ArcTanGent 2019

author KW date 28/08/19

Not long after UK Tech-Fest 2019 has finished, I once more return to the UK for another round of festival experiences. This time a wholly new one to me though, as I have never been to ArcTanGent at Fernhill Farm (a bit south Bristol) before - not because of lack of wanting to, but the stars have just never aligned for me. This year however, I simply had to go, mainly because of just how insane the lineup was, basically earning a spot as the best festival lineup I’ve ever seen, sporting 3 of my favourite bands of all time on the same lineup: The Ocean, Meshuggah and Cult of Luna. These are all heavier names of course, but ArcTanGent spans far and wide in sound, with the revolving theme seemingly being the quirkier side of rock and metal - on one extreme you have metal gods such as the aforementioned Meshuggah and the hardcore beating of Employed To Serve, somewhere in the middle acts like Danish darlings in MØL, Coheed and Cambria and The Ocean and on the less brutal side you have acts such as A.A.Williams, Three Trapped Tigers, Battles. So if you’re a mathy, proggy nerd like me, this seems like the perfect lineup for you.

Being a smaller, still kinda niche festival with a max capacity of 5000 people, the cozy vibes are definitely high and I usually prefer the smaller, focused festivals to bigger ones since people are usually more friendly, easygoing and are easy to talk to because of the obvious shared interest in the same type of music. And trust me, you are almost forced to talk to strangers, as you will get lost from your festival buddies and the mobile reception is non-existent. If you ever decide to go, plan before you reach the festival site. Decide on meeting spots if you get lost etc.. I wish I had been more prepared, as I didn’t anticipate it being this bad, which meant I didn’t even meet my photographer before the last day (sorry Lauren!). So definitely keep that in mind.

Another thing to prepare for is the weather. I’ve been told that ATG consequently gets rain every year, though this year was next level. In my 10 years of attending festivals, I have never experienced this much rain in one day - it rained and stormed for 13 hours straight without any pauses and it was completely relentless. Bring some proper wellies and waterproof coats and trousers, though I found out that basically all of my waterproof stuff couldn’t handle this amount of constant showers, so I was walking around soaked from head to toe for a long time and also my friend’s tent got completely flooded as well so he had to seek shelter in his car for the night (luckily mine only got semi-fucked). I’m not gonna lie and say it wasn’t demoralizing, cause it definitely got to me about halfway through (the hangover from the Silent Disco the day before didn’t help either, of course), and I clearly wasn’t the only one, as I saw many people simply packing up and escaping the site. Fortunately, all the other aspects of the festival, especially the concerts, were incredible.

So let’s explore what ArcTanGent is all about and give you some info about what to expect. After that, I give you no less than 22 reviews to digest and sum it all up in our usual “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” section at the end. Let’s roll!

LOCATION

As I mentioned earlier, the reception is really bad at ArcTanGent so you might have guessed that it is also located right in the middle of absolutely nowhere, though only like a half an hour drive from Bristol through some really beautiful sceneries. The roads do get very small and bumpy once you get near the festival, so don’t bring your lowrider car if you plan on keeping that underbody intact. If you don’t have a car, or simply don’t want to take it, there are also shuttle buses from some of the bigger cities of England, as well as from Bristol Airport if you’re a foreigner coming by plane. Shuttle buses are run by Tuned In Travel. Once you get into Fernhill Farm, the walk from parking or shuttle drop off to the camping site is pretty short, but of course, that also depends on how far you need to go to set up your tent.

CAMPSITE

You can already get into the campsite area one day earlier on Wednesday before the actual festival starts for £15 extra, which means you can set up camp in less stressful environments. We were quite late to the party on Thursday, so we had to go through main camping, which was full, and to the back of the “New Campsite” to find a secluded spot, but that was only a 15-minute walk, so not that bad. At the “New Campsite”, there was loads of room though, so nothing ever felt cramped. Even in main camping, it looked way less claustrophobic than the huge festivals. The terrain is kinda uneven, so definitely make sure you aren’t located in a ditch so you don’t drown in the pouring rain. Walking from campsite to the festival area takes an absolute maximum of 10 minutes if you’re located far back, but usually about 5 minutes for most people, so it’s very easy to get to and from camp. If you don’t want to bring your tent, you can also purchase a pre-pitched tent in a variety of sizes, from cheap to luxurious. There is also a designated spot for auto campers located just outside the main camping area if you’re lucky to have one of those (would’ve been really nice through the storm honestly).

FESTIVAL AREA: STAGES

ArcTanGent introduced a small new stage this year, fittingly named the Elephant In The Bar Room stage, as it’s located inside the bar/merch tent closest to the main Arc stage, which had more toned down sets mainly in broader genres such as hip hop and folk. I didn’t actually witness any bands here, so I can’t really have an opinion on it, but more bands is always a good thing, right?

Besides from that new one, the main festival lineup spans 4 stages: Arc (main stage), Yohkai, Bixler, and PX3. Arc and Bixler in one end of the festival site - Yohkai and PX3 in the other. This means that both sides of the festival always has one set playing at one of the two stages, but luckily never both of the paired stages at the same time so there’s minimal sound overlap. The walk to and from the sides is really easy and only takes a maximum of 5 minutes to walk, though the mud during and after Friday did make it quite harder and more exhausting to walk around, though some stretches have wooden paths, free of mud, though I hoped that the festival would’ve laid out more of these paths and perhaps either woodchip or hay to combat the water and mud inside the stages, since the Arc stage had one giant, deep puddle of water right in the center of where the audience was supposed to stand, but in general I’m not even sure it could be combatted, due to the high volume of pissing down we got.

All the stages are located inside big tents, which is a giant plus. Not only because of shelter, but also because of the sound quality, as it made it way harder for the wind to ruin the sound engineering. Speaking of which, said engineering was generally superb with only a few misses for me, which is vital for the type of complex music usually at play here, so kudos for that.

Arc stage is also the venue for the night time Silent Disco after the last band every night at 23:00, where people can rent wireless headphones and dance the night away to classics. You can get some headphones by leaving a £10 deposit that you will get back if you return them, and I can highly recommend it: it was a whole lot of fun.

