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FESTIVAL REVIEW: Damnation Festival 2016

Damnation Festival has grown to one of the biggest one day metal events in the UK. Year after year, the festival bolsters an excellent lineup across the spectrum of extreme metal and 2016 was no different. With all of the festival’s four stages boasting bands of absolute quality,  this year’s festival had plenty on offer for anyone with an ear for the extreme and now, here is Distorted Sound‘s lowdown from Damnation Festival 2016!

KROH – Mine Stage

Kroh live @ Damnation Festival 2016. Photo Credit: Jessica Howkins
Kroh live @ Damnation Festival 2016. Photo Credit: Jessica Howkins

KROH have had a great year. Releasing their debut record, Altars, to mass acclaim and being featured in a plethora of metal’s press outlets, their early slot opening Damnation Festival came with its own pressures. A swelling attendance on the festival’s smallest stage is an achievement in itself but where KROH truly shined was in their fresh approach to doom. From the thick bass tones from Darren Donovan to the BLACK SABBATH-esque riffing from Paul Kenney and Paul Harrington the musical approach from the band suited the festival’s billing perfectly. Oliwia Sobieszek‘s haunting vocal deliveries soared above the fuzzy noise in wonderfully contrasting harmony with Living Water highlighting their approach in glorious fashion. KROH‘s set may have been short but it was oh so sweet, giving just a glimpse into the wonderful talent at their disposal and kicking off the festival in grand fashion.

Rating: 8/10

Words: James Weaver

CONJURER – Eyesore Merch Stage

CONJURER have truly exploded in the UK metal scene this year. The release of their debut EP, I, has catapulted the band to many live appearances throughout the year, from supporting ANAAL NATHRAKH to Bloodstock Festival. With a slot early in the day on the Eyesore Merch Stage at this year’s Damnation Festival, the swelling crowd that had turned up to watch the band demonstrates the hype surrounding CONJURER.

Thankfully the UK outfit gave a performance that shows why the band have such hype surrounding them. The dual riffing from Brady Deeprose and Dan Nightingale resembled an audio assault, with the enormous sound battering the audience consistently. From Frail‘s earth shattering drumming to the varying shrieks and growled vocal deliveries, CONJURER‘s live sound was nothing short of explosive. From sludge-drive bass lines to post-metal ambience, the variation of tones and style kept the audience hooked as CONJURER made a firm statement as one of the UK’s hottest new bands.

Rating: 8/10

Words: James Weaver

VENOM PRISON – Terrorizer Stage

Venom Prison live @ Damnation Festival 2016. Photo Credit: James Weaver
Venom Prison live @ Damnation Festival 2016. Photo Credit: James Weaver

VENOM PRISON‘s explosive year replicates their crushing debut full length record. Gracing the Terrorizer Stage at Damnation Festival is testament to just how quickly the death metal outfit have grown and the band delivered a set of pure savage death metal brutality. Through the absolutely solid riffing from Ash Gray and Ben Thomas, the band’s performance was maintained at an absolutely ferocious pace. From the gnarly breakdown in Abysmal Agony to the monstrous blasts from the drums on Desecration of Human PrivilegeVENOM PRISON were a force to be reckoned with. Frontwoman Larissa Stupar gave a performance of sheer monstrosity, delivering effortless guttural growls and shrieks consistently throughout their set. Whilst crowd interaction was near enough non-existent, VENOM PRISON delivered a short but vicious performance that displayed the sheer savagery of their sound.

Rating: 9/10

Words: James Weaver

EMPLOYED TO SERVE – Mine Stage

There’s a crowd of very clued up people gathered to watch EMPLOYED TO SERVE who expect a very strong showing. What they might not expect is just how strong. Even by EMPLOYED TO SERVE’s ballistic live standards, they are on absolute fire today. Their disgusting and scattershot hardcore is enough to send their crowd into be easily the biggest frenzy of the day, extra security having to be called in to deal with the chaos. They suffer from a couple of technical issues but these rather than soften their impact seem to fire them up all the more, five absolutely raging figures onstage determined to overcome all obstacles and beat their instruments into submission. The logical conclusion is a bass guitar being shattered in a violent freak-out, chunks of the body being handed to those in the front row. It’s a stunning set that feels very much like both a cap on an amazing year for them and a sign of exciting things to come.

