-With just a few days til Damnation now, for anyone still weighing up their own personal timetable on the day, can you give us a brief run down of what to expect from a Primordial show?
Want to know what Winterfylleth have in store for us at Damnation? Well, read on, as we quiz drummer, Simon Lucas.
To anyone that’s not seen Winterfylleth before, what can they expect from your Damnation appearance?
Well, we have just had our 3rd album out, on Candlelight Records, entitled The Threnody of Triumph, and this will be the first live appearance since it has been released, so we will be airing certain material from this album for the first time ever live, as well as a couple of older songs.
Also, this week is a very special week for us as a band, as the moon has been in it’s first ‘full moon’ phase of winter. This of course is the ancient festival from which our name derives, the ‘Winterfylleth’, the celebration of the winter full moon. It marked the end of the summer and the onset of winter and was an important time for our ancestors in Britain. Incidentally this is the closest date I think that we’ve ever played live to the actual natural, ancient ‘Winterfylleth’ festival. We’re looking forward to celebrating this with everybody at Damnation Festival and hopefully making it an extra special, ritualistic live performance
If you had to choose 3 words to sum up a Winterfylleth live show, what would they be?
Orthodox, blasting, euphoria.
Your latest album has been out for a couple of months now, how do you feel it’s been received?
We’re so pleased with the overall way in which it has been received. Many of the reviews have really humbled us. We’re so pleased to see that people are listening to the music in the way it is to be intended, people really absorbing the material and immersing themselves within the landscapes that we are trying to portray with the album.
What’s next on the horizon for Winterfylleth?
Well of course, this week is Damnation Festival, but you probably knew that anyway! After that we will be performing in London with our friends and label mates Anaal Nathrakh, and then in the new year we will be playing live to support our new album, including a very exciting show in Dublin with our good friends in Primordial next February. We will also be performing at various shows and festivals around Europe, and quite possibly a tour or two is on the cards.
Is there anyone you’re particularly hoping to catch live at Damnation?
It’s such a strong line-up at Damnation this year. We’ve been hearing great things about Ravens Creed, so we will be watching them. Everybody should watch Witchsorrow, brilliant British doom metal. We’re hoping to catch a little bit of our good friends Wodensthrone, however with our stage times being so close together, I think we’ll be setting up whilst they’re on, and starting as soon as their set finishes. So we will have to maybe catch the start of their set. Other than that, Extreme Noise Terror for some classic British grind! Norway’s Vreid, and then after that there is that ANNOYING clash between Primordial and 40 Watt Sun! I think I may have to watch half of each performance, Primordial are an amazing band very dear to our hearts collectively that we’ve become good friends with over the years, such a great, passionate band. The 40 Watt Sun album is absolutely amazing, and being associated with the legendary doom band Warning, is a set we all really want to see as well. Such a shame they clash so much with Primordial! After this we will maybe watch a bit of Aura Noir, and then of course West Yorks legends My Dying Bride, then maybe absorb ourselves in the riffs and classic horror inspired doom of Electric Wizard! What a great festival! Then back to ours for more cider!
Irish thrashers Gama Bomb will be celebrating their first time on the illustrious Damnation stage and ten years together as a band at the same time. Admitting that they had always had their eyes on playing the festival the band promises to bring something special to these November’s festivities.
Fans of the band can look forward to them dusting off some tracks that they haven’t played in years whilst newcomers will be offered a fairly complete retrospective look at the band’s career. You can also look forward to some new tracks from the headbanging troupe’s upcoming album which should fit into the set list very nicely.
“It’s the same album with a different cover,” they joke “the fans know what to expect; we’re not reinventing the wheel. It’s a little more technical and a little more varied.”
Varied is definitely a good word to use when coming to the eclectic realms of Damnation, but there’s no trepidation from Gama Bomb when it comes thrashing it out amongst such an array of genres. “It’s always nice to mix it up a bit and play in front of people who don’t necessarily know us.”
