(by MWJ)

Carcass, Cathedral, Pitchshifter, Napalm Death, Benediction, The Berzerker, Onslaught

After getting my monthly ration of booze the day/night before in Chester, I was quite happy (though not necessarily feeling good) about being designated driver of a car load up to Leeds for yet another festival. Damnation has been running for a few years, initially in Manchester but now over the Pennines, ever expanding in size. The metal fans that run it for metal fans, allegedly, had really gone for broke this year, topped off with the prospect of Carcass’s only UK show since their reformation this year meaning it was sold out in days, only to be moved to a bigger venue and more made available. Though I had had the privilege of seeing them at Hellfest there was still a big air of anticipation over this, and a lot of folks drawn in from all over.

Heading over early-ish to avoid any traffic nightmares (and also in consideration of the time it would take to pick up some of the more invalid attendees) we did get there with plenty to spare and so had a civilised visit to the Metal Tearooms, a regular afternoon club of noisy delights run by Paul from Reth. Every town should have one! This got us nicely fired up for the chilly walk up the hill to the Uni campus, only to meet some old fiends from Preston who informed us of the 2 mile queues to get in so we were easily diverted once more to The Fenton for more refreshments.

Straight in after that, and a quick orientation tour for the three stages sharing the acts. Hmmm, not a good prospect when asking staff for directions and they shrug and go “It’s like a maze”. On these travels did catch the end of Mountains Became Machines, looking very young and non-metal as befitted their drawn out take on intelligent post-rock, and a bit of the rough death abuse of South Walians Desecration, it became apparent that already running times had slipped so with an early curfew it was a bit of a wonder how things were going to go. Time to prioritise some “must sees” and return to the main stage to watch Onslaught.

Old stagers from early thrash days, I first came across them with a classic track on the Speed Kills 3 compilation but had never seen them before. A new album out last year was well delivered and received, and a fair bit of the punchy thrash from that made up their set, with some back catalogue too. Me, chuffed to the max with the closer “Power from Hell”.

Then down into the appropriate depths for another aural battering from The Berzerker, just a few months since the last one in Wrexham. Their sound was a little ropey to start with as maybe the soundman desperately tried to get a grip on the aural lightning but soon was set into their vicious best, sharp and to the point with their industrial death. The place was absolutely heaving and views of the stage were difficult to come by, and the impression of too many people for the venue started to sink in a bit.

As efforts to move between the stages also were a grindingly slow crush and trudge elected to stay put for Benediction. Also last seen in Wrexham, except best part of 20 years ago. They also have kept plugging away and demonstrated just how effective their brand of straight up death is with a fine pounding set. They also benefit from having the charismatic Dave Cunt on vocals for them now, who’s a winner in all the bands he fronts/has fronted in my opinion. They also inspired plenty of stage diving, though the majority were feeble backwards flop efforts until we saw some later “Geek” style, catching some proper air, gaining a nod of appreciation from the old schoolers.

Again, going nowhere next as time to renew another acquaintance, this time with Napalm Death. My fault for the delay, as they’ve been relentless in their output, touring and contribution to the metal scene but yep, 14 years since the Buckley Tiv? Down to one guitar again now since the departure/death of Jesse Pintado this has been a consistent line-up since the Grindcrusher days and what’s great about their performance is that they demonstrate exuberance for their stuff that’s infectious. Blistering definitive grindcore, a good trawl through their extensive back catalogue too. No cynicism or going through the motions, Barney’s banters on social/political subjects always from the heart and the fuel of purpose to what they do, what they always have been about in their various incarnations. Two new songs aired of a new album in the New Year and they are well up to speed.

Left the end of their set, and probably “Scum” with it :-(, to ensure a place in the crush for Carcass. Stage times gone to pot now so hanging around for a bit, the place getting more and more rammed before the slide show starts to roll and a lengthy anti-religious sample heralds their entrance. A huge roar of reception and they are into the tortured and twisted technicality of their metal, numbers from their arguable musical peak of “Necroticism” or their career peak of “Heartwork”. The sound is great, heavy with impact, and that can’t be faulted. But there is inevitable contrast between this self-acknowledged cash-in love-in and the bands that are doing it for more vital reasons. So while it is amusing to hear that Bill’s mum is in the crowd and they’re on their best behaviour the relaxed attitude detracts from the intensity within the songs. Sober, and having had a multitude of Carcass experiences over my venerable years, I am not swept away by this and get old man grumpiness at the sheer sweltering uncomfort and lack of pit etiquette. Over the side, I’m bailing out.

There was also the draw of seeing the other bands that had been put on as simultaneous headliners on the other stages specifically to try and reduce the numbers seeing Carcass in a limited capacity room. Not sure that had worked so well when caught up Pitchshifter at the second stage, with possibly a quarter of the crowd that had been there for The Berzerker. He might acknowledge that their first gig had been with Napalm Death once upon a time (in Wrexham?), but that was a different band, Pitch Shifter. Notice the subtle difference. Anyway that is a definite line drawn in the sands of time as despite impolite requests they don’t play any of the old (good) stuff and it’s all their more recent Prodigy-flavoured techno punk. Really, to me this seems like an even later version of the band, the Pitchshifter Experience, as it’s just the rather wasted looking LA resident vocalist with a backing band of youngsters, and apparently even one of them has gone off to watch Carcass. Time to go deeper

At the smallest stage we catch the end of the Cathedral. UK Doom legends, we’d been harbouring vague fantasies that front man Lee Dorian along with Bill from Carcass might have had some Napalm Death reunion with the current band but really that was worlds apart from where they are now. Anyway, the atmosphere they create in this dingy basement with their unashamedly retro 70’s heavy groove metal has everyone grinning, and he’s a star focus like his fellow Brummie Ozzy, just not so fucked. Finishing with the classic “Hopkins (Witchfinder General)”, he spots all the witches in the crowd before hanging himself with his mike lead. Now that’s entertainment

Back past Pitchshifter, a couple more songs like “please sir” at least demonstrate they know what they are doing when it come to hooks, before we return to the fray with Carcass. Entering at another break there’s the end of Ken Owens drum solo sadly petering out before he has his moment at the mike to bring lumps to folk’s throats. Times is well out now so at long last they reach the finale, the seminal drum intro of “Ruptured in Purulence” from ye olden days medley-ed into something from the not so olden olden days, that leaves just about everyone present satisfied. They seem to have enjoyed themselves too, and the “See you next year” farewell had resounding implications.

Metal parties were continuing on in the city, and maybe it would be a good one to make more of a whole weekend event of, but I was not exactly overawed by it. This odd middle ground between a conventional gig and a full festival just left the impression of everything being rushed, crammed and confused with little time to savour. Naturally I’ll easily be swung by good future line-ups and the social catch up of the event, but this time it’s back to the motor for the rushing roulette of who’s going to be the back seat diver. “I’ve a feeling this piss may cost me dearly”.

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