UK Tech-Fest 2019

author KW date 21/07/19

On the 4th of July, it was time for the yearly tech-pilgrimage to Newark-on-Trent, England for one of my favourite festivals in the world: UK Tech-Fest. This marked the 7th time I have attended the festival (I am still salty about missing out on 2017) and there is a very strong reason why I keep doing this every year. If you like your metal modern and progressive, you will be hard-pressed to find a lovelier place than this. People are so friendly, there’s a ton of new underground music to discover and some fantastic headliners every year. Due to the small size of the festival, the community is very tightly knit and always welcomes more people to the “Tech-Fam” and this year I felt the mood was even greater than last year, combined with the average quality of the bands being very high.

So I once again made my way to London Stansted from Tirstrup airport on the 3rd of July, traveled to a friend’s place in Reading from there, stayed the night and then drove up in the morning on the 4th to once again participate in the shenanigans. If you’re traveling alone from Denmark though, it is possible to take a train from Stansted to Newark-on-Trent by going through Peterborough, but be warned: if you don’t book train tickets in advance, it will cost you about £50 (420 kroner) for a one-way ticket.

I implore anyone with a taste for modern progressive bands to check this festival out at least once. Tech-Fest has never disappointed me and I’m positive they won’t start to for many years to come. In this article, I will discuss what makes the festival so great but also what bothered me this year, which luckily wasn’t much at all. I am not gonna go into details for every point in this first part, but rather focus on what has changed. For the detailed rundown, I suggest reading last year’s Tech-Fest article. And then after this section: the reviews of course.

CAMPING AREA

The main camping area hasn’t changed since last year. There’s still plenty of space, so setting up camp is a breeze and it never feels cramped. Everything is situated within a 5-minute walking distance, so getting to the stages, food, toilets, etc. and back to camp for more beers is also as easy as it gets.

However, this year they introduced VIP camping for those willing to pay a little extra. The VIP camping area is secluded behind the after-party stage with trees to shelter your tent from the sun (which definitely would’ve helped with the bad hangovers, not having to wake up in your sauna tent at 8 am) and VIP only showers and toilets. It served as a nice little place for a more peaceful camping experience, but I do prefer being in the middle of the action myself, so I didn’t take advantage of VIP camping this year.

FOOD & DRINKS

I felt like the food quality took a hit this year, mainly the burritos, burgers, and chips which were just really average and dull. Also, the veggie options were limited due to the fact that the fantastic Smoky Tentacles shisha tent was absent this year, replaced by a laughably uninviting replacement shisha place that was ridiculously priced and didn’t offer any food, drinks, chilled out hangout spaces or music. I really hope to see Smoky Tentacles return next year or at least something similarly cozy.

Shmoo’s Wood-Fired Kitchen returned once more and delivered their delicious wood baked pizzas with your own choice of toppings, which also includes veggie and vegan options. Not the cheapest, but some of the highest quality food you can get here.

Panda Noodle House also returned, and while I only got the sweet n’ sour chicken with fried noodles once, it was a delicious and fulfilling meal.

The burrito stall somehow seemed even less tasty than last year but the BBQ chicken burrito wasn’t bad per se, just really uninspired and forgettable.

The fish and chips stall had some pretty good battered cod, but the fries were kinda boring.

The burger stall delivered one of the dullest cheeseburgers I’ve ever had in my life and I never returned for more.

Double Decker Bars returned again and provided some tasty sparkling cocktails, shots and fizzy drinks, with some really friendly staff.

STAGES

Stages were the exact same setup as last year but with different sponsors. 3 indoor stages: the Strandberg Guitars stage (workshops and after-parties), the Fireball stage (second stage), the Line 6 stage (main stage). The middle section between the main and second stage is host to the merch tables, gear demos and of course the bar. You can’t bring cans in here but plastic cups is fine, so you can buy a beer, walk out and return if you so, please.

Ecstatic crowd at the Line 6 stage by Hannah Cole

The sound at the stages this year was far superior to last year. I don’t really know why, since I didn’t notice any major changes, but most gigs I saw had pretty great sound, while Psycroptic and Vildhjarta had some of the best sound engineering I’ve ever heard. The size of the stages still fits really well to the number of attendees, as it never feels overly tight when the big bands are on, so there’s always room to breathe, and due to the weather being much more forgiving than last year, the audience size was definitely generally larger as well.

I’ve never been much into the workshops at Tech-Fest since I’m usually mostly busy watching bands or chilling out in between, but the after parties this year were a lot of fun and had some great cover sets. The So Toto set was filled to the brim with classics and played incredibly tight. The after-party stage sound is usually pretty bad since it’s located inside a large, boomy hall, but during this, it was actually fine. The Slam of God set provided downtuned, brutal Lamb of God covers with added slams and a bunch of different vocalists from within the scene, which was also a whole lot of fun and played impressively.

