Live review: DAMNATION FESTIVAL 2018 @ Leeds U…

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Festival date – 3rd November 2018

Words: Tim Finch/Matt D

Photos: Tim Finch

I’ve lost count of the number of years we’ve been covering Damnation Festival now. But it’s a testament to the festival’s organisation that year on year this event sells out. A stellar line-up of the twenty-seven bands across the four stages gives us a lot to see and talk about as the lovers of doom, metal and more gather again to the hallowed ground of Leeds University’s student union.

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Birmingham necro punks Fukpig have been upgraded following a lengthy absence. Now a six piece with dual vocals there are less samples and more angsty guitars. The world has gone to shit and they are here to drive that point home. The Tone Mgmt stage is packed to the rafters and a sea of angry fans let rip as we are treated to ‘Dogshit Hair’, ‘Die Bastard’ and ‘Batcave Full of Bastards’. New song ‘Nuclear Pricks’ is thrown in for good measure in a wonderful start to the day.

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Over on the Jagermeister stage we have death metal in its purist form. Cancer, the day after releasing their first album for 13 years, play the same stage once graced by Led Zeppelin. The old and new tracks meld perfectly together from ‘Cancer Fucking Cancer’ to ‘Down The Steps’. Their style is the same as it always was. On point death metal perfection.

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Over on the Eyesore Merch stage, Canterbury’s OHHMS purvey their eccentric doom mastery opening with the 22-minute progressive marathon of ‘Subjects’ from their forthcoming album. Progressive wonderment is the best way to describe them a band whose music and live shows you can get fully lost in, taken away to a place far from the venue you are in. A set far too short at just 40 minutes, but fantastic all the same.

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For the first time in four years Dave Hunt and Mick Kenney are back at Damnation Festival with Anaal Nathrakh and it’s a step up to the main stage for them. 

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The most extreme brutal band on the bill today with anger borne out from the opening notes of Obscene as Cancer right the way through. Despite a multitude of technical problems, the crowd lap it up. New song Forward! destroys all before it just as epic live as on record and a wall of death like no other destroys not only the room but the fans within it.

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After seeing Nathrakh essentially claim the Reflectory as theirs surely there’s potential for an hour-long slot in the future? Only time will tell…

From hearing Dave Hunt quoting 1984 to walking across the union and hearing Karin Park do operatic vocals might not be considered ‘the norm’ in other festivals but here it feels right at home as the perfect way for Arabrot to begin and as KN spreads their gospel it feels like a nice mix of post-punk and noise that brings to mind in places the great Mark E Smith interspersed with a beautiful combo of Karin singing Pygmalion and a duet between her and KN that’s the closest to a ballad anyone would hear that day.

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On the Tone Mgmt stage, Batushka bring atmospherics and theatrics in abundance. A multitude of religious artifacts fills the stage, a pulpit, candles and a plinth upon which sits a sacred text. The low red lights hid in its shadows the band, figures dressed in cloaks, their faces hidden. Theatrically the show is similar to that of Ghost, with religious imagery running throughout but it’s the dark black metal sound that hits home. Eerie, cacophonous noise in abundance.

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Front man of Emperor, Ihsahn returns to the UK for a one off solo show at today’s festival. Keeping the Black metal theme running, there are no theatrics to be seen. 

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Ihsahn’s hour is all about the music, progressive, dark and oozing black metal feels. Musicianship of the highest quality and he and his band let that alone do the talking. One of the highlights of the day.

Tech metal mixed with progressive elements might not be something that the faithful of Damnation are used to but Monuments were going to damn well give it a try and with a set that was fully laden with groove it’s not hard to see why by about the third song in the room was close to capacity as Chris Baretto had the biggest smile on his face as he encouraged circle pits, a jumpthefuckup and even quoted Scottish based memes (the one with the mum telling off the daughters for not flushing the toilet in case you were wondering!)

With a room that was about 75% new fans you can be assured this won’t be the last time you’ll see Monuments and maybe even some of their peers at Damnation.

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Vader return to the UK following a tour back in March, for a headline slot of the Tone Mgmt stage of the festival. Leather clad Piotr growls in anger as the band destroy the arena. His and Marek’s duelling guitars deliver excellence in the extreme, riff after riff, song after song. Demonstrating why they have been given the headline slot they are a fantastic way to close the stage.

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Closing the Eyesore Merch stage the day after releasing their latest album onto the world is The Ocean whose set becomes one of the most talked about due to the high energy of vocalist Loic as he encourages pits and even stage dives into the crowd – twice! With a mixture of tracks from Precambrian – including the track Caleb Scofield performed on: Orosirian: For the Great Blue Cold Now Reigns – Pelagial and Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic sounding as powerful as evolution itself it shows why they are a strong headliner. Let’s do this again in two years when Phanerozoic II comes out shall we? Would be fun!

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Closing out the day as a whole on the Jagermeister stage are Brummie noise mongers Napalm Death. Barneys dashing figure greeting us in a Tasmanian like whirlwind as they power through Instinct of Survival. Ever delivering a semi-political message between songs, Barney’s preaching resonates with the fans, as does the music. The fans wanting more aggression following Nathrakh earlier in the day they are treated to ‘When All is Said and Done’, ‘Scum’, ‘You Suffer’ and of course ‘Nazi Punks Fuck Off’.

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A fantastic way to close the festival which for the 14th time has yet again been a complete success. Every stage for every band was packed, crowd management improves year on year as does the line-up and overall organisation. This festival is, and will continue to be, the best way to close out the year and with 2019 tickets going on sale – to the point that they beat the record set when Bolt Thrower was announced a few years ago – with organisers saying the headliner is the biggest band ever booked for the festival it’s going to be VERY exciting to see what the next year brings!

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