In these financially restrained times, you have to be a bit crazy to move from a guaranteed sold-out venue in Leeds to a six thousand plus capacity arena in another city. But, that’s what the organisers of the much-loved Damnation Festival did but did they pull it off?
The answer is a resounding yes! Despite initial grumblings from fans about the shift to Manchester, by the time headliner hardcore legends Converge laid waste to the crowd, Jacob Bannon and Co ended a game-changing day not just for the Damnation Team (read our recent interview with Festival Director Gavin McInally here) but for extreme music as a whole. In fact, by the time the first bands kicked off Damnation 2022, we’d even forgotten that original headliner Ministry had pulled out!
Bringing the Damnation ethos with it across the M62, there really was something for everyone across the three stages. Like many fans, this meant our own schedule offered us little breathing space to soak up everything the new festival had to offer but, early doors, we managed a quick nosy around the impressive merch tent where we found Converge’s ever-approachable frontman milling about chatting with fans.
Back to the schedule though and with the stunning progressive death metal of Irist crowbarred in between the jackhammer assault of Dutch death metal crew Distant and Illinois’ own deathcore wrecking machine Oceano, it was time to strap in for the next nine hours. What a way to start this ride though as Distant whipped this appreciative pit into a frenzy with their sinister brutality while Oceano took loyal fans back to their early days as they wrapped up their UK visit with a crushing set.
I remember standing on the balcony during Insanity Breath’s set and the sight was breathtaking. The crossover crew brought some light-hearted entertainment to the afternoon summed up beautifully with the sight of a giant Pikachu joining in the circle pit mayhem. Whereas the first part of our day was pure face-pummelling brutality, these crossover thrashers brought with them plenty of smiles.
The mood changed though for the bludgeoning Stygian Bough who shook the walls of the second stage with their groaning funeral doom. Dark, moody, solemn, Stygian Bough certainly made sure our first doom band of the day were one we wouldn’t forget. Next up was the wonderful Full Of Hell. Looking across as the band took to the stage, one of the front of house security looked to the sky at the carnage unfolding behind him. A relentless barrage of raw noise/grind, their raging onslaught had fans pouring over the barrier as security worked overtime to contain the crowd.
Things took a particularly dark and evil turn on the Holy Goat stage as the horror-tinged brutality of Incantation brought hell to Damnation. A ferocious black/death metal assault, a sinister air hung over the crowd who lapped up the devil-horning throwing antics of one of the most anticipated sets of the day.
Speaking of most-anticipated sets, there were very few people anywhere other than the main room as the grindcore kings Pig Destroyer played their Prowler in the Yard classic in full. From front to back, heads banged as the band battered through the album performing as set that was as ridiculous as it was unforgettable. Ridiculous in so much as you’d have to be mad to put this kind of band on in an arena, unforgettable in that the sight of six thousand fans collectively losing their shit in a huge hall as one of grindcores legends tears through their set was an incredible one.
Sadly the return of cult black metal legends Wolves in the Throne Room and stoner classic metal sounds of Green Lung passed by but judging by the packed rooms, both sets went down a storm. Following the grindcore chaos of Pig Destroyer was always going to be a tough call and while Yorkshire doom legends My Dying Bride rightfully deserve a place this high on the bill, their despondant, miserable doom felt like a bit of an anticlimax.
For a change in pace, the place to be was the Holy Goat stage for the brutal death metal/hardcore onslaught of Misery Index who literally drilled through their set with absolutely no fat or filler. Hurtling through tracks from their Rituals of Power album, the metal heavyweights are in neck-snapping form and certainly gave this Damnation crowd as shot in the arm as the festival headed into the evening.
Next up, Brummie industrial titans Godflesh delivered their groundbreaking Streetcleaner album in full. Returning to Damnation after their successful 2021 set, the industrial juggernaut barrelled through their set like we knew they would. Without mercy, their set is the musical equivalent to having your head covered in a steel bin and then it getting repeatedly battered with a sledgehammer. At this late stage in the day, this was really a test in stamina and, judging by the wreckage left in the main arena as their set ended, only the very strong had survived.
And so we head into the home straight but what a finale. The Eyesore Stage shook to the sound of doom merchants Pallbearer. Mixing melody, emotion and downright foundation-shaking heaviness, the band might offer something different to the brutal events going on elsewhere around the BEC but, again, they prove to be another highlight of the day.
But in terms of real highlights, while Pig Destroyer’s face-melting set earlier in the day proved to be one of talking points of the event, the closing two sets really signed off Damnation Festival 2022 in style. First up were Swedish melodic death metal titans At The Gates who slammed through their genre-defining Slaughter of the Soul opus in full. Theirs is a sound that may have been replicated by many bands to this day but hearing the originators smash out the likes of “Blinded by Fear” and “Suicide Nation”, it was clear who the masters are.
At one point during Converge’s set, there is a sea of people stretching right to the back of the arena. Tell anyone six months ago that you’d be stood on a balcony watching nearly six thousand people soaking up one of the most savage hardcore bands to ever headline a festival and, quite frankly, they’d have suggested you see a shrink. However, that wasn’t the case here and, as the band delivered their life-changing Jane Doe album to bring this incredible day to a close, there couldn’t have been a better way to bring the curtain down on this year’s Damnation. Brutal, beautiful, emotional, violent, this was Converge at their most exciting. Jacob Bannon skated about the stage like a hardcore choirmaster while, in front of him, kids screamed every word back at him. It was gobsmacking to watch and something these six thousand fans will never forget.
With that, Damnation Festival 2022 drew to a close but what a day. Moving from a fifteen hundred capacity venue to a six-thousand capacity venue was a brave move. Bringing with them a line-up of this extremity could have been seen as commercial suicide. That being said, despite a few teething problems, this was a game-changing event for both Damnation Festival and extreme metal as a whole. So, the gauntlet has been laid down to the Damnation Team. They have proved they’re both lunatics and geniuses so lets see how they top that in 2023…