But let’s get to the part you’ve been waiting for: the reviews!

All photos provided by Hannah Cole (Instagram: @wtchfndr).

THURSDAY

Voices From The Fuselage by Hannah Cole

Voices From The Fuselage @ 19:00 - 19:45 on the Line 6 stage

The first band of Tech-Fest 2019 for me comes in the form of a band I have been following for quite a while. Frontman Ashe O’Hara is probably known best for having provided the flawless vocals for one of TesseracT’s masterpieces “Altered State” but after he left the band he went on with his other project, the project standing here before me. Voices From The Fuselage does have some similarities to TesseracT but have a greater focus on the post-rocky side of things rather than complex, rhythmic djent. And this is actually where the band shines at this gig also. When things get atmospheric and multilayered it sounds really nice, with Ashe’s fantastic, high pitch vocals alongside the lush clean guitar tones causing the hairs on my arms to stand up. But the sound mixing just doesn’t work when the songs take the inevitable heavy turn, any detail to the guitar playing just blurs together and the meat needed for sections like these to work is simply lacking throughout the gig. Add to that the completely introverted stage performance (which O’Hara does admit to himself at one point), it results in a good but also fairly standard batch of melancholic progressive metal songs. [7]

Polaris by Hannah Cole

Polaris @ 20:00 - 21:00 on the Line 6 stage

Polaris is one of the best metalcore bands at the moment in my humble opinion, which is also why this set with the young Australians has been one of my most anticipated of the festival. Right out of the gate they prove why this statement holds water. The sound is massive and detailed, the playing is almost flawless, the energy shown by frontman Jamie Hails is transferred directly to the crowd who follow his every command, flying around in the pit, climbing each other’s shoulders, even during the less intense parts like when the mellow, emotion-laden “Sonder” comes on. “Frailty” provides a definite highlight with some insanely powerful screams with the band frantically jumping around on stage, while the singalong antics from the crowd hits a boiling point during the unbelievably catchy “The Remedy” which in turn also gets the crowd surfers off their feet in droves. It’s just madness from both band and audience who fuel each other’s energy levels in symbiosis with each passing song.

However, I do have one critique, which unfortunately I was also expecting from having watched a couple of live recordings on YouTube prior. Bassist Jake Steinhauser provides most of the clean vocals for Polaris, and at first I am actually pleasantly surprised that he’s improved a ton from what I’d previously heard, but as the gig progresses it is very apparent that some of the choruses simply sit too high for him to nail, which does lead to some pitching problems sticking out like a sore thumb. I am positive that this will improve with even more practice and when that aspect of the show is nailed, Polaris will simply have one of the most powerful metalcore packages in the world and will be on the level or higher than some of the greats in the genre through the past decades. If the performance of “Consume” at display here is not solid proof of that, I have no idea what is – the last breakdown with those tasty Egyptian-esque leads from lead guitarist Ryan Siew hit harder than a kickboxing champion. These guys are ready to take over the world for real now. [8½]

Jon Gomm by Hannah Cole

Jon Gomm @ 21:30 - 23:00 on the Line 6 stage

Jon Gomm is certainly one of the outliers of this year’s lineup but for some reason, the tech community just loves this guy, which is understandable, having witnessed his last appearance back in 2014. Armed with only an acoustic guitar, a microphone, and some effects, Jon Gomm provides a very different show than most of the howling and growling found at this festival, which can certainly serve as a nice break. And a break it is; the front barrier has been laid down symbolizing the open, heartwarming nature of Gomm’s performance, and the vast majority of the packed audience are sat down on the floor to take it all in. Jon gently shushes people to varying degrees of success, seeing as people have taken in a sizeable amount of alcohol by now, but Gomm’s acoustic tunes are nonetheless mostly breathtaking. The cover of “Ain’t Nobody” grooves funkily by the use of tapping melodies and drumming on the guitar body resulting in loud singalongs to the chorus from the chilled-out audience, putting a giant smile on Gomm’s face. Later he notes how he “got you all seated like in primary school, so let the lesson commence”, which evolves into a step by step showcase of how he pulls it all off with a lot of humour, building up his “virtual” drum kit with a snare, bass drum, toms and hi-hat all through his hands and the guitar. His main hit “Passionflower” is always one of the main attractions to a Jon Gomm gig, and it is understandable why since it is always jaw-dropping to see his hands fly all over the place to create this soothing piece of music, using the tuning keys pitch perfectly to create this sliding note resemblance. It is quite the spectacle to behold, but I will also admit that the first time you experience this is more magical than the subsequent ones. Which might also be a general feeling I have for the whole gig, which while undeniably great just didn’t captivate me as much as the last time I saw him. Add to that the quite annoying hecklers, it ended up being short of amazing but still something anyone should at least witness once in their lives. [8]

