Damnation Festival returns to Manchester after over a decade in Leeds. The bill is stacked to the hilt with great bands and mouth-watering sets.
Damnation Festival made its return to Manchester in its traditional first weekend of November slot. The new venue, Bowlers Exhibition Centre, could not have been more suited to the revellers incoming. Three stages, plenty of bars, great food, loads of merch, great atmosphere and above all else, an incredible line up to sink the teeth into.
Frayle opened proceedings. With the witchy Gwyn Strang holding sway over vocal duties, her mystic look was enchanting as the band chugged into life. Frayle make music for the night sky. They cite Kyuss, Björk, Portishead and Black Sabbath as influences. With that in mind, you can every ounce of those influences as the bass throbs around the Eyesore Merch Stage. The cosmic doomy sound is reminiscent of MWWB. Strang’s voice is strong throughout as they play in support of their latest record. Inbetween songs she is fair in her response; ‘Thank you so much, it is really special to be here.’ For the crowd, it is special for them too as the increasing crowd grows in appreciation for the quartet. As far as festival starts go, this is one of the best I’ve seen. Truly brilliant.
Over on the second stage, Distant brought a lot more extreme. Their deathcore sound is massive and the vocals are harsh; there is a real command of the style in play.
Irist are a band that we touted in our bands to see piece, and they did not disappoint. Having just released a new EP via Nuclear Blast, the band tore through 40 minutes of intent brooding music. There are flecks of death metal, doom metal, post rock, and plenty of stops in between. ‘This is our first European tour,’ announces the singer. ‘We are honoured to be here as musicians and as fans.’ This love is reciprocated by an increasingly excitable crowd.
Like Distant before them, Oceano continue the metallic breakdowns on the second stage. ‘I’m glad you’re here early; it’s good to get you while your fresh,’ state the band. The crowd obliges in their energy.
French band, Bruit, bring an element of ethereal beauty to proceedings. The quartet utilise classical instrumentation with loops and drums to create an otherworldly, layered sound. The growing soundscapes enchant a huge crowd as the strobe lights are relentless in their barrage. Cutting shadowy figures, the band raise fists in recognition of the crowd. Bruit closes out their set with their title track of their first album. ‘We appreciate playing in front of so many people.’ Again, the crowd reciprocate as the white lights illuminate the sea of hands in the air for the band. Words cannot do justice as to how grand this band sound.
On the main stage, one of the weekends craziest bands took to the stage. Austria’s Insanity Alert genuinely did bring insanity. The circle pits grew and the gradually more ‘oiled’ crowd started to throw the shackles off. Plus, when you see someone in an inflatable Pokémon suit moshing and crowd surfing, you know you’re in for something special. Their songs are brisk and thrashy and choc full of humour. Why Is David Guetta Still Alive? and Run To The Pit (a Run To The Hills parody) both hit the mark. The band received a huge ovation and clearly left a mark on Damnation Festival. In short; tonnes of fun.
Stygian Bough (Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin) showcased their Vol 1. record in all its harsh and dissonant glory. The Bastard Wind opens up the album in epic fashion and the placid introduction is one of poise. When the time comes of the drums to make an appearance they crash in with aplomb. This is doom metal of the highest order. The mournful pace changes here and there with the music truly beguiling; driven by the amazing drumming. Vocally, there are clean, chanted and deathly styles; there is something regal and pious about the sound Stygian Bough create.
Around the venue, there were plenty of drapes (making the second stage look like an imposing beast), posters, signs and pictures from previous festivals. The effort and dedication that the Damnation Festival team put into this festival is clear to see. A display of previous band line ups for the festival shows just how well respected this festival is as the list of bands that have graced the line up is a who’s who of metal.
A Beautiful Collapse signalled We Lost The Sea taking to the Eyesore Merch Stage. The instrumental Australian act had played all of their Departure Songs record as part of the previous nights festivities at A Night Of Salvation. As the lights went down there was a huge cheer for the band; they clearly have plenty of admirers and their interesting and progressive compositions. Emphatic is a word to be used for the band. Their towering sound is spellbinding
From the beauty of We Lost The Sea, the legendary Incantation were laying waste to the Holy Goat Brewing Stage. John McEntee, the grey haired leader of the band, is in unbelievable form as his band showcased their inimitable brand of death/doom to an absolutely massive crowd.
Savagery was clearly on the cards as Pig Destroyer took to the main stage to play one of the festivals headline sets. As the spoken introduction to Prowler In The Yard echoes around the arena, the crowd are clearly hyped. As Cheerleader Corpses arrives in a flurried swirl of feedback and breakneck riffing and drumming, the crowd explodes. Pig Destroyer should have been playing in 2021; COVID forced that postponement but the wait was worth it. Singer J. R. Hayes shares the sentiment and talks of the honour of playing in a country that spawned Napalm Death. As the band move through the album, it almost feels like it’s over too quickly. Prowler In The Yard is a grind masterpiece and to hear it front to back is an honour.
One of the great things about heavy metal festivals, in general, is the amount of different bands you see represented in the attire of the attendees. Heavy metal from all walks of the spectrum is on show; Sabaton, Ulver, Malevolence, ARD, Darkthrone, Opeth, Suffocation, Cannibal Corpse…to name just a few were all represented. This genre is a broad church; this is also echoed in the broad line up.
