Damnation Festival 2023 took place on Saturday, November 4 at the BEC Arena in Manchester. It is the largest European metal festival held indoors.
Damnation Festival 2023 took place last Saturday. We have a full report from the festival by Chris Gould. We were able to see all twenty-four artists! Was it worth it? You will find out from the report below.
Damnation Festival 2023. Full report from the event
Driving 150km to visit an industrial estate in Manchester on a cold and wet Saturday in November would usually be a bad idea… but today is different. We are at Bowler’s Exhibition Center in Manchester for the 18th edition of Damnation Festival. Damnation started in 2005 to showcase underground metal and has since grown into the largest indoor metal festival in Europe. The Damnation Festival has traditionally been held at the Leeds University Union, but the move to the B.E.C. Arena doubled its capacity in 2021 and enabled further development.
The performances were arranged on three stages, all of them named after the festival sponsors. The two side stages are Eyesore Merch and Holy Goat Brewing, and the main stage is Pins & Knuckles. The main stage, occupying the largest room, was huge and provided a worthy platform for some of the big names performing on Saturday night. As the B.E.C. As the arenas fill up throughout the day, getting between stages became a bit more difficult, but overall we had no trouble pushing through the crowds and ended up seeing all 24 bands. Here are our impressions!
The Eyesore Merch Stage is the smallest of the three rooms at B.E.C. Arena and it’s where you’ll usually find the more experimental or even avant-garde bands.
As proof of this, the scene opens with the Dutch act Laster, their faces covered with stylized skulls. Obscure sounds performed by avant-garde black metallers playing a surreal set full of psychedelic visuals.
After Laster, it was time for Kurokuma. A band that lists the headliners of the event – Electric Wizard – as one of its main inspirations. Their interesting approach to the doom metal formula, in which repetitive, muddy riffs give way to crazy thrash-style vocals and drums inspired by tribal influences. Their set features Lowen’s Nina Saeidi, and her haunting vocals evoke the desolation and dystopia in the band’s lyrics.
Pushing boundaries, extravagant, dramatic, artistic… It’s hard to label the avant-garde band Ashenspire. The band is heavily inspired by anarchist politics and it was definitely an energetic performance, with the singer speaking to the audience. Progressive black metal with saxophone… certainly an interesting combination.
It’s a thrilling performance by Ohmms as the Brighton musicians play their final show. Ohhms is sludge with a touch of stoner rock. As the lead singer gives those in attendance his best impression of Ozzy Osbourne, it’s a bittersweet farewell to a band that released 6 albums between 2014 and 2023.
German artists Downfall of Gaia originally formed a crust punk band, but eventually transitioned to the sludgy sounds of second wave black metal. It was a carefully crafted set, with the band’s signature dark, ominous riffs crashing over the audience like a wave.
Sigh is definitely one of the highlights of the Damnation festival. The Japanese band from Tokyo has been playing experimental extreme metal since 1989. Sigh evoked many emotions. The hall was extremely crowded as the audience tried to squeeze in to see the Japanese show. It was a surreal, chaotic set in which books were burned, a flaming katana was brandished at the crowd, and children in black robes formed a choir. As the show went on, you could feel that the audience kept growing and word spread throughout the festival that this show was not to be missed.
Ahab was supposed to appear on the Eyesore stage, but at the last minute were forced to cancel the performance, fortunately, Bossk stepped in to replace them. This year we saw the sludge metallers at the Bloodstock Open Air Festival, but their performance at Damnation, featuring Cult Of Luna guitarist Johannes Persson, was on another level. Mesmerizing graphics and crushing riffs. Persson did not spare his strength and boldly jumped into the audience to be able to perform a few songs with them.
After a day filled with sludge and doom, English post-rockers Maybeshewill felt like an unusual choice for headliners. It’s a mournful, introspective and memorable set list that was largely based on the band’s previous highlights. While the band draws inspiration from difficult lyrical themes, they maintain a sense of optimism and challenge the audience to turn a divided world into a better place.
Holy Goat Brewing
The Scots from Coffin Mulch emerge from the smoke and immediately begin a vocal attack on the audience. The band recently released their first album „Spectral Intercession” and their set was a wild display of old-school death metal that captivated the audience from the first sounds.
Now it’s time for a total volcano of energy – Crepitation, the Goregrinders from Liverpool. Their crushing, brutal breakdowns give rise to the first moshpits of the day. Because you can’t start the day better than with a good moshpit!
If you’re a fan of Power Trip, you’ll love High Command. American thrash crossover put on a masterful show. Vocalist Kevin Fitzgerald commanded the crowd as the band tore through furious thrash riffs. It was definitely a solid show!
