Monday, 21 November 2011

Damnation Festival Review

Damnation Festival
Leeds University
5th November 2011

If you went to Damnation Festival on the strength of my preview then I better get my apologies in nice and early. Of the four bands I highlighted only two delivered full sets. To use betting parlance Decapitated were a non-runner, which is quite understandable given that they were onboard this flight only days before:

Cerebral Bore whilst still running, were very much a three legged horse, with the absence of vocalist Som forcing them to take the Terrorizer stage as an instrumental trio. Three, it seems, was the not so magic number as that’s the amount of songs they performed, in a set that was no where near as long as the increasingly tedious preceding sound check. Whilst the band undoubtedly garnered respect from the audience for soldiering on and playing, they were already running late when they commenced their curtailed set. Perhaps they should have just jumped in at the deep-end with little in the way of a sound check, for whilst their death metal is extremely technical, as a three piece everything punched through the PA clearly as opening number, ‘The Bald Cadaver’, testified.

A Man Called Catten fortunately arrived with vocalist Paul Catten present and correct, surely a name change would have been required were he absent. “Are you ready for some nineties rock? I’m sure we can satisfy your needs.” Catten stated prior to commencing a set of songs from the band that initially brought him to the attention of the music world, Medulla Nocte. Curiously the crowd in the room had thinned out somewhat, despite there being quite a buzz surrounding the prospect of Catten plundering the albums ‘A Conversation Alone’ and ‘Dying From The Inside’ prior to the event.

In terms of reminding the audience of Medulla Nocte’s work the set was a success, I found myself reminded of early Deftones at points, although with the exception of ‘All Our Friends Are Dead’ being single of the week/month in Kerrang! and Metal Hammer, the band never enjoyed the high profile of their American contemporaries such as Chino et al. What was missing were some of the more physical elements of a Medulla Nocte gig in the nineties (I once saw original drummer Jammer, a man weighing over 20 stone, get up from behind his kit and punch an idiot in the crowd at a gig), although Catton did perform a ‘blink and you missed it’ back-flip.

Upstairs on the Jagermeister stage Illuminatus were a disappointment. Having not seen them since 2004 their sound was always likely to have evolved, but in my opinion not for the better. Back then I was a massive fan of their Anathema influenced ‘Aborted Revolutions’ EP, which I had purchased on the strength of their set at Bloodstock 2003. They even still use some of my praise for that live show in the press section of their website. Having dropped their keyboard player in the interim the remaining members have gone for a beefed up sound that never really connected with me. Julio Taylor’s stage banter didn’t help matters, with a series of unsubtle shouts of ‘Damnation!’ and the f-word leaving me wondering if this was the same band I had seen all those years ago. Depressingly, with the exception of a new bassist, it was.

Unlike Illuminatus I’ve never really cared much for Turisas and the ‘Battle Metal’ genre they sing of, but I’ll give them their dues they were one of the few bands on the Jagermeister stage who manage to get to grips with the unforgiving nature of The Refectory (A venue I rank as one of Leeds’ worst). It’s quite possible that the numbers watching them had been swelled by Manowar fans still in town after their gig at Leeds Academy the night before. ‘Stand Up And Fight’ went down a storm with the crowd, many of whom had adopted the band’s image (A cross between classic WWF tag-team Legion Of Doom and Mad Max II). By the end of the set frontman Mathias Nygard had the crowd, putty like, in the palm of his hands, splitting the audience in two, with one half chanting ‘Battle’, the other ‘Metal’, prior to the band commencing their closing number. A success all told, and the band didn’t even have to resort to their cover of Boney M’s ‘Rasputin’.

Local heroes Evile’s set saw them alternating between songs from the freshly released ‘Five Serpents Teeth’ and their ‘Enter The Grave’ debut. It’s an approach that generated something of a wave effect in terms of the crowd’s reaction. The title track of their new album is unfamiliar to me, and it seemed much of the crowd, not quite hitting the spot. ‘Killer From The Deep’ rose out of the waters and led to the first serious skirmishes in the mosh-pit. ‘Eternal Empire’ employed a slow-burning intro, akin to mid-period Slayer, before kicking up a gear in true thrash style. The four-piece then raid ‘…The Grave’ again, with frontman Matt Drake getting the crowd to ad-lib the chorus of ‘We Who Are About To Die’, for me this moment, more than any other during the set confirmed that Evile have the staying power to really go onto bigger things. Yes, in Ol Drake they have one hell of a lead guitarist, but I’m sure I’m not alone in being more drawn towards his brother’s down to earth rapport with the fans.