Despite the wealth of bands on offer before and after Gama Bomb’s set they always put a party first and when asked who they’re looking forward to seeing they simply say “the fans!” So if the bile spitting grind of Extreme Noise Terror and Pig Destroyer doesn’t appeal, or Aura Noir and My Dying Bride pose too scary a notion, or even if you want to down a few cold ones and mosh with the best; you could do much, much worse than catch the face melting riffs of Gama Bomb.
Evile step into Damnation with a double edged sword. Having played Damnation back in 06 when it was still held at Jilly’s in Manchester they come with an experience which none of the bands this year hold, but, also with a pressure for them to perform the way they did five years ago. Of course this shouldn’t be an issue, three albums down the line and the thrash saviours of the U.K. aren’t exactly short of acclaim and sitting backstage in Stoke with the four of them it soon becomes clear that, on the back of Five Serpent’s Teeth, they’re hitting Damnation with more confidence than ever before.
“06 was the first signed gig we ever did,” Ben (drums) points out, “we’ve matured a hell of a lot since we first played, musically not necessarily mentally, and we’re looking forward to unleashing the new songs off the album, as well as some old classics that people have attached themselves to and still seem to go down really well in our live sets…”
Of course one of the big differences between the then and now is the tragic loss of bassist Mike Alexander and the subsequent hiring of Joel Graham- something that has obviously had a massive effect on the band. “The whole song writing dynamic has changed since Joel joined,” they’re quick to point out, “he brings a different view to the band in term of groove and the ability to drop gears, and he comes from a classic rock background. I mean we’ll listen to anything and we might not take influence from it but we can mould it and make it our own. You can’t go through life with the blinkers on and only listen to German thrash. You can’t do that with music.”
Being one of rising stars in the revived thrash scene, a scene that has avoided the recent flash in the pan style of some recent genres, has seen Evile have the chance to play with some of the best: “There’s a great feeling of camaraderie between us.” Ol points out before Ben continues; “We encounter so many that it always keeps it fresh. The scene hasn’t stagnated yet, it’s always moving on.
“Thrash is honest. It’s not about the costumes or face paint. It’s about four guys on stage playing their instruments to the best of their abilities. There’s no way of cheating it and if you try to then it loses that essence. You play music, jump in the van and do it again the next night.”
Also embraced by old school thrash bands, Ol played with Destruction at the 2009 edition of Damnation. “[Damnation has] improved a lot. It wasn’t bad when we played in 06 but I think the venue is more suited to it now with the different rooms; and the line up was great. It’s just a really good atmosphere.” Ben interjects, bringing up this year: “The line up this year is great. It’s nice to see some bands that you wouldn’t normally see on bigger festivals but it still has a big pull like Devin Townsend. There’s a nice variance.”
Finally they all huddle together to discuss who they’re looking forward to see this year. Matt, Ben and Joel all notion towards Devin (“he varies so much in his performance, you never know what sort of mood he’s going to be in so each time it’s unique”) and Ol gives a shout out to Chthonic who he has played with closely and even joined them at this year’s Hammerfest. And then the interview’s over, but you can be sure that Evile will be bringing one of the best shows of the festival. If you haven’t seen them before let them justify the hype this Saturday.
Interview with The Gentleman from A Forest of Stars
For the people who are coming to Damnation could you please describe you’re sound and give a little background to the band?
Certainly! According to the incredibly pretentious/vacuous press release I’ve just cut and pasted, we are apparently a collection of 19th century vaudeville, classical and burlesque musicians, inspired by the teachings of our ages’ greatest writers, composers, artists and mediums. Essentially, our intention is to appoint a fusion of black metal, romanticism, the occult, psychedelia, folk and the improprieties of madness into one unsightly whole, much against the wishes of both Her Majesty’s Government and indeed fashionable society at large. We believe that just about sums up a) our intentions and b) just how delusional we all are. Our music is more often than not described as a failed attempt to reach out to the celestial glory of the unconquerable cosmos through the deepest, cloying, incense-choked, dimly lit attic of our spiritually corrupt minds; a messy, highly flawed journey awash with violins, flutes, Middle Eastern percussion, doggerel verse, opium, karimbas, claret, base chants and grossly unprofound meanderings all wrapped into a filthy, threadbare blanket of black metal; An ethanol soaked and laudanum fuelled journey through the highways and byways of a shadow world populated by venomous villains and corrupt clergy, whirling endlessly through the infinite, cold void of space. In summary, we are so far up our collective arses, we’ve come out the other side. Yeuk.