FRIDAY

Siamese by Hannah Cole

Siamese @ 13:30 - 14:00 on the Line 6 stage

This year includes quite a lot of Danish bands, more specifically bands from the modern underground metal label Prime Collective, one of the main ones, of course, being the poppy metal outfit Siamese who have returned from having played just last year, but this time returning with a whole new album behind them. “B.A.N.A.N.A.S.”, the Gwen Stefani sampled groovy banger, incidentally one of the catchiest songs the band has ever produced is first in line and sets the tone for the gig as a whole. Additionally, one audience member has shown his fandom by wearing a banana costume, much to the visible amusement of lead singer Mirza Radonjica-Bang. Siamese is by no means a technical band but they more than make up for this by just being sharp songwriters and a whole lot of fun to watch and listen to. “Tunnel Vision” keeps the energy flowing while also being one of my favourites of theirs with its Justin Timberlake vibes mixed with light melodies and djenty grooves. “Ablaze” usually doesn’t do much for me, but the really powerful vocal performance from Mirza here elevates the track to new heights. The subject matter is turned more serious with the introduction of the next song “Ocean Bed”, dealing with mental health with Mirza exclaiming: “Keep going, keep fighting!” which might be why this performance hits me quite hard, with the pitch-perfect vocal rendition making every hair on my neck stand up.

Siamese do mix the catchy choruses and straight forward songwriting with the occasional heavy breakdown and herein lies my main criticism of the set - these parts simply don’t hit hard enough due to a significant lack of meat when things are supposed to turn heavy, which I am not sure is due to the guitar tone or the sound mixing. This keeps it from having that wow-effect that I’m sure the band is going for with these parts. “Soul & Chemicals” is the singalong song of the gig and actually one of the few songs that doesn’t make me cringe with its “woooooah woooooah”-esque chorus, it’s actually just a fantastic song performed fantastically, before a gimmicky, heavy, noisy dubstep-metal outro actually gets the mosh properly going before Siamese leave the stage again. All in all a great and most of all fun experience for the early risers, with a few imperfections. [8]

Odd Palace by Hannah Cole

Odd Palace @ 14:00 - 14:30 on the Fireball stage

Another part of the Danish takeover of Tech-Fest 2019, Odd Palace have unfortunately not drawn a crowd to write home about, but having seen them a couple of times before, I know that this doesn’t matter in the slightest to these guys from Copenhagen. And it turns out I am completely correct in my assumption, that this should turn into a party regardless. Odd Palace simply plays with such convincing energy no matter the size of the crowd, and Gert Børsting’s sassy vocals with similarities to Daroh Sudderth (Fair To Midland) are as infectious as ever. Unfortunately, lead guitarist Lasse Grube Madsen is hit by technical difficulties from the get-go, making him completely inaudible and creating a pretty glaring hole where the otherwise flashy leads should have been, which doesn’t help the fact that the sound is generally lacking some clarity to make those guitar parts shine. Guitars do come back during the spicy “Liar’s Attire”, a personal favourite of mine, that just has this earworm of a chorus which also visibly gets the crowd nodding along. “The Unknown” takes a darker, more djenty turn complete with a fantastically played disjointed breakdown, causing the band to go nuts on stage, jumping on podiums, spitting out water, taking off their clothes, culminating in the end with instruments being thrown around carelessly as well. Odd Palace is sure to have convinced a big portion of the small crowd present here by sheer force alone, but technical difficulties and average sound keep it from being one of those unforgettable experiences that they are clearly aiming for. Odd Palace is definitely one to watch though and a band bursting at the seams with potential. [7½]

Cold Night For Alligators by Hannah Cole

Cold Night For Alligators @ 14:30 - 15:00 on the Line 6 stage

Just by looking at the stage before Cold Night For Alligators enter, it is pretty clear that the stage production has been amped up quite significantly compared to the numerous other times I have witnessed the band. The stage is filled with professional lighting used to dramatic effect as the band enters the stage. One thing hasn’t changed at all though - the huge smiles on guitarists Kristoffer Winther Jessen and Roar Jakobsen’s faces seem as big as ever as they start to bang out the sugary sweet “Carneille”. The playing is tight and Johan Pedersen’s forceful screaming and stage antics as entertaining as always but one can’t help but notice a severe lack of guitars in the mix, which is definitely a problem with this type of noodly tech metal. Then it all comes to a halt when some technical difficulties completely stops the show with a frustrated yet joking Pedersen exclaiming: “The last time we were here, the exact same thing happened.” The band does take it well all things considered, though the atmosphere does get slightly awkward after this point.

