Damnation Festival 2021

6th November 2021
Review & Videos by Demitri Levantis

Like all other musical outings in the world, Damnation Festival was hard hit over the last year and a half, but it made a triumphant return to its home in the University of Leeds this month.

I knew this return was triumphant simply from the throngs of people cramming into the student union building at the start of the day, which despite the dull weather was putting a smile on tons of metal fans’ faces. After getting through the queues, it was finally time to navigate through the already large crowd to find the right stage. I’d forgotten how much of a maze the building is but finding the band you want is half the adventure at Damnation.

The first band I caught were Abduction, a black metal band all the way from Derby. Despite me being near the back and the room being packed, the acoustics seemed to translate well for the raw and raspy guitars accompanying the band’s ritualistic tunes. The screams and cries of the vocalist hit the crowd like shards of freshly smashed glass and everyone was as pleased and excited as at all the best shows. Plenty of applause and appreciation echoed around the room as the band went from tune to tune.

After a pretty good round of angry and morose black metal, Abduction came to an end. It was good placing of the Cult Never Dies stage, as the room provided just the acoustics required for a black metal show.

Then it was time for something more on the fun side of metal: Party Cannon on the Tone stage. This is a band I’ve known for ages but I’ve never had the chance to listen to their comedic brutal death metal.

At first, I was taken aback slightly, as I’ve always seen Party Cannon as a novelty band, but they really delivered some good DM with elements of sheer brutality, some slam and very memorable growls mixed with sick humour; I felt they put on a decent show – complete with plenty of beach balls and inflatable sharks.

The show came complete with humorous sound bites such as the infamous “Disgusting!” meme from the band’s native Scotland, as well as lots of humour relating to partying, vomit, mindless violence and general nihilism. And to round it all off, I was particularly amused at the way the band ordered the crowd to do some push-ups during the last song, which is a definite first for me. Nice job Party Cannon, I think I’ll catch you again sometime soon.

So we’d had occultism, comedy, and now it was time for something more atmospheric and space-related, as my friends and I headed to the main stage (Jägermeister) for a band on the more sludgy, psychedelic and instrumental end of the metal spectrum. Bossk, having released their sophomore album “Migration” earlier this year, migrated the hearts and minds of the huge crowd as their deep, droning guitars and shoegazy vocals lifted us off our feet into another world. I don’t normally enjoy videotapes with a band’s performance, but the accompanying video depicting a journey through the stars to another planet blended well with the flowing mix of deep and brilliant metal that echoed into us.

Bossk took the sizeable crowd on a tour of the galaxy with their primitive vocals and emphasis on the wall of sound they have perfected in their short but impressive history. I’m not much of a fan of sludge metal, but Bossk has certainly come into their own by adding in atmosphere and space-related themes which pleased my inner sci-fi buff. Great job, lads.

After that journey to another world, it was time to go back to reality and see a band that are bringing some strong and progressive ideas to the world of metal.

Svalbard, replacing the originally billed Green Lung, were on the Eyesore Merch stage delivering some very impressive mixes of death metal, crust punk and old school hardcore. Vocalist Serena Cherry was armed and ready with her excellent delivery, switching from clean to growled with sheer excellence.

Being a band who aren’t scared to speak their mind, Svalbard dived into their work and blasted through a strong and enjoyably heart-wrenching set of songs covering themes such as misogyny, classism and social problems – all of which were delivered with the anger and brutal musicianship a band would need to get their opinions across.

Impressive would be an understatement as Svalbard’s strength in music and delivery made it clear they weren’t going to mellow anytime soon; they made a very strong statement in the way a politically and socially aware group can. It was good to see something more punkish than metal too as it gave the festival variety in its musical output.

Next up it was the turn of some veterans of the thrash metal world: Onslaught, on the road for over 30 years spreading their catchy gallops, voicing their hatred of religion and general anger at society.

It seems the years on the road had been good to these blokes and it was fun to hear the speed and shredding of the band’s guitars as this was the first thrash performance I’d seen in a while. Each song was impactful with vocalist David Garnett making the lyrics catchy and memorable, ideal for an outspoken band like this.

Onslaught began their career in the hardcore punk scene and it seemed they’d remembered those roots by getting the crowd into the angry and volatile state one would expect from such a show. These guys might have changed their tune a tad but they kept the attitude and vibe needed for musicians who use their basic yet violent tunes for self-expression.

Onslaught might have been a great show but the band who followed sadly didn’t live up to my expectations, I’m sorry to say – Godflesh, another veteran band that began in the 80s making memorable industrial music, and one of the first groups to fuse it with early extreme metal.

But here it seemed their deep and electronic inspired metal didn’t translate to the acoustics of the main stage area, plus the vocals were almost inaudible from where I was standing. It wasn’t just the structures of the songs that made me want to walk away from the stage, the beat and guitars simply felt boring and offered nothing in terms of the excitement or joy I was seeking at this time of the day.

I stayed watching Godflesh for as long as I could but soon it was time to leave and check out another band who, despite being almost done with their set by the time I saw them, warmed my heart more than the industrial pioneers.

