If you’re looking for a wisely picked mix of underground music extremity then Damnation Festival has been the number one choice in England for some time now. This year had a particularly strong feeling of something special with a rare performance from England’s best death metal band Bolt Thrower headlining a line up that had everything from post rock to black metal.
Opening up the festival were the forever pissed off Corrupt Moral Altar. Their grimy set was exactly what was needed to kick the day into gear and showed no pretences about what this festival is all about. CMA’s visceral use of different tempos were what made the band stand out and their speedier moments in particular caught the eyes of many people new to the band.
Bast opened the Eyesore Merch stage battling sound issues that are, to be honest, prevalent in any festival early on. Their original take on doom certainly drew an impressive amount of people early on and it is easy to see them moving up in status over the next couple of years.
Back on the PHD stage Black Moth drew in a decent crowd of their own, possibly down to the fact that on the surface they fit the female fronted doom stereotype quite well. As their set progressed it was clear that Black Moth had a bit more to them than that and a quite varied set was just what was needed for a festival that celebrates variation.
The focus of the band was, unsurprisingly, vocalist Harriet Bevan who had a quite impressive voice to lead the band. Her melodic pipes were well complemented by the typically groove orientated backbone of the band that made for yet another impressive English doom or ‘retro’ band.
After the relentless touring and admirable effort from Taint, it was unsurprising to see ex-members new band HARK go full throttle and attempt to make their mark on an important gig for any underground band. The band’s energy, as expected, could not be faulted but their sound ultimately is an acquired taste which proved too much for people still reeling off the enticing Black Moth.
One of the bands that many had bought their ticket for were ‘sludgecore’ ragers Raging Speedhorn who are a surprising return from the grave with the lasting memory of the band being many high profile tours with nu-metal bands.
Much more ferocious than any nu-metal band, Raging Speedhorn brought one of the most well approved sets that was at a consistently high tempo for a still relatively early slot. Their twin vocal led attack is what the band have always been most well known for and both vocalists seemed to be enjoying their reunion ripping through songs at an alarming pace.
After trying and failing to get in for the ridiculously rammed Sólstafir it was back to the Jagermesiter stage for Damnation’s house band Orange Goblin. Famed for their high octane live shows, the Goblin did not relent throughout their modest set playing a soon to be fan favourite new number Sabbath Hex amongst stapled classics such as Some You Win, Some You Lose.
The band have maintained the same core line up for some years now and the tightness they now have is impressive to say the least. Ben Ward is, of course, the unmissable member of Goblin and as ever lunged over the stage seemingly draw in the energy of his devoted fans.
The most surprising band of the festival were French/American experimentalists Monarch. Pushing the limits of what can be considered music in a similar way to what Sunn O))) did early on, Monarch Gave a performance that was equally puzzling and unique.
The tormented screams of Eurogirl (presumably not the sister of Turbonegro’s Euroboy) were what proved the most testing for the Damnation audience which in all honesty saw an ever thinning audience, apart from those captivated by the otherworldly spectacle they were witnessing. This band exemplified Damnation’s fearlessness in booking boundary pushing acts and was one of their boldest bookings to date.
If one band rule the doom genre in this age it is Saint Vitus who packed out the main stage with promises of a set made of classic material. Opening with Living Backwards from the hugely underrated V was a perfect way to start the set and clearly got the audience in the mood for a celebration of the Vitus legacy.
In amongst the gloomier moments such as Living Backwards, a thundering rendition of White Stallions helped give a bit more variance to the band’s set and showed guitarist Dave Chandler’s more punk influences. Chandler and co seemed in fine spirits, especially when going through Born Too Late material such as Clear Windowpane and the unmistakable title track which brought the biggest sing along moment of the whole festival.
Although Vitus made for a great appetiser it was obvious from the opening note that Damnation 2014 was going to belong to Bolt Thrower. Closing the night with a fittingly ferocious and well picked set, it was a pleasant surprise to hear how little Bolt Thrower have changed over the years with their uncompromising attitude impossible to ignore.
Material from fan favourite Warmaster was what whipped the crowd into the biggest frenzy and a quick blast of Cenotaph went miles to show why this band are held in such high regards amongst death metal fans.
With a line-up that is largely the same from the classic era and an extremely rare performance for a band so in demand, it was completely understandable why such an ecstatic response greeted each song and equally applauded each finale. A ravishing rendition of Silent Demise closed their set with a feeling that Leeds had witnessed something truly special worthy of a headline slot.
Damnation Festival 2014 may just have been the best edition yet and solidified that tight-knit, for the fans atmosphere that just can’t be matched by bigger outdoor festivals.
Scribed By: Alex Varley
Photos By: Lee Edwards