Rating: 9/10

Words: Perran Helyes

NE OBLIVISCARIS – Terrorizer Stage

Ne Obliviscaris live @ Damnation Festival 2016. Photo Credit: Jessica Howkins
Ne Obliviscaris live @ Damnation Festival 2016. Photo Credit: Jessica Howkins

NE OBLIVISCARIS‘ rather unique approach to extreme metal has led to the Australian sextet being one of the more unique bands on Damnation Festival‘s lineup. With a complex and intricate sound, there is always a degree of caution when it comes to how the band will perform in the live environment and with a packed crowd at the Terrorizer Stage the band more than delivered. Through the slick riffing of Benjamin Baret and Matt Klavins, the band’s complex rhythm was performed with ferocious accuracy. The balance of Xen‘s harsh vocals and Tim Charles‘ soaring cleans worked a treat as the two worked harmoniously to keep the audience’s focus. Charles‘ use of the violin did not feel out of place, as the melody of the instrument helped propel NE OBLIVISCARIS‘ sound, inciting the crowd to sway along in perfect timing. From ferocious blasts of the drums that whipped up a storm to the intricate and melancholic instrumental segments, NE OBLIVISCARIS created a wonderful atmosphere that only helped continue to build excitement for one of metal’s most intriguing prospects.

Rating: 9/10

Words: James Weaver

BOSSK – Eyesore Merch Stage

Hot off their amazing debut studio album Audio Noir, and following the exciting gathering of post and doom metal, BOSSK sought fit to grace the Eyesore Merch Stage to take us on a journey of indulgence through their spectacular blend of post-metal. A damning factor about the Eyesore Merch Stage is its’ impressive nature to turn bands that give out outstanding performances and turn them into mediocre ones with much left to be desired. However, this has yet to be one of the rare cases where this did not happen. Their sound was beautifully clean and punchy, leaving lots of room for the twinkly electronic effects to dance around the room as simultaneously as the heavier tones of the guitars rumbled on through. Even the vocals which use a large amount of reverb based effects too still shone out clearly.

From interlude, to song, to interlude, to song again, BOSSK made ease of their intricate song work and busted out a spectacular performance, proving to the fans that not even the poor conditions of the stage’s positioning could stop them. An amazing performance.

Rating: 8/10

Words: David Creamer

CULT OF LUNA & JULIE CHRISTMAS – Jagermeister Stage

Cult of Luna live @ Damnation Festival 2016. Photo Credit: Jessica Howkins
Cult of Luna live @ Damnation Festival 2016. Photo Credit: Jessica Howkins

The main room is unsurprisingly packed for the first of tonight’s three headliners, CULT OF LUNA. One of only five performances where the Swedish post-metal giants are joined by vocalist extraordinaire JULIE CHRISTMAS to perform their collaborative album Mariner with no plans to ever do so again, there’s definitely a sense of privilege among those gathered to be witnessing what turns out to be an astonishing high water mark for not just this festival but this band. CULT OF LUNA are an astonishing band to begin with as anyone who has seen them live can attest to, their throbbing power building to huge crescendos an undeniable force. Throw a performer – which in itself feels an inappropriate word due to just how real this feels – as mesmerising as JULIE CHRISTMAS into the mix and you have something else altogether though. She is all at once a haunting and ethereal ghost in the machine, an entrancing figure at the fore beckoning closer, and a feral force of nature contorting both voice and body in gut-wrenching shrieks, totally lost in the world of the music and devoid of pretension. Jawdropping album centrepiece The Wreck of S.S. Needle moves more than a few people in the audience to tears, somehow straddling the paradox of feeling too personal to be observing and inviting the congregation inside to be part of it. It’s a set that’s both mind-expanding and emotionally devastating, almost as devastating as the fact that it is never to be experienced again.

Rating: 10/10

Words: Perran Helyes

ABBATH – Jagermeister Stage

Abbath live @ Damnation Festival 2016. Photo Credit: Jessica Howkins
Abbath live @ Damnation Festival 2016. Photo Credit: Jessica Howkins

ABBATH is one of the most renown figures in black metal. Through his iconic input in fronting IMMORTAL to his recent solo adventures, the iconic corpsepaint and light-hearted approach to black metal keeps ABBATH at the top of the pile of black metal. With a a headlining set on the main stage at this year’s Damnation Festival ABBATH was able to deliver a set that fired on all cylinders. With the setlist comprised of his self-titled record and IMMORTAL tracks, the man himself was able to tick all the boxes for those in attendance. From opening track To War! to the sheer monstrous riffing on IMMORTAL classic One By OneABBATH delivered. The riffs were solid, blast beats were aplenty and ABBATH‘s iconic vocals were delivered to wonderful effect. Black metal is one of metal’s most outrageous and over the top styles of metal and ABBATH embraced all the quirks and wore them on his sleeve. It’s rare to have such fun to black metal but through his enthusiastic stage presence and solid live sound, ABBATH brought a set of sheer black metal joy.

