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Deep thrills: Amenra & High on Fire (Damnation 2015)

Damnation festival: 7th November 2015. Leeds University Union.

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amnation 2014 exploded like a Pacific volcano spewing brutal hot music over the fist-pounding faithful.

Intense sets by Bolt Thrower, Cannibal Corpse and Saint Vitus took pride of the place in the metal mantelpiece of the mind. By contrast, the 2015 line up is a very different animal. Whilst there is a solid dose of gurny grindy thrash, the majority of acts are much more cerebral, perhaps even deep.


One imagines that the best bit of being a festival organiser must be putting together a line-up of your favourites. Consider it a mixtape that moves on all senses.

Some mixtapes are a collection of your favourite bangers that, unrelenting from end to end, have an eternal quality containing the songs of the ages. Others are a more loving creation, crafted with profound care. The driving mixtape, the loving mixtape, the house party mixtape, all these have their place but the holy grail is the mixtape which introduces itself, but reveals its deeper wonder only in context of the proceeding songs.

You could easily fall into psycho-marketing babble here. A hero’s journey of characters and obstacles that, tangled together, lay the ground for vistas more mind expanding than any individual song. Imagine a world where tracks by Blue Cheer, Joy Division, Gary Numan and Bolt Thrower all lead to ‘Would’ by Alice in Chains. A mixtape where all summons are answered, all entreaties are received and pure rock manna flows undimmed upon the listener.

Compiled by connoisseurs the lineup of Damnation 2015 is that mixtape.

Experimental, soulful, heavy with third act triumphs of epic anthems and claw paw jubilation, Damnation 2015 has this possibility. So let us unravel its mysteries.

The epic mixtape starts with glowering building intensity, not ‘heavy’ but complex and pulsing, it has to announce itself. To call out and let itself be known. If set times are to approximated by the relative font size of the acts on the poster, then opening tracks would have to be by Maybeshewill and Altar of Plagues.

I don’t have to tell you things are bad… We know things are bad – worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone.’ Well, I’m not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad!”

– Network (1978, sampled in Maybeshewill ‘Not for want of trying’)

Maybeshewill (light post-gaze indietronic melodicore) might be seen as a controversial choice for Damnation. Atmospheric and poppy, they’re a bit different. While tracks like ‘Not For Want of Trying’ have a fantastic energy, I remain unconvinced. Their music sounds like a gushing anime soundtrack about a precocious adolescent girl whose talking glove leads her to a sexually active grassland, tracing the edge of a buried painted plate makes her mother crumble into dust. Oh no! The glove is her dead father and her mother is a hair (puke)! Also the constant piano crescendos and unyielding mid-pace do my head in.

Reports have it that when they do bring the power they are hard to beat live so I WILL be there to witness this revelation (should it arrive).

Altar of Plagues (Post-Neurot blackened atmos-doom with die-liner synths) are calling it quits so seeing them is a must. Leaving us after a decade of making some great records this gig promises to be a big show for the Irish lads known for being quite frightening live.

Black Tusk (beardcore blackened roots-sludge merchtoken) are strangers to no one and will be bringing their tongue-in-cheek, beer-in-hand, our-band-has-the-best merch vibe heavily into what will be a vicious circle pit.

Following the death of their bassist Jonathan Athon last year Black Tusk fans will probably give it even more in the pit this year (you have been warned). It’s weird talking about death and Black Tusk, as they’re know for being a ‘rad time party band’ emerging from the Georgia scene as the pied pipers of mosh, where every one of their songs is a backyard recipe to party hearty (till you puke).

It might seem presumptuous to say that it’s ‘what he would have wanted’, urging people remember the times good via drunk beer, pointy fingers and barn hair, but bands like Black Tusk embody carpe diem per force and wouldn’t want any less from their fans. That said, do be careful.

Solstafir (Pine-metal, medium-hair, classico-groove thrusters) must have the most active booking agent on the planet. They’ve been on several festival line-ups this year and most people must have accidentally seen them at least once. They played Damnation last year and most people really like them, especially since they’ve become more folky. While I preferred their earlier Cult-meets-Cure edge, they’re still a good band once they find their Kraut-groove and certainly a good way to chill after Black Tusk’s brutal energy. At least until Amenra start.

With Neurosis on lengthy hiatus Amenra (Monk-chain emo-grind) have been tipped (not less than by Neurosis themselves) as respected claimants to the thorny crown of post-crust noise jam. With an emphasis on cathartic spirituality, dynamic noise and a policy of zero-compromise their set will be a very well attended affair.

Recommendation: get in the room early.

High on fucking Fire (Force 11, wind chill: tundra, skelebrood, evolved form Mastodon. Latin name: Volumus Maximus). I last saw these guys with Mastodon many moons ago. They never fail to prove that underground metal is a strongest and purest strain of power left in music. Watch out for Matt Pike’s odd nine string guitar and of course ‘Blessed black wings’ which remains one of the heaviest tracks ever recorded.

Finally, At the Gates (Blood type 666, Suggested serving: broom temperature). Monumentally influential to all the black metal musicians, whenever I hear them I can’t help but think of Dethklok. The mix of melodic Priest-esque guitar lines with anthemic song structures has a circular sea shanty feel that is admittedly cartoonish and fun, but is also cartoonish and fun! For a festival like Damnation this is such a great way to end the night: a big noisy silly band that are deserve each and every exaggerated grimace, crab walk and cramped hand. Rock!

While the above bands are the big draws of the festival, the real finds will be the ones you least expect. Talking to Damnation organiser Gav, we asked whether there was anything special or secret planned for this years festival that he could drop on us?

“I’m afraid we don’t have any secrets up our sleeve, but the line-up itself is special; an exclusive Altar of Plagues set, Wiegedood’s first ever UK show, a rare Asphyx appearance, alongside all the big hitters we’ve booked.

It’ll be the same layout as last year but we’ve reduced capacity by 1,000 because some fans felt it was too crowded last year, and we’ve taken those concerns on board. So everyone will be able to move between stages much more freely this year.”

Understandable. Many people were unable to get into see Bolt Thrower in 2014. With this in mind, what should punters do?

“Get there early and catch the opening bands, even if you don’t know them! We don’t do buy ons and we don’t allow crap tour supports to be forced onto the bill – sometimes the best sets of the day are by the bands you hadn’t heard of before. At the end of the day, it’s ONLY about the music, isn’t it? The rest is just window dressing… and we don’t have any Viking warriors doing battle or Leprechauns blowing bubbles, unfortunately.”

And Deli Kate. Her Damnation Burgers are pretty special too.

This is a stupidly good year for me personally as Amenra and Maybeshewill are two of my favourite live bands. I can’t wait to see Altar of Plagues on a stage again, Oathbreaker will be something special and I love the idea of a band like Mono working well within what many people consider an extreme metal environment.

Of course, as with any UK festival people should be aware of any costume themes.

“In Glasgow we call it “tapps aff”, which basically means, get in the pit and don’t stop until you need to use your t-shirt for a towel.”

See you in Leeds!

Damnation festival: 7th November 2015. Leeds University Union. Ticket Link


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