Strigoi is the side project of Greg Mackintosh of Paradise Lost. Gothic metal has evolved and is now much more demonic. Misanthropic death metal, the message and sounds of which lack positivism. Dark, hateful riffs send the crowd into a whirlwind frenzy.
If you were present at the Mystic Festival in Gdańsk, you may have seen the American death metal band Undeath in B90. The band was founded in 2018 and currently has two albums to its credit. You can see that this is a band with potential. Vocalist Alexander Jones taunted the crowd, challenging them to try to move more. As the circle pit started spinning, people riding the wave started flying through the barriers. Security had their hands full! And the first song hasn’t even finished yet. In our humble opinion, this was another highlight of the festival.
Recently reformed mathcore pioneers Deadguy are cited by Dillinger Escape Plan as one of their influences. For a band where most of the members are pushing 50, they have some of the highest energy of the night. Tim Singer stands on the barricade and leads the audience in song, you wouldn’t guess that they took a 20-year break.
Finnish grindcore guys from Rotten Sound have been working against the system for 30 years and there is no sign of retiring. It’s a raw, aggressive and intense set. With the premiere of „Apocalypse” in 2023, veterans show no signs of fatigue, on the contrary – they are proudly moving forward.
The headliners of the Holy Goat Brewing scene are metalheads from Anaal Nathrakh. A band of nihilists from the West Midlands packed the space in front of the stage so tightly that we could barely squeeze in. The energetic singer had incredible ease in establishing contact with the audience. He joked that their AI-generated video consists entirely of nuclear explosions, but that’s the perfect representation of the band. Pounding drums, explosive riffs and restless vocals set the Holy Goat stage red hot What a chaotic end to the day!
Pins and Knuckles
Nordic Giants is an interesting choice to open the main stage. The English post-rock duo would have fit right in with the experimental vibe of the Eyesore Merch scene, but Damnation gave them a chance to really impress the crowd. Looking more like a contemporary art exhibition or artistic performance, Nordic Giants incorporate cinematic aspects into their performances, making good use of the huge screen on the main stage. Their work is a bold, political statement that encourages audiences to reflect on their relationship with society.
Khemmis are loosely grouped as a doom metal band but they blend elements of thrash, black, doom and death metal. It’s a sonic onslaught with the band drawing upon material from their opus Deceiver and recent EP Where the Cold Wind Blows.
American metalcore act Unearth play their 2004 album, The Oncoming Storm, in it’s entirety. It’s a unique opportunity for the audience to hear an album that was acclaimed at the time of it’s release and fits well into the pantheon of contemporary metalcore.
Julie Christmas appeared on stage adorned in fairy lights, her presence ethereal and unwavering. In the chaotic spectacle, she alternates between being a shy, charming character and then turning into a disturbing and intense one in a second. It was a barrage of noise, a frantic and explosive expression of rage and frustration. It’s impossible to accurately describe her performance. One thing we know is that it is memorable!
This festival was full of doom sounds, so it’s high time for the Belgian band Amenra. When the musicians entered the stage, thick smoke billowed everywhere. For those in attendance, it is an almost spiritual experience, reflecting the band’s Mass album series. This is an introspective performance by avant-garde post-metal artists that many festival goers have been waiting for.
Short technical problems delay Katatonia’s performance. It’s a compressed setlist in which the band only played seven songs. But it was Katatonia that attracted the majority of the female audience to the barriers, who sang the classics loudly.
Norwegian legend – Enslaved treated the audience to a performance of their 1994 debut album „Vikingligr Veldi”. This concept album, written mainly in Icelandic, holds an important place in the history of black metal. As the band galloped through „Lifandi Lif Undir Hamri” it didn’t feel like they were listening to 10-minute songs. An amazing, energetic concert that kept you in suspense from the beginning until the last sounds!
Damnation Festival 2023 will end with a performance by doom metal pioneers – Electric Wizard. Although the Dorset rockers are legends in their genre, compared to the high intensity of Anaal Nathrakh who took to the Holy Goat Brewing stage, it seems like a low-key and low-energy ending. Electric Wizard presented a set list consisting of songs from 6 different albums, and the crowd was rocked by the sludgy, crushing riffs.
Damnation Festival 2024. Dates and tickets
If you like unusual sounds, support the underground scene, like to expand your musical horizons and, above all, like good fun, you must be present at next year’s edition of this festival! It’s worth hurrying because the number of tickets is decreasing day by day!
2nd of November 2024, B.E.C. Arena Manchester
Tickets cost £75 and can be purchased on the festival website. Various payment methods and installment purchase options are available.
Tickets available on the website.