FESTIVAL AREA: FOOD & DRINKS

ArcTanGent provided the best experience I’ve had with food and drinks at a festival ever. The variety and sheer quality of most of what was served was impressively high. In the drinks department: loads of different and special craft beers and ciders on both tap and can, cocktails, coffee, tea, and soft drinks. Pricing was fairly standard but fair, about £5 for a regular pint of beer and of course more expensive for the special craft beers. Keep in mind that the festival has a recycling system: you pay £2 extra for the cup (which are awesome looking by the way) but will of course not pay that £2 extra if you bring it back with you for a refill.

Food was generally really, really tasty with only a few options being a bit disappointing on quantity vs. pricing. Most foods were in the £6-£10 range. I am not a vegetarian but did try a couple of the veggie/vegan options, which were delicious, so there’s something for that crowd as well. Here a few thoughts on some of the different things I tried:

Greek gyros with halloumi and chicken. I am a big sucker for halloumi and this was delicious but a bit too expensive compared to the amount given.

Scampi and chips. Also really great, though I would’ve wanted a bit more scampi. Chips were phenomenally good with the tartare sauce though.

Veggie halloumi burger. Tasted nice but way overpriced for how small it was.

Bunny chowder. Beef chili inside a big hollowed out bread with creme fraiche and supplementary garlic bread. Probably my favourite of the festival, really delicious and a large amount of food for the price that will keep you full for a long time.

FESTIVAL AREA: FACILITIES

Toilets were generally nice and semi-clean apart from the abundance of mud (not that kind of mud) after the Fridays rainy escapades and stocked with toilet paper. I only experienced no toilet paper one time, where I tried 3 different toilet sites before going out into the campsite to finally find one with a stock of toilet paper. So definitely much nicer than the horror experience bigger festivals can be. Showers are only located in VIP camping, so if you want to shower, that’s what you’ll have to get.

A surprising amount of stalls and shops actually accepted credit card, but I’d still recommend getting cash out for everything, also to smooth things over at the bar - you don’t want to be the one holding up the queue of alcohol thirsty metalheads, right? Cash machines are located inside the festival site, but charge extra per withdraw, so better do a big withdraw if you run out or simply withdraw before you arrive at the festival.

I would’ve liked more benches around the Arc stage, as it was sometimes very difficult to find a place to rest your feet, but generally, the chill-out spaces were good, with Smoky Tentacles (shisha tent), which is a bellowed place at Tech-Fest as well, making a showing.

Alright, let’s get to the exciting part: the reviews! Enjoy!

All photos provided by the great Lauren Harris Photography (Instagram, Facebook)

REVIEWS: THURSDAY

MØL by Lauren Harris Photography

MØL @ 17:00 - 17:40 on the Bixler stage

The Danish blackgaze champions in MØL returns to ArcTanGent once again, having played the festival just last year. Having seen the band numerous times in my homeland on smaller stages, I know the band delivers live, but can they conquer this bigger festival setup? Well as it turns out, MØL shines even brighter with the larger production and seems ever comfortable blasting out their atmospheric barrage of melancholic noise and grooves to an impressively large crowd. It’s all very professional: the lighting suits the shoegaze vibes perfectly, bathing the entire band in hues of purple, blue and waves of strobe lights to the hammering double bass drums. Frontman Kim Song Sternkopf proves once again, just why he might be one of the best frontmen in the Danish underground scene, wielding his tripod as a commanding staff, crowd surfing while maintaining his brutal growls and at one point marches through the smiling crowd, arriving just before me to manically scream straight in my face. The rest of the band plays tightly but blend more into the background stage presence-wise yet it doesn’t matter since Sternkopf would’ve probably stolen the focus anyway with his incredibly entertaining antics. The clear highlight of the show comes when Brady Deeprose of Conjurer joins the fray to a fantastic rendition of “Bruma” and it is refreshing to see some actual chemistry between the two vocalists, screaming each other’s faces off, which isn’t always the case with these kinda guest spots. It serves as the perfect send-off to an ecstatic crowd who keeps chanting “MØL, MØL, MØL!” even after the show is long finished. They’ve succeeded in gaining an avid fan base over here in England, and it’s not hard at all to understand why. [8½]

Zeal & Ardor by Lauren Harris Photography

Zeal & Ardor @ 17:45 - 18:40 on the Arc stage

Rumbling ominous bass hits the packed main stage of ArcTanGent 2019 before one of the more interesting metal bands of our generations starts their ritualistic blues-infused black metal spirituals. The music of Zeal & Ardor is just damn original and distinct, incorporating hypnotizing, recurring chants with blistering tremolo-picked guitar and shrieks from hell. This band is audibly a favourite among festival-goers who loudly chant along to the catchy refrains the band expertly pulls off, personal favorites being ”Row row, you’re never gonna go!” and the weirdly juxtaposing nature of the religious sounding but diabolical phrasing of ”A good God is a dead one!”. It just works so well and Manuel Gagneux’s soulful vocals sound fantastic, especially on the intense croonings of “You Ain’t Coming Back” backed up by a sinister yet beautiful sounding choir. However, the sound mix does seem off for the first leg of the set; the drums do sound punchy and huge, but this seems to result in the rest of the instrumentation drowning out during the heavier outbursts. This does get resolved towards the end, but it did dampen my excitement as the effectiveness was hindered. Nevertheless, Zeal & Ardor is one of the more sonically unique experiences you can find here in 2019 and I implore anyone to go check it out if you haven’t had the pleasure before. [8]

