UK Tech-Fest 2018

author KW date 24/07/18

UK Tech-Fest is arguably my favourite festival I’ve ever been to. Still being a relatively smaller and young festival in Newark-on-Trent (started back in 2012), dedicated to bringing the best bands in the tech and progressive metal scene, the atmosphere and general positive vibes is unlike any other festival I have experienced. I think this can be attributed to the niche event it is. Everyone is here for the same type of music and in that sense come together for 4 days, putting aside the differences they might have to just enjoy themselves and meet new musically like-minded people. This year was my 6th year attending, only missing the 2017 edition last year, and this feeling is still all too present, a key factor to what makes it so special and something I hope is preserved for many years to come.

So, on the 4th of July, I hopped on a flight from Billund to London Stansted. It wasn’t exactly a smooth ride, as the flight was unfortunately delayed for several hours, causing me and my other Danish companions to be stuck at the airport for the night until we could catch the first train to Newark-on-Trent at 5 am. The trip to Newark-on-Trent from Stansted by train is pretty easy, only having a single change in Peterborough. However, I don’t know when I will ever learn, but the ridiculously high train fares in the UK always surprise me. It costs almost £50 for a one-way ticket for a journey that takes less than 2 and a half hours to complete. And I thought the train from Aarhus to Copenhagen is expensive! It should be said that way cheaper bus rides could probably be purchased - if you’re willing to more than double your travel time. So those expenses should definitely be kept in mind if you consider coming from Denmark. Booking in advance would probably get you some discount, but those prices are just astounding. That little rant aside, the easiest way to get to Newark Showground (the venue of the festival) from Newark North Gate train station is to just jump in a cab, which is surprisingly cheap at about £6 pound for a ride and they drop you off right at the entrance gates, where you are greeted by smiling and excited festival-goers and crew.

However, one thing I have to mention is this: WHO TURNED THE HEAT UP?! Tech-Fest experienced its hottest and driest weather in all the years I’ve attended, bordering on unbearable in the midday hours. Of course this is not something the organisers have any control over, but at times it was so bad that I am certain it had a really bad impact on the turn-up at the early shows of the day and the general energy of the crowd, who aside from being sent back to the stone ages from hangovers also had to battle dehydration. At points, I simply had to leave the stages and find shade in fear of passing out, which isn’t even an exaggeration, as I heard there were multiple heatstroke instances. If it turns out as hot next year, I’m for sure taking inspiration from our camp neighbours, who had the brilliant idea of bringing a pool to cool both themselves and of course also their beers.

CAMPING AREA

If you’re a Roskilde Festival veteran (or any major festival for that matter), you don’t have to worry about the absolute chaos that is the initial opening of the festival. As I noted, this is still a small festival with loads of space to expand, so people just nonchalantly show up and put their tents up where they want without any stress and there is plenty of room to set up large camps. The camping area is still far away from having problems with space, so there are no sections or the like - just one big field divided into smaller sections of grass by concrete paths. This makes the camping progress somewhat disorganized but that’s just because it’s not necessary at all at this point. The camping area and festival area are basically one and the same, making the longest possible walk from the back of the area a 10-minute walk tops. The camping area is also nice and tidy as free bin bags are handed out while encouraging people to tidy up a bit once in a while, which people seem to respect. It should also be noted that there is a limit to the amount of alcohol you can bring into the festival, limited to one crate of beers/ciders and one bottle of spirits per person. Glass bottles are also prohibited, so you have to decant those into plastic bottles. In my experience this limit is quite fair, seeing as we didn’t even finish all of what we brought in, but if you are a heavy drinker and you run empty, the prices at the festival bars are affordable compared to your average major festival.

FOOD & DRINKS

At the end of the camping area, just in front of the two stages, all the food and drinks vans are located with options for both veggie and meat eaters:

Shmoo’s Wood-Fired Kitchen makes a welcome return, preparing high-quality pizzas and hangover-curing breakfast calzones with some very friendly faces behind the counter as always.

Panda Noodle House was a definite highlight for me food-wise. I tried the Szechuan beef and sweet n’ sour chicken both with fried noodles. Both were delicious and provided a lot of bang for your buck in terms of both quantity and quality.

The burrito stall provided some decent beef burritos and tacos but seemed way less tasty than the other burrito offerings the festival has had before.

The Farmer’s Kitchen was nothing to write home about, average chips and dull baps for example with bacon and fried eggs.

Double Decker Bars was something new (at least to me) this year. It was a craft beer van serving both local ales, lagers, and ciders. These were all very tasty, ice cold and affordable.

The large shisha tent that goes by the name Smoking Tentacles was also back once again per tradition with their laid-back environments filled with small chairs, couches, and bean bags. The shisha comes in a variety of flavors, but Smoking Tentacles also sells drinks (Jamaican Ginger Beer, thank you!) and foods, including toasties and some fantastic halloumi, wraps with a variety of sauces to choose from. This is also the place to go if you’re tired of hearing djent breakdowns all the time, as what you can expect to hear in this place ranges from dub, reggae, drum n’ bass, dubstep and on a particularly intoxicated final night they also started blasting out energetic psytrance which was just a whole lot of fun.  

FACILITIES

There’s a first aid van situated right in the middle of the camping area if the moshing gets too intense or the heat starts to go to your head. Water taps are also located around the campsite to restock on cold drinking water (or fill your inflatable pool). Two on-site buildings both contain toilets that flush that are mostly great, aside from those few people who have to ruin it for everyone else by intentionally clogging the toilet with entire toilet rolls, damaging the seats and vandalizing the stalls with graffiti. A big shout out has to go to the crew who quickly got everything back up running when things broke down. In the building closest to the stages there are also free hot showers in stalls that work really well, though I would’ve much preferred an ice cold one in the insane heat (I know I’m sounding very spoilt right now). All in all, everything you need at a festival but significantly nicer than most other festivals, though as the attendance increases, they will be forced to expand it.

STAGES

There are two stages, both located indoors with one entry point. When you enter you will be placed in between the two stages with merch tables and gear demos placed on both sides. In the back, there is a bar where you can buy soft drinks and alcohol (Foster’s, Strongbow, Guinness, mixed drinks and the like). This is the only area where you are not allowed to bring in your own alcohol but seeing as the camping area is located so close to the stages, there’s no problem in grabbing your own beer at camp before the next band.

The Winspear Stage by Go To The Gig

The right-hand second stage (Waghorn Guitars Stage is the smaller of the two, which hosts all the bands playing on the warm-up Thursday before the left-hand main stage (Winspear Stage is also opened for the remainder of the festival. The second stage seemed to have the most problems with bad sound, as you will notice in my some of my complaints in the review section. Bad sound for the smaller bands has always been a bit of a problem at Tech-Fest, but I felt like it had somehow gotten worse this year. Or maybe I was just being more critical than usual due to my reviewer duties. The rooms (small, old flight hangars) aren’t exactly ideal for live music, with metal panels on the roof rustling when the bass gets loud, but some bands proved that you can actually get great sound in there, even with the room more than half empty. So I guess it’s down to sound engineering, which is just a shame as some of my anticipated sets of the weekend fell a bit flat due to subpar sound.

Smiles at the Waghorn Guitars Stage by Go To The Gig

Aside from the two stages, there is also a third smaller stage (Strandberg Guitars Stage located in a larger hanger besides the main stage area. This is where all the workshops during the day and after party sets are located. Members of the bands share their writing processes and techniques at the workshops and after the last set of the night at about 11 pm, more bands can be found playing here. The traditional cover set was also played here once again, which sees members of bands in the tech metal scene give their take on classic metal bands that have influenced the scene. In the past, these sets have included Pantera, Limp Bizkit, System of a Down etc. This year, all the classics from Linkin Park were blasted out in a really fun sing-along set, which served as an emotional tribute to the late Chester Bennington as well and Kaan Tasan from Heart of a Coward had the perfect vocals to channel Bennington’s angst and powerful screams.

