Damnation Festival kicked off in full swing in Manchester, at the BEC Arena the first time the festival has taken place in 17 years outside of Leeds. With a jam packed line up of 24 bands, three stages and your typical clashes this was a filled out day full of hard metal.
The BEC Arena is the host of the infamous metal festival this year, the site is mapped out in a fairly organized fashion, multiple food venders, Bars near every stage and enough to accommodate everyone there, and enough toilets for everyone inside and outside the venue so you don’t have to deal with the typical Porto-loos if you don’t want to. Doors opened at around 11am and a crowd was already generating, despite the first act not due to be on until noon.
The main stage Pins and Knuckles had a large screen behind the stage, and two big screens on either side for the viewing of anyone further back, always had during change over the name of the next band and their set times, which is something I’ve not seen at a lot of festivals and its pretty useful especially when you’re a photographer and you always want to check when you’re due in the pit.
This was the case as well with the second stage Holy Goat Brewing minus the two additional screens. Both stages with barriers in between the crowd and the stage for security and press.
The third stage, Eyesore Merch being the only no barrier stage, was your typical small venue set up; it gave me similar vibes to Manchester Rebellion in that sense just with a slightly smaller stage.
With three stages there were always going to be clashes which is expected with every festival, each stage hosted eight bands each throughout the day. When Holy Goat and Eyesore had bands playing, Pins and Knuckles had their chance for changeover and the same went for the other two when there was a band on the main stage, so you only had clashes for second and third. Which honestly is a pretty good way of planning things if you look at it, everyone still gets the chance to watch every band on the main stage, realistically if you watched an entire set you’re seeing 16 bands in a day. Main and second stage had the stage set up on rolling platforms to make change over quick, so the sound crew can focus on getting everything in order, barely any bands were late being on stage, 5 minutes late at a push for a couple but that’s as much as you’re getting.
The first band of the day on Holy Goat was Distant, a Dutch deathcore band who generated a crowd very freaking quickly for a 12pm set, and really got the crowd going. It ended up being a bit tough getting out of the crowd to get to the main stage for their first act. As is expected with this festival, it[s all deep and heavy deathcore and if you’re not familiar with deathcore, it gets very intense if you’re anywhere past the sound desk. For the first band of the day they were honestly incredible, the vocals were perfect and the energy was so high from each band member I was blown away and head banging with everyone at the barrier. It wouldn’t shock me if they end up further up the line up in a few years’ time.
Kicking off Pins and Knuckles was Irist from Atlanta, USA. Both bands from the other stages come off and the crowds fill up the main part of the arena. And Irist go full force with their performance, the crowd is headbanging and it’s not even 1pm and we already have crowd surfers.
This is the one part that I would class as a negative about the entire event, the security wasn’t prepared at all for crowd surfers. After talking with the head of security they did say they prepped everyone for mosh pits and possible injuries due to how intense mosh pits can get, but from every act that played that day on the main stage, you could tell that they weren’t in any way prepared. Security was called in at the last minute from every part of the site when things got too intense, and most of the time you had one person trying to bring people over the barrier. There was even a moment when attempting to get a crowd shot I had to tap a member of security to go and help their colleague who was struggling with a member of the crowd.
We had Oceano next on second stage, deathcore band from Chicago who didn’t have the best lighting for their set from a photography point of view with very low front lights, but overall as a performance they smashed it and are someone I would recommend listening too, and you need to catch a performance of theirs especially if you want to see frontman Adam Warren dance around the stage as he lets out some insane growls. Beer is getting launched everywhere in the crowd, mosh pits are in full swing in the middle and spin kicks are all over the place on the stage.
Main stage introduces the highly anticipated Insanity Alert, a band from Austria who had a very special guest appearance from Pikachu in the pit, seriously there was a man who according to someone at the barrier, made a poll online to see which band he should mosh to dressed in a inflatable Pikachu costume to at Damnation, and Insanity Alert won the poll. So with Pikachu taking some attention in the pit swinging around inflatable lightsabers, the band take to the stage with the vocalist coming on in a tie dye shirt, and a slightly cut Halloween mask whilst making a joke about Slipknot wearing masks. There was so much chaos during this set, the mask came off and they made a point of saying sorry about the loss of our queen.
