Editors’ Note: Astute readers will have noticed that we’re fond of breaking things into several serialised parts here at Demon Pigeon. That’s because more parts means more articles and therefore more output for less actual work. The problem with Damnation Festival is that it’s a compact, one-day affair. Spoilsports. Not even we are lazy enough to try and milk a triptych of articles out of a 12-hour festival. Until now, that is.
Rather than arbitrarily breaking the event into three or more chronological chapters as we normally would, we’ve instead decided to present to you the same review, written from three different and entertaining points of view from the assorted writing staff who took themselves off to Leeds for the day. It’s basically a bit like Rashomon, except with less Toshiro Mifune and more Carcass. The final episode comes to you courtesy of Will Downes, who filed this report on the inside of a Burger King carton.
This year, it seems all the pigeons came home to roost at Damnation Festival, hosted as ever at the University Of Leeds. I saw none of my fellow pigeoneers (apologies, it was very selfish of me) and with the exception of a few texts to berate those not attending I remained a lone, solitary figure, absolutely intent on remaining engrossed in the spectacle before me. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. However, as I had left buying tickets to this late I had little choice but to embrace technology and use Passbook on my phone. That means my ticket never actually existed, and my permission to enter the event existed only on some weird and ethereal metaphysical plane. I have no idea why I have never done this before. I decree that we are now officially in the future.
Being bloody starving, I pastied up, bought a beer and prepared for the day. ‘These are some lucky students,’ I mused; although in my day, beer was significantly cheaper. So take that young people.
Like a moth to the flame I made my way to the Eyesore stage which, from now on, we shall just refer to as the Demon Pigeon stage (it sounds much better anyway). It’s as if they went through all our respective playlists and decided to make a festival stage just for us. Which was nice of them. First up were Dirge. I had neither seen them previously nor heard any of their musics, and, to my delight, they were just so bloody heavy that I became worried I might over-exert myself too early and end up partied out, spewing into a small paper cup. No worries there reader, I survived. Not just a clever name either; they played a doomy, groovy dirge that had me hooked. Instantly added to my mental playlist.
Pausing in thought, I had to make a decision as to which bands to prioritise, and it was quickly confirmed that the DP stage was going to be home. I just didn’t want to miss anyone playing that stage, and quite rightly so.
Tides From Nebula are a lovely Pink Floyd-esque instrumental post rock/prog band that I had my reservations about when I first caught sight of them. They all look so lovely and nice. Not very metal but it turned out that wasn’t what I was looking for. Who’d-a-thunk it. Really good guitarists too, if that’s your thing. Year Of No Light were delayed beyond belief and started roughly 20 minutes late. Frustrating for band and audience alike. This would screw up the timetable for the rest of the day, and any forays to other stages would be hampered. Even so, I’m not overly disappointed as what followed was pretty fucking fantastic.
Bravely, I abandoned my post, and went to search for the main stage, if only to see how quickly I could get from Cult Of Luna to Carcass later on. I had never heard of Shining (Nor) and had expected a black metal band. I think there is another band of the same moniker somewhere and I believe there is also one of those newfangled moving picture shows with that name. Anyway, I got to the stage to be confronted by Heavy Jazzcore. If that’s not a word, it is now, so there. These guys are total pros and must really practise a lot. I was suitably impressed by the lead singer flitting seamlessly from guitar to saxophone. These guys could be massive. In fact, they probably already are and I hadn’t noticed due to advancing old git syndrome, in which case apologies for my indiscretion.
So, knowing that the DP stage was delayed I stayed for the remainder of the set and headed back for a band I know I like. Rosetta were, as expected, fantastic. But if I were to be picky (and I am), they were a little rusty at first; boy, did they rein it in. By the end the performance was absolutely flawless. Mouths were left agape around the room, my own included. The void demanded to be filled with something, and beer and nicotine seemed as good an idea as any. Fortunately, the smoking area was right behind the DP stage: win-win. I could destroy both my lungs AND my hearing without unduly exerting myself.
Now for a band I fully expected to dislike. The Ocean are one of these bands that everyone bleats on about, and because of my natural aversion to ‘the popular’ I have never listened to them and had only previously seen roughly five minutes of them at another Damnation a few years back, on that miniscule stage up the stairs. I liked them more than I expected to; not great by any means but they ain’t no slouches. Not sure why they had boobs in their visuals though.
Perhaps emboldened by the bosoms, I was now feeling braver than a very brave thing. I thought I would give the main stage another go and see Godseed. This was a silly error on my part because they were awful. The singer Gaahl (sic) was in a semi-famous band called Gorgoroth, who are also awful, as it turns out. Life lessons aside, there was not really much to take from this, although it freed up more precious time for fermented liquids and fags; lovely, lovely fags.
Back to the DP stage, then. Pigeons away!
Crippled Black Phoenix are a mish-mash of everything and then some. So different from anything on the bill, it was highly refreshing and they were not daunted in the slightest. Good set too, if not really my thing. Having obviously not learnt my lesson and with the noblest of intentions, I then went to see Katatonia. With a little spare time before their set, I had a bit of a sit-down because my back was absolutely killing me. Before long, I’m going to be that guy at festivals that sits on a fold-out chair, even for the bands I like. What happened to all those years?
Goths were everywhere and this is not usually a good sign; but I have had a soft spot for Katatonia since I picked up Tonight’s Decision in a bargain bin when Andy’s Records went out of business. That was ten years ago now. It feels like yesterday. It’s been so long since I’ve given them a spin that I didn’t recognise anything they played, but then I never expected to. I stayed for as long as I dared, but still in agony I left early to make sure I had a good view for the best band in the world.
Cult Of Luna, along with releasing the record of the year are, I am reliably informed, amazing live. I have lived to regret choosing Immortal over them at Hellfest, and Paul Pigeon has taken every opportunity to mock me for it ever since. He’s a great friend like that.
No superlatives can do CoL justice. The vast majority of the set pulled moments from Vertikal and Eternal Kingdom; I was in heaven. Rarely do you get to see a band in this moment; when everything is going like clockwork and they are as one unit, in perfect harmony. I was unbelievably delighted, and genuinely almost in tears at points (bloke tears obviously). Just wow. Go see them while they’re hot or you will regret it forever. There was just one sour note: The fucking photographers were seriously annoying during this set. Coming and going with their stupid backpacks full of lenses, sticking their massive great whacking flashguns up in your view, as if the gig is a publicity photocall and you haven’t paid money to be there. It seems that owning and operating a camera gives you the right to barge through people and act generally cuntish. I get that they’re trying to do a job, but it wouldn’t be that difficult to show some respect for the punters who pay for the whole thing. I am genuinely surprised no-one lamped at least one of them.
I would also like to issue an apology at this point because if it wasn’t for Carcass, a band I have loved since I was a wee boy and had never seen live, I would have gone to see Conan, the second-best band to come from Liverpool. The first-best band were starting on the main stage.
Carcass were as tight as a gnat’s sock. All the songs, every single one you ever wanted to hear, played flawlessly. They gave a lot of time to their new material and rightly so, as it’s the second-best album of the year. I was so pleased to see them finally, but as the set went on, my broken body made its protests felt. My back was so sore, I could barely headbang, and that was all I wanted to do. I can’t be disappointed though, as it was worth the 14-year wait. A nice touch at the end of the set had former drummer Ken Owen coming to the stage, and he obviously has the desire still there. There was rapturous applause for him and they followed with one of the few good songs off Swansong.
The day was over, and with what little energy that remained to me, I hurried off to the train station. No cool bin hangouts for me. Instead, the train was cancelled. Bus replacement service. Burger King. Best sleep ever.