Workshop at the Strandberg Guitars Stage by Go To The Gig

As I mentioned earlier, Newark Showground was hit by a heatwave it has never seen before and as such, both stages were almost unbearably hot. The organisers should probably consider having a lot more airflow if possible, but I have heard that this is already being discussed. Perhaps gazebos could also be set up right outside the stages to provide shade close by for the small breaks you have between watching bands.

But enough blabbering, let’s get to what you’re here for: band reviews! KW

THURSDAY

Taken By The Tide by Hannah Cole

Taken By The Tide @ 16:00 - 16:30 on Waghorn Guitars Stage

My first band of the weekend comes in the form of Taken By The Tide from Nottingham. It is blisteringly hot inside due to the insane weather, which might also have something to do with the poor crowd size as the show is about to start. A band largely unknown to me, Taken By The Tide plays a familiar style of heavily Meshuggah-inspired grooves paired up with noisy, dissonant riffs, with probably the most amount of strings out of any of the bands at the festival (7(!)-string bass and two 8 string guitars). Frontman Phil Illsley does have some great low growls and black metal howls but we never get to hear nearly anything besides the drums and vocals. The sound setup is simply terrible, which is all too evident when the more noodly guitar parts are played. The guitarists tap away on the fretboard but I simply can’t hear much of what they’re playing even though it looks impressive. At the same time I have this feeling that I have seen a lot of other bands do what they do yet better, however a new song from the upcoming EP “Revenge” is next and sees a welcome change of pace, with a headbang-worthy, bouncy riff accompanied by screeching dissonance which definitely made me want to check out the upcoming release. Illsley tries, again and again, to get a better response from the crowd but the heat and awful sound make it ring hollow. [5½]

Siamese by Hannah Cole

Siamese @ 17:00 - 17:30 on Waghorn Guitars Stage

Fellow Danes in Siamese might seem like an odd booking for the festival with their poppy rock music with slight djent influences, but from the second the band walks on stage they show that they couldn’t care less if this is what people think, they are here to get a party started whether you want to or not. The band performs with big smiles on their faces throughout the set and frontman Mirza Radonjica-Bang is just an awesome frontman with great stage banter and a fantastic set of pipes as always, delivering his demanding, RnB-inspired vocal lines flawlessly. The sound setup could still be a lot better, where especially guitarist Andreas Krüger drowns in the mix, but it is way easier to forgive and forget with the high, entertaining energy being displayed on stage. One of Siamese’s “gimmicks” is the addition of violin in their music, but instead of throwing this on a backing track, Christian Hjort Lauritzen plays these parts convincingly to great effect, giving the show and music a unique flavour.

Highlights of the set include the groovy “Tunnel Vision” and the infectiously catchy “Soul & Chemicals” where Mirza’s vocals really shine, but also in the mid set cheesy pop medley, with renditions of massive pop hits including Justin Bieber’s “Sorry”. Looking around the room during this, the crowd is grinning at the ridiculousness of it all and while this feature of the set might seem a bit “calculated”, it is just a whole lot of fun to witness. I would have liked older material to pop up in their set, as someone who has been following the band since their first album, but with their limited set time, I get that they want to push their newest album as much as possible. But it can’t be denied that Siamese provided a welcome change of mood compared to the aggressive and dark tones of the majority of this year’s lineup. [8]

Crystal Lake by Hannah Cole

Crystal Lake @ 20:00 - 20:45 on Winspear Stage

The first band to play on the main stage all the way from Tokyo, Japan is a heavy one. Playing a mix of progressive metalcore, post-hardcore, and deathcore, the band immediately starts hyping up the crowd and as it turns out, to great effect. The show has barely started before the first mosh pit breaks out, providing the first glimpse into the firm grip these Japanese guys are going to have on their audience, backed up by some decent sound mixing finally! Their style might seem kinda schizophrenic, changing between songs from chuggy deathcore riffs, raplike vocal deliveries, almost pop punk and melancholic, atmospheric metalcore ala Architects etc. but it comes together through a band that is just incredibly professional and exuding confidence at every corner. It’s also nice to see every single band member with energy as high as the frontman, headbanging wildly, shouting and chanting at the crowd, whilst playing as tightly as this kinda music demands to be effective.

About halfway through the set, “Six Feet Under” from their latest album “True North” kicks off the absolute maddest part of the set. The track is engaged like a manic hardcore panic attack, 2 minutes of blast beats and 2-step riffs while the words ”RIOT! RIOT! RIOT!” are shouted directly into the faces of the front row before a heavier cover of Limp Bizkit’s “Rollin’” takes everyone by surprise. As if that wasn’t enough, frontman Ryo once again commands his crowd: ”Lose your mind, are you fucking ready?”. Another 2 minutes of absolute chaos and tunnel throat growling does not let the audience have a break, who are showing great resilience in the pit of this sauna of a building. The show does, however, end on a more somber note, with the two fantastic atmospheric tracks “Apollo” and “OMEGA”.

I’d say my only real problem with Crystal Lake’s music is that the widely different metal styles they incorporate do not always pan out so great, and at times the tracks do seem a little bit disconnected. However, even though the heat is still raging, this band successfully kicked people awake with their massive energy, and the set turned out to be a great way to open the main stage for the weekend. [8½]

Heart Of A Coward by Go To The Gig

Heart Of A Coward @ 21:30 - 22:30 on Winspear Stage

Ominous bass noise prepares the crowd for the headliner of this warm-up Thursday. Heart of a Coward from Milton Keynes has been quiet for some time after the departure of vocalist Jamie Graham, a departure I was very sad to see as he was a big part of what made Heart of a Coward one of the greats in the whole djent scene. Kaan Tasan, formerly frontman of No Consequence has some big shoes to fill, and this will be the first time I will witness if he lives up to the task. The band enters the stage and starts out with the groovy “Hollow” from their 2015 album “Deliverance”. It doesn’t take long to conclude, that he will have absolutely no problem taking over the reins from Graham. Having heard Tasan’s vocals before which are usually higher pitched, I was afraid that the low growls would be gone. But Tasan convincingly nails both the low and high parts while encouraging the audience to create a “tornado pit”, referencing the very odd appearance of a dust devil that all of a sudden showed up at the campsite earlier during the day.

Once again I have to criticize the sound though, the guitars are simply way too low which takes away from the punchy effect their heavy, testosterone-filled music usually has. I have seen the band numerous times by now and they have almost always had stellar sound production, so this factor of the show is just a big disappointment. The pit doesn’t care though when crowd favourite “Shade” comes on. When the signature ”Suffer.. BITCH!” breakdown hits, the energy in the pit gets violently intense with limbs flying around everywhere and to display the Tech-Fest spirit, Tasan commands every single person in the room to grab persons next to you in synchronized headbanging for the final breakdown. “Nightmare” follows, a very welcome addition to the setlist, in which Kaan Tasan truly excels at the high screams resulting in chills sent down my spine. Unfortunately, during the epic outro to “Skeletal I - Mourning Repairs” something goes very wrong, and he ends up being awfully off pitch, which is just a shame as the rest of the set has been a near-perfect performance vocal-wise.

The sound does seem to get more under control for the last two tracks, but it’s, unfortunately, a little too late and the two following tracks are also some of the weaker in their discography in my opinion. “Collapse” is the first track released with Kaan on vocals and it’s just a bit average when it comes to djenty metalcore. “Deadweight” is one of their simpler deathcore tracks though admittedly insanely heavy and the crowd seems to hit a boiling point during this one. A few hiccups here and there doesn’t take away from the fact that Heart of a Coward seems to be back with a vengeance and pulled off a good show, though I have seen them much better in the past. I am still very excited to see what Kaan Tasan can bring to the table when the new record hits in the future after this show though. [7½]

FRIDAY

You Win Again Gravity by Hannah Cole

You Win Again Gravity @ 12:30 - 13:00 on Winspear Stage

Another band I haven’t heard of before, I am actually surprised at the pretty decent amount of people present here at the main stage so early in the morning. I must have been missing out on something by not having checked out this band before and that becomes pretty clear to me quickly after the set starts, as powerful high pitched clean vocals hit me from guitarist and vocalist Jack Jennings. The music immediately reminds me of some of my favourite alt rocks bands like Oceansize, Black Peaks, and Arcane Roots but with a bit more emphasis on the modern progressive grooves that the festival is known for hosting. Once again, however, it is a little hard to hear the intricacies of the guitar work due to average sound, which is a shame cause there’s a lot of interesting things going in their music but the drums do sound stellar though. The above bands aren’t the only comparisons I could draw, as the cool grooves played incredibly tightly, some unique chord progressions and odd meters definitely has similarities to Press To Meco and the now defunct The Safety Fire, with some post-rock elements sprinkled on top. It’s all put together to create something pretty unique which results in them quite instantly getting a new fan here.