Winterfylleth, whom I had caught on tour recently with Fen and Dread Sovereign, were plunging the Cult Never Dies stage on an atmospheric journey into the darkest and melancholy depths of English history.

Even though I only managed to catch a few songs from these UKBM veterans, I felt the tunes shuddered and flowed into the hearts and minds of the crowd who were crammed in and happy to see one of the most successful groups of the scene. The band took the audience over the hills and far away through their journey into the mysterious and primitive past of English history with the best guitars and drums to make such a sojourn possible. Eventually, the set came to an end but it was a gracious and well-received one with very satisfied revellers.

Next up it was the turn of a French band, one whom I’ve only recently begun listening to but have impressed me on CD and now did the same on the Eyesore Merch stage.

Regarde Les Hommes Tomber, one of the current leaders in the post-black metal world, made their way onto the stage armed and ready to give Leeds one mighty fine onslaught of the best metal France has concocted.

Despite the mics being a little drowned out by the band’s wall of sound, vocalist TC had the crowd fixed on the stage as the wailing screeches of the guitars buzzed out like a power drill to the skull. Percussion-wise, the drums blasted in a manner only a post-black band can offer, each blast beat and groove given with the aplomb and precision of one very impressive drummer.

What makes a good performance is one where you become so enticed by the band you lose track of time and the band ended before I knew it, leaving me wanting more. I would recommend Regarde Les Hommes Tomber to anyone looking beyond other French bands like Alcest to show just how much talent oozes from that country. And if you want music that personifies personal struggles and anguish like nobody’s business.

From France we returned to England, the North-East to be precise, with some veterans all the way from the nearby town of Halifax: Paradise Lost, on the road since 1988, were back in town to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their 1991 sophomore album, Gothic, by playing the incredible tome in its entirety.

And what a performance it was – just like every other time I’ve caught up with these blokes live in concert and interviewed them, their sense of humour has kept me wanting more from them and their great music. It was great to hear vocalist Nick Holmes making jokes with the audience between songs.

Each tune blasted and belted with all the right melancholia you’d expect from one of the cornerstones of the gothic metal genre, and one of the albums which brought death-doom to a whole new level thanks to these blokes from Yorkshire. Alongside the tunes, the videos depicting evil stained glass and other gothic related pieces of art and sorrow reflected the band’s true nature and image, which I think translated well to the stage. The crowd swayed and nodded as each tune was given the best from all the original members who remain in Paradise Lost to this day.

As well as the great album in full, PL ended on several new tunes from their latest album, Obsidian, which I found to be impressive and paid a good tribute to their darkest and doomiest of days. Another band I cannot see mellowing anytime soon, PL utilise melodies both brutal and melodic that allowed them stand out from the crowd three decades ago.

That was one great blast from the past, but now on the Tone stage, we had a band who was memorable for some fairly different reasons: Memoriam, formed from the ashes of death metal legends Bolt Thrower in memory of their fallen drummer, Martin “Kiddie” Kearns.

Even though Memoriam was formed to pay tribute to a friend lost in such tragic circumstances, their show was truly memorable for just how happy they were. Despite their growled brutality about politics, social problems, war and violence in the best way a death metal band can give, vocalist Karl Willetts praised the huge crowd for turning out and making the show as good as it was.

As well as Kiddie’s passing, Willetts reminded the crowd how he, as well as others in the scene, have recently lost loved ones and it was ideal to enjoy the time given to us following the recent pandemic, and no better way to enjoy it than with some of the most evil and brutal music ever.

Memoriam’s old school violence rang into the crowd like a hail of machine-gun fire tearing into a charging legion of foot soldiers. For me this was particularly good as it was the closest I’ve come to seeing Bolt Thrower live in concert, as I sadly missed them before their demise.

Overall, Memoriam gave the crowd the greatest death metal the West Midlands can manufacture, telling people the nation is still alive and putrefying as is any nation with a good death metal scene.

And British death metal is what rounded off the night with the headliners coming all the way from Liverpool and giving off some mighty find putrefaction, all inspired by some of the goriest and most offensive things occurring in the worlds of medicine, bodily functions and mindless violence.

Carcass, arguably the most influential band from Liverpool since The Beatles, made it onto the main stage and their catchy range of death metal, melodic death and grindcore blasted many a good hole in the heads of fans new and old.

One thing I love about Carcass is their sense of humour and I felt that translated into the music and the way they interacted with the crowd, as well as some very catchy death’n’roll vibes that made me and the others bang our heads in rhythm.

Having released their latest album “Torn Arteries” earlier this year, I can tell you Carcass isn’t going to vanish anytime soon and I think their 11-year hiatus gave them plenty of time to practice their musicianship and come back with higher versatility than in their “Swansong” days.

Carcass ended one very memorable day with a good mix of classic and new tunes, so I and my friends left Leeds University that night satisfied and revved up by some of the best homegrown talents that said British metal is still strong and steady despite it being hit so hard by recent social problems.

I look forward to next year’s Damnation, which will be held in Manchester, making it a whole new adventure and one I am simply hyped for. See you next year guys.