13 of the gnarliest moments from Damnation Festival 2022

From Pupil Slicer to Pig Destroyer, Damnation 2022 was a feast of all things heavy. Having shaken the bangover, we revisit the most skull-stoving moments from Europe’s largest indoor metal fest…

13 of the gnarliest moments from Damnation Festival 2022
Sam Law, Nick Ruskell
Emily Coulter, Mark Latham

For 17 years now, Damnation Festival has been the big-hitting outlier at the tail end of UK festival season. Having laid down its marker at Jilly’s Rockworld in Manchester in 2005, courtesy of no-nonsense headliners Raging Speedhorn and Entombed, the northern gathering expanded to take over the Leeds University Union for the first weekend in November between 2007 and 2019, then again after the COVID-enforced break in 2021. It’s the event where Carcass performed their UK-exclusive homecoming show following reformation in 2008, where the mighty Bolt Thrower would deliver their last-ever show in 2014, and where so many other ostensibly underground outfits have proven their ability to command crowds of thousands. This weekend, however, was the year that Damnation really stepped up.

Heading back down the M62 to take up residence at the 5000+ capacity Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Salford, this still-humble gathering takes over the title of Europe’s biggest indoor metal festival. Brilliantly, despite that step up, they’ve kept their roots in the underground. Originally-announced headliners Ministry may have been forced to drop out, but there were still 24 of the best bands in extreme music (plus another five at Friday’s Night Of Salvation pre-show) delivering a raft of special sets and classic album run-throughs.

We grabbed a couple of double-pint steins and headed into the pit to absorb all the eye-searing sights and ear-smashing sounds that make Damnation truly one of a kind…

Pupil Slicer showing their serrated edge

If you’re looking for a way to get in the mood for Damnation, you could do a hell of a lot worse than the four soul-loosening minutes of Pupil Slicer’s Wounds Upon My Skin. The opening salvo from one of the hottest – not to mention, the nastiest – new-ish names in UK heavy music is a masterclass in uncompromisingly vicious sound, shot through with atmospherics painted in deepest black. And it’s just the beginning of a trip into the sonic abyss for the hundreds assembled for Friday night’s stacked (albeit misleadingly titled) Night Of Salvation. With vocalist/guitarist Kate Davies leading from the front, the London collective look set for a sharp rise up this festival’s bill over the years to come. Just pack some safety goggles along with your earplugs.

Ithaca taking no prisoners

Dressed in bright orange and bound up in knots, with her white-clad band throwing down around her, Ithaca singer Djamila Boden Azzouz stalks Night Of Salvation’s stage with the look of someone with a point to prove. From Venom Prison and Svalbard to Conjurer and Cryptic Shift, Damnation has delivered a proving ground for Britain’s heaviest upcoming talent in recent years, and it’s the London crew’s turn in 2022. They pack enough angular metallic hardcore and heavyweight melody to endear themselves to fans of a variety of the more established outfits in attendance this weekend but, brilliantly, In The Way and The Future Says Thank You also pack incendiary socio-political messaging that more than matches their sound. A concussive wake-up call.

Irist living up to the hype

Many at Damnation have been waiting years for a glimpse of Irist. When the Atlanta-based collective shot to prominence in early 2020, comparisons with Gojira, Mastodon and Meshuggah seemed almost too good to be true. Then the pandemic happened. Over the years since, it feels like they’ve grown into their sound, developing a steely command that’s clear to see as Damnation’s massive main stage opens on Saturday. 2020’s excellent Order Of The Mind still provides the backbone for their set, but Surging Ablaze and the title-track from September’s Gloria EP are the tantalising works of a band who’re growing in confidence as they’ve learned to wield an ever-more heavyweight sound.

Insanity Alert delivering “glorious thrash”

Few bands in modern metal walk the line between the ridiculous and the sublime like Austrian party-thrashers Insanity Alert. With song titles as gleefully anarchic as Crucified By Zombies, Why Is David Guetta Still Alive? and All Mosh / No Brain, they make no secret of their bone-headedness. The levels of joy they unleash, however, are off the scale. Flashing crudely spray-painted signs (‘Guten tag!’, ‘Shit! / Scheisse!’) before flinging them into a crowd that contains someone in a massive, inflatable Pikachu costume, and which bursts into a spontaneous conga-line, it’s the kind of sweaty, fever-dreamy nonsense everyone craved during the beige nothingness of lockdown. And their ingenious rework of Iron Maiden’s Run To The Hills (Run To The Pit) makes for easily the best sing-along of the weekend.

So Hideous winning a clash of lesser-spotted American titans

Only at Damnation could you get a mid-afternoon clash between U.S. doom supergroup Stygian Bough (effectively Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin) and New York post-black-metallers So Hideous delivering a rarer-than-hens’-teeth set. The latter’s slightly lighter touch feels more fitting at this time of day, with The Emerald Pearl stirring the spirit without quite shoving us into the void. Leaving off with the sense that we’d only scratched their (not actually all that unsightly) surface, we’d pay good money to see these lads return to these shores for proper headline dates. Hauntingly high-class.