In general, they look like a pretty young set of guys but sound way more mature in their playing and writing. They are all visibly excited to be here, giving it their all with big smiles all around and while the crowd is visibly tired from last night’s shenanigans, most people are nodding along to the music in approval. There are a few mistakes present at the set though: some transitions just don’t feel as smooth as you could hope and lead singer Jennings is sometimes slightly off pitch, yet does hit some perfect high notes, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. All in all, You Win Again Gravity provided one of the most surprising sets of the weekend, and I see a bright future ahead for these guys. [8]

From Sorrow To Serenity by Hannah Cole

From Sorrow To Serenity @ 14:30 - 15:00 on Winspear Stage

Tech bands aren’t exactly the most stable when it comes to lineups, it seems like there is some kind of curse when it comes to frontmen. They are replaced rather often with bands like TesseracT and The Contortionist having 3-4 vocalists in the relatively short period of time they have existed. Deathcore/djent band From Sorrow To Serenity has just gone through such a lineup change with former Nexilva vocalist Gaz T King taking over the screaming duties. This change was exciting news to me at first as I always felt the vocals in their music was the weakest link and knowing what great frontman and vocal capabilities Gaz possesses, this could turn out to be just what the band needed.

That stage presence Gaz is known for is still intact, which is apparent as soon as he enters the with a manic gaze, screaming his lungs out. The band starts out with a new song that, like the other newest track “Supremacy” is starting to sound an awful lot like Heart of a Coward, losing a bit of the sound that made them unique in the first place in the process. Another all too prevalent criticism I have with the live shows of some of the tech bands in the scene is the complete overuse of backing track. From Sorrow To Serenity only has one guitarist, which results in big amounts of guitars in the backing tracks. I simply don’t understand why they don’t get a second guitarist or at least a live guitarist, it seems so awkward to hear entire lead parts played out the speakers without any humans actually playing it. I don’t know what the reasoning is, but it starts to annoy me when backing tracks are now starting to replace what should be played by an actual guitarist.

The band does put on a pretty good show nevertheless, and their stage presence is overall entertaining to watch. I can’t help but smile while watching their drummer have so much fun he almost can’t contain it within his huge grin, which is just such a hilarious contrast to the angry music and stage persona the other members put on. There are some brilliant breakdowns during the set, namely “Forsaken” and “Illusive”, that probably would have had the room turn into a complete riot if it didn’t feel like a million degrees inside and more people were present. “Golden Age” is another highlight where Gaz’ talent really shines, especially during the demanding chorus screams that are delivered in full. From Sorrow To Serenity still remains a fun watch if you’re looking for neck snapping heaviness, but an underwhelming tired crowd and too much reliance on backing tracks keep it from being truly great. [7]

The Dali Thundering Concept by Go To The Gig

The Dali Thundering Concept @ 15:30 - 16:00 on Winspear Stage

I am going to sound like a broken record but ”Where the hell is the guitar sound?!” is the first thought that pops into my head as the set starts. The Dali Thundering Concept from Paris released a fantastic follow up to their equally fantastic 2014 release “Eyes Wide Opium” with the politically charged mathy djent album “Savages”. Filled to the brim with tapping riffs, brutal breakdowns and jazzy influences, that release solidified them as one of the most interesting djent bands out there right now and made this set one of my more anticipated ones of the weekend. But having seen them provide both great and very average performances, I knew it could go one way or the other. The band starts out with the first two tracks from the new album “Ostrich Dynasty” and “The Myth of Happiness” but a combination of glaring problems with the sound and timing issues in the band makes the initial impression very underwhelming. It doesn’t help either that frontman Sylvain Conier’s vocals seem very tired throughout the entire set, resorting to speaking out parts instead of screaming them and the ferocious screams heard on record in the chorus to “The Myth Of Happiness” fall completely flat. Not off to a good start and the crowd also seems somewhat lukewarm. It does start to get much better with a very tightly played intro to the groovy as hell “Phoenix” where the guitar is now fully audible and “Utopia” does provide a seriously entertaining sight in the crowd during the saxophone solo, with people dancing around shaking their asses before flying at each other's throats in a mosh pit. They end it all of showing how great the set could have been with the balls-to-the-wall heavy deathcore banger “Realism - The Stone Ego Paradox” from their debut album, and the final, completely ridiculous and slowed down breakdown with Conier madly screaming ”I don’t give a shit about fame!” sends shockwaves through the room, culminating in a show that unfortunately was just above average. Hopefully, I get another chance to see them deliver as they have before. Now go listen to “Savages”. [6]

Despite Exile by Hannah Cole

Despite Exile @ 16:00 - 16:30 on Waghorn Guitars Stage

I only caught the last 10 minutes of this set, so I will refrain from giving it a proper score, but I also just wanted to make a shout out to this band, as I very much regret not checking out the whole thing. Walking in I was hit by insanely fast drumming as atmospheric death metal rushed over me, interweaved with metalcore/deathcore sounding breakdowns and grooves. It is probably not a coincidence that the lead singer is wearing a Fit For An Autopsy shirt, as elements of that band are definitely present, alongside Fallujah sounding melodies and speed and brutal vocals that are delivered live with a lot of power. The last song played includes a very mellow sounding melody that resonates a lot with me and just stellar drumming and guitar playing all around. As a sucker for this kind of atmospheric, melancholic and melodic death metal, I was left sad that I didn’t check out more of this set, but just 10 minutes was enough to make a fan out of me. Definitely check these guys out.

VOLA by Hannah Cole

VOLA @ 16:30 - 17:15 on Winspear Stage

VOLA is one of my absolute favorite bands here from Denmark, yet they very rarely play here. That is probably just due to the scene for this type of music being rather small and much bigger in places such as the UK and Germany where they play way more often, which is very evident in the very decent crowd size present here. So finally getting to see them live was one of my most anticipated events of the festival along with seeing whether their unique combination of Meshuggah-style 8 string grooves and Mew-sounding melodies would work just as well in a live setting as on record.

“Starburn” starts the set with a bang and the sound is finally under complete control right out of the gate. The roaring bass tone makes my jaw drop to the floor and the guitars finally get the focus they deserve. The playing is tight as hell and it’s great to see a keyboardist (Martin Werner) playing all the synths instead of resorting to a backing track. “The Same War” continues to impress, where especially Adam Janzi’s offbeat drumming makes it impossible to not move. Vocalist and guitarist Asger Mygind’s powerful low pitched vocals match bassist Nicolai Mogensen’s high backup vocals perfectly, creating soaring harmonies in between the syncopated down-tuned guitar riffs. The fact that Mygind is able to sing while playing these complex rhythms is just a testament to the talent and practice that has clearly gone into this set.

