9 Of The Most Metal Moments From Damnation Festival 2019

We jumped in the pit at Leeds annual extreme metal extravaganza Damnation to get up close on some of the gnarliest bands on the planet…

9 Of The Most Metal Moments From Damnation Festival 2019
Sam Law
Mark Lathan / Emily Coulter

Now into its 15th year as a UK festival fixture, Damnation feels increasingly like a one of a kind coming together for the UK metal underground. Boasting its biggest and most diverse line-up to date and sold-out weeks in advance, 2019 delivered a vintage crop of performances as the best of black, death, prog and technical metal lined up to kick the shit out of all comers across four frantically attended stages running deep into the bowels of Leeds’ University Union.

Embracing the old mantra that it’s always grim up north, we daubed on our corpsepaint, cracked out our crustiest T-shirt and strapped in our gum-guard (seriously, this event has cost broken limbs and cracked teeth more than once in the past) for a charge once more unto the breach. Under the coming darkness of winter, we found a smorgasbord of bands – old and new – that any metalhead worth their denim‘n'leather should be getting excited about faster than a lifeless body flung across the pit...

Opeth Get Weird

On one level, Swedish prog. legends Opeth might be the least metal headliner this festival has ever had. On the back of 13th LP In Cauda Venenum, frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt – dressed in a slightly ridiculous wide-brimmed hat like Kane from Poltergeist 2 – and his proggy men are here to wind their way through a series of vertiginously-composed, rambling-paced tunes more in common with the likes of Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree than most of the savages spread across today’s line-up. When they do unleash a couple of older bangers, though – The Leper Affinity and a climactic Deliverance – it’s easy to remember why they’re here in the first place.

Godeater Devour All Comers

Glasgow tech death-metallers feel like something of an unknown quantity for many of the older punters in attendance when they hit the Stylus early on Saturday afternoon. They’re certainly not by the time they’re done. Swarming the stage with the sound of a million angry metallic bees – all creepy melody and tangly guitars cranked into tornado-riffs – they kick up the first real action of the day and leave many immediately seeking out the brilliant brutality of latest LP All Flesh Is Grass as they spill back out into the light.

READ THIS: Mayhem's Necrobutcher "Everything was about hate. That was Mayhem's motto"

The Infernal Sea Unleash A Plague Of Black Metal

The Infernal Sea have been an instantly-recognisable fixture of the UK underground black-metal scene for the best part of a decade now. Decked out in dark sigils and their trademark Plague Doctor masks, it’d be all too easy to lump them in with the avant garde gimmicky likes of Batushka and Cult Of Fire. Opening a completely rammed Cult Never Dies stage, however, it’s clear that their high atmospherics and distinctly UK Black Metal sound have earned them a deservedly fanatical following.

Dawn Ray’d Unleash Politics With Punch

Who ever said violins aren’t metal? One of the most instantly recognisable forces of the burgeoning anti-fascist metal community, local lads Dawn Ray’d have a huge swathe of support for their hotter-than-the-sun showing simply by dint of fans wanting to wear their political allegiances on their (cut-off) sleeves. Within that, though, they smuggle wave after wave of daring, emotionally charged sound that leaves plenty punters openly weeping: frontman Simon B’s use of the cassical instrument layering on a whole new layer of dynamic to their black metal attack. Kudos, too, for some of the best shirts on merch.

READ THIS: How black metal is fighting fascism

Gost Bring The Beats After Midnight

Technically, Texan darkwave icon Gost is here to oversee the afterparty. Not that it looks like anyone told him that. Striding back and forth across a heaving second stage just after midnight with a wall of light exploding at his back, his masked guitarist at his side and some of the best sounds of the weekend blaring out of the PA, he sends the sea of drunken bodies ready to party into the small hours. He might be on tour opening for black metal legends Mayhem, but sprinkling on his dark delight as we head towards witching hour is where he really feels at home.

Carnation Produce A Bouquet Of Brutality

For the many senior punters who haunt Damnation’s cursed halls – plenty creaky enough to remember acts like Death, Monstrosity, At The Gates and Cancer in their prime – there’s an enormous buzz surrounding the booking of Blistering Belgian death metallers Carnation, and their gleefully old-school vibe. Paying homeage to the '80s and '90s legends of death metal in everything from their twisted logo to brilliantly serrated sound, they hammer the Tone Mgmt Stage into a beautifully bloody mess.

Alcest Deliver A Spiritual Awakening

French blackgaze trailblazers Alcest might not be the heaviest band on this year's bill, but they do deliver one of the most hauntingly beautiful sets of the weekend. On the back of stunning sixth LP Spiritual Instinct, the Bagnols-sur-Cèze duo are on simply imperious form. Frontman Stéphane “Neige” Paut seems to have finally taken on something like metal superstar quality, with dozens of fans visibly starstruck as he wanders around the venue after his set. From Kodoma to Protection to a hypnotic Percées De Lumière, there’s little question that fame is thoroughly deserved.

READ THIS: We rank the pits at Damnation 2018

Primordial Head Back To The Gathering Wilderness

“Where is the fighting man?” roars Primordial frontman Nemtheanga as titanic set closer Empire Falls rings to its conclusion on the main stage. “I am he!” So many decades down the line, the Irish icons feel like a legitimately big deal, with a festival set like this far too short for them to show off the full range of their incredible back catalogue. Still, from the moment they pile on with the anthemic Where Greater Men Have Fallen, they hold Damnation in the palm of their hands. The absolute chaos that erupts for the almost dark-disco-alike attack of To Hell Or The Hangman is something to behold, too.

Mayhem Absolutely Murder The Main Stage

Metalheads love banter. And from the moment bare-chested Mayhem bassist (and current metal meme-du jour) Jørn “Necrobutcher” Stubberud – feistily confrontational when we run into him backstage – appears there’s a wave of chuckles about what he might be on his way to do after the show . This latter-day incarnation of Mayhem, however, still featuring legendary drummer Hellhammer and De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas vocalist Attila Csihar, are no laughing matter. Raging on in front of a massive, intricate production there are a few technical murmurs early in the set, but they’re quickly resolved to leave the packed main hall bowing down to these legends’ ageless black majesty.

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