Damnation Festival 2011

Leeds University – 5/11/2011

My feet had trodden the soil of Leeds twice within a week – firstly to see the ever-mighty Melvins at the godforsaken Irish Centre several days before this – but this second time they trod heavier ‘pon the ground for I was sick as a bloody pig with a nasty cold…clearly the perfect condition to be in whilst spending the entire day at an all-dayer stuffed with bands I couldn’t give a tinkers cuss about, surrounded by people at whom I could only wonder “Did you get dressed in the fucking DARK?”.

Damnation 2011

So it was I found myself shanghaiied by Thee Shaman and Dave Noise, given the option of covering the Terrorizer-sponsored ‘Damnation 2011‘ festival or else certain photographs would be made public, and to also help to man the merch stall for Mr Noise and his erstwhile nubile starlet Paul ‘Cunt’ Catten. What else could I do in my weakened state but acquiesce and agree to write stuff about what I done and who I seen that day.

After wheezily helping get the merch into place I hightailed it downstairs to the Zero Tolerance stage to see the first of several bands whom I actually wanted to see that day – Leeds own titans of prog Humanfly.

Damnation 2011 - Human Fly

Hacking my way through the throng like Indiana Jones hacking at creepers en route to a Temple Of Doom…or Prog, in this case…I made my way to a vantage point at which I could actually SEE the band and paid serious attention.

Having been acquainted with mainmen the Sutcliffe brothers for a fair few years now, starting during their days in Canvas, it makes my bosom swell with pride to see how they’ve grown and matured. Having missed the first few minutes of their short set, I wandered in mid-flow and caught them in a moment of heads-down tight-as-a-gnats-chuff ferociousness.

Prime purveyors of epic, atmospheric prog-metal – imagine, if you can, early Isis, but with the pendulous cojones of Cerberus, the gigantic multiple-headed guard-dog of the stygian underworld – the boys rocked like fuck and delivered on all levels. ’twas BOSS. Pick up their latest album Darker Later and let them riff and prog your face off.

Next up, in the same tiny room, were highly-regarded sharply-dressed UK psychedelic black-metallers A Forest Of Stars.

Damnation 2011 - A Forest Of Stars

The band filled the stage to bursting point with nattily-attired Victorian-garbed gentlemen, and a violin-toting lady, who in turn filled the venue to bursting point with their well-honed mix of cinematic soundscapes, furious buzzing black metallic riffage, avant-garde atmospheric moments and dry-throated howling.

Powerfully theatrical in both execution and visual affect, aided no doubt by the gentleman controlling their lights off to the side of the stage, the band projected at once a glacial coolness and a gravid rage that synched together to give off a very potent form of energy that was quite palpable within the crowd. I was mesmerised, despite the closeness of the crowd.

A hop and a skip across to the Terrorizer Stage (not literally, I was wheezing enough as it was) and it was soon time to see Future Noise Records cash-cow (HA!) and ever-lovin’ cunt Paul Catten lay waste to the songs of Medulla Nocte in the guise of A Man Called Catten.

Damnation 2011 - A Man Called Catten

Backed up ably by long-time axe-slinging cohort Mark Seddon, and bassist and drummer Matt Keen and Simon Spiers respectively, Catten unleashed his fury and disgust onto the eager crowd below, like an enraged seagull vomiting purloined chips all over a gaggle of unsuspecting holidaymakers. Catten flapped, shrieked, flailed, accused and…uhh….fell over..whilst the band around him busted out the furious nineties metalcore goodness. Alas, however, for there was something rotten in Denmark – namely the onstage sound, which apparently rendered everyone onstage incapable of hearing anyone else and meant that staying in synch was a tricky business. I could tell that Catten was enraged, and could see Seddon trying as best he could to cope, but evidently whoever was operating the monitors had cloth ears. This was due to become a recurring theme as the day wore on…but….back to Catten – I could see a fair few people in the audience singing along and digging the tunes, so as unhappy as the band were onstage, offstage they were still having the desired effect. The mood onstage was somewhat lightened towards the end of the set when Catten gave a shout out to his young son Milo, who was standing stage-side wearing a huge pair of ear-protectors, bless his cotton socks.

There truly is no rest for the wicked, so after a quick drink and a check on the Future Noise empire…uhh…stall, I ran back down to the Zero Tolerance stage (again, not literally..WHEEZE!) hoping to catch local boys Conan. Unfortunately for me, every other bastard had the same idea and so I found myself unable to squeeze into the room, having to make-do with hopping up and down at the back of the room, catching glimpses of them above some hairy unkempt barnets and hoping that what was pressing into my back was a sausage roll.