One of the less heavy tracks “Gutter Moon” from the debut album “Inmazes”, where the Mew influences really shine through in the dream pop melodies, is unfortunately hit by a few feedback issues which is quickly resolved, however, so it never becomes that much of an issue. I am very happy to see a track from their Monsters EP added to the setlist with “Black Box” and afterward we are all of a sudden treated to a brand new track from the upcoming album. I did have a fear that perhaps the heaviness would be toned down on this new one (don’t know exactly where I got this from). But those premature thoughts were swiftly completely obliterated with one of the heaviest tracks they have ever written, with a mammoth chugging odd meter riff as Mygind throws around his long hair in a headbang alongside raplike vocal delivery in the verses. It sounds familiar yet unlike anything the band has ever put out at the same time and throughout the whole thing I stand in awe at what’s happening. This track alone made the new album one of my absolutely most anticipated albums of the year, it was fantastic! As we near the end, the band jokingly teases the last song by asking what the crowd want to hear, as everything culminates in a rock-solid performance of “Stray The Skies” which is very obviously a crowd favourite. A large portion of the room is singing along to the catchy chorus and as the track abruptly ends, the band is met with a roaring response from the audience, resulting in one of the best sets of the weekend - a headline-worthy set, proving just why VOLA sits in the higher echelons of the tech scene. I leave the stage a thoroughly impressed and proud Dane. [9]

Bleed From Within by Hannah Cole

Bleed From Within @ 18:00 - 19:00 on Winspear Stage

Now for something a bit more straightforward but still highly effective. Bleed From Within from Glasgow might not be the most technical band on the lineup with their modern metalcore, but nevertheless recently released the best metalcore album in years with “Era”. Straight to the point and fun riffs are the key factors here, like a more groovy Unearth, so the question is if the high energy displayed in the tracks also carry over in their live performance.

Like any good metalcore frontman, vocalist Scott Kennedy screams with attitude to get the crowd moving as “Clarity” comes on. But the focus is quickly turned on the bass drums which are just insanely loud. I, like most metal fans, do like my bass drums loud and clear but it’s a little much here, where every single stroke is felt in your chest while drowning out the guitars. It doesn’t take long for the guitars to get clarity in the mix though, but the volume is still very very loud through the entire set. Another track from “Era” comes in the form of “Crown of Misery” that is very much a circle pit anthem with it’s high tempo and thrashy guitar riffs and the decent crowd recognizes this and starts running, but it is quite evident that the heat is starting to take its toll on people, whose responses to Kennedy’s commands come off as tired, aside from some hardcore dancers in the large middle pit. At one point it even seems like the crowd is starting to thin out even though the band is killing it. The band is completely unphased by this, however, not missing a beat through the entirety of the performance while giving it their absolute all. Kennedy even crowd surfs on the front 3 rows even though the front is pretty small due to the large hardcore pit, he simply doesn’t care. Some of the breakdowns do wake people up from their slumber with masterful precision especially in “Afterlife” (the best breakdown of the year, calling it) and the bouncy “Cast Down”. Some older tracks are thrown in here for good measure as well like “I Am Oblivion”, though I have to admit that they pale in comparison to what is featured on their magnum opus “Era”. Bleed From Within still managed to pull off an utterly professional show that could have ended up as one of the best of the weekend with a bigger, more active crowd and sound that didn’t make you scared to get a ruptured eardrum (guess it’s time to acquire some plugs). [8]

The Contortionist by Hannah Cole

The Contortionist @ 20:00 - 21:00 on Winspear Stage

The Contortionist from Indianapolis, Indiana has been kind of divisive in their fanbase lately. A band I would call truly progressive, never resting on one particular sound, ever-evolving, while still maintaining recognizable traits in all of their discography, the band has gone from being a heavy deathcore version of Between The Buried And Me with their debut “Exoplanet” to a more laid back and meditative progressive post-rock band with their latest release “Clairvoyant”. I am one of those people that think “Clairvoyant” is one of their best releases while still thinking “Exoplanet” was a stroke of genius that sent ripples through the scene back in 2010. But due to the wildly different nature of their earlier stuff, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the setlist and I have also heard some people being underwhelmed by past performances. That didn’t take away from the fact that I had been looking forward to this particular set for a long time, but it also had me slightly worried that my towering expectations wouldn’t be met with my very first experience of this band in a live setting.

Speaking of “Clairvoyant”, this is the first track we are treated to and any doubt that this is going to be a very special evening is laid to rest. The heavy, droning middle passage sounds nuts and Joey Baca’s dynamic drumming really makes this track shine. Vocalist Michael Lessard’s vocals are pitch perfect and hypnotizing and as the final chords are played, it sounds like he’s entering a weird trance-like state, mumbling ”To flourish. To flourish. To flourish …” over and over again like some kind of mantra. I know where this is going, and sure enough, we are already treated to an old “Exoplanet” banger with the monstrous “Flourish” kicked in with sweeping guitars and doomsday chugging. Seeing as “Clairvoyant” barely features any unclean vocals, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Lessard’s screams anymore, but my god he’s still got it, absolutely vicious roars and his laid-back persona is broken and replaced with aggressive body language instead. The room is packed and this track sends the crowd into a complete frenzy. But the peak of the track comes with the beautiful post-rock/metal section that had me in 2 minutes of mellow euphoria. This is everything I could have hoped for and more.

As amazing as that was, unfortunately, “Reimagined” is next, the only track off “Clairvoyant” I find myself skipping altogether. I just find it a bit boring, to be honest and the chorus uninteresting, and would have much rather had “The Center” replace it for the same chill effect, but Lessard once again nails his singing and his “drugged out” (for lack of a better description) stage presence fits really well with the soundscapes, slowly and elegantly moving around on stage. Next up: “Godspeed” provides an example of another factor that makes this show reach higher levels of greatness. Some vocal lines on their “Clairvoyant” album are a bit monotonous though I understand this is fitting with the artistic direction, yet Lessard does take liberty with singing the choruses differently with higher notes, making them more powerful than the held back versions on the album.

“Thrive” has me completely spacing out with closed eyes in a beautiful rendition, but now it’s time to head into heavy territory again. “Solipsis” serves as a short but masterfully played display of technical heavy prowess, that once again makes the crowd go nuts. Pitch-shifted and distorted vocals from Lessard serves as a creepy interlude before another “Exoplanet” favourite hits the room with unimaginable force. The sound reaches earth crushing levels as “Oscillator” blasts out the speakers while Lessard is going off on a tantrum with pig squeals leading into the wall of sound outro that is usually instrumental but with added vocals this time around to add another layer. Lessard quietly thanks the audience but doesn’t talk too much, which keeps the spellbinding atmosphere intact. Absolutely incredible is all I can think. The virtuosity and interplay between the members of this band are just flawless all around and I am so happy to have witnessed this moment in Tech-Fest history. To round it all off in spectacular fashion, both parts of “Language” are played, resulting in a surprisingly big moshpit to the kinda chill progressive metal vibes. The light show during this is especially amazing and the somber tones of these tracks serve as kind of a sad send-off, as they could’ve played for an hour more if it was up to me.  

To end this review, I just want to share the very last unedited note I wrote while witnessing this magical set coming to an end with the last drawn out “Seeking!” from Lessard. It might provide you with some insight into just how mind blown I was, resulting in not even being able to type correctly anymore: “Holy shit what the fujckdsosjsk”. [9½]

SikTh by Hannah Cole

SikTh @ 21:30 - 23:00 on Winspear Stage

The room is completely packed for tonight’s headliner. SikTh from Watford, Hertfordshire is one of the OG tech bands credited with being a key factor in starting the whole djent wave of bands in the mid-late 2000s alongside Meshuggah. As such it comes as no surprise that a lot of people have turned up for one last burst of energy tonight and having seen the band multiple times, I know this should at least turn into quite a party if nothing else.

But right out of the gate it is clear that something is wrong. Like their support set for Trivium in Train, Aarhus a little over a year ago, Graham “Pin” Pinney is once again missing from the stage and reading up on other gigs, this has apparently happened quite a lot over the past 2 years. As such, one whole guitar track is put on a backing track, which is just baffling for a headline slot to me. I get that illness and the like can happen in one-off scenarios, yet this is allegedly becoming the norm now, so maybe it’s time to get a backup live guitarist? The most annoying thing about all of this is the complete lack of communication from the band about any of this, nobody knows what’s going on yet people pay money to see SikTh in all their glory, not SikTh ft. Macbook guitarist. It just comes off as really unprofessional altogether.