“We’re sorry about the loss of your queen, I mean we killed ours a long time ago and now we don’t have to pay for royalty” He then holds up a sign with the words MOSH written on it, and you have to do what the sign says. There were a couple of signs the band held into the air for the crowd such as MOSH and GUTEN TAG.
The Netherlands clearly know how to put on a metal show! Damnation went right in and knew exactly what they were doing by booking Stygian Bough. Today the band kicked it into full gear bringing the crowd into a series of switches, from solitary mournful passages to gargantuan movements of doom. Those present in the crowd are transfixed as their heads nod slowly to the rhythm the entire way through their set. Especially when you’re on after the insane pit that the crowd threw for Oceano, the band proved that they deserve to take their rightful place on this stage.
Full of Hell
American deathgrind band Full of Hell take to the main stage, they’re currently one of the most innovative names in the deathgrind scene. And they very much proved that the second they got on stage. They have a cocktail of earth-shattering guitars, battering-ram drums and an insane vocal range. Lead vocalist Dylan Walker has the most insane energetic present on this stage, there was barely a moment during their set when he was actually standing still, it was basically impossible for him to not move, superglue couldn’t even hold the man down. His voice varies from pig squeals, to deep guttural growls and these changes would only last for a solid second.
This was such an impactful and crushing set, if you’re going to get into this crowd for Full of Hell and you’ve never been in a crowd like this before, they I would recommend standing a bit to the side or further back, unless you think you can brave it because this is not for the faint hearted.
Incantation – Holy Goat Brewing Stage
Definitely being one of the more legendary acts on this line up, Incantation who formed over 30 years ago have been a mainstay in the death metal scene. Considering they’re veterans of the scene they have experienced the scene’s tried and tested formula, bringing in the respect amongst extreme music fans. Today the band translates their sonic brutality from the studio to the live world in a devilish fashion as everything kicks into full gear. Incredible pulverizing riffs are thrown out by Luke Shively and John McEntee at every given opportunity, but with a thrown in of guttural growls roaring throughout the room, we can only hope we see them back on UK soil again. 8/10
Pig Destroyer, you can tell the second you walk into that room, that they are one of the most loved bands in grindcore. Every single metalhead in the barrier area is like an excited little kid throughout, one lad who honestly looked like he was about to throw himself over the barrier. He was that excited. As the bomb drops, the legends go into rapid fire with Cheerleader Corpses, Scatology Homeworkand Trojan Whore.
And just like you would expect, the entire area becomes a warzone, this is the moment when security really weren’t prepared for crowd surfers in the slightest, it was carnage left right and center, bodies coming over the barrier every few seconds shocking every single member of the security team as more had to be called to help the scenes.
Green Lung returned to Damnation Festival after last years’ pull out; due to covid-19 complications the band had to pull out of the event at the last minute. However this year they are back and take to the Eyesore Merch Stage, the crowd gathers quickly so getting to the front appeared to be a struggle. The crowd cheers them on like heroes, the popularity and admiration towards the band in this room is insane. The crowd surfing doesn’t stop which results in an awkward hello to the band before leaving the stage since it’s a no barrier stage. The band delivers riff after riff and hook after hook throughout the intense set. The Blind has the crowd throwing their heads back and forth in sync. The band have been riding an intense journey of momentum in recent years and just by the sheer energy from the crowd and the amount of people that turned up, there were people flooding all the way back to the main stage room, they have no sign of slowing anything down.
My Dying Bride
Now we’re going to slow it down a bit now, this is for all the goths in the room who like something a little more traditional in the sense. Bringing you right back to Death-doom 90s Northern England. My Dying Bride grace the stage with grace and class. The set is taken practically from the 90s for those wanting a sense of nostalgia. Songs such as She Is The Darkbrings in the complete blackened-death feel. For most this may be too slow, and too dark without the energy making it boring, for someone who loves a bit of traditional goth this was a perfect filler of the day, bringing everyone down a peg slightly after a lot of mosh pits.
Their vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe visibly brings himself into the music emotionally, getting down to his knees and cradling his head in his hands as he belts out a some tone.
