Damnation Festival 2010 - Leeds University Union, Leeds

Damnation Festival 2010 marks its sixth instalment with a stellar line-up that runs the gamut of modern extreme metal. Having steadily grown since its humble beginnings in Manchester, the festival now takes over the cavernous maze that is Leeds University Union with three separate stages and a whole host of bands to keep everyone happy.

First up on the main stage is Panic Cell, a band who have been peddling their Pantera-esque groove around the British Isles for a while now. Airing tracks from their latest album Fire It Up it’s evident that while not particularly interesting musically, they do have a formidable voice in the shape of front-man Luke Bell. Over in the annoyingly cramped confines of the Rocksound stage, The Mire demonstrate their chops with a series of crushing slabs of post-metal. While unremarkable at first, the band does slip into a groove which promises exciting things. The same cannot be said for Fen, who bore with their atmospheric black metal, though this could be down to the terrible sound in the room.

Back on the main-stage, Rolo Tomassi storm the crowd with their off-kilter riffs and bleepy keyboards. Eva Spence may look cute and innocent but her splendidly evil screams beg to differ. Closing with ‘Party Wounds’ they start off the first real circle pits of the day. The first venture to the Terrorizer stage today yields, well not much. The Antichrist Imperium feature members of cult British death-metallers Akercocke, and yet what they play here is a sub-standard Deicide rip-off. It’s a relief then to find novelty thrashers Lawnmower Deth injecting some humour into the atmosphere, inviting an audience member onto the trampoline they’ve brought along them, for a song called ‘Satan’s Trampoline’ no less.

Sabbat have been playing the odd show here and there since reuniting back in 2006, but have never committed to anything close to being a proper touring/recording band again. Tonight proves that hasn’t really done them any harm as they run through tracks of their classic Dreamweaver album. Andy Sneap is a talented guitarist and in Martin Walkyier they have quite a uniquely strange front-man. Back at the Rocksound stage, nothing much seems to have been done to make the sound any better but that doesn’t prevent Esoteric from blowing out some huge doomy riffs.

The return of Earthtone9 may not mean a lot to most people, but for the audience at Damnation it’s obviously a big deal. These guys hit the stage with a bang, taking us through songs from across their catalogue. Tracks like ‘Evil Crawling I’ from their breakthrough album arc’tan’gent still sound thrillingly brutal, and they never let up. Karl Middleton was always a great frontman but tonight he sounds in absolute top form, in particular on the new track they air and ‘I Nagual Eye’ which they close with. From this evidence, let’s hope this reunion isn’t shortlived.

At the Terrorizer stage Anaal Nathrakh are about to tear the capacity crowd apart. Mick Kenney and Dave Hunt are veterans of this festival, and their set demonstrates why. A masterclass of extreme metal, they bring equal amounts ferocity and atmosphere and with tracks like ‘Submission is for the Weak’ it’s easy to hear why they are so revered in the metal underground. At the over end of the spectrum is the decidedly tired-sounding Paradise Lost. They sound uninspiring and dull in contrast and look more than a little wooden on stage.

So it’s a relief that Dillinger Escape Plan are here to pick up the pace again. Fast-paced and unrelenting from the off, they play tracks like ‘Panasonic Youth’ and ‘Gold Teeth on a Bum’ with a twisted intensity. A cracking ending to a brilliant day, Damnation has once again shown it is a festival flying the flag for the outer reaches of the refuge that is modern metal.

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