With that said, the set starts out with two of their newer tracks: “Philistine Philosophies” from the “Opacities” EP and “The Aura” from their newest record “The Future in Whose Eyes?”, with the latter being a favourite of mine with its bouncy main riff that sure enough gets people jumping but as it will turn out, this is the only track from the newest record that will pop up on the setlist. One single track. Are they not comfortable playing these yet, even though the album is more than a year old? As someone who quite likes the new stuff, this is just a big disappointment, but I can see it working out in their favour with the older hardcore fans that are clearly present here. And it is definitely the older tracks that get the best responses: chaos ensues as a disorienting tapping riff leads into “Hold My Finger” resulting in people with inflatable weapons battling it out in the pit and I can’t deny that the band plays hella tight and vocalists Mikee Goodman and Joe Rosser interchanging vocals work great with their manic outbursts. More classics from their debut follow up, creating the biggest circle pit so far and crowd surfers flying over the rails with “Pussyfoot” and “Skies of Millenium Night”.

“We’re gonna play loads off Day of the Dead now,” exclaims Goodman and he really means that as the rest of the 10 or so tracks are in fact from this second album. Of course there are some insane bangers here and there, with the last track and crowd favourite “Bland Street Bloom” being a definite highlight, as people are climbing each other’s shoulders in the pit in hilarious fashion, but I would have liked a much more varied setlist as this wasn’t advertised as a “Day of the Dead” anniversary set. In the end, the music itself, a great clean vocal performance from Joe Rosser, good sound and especially the crowd, saves the show from becoming completely average, where their 2014 show at Tech-Fest was just miles better than this showing. I really hope they will have a bit more respect for their fans and address whatever problems they are facing with Pin because it is hard not feeling a bit cheated with the recurring absence of him. [7½]

SATURDAY

Valis Ablaze by Hannah Cole

Valis Ablaze @ 13:30 - 14:00 on Winspear Stage

Valis Ablaze was a band that never really clicked for me before Phil Owen took over vocalist duties in 2016, which in turn also transformed their sound quite a bit, adopting the atmospheric approach to the modern progressive metal similar to bands like TesseracT and The Contortionist. So I was quite excited to see if they can deliver live on this Saturday afternoon. Right off the bat, I am impressed with the vocals provided by Owen, who focuses on long drawn out clean vocal lines to fit the atmospheric tones of the tracks. But the muddy sound is not doing the instrumental side of the gig any favours, yet does seem to get better when Lost in the Syntax from their “Insularity” EP comes on. The solo here seems a bit sloppily played but the rest is quite enjoyable and also gets parts of the tired audience jumping and nodding in approval. “Frequency”, a great little piece of melancholic metal from their newest “Boundless”, sees a surprise female guest vocalist enter the stage, but unfortunately it seems her mic is not even on, as her lips move but I can’t hear what she’s singing. In the last 10 seconds of the tune, we get to hear what a shame it was that we couldn’t hear her, as she has a pretty damn good voice! The slow and heavy 8-string jam “Paradox” finishes the set off. The intro riff, which is so low tuned it’s getting increasingly harder to make out the notes in the guitars (in a good way), is shaking the foundation of the stage, resulting in a pretty fantastic way to end a set that doesn’t really reach the greatness of the record though. Some elements to the instrumental playing can be improved, such as timing when it comes to the breakdowns, as they need to be razor sharp in order to be as effective as possible, which just isn’t always the case here. Valis Ablaze is definitely still a good band that has enormous potential to be something huge in the scene. [7]

Arch Echo by Hannah Cole

Arch Echo @ 14:30 - 15:00 on Winspear Stage

I have seen myself growing increasingly indifferent to the heaps of instrumental tech bands in the scene, and as such didn’t exactly come into this set with the highest of expectations for Canadian instrumental outfit Arch Echo. And sure enough, as soon as they start playing, it is pretty clear that there is a whole lot of wankery going on here on all fronts, with 2 guitarists, a bassist, a keyboardist and a drummer all playing virtuously. Yet the uplifting, positive vibes of it, along the lines of Plini, is just so infectious that I am actually surprised by how much I like it. You have to be dead inside to not let out a smile while watching a band loving the moment this much which is a key factor to keep your gig from becoming a self-absorbed display of ”Look how great I can play the guitar while being as dull to watch as watching paint dry.” There is dancing, headbanging and stick tricks from the drummer, but huge props have to go out to keyboardist Joey Izzo who is simply just a showman through and through. ”We’re gonna try and keep this going, as we try to be as good as The Contortionist,” he lets out with a grin, apparently agreeing with my glowing review of said band very much, before leading into one hell of a groove filled to the brim with jazzy guitar and piano solos. The medium sized crowd seems to be in agreement that this is simply one of the most fun sets so far, letting out great responses between songs. It has to be said though, that I am not entirely sure that I would enjoy a full hour set from these guys, as the noodling could probably get slightly tiring in the end for me at least, but as a nice 30 minute set of watching master musicians cure the morning hangover, it fits perfectly on this Saturday afternoon. Definitely, a band to look out for if they’re playing near you. [8½]

DVSR by Hannah Cole

DVSR @ 15:30 - 16:00 on Winspear Stage

It seems like nu-metal is having a bit of a revival right now and one of the very best in my humble opinion has to be Australia’s rapping export DVSR. Having a similar style to Hacktivist (just actually still good), mixing rapping with heavy, down-tuned grooves, this set at Tech-Fest so happens to be the very first time they’re playing outside of Australia. The first impression is pretty good, as Matthew Youkhana spits out fast verses which instantly gets the hardcore dancers throwing around their arms in the pit. Every attitude filled line, including ”Fuck money, fuck fame!, ”Get the fuck outta my face!, ”Shut the fuck up!” etc. is delivered with convincing flow and speed, which is exactly what keeps their music from just being average djent grooves. Sadly, the band gets plagued by technical issues which is such a damn shame, seeing how far these guys have traveled to be here. Their Macbook which seems to be connected to the guitar is causing the guitar sound to cut out, the bassist snaps his strop causing a crew member to bring out the duct tape for emergency reassembling, and the snare drum stand seems to break at one point as well. At first frontman, Youkhana keeps spitting out his verses unphased but has to stop at one point so the issues can be properly resolved. The band handles the unfortunate situation really well though, asking the audience ”Is it coming home?”, referencing the fact that England vs. Sweden football game is actually being played at the same time as the set. This probably also caused a smaller crowd, just another extremely unfortunate clash of an event for the Australians. The smiles are still to be found on their faces despite it all and as soon as the sound is properly back, it smacks you in the face like a sledgehammer with punchy sound. There is some slightly sloppy playing from the drummer in some of the breakdowns throughout the set that takes away from the punch of it, but a brawny rendition of “Unconscious” from their debut album saves a set that seems somewhat cursed. However, I’d say DVSR provides a great example of how you tackle situations like this, which I definitely respect and when everything was working, their playing was really enjoyable. [7]

Nexilva by Hannah Cole

Nexilva @ 16:30 - 17:15 on Winspear Stage

Yet another band with a new vocalist, Nexilva recently recruited Dilan Alves into their tech death ranks. Former vocalist Gaz T King was known for his great live performances, both when it comes to vocals and stage presence, so it will be interesting to see if Alves can deliver as strongly as his predecessor. It seems the band, like DVSR before them, is unfortunately hit by playing at the same time as the football game, as I would’ve expected a bigger crowd, but they don’t seem to affected by the fact. Alves delivers a vocally convincing performance for such a young and somewhat inexperienced frontman, ranging from deep growls and banshee-like screeches, the latter being especially impressive, yet seems to have some work to do on his stage presence if he wants to reach the same menacing and thoroughly entertaining antics King provided in the past.

