Starting with the boast, "I could run a festival better than this", Damnation has managed another year. And while it might not compete with Download, it does fill a niche in the market. Hosted at Leeds University, the three stages are dispersed amongst a warren of multi-layered confusion and packed with half-drunk revellers unsure of the next stop. The walls are festooned with posters and signs that hide the obligatory complement of festival info, but with security every ten feet, there's always someone at hand to help.
Devin Townsend Project
Check the site - www.damnationfestival.co.uk - for the full line-up, but this year's big gun was DVT...BLT...no...DTP...got it...Devin Townsend Project! Genius of Metal, apparently.
Main Stage = Jaeger. Large hall with balcony for disabled access and a large temporary bar.
Second Stage = Terrorizer. Three levels, two bars, nearly as big as the Jaeger.
Third Stage = Zero Tolerance. A cavern-like stage with a single bar.
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Almost like a real festival...because it bloody well is. If you think you might pay 5 or 10 quid to get into a club on a night out, for 29 quid, you get twenty-three bands, beer's still 3.20 quid a pint and you can get change from a tenner after feeding two people. Bargain!
Once I'd had a wander round the venue, got lost, had an asthma attack on the fourteenth set of steps and growled at a security guard enforcing a corridor one-way system, I decided I should probably watch a band.
First up was SHINING. The Terrorizer Stage or, rather, welcome to the jazz club. While ascending sax offsets dissonant guitar, extreme vocals marry up with mixed tempo rhythm, brass and crazy guitar. Grrreatt.
TURISAS next. A novelty act and passing fad. Well, battle Metal has survived three albums and while the line-up has changed, the show fights on. From the first notes of 'Stand Up And Fight', it's obvious why Turisas have survived and remain popular. Warlord (Mathias) Nygard on vocals is an unstoppable character, wooing the crowd with humour and charisma. You never need to know the song to hear the music, it's well-written enough to speak for itself. The performance was stellar, as ever. I'm definitely going to take up the band's offer and join them for at least 'One More' of their gigs.
I arrived at the Zero Tolerance stage feeling like I was at Monsters Of Rock: everything was late, nothing quite went to plan and everyone battled past each other between stages.
TALONS: twin violins, twin guitar, I almost missed a second bass. The place was rammed and the band put in a crowd-pleasing show. The music was a lot tamer than anything I had seen so far and, for me, didn't really take advantage of the instrumentation. Everything came across well - I just hoped for something even more epic and orchestral.
EVILE: undisputed kings of thrash. The crowd swayed and swirled, arms flailed, elbows shoved. Moshing was mandatory and security got a decent workout as bodies were passed to the front. The broken rythmns were played tightly, but there's no denying it's the breakdown riffs that come across best. Ending with 'Infected Nation', which stands out as a classic, the show finished on a high.
All I had to do now was hang around for Grand Magus. My stomach had other ideas and took me on a tour of the facilities. There was a good selection of food and, unlike other festivals, you didn't need to take out a mortgage to fill your belly.
GRAND MAGUS: the
band of the festival for me. Hailing from Stockholm, the band's English was perfect and singer JB's personality came across. The simple groove of this rock -influenced Metal was quite infectious. Compared to Evile, the crowd looked hypnotised as they all nodded and punched their heavy-Metal fists in time with the music.
"I have problem with royalty" announced JB. "I believe you have the same problem in this country." What better way to introduce 'King Slayer'! Shortly after, he was challenging the fans to sing along. Unhappy with their performance, he challenged them to sing along one more time. This time, an unaccompanied round of the chorus earned a little redemption. Great crowd participation and a great show. It's amazing to think a three-piece could have such a massive sound and make such a huge impact. Powerful, soaring vocals backed up by the bassist made the tunes stand out and the hooklines even more epic. Ending on 'Outlaw', Grand Magus left the crowd happy and have gained a new fan in me.
GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT: headlining the Zero Tolerance stage, this trippy mix of rock and dance had me confused. Is it Metal? Does it belong at Damnation? Looking round and seeing the Carcass and Deicide T-Shirts reassured me. I guess we all need something to relax. The instrumental music maintained interest and energy. Some of the audience vanished off to see Ulver or Devin Townsend, but the show was so good, those that remained were vocal in electing to stay over their expected choices.
And finally, DEVIN TOWNSEND. Seeing him for the second time this year has not added to my understanding of the phenomena that is DTP. As a performerm I have to give him full credit. He storms onstage in that crisp suit all full of the kind of attitude that's been evident since the bald patch and hair of Strapping Young Lad. The songs came across well live. Judging by those around me, the set was great. My favourite moment was when he invited people in the audience to chat amongst themselves before telling them to "shut the fuck up" as he was ready to carry on. I love the silly crowd interaction Devin delivers, he's always entertaining and a worthy show topper.
At the end of the gig, I left happy. It was difficult to find my car, near impossible to park and at times disorganised. But at 29 quid, this is a gem of an event. Roll on Damnation 2012.