Music preview: Ritual Festival at Canal Mills, Leeds

Ihsahn. Picture: Bj�rn tore Moen
Ihsahn. Picture: Bj�rn tore Moen
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Ritual Festival is day-long celebration of doom and death metal at Leeds venue Canal Mills.

Now in its second year, it’s the brainchild of Leeds university graduate Dan Vaughan, who hopes to build on the momentum of the inaugural event in 2016.

“It went really well,” Vaughan says about last year’s festival which was headlined by veteran Swedish death metal outfit Grave. “For the first year turnout was good and everyone seemed to enjoy it.

“The only [negative] feedback we had was there wasn’t much coffee and it was a bit of a far walk out from town. If that’s the only feedback we got then I’m really happy.”

Having worked on festivals and at Headrow House and the Belgrave Music Hall while studying for his degree in live events production, Vaughan is used to working on a freelance basis. “This year it’s been a bit quiet but with how Ritual’s ramping up I think I need a steady income stream so I can’t risk being self-employed as much,” he says.

He was inspired to found Ritual Festival because he found few other events in the North were catering for the audience for doom and death metal.

I think I’ve got another year in me at this size then it depends how gutsy I get to do two or three days. I’m going to let it grow naturally.

Dan Vaughan

“There’s the odd London one or the odd small one up and down the country but they didn’t really bring in overseas bands because to get a line-up like that is really expensive. It’s a bit daring to do it.

“I saw there wasn’t really anything in the middle. There’s the really big ones like Temples and Damnation which cater for a lot of the older crowd, quite a lot of black metal that was catering for your leather jackets and proper metallers. I thought ‘I want to do my own festival so I ought to do that’.”

Vaughan’s aim is to combine new and old school bands. “If you look at all of my shows there’s a strong UK presence then I look at it as my excuse to put bands on that I really want to see.”

This year’s event is headlined by Ihsahn, the Norwegian black metal pioneer. “I’ve been a fan of Emperor since I first loved black metal,” says Vaughan. “I saw their last line-up [when they reunited] two years ago and then I started getting into other progressive and technical metal genres and really liked Ihsahn’s new stuff. I thought I’d really like to have him and sent him an email and it got booked really easily, I was kind of shocked it happened that easily.”

Vaughan has also persuaded vintage Leeds death metal favourites Canvas – some of whose members went on to form Humanfly – to reform for Ritual. “I’m of an age where I just missed Canvas. When I was starting to get into hardcore and post-hardcore dark, sludgy, horrible stuff they’d already gone but I found I really like them. I got introduced to some of the old members who live in Leeds and I said, ‘Do you want to play Ritual?’ I think Paul who’d helped me with two or three gigs in Leeds put in a good word for me and in two or three emails it was done.”

Also on the bill are All Pigs Must Die, Misery Index, The Afternoon Gentlemen, Crepitation, Corrupt Moral Altar, Conjurer, Serpent Venom, Groak, Anaal Nathrakh, Bossk, Unfathomable Ruination and Kurokuma.

Vaughan’s hoping he can “get a chance to see every band” but speaks with a fan’s enthusiasm about the prospect of seeing the headliner. “I think for Ihsahn I’ll just sit off to the side or at a table and have a quiet time and no one can pester me. I put this on, I’m going to sit down and enjoy it,” he says.

This year there will also be a pre-show on Friday April 7 at the Belgrave Music Hall featuring Akercoke, Fen, The Infernal sea and Sathamel.

As for the future of the festival, Vaughan says: “I think I’ve got another year in me at this size then it depends how gutsy I get to do two or three days. I’m going to let it grow naturally. If it does well over two or three days next year or the year after I’ll see how it goes. I could maybe do Friday as a full day and then slowly ramp it up until we have the full weekend. If we are getting close to capacity for another two or three years I will have to look at another site.”

Tickets for the festival at Canal Mills, Leeds, on Saturday April 8, are priced £30. For details visit www.ritualfest.co.uk

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