The style Nexilva moves in lies somewhere between tech death and djent grooves. Bassist Ryan Banks’ fingers are flying around the fretboard alongside the two guitarists in one moment, then open note syncopated rhythms the next, providing a dynamic and pretty unique sound in the scene. The sound mix is not doing the guitars any favours though, as it is once again subpar with unclear guitars, but as a new track “Overview” from an upcoming EP starts playing, it seems to get a bit better. A couple of new tracks are played in the set, and I actually have to admit that I find much more enjoyment in these than past efforts, so the show definitely created some personal hype in me for this new release. Guitarist Connor Jobes actually has some great clean singing going on here as well, and his demeanour while moving back and forth on stage shows complete confidence in his playing, rarely even looking at the fretboard whilst playing some really technical riffs. Towards the end, the pit picks up a bit but a combination of excruciating heat and the football game keeps the crowd from ever really get going properly. Nevertheless, Nexilva plays a good show and while Alves could use some work on his frontman persona, his vocals and the new material shows a whole lot of promise for the comeback of the band. [7½]

Damned Spring Fragrantia by Hannah Cole

Damned Spring Fragrantia @ 17:15 - 18:00 on Waghorn Guitars Stage

Time for some more low tuned djent, this time from down south in Italy. Damned Spring Fragrantia last played the festival back in 2013, which was a set that positively surprised me, having no knowledge of their music beforehand. After quite some years of silence, they released a new EP last year with more groovy, dissonant, pissed-off music and the expression Nicolò Carrara’s face as the band enters the stage is definitely just that - pissed off, which also translates into his brilliant, desperate high pitch screams. It seems their bassist is missing though, resulting in another case of a whole instrument on the backing track. In this case, the backing track is simply also just way too loud, you can barely hear the guitars. They don’t cut through at all, and for a genre so heavily focused on technical guitar riffs, it would be nice to actually hear them properly, especially when a prerecorded track is drowning it out. Let me hear the musicians who are actually playing. Quite a shame as the band is on point when it comes to their performance. “Float” showcases very tight blast beats and interesting rhythmic changes that throw you off at points, yet played meticulously. “Pages” channels that Vildhjarta evil in its final breakdown outro. However, the crowd size is also just quite poor, but the band’s playing does succeed in breaking out a small mosh pit in the few people present here towards the end. Damned Spring Fragrantia give it their all but the set never properly takes off like it could and should, due to disappointing sound and a small tired crowd. [6½]

Tides From Nebula by Hannah Cole

Tides From Nebula @ 19:00 - 19:45 on Waghorn Guitars Stage

Probably the biggest outlier band on the bill, Polish instrumental post-rockers Tides From Nebula first blew me away with their show at Damnation Festival back in 2013, and ever since that show they have been one of my favourite bands in the genre. Having more focus on riffs and rhythms like pg.lost and sleepmakeswaves rather than pure atmosphere like Mono or Godspeed You, Black Emperor, some elements definitely fit into the festival but to call them remotely tech would be a stretch. I am very glad the organisers have taken a chance with booking something a bit different anyway and Tides From Nebula should be an opportunity to zone out a bit before all the ridiculous heaviness of today’s headliner slots.

The room isn’t exactly crowded as is to be expected, yet there is still a decent amount of people present here as the 4 members enter the stage all dressed in black shirts. Thankfully, the sound is spot on right off the bat as the first chord is struck, being as lofty and clear as it should when it comes to the post-genre. Mellow tapping riffs very quickly send shivers down my spine and looking around the room everyone seems to agree that this set is already showing signs of turning into something really special. Some people seem to be enjoying themselves a bit too much though, whistling and yelling out football chants during the quiet melancholic parts, ruining the immersion that post-rock is all about. It seems really misplaced and disrespectful and displays a complete lack of situational awareness but I’m not going to let a few overtly drunk people ruin this already fantastic set.

As the music grows more intense, so does the band, breaking out of their more introverted stances into more movement, and especially Adam Waleszynski seems very happy to be here, shouting out thank yous between songs instead of using the mic, giving the whole show a more down to earth feeling. At one point he does grab the mic to properly thank people for coming out despite the fact that ”we are probably the only band using guitars with only 6 strings,” which gets people laughing. Yet some tracks actually do include some odd meters and the like that the tech people of the festival enjoy, an example being “Only with Presence” from 2013’s “Eternal Movement”. This track is simply played to perfection and bassist Przemek Weglowski expressively throws around his bass as he slams the notes in a fantastic display of showmanship. The absolutely brilliant guitar work of “The Lifter” from the latest album “Safehaven” is also played stunningly, and there is no backing track going on here, everything is played live with the extensive use of guitar effects to create the massive soundscapes. It is possible.

As the offbeat drumming of “Now Run” starts, the feels are getting real though the noisy drunk guy from before still isn’t able to shut up, but the pure emotional sounds are simply too good to let it ruin anything. The last crescendo of the track washes over me like waves, as I’ve resorted to close my eyes and surrender. I remember now why I was blown away at Damnation all those years ago and it still very much holds true. The set reaches its peak when Waleszynski asks people to move closer for one last song, which culminates in both guitarists jumping into the crowd for the last climax before humbly sitting on their knees to thank everyone in the audience. Everyone is smiling, it is simply such a wholesome moment and a perfect ending to a stunning set, which only notable criticism could be pointed at the setlist (where the hell is Knees to the Earth?!) and a few annoying members of the crowd. Everyone leaves the stage yet Waleszynski quickly returns to thank us again and informs us that it is someone in the band’s birthday, which causes everyone in the crowd to loudly send the band off with a Happy Birthday song which is greeted with a massive smile. Everything just came together during this set, and it ends up being one of the absolute best gigs of the year in my opinion, just ever so slightly behind The Contortionist’s magnificent showcase the day before. [9]

Ingested by Hannah Cole

Ingested @ 20:00 - 21:00 on Winspear Stage

As beautiful and grand that Tides From Nebula set was, as brutal and disgusting Ingested’s music is. Hailing from Manchester, this slamming death metal band recently dropped their newest album “The Level Above Human” that saw me go from being kind of indifferent towards their music to actually quite liking the new release. As such, I was looking forward to catching them hopefully completely destroy the Winspear Stage.

Some feedback issues aside, the sound is pretty decent when the band starts but for a band this high up on the bill, the crowd turn-up is pretty weak. There are some avid hardcore dancers in the pit and the occasional wall of death and circle pits, but people are generally simply not responding much to any of frontman Jay Evans commands. ”That’s some bullshit, I said make some fucking noise,” he tries but people still seem kinda indifferent. Perhaps not the best booking this high up the bill?

The music itself is played to pretty good effect, but one glaring issue presents itself in Evans’ vocals. I don’t know if he was sick or ruined his voice at another gig, but his growls sound incredibly weak and nothing like on record, almost unintentionally like an old-school black metal raw recording. His backup vocalists in both guitarists Sean Hynes and Sam Yates is another story completely, pulling off some insane deep growls and pig squeals, yet I find it kinda problematic when your guitarists do a better job at unclean vocals that the focal point of the band. The slams and breakdowns are of course backed by sub drops in heavy fashion, but I personally think the newer tracks work best, as the slams are more scarcely played with a greater focus on the technical death metal side of things. A great example of this is the Dying Fetus/Dyscarnate sounding “Invidious”, one of my favourites from the new record, that has some insanely fast riffing from both guitarists, yet drummer Lyn Jeffs does seem to struggle with the machine gun bass drumming during the fast parts throughout the set, which does subtract a bit from my impression. I get that they’re demanding, but they wrote the parts so they should be able to play them as well. Nonetheless, the set was pretty enjoyable and entertaining for what it was, but also a bit misplaced which was evident in the tired and static crowd. [6½]

The Acacia Strain by Hannah Cole

The Acacia Strain @ 21:30 - 23:00 on Winspear Stage

The Acacia Strain has been going under my radar for quite a long time due to just not clicking with me. Their more simple approach to deathcore along the lines of Emmure just doesn’t do much for me, even though I love Vincent Bennett’s vocals, so you could definitely say I walked into the Winspear Stage for this final Saturday band with some scepticism.

