After two long years, Damnation Festival returned to Leeds University in 2021 for one final send-off before moving to their new home at the BEC Arena in Manchester for the 2022 event. Predictably, the extreme metal all-day event was a sell-out long in advance of doors opening and, as we arrive at the venue early doors on Saturday, the queue is snaking down the street with the sounds of Cryptic Shift and Mountain Caller already rumbling through the walls.
Following a nosy around the impressive merch market, our Damnation Festival experience starts in earnest with a double blast of Scottish extremity and some good old British thrash. First up are Glaswegian party boys Party Cannon. Now, given that barely twelve hours earlier, thanks to Akercocke, Orange Goblin, Svalbard, and Raging Speedhorn, things became absolutely feral for the “Night of Salvation” opening party, you’d have expected a few sore heads but Party Cannon made sure that hangovers were soon forgotten with their inflatable-packed set pulling in plenty of fans wanting to pick up where last night ended.
Whereas Party Cannon put a smile on everyone’s faces, fellow Glaswegians Man Must Die were utterly terrifying. The technical death metal band hammered through their set with the likes of “It Comes In Threes” delivered with violent, jackhammer precision. Sandwiched between the two, we made our first visit to the main stage for the scintillating thrash of UK favourites Evile who kicked off proceedings in the main hall in typically ferocious fashion.
By now, and as is the case with Damnation Festival due to the logistics of the venue, our schedule went out of the window and we just tried to cram in as many bands as we could. The venue was rapidly filling up with many longtime Damnation attendees experienced enough to know that if you wanted to see specific bands, getting into the particular room early doors was the way to go even if it meant missing bands elsewhere. Our next excursion was to the packed Cult Never Dies stage for the utterly filthy death metal crew Video Nasties who, bathed in smoke and ominous green lights ripped through their horror-inspired death metal.
With the pandemic lockdown decimating the original lineup for Damnation 2021, it was nice to see that, of the restarted lineup, only Green Lung was forced to drop out last minute. Their replacement though was Svalbard who, playing their second Damnation set in two days, were more than worthy replacements. Fronted by Serena Cherry, the post-rock/black metal outfit are simply on fire as they switch effortlessly between soothing passages and unrelenting black metal and with Cherry explaining how happy she was that the band were getting to play Damnation Festival twice, she was doing so to a room full of people that were just as ecstatic.
It’s been 13 years since Damnation Festival moved to Leeds University and it’s been 13 years since the UK thrash veterans Onslaught graced this very stage. Returning to the home of their Live At Damnation live album, the veterans delivered a thunderous set of thrash anthems with plenty of neck muscles getting a good workout in the crowd. Highlighting the diversity of music offered up to punters, our next port of call was the Tone MGMT stage where the atmospheric, serene sounds of French artist Sylvaine washed over a mesmerized crowd.
Sadly, logistics meant we missed Irish doom/black metal troop Conjurer who, by all accounts delivered a wall-shaking set while our visit to the main stage for the return of industrial masters Godflesh meant missing the black metal atmospherics of Winterfylleth. Having said that though, looking at the stream of fans heading to the small room for the Mancunians, there could not have been much room left by the time they took to the stage. Seeing industrial legends Godflesh in the flesh is something of a rarity and a bit of a catch for the Damnation team. The inspirational outfit doesn’t disappoint either with a retina-burning, eardrum battering set. With little time for pointless chat, the pair smashed through their machine-like fury with “Streetcleaner” wiping the floor with the crowd.
In an earlier chat with Damnation Festival organizer Gavin McInally, we were strongly advised to check out French post-black metal outfit Regarde Les Hommes Tomber on the Eyesore Stage and we’re glad we did. Promoting their incredible Ascencion album, the French band were suffocatingly heavy delivering their post-black metal with the kind of unwavering intensity and atmosphere that made their set one of the highlights of the day for many people.
“This album was released 30 years ago,” explains Paradise Lost vocalist Nick Holmes as an introduction to Gothic before joking, “hard to believe when you see how youthful we all look.” The Yorkshire gloom masters are in town playing a special set and, while hampered by technical difficulties, as they lumber through the likes of “Rapture” and “Shattered” from the doom masterpiece, it’s very clear that the material from one of British metal’s most iconic albums has stood the test of time. A quick return to the Eyesore Stage saw fans queuing to get into the room for a glimpse of atmospheric doom/sludge/drone Frenchmen Year of No Light who brought the stage to a suitably powerful finale.
So, onto the final band of the night for us, Liverpool gore/grind legends Carcass. As we stroll into the main room for their return, the venue looks like an absolute warzone an indication that when organizers asked for “Leeds to be given the send-off it deserves,” the Damnation crowd did just that. Having not played live in almost two years, and with the new album Torn Arteries still hot on the shelves, the Liverpudlian legends were in fine form as they ripped through their set. Heralded as one of the most iconic extreme metal bands around, the quartet hurtled through the likes of “Incarnated Solvent Abuse,” “Exhume to Consume,” and “This Mortal Coil.”
An absolute joy to witness, the band plundered their genre-defining back catalogue for treaty morsels like “Genital Grinder” and “Corporal Jigsaw Quandry,” while Torn Arteries was represented with a splattering of cuts from the album including the brilliant “Kelly’s Meat Emporium” and “The Scythe’s Remorseless Swing.” As their 14 song set ended, the realization came with it that this was going to be the last time the sounds of extreme metal would boom around the Leeds University campus so, with funeral doom titans Esoteric bringing the entire night to a groaning finale, this special night came to an emotional end.
In 2022, Damnation Festival returns to its new home at the BEC Arena in Manchester. That is still a long twelve months away giving plenty of time for fans, bands and Damnation organizers to look back on this night and many of the other unforgettable memories that Damnation Festival has had here in Yorkshire.