Polyphia by Lauren Harris Photography

Polyphia @ 18:45 - 19:30 on the Yohkai stage

Polyphia. The band that managed to win me over with their newest release of math-rock bangers “New Levels New Devils”. Before that I have to admit I was completely oblivious to what people were getting out of their bubblegum instrumental wankery but prejudices aside, let’s see how it fares live then. One of the more surprising elements is just how involved the band are with the crowd, hyping them at every turn and exuding infectious confidence, which is a nice change of pace from the introverted, sharp focus on playing everything perfectly that these kinds of instrumental, virtuoso shows sometimes fall victim to. But that bass though! Sure the guitar-work is flashy as hell with its constant tapping and extended chords but it is not often the bass completely steals the show for me, so much that the interplay between the drums and bass actually completely overshadow parts of the guitar noodling for me (and this is coming from a fellow guitarist). The tone is just absolutely filthy and monstrous and sits satisfyingly high in the clear mix, complementing the filthy, yet light grooves on display here. I am missing some real memorable hooks in some of these happy sounding, sexy tunes but Polyphia managed to pull me one step closer to really appreciating what the band has to offer with this highly entertaining show. [8]

Carpenter Brut by Lauren Harris Photography

Carpenter Brut @ 19:35 - 20:35 on the Arc stage

Being a pretty big fan of the whole 80’s nostalgia synthwave movement, I am extremely excited to see for the first time, how one of the biggest players in the genre is going to fare live. Frank Huesco, or Carpenter Brut, has brought both a live guitarist and drummer to ignite his heavy synth tracks even more with great ferocity, set to the visuals of slasher flicks, flaming singing skulls, aerobics videos and PSA-videos on finding out whether your child is satanic on the backdrop. It’s sex and gore galore as the grinding synths burst out during a fantastic rendition of the Hotline Miami soundtrack “Roller Mobster” while the blood splatters in the background as one college coed after the other is brutally sliced up by some b-movie horror villain, blending epic metal sounds with pumping noisy bass, causing a frenzy in the audience who are manically moshing and pumping their fists. It’s simply a massive party here at the Arc stage, and Carpenter Brut provides such an entertaining audio-visual time travel of a show that I carry the biggest shit-eating grin throughout the whole thing. But Carpenter Brut isn’t just all about high tempo ravy synth bangers, they also have a few vocally focused songs. The hooks in “Beware the Beast” has some strong Depeche Mode overtones and gets the whole tent shouting along to the, admittedly very cheesy, chorus of ”Beware the beast inside your heart, as we’re dancing in the dark!” but the cheesiness is just where all the charm of the band comes from as well. The heavy cover of “Maniac” (best known from the Flashdance movie) continues this trend of roaring singalongs as everyone dances like they’ve never danced before. The sound is also just fantastic and every transition into the next track seamless. Everything is clearly thoroughly and professionally planned out and therefore loses a bit of the unpredictable “live vibes”, and I’d say perhaps having an actual singer on stage for the vocal songs would’ve worked better instead of the somewhat awkward backing tracks (I always find vocal backing tracks awkward though), but nevertheless, Carpenter Brut provided one of the most fun and unique concert experiences I’ve had in a while. If you embrace the cheesiness, you’re gonna have one hell of a time watching these guys, just like I did. [9]

Daughters by Lauren Harris Photography

Daughters @ 20:40 - 21:35 on the Yohkai stage

Gaining one of my very first perfect scores as a writer for Rockfreaks back in April at Roadburn Festival, watching Daughters once more isn’t even a question for me. This is simply one of the most brutal noise rock bands out there right now and Alexis Marshall once again calmly walks on stage with his characteristic nonchalant confidence before the barrage of noise hits the audience with the noisy stoner rock anthem of “The Reason They Hate Me”. ”Don’t tell me how to do my job!” Marshall shouts over hellish dissonance with great conviction and clear sound. The thoroughly unsettling vibes continue with the glacial waves of noise with “The Lords Song” while the nastiness is turned into eerie beauty with “Satan In The Wait”, a clear fan favourite as the crowd visibly throws their hands in the air as Marshall exclaims like a doomsday prophet ”This world is opening up, up, up!”. The band has gained notoriety for their intense live performances, and they definitely deliver here again, with Marshall at one point standing tall right on top of the audience while gargling out his vocals and screaming right into the front row, but I will admit that this show does seem quite tame compared to the total and utter madness I witnessed at Roadburn, and never really reaches that boiling point I was hungering for again.

While I only personally got to know the band last year with “You Won’t Get What You Want”, some older tunes are also thrown into the mix and these provided some of the highlights for me. The punky, pitch shifting riffs of “The Hit” sound amazingly disorienting while the mathcore chaos of “The Virgin” sounds unbelievably heavy with sporadic beats and sludgy bass played to perfection. “Guest House” and “Ocean Song” both provide a great last leg of a show, where Daughters once again proved why they are such a hyped band in the underground extreme scene. Yet it just wasn’t quite as mind-blowing as I last saw them, though I might’ve just been spoiled by how majestic that was, which just dampened my enjoyment a little as I have seen what they are really capable of. Still, I can’t recommend checking these guys out enough; it will be one of the most visceral experiences you will ever be lucky enough to witness. [8½]

Coheed and Cambria by Lauren Harris Photography

Coheed and Cambria @ 21:45 - 23:00 on the Arc stage

It is not often that I don’t have any real opinion on a headliner as big as this, but I never really got into Coheed and Cambria. I know how beloved they are but it is just one of those bands I never got around to giving a proper try. I feel very alone in this sentiment though as I walk into the Arc stage, as it is packed to the brim with fans who seemingly know every single word to the songs here, which turns out to be a great catalyst for my enjoyment of the show, as it is always hard not to get infected by those fan vibes purveying throughout the set. But it sounds great as well: the sound is sharp, the vocals are on point with a unique high timbre to them and the riffing flashy and tight. Coheed and Cambria employ a mix of alternative, progressive and post-hardcore with a clear focus on writing earwormy tracks of epic proportions, backed by the stunning visuals of apocalyptic sci-fi cities, robotic machinery and lush landscapes which never cease to captivate me. There isn’t actually a lot to criticize here apart from the somewhat straight forward songwriting that keeps it from truly capturing me, but everything is just expertly executed down to a tee. They are simply just a great live band and the anthemic qualities of their songs obviously work in their favour, reaching a clear high point with the crushing, dramatic riffs and theatrical orchestration of “Welcome Home”. This is where my jaw finally hits the floor: what an absolutely fantastic song which makes me question how the hell I have missed this belter for so many years. It all culminates wonderfully in this last song with the whole tent doing the whole ”whoooa whoooa whoooa!” singalong loudly before the band leaves with huge smiles on their faces. I am not sure I will generally enjoy their music that much on record but Coheed and Cambria subverted every sceptical thought I had before the show in a very convincing manner. [8½]

