Indoor festivals seem to be few and far between. With their outdoor summertime counterparts seemingly exponentially growing and multiplying, it’s hard for the smaller niche festivals to get a footing in the market. How heartening then that Damnation should celebrate yet another sold out year chock full of the great and good of underground extreme music.
Kicking off the day is Danish quartet, Vola. Their mix of djent and prog works to wonderful effect, with a charismatically meek frontman casting a spell over those in attendance. Fans of Opeth have to get on this band as they have all of the heaviness of their early career, with beautifully delicate vocals a la Mikael Åkerfeldt. Sadly the vocals are a little low in the mix for the first half of their set, but when they’re audible, they are outstanding. The addition of a keyboard player to the band allows for a synthesised orchestra, bringing an extra grandiosity to proceedings. A wonderful start to the day.
Next up was yet another Danish outfit; Holy Roar’s kings of blackgaze, MØL. As always, the band are stunning and vocalist Kim Song Sternkopf proves himself to be one of the best performers around. Smashing through a selection of songs from their sublime debut, Jord, it’s a sight to behold. Unfortunately the set is plagued by technical issues, from guitars not playing through the PA to the mix cutting out, all coming to an unfortunate head as the venue is evacuated due to a fire alarm before the climax of Bruma. It’s a shame that such a phenomenal set is so truncated and marred by errors beyond the band’s control.
Following on came Ne Obliviscaris whose blending of black metal and melodic vocals was a jarring experience. One moment there would be blackened death metal, the next a twee softly sang interlude with an ill fitting violin solo. If they focused on being a purely black metal band they could be great, but for now they have to settle for good, if not a touch confused. The violin passages really halted any momentum built up, but for the most part they were a tight and consummately professional unit playing with emotional verve.
If you want violins added expertly into extreme metal, look no further than Saor. Wonderfully constructed and crushingly heavy death metal with a distinctly Scottish feel – unsurprising given the band’s heritage – the violins give a folk influence that elevates the music to its own unique flavour. Standing out in extreme metal can be difficult as often genre boundaries blur, as can the sound mix, but Saor stand out in just how outstanding they are.
Onto the big guns, and heavy ones at that. Anaal Nathrakh play one of the day’s best sets, in spite of yet more serious audio issues. While a brief slot due to the aforementioned evacuation, they cram in a career spanning set that leaves all in attendance floored by their precision and mastery of songwriting. Opening with Obscene as Cancer from their latest album, A New Kind of Horror, the tempo never lets up, all with Dave Hunt acting as the cheeky yet imposing commander. His vocal range and dexterity are perhaps the greatest at the festival, from soaring high notes to pummelling low growls, particularly on set closer Do Not Speak. His theatrical flair breathes life into every second of their crushing performance, and stands as a high point of the day.
Yet more crushing heaviness was brought by Swedish death metal luminaries, Entombed A.D. An explosive set chock full of everyone’s favourite songs, both old and new is topped off with Left Hand Path. The heaviest cherry on an already cast iron cake. Musically they are as superb as expected, and never put a foot wrong, while Lars-Göran Petrov’s vocals only accentuate the brutality, particularly on highlight of the set, Wolverine Blues. Phenomenal stuff from a legitimate group of legends.
Tech metal can often fall into the realms of masturbatory. Where many bands are content with playing in as obtuse a time signature and with as many notes as possible, Monuments bring impressive levels of groove and bounce. Chris Baretto moves around the stage like a hardcore MC, filled with soul and swagger, delivering well honed clean and harsh vocals. ‘Fuck, at a black metal festival all you nerds decided to see us’ he thanks the crowd, beaming at the reception the band rightly receive.
Finally, something truly special. Ihsahn should be a name familiar to everyone with even a passing interest in heavy music, and his legendary status precedes him this evening. The set is mesmeric beyond hyperbole, beginning with the Europop synth of Lend Me The Eyes of Millennia from 2018’s Ámr, before that scream greets rabid fans. The set is a career spanning journey and an invasive look into the genius mind of Ihsahn. Moments of gentle, orchestral beauty juxtaposed with a heaviness only he knows how to achieve, all ties together seamlessly by his performance. We are truly taken into his world in the bleakly beautiful likes of Frozen Lakes On Mars and Mass Darkness. His solo material picks up where Emperor so sadly left off, and has the ability to become equally legendary. Truly the man proves his deification in tonight’s showing. A spectacle in the truest sense of the word.