Having resolved the issue after about 5 minutes of downtime, the huge chorus of “Violent Design” definitely hits home completely with a sizeable amount of fans screaming along, while the emotional ending to “Nocturnal” with just vocalist Johan Pedersen and drummer Nikolaj Sloth Lauszus ends off the track in minimal, powerful fashion. “Black Swan” also leaves a mark with its Disney-metal chorus but is also somewhat let down again by the lack of guitars in the sound mix. Then the band awkwardly leaves the stage, since they don’t have the time to finish their set due to the aforementioned difficulties. I don’t know what it is, but Tech-Fest seems to have become Cold Night For Alligators’ cursed festival of the world since the shows delivered here always seem underwhelming to the usual madness the band can conjure, be it because of subpar sound mixes or crippling technical issues. As a result, I leave the stage unfulfilled and disappointed unfortunately and hope to soon catch the band again on top. [6½]

Archspire by Hannah Cole

Archspire @ 19:00 - 20:00 on the Fireball stage

Archspire is a pretty ridiculous tech-death band and right off the bat, it is crystal clear to me that this is going to be one of the most ridiculous sets of the weekend as well. The room is stuffed with people as Archspire begin spewing out their absurdly fast riffs and machine-gun blast beats, quickly establishing one of the biggest mosh pits I have seen thus far at this stage in all the years I have been attending. The band is simply just insane musicians, every single one of them at the top of their game, playing these impossible riffs with surgical precision and guttural growls being spat out like speed-rapping intermingled by savage tunnel growls and screams. But what makes Archspire work is how they always seem to keep a focus on having interesting melodies, which makes the furious speeds and endless guitar wanking so much more enjoyable than certain other bands in this sphere. Add to that a hilarious sense of self-irony and humour and you’ve got a cocktail for a show that will make your abs hurt from laughing hysterically at both how nuts the music is and the antics going on in both the crowd and on stage. “Do you guys eat ass?”, ”I do NOT want to see a circle pit around the banana costume guys!” Oliver Rae Aleron exclaims and when it’s guitar solo time in the song he holds up a flashing APPLAUSE sign over the heads of the guitarists while nodding proudly.

The sound does get slightly muddy at times but overall is great. “Relentless Mutation” sounds fantastic with its classically ringing sweeps, while the last incredibly groovy breakdown of “Remote Tumour Seeking” causes frenzied headbanging almost everywhere in the audience. If your jaw was not nailed to the floor during the entirety of this, you need to get both your eyes and ears checked. I have to admit that my notes for this gig were scarce because of how busy I was laughing my ass off and watching this absolute carnage unfold at Tech-Fest 2019. Had the sound been better, this could’ve well been the best set of the weekend. Mind-blowing stuff. [9]

Black Tongue by Hannah Cole

Black Tongue @ 20:00 - 21:00 on the Line 6 stage

“This is the end of the fucking world, Tech-Fest!” Well okay then, we’ve set the mood. Not that I wasn't expecting to get my head beaten in when I walked into Black Tongue, but perhaps I wasn’t entirely ready for just how filthy this would be. Black Tongue released one of my favourite records last year, filled to the brim with disgusting blackened deathcore, so I was very much looking forward to hearing these songs in a live setting. Frontman Alex Teyen looks as menacing as ever, drooling and spitting on the floor while gurgling out animalistic noises to the sound of one downtuned, slow beatdown tune after the other. But here lies my main gripe with the set, cause no new songs are played until almost halfway through, and while their older stuff certainly is heavy with a capital H, it also becomes all too apparent to me how one dimensional they used to be. I understand they were probably doing this for long-time fans, but to me their new stuff is just vastly superior in almost every regard, so the gig really starts to completely and utterly captivate me when the likes of “Ultima Necat”, “Parting Soliloquy” and “Second Death” do their absolute best as crushing songs to knock down the walls of the stage, where especially the last devastating breakdown of the latter sounds like it’s damn near close to achieving just that.

Tech-Fest kinda has a reputation of having some ridiculous mosh pits and this is no exception, as people dressed in superhero costumes crowd surf on an inflatable couch, before heading back to more hardcore dancing to the sound of the angry tones of ”Hull city hate crew, fuck you!” being screamed by the avid fans in the front. At this point I’m thinking that he really did mean that it’s the end of the world, and had the likes of “The Cathedral” and “A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh” been added, the coming of the end times might’ve actually been real. [8]