Each member of the band has a character, and each character has their own back story. Where did the idea for such a detailed tale of fiction come from?
Fiction? I’m not sure what you mean. Are you implying we’re making this up? For instance, why would Mr Bishop invent the fact that he effectively pushes workers into textile weaving machines so he can sell the resulting mess of body parts? What kind of sick individual would make that up? What would there be to gain from falsifying such a tale? I’d say what you’re implying is rather libellous. Fiction, indeed..!
You have quite a large line up and incorporate a lot of different styles into your music. Does this pose a problem when it comes to writing music or when it comes to playing live?
Equal parts yes and no. Live, for some reason it seems to work rather well, much to our constant surprise. I suppose we’re simply well-tuned to each others idiosyncrasies or something. In terms of writing, it’s the complete opposite – we usually work initially either by ourselves or in pairs or whatever, and then bring it to the rest of the Club for completion to give the songs a bit of spit and polish. Figuratively, of course. Otherwise that would be a phenomenal chore every time there was a new pressing.
You have your own projectionist and lighting technician. How do you think this helps improve your live show?
First and foremost, it helps to distract the audience (assuming there is one) from the music. Smoke and mirrors, that sort of thing. God knows we need it. Also, it looks pretty. Or atmospheric; I forget which.
What was it about Damnation that appealed to you?
If I’m honest, I’ve wanted to play this festival every year since it began, so to finally do so is rather super. And, of course, Ulver are playing!
Anyone who has heard you won’t need to know, but what do you think will make you stand out at Damnation?
Punctuality, impeccable dress sense, wholesome manners and far too many people crammed onto the stage.
Who are you looking forward to seeing at Damnation?
Ulver, Altar of Plagues, Dragged into Sunlight, Grand Magus, Amplifier and Humanfly would be the main ones, though how much of them I actually get to see is in the hands of the gods.
There’s something very real about Matthew Rozeik, guitarist for Astrohenge. He doesn’t talk about big ideas; he talks about his band playing music because that’s what they do, without the pretentious that seems to come with a lot of bands who build up pieces of music without the double edged sword of lyrics. He is honest, witty and blunt..
Asking about his music he admits that there’s a certain stigma to being in an instrumental band. “It’s probably the deluge of the stoner and post-whatever bands that came out about ten years,” going to say, “the term instrumental says nothing about the band in question. It could describe Mozart, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Aphex Twin and Miles Davis; but none of these are similar in any way.” Not that he’s worried in any way about how certain opinions might affect the crowd a band pulls. “How hard you rock affects the crowd that you pull! Like everyone at Damnation, we’re musical misfits, so I guess every band has their own stigma to the close minded fool.”
Surely how hard you rock can only get you so far though. It could be argued that a vocalist makes it easier to portray a message; the ethos of the band, not that Matt is bothered: “We don’t have a message. We’re not Earth Crisis,” and as for the idea of the vocalist been the focal point of a band, “It’s been like that since Elvis; I seriously doubt the drummer got as much fanny as he did. Most music follows certain clichés, but most music isn’t very good. Figure that one out.”
Moving onto Damnation he seems humble about their appearance, “I don’t know why people will check us out, I just hope they do!” Something that belies Astrohenge’s massive soundscapes and immense talent, and as for the line up itself: “I’m personally looking forward to Dragged into Sunlight, Cerebral Bore, Shining and A Man Called Catten. Those four bands on one bill together!”
Adding to the already stellar line up Astrohenge promise to be one of the bands you cannot miss. Their genre-bending music and the fact that they clearly do this for the love of the music, without pigeonholing themselves – “music influences our music” – means that the things you’ll take away are the energy and the passion of this band, not to mention a sore neck.
