Live Reviews

Damnation Festival 2023: Live Review

With A Night Of Salvation in the books (our review here) and setting the musical bar very high, Damnation Festival set about raising the bar further.


Damnation wastes no time in getting things moving. Glaswegian death metal quartet Coffin Mulch kick things off on the Holy Goat Brewing stage. The furious and thrashy riffs evoke a little bit of a Slayer vibe in parts. Throw into the mix a hint of grind and some wonderfully frenetic guitar solos with a doom chaser and you have a lot of bases covered. Playing tracks in support of their 2023 album, Spectral Intercession, the group display exactly why they are the perfect band to kick things off. The large crowd is testament to that.

Subscribing to the anonymous masked look, which is almost standard for a number of the bands on this year’s line-up, is Laster. The Dutch trio add a touch of the avant-garde to the menu that comes from reverbed guitar picking and grinding bass over a textured ambient noise. Some might not their heads, some might dance along as the white spotlights across the ceiling add to the sense of claustrophobia with the haunting and verging on hysteria in the vocals.


On the Pins & Knuckles stage, the first act of the day is Nordic Giants. The post-rock/ambient duo make a grand entrance. A countdown and announcement of where they are playing via a robotic style voice feels a little Karftwerk-esque. It is a cosmic start and one that lays the groundwork for their unique style. Whilst the music is epic and soaring, Nordic Giants incorporate visuals heavily in their performance. This is a performance that truly has a narrative feel and one that leaves plenty up for discussion (of which there was some in the FB Damnation Festival Forum). We’re no strangers to the band having seen them live in Glasgow last year; this was another excellent performance and one that adds a nice variety to proceedings.

From the completely sublime to the completely repulsive (and sublimely good), Crepitation open up one of the biggest pits of the weekend thus far. “This is about the biggest cock flying through space and jizzing all over the world,” announces singer Mark Pearce, “it’s called Gelatinous Interdimensional Spunk Trumpet.” Wild song titles don’t end there for the brutal death / slam / grind metal outfit. Whilst declaring they’re not a political band, Vicious Entwattering Of Obstinant Nepotistic Shithouses is dedicated to the Tories. More and more people join the pit, including a person in what looks like a blow up astronaut outfit. If Pikachu won last year’s pit during Insanity Alert, then this was on the same level. Utterly brilliant.

Kurokuma draw a big crowd on the Eyesore Merch stage. There is a real mix of things going on for the Sheffield band. There are parts that spew heavy growls and some parts veer into the realm of Zach De La Rocha. A stand out is the doom laden Dark Triad from one of the band’s earlier single releases. Slow trudging riffs are picked up by a hypnotic drum beat and mind-bending guitars.

In a metal bill of huge variety that sees many bases covered, Ashenspire offer up something even more dramatic and flamboyant. They combine of black metal, athletic shorts and thigh highs and are not the only band to throw a saxophone into the Metal mix during the day. A band whose song titles (Mariners At Perdition’s Lighthouse, Apathy As Arsenic Lethargy As Lead) might have challenged the amazing wordage of the Crepitation songs over on the Holy Goat stage, their set is an eye-opening extravaganza.


Keeping with doomier leanings, Khemmis make their Damnation Festival debut; not only that, this is their UK debut. The four piece band from Denver, Colorado, are the first of several turns from American bands. “How are we doing Manchester?” shouts Phil Pendergast before Avernal Gate opens the set from 2021’s Deceiver. This was the bands fifth album, so those who had patiently waited to see the band were only going to get a smattering of songs from their steady back catalogue. During the set, Khemmis cherry pick from all their releases with Sigil selected from their latest EP. A mix of harsh vocals, delightful twin guitar work, chunky riffs and shifting tempos make for a real early highlight of the day.

Hailing from Worcester, MA, High Command deliver a truly solid dose of brilliant heavy metal. It gets thrashy…very thrashy. “How’s it going metal maniacs?” The response is obvious. A hugely grateful crowd lapping up another debut UK performance. Eclipse Of The Dual Moons is the band’s latest release, and the Damnation crowd give as good as they get with another rabid circle pit before a second attempt at Siege Warfare. “This is the fast shit,” says vocalist Kevin Fitzgerald.

To keep the American flag flying, a set that many are looking forward to is Unearth playing their 2004 album, The Oncoming Storm. The veteran metal core act immediately set about their work demanding circle pits and full immersion from the crowd. Those in attendance duly oblige. Trevor Phipps doesn’t waste a minute before he is down at the front barrier goading the crowd as the band smash out beefy riff after beefy riff. There are dedications for Khemmis as well as acknowledgement of the uniqueness of their set; it is the first time that they have played an album from front to back.


