at the gates
I had definitely been missing Leeds as one of my previously regular and favourite metal music/party destinations after only being once earlier in the year, but thankfully Damnation is here again to bookend the year’s metal events. Mixed thoughts had been aired on lineup this year by some, and a reduced capacity to avoid the queues and delays of last year, but I was excited with the prospect of some bands I was eager to see for the first time, and some that I knew would deliver again.
Had the bonus of a quality warm-up show on the Friday evening at the excellent Temple of Boom venue, just outside the inner ring road, converted industrial units, just the kind of no frills function space I love. With cheap beer. Had a good mix of atmospheric black metal from friendly locals Narayana, samples adding colour to the fast technicalities, swiftly followed up by the stop-start intensity of Gets Worse’s power violence, who are certainly being prodigious in their output of top notch material at the moment. Some tight thrashing from Incinery next, pretty relentless in their pace with a good nod to Exodus style, and then the Scots Scordatura, effective death metal battering stirring up some pit action. To finish the three piece sonic colossus that is Slabdragger, with their meandering chronic doom interspersed with raw punky outbreaks of speed. A great night in itself, how it ended up finishing for me/finishing me at 6am was another matter entirely…
At least it was a bright, unseasonably warm day to ease ourselves back into the land of the living on Saturday morning, and the first of many visits once in the venue to the open terrace bar out the back to feel positively like we were on holiday drinking in the sun. Descended from there to the deepest depths of the Electric Amphetamine stage to get our senses shaken loose by the haunting, slothlike doom of Undersmile, spellbinding in their focus and disturbing ethereal atmosphere as ever. Up a level and many more gears in tempo to Wiegedood on the Terrorizer stage, they were the first of somewhat of a Belgian invasion today, testament to a really interesting and intense scene over there. For a three piece they conjured an excellent wall of epic black metal sound, almost martial, stripped down drums underpinning non-stop riffing. Next for me the French band CROWN, who I’d only been recently introduced to. They were in the large hall of the Eyesore Merch stage where sound had been iffy last year in at times but no worries now, their light/shade mix of sombre, gothic post metal blended with crushing industrial dirge riffing having a hypnotic quality espedially with the machine beats. With my ahem, media commitments, I only caught the last few bars of the dark, progressive hardcore of Oath Breaker that I’d been looking forward to on the main Jagermeister stage, but heard lots of good feedback enough to pick up the album and promise to self to see them again.
altar of plagues
Vreid on the Terrorizer were an easier watch, and I enjoyed their more accessible take on Norwegian black metal more this time than their previous time here, good structure to their songs giving a hook to keep the attention. Through to see The Ocean on the main stage, a good few years after I’d seen them down in Stoke and so pleasantly surprised to hear familiar old material to open. As a seven piece they can certainly take their time adding textures and layers to their heavy, progressive post metal but with an excellent sound (and light show) here it’s all very engaging and enjoyable. We are given a moment to remember with the singer climbing his way up and around the balcony mid song, before diving back in on cue, much to security’s consternation. A rare and first chance for me to see Ireland’s Altar of Plagues obviously appealed to many, with Eyesore being limited to one in one out but fortunately I had access to the balcony to savour the occasion. And what a treat, where the three guys wove a spectacular mix of drifting ambience and brutally cathartic explosions of howling, progressive black metal ferocity, added to by the combination of smoke and light that gave a ritual experience to the whole thing.
Down to the basement for something more straightforward and the classic distorted doom grooves of Witchsorrow, again a return visit for them here. There’s inevitably a bit of a Electric Wizard reference in their huge, drawn out wah-wah washed riff-outs, but they do have some up-tempo freak-outs too, much enjoyed by all us up front. The only bad clash of the day sees me forsaking the sermon at the church of Amenra (on account of seeing them in Roadburn again next year) in favour of a rare UK appearance from the Dutch masters of doomy death metal, Asphyx. Given vocalist Martin’s connection to both bands I’ve mistakenly compared them to Bolt Thrower in the past, but there’s much more to them in a unique way than that. (Still great to hear him say “Have it!” in a semi-Brummie accent though). They have a turmoil of riffs and gut wrenching, harsh vocals, and a galloping pace to their devastating riffs, great fun. Having seen High on Fire play to about forty people in Wrexham a few years back it was marvellous to see them entertaining the full main hall here, and entertain they do. Main man Matt Pike is a trimmer beast that when I last saw him but can still hammer out the riffs and roar out his refrains, they charge and swagger along with their fast stoner grooves, just definitive heavy metal of one of its many sorts! Have a little time and head space to chill and be lulled by Mono, again a rare expedition from Japan for them, where even 10 minutes can give a flavour of the beauty of their post metal. Their genius lies in the subtle structuring of their songs, gentle, plucked guitar ambience building to be smashed away by soaring waves of solid noise, uncompromising and captivating. To finish for me, more trusty melodic death metal from At the Gates. I’ve seen the Swedish export a few times since their reformation but not caught their new album yet and while at times I’m a bit lost and nonplussed about some of the unfamiliar songs, this death far less impactful to me than the likes of Asphyx, it’s fair to say that their “classics” are still unleashed with venom, none more so than Blinded by Fear. A satisfying end to a superb day, over too quick, but with a great collection of happy people we can still party on at the aftershow in the basement. We are the Damned!
high on fire