REVIEWS: FRIDAY

Thank You Scientist by Lauren Harris Photography

Thank You Scientist @ 14:30 - 15:20 on the Arc stage

“We’re Thank You Scientist, it smells really fucking bad here.” Awkward silence. What an odd way to open a set, but all that aside, what I’m treated to by these Americans is some big band style progressive rock with an impressive ensemble: apart from the usual core instruments of a rock band, there is also a violinist, a sax and a trumpet present here. Thank You Scientist plays a brand of epic progressive funk-rock spiced with the aforementioned classical instruments, even adding in a theremin of all things at one point, which might be gimmicky but it works fairly well and it’s not an instrument you see every day. It kinda reminds me of a jazzy version of Coheed and Cambria from yesterday, perhaps mainly due to the high pitched nasal singing and melodic choices in the choruses, however this first track just doesn’t really catch me at all and just seems way too “diddly diddly” and flashy for its own good and lacks any sort of memorable tether for me. Luckily, the band gradually win me over with much more sharp songs over the course of the set. One song focuses more on effective heaviness through chugging riffs, while another incorporates some Middle Eastern-sounding progressions and a sexy groove that gives me some clear nods to The Dear Hunter’s material. But one glaring problem is the lack of guitar in the mix, which I get is probably mostly on purpose to give the other eclectic instruments some love as well, but almost all of the guitar solos drown completely, which is a shame as it at least looks impressive. This last song has some obvious Tosin Abasi inspirations in its clean tapping riff and sounds pretty fantastic actually. If I had to describe my enjoyment over time, it would almost be a linear line from pretty unimpressed to thoroughly excited at the end. [7]

The Algorithm @ 15:25 - 16:00 on the Yohkai stage

Time to get mind-bendy. Rémi Gallego brings his unique, brain-twisting electronic music to ArcTanGent, armed with his array of synths and a 7-string guitar around his neck. Even though it’s been pissing down all day, the tent is packed with people ready to party their asses off to some ridiculous sounds. And ridiculous it is: psytrance, dub, down-tuned polyrhythmic djent grooves, and video game samples are just a part of the revolving mass of genres The Algorithm mix together on record, but it is all elevated live with the addition of Jean Ferry on live drums who impressively pulls off all of these styles and rhythmically complex tunes with surgical precision. It’s also obviously spiced with a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek, which becomes all too apparent when French elevator muzak leads way into the completely disjointed glitchy “deadlock”, as Gallego switches out his guitar with a bass to come ever closer to opening a black hole from sheer heaviness. I’d say that The Algorithm isn’t exactly the most engaging act to watch and perhaps could accompany the crazy tunes with fitting crazy visuals in the future to make it all come together (perhaps take out a page from Carpenter Brut’s book). Additionally, The Algorithm seldom brings anything completely new to his sets, so if you've seen them once you know what to expect. But what you expect is just greatness and that’s exactly what this was. [8]

The Ocean by Lauren Harris Photography

The Ocean @ 16:05 - 16:55 on the Arc stage

The Ocean is a frighteningly talented bunch and have become one of my all-time favourite bands with every consistently excellent release through the past decade. As such I have already seen them numerous times before, but this will be the first time I get to hear the “Phanerozoic” material live and whether or not they can recreate the monolithic nature of that record on stage. Mind you, I didn’t have a doubt in my mind that they could and this confidence in the band is warranted straight out the gate. The crushing progressive post-metal masterpiece “Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence” sounds mastodonic with some seriously heavy sound engineering and frontman Loïc Rosetti doesn’t waste any time, ending up already crowd surfing during the first song while performing his absolutely spot on, intense shouts. The last anthem of the song sends chills down my spine to roaring applause in the audience, followed up by the highly dynamic “Silurian: Age of Sea Scorpions” which features some of the best clean vocal work from Rosetti thus far, which is also translated perfectly in this live setting. This might just be the best vocal performance I’ve seen from him thus far, which carries over into the two songs from their “Pelagial” masterwork, “Bathyalpelagic I: Impasses” and “Bathyalpelagic II: The Wish in Dreams”, which both also demonstrate how criminally underrated of a drummer Paul Seidel really is. He possesses so much finesse and adds interesting details to his groovy as hell drumming. “Permian: The Great Dying” continues this tour de force of a show with its Ragnarok of sludgy post-metal but that’s also all we get as an audience, which clocks in at about 30 mins worth of a show. A brilliant show of course, but way too short for a band this high up the bill, which I later learned was perhaps due to them being delayed because of the unending rain. I can’t lie and say this didn’t disappoint me pretty hard, but while it lasted, The Ocean cemented their status as one of the single best bands on this planet. [8½]

Sleep Token by Lauren Harris Photography

Sleep Token @ 17:00 - 17:40 on the Bixler stage

The enigmatic Sleep Token has quickly created a large buzz in the underground progressive scene and have come to overtake ArcTanGent with their ritual. Everyone is dressed in black hooded robes and masks to conceal their identity and create this creepy contrasting atmosphere to their really beautiful blend of pop, indie, and progressive metal. “The Night Does Not Belong To God” shows the frontman’s (only known as Vessel) exceptional soulful vocals backed up by some haunting harmonies from the choir through a track that mixes down-tuned riffing with alternative R'n'B in a wholly unique sound. “The Offering” features another flawless vocal performance and some fantastic drumming filled with tasty ghost notes and fills, but I find the sound pretty underwhelming during the heavy parts, as the mix is missing some meat, making the otherwise crushing breakdown sound flat and tinny, which unfortunately never really gets resolved.

