Damnation Festival 2016

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words: Elena Mara Reed, photos: Damnation Festival/ Asylum Seventy7, 2016-11-15

Damn, Damnation is over! On November the 5th the greatest metal all-dayer in the UK took place in Leeds (Leeds University Union) for the 12th time. Riffs, screams, shrieks and beats, smiles and new friendships, so much in a day! Damnation is a festival, where you hardly have time for a cigarette or meal break. Running from one stage to another (there are 4!!) you try to capture the most of it.

Indeed, the 12th edition provided us with a meticulously crafted, diverse (and intense) line-up. Four stages hosted European, British and American virtuosos of metal, while numerous bars around them offered friendly prices for beers and spirits. Put your earplugs in, and you’re ready to rock and roll!


Cult of Luna with Julie Christmas


I start the all-dayer with Conjurer, a sludge band from Midlands. The four-piece sounds massive (who is the sound engineer? – thank you!). Big sludge/hardcore riffs do not fit with 2pm, but who cares? Certainly, not the audience! While Svalbard are playing at the same time, the Eyesoremerch room is full of metalheads enjoying slow to fast tempo, aggression and energy Conjurer puts on a plate. What strikes me the most is that Conjurer has two very strong vocals. Actually, I should say three – the bassist Andy adds on and he certainly deserves a microphone!

While Eyesoremerch stage is still being destroyed by Conjurer, I run to get a glimpse of Svalbard. Soon after I realise that Conjurer was the right choice. Svalbard sounds like a weird cocktail of punk vocals with post-rock riffs. I swear I could hear “anarchy” in the lyrics, but most likely it’s the result of the ambience the band creates.

Erlen Meyer is a discovery of the festival. A band from France, named after a type of laboratory flask. Doesn’t sound very exciting? Well, you’re wrong! Just like laboratory experiments, Erlen Meyer are serious about what they are doing on stage. Drums are vitriolic, leading the post-metal/sludge guitars and hardcoreque vocals up the stream. Bleak poetry (lyrics are in French) interludes at times atmospheric, but mostly filthy and heavy flow. The moment I hear the vocalist Olivier Lacroix screaming I remember the very best of today’s French metal/hardcore (Celeste!). Worth noting, Erlen Meyer’s self-titled album has been produced by Cult of Luna’s Magnus Lindberg and I certainly can see why.



No time to rest, it is Darkher playing in The 4th Stage. Yet I am afraid room is so full, that I cannot make my way through to fully enjoy the British Chelsea Wolfe. I make sure, however, I don’t miss out on another grandiose female, Larrisa of Venom Prison. Their brutal set in Terrorizer stage leaves us no doubts – Venom Prison set themselves as one of the most demonic death metal band of the fest.

My body betrays me and requires feed. After a much-needed portion of glucose, I come back for probably the most awaited set of the day – Cult of Luna with Julie Christmas. The band said they had very little time to practise. Yet it seems like they have been playing together for ages. Professionalism! COL is kicking around for almost two decades now and Julie at least for a decade (check out Battle of Mice and Made out of Babies and you'll see that Julie and COL have been a natural fit for each other for a long time). Like fine wines they certainly get better with age. Whereas for some it is Oathbreaker with Rheia, for me it is definitely COL with Julie that are ground-breaking in 2016! Incorporating electronic music, melodic moments, Scandinavian atmosphere, they not only wash any classifications away but simply revolutionise metal. Live performance confirms my expectations as COL and Julie give themselves fully. Julie dances energetically and we let our inner beasts out. The album (Mariner), which was never intended to be played live, feels even more majestic, triumphant, magick live. My inner critic of critical critique is not fully content with the sound though. Jägermeister is the largest stage of Damnation, yet in comparison to the other three, the sound is not ideal. I believe there is not much sound engineers could do about it, it is just the room itself. The quality of sound you get largely depends on where you stand and in gigs like that you need to conquer your way through.




Battle of Mice


The next band I watch in Jägermeister is Abbath. Great showmen they are - leather jackets, spikes, make up, some swearing during songs… Moonspell with their artificial snow flakes could be jealous of Abbath’s show business capabilities. Time for a break...

There is one more band I want to see from A to Z though – Italians Ufomammut. The Mammoths (or Ufos?!) are playing for almost 18 years now and are about to mix their 8th album. Compared to Sleep and Electric Wizard, Ufommamut, nonetheless, are nothing like them. Perhaps it is the origins of the band (small Italian towns) that make them sound so unique. Ufomammut traps us into their psychedelic drony soundscapes. Visuals (made by Lu from Malleus Rock Art Lab) add to a trippy experience. As they said, the energy created during the gig can charge your phone! Well, I’d say, you are more likely to lose your phone (and mind!) during their set! [P.S. read the interview with Ufomammut I did during the fest here].

The night finishes with well-deserved headliners Electric Wizard, who undoubtedly don’t need an introduction. Imho, it isn't their best show ever, but the British legends make the crowd dance and sing along. A beautiful finale of Damnation! I chant “I want to get high before I die” and feel extremely grateful to the promoters for making this all happen. Let's see what 2017 brings about!