And if anyone could sum up Damnation this year its Matthew: “I think Damnation shows how open minded metalheads can be.”
Most people probably know what to expect from Grand Magus by now- and in no way is that a criticism. If Damnation will be your first exposure to the Swedish heavy metal titans, well, be warned you can expect to bang your head to some of the finest riffs on God’s sweet Earth. Grand Magus are a doom-tinged, heavy rock trio that have spewed out some classic sounding metal albums, yet skilfully avoid parodying the bands that have trail-blazed before them.
When we caught up with vocalist and guitarist, JB, ahead of this weekends’ Damnation Festival he added his vote of confidence to the eclectic bill on offer. “It’s shaping up to be a really cool festival; I’m very excited about it!” he says. Grand Magus were among the final wave of bands announced; did the existing line up influence their decision to play? “Yes, definitely. It’s always a treat if you can see other cool bands as a bonus and it kind of guarantees the quality of the festival itself, of course.”
Not that Grand Magus are likely to let us down in the quality department, and when quizzed on what fans can expect from their set, JB replies simply “the real deal”. One cannot easily argue with that. With ten years of experience under their belts, we wondered whether being held in such high regard puts added pressure on them. “Yes, but never in a bad way. The biggest pressure always comes from us.”
JB becomes more animated when talk turns to a potential follow up to their recent album Hammer of the North and what we can expect from that. “In short: they can expect GRAND MAGUS. We only concentrate on writing the best songs we can and to do music that excites us at the moment. This means that there will be a different “flavour” to the music every time we do an album”
So, returning to the subject of Damnation, who are we likely to see him banging his head to on Saturday? “I’ve never seen Ulver live so that’ll be interesting,” he says, lending his support to his Scandinavian brothers, “I also noticed that there is a band called Conan which – by Crom – should be my cup of tea.”
Amplifier were one of the first bands announced this year and, as such, have watched the line up grow to include massively respected and eclectic bands. A lot of pressure you’d assume, but this Manchester three piece are walking into Damnation with three excellent genre bending albums under their belts and a huge amount of acclaim for their live shows. Catching up with bassist Neil Mahoney he exudes everything you’d expect from a band that have never been afraid to do things their own way.
Having been honing their trade for close on 14 years, and been through the majority of the good and bad that can befall a band, they’re now completely independent, something which makes sense considering they’ve never let the pressure of a record label affect them anyway. “We put pressure on ourselves to create and perform on a level that we are happy with; never to please anyone else.” Obviously, with this, there must be a massive dedication to the band from its respective members, something Neil is all too away of: “We are the only ones who will always be here; fans come and go, so we just please ourselves. It’s kind of a vindication that the more we suit ourselves, the better received we seem to become.”
Latest album The Octopus is just another example of the band striving to do something different. Spread over two CD’s and two hours of music and yet despite how well the album fits together both musically and in the concept of the album itself it was never meant to be the double album it became. “We were working on two albums at the same time and a few of the songs seemed to cross over; instead of fighting this we just let it happen and suddenly The Octopus had doubled in size.”
With just an hour on the Zero Tolerance stage, and over two hours of conceptual material on their last album alone, it must be difficult to come up with a set list that fully shows off the band’s capabilities; or so you’d think. “I hate this new trend for playing whole “classic” albums and all the money making bullshit that goes with it. The fact is that a rock show has very different needs to an album – running a live show to fit with the running order of an album seldom works.”
Moving on and Neil is clearly excited about Damnation and Amplifier’s place on the line up. “How many festivals are there championing such a wide array of acts?” Neil points out, “The amount of genres and sub genres just within the metal cannon is staggering and for fans to be able to go to one place and find so many bands from so many backgrounds is to be lauded.”
Noting that they were one of the first to be announced Neil has nothing but praise for the bands that have followed. “It’s great. There are some very big names and it’s always great to share a line up with guys like that…I’m personally looking forward to see God is an Astronaut again and Talons will be really good. Obviously Devin will be awesome but I’m looking forward to checking out some bands that I’ve not heard of.”