One of the bands that had a lot of support in terms of people wearing their colours were Green Lung. The London band have recently signed with Nuclear Blast. There is a celebratory feel in the air as they pack out the Eyesore Merch Stage; it is literally packed from front to back and from side to side. They are welcomed like heroes with chants breaking out amongst the audience and horns thrown in the air. Psychedelia, Sabbathian riffs and vocals that soar are all part of the Green Lung mythology. Their tales of folklore amongst amazing guitar lines and melodies is a thing of joy. As far as triumphs go; this is up there. Green Lung will only grow, get stronger, and move further up bills…they are that good. You will be able to catch them on tour with Clutch before 2022 is done.
On the Holy Goat Brewing Stage, Wolves In The Throne Room took things down the black metal route after Incantation’s blistering set. A typically atmospheric opening before the maelstrom of black metal blasts is something you’d expect from this band. Again, there is a huge crowd for the band; made so as the main stage was largely quiet as the bands on stages two and three were given prominence (again, props to the organisers). Wolves In The Throne Room cut shadowy figures on stage. One thing that always wows in black metal is the drumming. The tempos and styles are something to behold. Hearing ‘Wolves’ in full BM mode is great. They leave no stone unturned in their set.
In-between bands, the venue staff cleared up dropped plastic cups (from mosh pits), directed people, kept people safe, and were just being absolute superstars. Along with the bar staff, who were immensely friendly throughout, the venue really helped make Damnation Festival 2022 one to remember.
My Dying Bride are another legendary band. Their mournful doom sound is a thrilling noise. There is a slight overlap with Wolves In The Throne Room and Green Lung so crowd grows during first song. Aaron Stainthorpe’s vocal prowess is the stuff of dreams. He has unbelievable growls and deep guttural vocals. The doom laden guitars chug; the rumbles are deathly and the incantation like vocals are terrifying. An ever increasing crowd lap up each new song in rapturous fashion. There are synth elements to increase the haunting mood as the texture of My Dying Bride shows all its grim colours. ‘We’ve got one left,’ says Stainthorpe towards the end, ‘don’t worry it’s a classic.’ He is not wrong. The band complete their set with a huge version of Turn Loose The Swans.
Despair and dirge are portrayed heavily in the music of My Dying Bride. Another purveyor of the elongated dirge is 40 Watt Sun. Patrick Walker goes about things in a different way. There is still the heavy element but the songs are a lot longer and very intricate; plus there is the huge strength of Walker’s voice. There is a tension and beauty in the way the music builds. It is hard to decide how to feel as you can marvel at so many aspects of the music and let it take you in different directions. Such is the gravitas of the music, there is a little more hush in the audience as the band develop their cinematic sounds.
Godflesh were next up on the main stage, to continue to the run of ‘headliner’ slots. The Birmingham duo brought their 1989 classic, Streetcleaner, to the ears of the crowd. Streetcleaner is a seminal record in industrial metal circles. Without a drummer, the band use drum machines for the percussive element. On top of this, the band are situated at opposite ends of the stage with the big screen employed as a more visual element than other bands. It was clear that there were plenty of Godflesh fans around; in particular some gentlemen towards the back of the arena who were so happy throwing their arms around each other and feeling every single beat and riff of the opening of Christbait Rising. Again, the time comes and goes in a flash. The title track of the album is an absolute monster of a track; the thunderous bass shakes everything in sight.
Pallbearer follow with huge stacks of Marshall speakers and Orange amp heads. The hulking riffs of Forgotten Days from the bands latest album opens their set. As an opening salvo, you cannot go too far wrong with this. With a huge roar, the band complete their opener. ‘We’ve been in the road for 7 weeks and this is our last show. I can’t think of a better way to spend it.’ We couldn’t agree more. The band traverse so much in their set. There are a swathe of dynamic changes in the bands sound, but the core still crushes. Pallbearer are a unique band and one that should be treasured. Their set at Damnation is a complete success. Roll on the next record and tour!
At The Gates’ bringing Slaughter Of The Soul to Damnation Festival was a real point of excitement. The 1995 record is a pivotal moment in heavy metal. With Tomas Lindberg sporting his trademark cap and a red and black flannel shirt, the band are in devastating form. The title track swings its scythe over the crowd as they bludgeon the crowd. Whilst penned in death metal, there is space for sludge/groove on Suicide Nation. It moves in a way that still feels fresh, and the crowd reciprocate in their enthusiasm for the set. Hearing these classic albums by so many great bands is another masterstroke from the Damnation Festival team.
Rafał Piotrowski, lead singer with Polish death metal outfit Decapitated, attempted to win the longest hair of the day award. The bassist from Frayle would certainly be the only competition. In support of their latest record, Cancer Culture, Decapitated did what Decapitated do. No one was left untouched by the brutal assault that the band brought. Iconoclast brought an immense power to end proceedings on the Holy Goat Brewing stage. This stage witnessed some immense music during an amazing day. By now, there was only one band left.
Converge had a captive audience with other stages brought to a close. Like Pig Destroyer, they were bringing their 2001 album, Jane Doe, in its entirety. Discordant and dissonant, Jane Doe is a classic. The bass led Hell To Pay changes the pace and timbre a little before the eruption of towering guitars and vocals. Phoenix In Flight also slows the pace before it’s monumental ending, but any aficionado of the album will know all the twists and turns that make this album great. As the record runs for 45 minutes or so, the band return for a short encore before they depart and the curtain falls on Damnation Festival 2022.
Damnation Festival is a legend of a festival on the UK circuit, if not the world circuit. The community in and around the festival was superb. So many languages being spoken was a joy to hear, so many hugs, high fives and fist bumps exchanged was a joy to see, and so much good music was just a complete joy for all the senses. Organisers will have to go some way to top this bill as it was genuinely superb from front to back with all walks of metal considered.
Bring on 2023! Thank you, one and all.
Damnation Festival: Website
Categories: Live Reviews