Strigoi are the latest band that Greg Mackintosh is a part of. He cuts a menacing figure at the front as he announces that this is his first time at the Manchester version of Damnation. Bathed In A Black Sun has an ominous presence. Its rumbling bass and feedback laden guitars make for a dastardly but delicious mix. The entire crowd is enraptured with the band as they move into the hefty and utterly evil United In Viscera. This is not music for the faint of heart.

From the darkness, there is a bittersweet feeling on the Eyesore Merch stage. OHHMS are set to play their final show. Flanked by the word END on their backdrop, the band give one last hurrah before they split. “Ten years ago, we said let’s make a band. We wanted to play Heavy Fest and sign to Holy Roar Records.” OHHMS did that pretty quickly and by their own admission, ’10 years is a good run.’ They rifle through a selection of songs with plenty from their 2023 album, Rot. Singer, Paul Weller, is going to be focussing on his brilliant horror podcast, A Year In Horror…so if that is your thing, give it a look here.

Another awful clash is that of Downfall Of Gaia and Undeath. The former, from Germany, have a packed crowd even though this is another nasty clash. They are full of great melodies and crushing riffs; they create a phenomenal sound that moves from death to doom to sludge metal.

Undeath are straight up death metal. The award for most indecipherable logo goes to the native New Yorkers. “Get the fuck up,” is the cry during an absolute onslaught of a set. It is vicious and uncompromising but the atmosphere is amazing and the pits are vociferous. “Give yourselves a round of applause – you’re so great – thank you for checking us out!” says Alexander Jones as the band lay waste to the Holy Goat Brewing Stage.


The enigmatic presence of Julie Christmas onstage goes some way to inclusivity via the gender balance, but her set weighs heavier than a tick in a box. Her collaboration with Cult Of Luna sees Johannes Persson join her band to exhort all sorts of sounds from his axe. She’s not long since returned to the live stage after a short absence, but she entrances with a charismatic performance, aided and abetted not least by a striking costume whose winding trail of lights change colour giving her a spectral appearance in the thick blue light. Not that she’s shy and retiring; her extravagant delivery conjures comparisons that cross Bjork with Toyah, yet with a dark, post-metal twist. Absolutely compelling and one of the largest crowds of the weekend.

Belgian outfit Amenra have a serious set change going on. A full projector is blazing across the smoke filled Pins & Knuckles stage as the stage is set for their latest mass. Anticipation is high and the way that their merch stall was inundated when they arrived shows the appeal they have. The start of their set is hyped further with the ominous dark shroud and reverberating drone seeping through the crowd. A humongous burst of dry ice fills the stage making it look like a bubbling cauldron. Their projection plays with the mind in the smoke – it’s unnerving and a real spectacle. Feint hammering of metal pipes and slowly emerging guitar tones reveal the band. A great sense of foreboding and atmosphere makes for epic stuff. With a band that relies on the shifting dynamic of sound, some of the hubbub from people chatting is a bit off-putting, but when Amenra crash through the PA at full volume, it is absolutely lung shaking. Their music is as black and white as some of their t-shirts; the light and the dark blending perfectly. They have images of firing geysers on their projections; it’s as good an analogy you can make. Music from the earth, spurting out and putting its spell on you. This is most certainly the more spiritual moment of the weekend.


With many bands doing double duty over the weekend, there are high hopes for Sigh, Deadguy, Katatonia and Enslaved. There is also the question of who will replace Ahab.

The return of Sigh to the Eyesore Merch stage saw a huge crowd gathered in and beyond the tighter confines. Word had clearly got around that this was the band to see. Anyone who’d watched their performance of Scorn Defeat on Friday would certainly have been hungry for an encore and Saturday arrivals will have earmarked the Japanese band as a must-see. They didn’t disappoint either, again showcasing a fiery (literally) display, visually stunning and accompanied by a searing soundtrack culled from their library of work and concluding with Venom’s Black Metal. With no repetition from the previous day’s set, Sigh gave a real value for money showing. Utterly compelling. Stars of the festival? Many wouldn’t argue.

“Thanks for showing up again,” says Jonas Renske as Katatonia take the stage. They are immediately dogged by technical problems. It is a real shame as the band seem to be in high spirits with Renske the chattiest on stage in a while – at least yesterday. When the gremlins are smashed out of the system, the band hit their stride and deliver ‘hits’. Teargas from Last Fair Deal Gone Down and Deliberation from The Great Cold Distance go a long way to satiating the crowd. The former is a real anthem and there are plenty treating it as such, batting the words back. “Thank you for sticking around.” Don’t worry Jonas; that was beautiful and it was great to hear it.