SATURDAY

Unseen Faith by Hannah Cole

Unseen Faith @ 13:00 - 13:30 on the Fireball stage

An early Saturday set can be an unforgiving time slot for any band and a real test to see if a band possesses the force to wake up the small horde of hungover zombies present here (myself included). What better than some brutal metalcore from fellow Danes Unseen Faith to take up the task though, and it doesn’t take long for me to realize that they just might make it. The sound is good out of the gate which is kind of a coin flip sometimes at the Fireball stage for the smaller bands, and the grooves plentiful. Alexander Eriksen effortlessly switches between hardcore yells, guttural growls and pig squeals to the sound of brutal breakdowns, backed up by powerful backing vocals and intertwined with melodic leads - some lean heavy on metalcore sensibilities while a new song, which I didn’t quite catch the name of, incorporates Egyptian sounding Phrygian scales to give it a more exotic type of sound which just sounds awesome and different from their older material. The sound just keeps improving to the point of being some of the best sounds that the stage has had thus far, which in turn perfectly supports the blast beats and sinister grooves of “S.O.S.”, which actually causes a bit of limb flailing from a select few in the crowd, and later the ravy metalcore banger “Dystopia”. What Unseen Faith might lack in originality, they make up for by being just an all-around great live band with catchy songs and entertaining heavy bits. This set definitely proved the international potential the band possesses now and while they maybe didn’t completely knock out the hangovers in the audience, they at least bruised them quite heavily. Great show. [8]

22 by Hannah Cole

22 @ 13:30 - 14:00 on the Line 6 stage

And now for something completely different. Hailing from Norway, 22 plays an eclectic form of progressive rock, starting out in spacy psych territory with weird synths before breaking into some really cool math-rock grooves, with a surprising amount of explosive energy especially from guitarist Magnus Børmark who jumps around frantically to an offbeat rock riff that sounds in the vein of Black Peaks or Arcane Roots. The riffs and beats at display here are just really, really creative. What 22 have concocted is truly something unique in the genre, sounding at times like the mathy hard rock version of Queen or Muse, complete with dramatic 3-way vocal harmonies that are sometimes slightly off-pitch but it’s still hella ambitious, to say the least. The instrumental side of things is just masterful and especially the weird offbeat slow down in the main riff of “You Are Creating” is turning heads in the crowd. From start to finish the band is exuding the joy of playing which makes it all the more disappointing that the set is cut one song short abruptly due to the band being slightly late. Nevertheless, 22’s brand of catchy yet complex rock music left a mark on this reviewer and I would love to witness them again for a more complete and longer set. [8]

TTNG by Hannah Cole

TTNG @ 18:00 - 19:00 on the Line 6 stage

Time for some more math-rock at Tech-Fest with a band that has been quite hyped to me from numerous sources, even though I am not entirely sure what to expect. A humbled Henry Tremain smiles at the crowd and right from the get-go there is a nice and relaxed atmosphere, which is not something you get much of at this festival, from all the grunts and growls usually being spat out from the stages. Tremain’s entertaining dancing, swaying from side to side with his hips, certainly makes me smile and while “Baboon” definitely includes some impressive and twinkly finger-playing guitar and the vocals are well performed, I, unfortunately, don’t find them that inspiring either. Everything sounds nice but not exciting to me, there are basically no climaxes, nor catchy memorable hooks, nor any unexpected turns to be found here and the conclusions usually wind up being somewhat similar. So while TTNG provided a nice little break with their soothing, groovy math rock, the most memorable part of the show was the involved stage presence of the band and not so much the music itself. I can’t recall any particular part of the music, which is kind of a problem to me, it sounds to me more suitable for background music than engaging music. I might just not get it though, as most of the crowd is visibly loving it. [6]

Psycroptic by Hannah Cole

Psycroptic @ 20:00 - 21:00 on the Line 6 stage

I arrive slightly late to the Line 6 stage for these Tasmanian tech-devils in Psycroptic, but oh my what a giant sledgehammer I am hit over the head with as I make my way into the stage. The sound is just phenomenal and so clear that it ranks among some of the best sound mixes I’ve heard at the festival. Sometimes a bad sound mix can hinder the clarity of the numerous noodly bits found in tech-death, but everything is just sharp. The impressive riffs and blistering speed is played with surgical precision from everyone involved and the fact that only one guitarist is responsible for this heaviness blows my mind. The drum grooves are delicious at every turn, spicing up the blasting and machine-gun double pedals with sick groovy details, never sacrificing fantastic writing just for sheer force and speed. The room is absolutely on fire with circle pits and it’s not hard to understand why. Psycroptic owns every living soul here at the Line 6 stage. The thrashy “Frozen Gaze” is introduced with ”Are you ready for something faster?”. I don’t know, Jason Pappiatt, are we? Then the groovy banger “Directive” makes sure that every head in the crowd is moving, and to end things off, the title track from their newest album “As The Kingdom Drowns” fully blows my head off, which has one of the most memorable main riffs in tech-death of last year, giving clear nods to the Decapitated classic “Spheres of Madness”. The only criticism I can draw is that their stage performance/presence isn’t exactly the most memorable (understandable due to the technical levels of their music, I digress) but aside from that: what an absolute powerhouse this band is, and Psycroptic leave the stage victorious of being on of the clear cut best sets of the weekend. [9]

