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A few years ago, I questioned the very reason for existence of live albums. If you want to know how great a band is live, surely you’d want to experience it first hand rather than to hear it recorded all polished up and void of a ‘real’ atmosphere? I even thought that perhaps they served their purpose as a ‘best of’ for some bands that don’t have an official ‘best of’ album. That was until I remember some of the truly great live albums – surely not having the likes of ‘Live After Death’ in any Maiden fans’ collection would be seen as a gaping hole? Maybe, maybe not- I’m still not 100% decided myself. But I can say this - although a good enough release, Onslaught’s latest addition to ‘live on plastic’ hasn’t really helped me with the decision!
I’ve been a huge fan of Onslaught’s first couple of albums for many years now, so these polished up versions of the older classics are a welcome and interesting feast for my ears (I have actually managed to catch them live supporting Testament a few years back, so can attest to the great show they put on). The recording was made at Damnation festival in 2008, with the majority of the 8 song set taken from their 2007 release ‘Killing Peace’, and their second (and best, in my opinion) release ‘The Force’. Is quite surprising to see how well the tracks from each release work together in the live environment seeing as they were written and released over 20 years apart. The only real downer here for me is that there’s no cuts from their third album ‘In Search of Sanity’, but you can’t have everything I guess.
Bearing in mind again that this is a live album, the only thing you can tell that by is that fact that in between songs there is clear crowd noise, and Sy Keeler screaming out the upcoming song title. Apart from that, there’s no audience participation or stage banter so as you’d notice again leading me back to my earlier quandary. With the quality production and crisp error free playing, this really could just be a best of album with re-recorded studio tracks of the older classics. Perhaps that alone is testament to the quality of Onslaught’s live performance, or perhaps a bit of it is down to Judas Priest styled ‘Unleashed in the East/Studio’ jiggery pokery. Either way, you can be sure on the fact that this contains a lot of Onslaught’s best material, so is worth looking into if you don’t already own their back catalogue.
Originally written for http://www.metalteamuk.net
Damnation Festival at Leeds University was not, in most polite terms, the most exhilarating of experiences to attend, as your faithful scribe did in 2008. While said scribe can’t speak for the quality of prior and latter editions, the 2008 show was shocking in its capacity to underwhelm on almost every count. The university was not so much prepossessing as it was eternally confusing to navigate, whilst temperatures inside the venue remained at a degree that caused you to break out in a sweat in the act of sitting.
Performances were by and large average, the packed-solid stages made it impossible to so much as glimpse The Berzerker, Carcass or Napalm Death, and the punishing heat rendered Cathedral and My Dying Bride quixotic, stupefying experiences more likely to put one to sleep than to energise them.
Onslaught, on the other hand, were having none of that. Instead, the openers of the festival trooped out onstage with heads held high and feedback wailing through the wall of amplifiers at their flanks, and they did what they’ve become newly legendary for. They tore the roof off the venue.
This album is the testament to that performance, and for the fans lucky enough to glimpse it that night, ‘Live Damnation’ is, without a word of hyperbole, roughly equivalent to what it must be like for fans who actually got to see Emperor on the 'Emperial Live Ceremony', or even Judas Priest when they were ‘Unleashed in the East’. It captures that staggering, all-too-brief set with perfect clarity, and to be part of it, in whatever small way, feels like a genuine privilege – this isn’t a heavy metal gig on this CD, this is one of the THE heavy metal gigs.
And for those unfortunate enough not to be at the show, this is a live album that should have its own special slot allotted in your record collection regardless. The only thing, in fact, that mars the brilliance of ‘Live Damnation’ is that it’s just too damn short.
Everywhere else, all cylinders are firing with insane power – the performance is Onslaught at the very top of their reinvigorated game, and Andy Sneap’s mix is clear as a bell and so heavy as to be positively cranium-crushing. The setlist selected for the night may of course raise some sceptical eyebrows; the focus is certainly geared towards ‘Killing Peace’, but with lightning fast renditions of ‘Metal Forces’ and ‘Let There Be Death’ like these, it’s impossible not to won over in an instant.
The Who’s ‘Live at Leeds’ has been officially replaced. Hailz to Onslaught, and all of the Metal Forces!