(review by MWJ)

So, without the presence of Extreme Noise Terror, I probably wouldn’t have gone to this. And what do you know, after I’d got my ticket they pulled out anyway (maintaining the massive 50% turn-up rate at gigs I’ve been to see them at) so I was left to mull over the value of this event, the last metal festival of the year. Compared to the oversold and hectic Carcass headlined Black Hole of Calcutta experience of last year there was little striking must-sees this time around, resulting in a “capacity capped” (not sold enough tickets) more relaxed feel about the whole thing.

Me and El trundled up and got in about 3pm, expecting to have missed some of the early bands but with the un/pleasant bonus of finding Charger still in action due to the mid level Terrorizer stage times slipping already (Romanian Black metallers Negura Bunget also having pulled out at the last minute). I hadn’t seen the Stoke bludgeoners for a few years but they were just as if not more so ferocious in their crusty sludge onslaught, a really awakener and much enjoyed, glad to hear new EP release imminent.

With a years experience and less shuffling hordes to fight through it was much easier to negotiate the labyrinthine depths of the building down to the small basement Rock Hard stage. Irish post-metal As I Watch You From Afar are giving an energetic riff work-out, with a surprisingly brighter tone than the majority of the rest of the sonic darkness that pervades this event. Back to Terrorizer for three-piece death of Mithras, it’s ok but unremarkable, not loud enough in my opinion and again made curious by their sampled melodious keyboards washing over sections. So down again for the Manatees and this was definitely loud and heavy enough. Another three piece but with huge, churning, steamroller riffs, building atmospheres of destruction, very satisfying.

A first visit to the main hall and Jagermeister stage for another leviathan, Electric Wizard. After being spellbound by them at Hellfest again they effortlessly drew you into their monotonous crushing doom, the sound was truly huge and reverberating. Having had a fair taste though was happy to head back through and sample other stuff, this being a pattern for the day really, in that you could check out loads, see some good stuff, but it was rare that I felt compelled to watch an entire set. A Storm of Light feature the guy who produced the visuals for Neurosis and the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree with his own band, there are many points of reference to that band, where they do move slightly into their own territory is perhaps with a more constant, almost chanted layer of a vocal. El tried to drag me to Pagan Angel/Anathema so he could put to them some polite comments in relation to their parentage but I put my foot down, uninterested in the dull prog they have become.

We’re back into the heart of things for Mistress, the Birmingham extremists doing this as reunion/farewell show having broken up without much ceremony last year after a short but furious spell as a leading light in the UK’s metal scene. Quickly reminded of how they gained that respect though as their punchy d-beat to grind mix with a whole lot of other solid elements is top notch. Back for the fourth year running with his various band incarnations vocalist Dave Cunt is surlier than ever suffering with a cold but soon gets into the swing of things (his boot to stage divers arses) and there’s laughs all round, as well as probably the liveliest/most chaotic crowd response of the day. They end with spectacular guitar destruction from Drunk (I presume he recovers the bits from the crowd as a souvenir and not in some vain hope of fixing it!) and much affection from all.

German thrash legends Destruction on the main stage are maybe anti-climatic after that, or maybe they are just not that good in my opinion. Yeah, it’s fast riffing and galloping drums from the three-piece but to me it’s very dated (including 80’s porn ‘tache) and uninspired. “They’re no Testament” is my summary at the time. “They’re no {insert good death/black metal band here}” could have been applied to Akercocke as they were passed on the way down, the first time I had experienced them live and wondering whether they had been better once upon a while before this rather lifeless exercise on show now.

An interval in the merch area enables us to acquire some of Shane Embury’s (Napalm Death/Lock-up etc bassist) Jaffa Cakes, not necessarily with his permission, and also chat to Diarmuid (Jesu/Cable Regime bassist) about his own North Wales connections.

They Will Destroy You had come all the way from Texas apparently but certainly didn’t live up to their title, drifting post-metal that was pretty turgid. From them to Therapy? on the main stage, a key band this year but not in performance terms. The last couple of times I’d seen them had been had been in about ’92 and the incentive then had been Cop Shoot Cop were supporting them. They seemed pretty much the same, thundering melodic post-punk/rock based around angular guitar riffs, and christ from up near the front they were piercingly loud but they were not metal.

That was the key, and a reflection on the whole event this year. This set-up was originally touted as a metal festival for metal fans by metal fans but the boundaries have perhaps been stretched to far, personal tastes overridden sensible choices, or misguided attempts to be too eclectic. There was a lot to enjoy in having the craic with regularly attending mates from round the country but the basis must be in the exciting experience of the music. There was something missing at the heart of this year with reformations, experimentals, post- everything and plain second rate. So it goes that they lost money through a lower attendance of those even attracted to it, how many of those will be weighing up the experience of this year against going next year too?

Anyway, after being also unimpressed by Greek melodic death metallers Rotting Christ, despite it being hyped as a rare visit from legends seemed all very mundane and too much on the clean side for me, we were left with the headliners. Jesu first on the smallest stage, wouldn’t be the same without technical difficulties, and despite the sound being massive when it kicked in, Justin’s constant negotiations with the sound desk during songs distracted from the epic flow of the layered noise. A good mix of songs from their considerable output, including the colossal 30 minute composition that is the recently released Infinity. I bailed out during this though to catch Lock-up, the grind “supergroup” featuring Shane, Tomas (At the Gates, Disfear etc), Nick Barker (Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, etc) and a new Chilean guitarist taking over from the demised Jesse Pintado. This was also to be a farewell show of sorts as they didn’t really have time for the project any more, or it’s logistics, or the inclination without Jesse. So, “from Sparkhill Santiago Sweden” they launched into their straight up blistering grindcore, not overly complex but having excellent hooks and grooves to it because of that. Tomas’s vocals retained the punkiness of some of his projects that gave it a pleasing original hardcore feel The precision blasting was immense but they remained engaging and humorous even if the crowd was less than it had been for Mistress earlier, perhaps drawn off to post-hardcore Life of Agony on the main stage or simple gone for last buses and trains home. By the time they’d finished, including a Terrorizer (band) cover there was nothing left of the LOA but I wasn’t fussed about this, not a band that had ever really appealed to me

An after show club night enabled us to sink to further levels of depravity before we headed off into the night, trying to remember the name of the drug dealer in All Creatures Great and Small, made a generally enjoyable evening of it but as I say, Damnation may have reached its own downturn. We’ll see next year.