Monuments by Hannah Cole

Monuments @ 21:30 - 23:00 on the Line 6 stage

Fans were hit by somewhat surprising and sad news only a few days before the Monuments show at Tech-Fest this year. Vocalist Chris Baretto decided to leave or was kicked out of the band (not sure which one it is since the announcement was really vague) and for many he had become an integral part of their sound, so who would even attempt to replace him? Well, for the remainder of the tour at least, Makari frontman Andy Cizek has stepped in, so I am skeptical yet open-minded to see if he can perhaps bring back some of my waning interest in the band back. And he succeeds pretty much straight away. His screams are feral yet with a considerably higher pitch and more general metalcore sounding which might turn some people off, but I think it works and judging by the enormous crowd and bursting energy from it, I am not alone in thinking so. Cizek fronts the band convincingly and does the djent banger “I, The Creator” great justice, and nails most cleans yet doesn’t try to completely imitate Baretto which is refreshing. Some newer songs off “Phronesis” are played that don’t do much for me, but that’s mainly because of the songs themselves being inferior and not so much the performance itself. Cizek does struggle a bit during the admittedly very high notes of “Atlas” but then absolutely smashes the so-dirty-it-should-be-illegal “Empty Vessels Make the Most Noise” with some incredibly brutal growls and screeches.

Then none other than former Monuments drummer, Mike Malyan, beloved by many people here at the festival, turns up on stage to roaring applause to bang out the drum and bass monster groove of one of their absolute best songs “Regenerate”. This is when the experience peaks, when that nasty bunch of dissonance finally drops after the intro, setting the room alight in complete chaos, reminding me of some of the very best times I have seen the band. It’s clear to me that the band is on home turf when watching the crowd during this. It’s just savage all around and serves as a perfect rendition of a really powerful and heavy track. The encore continues this level of carnage with “Degenerate” and “Origin of Escape” and had the whole set played out like those last three phenomenal performances, it would’ve been one for the Tech-Fest history books. Nevertheless, Andy Cizek proved his worth in what culminated in a great performance with one of the djent giants. Now let’s see if that means a permanent spot for him or not, but I can vouch for his talent. [8]

SUNDAY

Morgan Ågren by Hannah Cole

Morgan Ågren @ 16:30 - 17:15 on the Line 6 stage

Morgan Ågren is probably best known for his feature on Fredrik Thordendal’s (Meshuggah) “Sol Niger Within” solo project but I am unsure what to expect from his solo appearance here at the Line 6 stage. Ågren is the sole musician on stage, sat behind his kit in the middle of the stage and starts playing some mind-bending beats to a backing track of surprising genre variety. In one moment we are treated to serene ambiance behind a minimalist drum solo. In the next, it turns jazzy with an enormous amount of ghost notes thrown into the mix. Now it’s just straight drum ‘n’ bass before ending off with the aforementioned Sol Niger Within performance that most people probably showed up to hear. While Ågren is clearly a complete virtuoso behind the kit, I also just have a hard time seeing the point of the set. It all feels much more like a masterclass showcase than an actual gig and it seems I am not the only one feeling this way as the crowd keeps thinning out until only a scarce group remains. Having an actual band on stage would’ve probably helped but as it stands, this pseudo gig didn’t do much for me. The novelty factor of the insane drumming just wears off too quickly and the set as such is quickly forgotten again. [5]

Harbinger by Hannah Cole

Harbinger @ 17:15 - 18:00 on the Fireball stage

Harbinger is here to bring the heavies and draws an impressively large audience. I know that they have been growing their name in their homeland of England, but I did not expect the Fireball stage to be this full. And their brand of groovy slam death metal hits home with a solid sound that could use a bit more beef in the guitar department though. Harbinger rips out punishing tech riffs and slams like a more melodic, less brutal Ingested and especially vocalist Tom Gardner’s high pitched screams floor me. The band is apparently filming their next music video right here for the mid-tempo rager “Descendants” and that information, of course, helps with the crowd action in the middle. What really makes their music work is the great variety in inspirations, ranging from black metal sounding parts, Decapitate-esque technical grooves, the occasional soaring melody and of course, the heavy slower breakdowns that the genre is known for. “Compelled to Suffer” includes some really impressive guitar playing from guitarists Ben Sutherland and Charlie Griffiths, revolving around a catchy chorus and some sinister atmospheres, really capturing this diversity I’m speaking of. All in all, Harbinger delivered a rock-solid performance and proved just why they are one of the hotter names in the English heavy underground. [8]