So between their massive sounds and massive ideas Amplifier will be bringing an exciting set to Damnation and will be more than able to match the bigger names that have come through the doors since their announcement; and if you need any more reason to go check them out there’s always the fact that:
“We’re the only sexy band on the bill! Groove, groove and more groove!”
“I could philosophize my way out of mowing the lawn if I wanted to—Well it’s just gonna grow back! No. You’ve got to fucking mow the lawn dude, get off your ass and do it! Underneath a lot of philosophy is just laziness, right!? I definitely don’t condemn that sort of mental process that I used to be involved in. But back then I was 23, in Strapping [Young Lad], and that’s what my process involved and Strapping was the music that came out.”
Devin Townsend’s at that stage of his life where he’s embracing the clarity that comes with saying no to hedonism. The (sorta) wisdom of adulthood sees him swear fealty to to a greater number of responsibilities but they’re familiar masters: namely his family and his colon. “The important things in life are finding a clean place to shit in the morning, making sure your family is OK, making sure the garbage is out on a Thursday, whether or not that mole is malignant” he says. He’s considering the philosophical ramifications of reactivating Strapping Young Lad as a grown-up, and whether the band he formed back in 1994 as a repository for all his extreme metal mores to express his extreme disenchantment and more extreme was something that he may like to do again.
Like, if Justin K. Broadrick could reanimate the Godflesh machine after the split in 2002 and a long hiatus, then surely it’s not out with the realms of possibility that Damnation’s esteemed headliner would want to rewire his hyper-creative riff bank and muster enough reality-shifting, sensorial bushwacking to deploy an album that could compete with SYL’s 1997 City, an album of such industrial/cyber/everything metal, imbued with such futuristic gusto that is to metal what Bladerunner is to sci-fi.
But no, all of SYL’s exasperation, articulated by Devin Townsend’s OH-FUCK-MY-FUCKING-GOD scream over a merciless beat just doesn’t exist in such concentrations anymore. It was of its time.
“When people say, ‘Hey, would you like to subscribe to that process again?’ Fuck, no! Do you wanna be 23 years old again? Jesus Christ, c’mon, the only thing that I wanna be 23 again for is that my body would look less like a sack of potatoes—other than that, no goddamn way!”
The thing is though, Devin Townsend poured and continues to pour so much of his hyper-intensity into his work, uses all of his vision in pretty much everything he has done over his career, that there’s no need to revisit anything, any previously visited sweet spot of creativity, because it’s all still there. “There’s elements of Strapping that I can incorporate into what I do in the future,” he says, “certain songs from the Strapping catalogue that do still resonate with me. But a lot of the stuff that was the most popular stuff, I just can’t get behind it the way I used to.”
Those still mourning the loss of atom-splitting fury in Townsend’s work can still find the riffs the heavy, cyber riffs laced throughout the Devin Townsend Project’s output. Ziltoid: the Omniscient, 2007’s conceptual album about a puppet alien traversing the cosmos in search of the ultimate cup of coffee, had its share of judder and chug, and is typical of Devin Townsend’s freedom to do whatever he likes creatively, taking what is on face value a frivolous concept and then going with it. Like this year’s Deconstruction, Ziltoid is whacked out, eccentric, irreverent, with a sorta Tim Burton take on sci-fi: when Townsend’s extravagance his highest in the sky, The Devin Townsend Project comes across a comic book prog opera. But Ziltoid's quest, like most of Townsend's muses, is just a metaphor; everything's about the ordinary, the tangible, the reality of life. And that's the sort of thing that keeps Townsend focused.
“A lot of people are just trying to figure out how to be happy because they’ve got a shit job, can’t get a good cup of coffee, or they’re in love with somebody that doesn’t love them back,” he says. “I think spending more time thinking about those things really helps my [creative] process right now. It removes options: if you’ve got 400 dimensions that you’re working, you’re just going to be paralyzed, like which one should I go with? But if you just limit it down to the ones you’re involved with, whether or not that makes you intellectually or spiritually inferior, at least you can get from Point A to Point B, and to me that makes my life a lot better.”