Rating: 8/10

Words: James Weaver

ENSLAVED – Terrorizer Stage

Enslaved live Damnation Festival 2016
Enslaved live @ Damnation Festival 2016. Photo Credit: James Weaver

2016 has been a landmark year for ENSLAVED. This year has marked a huge milestone for the Norwegian outfit; celebrating 25 years as a band. And such, as part of their Enslaved 25 Tour the band’s headlining set on the Terrorizer Stage at Damnation Festival reflected the band’s lengthy and successful career. With the set comprised of a plethora of tracks from their extensive career. From opening track Roots of the Mountain to the classic Fenris, there was something for everyone throughout the band’s performance. Regardless of their expansive choice of tracks to perform, ENSLAVED‘s ability in the live environment showcased a band celebrating 25 years. From the enormous guitar riffs from Ivar Bjørnson and Arve IsdalCato Bekkevold mightily impressive work on the drums and Herbrand Larsen‘s subtle use of the keyboards, the sound of ENSLAVED sounded colossal live. Frontman Grutle Kjellson kept the tones of his bass consistent and his range of vocal deliveries, from the subtle cleans to raspy harsh shrieks, were continuously excellent. The performance was a celebration of ENSLAVED‘s 25 year career and if anything can be taken away from their performance at Damnation Festival, the band are showing no signs of slowing down.

Rating: 9/10

Words: James Weaver

UFOMAMMUT – Eyesore Merch Stage

This year’s Damnation Festival was surely a spectacular treat for those in favour of their stoner/doom outfits, and how could such a doom-laden line-up be complete without the presence of Italian psychedelic trio UFOMAMMUT to close off the festivities on the Eyesore Merch Stage. Seeing as the band took this recent tour and used it as a send-off to their most recent offering Ecate, it came as no surprise that most of the songs were as how the album followed but with a twist. Every track was played MUCH slower than how they originally panned out. This on top of a commanding stage presence cemented them into a solid performance, thunderously cranking out each riff with a sonic wall of sound. The room in which the Eyesore Merch Stage was situated, although an eyesore in itself, served as somewhat of a reverb chamber, adding an echo on top of this sludge mountain the amps were already blasting out. At some points this actually hindered the live sound as some of the live mixing left much to be desired.

The vocals were far, far too low, which is a huge problem for bands that play at ridiculous volumes, as well as some of the electronic backing tracks being far too low as well. For the style of the songs on Ecate, all these factors usually combined in the worst way, creating a wall of rhythmic noise rather than enunciating all the droning chords. The ingredients for a perfect gig were there, just unfortunately not mixed in the right order.

Rating: 6/10

Words: David Creamer

ELECTRIC WIZARD – Jagermeister Stage

The safe bet and old reliable of tonight’s three headliners is the mighty ELECTRIC WIZARD. Admittedly they have been less reliable in recent times but the solidifying of the current lineup over the past year seems to have got them back to being one of the best bands on the planet. The opening strains of Witchcult Today send a still assembling crowd scurrying into place so as not to miss a note, and from there it’s familiarly excellent territory for the English doom icons. ELECTRIC WIZARD’s greatest strength is the way that they bring the fuzzed up stoner vibe and the disenfranchised, murderous nihilism of other areas of doom together so deliciously. The likes of Satanic Rites of Drugula and Incense for the Damned are simultaneously songs taking bong rips and slitting throats, Jus Oborn spitting the words with more venom that most doom singers can conjure in front of a backdrop of all manner of depraved images. They are of course staggeringly heavy, each monstrous riff dripping in distortion and lurching power, especially diving into their earlier albums with a colossal Return Trip and of course Funeralopolis which closes out the set and the day like Armageddon come at last. The name of the festival is Damnation after all, and we’re thoroughly looking forward to being damned again next year.

Rating: 9/10

Words: Perran Helyes

Check out our extensive photo gallery of the day’s action from Jessica Howkins here:

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