Damnation Festival 2011

Damnation 2011 Review

An elegant opening to Damnation’s 2011 instalment is provided by A Forest of Stars, who squeeze on to the Zero Tolerance stage decked out in full waistcoats and shirts, for half an hour of black metal that is completely at odds with their impeccable appearance. A rambling introduction seems to misfire, but from there onwards this unique fusion of black metal and foppish Victoriana is as emphatic as it is daring. It is in much the same vein that Shining (the Norwegian one, not the Swedish one with the on-stage self-harming and fighting with fans) hit the Terrorizer stage with a musical nail-bomb of jazz/metal fusion. Layer upon layer of synthesizer and effects-drenched saxophone have the potential to make this all sound a bit too much like Nine Inch Nails for Damnation, but the brave gambit pays off with a frenetic set that matches their Norwegian namesakes inch-for-inch in intensity, if not violence.

The hatches are well and truly battened for Dragged into Sunlight’s appearance, where a poor mix from the sound desk threatens to bury their verminous black metal alive, and their quixotic plan to light the Terrorizer stage using a long hundred of candles is quickly kicked in to touch by venue security. The sound remains suffocating yet hypnotic throughout, giving DITS a subtle crust punk feel on a stage that will later be graced by crust-masters Doom. Following an ever-so-brief glimpse of the excellent Altar of Plagues, Herefordshire’s youthful, distinctly non-metal sextet Talons come to the ZT stage with violins in tow to channel a fair dose of 65daysofstatic-esque post-everything. A teatime slot on the smallest stage is not perfect for drawing large numbers, but Talons will return home to the Marches with a much lighter merchandise load after giving one of the day’s most captivating performances.

As the sun goes down, crust legends Doom take their position in the middle of today’s batting order comfortably, but not before mention is made of the belting mozzarella paninis to be had at the food stall outside the venue, which more than made up for the dry pasty and warm Coke combination that passed as a poor excuse for dinner. Doom’s announcement last year of a reunion was met with the same wary responses that greeted the one million other reunions that have afflicted the metal community, although after storming Damnation 2007 with Lazarus Blackstar, guitarist Bri Doom has more evidence than most that he’s still got what it takes to clean this venue’s cobwebbed corners out. Launching in to ‘Fear of the Future’ from War Crimes… and ‘Thanatophobia’ from Rush Hour to the Gods is exactly the kind of visceral statement of intent that blows the doubters away, and are fitting song titles for some of those bands who reform just for the cash. In a parallel universe, any number of Doom’s memorable anthems, from ‘Dig Your Grave’ and ‘Nazi Die’ to ‘Police Bastard’ and ‘Means to an End’ are Top 40 hits, but, always champions of the DIY ethic, Doom are content to cement their reputation as legends of the underground in the most brutal, razor-sharp fashion imaginable rather than earning a heap of money for one last hurrah.

From one successful reformation to another, Godflesh are not so much running through a sound check as performing a structural integrity test on the northern portion of Leeds city centre. The PA is raised to an ear-splitting volume, perhaps excessively so, and when Streetcleaner’s devastating ‘Like Rats’ opens the set, the possibility of the mezzanine at the edges of the room crumbling to ground seems very real indeed. This punishing performance is heavily dependent on their first two records – the closer ‘Crush My Soul’ being the only exception – while nothing features from the band’s later, more electronic-orientated releases. Nevertheless, the sons of the Second City and their trusty laptop give an overwhelming display that never stops threatening to overload the Jägermeister Stage’s formidable soundsystem, and exhibits perfectly the nihilistic, urban core of industrial music that the duo never shied away from.

After Godflesh’s apocalyptic conclusion, a legion of Ziltoid puppets and their human appendages generates a febrile atmosphere in anticipation of Devin Townsend’s headline slot. Devin has, by some comfortable distance, been the talk of the day, packing out first the signing area and now the top stage, and his infectious mood and warmth creates the ultimate feel-good metal show. Easily one of the funniest frontmen in metal, Devin could never be accused of taking himself seriously, but his musical performance is strictly professional, with song after song beaten out with precision and perfection.

Closing out the day on the Terrorizer stage is Ulver, whose enigmatic and ethereal recital stands in stark contrast with many of the day’s other acts. Despite opening with the magnificent ‘Lost in Moments’ from Perdition City, much of the set is dedicated to this year’s Wars of the Roses, and the audience responds with a rapt, meditative quiet. It is tempting to believe that Ulver will end the set by blasting through a few of their classics from Bergtatt or Nattens Madrigal, but just like Voyager II’s journey to leave the solar system behind, the Norsemen are now so far removed from their black metal roots as to make the suggestion seem ludicrous. It is a shame that nothing from Shadows of the Sun makes the cut, but even with an extended set due to Decapitated’s unfortunate cancellation, Ulver’s imperious back catalogue means that there has to be someone who leaves an exceptional show with the tiniest shred of disappointment.


About Stuart

I have been writing for about seven years, my only writing qualification is a poorly-deserved grade C in GCSE English Language. I write mainly on music and literature, but have also written about the politics of sport, for some reason. I generally listen to horrible music, so my reviews will invariably be of black metal, grindcore or noise bands. Interests include attempting to play ice hockey, relieving Oxfam charity shops of every last book that they receive, and becoming TOP DOG in the world of Polish football spread-betting.

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