cult Never Dies is sponsoring Night of Salvation’s Second Stage this evening and at four o’clock sharp – because tardiness and Black Metal do not good bedfellows make – Church Road Record’s The Sun’s Journey Through the Night take to the stage with a ferocious rendition of the Second Wave of Black Metal, mixed with some Dimmu-style symphonic elements. The mysterious musicians manage to combine the raw with the cultured to give the weekend an atmospheric opening barrage, blending brooding evil with sharp tempos. [DB]
Unpronounceable Liverpudians, Ninkharsag bring the icy wastes of primaeval Scandinavia to Manchester with a series of blistering blasts, demonic beats and fiery riffs. Raw-throated vocals and sawing guitars slake the thirsts of all acolytes of music’s darkest arts, as they unleash a series of blasphemies in front of a representation latest album, The Dread March of Solemn Gods. [DB]
The Infernal Sea have the sound of a Gaahl-fronted Gorgoroth, wherein the band mix excoriating moments of pure evil with the more melodic. There’s a surprising number of earworms to be found among the band’s work, which stetches back to 2010 and includes a split 7” with Old Corpse Road among others. As such, The Infernal Sea have been around long enough to be comfortable with channelling their influences and unmistakable references to both Mayhem and Cradle of Filth are evident throughout tonight’s show. The band are too long in the tooth to be trying to reinvent the genre, but they can be heard pushing its boundaries to see where its boarders are at their most fragile. [DB]
Japan is not the first place you’d necessarily think of when contemplating Black Metal. That the national religion is primarily Shinto and Buddhism, with Christianity – BM’s arch-nemesis – a minor sect across vast swathes of the Orient suggest there is only a very small call for God Baiting in that region of the world. That didn’t stop Sigh, who would begin as a Black Metal Horde in the way only a Japanese band could, before morphing into something a whole lot more insane.
Tonight’s show at least is a little more structured and focuses on the band’s debut record from 1993, Scorn Defeat. From the outset of A Victory of Dakini, with the slow riffs and prominent organ demonstrate the need for frozen blasting didn’t reach Asia. The Knell and At My Funeral take element of classic rock, classical music and extreme metal and throw them together to make an unsettling musical soundscape.
Grandiose theatrics, including a flag being waved from behind the drum kit and a flaming sword being held aloft, greet the instrumental Gundali, as Ready for War concludes with a Hammond organ. Taste Defeat ends the show with the most traditional version of Black Metal heard on the record, albeit slowed down and doom-laden.
If you consider Black Metal through the lens of national identity, whereby religion takes a backseat to land and its history, then Japan would be a prime location for such an ideology. Few countries have such a revered and precious past as the Land of the Rising Sun and, in that respect, Sigh are prime candidates for Black Metal. Japan’s history is different to Europe’s; therefore, their Black Metal would be different too. [DB]
The first band to play at a Night of Salvation, Akercocke played The Goat of Mendes record front to back in 2021. Tonight, it’s the twentieth (almost to the day) anniversary of the release of the seminal Choronzon, the band’s third full-length. Back then, the besuited Satanists were on Earache Records and seemed ready to explode onto the scene with this combination of cultured segments amid a tempest of uncompromising darkness.
Ripping versions of Leviathan, Enraptured by Evil and Valley of the Crucified follow the opening salvo of Praise the Name of Satan. By Bathyklopian Avatar you’re wondering how Jason Mendonca is still able to pull this off vocally after twenty years.
Interludes, Leviathan, the droning Choronzon and the ambient Upon Coriaceous Wings add texture to what is already a triumph of British Extreme Metal. Scapegoat and Becoming Adversary surround a glorious Son of the Morning and the bombastic Godless Flesh closes the show.
Having headlined the second Damnation festival’s second stage back in 2006 – playing at the same time as The Haunted (clever, that, Mr Scheduler-Man!!!) – Akercocke and Damnation have history and whenever they play, they are always a strong and significant addition to any bill. So, that’s fingers-crossed for a play-though of Words that Go Unspoken for 2025 from me! [DB]
The third stage at A Night of Salvation this year was sponsored by those lovely folk at Church Road Records, and the stage itself used to showcase the talents of the bands on their roster.
With 'Swords of a 1000 Men' blasting over the PA, Celestial Sanctuary kick off proceedings and set the place alive with 'Rid The Gormless' and 'Mass Extinction' getting the heads banging and horns in the air, the brutal death metal making an immediate impact, with a lively mosh pit emerging at the front. When this four piece from Cambridge play fast, they play really fast, but it’s the slower tempo that really impresses me.
With Doom gameplay on the massive screen behind them, they explode to life with the fast and heavy as f**k 'Suffer Your Sentience' and lead singer Tom seemed genuinely surprised when he asked the crowd how many had heard of the band, which was met with rapturous applause, and he thanked everyone for turning up on a Friday afternoon, before they rip into the madness that is 'Trapped Within the Rank Membrane', which left the crowd baying for more. A great start to the day. [MW]
A long recorded intro summons Inhuman Nature to the stage and as singer Chris, beckons the crowd forward, he screams out “let’s fucking go” before they launch into opening track 'Taste of Steel' with the thrash metal sound coming across loud and clear. 'Ride the Apocalypse' accelerates the pace with its fast tempo, and with impressive rapid drumming from Simon throughout, it keeps the momentum going for the moshers up front in the pit.
Chris is prowling the stage and going through his full repertoire of deathly grunts and growls across the stage, and with the blistering solos in 'Take Them by Forces' the crowd are responding with lots of fists shaking in the air, and with 'Carnivorous Lunar Activities' going straight for the jugular, the 5 piece thrashers from London, have delivered another scintillating performance on the Church Road Records Stage. [MW]
The day before the Night of Salvation it was announced that Tuskar would unfortunately not be able to play and would be replaced by Leeds post rockers Din of Celestial Birds, a band that I was previously unfamiliar with! However, a few listens to latest release “The Night is for Dreamers” on my delayed train journey north got me hooked and looking forward to their set.
I sure wasn’t to be disappointed as Din of Celestial Birds made the most of their opportunity with an energetic and emotional set, that was imho the best of the day! Tracks such as album opener 'Utopia', 'Laureate of American Lowlife', 'Junebug' and 'MMEC' captivated the large crowd and it was obvious from the smiles on their faces that all five members loved every minute of it. Din of Celestial Birds belong here! [JP]
Heriot just get better every time I see them and are surely destined for bigger and better things and stages! The crowd is absolutely rammed in the Church Road Records room as the four piece rip through their furious HM2 drenched set that covers their debut Profound Mortality and single releases.
Vocalist and guitarist Debbie Gough is a whirlwind of head banging and kicks stage centre throughout and stand out tracks such as latest release 'Demure', 'Coalescence' and 'Near Vision' show Heriot at their ferocious best and create mayhem in the pit to the disbelief of the security. Believe the hype, Heriot really are the next big thing! [JP]
Getting New Jersey hardcore band Deadguy to make their long overdue UK/European live appearance was a master stroke by Damnation! On the Night of Salvation they play their influential 1995 album 'Fixation on a Co-Worker' in its entirety to an adoring and expectant crowd, who mirror the energy coming off the stage from the hardcore four piece.
It only takes a few tracks for security to be called as the wave of crowd surfers intensifies due to frontman Chris Corvino encouraging them to keep coming over the top! Stand out tracks are 'Pins and Needles', 'Die With Your Mask On' and 'The Extremist', which along with a few deeper cuts at the end leaves all in attendance eagerly anticipating their second set on the Saturday! [JP]
Check out the rest of our Damnation Festival coverage!