Sleep Token’s mesmerizing stage performance comes from the creepy mannerisms from everyone on stage who switch between glaring at the audience completely frozen and jamming out on their instruments, while Vessel contorts emotionally and at one point semi-violently pushes the guitarists head during the amazing atmospheres of the new track “Higher”, which provides the highlight for me, sporting both some incredibly catchy vocal melodies, some moody alternative metal riffs and a brutal breakdown by the end, again unfortunately not reaching the force I could have due to way too much high end in the mix. A transcendental performance is thus let down by average sound engineering, keeping the gig from being the truly special experience it obviously could’ve been. [8]

Palm Reader by Lauren Harris Photography

Palm Reader @ 17:45 - 18:30 on the PX3 stage

Palm Reader have been getting more and more warranted notoriety with last year’s brilliant post-hardcore record “Braille”, and this will be the first time I get to enjoy the band. The anthemic “Infernal Winter” sees Josh McKeown’s great screaming and singing taking focus but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons, as the sound is ear piercing in all other aspects, almost devoid of anything resembling low end, not to mention the extreme loudness of it, which is almost painful to listen to at times. It’s a damn shame though, because the band plays really tightly and have some fantastic memorable hooks and savage hardcore riffs, while McKeown’s stage presence is super infectious and fun with some great stage banter and commanding nature, actually succeeding in getting a circle pit going in the audience to the playful, heavy hardcore banger in “Swarm”. Seems like people are not all demoralised from the relentless rain, but it’s also just a testament to what a great frontman he really is. I have this annoying feeling that this might well have been one of the best shows of the festival had it not been tarnished by painful sound. Fortunately, the d-beats of “Like a Wave” sees the sound becoming way more bearable, which also makes the mathcore savagery of “I Watch The Fire Chase My Tongue” hit like an absolute truck with its delicious chaos and sludginess. I conclude that it is mandatory for me to catch this band again under better circumstances, seeing that, apart from the subpar sound, they have pretty much-nailed everything else about their act. [7]

Black Peaks (with Jamie Lenman) by Lauren Harris Photography

Black Peaks (with Jamie Lenman) @ 18:45 - 19:35 on the Yohkai stage

This will be the first time I experience one of my absolute favourite acts to come out of England over the past years. I was afraid that the news of Will Gardner’s struggle with health and the subsequent cancellations of a lot of shows would also impact this ArcTanGent show. Sure enough, Gardner would not be in attendance but I’d say we got about the next best thing - none other than the legendary alt-rock band Reuben’s ex-frontman Jamie Lenman has decided to join the band for this one-off special show. And as it turns out, if anyone would be able to fill in this difficult position, it would be him. Any doubt is immediately erased with the spot-on rendition of “Can’t Sleep”. Black Peak’s Mastodon-inspired riff machine is running on all cylinders. Not only is Lenman’s singing and screaming a perfect fit for the band, the band just play so well, where especially Liam Kearley’s tasty drumming has me in constant awe. “Saviour” continues this masterful display and Lenman even pulls off most of the insanely high pitched screams Gardner has written. Lenman has the crowd in the palm of his hands and gets us all to shout ”Miss you, Will!” in a touching tribute to the recovering frontman. The intensity keeps rising with their breakout single “Glass Built Castles” which causes the whole room to scream along to the sporadic, catchy madness at play.

But the show just keeps getting more special. Not that surprising, we are also treated to some heavy covers of Reuben songs: the heavy, driving bass of “Suffocation of the Soul” and the groovy, bouncy, Rage Against The Machine-esque riffing of “Every Time a Teenager Listens to Drum & Bass a Rockstar Dies” are both played as if it was Reuben themselves banging out these fiery alt-rock songs as Lenman exclaims ”It seems that out of bad, came something great, don’t you think?” I think virtually everyone in here would agree with that sentiment, it’s simply fantastic and I couldn’t imagine a better performance from the band given the circumstances and how little time they must’ve had to practice the songs with Lenman. The shuffling rhythm of “Aether”, and incidentally Lenman’s favourite Black Peaks song apparently, cements what a fine display of anthemic progressive rock this was, as Kearley seems to be on a quest to murder his drums with the expressive and violent bashing he’s engaging in. The only criticism I can think of is the somewhat unclear mix of the guitar at times - the complete clarity just isn’t there but apart from that, my first Black Peaks show did not disappoint in the slightest, even though it wasn’t a “real” Black Peaks show per se. Hat’s off to Lenman for doing a perfect stand-in job. [9]

Battles by Lauren Harris Photography

Battles @ 21:45 - 23:00 on the Arc stage

I think my description of Battles’ eclectic act would probably be “nerdy rave rock”. Battles consists of two dudes, a drummer and keyboardist/guitarist banging out one danceable experimental rock tune after the other while mixing in a range of otherworldly and very creative noises. Drummer John Stanier pretty much steals the show though, placed front and center on stage, with his incredibly high energy levels and weightful bashes on the drums, ranging from drum ‘n’ bass to disjointed mathy beats. Not being all that familiar with the band before the show, I can say without a doubt that they have a sound quite unlike anything I’ve ever heard before with some seriously out-there sound design, but some of the songs do repeat themselves and drag on for too long for my taste, since there’s only so many quirky synths can do for a song before the novelty wears off. One song does have an unbelievably tasty groove though with these weird high pitched vocals on top and a more rock ‘n’ roll feel to it than any of the other songs. The bouncy “Atlas” hits a complete home run for me with its odd smurf choir, dissonant clean guitar and pumping bass drum which makes it completely impossible to stand still. Battles’ sound is very hard to describe and at times hard to digest, but while some tracks didn’t resonate with me, it’s still one of the most interesting things I’ve seen at the festival thus far. [7½]