Damnation 2011 - Conan

What I could hear sounded just as lumbering and heavy as usual, but also a little clearer, less of a wall of howling fuzz than I’m used to from these boys, which is no bad thing IMHO. Anyhow, as more and more people streamed into the room behind me – WHY? What’s the point? They won’t SEE anything! – and the sausage roll became insistent, I decided to get the fuck outta dodge and have a breather before a full-blown panic attack ensued.

I wandered back up to the band merch area, where the Future Noise stall was located, to shoot the shit with Dave Noise and attempt to convince unsuspecting members of the public to buy our incredibly reasonably-priced wares.

During the hawking and chatting, which took place at the back of the large Jagermeister stage hall, I had the terrible misfortune to hear a band called Illuminatus inflict their turgid drivel upon the clearly impressionable hordes. Make a note of their name, and next to that name make a note that says ‘AVOID’: unless your idea of a good band is one that makes grandiose claims as to their sound such as “Imagine a more progressive Tool…”, but in reality sounds like a very sleepy Meshuggah with all of the skill and interestingness sucked out and replaced with fuck-all, in which case you are probably a member of Illuminatus, or possibly one of their nans, and should just bloody well STOP.

Seriously, it’s crap like this that clogs up giveaway cover-mounted CD’s and contributed to stopping me wanting to read 99.9% of the UK ‘metal’ press or support the UK metal scene as it was.

Total and utter mediocrity.

Damnation 2011 - Shinning

Aaaanyhoo, after a brief respite, I attempted to saunter over to the Terrorizer stage again in order to watch mad-as-a-sack-of-badgers avant-instro-jazz-metallers Shining, of whom I have been a long-time admirer, only to find that, once again, everyone else has beaten me to it. Relegated to hopping up and down at the back again, I soon realised that maybe this was a blessing in disguise, as the band onstage don’t seem to be the same band that cranked out In The Kingdom Of Kitsch You Will Be A Monster and Grindstone at all. Hell, they didn’t even seem to be quite the same band who dropped the monstrous Blackjazz on us last year, having apparently been replaced by some kind of Mindless Self Indulgence-esque electro-metal band replete with daft hair and guitars that sound a wee bit unnatural and Clawfingery. I wasn’t feeling ’em at all. Weirdly, whenever frontman Jørgen Monkeby busted out his sax, which was not as often as I would have liked, people seemed to leave. Nice to see they were doing SOMETHING right.

I took the opportunity of there being a run of bands on for the next couple of hours that I just really couldn’t convince myself into watching even by bribing myself with sweeties to go catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while – Hi Simone! – and thus, in principle, return to the fray reinvigiorated. Alas, by the time I jumped back into the arena once again, I still felt bloody awful and the next band up were local retro-thrash-metallers Evile. They were exactly as I imagined they would be – polished-sounding and pretty damn dull, taking all their musical cues from the arse-end of frash, when Testament were pumping out crap like ‘Practice What you Preach’ and the imaginatively-named ‘The Ballad’, as opposed to those early years when thrash was nasty, uncouth and sounded like chainsaws. Meh.

Damnation 2011 - Grand Magus

Thankfully, up next on the Jagermeister stage were Grand Magus, here to show everyone how REAL Metal is done. Despite the original D-Beat crusty punks Doom being on shortly down on the Terrorizer stage, I stayed at the Future Noise stall a little longer in order to hear a bit more of these heavily metallic Swedes, so impressively rousing was their opening number ‘Kingslayer’.

These guys are Heavy Fucking Metal, with no frills, no gimmicks, and no fucking around, and they do it WELL….but, well, I HAD to see Doom as it’s been a while, so off I popped after around 20 minutes.

It was a real surprise to me to see Doom on a bill such as this as I always think of them as the kind of band that only plays squats and dirty punk clubs, even after all these years. Hell, I can still remember seeing ’em back in the late eighties/early nineties in Liverpool’s Planet X. I even have an amusing anecdote about singing ‘Police Bastard’ at the top of my lungs at a party to which the police had been called, and being shut up inside a sofa-bed just to shut me up, buuuut I digress, it’s been a while and I was eager to check ’em out again since their reactivation.