But I simply have to swallow my pride and bow down almost immediately. It’s of course as heavy and chuggy as I expected but the beefy sound and absolutely monstrous vocals make it impossible not to bang your head. The drums are especially powerfully mixed, with a shotgun sounding snare and chest pumping bass drums while still retaining clarity. The songs are fairly straightforward with the older stuff having a greater focus on the hardcore side of things and the newer track channeling a bit of Meshuggah grooves, yet some interesting gradual slowdowns and noisy riffs keep it all from growing stale. I am enjoying the groovy side of the band a lot more so than the 2-step inducing riffs, but the  Bennett serves as a fantastic frontman, and his stage banter is hilarious, going on about his love for Greggs and the fact that they are definitely not a tech band, playing a festival called Tech-Fest. His joking personality stands in stark contrast to the lyrical content here, with lines such as ”Scream all you can while we rip you to shreds,” and ”You’ll survive but you won’t want to,” channeling pure hate and suffering, but it is refreshing to see someone not taking himself too seriously and the atmosphere during the gig in the packed room is generally really pleasant aside from the pit which is absolutely on fire the entire time. I can’t imagine how hot it must be in that pit, as just standing here has the sweat running down my neck, and it seems Bennett knows this as he continually sprays water on the brave souls to keep them from passing out. The general stage presence displays a band that strongly cares for its fans.

The performance reaches its peak for me personally with “The Impaler” where some crazy sounding pick scrapes leaves my jaw on the floor and I can’t help but laugh a little to myself at how ridiculously heavy it all is. Here is a perfect example of a band that won me over completely and ever since their music makes a lot more sense to me on record as well. If you’re looking for an absolute beating in musical form, go see these guys live. You will not be disappointed. [8½]

SUNDAY

STÖMB by Hannah Cole

STÖMB @ 13:00 - 13:30 on Waghorn Guitars Stage

STÖMB from Paris is going to be my first band of this last day of Tech-Fest and even though it is quite an early set, there’s a pretty decent amount of people present here, ready to indulge in some dark instrumental djent music. Their music lies in the atmospheric side of things, using many effects and layering to envelope the room in darkness, though if it actually was completely dark here, the mood of the music would translate even better (think of how weird it is to watch black metal bands in broad daylight for reference). A very expressive bassist armed with a 6 string bass leans over and gazes right into people’s eyes during the first, before the second track brings in some cool Vildhjarta vibes in the intro and a droning passage with massive atmosphere, seemingly possessing the bassist, who is twitching and turning white eyed while laying down some filthy bass grooves. The set is simply great and the playing tight. The band does provide some interesting nuances in the soundscapes they produce, at one point sounding like an 80s sci-fi horror movie synth soundtrack yet I can’t help but feel that the set does feel a bit samey when it comes to tempo and structure, but there is no denying the talent these guys have and I leave the stage impressed and ready to dive into their discography when I am back home in Denmark. [8]

Conjurer by Hannah Cole

Conjurer @ 14:30 - 15:00 on Winspear Stage

Conjurer has been gaining quite some hype in the UK metal scene lately and for good reason. Their debut album “Mire” which came out back in March was a genius bit of sludgy post-metal with chaotic hardcore tendencies like a mix of Neurosis and Converge and I have also heard talk of their intense live shows, so it’s time to see what all the fuss is about.

Starting out with the doomy intro of “Choke” the sound is massive, making the dirty riffs sound crystal clear in the mix and the nasty mix of high and low vocals from both guitarists Dan Nightingale and Brady Deeprose work together to create something truly ugly in every good way possible. Bassist Conor Marshall swings around his hair with good stage presence, which is pretty important when the two guitarists are busy doing vocals to keep the show entertaining. It doesn’t take long before the doom is replaced with rapid and tight blast beats and tremolo picking to create an overwhelmingly powerful wall of noise, cementing the status the band has as the next big thing in the British metal scene. People weren’t kidding, these guys are mad, which makes it such a shame that there aren’t more people present here, though understandable seeing how different they are from most other bands on the bill. They provide such a fantastic mix of fast intensity and neck-breaking slower sludge grooves. I just wish more people would have given them a chance. They deserve the biggest god damn circle pit when the chaotic and fast “Retch” comes on to annihilate us all before culminating in a sledgehammer of a doom breakdown played to absolute perfection. Yet it is hard to subtract too much from their score due to a lousy crowd from the sheer display of force that is happening here. This set is simply one of the highlights of the weekend and I could imagine the absolute riot these guys are when put in a small underground music club. They smashed it out of the park and I sincerely hope bigger things are coming for these guys, they deserve it. [9]

The Hirsch Effekt by Hannah Cole

The Hirsch Effekt @ 17:15 - 18:00 on Waghorn Guitars Stage

We all had to say goodbye to The Dillinger Escape Plan recently, one of the true greats and pioneers of mathcore, but that doesn’t mean the genre is dead at all and The Hirsch Effekt is quite simply a testament to this. Playing a fierce, complex and melodic display of top of the line musicianship, this German 3-piece (also singing exclusively in German) enters the stage while the mellow classic “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon & Garfunkel gives us some breathing room before the inevitable chaos that is about to occur. Guitarist and vocalist Nils Wittrock are already out in the front row singing along to the track before the first track “Lifnej” from their latest record takes over with a bang. The sound is a bit average but the band’s highly energetic performance quickly wins over the crowd, jumping around on stage and off their gear, channeling that mental Dillinger vibe that the now-defunct band were known for. “Lifnej” provides a great summarization of their music in general, switching between technical manic outbursts and melodic atmosphere, played with such inhumane precision that I am not afraid to say that they are the most talented musicians from a tech standpoint present here at the festival, which again makes it a shame that more people haven’t turned to watch these virtuosos do their thing.

The sound quickly recovers and turns out pretty good now and The Hirsch Effekt are not done pummeling us over and over with their disorienting and wholly unique sound when the desert rock guitar wailing of “Agnosie” comes on in another masterful performance. The band never forgets to put on a show even though the difficulty of the songs must be so high, making them one of the most fun bands to witness on stage. The only issue I have is a personal one as I believe the setlist should’ve left out the more mellow and simple “Berceuse” and “Inukshuk” and just kept up the intensity a bit more considering the festival and the length of the set (I’m basically saying I wanted to hear “Aldebaran”, that’s all). The set is finished in style though with the djenty and bouncy “Tardigrada” which finally sees a mosh pit break out during the very last moments of the song. An unusual song choice to end off with but it actually works out for them. The Hirsch Effekt shows once again that they deserve much more recognition in the metal community at large, but I also do think that their Euroblast show last year was much better, even though that might be an unfair comparison seeing as they were playing in their home country. [8½]

Employed To Serve by Hannah Cole

Employed To Serve @ 19:00 - 20:00 on Waghorn Guitars Stage

It’s time for another disgustingly heavy band. Like Conjurer, Employed To Serve are part of a new way of nasty hardcore bands to come out of England, and as such should prove to be yet another musical beating inside this boiling second stage. The band all wear the same uniform with the menacing art of the sun from the newest album “The Warmth of a Dying Sun”, quite fittingly considering the battle people have had with the excruciating heat of the sun over the weekend. Instantly we are treated to rhythmically complex hardcore with a lot of balls backed by a punchy and sludgy sound mix. Justine Jones’ savage high pitch screams are delivered from the middle of the stage with the most movement coming from the other members. Sammy Urwin’s threatening eyes and backup vocals fit the aggressive music perfectly, and even though the people in the decent crowd are clearly tired, he tries his best to leech out the very last energy from them. ”I know you’re tired, but this is a fucking metal festival!” he shouts trying to get people to move but doesn’t really succeed much apart from the few hardcore dancers in the middle pit. A shame since the set is completely savage. Disjointed chaos riffs after an eerie radio clip serve as a clear highlight of the set with the title track of the new album having some clear nods to the legendary Converge, finishing it off in a brilliant post-metal breakdown with orange lights flashing like the sun. Another highlight comes in the fantastic bit of sludgy hardcore with an almost alt/nu-metal sounding main riff “I Spend My Days - Wishing Them Away” that sees the pit getting bigger for one last release of energy, much to the approval of frontwoman Jones, who breaks the aggressive attitude to let out a massive smile. Employed To Serve never really gets the crowd they deserve but all things considered, still put on one hell of a show. [8]      