Brutus @ 22:00 - 23:00 on the PX3 stage

I am quite late as I hurry over to the PX3 stage to catch Brutus’ set, since I’ve been highly recommended to check them out by a friend, and I am so happy that I followed his advice. I am treated to some of the most beautiful post-rock/post-hardcore of the festival with basically flawless sound and some hauntingly beautiful singing from drummer Stefanie Mannaerts who constantly makes the hairs on my arms stand up with her both fragile and powerful musings. Mind you, it’s not even just simple drum beats she bangs out while performing these fantastic vocals, which makes it all the more impressive. The interesting structure of “War” ranges from soft, emotional singing over melancholic guitar arpeggios before erupting into this savage hardcore punk instrumental, while the soaring reverb-drenched tremolo picking of “Techno” floor me with some more powerfully raw vocals and pumping bass. But the absolute highlight comes with the slower crescendo of “Sugar Dragon” which just completely hypnotizes me on every front. The writing might not be anything completely new in the post-rock realm but it is so goddamn effective and beautiful that I can feel my eyes watering during the quiet buildup of the middle part before the frenzy of guitars and drums hits me like a grandiose wall of sound. Again, this atmospheric sound has been done before but they have mastered it and made it their own with Mannaerts drumming/singing performance. What a perfect way to end this Friday night and I leave the stage in awe of just how good these guys are. I need to catch a complete set of Brutus in the future. [9]

REVIEWS: SATURDAY

LLNN by Lauren Harris Photography

LLNN @ 14:30 - 15:10 on the PX3 stage

Time for the second of two Danish bands present at the festival and also one of the heaviest constellations to come out of my homeland for quite a while. LLNN plays punishingly heavy post-metal elevated with the addition of some clever sound design from synth player Ketil G. Sejersen, who conjures up these unsettling modern horror sci-fi scores to complement the endless barrage of down-tuned noise. And my god is it unrelenting, backed by the seriously huge, grimy, noisy sound that is also just crystal clear to boot. Guitarist Christian Bonnesen’s ferocious screaming is the icing on the cake of this post-apocalyptic wasteland soundtrack, where especially the start-stop onslaught of “Parallels” blows me backwards, perfectly doing these gradual slowdowns completely in sync. “Rapture” follows this trend, which contains one of the most brutal breakdowns I have ever heard and LLNN makes it even more ridiculous in a live setting by slowing it down even more until the music is almost at a halt, while headbanging till their necks almost give out, causing the people behind me to break out into constant moshing. “Armada” contains this brilliant, sinister melodic passage that serves as a creepy breathing room before bashing my head in once again with sludgy force. It’s nihilistic and cryogenically cold but also incredibly focused in sound and execution. It doesn’t get much more abrasive than this and I for one adore them for that. LLNN simply provided one of the absolute heaviest sets of the weekend. [9]

Azusa by Lauren Harris Photography

Azusa @ 15:25 - 16:00 on the Bixler stage

One of the many new projects to form from the corpse of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Liam Wilson’s new band Azusa (also with members of Extol) was, of course, one I had to check out. Unfortunately, the band is hit with some technical difficulties which seem to phase the band a little and I can't help but feel the band also seem a little bit disconnected from each other. They play tightly but I don’t feel any chemistry and the stage performance is kinda boring. The breaks between the songs are awkward and it doesn’t help either that the guitars are buried in the mix, which just shouldn’t happen with such a guitar-focused band. The songs themselves range from completely forgettable to quite fantastic, where especially the weird, jazzy palm-muted grooves of “Lost in the Ether” and the thrashy guitar rolls of “Eternal Echo” reeks of Extol and Fleshkiller material, which pleases me greatly. Eleni Zafiriadou generally does a good job on vocal duties and gives off some Eva Spence vibes with her stage persona, using two microphones for singing and pissed off hardcore screaming, but once again the clean vocals just drown out completely to the point where they are almost inaudible. ”We’re the most professional band of this festival… noooot!” she jokingly acknowledges the problems they’ve been facing, but in the end, Azusa’s show ended up being not all that memorable. [5]

The Contortionist by Lauren Harris Photography

The Contortionist @ 17:00 - 17:40 on the Yohkai stage

The Contortionist at UK Tech-Fest 2018 was my favourite set of that whole year, so the band has quite a lot to live up to here at ArcTanGent. I am not quite sure what to expect from the setlist, this being a shorter set than the headlining one I saw last year, and whether or not the focus will be solely on their newer stuff. I do adore the newer stuff but also hope to perhaps be treated with some of their heavier outings. The title track off their last album “Clairvoyant” sets off the show spectacularly with its mix of heavy prog riffing and chilled out spacious atmospheres with spot-on sound from the get-go. The guitars sit so well and clear in the mix without overshadowing the rest, which makes it a perfect engineering job when it comes to this type of music. Mike Lessard’s understated vocals on record have much more life to them here and are occasionally mixed with some powerful feral screaming that isn’t normally found on the track. And here lies one of the strengths of The Contortionist’s sets - they aren’t afraid of adding little quirks here and there to make it stand out from the recordings, which just works so well.

”Oh shit, it’s gonna be Flourish!” I think to myself as Lessard keeps repeating that same word over and over again, and sure enough, the shredding intro of exactly that song hits the room like a fucking truck and I am blown away by how enormous this sounds. The chugging progressive deathcore of their early days is, of course, a far cry from what the band has become, but it is nice to see some fan service as well, and they still just play it to absolute perfection, causing never-ending chills due to just how heavy and beautiful it is. Both parts of “Language” display once more how unreal their tightness is, especially during the intro of the latter part with the use of syncopated drum beats and clever use of natural harmonics. Joey Baca’s drumming on “Return To Earth” is completely out of this world with so many intricacies and clever ideas to the grooves, which complements the swelling soundscapes and emotional croonings of Lessard fantastically (”You were so sick. You were skin and bones.”) to provide the perfect end to a virtually flawless set, that just ended way too soon. The Contortionist are quickly and convincingly becoming one of my favourite bands to experience live, and if you haven’t yet, I cannot recommend it highly enough. You don’t want to be missing out on one of the best prog bands on the planet, trust me. [9]