It certainly seems there’s no shortage of prospective member willing to join the band’s ‘Cult’. Having checked out the video (Which has had over 60,000 views in just over two months on YouTube) this was the new cut I was anticipating the most. It was inevitable they would play ‘Thrasher’ (Now over a million views on YouTube!!!), but thankfully, despite garnering a massive reaction in the pit, it didn’t herald the end of their set. ‘Infected Nations’ may not be the finale some were hoping for, I’m sure many were hankering for something else from their debut, but to me it made perfect sense. Despite the death of original bassist Mike Alexander early in the touring cycle for said album, Evile really earned their stripes whilst promoting ‘Infected Nations’ and it seems they are finally getting to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Grand Magus excelled in the great outdoors the last time I witnessed them live. Today they are another band who fall victim to the curse of the Refectory. The room was perhaps only half full when they took to the stage, and despite charismatic frontman JB’s attempts to get the crowd to sing along to the likes of ‘Silver Into Steel’ the atmosphere was somewhat flat. The classic metal drama of ‘Shadow Knows’ (Always a house favourite when I shared a flat) is a highlight of the trio’s set and even the security guard on the balcony is nodding his head in time to ‘Iron Will’, but through no fault of their own today was a case of merely Good Magus.

Due to the running order on the Terrorizer stage being thrown out of the window as soon as Cerebral Bore started late I didn’t catch as many bands down there as I would have hoped. For me the Stylus venue is the heart of Damnation. That it was the main room at last year’s event contributed a lot to the great atmosphere. Unfortunately today’s proceedings never quite live up to the memories of 2010.

With this in mind a conscious decision to catch some of Doom was made, that’s Doom the crust band, not the Radiohead collaborator just in case you’re wondering Bomb readers. They played to a packed room and the d-beats never let up, making for an intense set that was well worth the descent into the University’s bowels.

Ascending back upstairs, I witnessed Godflesh manage to ratchet the intensity levels up even higher than Doom. Much of this is down to the volume of their drum machine; even with earplugs in it was punishing my hearing! In fact after a while it begins to feel like a full body assault and I actually made a conscious decision to leave the hall. It seems it was equally intense for Godflesh mainman Justin Broadrick, who had obviously worked up quite a sweat and was bemoaning the lack of towels onstage.

Prior to headliner Devin Townsend we were treated to some home movie antics, courtesy of his warped mind. In some ways they were reminiscent of the skits Ozzy Osbourne used as an intro to his gigs around the late nineties, in which the double-O inserted himself into clips from films such as Titanic; witness Devin in Star Wars for example. But then he ups the ante somewhat, with a series of clips revolving around his own creation Ziltoid The Omniscient, somehow I can’t imagine “Sharon” letting Ozzy make a concept album revolving around an alien in search of the ultimate cup of coffee any time soon. At the conclusion of this rather bizarre build up Devin has The Venga Boys “The Venga Bus Is Coming” played over the PA, before he appears, cheap shiny suit and all, goading the crowd “If you’re too cool for the Venga Boys, get the fuck out of here!”

What follows is a master class from Devin in how to walk the fine line between the sublime and the ridiculous. I can’t think of any other artist successfully convincing people to part with £15 for a glove puppet, before demanding “Let me see those Ziltoids” and garnering a response that suggests 75% of the audience bought one.

Musically the set leans heavily on the aforementioned ‘Ziltoid’ album and ‘The Devin Townsend Project’ quartet of albums. Although Devin goes right back to his early solo career for set opener ‘Truth’ and it’s a pleasure to hear ‘Bad Devil’, both from his ‘Infinity’ album. When Devin played ‘Supercrush’ from the ‘Addicted’ album he perfectly lambasted the sort of uninspired, expletive reliant, banter that Illuminatus’ Julio had employed earlier in the day. “Do you want to hear something from Addicted? I can’t hear you, anybody want to hear some fucking Addicted shit! Put your arse out to the right whenever you say that.” This song did highlight one of the only downsides of the Devin live experience though, namely that not all of his expansive sound can be performed live, with Anneke Van Giersbergen’s vocals being pre-recorded. Following this ‘Juular’ is yet another example of how diverse Devin’s output is, combining extreme metal with the sensibilities of a musical highlight from a Tim Burton film. Throughout the set the visuals behind the band underline Devin’s own cinematic ambitions, although in truth it’s always the slightly low budget, tongue in cheek videos that work best, with the camp comic strip shenanigans of ‘Vampira’, coming hot on the heels of Halloween, working as a perfect encore.


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