Before Damnation Festival kicks off proper, the brilliant team behind the festival offer up ‘A Night Of Salvation;’ a pre-cursor with an equally stacked bill.
Celestial Sanctuary open things up on the Church Road Stage. ‘Shall we rock?’ Is the question as the bands intro tape of Tenpole Tudor’s Swords Of A Thousand Men hits.
“We are Celestial Sanctuary!” announce the band as start to dish up their death metal, flanked by OG Doom game visuals. It complements the decrepit nature of the band’s songs. Singer, Thomas Cronin, asks how everyone is doing this evening but quickly corrects himself as it’s just after 4pm.
Onstage at the Cult Never Dies stage are The Suns Journey Through The Night. Naturally, they ask Damnation to bang their heads. Plenty oblige as the smoke filled stage emits a dark, blackened metal cacophony. When the music relents the reaction is big. People know this weekend is going to be great.
Viking Skull are the first band on the Pins & Knuckles main stage. In a swirl of feedback the five piece stride on and boot off their set with a “MANCHESTER – are you ready?” It’s an affirmative yes as the crowds both smaller stages convene; such is the running order of bands and short hop between stages. Delivering their Chapter One album, Crazy Trucker in particular hits the spot. The crowd clap along whilst one particular punter is spotted doing the robot. Red Hot Woman is announced as a ‘sexy little number’ and brings some solid AC/DC action; you can’t argue with that!
Inhuman Nature urge the crowd to come closer as they deliver a pummelling set of hard and heavy metal with selections from their self titled debut album. Not for the first time, the call of, “Get in the pit,” flies across the PA. Plenty oblige!
Elsewhere, Ninkharsag are a band we are more than familiar with. Earlier in the year we saw them with Stormkeep (review here). Their set showcases the best of the band who have been around the circuit for many years. The mic stand is adorned with an animal skull, and the trio are in deadly form delivering their excellent black metal.
Bossk move things in a more cosmic direction. It’s one of the first of the weekend’s ‘exclusive’ sets with the band performing their 2016 album; Audio Noir. The brighter tones of The Reverie open the set; it is certainly a sea change in styles from the opening set of bands that pummelled the senses early doors. An asteroid visual accompanies the gradual layering of Bossk’s beautiful sound before The Reverie gets mean and loud.
Singer, Sam Marsh, heads on stage for Heliopause. The riffs are razor sharp and instigate a glorious nodding of heads in an entranced crowd. Growled and snarled vocals add an extra level of texture to the already rich sound. Relancer brings the psychedelic sounds of Meddle era Floyd and subtle violin; it offers a little break after the crushing opening. Kobe was recently re-recorded with Pijn but here we get the original. It is a truly glorious sound. Marsh conducts the crowd as they pump fists and sing along. An utter triumph of a set; the bar is set.
Infernal Sea are all hoods, upturned crosses and harsh black metal. For those wanting their fix of more orthodox black metal, this is the place to be. The atmosphere in the room is superb; firsts pump and the drums blast triumphantly. Infernal Sea will have a new record out in 2024 – keep your eyes peeled for that one.
Din Of Celestial Birds are a last minute step in for Tuskar, who had to pull out. The Leeds group deliver a brilliantly powerful set. In amongst their post rock stylings are subtle electronics that help build their sound further. It is psychedelic and superb. Their crowd interaction comes through hand gestures to the crowd; who respond appropriately.
BELOW THE LIGHTS
Like Bossk, Enslaved are in town delivering a full album performance. Below The Lights was first released in 2003 and thus it is celebrating its 20th anniversary. As Fire Swept Clean The Earth opens the set in grand fashion. Ivar Bjørnson is a hulking figure on the left of the stage. In contrast, Ice Dale is a smaller figure in stature, but his work is no less towering. The solo work on the opening songs from Dale is stupendous; especially during The Dead Stare
Grutle Kjellson’s crowd patter is superb. With the crowd fully transfixed, Kjellson announces that some of the songs in the set are UK premieres. In particular, Ridicule Swarm hits hard. It drives home the exclusivity that Damnation Festival manage to provide. It is an honour to hear Below The Lights in full.
From an album released in 2003, Sigh were tasked with delivering their 1993 debut; Scorn Defeat. As the introduction hits, the crowd show how excited they are with their noise. It appears that there might be a few technical glitches at the start of the set, but Sigh smash through in truly professional style. With the album cover projected behind them, Sigh deliver the album with aplomb as well as their fiery set piece props; the burning book and sword both evoke a swathe of phone cameras in the air. The sound that Sigh create is rich and evocative; the traditional sense of the black metal sound is just as phenomenal as it was 30 years ago. Horns are raised with archive pictures also being shown accompanying the band. Like Below The Lights, it is incredible to hear such a brilliant album from front to back.
Digging deep-ish into what’s becoming an impressive library of work, Leprous headed back to their third album Coal to add to the several ‘full album’ highlights on the bill. And while Einar Solberg’s higher register that veers into the operatic might represent one extreme of the vocal scale from the more extreme growling and guttural vocals on offer, the band puts in an epic set. From the sharp and stark opening and as Einar navigates the “Reduced into tears, Cold winter gust,” lyric the band commits to an intensity that hits an early peak with the title track; Tor O brings out the eight string axe and although there are several moments of respite, Echo brings further urgency that’s topped by Contaminate Me – as intense as anything over the two days.
Before Katatonia bring proceedings to a close, there are still two other album sets to knock off. Deadguy bring their hardcore American punk to the masses with a full take on Fixation On A Co-worker. Their whole set is a riot with a steady flow of rampant mosh pits and crowd surfers. Before Deadguy close the Eyesore Merch stage, we also get a set from Heriot. Fronted by Debbie Gough, they’ve gone through a period of change and settled on offering an alternative and more experimental set which bodes well for what will be their debut album.
For those wanting more black metal, there is the chance to see Akercocke delivering Choronzon. Their 2003 album is one of the finest in their catalogue and their performance shows they are on a different level. The music is absolutely furious and intense. Screams and growls give variety and the way the tempos shift is brilliant. There are razor sharp riffs aplenty, and the drumming is a genuine masterclass. For such an intense band, the sound mix has to be spot on; to this writers ears, it was incredible. All the parts of the album are delivered with an unholy brilliance. “After all these years, you guys are still here. We will be here as long as you’re here,” says Jason Mendonça. It is a mutual feeling – there will be fans of Akercocke around for ever and a day. Spellbinding.
DEAD END KINGS
“It’s great to be back,” says Jonas Renkse of Katatonia, “time flies!” That it does and Jonas seems decidedly chatty tonight despite remaining mostly behind the curtain of hair. Dead End Kings was released in 2012 and has gone on to be one of the best albums in the Katatonia canon. Already immortalised in the Dethroned And Uncrowned release that reworked the album, tonight we get the works. Second song in, The One You Are Looking for Is Not Here, the band is joined, as on the album, by Silje Wergeland. She’s greeted with a ton of affection by those at the barrier. It feels like a celebratory performance despite the themes of bleakness and abandonment of the classic album. Several tracks are polished off for the first time in a decade alongside the established set list go-to numbers like the thrilling intensity of Lethean. It’s an indulgent feast of melancholy and the great thing is there’s another whole set to look forward to.
Categories: Live Reviews