And So I Watch You From Afar by Lauren Harris Photography

Secret band: And So I Watch You From Afar @ 17:45 - 18:40 on the Arc stage

So the secret band of this Saturday is none other than And So I Watch You From Afar, which I’ve been told is almost a house band of ArcTanGent at this point. But it isn’t just any day for the band, as they are officially throwing their 10th anniversary on this day and we are therefore treated to almost all of their self-titled debut from 2009. “Set Guitars to Kill” sets it all off with pitch-shifting intro and the band shows themselves as the ever consistently great performers with their explosive take on the heavier side of math and post-rock. The track is audibly a crowd favourite as they all know exactly when to shout along and a party riot is visibly forming from the fans at the front. The band just has a knack for creating highly infectious riffs and groovy complex rhythms, which makes it hard to not to move along to the happy vibes emanating from the band. ”Fuck yeah!” guitarist Rory Friers excitedly exclaims, before erupting into the heavy “Clench Fists, Grit Teeth...Go!” while living every stroke of the guitar and running around ecstatically on stage. “I Capture Castles” turns the mood way more foreboding with a fantastic display of huge sounding post-rock, where especially the fitting lighting work catches my focus, and it complements the buildup with supporting strobe lights to hype up the crowd. The energy from the band just seems never-ending with every outburst of crunchy math riffs, but I will say that perhaps the show loses a bit of momentum with the two subtler songs “Don’t Waste Time Doing Things You Hate” and “The Voiceless”. But the momentum returns with a rage with “Eat the City, Eat it Whole” which sets the crowd on fire with crowd surfers in the air and a pummeling ending riff after almost complete silence. What a sendoff. And So I Watch From Afar thus continues their streak of being consistently great, and while I would’ve enjoyed a set spanning more records (“Wasps” is the perfect festival song), it was still an absolute blast. [8½]

Car Bomb by Lauren Harris Photography

Car Bomb @ 18:45 - 19:35 on the Bixler stage

Probably the most mental band on the lineup, Car Bomb is one of the noisiest yet most exciting modern metal bands right now. Their music can be almost incomprehensible in how abrasive it is, but that’s part of the massive appeal of the band. Just take one of the newer singles “Dissect Yourself”. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but Greg Kubacki has somehow acquired some alien technology to intersect the Meshuggah-but-almost-impossible-to-follow riffs with blistering sounds of laser pistols emanating from his guitar. The sound is savage and the instrumentation so tight yet organic that it even rivals the aforementioned Swedes. It’s the antithesis to catchy, the opposite of melodic, but just too goddamn heavy for your own good. I already love it.

But Car Bomb is a band of many faces and isn’t just endless, entertaining noise and mathy rhythms. See, Car Bomb aren’t just a band that are pushing the boundaries, they are ramming headfirst into them. “Scattered Sprites” mixes the glitchy guitar tone with Deftones-esque atmospheric vocals to massive effect. “Gratitude” is another weirdly melodic but punishingly heavy tune that has some absolutely nasty pick scrapes in between the drawn-out clean vocals, while the Meshuggah chugging and constant tempo change madness of “From the Dust of This Planet” demonstrates the inhumane skills these guys possess, causing the pit to erupt into a constant frenzy of crowd surfers and moshing. It’s an unholy volley of down-tuned chugs and alien noises and everyone seems to be loving it, even though it is a folly task to try and headbang along to. “Secrets Within Secrets” ends the show with more fast chugging, blast beats and thoroughly creative sounds from another planet to feed even the hungriest metal fan, played with absolute tactile precision. I’ve even heard that the band doesn’t play with a click track in a live setting, which is hard to believe with just how ridiculous and hard it must be to play these abominations (abominations in a good way of course). If you’re looking to have your brain completely melted into slush, you’ve come to the right place if you ever find yourself at a Car Bomb gig. I for one cannot recommend it enough. [9]

Cult of Luna by Lauren Harris Photography

Cult of Luna @ 19:40 - 20:40 on the Arc stage

Even though I know they, unfortunately, won’t be playing anything from their magnum opus “Mariner” (god I wish I got to see any of those special shows), I am more than ecstatic to catch the Swedish mammoth ensemble that is Cult of Luna once more. Armed with no less than two drummers and three guitars, we are treated to their newest post-metal brilliance “The Silent Man” from their forthcoming record, and the sound right out of the gate is totally crushing, with the band bathed in red light as they construct these cinematic atmospheres with great conviction. The whole band is mere silhouettes behind this beautiful wall of noise, which fits the apocalyptic nature of it perfectly, which carries over into the doomy, marching toms of “Finland” that includes a thoroughly hypnotizing middle section of glitchy synths and sinister undertones. This band just stands above the rest in creating ever-evolving auditory experiences combined with some absolutely filthy sludge and translates it exceedingly well from record to stage. Another exhibit of this: “Ghost Trail”. Before the amazing climax at the end, it all turns to complete silence before Johannes Persson’s signature animalistic roar sets off a gradually speeding up spiral of epic proportions, as the whole stage turns to chaos with flashing lights and moshing people at the front. So good.

Cult of Luna continues the crusade of being both the beauty and the beast with “I: The Weapon”. It’s still end-of-days heavy at first, with the strobes glitching along in sync with the sci-fi synths, but reaches this gorgeous climax of melodic piano and wailing lead guitar that ensnares me completely. “In Awe Of” finally envelopes the stage with more hard-hitting beauty of layers upon layers of blissful, yet melancholic noise, like the soundtrack to impending doom, and serves as the perfect grandiose ender to another fantastic set at ArcTanGent. I knew not to expect “Mariner” material, so not seeing one of my favourites “Mute Departure” made me a bit sad, but that’s a small personal criticism that pales in comparison to this masterclass show of post-metal that Cult of Luna delivered. This is how it’s done. Bring on the new album. [9]

