Forget emo kids with their over-styled hair and delicate looks, Damnation Festival is its older, more ugly brother - a force to be reckoned with...
They may not have 'issues', but the festival's bands definitely had something to shout about, if you could find them – nobody seemed to know where anything was. Trying to find the Jaeger, Terroriser or Rock Sound stages when the rooms were named 'Mine' and 'Stylus' was quite a challenge, especially as none of the bouncers seemed to know where the main room was. The queues from one room to the next were longer than the queue to actually get in the place.
Early door though, Red Mist established the festival's premise: raw energy, tight riffs and lots of shouting. A stark contrast to Mountains Became Machines on the smaller, student bar stage of Rock Sound – atmospheric instrumentals kicking in to harder grooves and technical movements, all set to a background of thought provoking photographs.
Desecration were a tight three-piece delivering hard non-stop energy to a packed crowd, who drove the punishing riffs on. Finally, on finding the main stage, we discovered pure classic showmanship from old hands of this business. Onslaught came onto the stage to a fanfare, devil horns in the air, plenty of posing and face-pulling from a band that commanded their instruments.
Back at the Terrorizer stage, The Berzerker's hyper-fast metal with aggression-fuelled vocals made sure some fans will have sore necks come the morning. A comparatively new and emerging band, Shels gave strong competition to the older and more established acts of the evening in a confident, self-assured style. Starting in a cool 3/4 groove, it was the calm before the storm, but when the storm came – it felt good. All band members moving as one with the heavy, powerful vibe, delivering complex sounds with ease, a lone trumpet piercing a vocal line through the massive wall of sound.
Back to the main stage and back to the craziness. The Japanese are not afraid to push things to the extreme and Sigh's female singer/saxophonist proved this as she trekked around the stage in bondage gear sporting a voice deeper than any tough hardcore frontmen around. Darker and more down to earth, Benediction delivered hardcore with Pantera-like drive and were greeted with fists in the air and a giant circle pit, though it seemed nothing compared to Napalm Death. The amount of people could have easily fitted into the main room but were squeezed into a space less than half the size. Nobody could move an inch. And then the band started. And it was mental. Enough said. Time may have taken its toll visually on these folk but their energy definitely leaves the younger bands with something to think about.
Standing in the crowd for Napalm Death felt like going back a decade in time, when music was crazy and the crowds even crazier. In comparison, one of the bands that stands for today's generation, Latitudes, gave a mature, controlled performance with subdued modesty. No need for shouting and screaming, the band let the music do the talking. It was calm, reflective and very grown up.
The final band on Rock Sound's stage, Cathedral definitely made the earth move, quite literally. The bass vibrated everything in the packed room. A poor-man's Ozzy Osbourne graced the stage as if possessed, binding himself in wires and waving his crucifix. The photographers loved his style however the music was so strong his stage act was detracting. Poor organisation left Pitchshifter starting over an hour later than billed and disappointingly for a well-established band playing on a smaller stage, most of the crowd had left to make sure they didn't miss headliners Carcass. Considering the style of most of the evening, Pitchshifter had a more commercial feel, but they knew what they were doing and delivered a confident performance. The few that were left in the audience couldn't get enough of it.
Making our way through the deserted corridors it felt like we were the last ones left in the building until we got back to the main stage for the final band of the evening. Opening the doors we were met by a wall of hot steaming sweat. The room was full to capacity with people standing on ledges along the walls to get a good view. Carcass owned the day. Tight and effortless, for a band established long before the Leeds Uni students were even born – this band have lost nothing. The performance was akin to classic rock legends of the 70s and in this field it appears Carcass are just that: legends.
Review by Angela Keen and Pete Holland