From Sorrow To Serenity by Hannah Cole

From Sorrow To Serenity @ 18:00 - 19:00 on the Line 6 stage

I have watched this groovy metalcore act quite a few times now and one thing has always irked me about their performances is the obvious over-reliance on a backing track, basically by having one whole guitar not being played live (or at least by some ghost person I’m not seeing). Well, would you look at that, From Sorrow To Serenity have finally taken the step and brought an actual person to play the parts, and this fact alone makes me way more excited to witness them once more. “Denounce” sets the tone of what this band is all about - down-tuned grooves and earwormy, screamed choruses. A winning metalcore formula for sure and while the sound does sound inevitably similar to Heart of a Coward (increasingly so with the new album), From Sorrow To Serenity are talented songwriters when it comes to writing memorable riffs and savage vocals. “We Are Liberty” turns up the heat and tempo with a really strong performance from frontman Gaz T. King and the last staccato breakdown is nailed to a tee, though the sound mix is definitely on the bassy side, drowning out some of the intricacies but hitting like a truck during the chuggy parts. I will always have an affinity for some of their older stuff which is also why the godlike breakdown of “Illusive” makes me grin uncontrollably while the melodic grooves of “Forsaken” seem to be the turning point for the sound, which is close to hitting the spot, in turn making the nasty pick-scrapes of “Golden Age” sound absolutely huge. Gaz does struggle to get any real action going in the crowd aside from a select few throwing hands in the hardcore pit, but none of the band members seem visibly hit by this fact and just play their tunes with great conviction. An old fan favourite “i9” is also a surprising but very much welcome addition to the set, one of their more brutal songs from the debut EP (which featured Gaz himself when he wasn’t even part of the band). I conclude to myself that this is personally the best I’ve seen them thus far and the addition of an extra guitarist live did wonders for them. [8]

Vildhjarta by Hannah Cole

Vildhjarta @ 20:00 - 21:00 on the Line 6 stage

Rumbling bass shakes the room before one of the best and most unique bands in the whole djent movement is about to enter. I am brimming with anticipation for this one, being an avid follower of the band for many years, having never actually properly experienced them before. In 2014 I was sat down on a camping chair at the side of the stage with an almost broken foot from a drunken accident. Then they went on somewhat of a hiatus before I got the chance again at Euroblast last year.. which was once again hindered by a vile case of food poisoning. Apparently, this is my cursed band, but tonight I am more than ready for a showcase of one of the evilest bands in existence and hope nothing smites me before I finally get to experience them.

I am simply not prepared for what hits me. After an ominous intro, the band goes straight into the pitch-black screeches of “Dagger” with just straight up perfect sound. It is the best sound mixing I have ever heard in the 6 years I’ve attended the festival in conjunction with just being some of the most crushing sound I have ever heard, at any concert, period. It almost brings a tear to my eye right out of the gate just how good they sound. The incredibly complex rhythms, chord progression, melodic interludes, time shifts, horrific atmosphere, and brutal vocals are just on another level, so tight and expertly performed that they even rival their djent godfathers in Meshuggah. Yes, that level of inhumane precision and heaviness. And this is not where the parallels stop since the lighting is also just mesmerizing to look at, changing colours fittingly to what’s happening in the music and following every beat sharply.

Vildhjarta by Hannah Cole

During the creepy, hammering interlude to “Benblåst”, guitarist and main songwriter Calle Thomer spots a fan in a banana costume (also with the words THALL taped to his chest.. thall) and gestures for him to come on stage for arguably one of the most disgusting instrumental songs ever created, and he proceeds to climb the stage and starts to headbang furiously, bathed in the revolving light on stage while the earth-shattering breakdown commences. The juxtaposition of the terrifying screaming babies found in the song and a banana clothed person in the middle of the stage while its all happening is something I can only imagine happening at Tech-Fest and it is forever imprinted in my mind. But the track doesn’t even stop where it normally does and actually perfectly transitions into another filthy downtuned part, the outro of “The Lone Deranger” which once again just sounds absolutely ridiculous on every front. “Eternal Golden Monk” sounds as disgusting and unethically dissonant as ever, while a personal favourite of mine “All These Feelings” actually succeeds in bringing the aforementioned tear to my eye with just how flawless it is, with one of the most legendary intros I’ve ever heard which causes the pit to go completely nuts - at this point literally fighting each other with inflatable animals (stay silly Tech-Fest).