So, what of the replacement for the sorely missed Ahab? Well, as teased during the day, it is none other than Bossk. And boy do they deliver in spades. The atmosphere is intense and exciting as the band hit the stage. The crowd are fully up for it and things reach fever pitch with Johannes Persson making another appearance for a rendition of Menhir from Bossk’s latest album, Migration. He walks over the crowd at the front, and together with Sam Marsh, you have a masterclass in extreme vocals. For anyone in attendance, this is a moment, much like Sigh’s triumph, Amenra’s mass and Julie Christmas’ musical beauty. Kudos to Bossk for delivering an energising set with this much vigour and intensity. With that being said, Damnation has invited Ahab for next year’s festival, and we dearly hope that they accept the invite.

Deadguy had the larger stage to play to for Damnation. Their set at A Night Of Salvation focussed on their Fixation On A Co-worker album. Some of the songs make the cut for the second set, which is grand as those not in attendance on Friday still get their chance to hear them. Johannes Persson was front and centre for Deadguy and having an absolute ball. Finishing with a cover of Black Flag’s Police Story, the New York punks have been an absolute success.

With a performance of Below The Lights in the books from A Night Of Salvation, Enslaved took us right back to their debut album, Vikingligr Veldi. This is old-school Enslaved. Black metal in its purest form. Flanked by huge light up runes, the Norwegians have punters grinning from ear to ear as they deliver Lifandi lif undir hamri with aplomb. The folks at the Cult Never Dies merch stall were absolutely losing their shit as the cascading riffs washed over the BEC Arena. There is a greater energy about the band and the guitar interplay between Grutle Kjellson and Ice Dale is a joy to see. They are clearly having a ball. Iver Sandøy’s drumming is precise and pummelling and the synth lines from Håkon Vinje add the mystical element. “Welcome once again, Manchester.” Kjellson is in celebratory mood and his basswork on Miðgarðs eldar is top tier. Another ‘moment’ in a weekend choc full of them.


To top things off on each stage are three acts of varying degrees of extreme.

Maybeshewill are back for their fourth turn at the festival. The juxtaposition of guitars, piano and electronics is an interesting mix. They are polite in their interactions with the crowd. No cries of ‘open up the (insert expletive) pit’ here. “I don’t like to talk too much but this is a song for all involved with Damnation – we’re glad you really take us to your heart.” It is a fitting sentiment to close the Eyesore Merch stage. The intricate guitar work is brilliant and the band can up the tempo when they want to.

The love for Damnation continues on the Holy Goat Brewing Stage as Anaal Nathrakh bring the curtain down in furious fashion. Members of the band notice that there is a human pyramid being built in the crowd. The man trying to make it is Damnation’s own Gavin McInally. He is the picture of a man who lives to bring this festival to the people. “If you want a picture of the future….imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever,” is the call from the stage as the band rip into Do Not Speak with furious blasts and cascading guitars. It is a set of pure pandemonium as there is little or no room to be had as Anaal Nathrakh do their job in fine fashion.

And finally the stage is clear for Electric Wizard. Their only UK appearance this year and a band whose live appearances have been rare of late ensures that this is an event. Bathed in deep saturated red and with a dripping blood/melting wax effect logo on the backdrop, Jus Oborn and Liz Buckingham duly summon up the notes and chords of Doom. Playing over scenes from vintage horror movies, the sonic density and textures are uncompromising and occasionally overwhelming. The finale of Funeralopolis from the landmark Dopethrone album puts a fine seal on a set that powers relentlessly from Witchcult Today and the pounding riff on Supercoven to the exhortations of Black Mass. Finishing the weekend with a Doom/Stoner set might have been a challenge but Electric Wizard simply strolled on and executed a masterful set, worthy of their headline status.

Damnation Festival is a staple of the festival circuit and has found a new home in Manchester. Our thanks go to all the bands, crew, sellers, food vendors, bar staff and security. Most of all though, it goes to the people that go to the festival; it is always a joy to be in a crowd with metal fans. For a place that can bring anger and aggression through music, it really is one of the safest places. We can’t wait for the first weekend in November 2024 and Damnation Festival once more.

Here is a selection of images from Damnation Festival. Check out our coverage from A Night Of Salvation here.


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