Damnation Festival 2013 - Leeds University Union

And so the metal world descends on Leeds once again for the Damnation Festival and its celebration of all that is unholy. The day begins a little more mundanely than that though, as coach problems mean I just make it into the bowels of the Leeds Uni student union just in time to catch Poland’s Tides From Nebula. Their soaring post-rock is greeted appreciatively by the swelling crowd, the soundtrack-esque atmospherics getting today’s viewing off to gentle but welcome start.

There’s nothing placid about Twilight Of The Gods over on the main stage however. Originally an all-star Bathory tribute band, these five stalwarts are now crafting their own material in a very traditional metal vein. It is very retro and hardly original, but their half hour set is still a lot of fun and gets the blood pumping.

Year Of No Light

step up in even further in terms of heaviness, their sweeping waves of noise living up to their bleak name. A mixture of black metal and doom wrapped in some sort of shoegaze-y blanket, the band only has time for a few of these rather epic pieces, but they hold sway over a mesmerised crowd with a powerful grip that is hard to pull away from.

But pull myself away I do late on, as Norwegian pioneers Shining are taking to the stage in the main hall. A unique mix of jazz and black metal, this is boisterous, noisy - and great! At times you do begin to wonder if any of the musicians are playing the same song as any of the others, but no matter how many times they take it to the brink of a helpless mess, they snatch it back and whirl off together in an entirely different direction.

Unfortunately Palehorse are slightly less adept at such musical gymnastics. With two bassists and no guitarist, this was always promising to be crushingly heavy, and whilst they are certainly that, they are also very one dimensional. A pair of overly-distorted basses ringing out whilst someone sounding uncannily like a banshee wailing over the top can only be borne for so long, so a hasty retreat is soon made.

It must be said that The Ocean are far better in a live environment than on record. The sort of band that really should appeal to me as they mix grandiose progressive metal with a sense for the dramatic, I’ve always been underwhelmed. But today they go some way towards convincing, as the organic and volatile live show is as engaging as I have ever heard them. Add in a singer who repeatedly jumps off any tall object into the crowd, and you have a show!

They might be (primarily) English, but Crippled Black Phoenix draw such vivid aural pictures of the mid-west you could easily mistake them as American. It is a beautiful and relaxing sound they make, shifting easily up and down the gears. It is remarkable that with seven musicians they create such a dense aural wall, and yet there is so much space in between it all, a balance precious few bands can attain.

To celebrate ten years of their superlative work Viva Emptiness, Katatonia are playing the entirety of the album today. Only that they are playing it backwards. As odd and random as this may seem, it soon starts to make sense as the flow of the set is spot on. ‘Inside The City Of Glass’, now with vocals, acts wonderfully as an opener, and similarly there are few better songs to finish on than ‘Ghost Of The Sun’ to send us all back to the bar with huge smiles beaming from our faces.

There is no question as to who unleashes the most intense set of the day. Cult Of Luna are on devastating form this evening, as good as I have seen them in years. Punishingly heavy and drawn out almost to breaking point, they demand your attention and reward those who go with them. ‘Dark City, Dead Man’ still sticks out as a monumental track that proves just why this stage is crammed full for these Swedes tonight.

The legendary Carcass are today’s headliners on the main stage, and it’s easy to see why. Brutal and extreme, even in their mid-forties Bill Steer and Jeff Walker still have it. Whether it’s quick blasts from 1988’s Reek Of Putrefaction or slabs of hulking death metal from this year’s Surgical Steel, the crowd go bonkers. There is still room for a deeply touching moment at the end of the set as original drummer Ken Owen, brought low by ill health, steps up for a brief drum solo and a thank you to the fans. A final howl of ‘Keep On Rotting In The Free World’, and Damnation is done for another year.

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