Vocalist Daniel Ädel leaves the stage in the hands of the rest of the band to finish off one of the pinnacles of gigs I’ve ever witnessed. Not only is it without a doubt in my mind the best show Tech-Fest has ever delivered, additionally it’s one of the most audio-visually mind-blowing sets I’ve ever witnessed. Vildhjarta was in absolute top form, showing that they are still complete masters over the unique sound they created for themselves, delivering what was virtually a completely flawless set. And that of course warrants nothing other than a perfect score, so that’s exactly what they’re going to get. Vildhjarta is back, all hail Vildhjarta. [10]

Leprous by Hannah Cole

Leprous @ 21:30 - 23:00 on the Line 6 stage

Last day, the last band. It has come to this, and what better way to finish it all off than the prime Norwegian progressive rock band, Leprous. It’s going to be hard to follow up the madness that was that Vildhjarta gig, but nevertheless, Leprous is a legendary band in their own right if you ask me, so I think they are a fitting band to finish off this year’s fantastic festival. I am however surprised that room isn’t filled out for the last headline set of the festival, but there’s still a sizable amount of people here. The quiet, jazzy buildup of “Bonneville” showcases Einar Solberg’s abilities as a singer wonderfully, first letting out these brilliant fragile falsettos which later break into his signature dramatic, theatrical voice, backed by a band that just always plays impressively expressive, where especially Baard Kolstad’s unique, flawless drumming never ceases to amaze me. “Stuck” turns things a little more groovy and catchy with almost poppy sensibilities as Solberg cries ”When I am stuck on mountains!” before the whole band releases all their energy to the violin supported outro. Darkness has now hit Newark Showground, which matches perfectly to the somber synths of “The Valley” which completely hypnotizes me with it’s ever-repeating structure and stellar vocals, which is the same sentiment I have when the similarly hypnotic “The Flood” follows, both drenched in fantastic lighting work that hits the mood of the songs spot on. The older, slow, melodramatic jam “Acquired Taste” continues to impress, yet the band has started playing this extended version of it live, that just crosses a line of self-indulgence for me with its slow build-up that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. To be completely honest, I’d rather they added another song to the setlist than play this rather boring new part.

“The Price” brings another highlight to the show as Solberg commandingly raises his hand and every stroke of the groovy guitar triggers the strobe lighting in the room. “Illuminate” showcases how on point the band’s vocal harmony game is, their 4-way harmonies are just always spot-on which can’t always be said for back-up singers. The hit-single-sounding “From the Flame” finishes it off before an encore brings back the one song from their newest album I was hoping for, the fantastic “Mirage”, where the creeping, bassy intro audibly shakes the walls of the stage before it culminates in the perfect send-off with the heavy, djenty outro, causing both band and audience to release the very last amount of energy they have left in spectacular fashion. Leprous just always delivers, however this time around the setlist wasn’t really my favourite and had some glaring holes - where was “Third Law”, “Rewind”, “Chronic”, “Forced Entry”, “Thorn”? This is of course personal taste, but those tracks are always just incredible when they play them live, so I was sad to see less variety in the albums they chose to represent than they used to. Still, Leprous is one of the greatest progressive rock outfits of our generation and I have yet to see just an average performance from them. As the last band of Tech-Fest 2019, it definitely hit the spot. [8½]

FINAL WORDS

And that concludes this year’s Tech-Fest, another brilliant festival with generally fantastic shows. I think this year might have been one of the best thus far when it comes to quality shows, not only providing one of my favourite shows of all time but also just having a really high bar that kept being pushed. There were a couple of things that were somewhat worse than last year, but overall 2019 delivered on almost every front. The fantastic atmosphere is luckily still completely intact and I didn’t actually hear any severe problems happening at the festival, which just goes to show what a wonderful little fest it is.

As usual, I’ll wrap up this article by listing the good, the bad, and the ugly of Tech-Fest 2019, though I don’t actually have that many negative things to say:

THE GOOD

  • I don’t know what they did, but the general sound quality for the bands was just miles ahead from last year, which just elevated a lot of the shows.
  • A fantastic lineup with a diverse range of sounds, though it was actually mostly the heaviest of the bands that hit a home run with me, which I wasn’t expecting.
  • The So Toto and Slam of God cover sets were some of the most fun after parties I’ve attended at the festival.
  • Vildhjarta’s unforgettable chaos which will stick with me forever.
  • Official merch designs were gorgeous this year, which hurt my wallet quite a bit.
  • Scheduling is still great, if you have got the stamina, you can basically watch every band at the festival without missing any.
  • I didn’t actually see a clogged toilet or shit smeared everywhere, which was a nice bonus.
  • Free hot showers.
  • Lots of camping space so no one feels cramped.
  • Walking distances are basically tops 5 minutes, which gives plenty of time to go back to camp and chill out in between bands.
  • Schmoo’s pizza and the sweet n’ sour chicken from the Panda Noodle House.
  • Generally pretty affordable prices.
  • Water posts with ice-cold water were easily accessible.
  • The general positive atmosphere was back in full force again.
  • Helpful volunteers and crew like always.
  • First aid located right in the center of the campsite for all your moshing injuries.

THE BAD

  • Food selection seemed less diverse and some of it was laughably dull.

THE UGLY

  • BRING BACK SMOKY TENTACLES!

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