His clarity and focus is helping put the records together—The Devin Townsend Project dropped both Deconstruction and its muted sibling Ghost this year— but it won’t help him divine a setlist that’ll please everybody, least of all himself. Given that he’s working on playing Ki, Addicted, Deconstruction and Ghost in their entirety over four consecutive nights in London, expect Townsend’s Damnation set to be culled from these four albums.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” he says. “We’re still in the tail-end of our North American tour right now, and there is amongst the things we are working are these four shows in London, where we play these four shows back-to-back, and the amount of effort that has gone into make that… Just work, let alone work well, has just been amazing. Damnation, my thought is that it should be a little bit heavier than what I’ve typically done recently, but at the same time it’ll have the identity of what I’m doing right now. I’m wearing it on my sleeve more than I ever have before, so whether or not it’s a little heavier or a little lighter it’s going to be the same shit that I always do. And I’m very happy to get the opportunity to do this show—it’s a huge honour for me. Godflesh were a huge influence on me. Without Godflesh, there would probably be a vastly different sound to what I do. Ulver, as well, are amazing. I think God is an Astronaut is amazing… Decapitated’s new record is stunning. I hope all the people that come to the shows are interested enough in the direction that I’ll be going in, that I’ll fit in and not just be a turd in the punchbowl, you know what I mean?”
Chthonic are one of the rising stars in black metal. Their latest album Takasago Army has been both critically and commercially successful and their aggressive shows have ensured that they are a live favourite across the world. Catching up with bassist Doris she’s full of excitement for Damnation Festival and praise for the U.K. fans that have supported Chthonic.
“We love to play the U.K! the fans are incredible and they always give really impressive responses. We played at some festivals like Hammerfest and Download and we did a headline tour in 2009. The U.K must be one of our favourite places to play.”
Of course they’re not just a band of immense talent, Chthonic base their music around Taiwanese folklore and history while several of their members are political involved in their home country. Being so immersed in a culture that few members of their western audience will be fully aware could have presented a problem, but Doris insists that it hasn’t. “We only put historical stories and Oriental mythology in our music; our political activities are mainly in our personal lives.
“When you watch a film, you just watch it and enjoy it, though it may have a strong political message. Most people don’t notice it, and we’re not bothered from where the film is from if it’s a good story.”
The historical input is notable in the video for Broken Jade, which mixes classical Oriental painting with live clips of the band. “The background to the story is based on the Pacific War and the Japanese Imperial Army, which included Taiwanese soldiers. No matter what those soldiers volunteered, or were forced, to do they gradually found their identity; without belonging to anyone or any country.” Doris notes, “It was the director’s idea to mix the animation and live clips. We found a great animator as well as a traditional ink painter to cooperate to create the video.”
It’s only since 2005, however, that U.K. audiences have had the chance to appreciate Chthonic. Seediq Bale, their first album to be released here, was actually their third and the only other recordings from before this to be released was the previous album Relentless Recurrence, which was re-released in 2007. With two albums unavailable, through the normal resources, to western audiences, does it ever propose a problem when it comes to building a set list? “The only old material we put in our recent tour was from Mirror of Retribution (2009),” she points out, “we love our new songs much more than the older ones!”
Enthusiastic about their upcoming set with Damnation, which falls in the middle of a tour with Damnation mates Turisas, Doris appears confident. “We have a more fierce and powerful performance than ever before. It’ll be the first time we’ll have brought a lot of the songs from Takasago Army to the U.K. which contains a lot more Oriental folk melodies. It’ll be very interesting for your ears!”
You can’t help but get caught up in Doris’ enthusiasm when she talks about the upcoming shows, and if you’ve seen Chthonic live then you’ll know this enthusiasm is just as contagious during their performances. Bringing with them a rich source of history that most modern bands lack will see them fit perfectly within the eclectic line up that Damnation holds this year…and if you need any more convincing…
“Remember this Taiwanese sentence and we will roar these words with you: ‘Sa Lang Sa Ba Sa Ji Bai’ and we will tell you what that means on the stage!”