Over at the Holy Goat Brewing Stage, Misery Index are bringing in sheer chaos with their insane grinding mix of thrash death metal. Their recent records Complete Controland Rituals Of Powerso far have been well received across the metal scene by fans, and has brought them right to the forefront for Damnation Festival, and they are not a group that you want to be messing around with. The powerful riffs coming from the guitars is enough to shock you, but also they keep the pit going as mental as it could, with the deep snarling vocals coming from their lead vocalist is something you couldn’t not remember. For me these guys aren’t immediately what I would say extreme music is, before this performance but they have put themselves in the forefront of my brain from here on out.
Now if you want to annoy a pit full of photographers before the start of your set, just basically do what Godflesh did before they started. Which was to tell the control desk that they want blue back lights, flashing white strobe lights and for it to be completely dark at front. My worst nightmare with my camera waiting for my signal. But the crowd doesn’t focus on that because they don’t have to, they’re more focused on the set to come and to be completely blown away. With only two members on the stage, guitarist Justin Broadrick and G.C Green the stage looks very empty with the very obvious lack of a third member, but instead they sported a trusty drum machine which just didn’t miss a single beat throughout the set.
The lyrics for every song they played during their set, was brought in by Justin’s tortured shouts, with the sounds of his high pitched screeching guitar strings. This was an okay set, but it wasn’t one for me as I could only get a couple of photos to support this one as well.
Despised Icon now has the fairly intense task of taking in a majority of the crowd that have just left the Godflesh set, so expectations are high with these guys as very quickly the room gets filled up. The band leave no one alone, demanding complete commitment from the crowd and they throw it right back to them, showing dedication to the craft with cranking guitars and the drums being beaten to no return. Each and every song brought in the excellently executed vocals of Steve Marois as he prowled the stage throwing destructive words right at the hyped up crowd.
In my eyes deathcore is a center that has come and gone so many times over the past 30 years, and these guys along with a few others mentioned already, they’re bringing it back and they’re making sure this time it stays. 8/10
At The Gates
We’re back at main stage, and it’s the second to last band of the night for Pins and Knuckles, At The Gates take to the stage, the kings of the Swedish melodic death metal band have recently been reunited with Anders Bjorler, and it’s as if nothing has ever changed, the band look like they’re having the time of their lives on this stage and the crowd can feel it too, they’re throwing themselves over the barrier, whether surfing or just banging their heads so aggressively they might as well be joining me in the pit. Frontman Tomas Lindberg is on the best form he could be for the night, with not as much energy on stage he paces around bringing his sharp growls with him, this man is a legend to the craft his voice breaks and weakens at times but his stage presence is still fully intact. 10/10
It’s time to bring an end to the day, headlining Holy Goat Brewing Stage is the one and only Decapitated. The stage was set and the band was ready with a few minutes to spare, the fans couldn’t wait any longer demanding that the set started early, we’ve been here all day since 11am. It wouldn’t shock me if people started to get impatient with things. The room is heaving and the backdrop brands the cover of their latest album ‘Cancer Culture’, frontman Rafal Piotrowski, fills out the room with his incredible power that lies in his vocals.
The band as a whole is a beast, immensely brutal in every way just the way we all wanted. This incredible performance brings the Holy Goat Brewing Stage to a perfect end.
It’s been a hectic and fun-filled day at the Damnation Festival and it couldn’t have gone any better, the organization was perfect and everything was set out the way a festival should. Minus the queue for the cloakroom being massively long no matter what time of the day it was, maybe get a second one next year?
It’s been amazing today, and now ready to close out the show at 11pm is the one and only CONVERGE.
The Massachusetts quartet reserves a full performance tonight at Damnation. And the band give it their all! Songs on this setlist honestly feel like the place was about to collapse by the sheer monstrous groove and high energy drum beats knocking us all down. Jacob Bannon’s razor sharp screams ripping through his lungs just takes your breath away every single time he kneels down to belt them out, his stage presence is insane as he moves all over the place, not leaving one area of that stage untouched.
We’ve had such an incredible set from Converge tonight, with punk energy filled songs like Homewrecker, Jane Doeand Fault and Fracture. Jane Doe knocked all of our socks off with an eleven minute pile of a metal masterpiece closing it off. This was a set that left everyone hanging off the edge of their non-existent seats, with hairs standing up and eyes fully wide in adoration. Converge was the perfect way to end this festival, they closed out an incredible day and put their all into their set, knowing fully well this was going to be a festival to remember. 10/10
Words & images: Lauren Allard