The Devil being in the detail for Full Of Hell

If Full Of Hell are feeling in the least bit overawed as they step out into BEC’s gaping main hall, they don’t show it. The powerviolence heroes might be more accustomed to ruling over venues less than a 10th this size, but they prove that their sonic Molotov cocktail is more than strong enough to torch the thousands gathered to see them go about brutalist business. Sure, the sight of frontman Dylan Walker hunched over his harsh-noise set-up might not be the most appealing from the back of an arena this size, but the brain-scrambling carnage of Halogen Bulb, Gnawed Flesh and Celestial Hierarch leaves little room to really notice.

Incantation opening up The Book Of The Dead

There’s a colossal crush to get in as Incantation’s excellent intro tape – the ‘Book Of The Dead’ monologue from 1981 horror classic The Evil Dead – begins to emanate from the Holy Goat stage. It’s well worth the squeeze. Ricocheting from Carrion Prophecy to Demonic Incarnate to Christening The Afterbirth with unholy purpose, the death metal legends show no mercy with their late afternoon onslaught. And, although the pit doesn’t properly open up til the end of their set, Impending Diabolical Conquest and Siege Hive prove viciously worth the wait.

Pig Destroyer delivering sonic violence on an industrial scale

‘Jennifer wrestled her friend playfully to the ground in front of the snow cone stand and began licking at the girl’s eyeballs, as if they were sugar cubes…’ From the moment the unsettlingly digitised opening monologue from Jennifer rings out through Bowlers’ massive main room PA, it feels staggering to see this scale of show from a band not just as mercilessly abrasive as Virginia grindcore legends Pig Destroyer, but also from one as unapologetically weird. Celebrating two (and a bit) decades of 2001 classic Prowler In The Yard with a full, 22-track play-through, there's bedlam on an industrial scale from a massive crowd who can’t quite seem to believe they’re part of such a landmark 40 minutes of heavy history.

Everyone bending the knee at the altar of Green Lung

If there’s any doubt about Green Lung’s booming popularity, it isn’t long in being set aside as the folk-horror-obsessed Londoners managed to draw a massive crowd, despite American black metal giants Wolves In The Throne Room playing next door. Unsurprisingly, there are riffs aplenty as the quintet prepare to hit the road with blues-rock overlords Clutch. More than that, though, there’s an atmosphere of thanksgiving amongst truly like-minds as swaying punters get lost in the sweet haze of Call Of The Coven and Woodland Rites before frontman Tom Templar drops himself into the arms of the adoring congregation.

Pallbearer wringing colour from the darkest cloth

Pallbearer only manage five songs across their 55-minute set at prime time on Saturday night, but there’s not a second wasted. Clearly awed by the perfect sound and reverent reception afforded to them on the Eyesore stage, the Arkansas doomsters plumb the full depths of songs as fathomless as Forgotten Days and The Ghost I Used To Be. Silver Wings and Caledonia drop some dissonance and heavy edge into the mix, too, but it is the tangled, funereal majesty of Given To The Grave that lingers longest in the memory. Melancholic mastery.

At The Gates GO!-ing for gold

Even if that groovy, doomy Saturday night detour lures some punters into a false sense of security, it doesn’t last. For three decades now, Gothenburg melodic-death masters At The Gates have been kicking metalhead asses but, even by their hellish standards, Saturday night’s run-through of 1995 classic Slaughter Of The Soul lands with uncompromising purpose. Blinded By Fear. Cold. Under A Serpent Sun. Suicide Nation. They’re some of the most high-octane songs in metal history delivered by past Damnation headliners who seem set on proving they’re worthy of doing it again here tonight. The Night Eternal is just the icing on a blood-soaked cake. Simply incredible.

Elder heading blissfully to space

When you're nearing the end of a weekend like Damnation, sometimes something a little less brain crushing is in order. Enter Elder. Sandwiched between At The Gates and Converge, their fat grooves and psyched-out vibes become even more transcendent than usual. Halcyon and Blind are mesmerising, while closer Sanctuary is absolutely stratospheric this evening. Some use the opportunity to break the no-smoking rules with not-tobacco. But you don't need such things when Elder can send your brain to the stratosphere on their own.

Converge calling on Jane Doe to close the show

When it was announced that Converge would be closing Damnation with a full play-through of seminal 2001 masterpiece Jane Doe, it felt like expectation might just exceed reality. How wrong that proves to be. From the moment a jagged Concubine detonates at the front of Bowlers’ rammed main hall, it’s clear this is a special set. Steering between an unhinged Fault And Fracture and the explosive Homewrecker, the agonising Heaven In Her Arms and the acid-operatics of the title-track, it’s enough to leave several punters daubing blood from their faces as they spill from the pit and even more steely veterans wiping tears from their eyes.

A gut-punch cover of Entombed's classic Wolverine Blues (dedicated to "pound-for-pound, the most vicious of all", late frontman L-G Petrov) ups the adrenaline, before I Can Tell You About Pain and Dark Horse continue Converge's own carnage. After this weekend’s waves of heady nostalgia it feels like a fitting reminder of heavy music’s bright future – and Damnation’s increasingly prominent role in it.

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