Employed to Serve by Lauren Harris Photography

Employed to Serve @ 20:45 - 21:35 on the Bixler stage

”Start this shit! Circle pit! Circle pit!” Justine Jones does not fuck around and there is no doubt about what type of show this is going be. In your face, and without remorse. In a range of new songs, the titular “Eternal Forward Motion” starts the barrage of sludgy hardcore bangers Employed To Serve have brought along to knock the attendants over the head with, showcasing the band’s brilliant ability to write both catchy and unbelievably heavy tunes. Justine Jones’ pissed off shrieks are nicely supported by guitarist Sammy Urwin’s anarchic yelling and the dissonant nu-nu-metal oozes of “Beneath It All” gives the crowd no room to breathe. This is by far the rowdiest crowd of the festival; it is mental to behold how the whole tent is basically moving, limbs and hair flying everywhere to the ten-tonne breakdowns. The guitars sound disgustingly dirty and fantastic, but unfortunately, the drums seem to be pushing the speaker limits, as the bass drum is producing some kind of clipping occasionally. Perhaps the goal of being as loud and abrasive as possible has been pushed too far, but it is impossible not to let out an impressed grin in disbelief to the insanity of the fast and thrashy outburst and subsequent evolution into the almost doomy breakdown of “Dull Ache Behind My Eyes”. I am happy to see all these newer songs make the cut, as I am a firm believer that this band only gets better and better with every record. That’s not to say that the older tunes don’t have anything to add: the simpler, sludgy groove of “I Spend My Days” is as grimy as the insane amount of mud last night’s rain has conjured up here. In the end, Employed To Serve never fails to impress with their catharsis through music and they burned ArcTanGent to the ground, though the drum sound could’ve used some work. [8]

Meshuggah by Lauren Harris Photography

Meshuggah @ 21:45 - 23:00 on the Arc stage

We’ve survived the rain showers and reached the final bosses. The almighty Meshuggah. The packed crowd is buzzing with anticipation, as “Careless Whisper” starts blasting out the speakers in the greatest pre-show singalong I’ve ever experienced. It’s such a hilarious contrast to what everyone knows is about to happen any minute. Unfortunately, the band is hit by a 20-minute delay but now an eerie interlude heightens the anticipation, before the mind-bending eruption of “Pravus” hit ArcTanGent with a bang. But the sound just seems... off at first, which is something I’ve never said in the numerous times I’ve experienced them, as the signature clarity I’ve come to expect is replaced with surprisingly muddy guitars. Luckily, it only takes about 5 minutes before it’s sorted out, as “Born in Dissonance” now sounds all kinds of hard-hitting and the otherworldly tightness the band is known for is still intact, even though Frederik Thordendal has tapped out on this tour, replaced with Scar Symmetry’s own Per Nilsson who does an absolutely superb job in playing these impossible rhythms.

But of course, we have to talk about the 6th member of the band: the light show. I can’t stress enough just how ridiculous their lighting is, even rivaling the biggest EDM shows in execution. The setup is enormous and every conceivable detail in the music is perfectly replicated with writhing light heads, rhythmic strobes, and foreboding backlighting. The band itself might not be that interesting to look at, apart from Jens Kidman’s usual demonic facial expressions and commanding silhouette, but it doesn’t matter since everyone would be too busy being mesmerized by the perfect marriage of light and sound anyway. The classic “New Millenium Cyanide Christ” keeps the engine going as the pit reaches boiling point, and surprisingly for me, being a bigger fan of their newer stuff as opposed to their thrashy beginnings, “Future Breed Machine” actually takes the cake for me. Kidman lifts his arms as the orchestrator of chaos as the blistering speed and alarm-like dissonance fires off in jaw-dropping, unrelenting fashion and I feel like my head is gonna snap clean off my neck from headbanging to this godlike rendition of the tune. It doesn’t get heavier than this.

Meshuggah by Lauren Harris Photography

It seems the setlist is suited for hardcore Meshuggah fans as there is a little bit of every album present here and thus a fantastic variety of their material; right from the fast outbursts to the doomsday, 8-string grooves. In contrast to the speed, “Lethargica” sounds like it might rumble the tent off of the Arc stage right on top of our heads with its world-ending chugs and incessant screaming from Kidman. There are some weird silences in between tracks where the band changes gear which does hit the momentum a bit, but after commanding the crowd a bit with his usual dry demeanor, Kidman nonchalantly says: ”I think you’ll like this next one, it’s called Bleed.” Without counting in or anything, everyone starts the famous rolling chugs and stamina draining double pedals for the quintessential Meshuggah song, that sounds clearer and more punishing than ever with the strobes following every move of the insane drums, before the more melodic banger “Demiurge” ends this masterful show in spectacular fashion.

Watching Meshuggah never gets old. I think I could watch this band every week for the rest of my life without getting bored. Meshuggah are from another universe and I am always surprised by how fucking good they are, even though I know exactly what to expect. Had it not been for the delay and the long, weird pauses between some songs, this was a completely flawless show that once again proved why this is probably the single best metal band on the planet. All hail the Swedish gods. [9]

FINAL WORDS

My first ArcTanGent was a slightly mixed bag. I didn’t mention it earlier, but my trip home from England was dreadful, missing my flight due to 2 train cancellations in a row, which made my trip home to Denmark (which isn’t far away at all) take over 20 hours before I was back in bed. And then there was the rain - that mental rain. It dampened my experience on Friday and you had to fight to not get too demoralised by being completely and utterly soaked.

But you will notice something there. Those two negatives were both completely out of the organisers’ hands. Because apart from that, it was a fantastic little festival in its own rights, and I want to send out thanks for putting on all of these amazing shows and the smooth running of things - in spite of the harassing weather. I will surely be returning sometime in the future!

THE GOOD

  • As you probably noticed from the generally high scores given in the reviews, the average quality of the sets is probably the highest I have ever experienced at a festival.
  • Sound was generally pretty fantastic.
  • I can’t imagine a lineup better than this appearing for the next many years.
  • Delicious drinks & food choices, it can almost be considered a food festival with how good it is.

THE BAD

  • Having to buy the schedule and not being able to find it anywhere on their Facebook, or any times being displayed outside stages, etc. seems odd and kinda “extortion-y”
  • Could do more to try and combat the rain when they’ve been getting it every year - perhaps more woodchip and hay could help the stages from completely flooding

THE UGLY

  • Non-existent phone reception and wifi being down all the times I tried to use it.
  • Rain.
  • Rain.
  • Rain.

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