Sleep Token by Hannah Cole

Sleep Token @ 20:00 - 21:00 on Winspear Stage

After the unfortunate cancellation of Norma Jean and Protest The Hero, one slot on Sunday has been kept a secret right up until now. As it turns out, the very hyped and mysterious Sleep Token are gonna enchant us tonight with their unique blend of ambience and down-tuned metal. No one knows who the members are, all sporting creepy white masks and robes, like being part of some cultish seance. No introduction is given to the band beforehand to not break the illusion as the frontman only known as Vessel starts singing with his mesmerising falsetto vocals like a fragile Sam Smith as “Thread The Needle” kicks off the show. The room is completely silent, like being at the theater rather than a metal concert. Beautiful backing vocals are provided by the female keyboardist, creating some chilling harmonies before the crushing open string chugging breaks the beauty with sinister undertones. The sound is shaking the room, quite literally when a low synth bass is used, showing the flaws of the stage a bit as the panels in the roof are loudly vibrating which somewhat breaks the spell of an otherwise fantastic performance.

I compared the show to a theater before and this also translates into the stage performance. The lead singer grabs his own head as if he’s being tormented during the heavy parts, the guitarist, frozen in place, creepily tilts his head and gazes out at the crowd when he’s not playing, and during a chilling performance of their newest track “Jaws”, Vessel simulates hanging the guitarist with his microphone cord. The massive crowd gives a roaring cheer after every track and I have to agree that this is definitely a special set, yet I do have some things that keep it from reaching mind-blowing status. Firstly, the vocal performance though very challenging and impressive isn’t exactly on pitch all the time, which is especially prevalent during “Fields of Elation”, where the vocal harmonies get a bit grating at one point. Secondly, we have another case of complete lack of awareness from some crowd members like the Tides From Nebula set before them. During some of the most emotional and quite parts, out of tempo and out of touch clapping starts and I can tell I’m not the only one visibly annoyed by this. I know I’m gonna sound like an angry old fart, but there’s a time and place for everything, and this is certainly not it. Lastly, and this is just a general criticism of Sleep Token, their songwriting is starting to show its staleness with every song structure almost being a carbon copy of each other. I realise how unique it sounded when “Thread The Needle” was released 2 years ago yet I’d like to see them experiment a bit more in this regard. A new track which does have some hypnotizing piano rolls also suffers a bit from this, but overall Sleep Token proved to be a thoroughly unique set that is sure to be talked about within the community for years to come. Given a bit more time as a band I am sure the small gripes I have could be ironed out to create something completely spectacular. [8½]

Betraying The Martyrs by Hannah Cole

Betraying The Martyrs @ 21:30 - 23:00 on Winspear Stage

Betraying The Martyrs from Paris have been moved up the bill due to the aforementioned cancellations, and are now acting as the very last headliners. A bit anticlimactic some might say and the somewhat average crowd size does reflect that sentiment, but having witnessed these guys several times by now, I know they always put on one hell of a professional show, no matter the crowd size. Electronic dubstep is playing as the band enters the stage, while keyboardist Victor Guillet swings around his keyboard leading into Lost For Words, a real singalong track made all the more powerful with good sound engineering, some of the best of the festival. The playing is tight and a big shout out has to go to the lighting technician who is providing a headliner worthy light show.

Frontman Aaron Matts, the only English person in the band, who has always been a fantastic and fun lead figure, jokingly taunts his fellow band mates about the football world cup, as the crowd roars out the “It’s Coming Home” as the other members boo at the audience with a smile on their face. The atmosphere is great for one last gig, people are here to have fun and burn the very last of their energy, and say whatever you will about their music, they have always been a fun watch for me. “Where The World Ends” seems to ignite the tired audience in a decent circle pit, and here drummer Boris Le Gal’s tight and diverse drumming really shows, ranging from djent grooves and extreme blast beats but also guitarist Steeves Hostin nails his shredding solo. However, my personal favourite part of the show comes when the band revisits their debut (and far superior release) “Breathe In Life” with a 4 whole songs. Starting out with “Man Made Disaster” that does disappoint a bit in the clean vocals department as Guillet cannot sing as high pitched in the chorus as on record, into “Love Lost” which generic yet dangerously groovy intro is played to perfection. The instrumental and heavily electronic “Liberate Me Ex Inferis” sees the band leave the stage for the first half with a backing track playing, before returning to pummel every last person into the ground, causing the crowd to go nuts who are now hilariously throwing around an inflatable airplane, occasionally picking it up to use as a jousting lance. “Life Is Precious” ends this throwback section with crowd surfers flying over the railing.

For the next couple of tracks, Matts’ stage banter continues before “Unregistered” from their latest album, referencing a waiver they had to sign prohibiting them from instigating mosh pits and the like. ”I’m not saying you should do a wall of death but uh…” as the crowd divides in half. ”So when I say go.. both sides do absolutely nothing,” Matts chuckles, and of course, the exact opposite happens in the happiest mosh pit of the weekend. “The Resilient” seems to be the final track and a good one at that, but an encore that should’ve been left out in my humble opinion shows that “The Great Disillusion” earns that spot. A rather boring track that seems like such an odd choice for a closer track compared to “The Resilient” causing the set to end on a slightly low note. It might not have been the perfect last headliner for the festival but Betraying The Martyrs silenced the naysayers by playing a set that was just really entertaining and served as a fine send off into the last night of crazy antics before once again heading home to boring everyday life. [8½]

FINAL WORDS

So there you have it. Do you agree with my conclusions? What was your favourite band of the weekend? As usual in our festival coverages, I’ll wrap up this article with the good, the bad and the ugly.

This year was definitely among my favourite Tech-Fests so far with some genuinely fantastic sets with only slight disappointments here and there. The general atmosphere was as lovely as ever and the festival once again proves to be an easy place to gain new like-minded friends (shout out to Camp Big Boi) and I didn’t really notice any problems with violence or issues like that (aside from the pit of course). Any fan of the technical side of metal should at least try this festival out once, I am sure you won’t regret it. KW

Camp site shenanigans by Go To The Gig

THE GOOD

  • Great lineup even with the sad cancellations of two of the biggest names on the bill.
  • Great scheduling, only providing the occasional clash due to bands overstepping time limits.
  • Lots and lots of different official Tech-Fest merch, ranging from regular t-shirts, windbreakers, sunglasses, even mankinis etc.
  • The Contortionist providing one of the best sets I have ever witnessed at a festival.
  • A fun Linkin Park sing-along cover set to end it all off.
  • Good toilet and shower facilities.
  • Lots of camping space so no one feels cramped.
  • Generally delicious selections of food, both veggie and meat.
  • The lovely staff at the Double Decker Bars van and Shmoo’s who were always smiling and up for a chat.
  • Generally pretty affordable prices.
  • Water posts with ice cold water were easily accessible.
  • The general positive atmosphere was back in full force again.
  • Clean areas generally due to people taking responsibility and tidying up themselves once in a while.
  • Helpful volunteers and crew like always.

THE BAD

  • The heat, though ultimately not the festival’s fault, could’ve been handled better, as the stages reached unbearable temperatures, having a clear negative impact on crowd sizes. Maybe set up more shade right outside the stages and try to take steps to improve the airflow in the hangars.
  • The sound was once again subpar for a lot of the smaller bands, which definitely detracted from some of the sets for me.
  • The tents available for pre-purchase that were advertised on the website were way bigger than the ones you actually got. Fortunately, due to some fast reaction times from the staff, we got another tent free of charge to actually be able to fit 3 grown men inside it.

THE UGLY

  • The state of the toilets at times because of the few bad apples you’re always gonna have at a festival, which was fortunately quickly resolved.

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