Damnation 2011 - Doom

Them coming on to an intro tape was a surprise, as was the spurts of dry ice just before it kicked in, but if you’re gonna have an intro tape, why not use Crass’s classic christian-baiting ‘Reality Asylum’? Hell, makes sense when you think about it. Drummer Stick started up the classic beat and BOOM, crust heaven. It was like being 15 again, with Denis barking away, Scoot filthing it up on bass and Bri Doom peeling off those classic riffs. Nasty.

Once again, judging by Bri’s frantic gesturing and what was said during a conversation later, the onstage sound left much to be desired, but out front there were very few complaints.

There’s only so much D-Beat crust a man can take, though – particularly after the run of recent Southern Lord reviews I’ve done – so I didn’t stay for the entire set, choosing to hoof it back upstairs to man the stall for a while towards the end. Not through lack of enjoyment, more through fatigue of feet, lungs and crust. Ha.

After manning the stall for a while it was time for Godflesh to hit the Jagermeister stage, something which, to be honest, I’d been dreading ever since they severely disappointed me at Roadburn earlier this year. I saw Godflesh a few times, back in the day, and they were always wildly inconsistent even then – mostly due to cantankerous equipment – so I was prepared for the worst again…but, they pleasantly surprised me by being pretty damn good!

Damnation 2011 - Godflesh

Playing in front of an enormous video screen, Broadrick and Green busted out the entire first side of Streetcleaner, in front of a massive shot of the iconic sleeve image, before pummelling the audience (even more) senseless with a selection of tracks that covered their entire catalogue. This time there were none of the sloppy errors that plagued their set at Roadburn, and the overall sound was much more in line with the visceral brutality you’d expect from the duo. Broadrick’s processed vocals dominated, feedback snaked and shattered and Green’s bass CRUSHED.

What more could you ask for?

Now, seeing as how Decapitated had cancelled due to their basically being the living embodiment of the ‘Final Destination’ movie series, there was only one band left that I wanted to see – Ulver.

No disrespect to Devin Townsend, the ‘official’ headliner/night closer, but I’ve never been a fan. I appreciate his musicianship, but I just don’t like what he chooses to play.

Ulver, on the other hand, are a band that I appreciate on just about every level, although I couldn’t give a hoot about their early black metal releases (unlike the vast majority of people here, clearly hoping for something off of Bergtatt to be aired).

Supposed to start early due to Decapitated’s cancellation, what actually happened was that they arrived onstage and titted around with their equipment for the half hour of extra time they were allotted, obviously trying to make a silk purse out of the sows ear that was the onstage sound. Playing in a loop behind them whilst they did whatever the hell it was that they were doing was some flickery old footage of a slightly flabby-looking middle-aged body builder throwing various poses. This seemed to set a portion of the crowd on edge, which is probably the reaction they were aiming for.

Damnation 2011 - Ulver

Eventually the video loop switched into something else and this six-piece version of Ulver launched into ‘Lost In Moments’ from Perdition City, albeit somewhat hesitantly. It seemed that those monitor gremlins had not been conquered at all and over the course of the next few tracks it became abundantly clear that the band, and vocalist/mainman Kristoffer Rygg in particular, were not happy with the sound that they were hearing up there. Rygg’s vocals were a notable victim of the gremlins, being noticeably less powerful than their usual range and on ‘February MMX’ from latest album Wars Of The Roses they sounded very weak indeed. After this point, having experimented with in-ear monitoring and leaving the stage several times, perhaps to attempt to remedy the situation, he very visibly looked to have just given up trying, appearing more interested in his cigarette than the music. Obviously, this impacted on the rest of the band, and they soldiered through as best they could, but once Rygg announced that he could effectively hear nothing onstage clearly, the show was lost.

I took this opportunity to leave, rather than sully my memory of the band with such a painful failure. Having seen them before playing their own show on their own terms, I know exactly what they are capable of and felt that tonights failure was down to the fact that it just wasn’t their show. They’re not the kind of band that can just turn up, plug guitars into amps and play, so a multi-band bill like this wouldn’t be ideal for them, particularly one that was so patently disorganised and unprepared. A damn shame, but then, we’ll see how they fare at Roadburn 2012. I have faith.

…and so, on that bombshell, we leave Damnation 2011, a show that served to remind me of pretty much exactly why I haven’t bothered reading Terrorizer magazine for a good few years.

Cough. Splutter. Wheeze.

Scribed by: Paul Robertson
Photos by: Lee Edwards