ArcTanGent! One of the UK’s finest, friendliest and heaviest festivals. Yet again Fernhill Farm in Bristol welcomed some of the very best post-rock, noise rock, math rock (and every other intricate/and(/or) dark rock you can think of) and it was a wonderful… albeit very, very rainy weekend. MNN went along to visit, and here’s our review.

Thursday

Cultdreams- A day before their much anticipated second record was to be released, Culdreams reminded me of how much I’d missed them. The record is heartbreaking and the band did a good job of bringing that to a tent at 12 in the afternoon as people were filtering in from setting up their tents. It’s not a desirable slot but they filled it with lo-fi, rugged punk and didn’t seem a tad out of place compared with what was to come. This band are saying important things and we need to give them the platform to do this forever. (7) (PF)

Ithaca- If anyone is going to take on the mantle from Employed To Serve as the countries most exciting underground hardcore band, hopefully, it will be these. Adding a much-needed layer of glitter and sparkle to metal, they make heavy music fun while reveling in inclusivity and making all welcome. Unfortunately, they didn’t manage to quite work the crowd up enough to their satisfaction, but regardless, it’s exciting to see such a young band get the crowd they did. (7) (PF)

Conjurer- Festival slots like this have never phased Conjurer (and they do plenty of them). They had some of the heaviest, dirtiest, and best songs of the weekend and once again brought nothing but passion and excitement for metal to the stages of a UK festival. They smash every single set they play, it’s almost getting boring talking about the UKs best metal band. (9) (PF)

Polyphia- Self-described as ‘The biggest Christian black metal band in the world’ (or some permeation on it), Polyphia sure know how to have a good time. The band set themselves apart from other instrumental acts by not only writing fun music (quite a few tech/prog bands should take note), but also by having fun onstage. Focusing mainly on their more recent material, which has taken a big inspiration from trap and hip-hop, the four-piece got the crowd pumped with summery jams ‘Saucy’ and ‘Goose’, while also announcing a ‘brand new song’ before launching into setlist staple ‘Champagne. Polyphia seemed an odd choice for ArcTanGent, since their tone and attitude isn’t necessarily in keeping with many of the dark and sombre bands on the bill, but they proved to be an excellent festival band. (8) (BP)

Zeal & Ardor- Zeal & Ardor brought their Blues Black ‘N Roll tunes to the main stage as well as a consistent excellency that follows every show they play. They’ve mastered dark melodicism and the incorporation of backing vocalists to frontman Manuel Gangeux gives the grandiosity of an Adele set. When we discuss bands that we’d push to the mainstram to convert them to rock fans, surely Zeal & Ardor is the way forward? (7.5) (PF)

Carpenter Brut- It’s hard to grasp how a dance set can fit so well at a festival like this, but boy did Carpenter Brut go down a treat. Speaking as someone who has little interest in dance music, there’s something about Carpenter Brut’s heavy blend that keeps me entertained and always excited to hear what comes next. Pairing this with the satirical slasher b-movies playing on the screen behind them, the band put on one of the most fun sets of the weekend and brought the party to Thursday night. (9.5) (PF)

Daughters- Unsettling. Threatening. Terrifying. And frankly quite disturbing. These are just some of the positive ways in which Daughters’ set could be described. Boasting some of the most abrasive music on this festival’s line up and juxtaposing the instrumentation with the vocal stylings of a tortured Elvis Presley is bound to set you apart, and the band’s stage performance only amplified their idiosyncrasy. With guitarist Nick Sadler menacing at the audience while vocalist Alexis Marshall channelled Nick Cave as he strutted around the stage, Daughters’ set predominantly focused on their phenomenal comeback record You Won’t Get What You Want, with a few choice cuts taken from their self-titled. Making his way into the crowd more than once, Marshall ended the show being supported by the audience, shirtless and flogging himself with his own belt. They may not have been one of the festival’s mainstage headliners, but Daughters’ performance has no doubt been burnt into the retinas of all who bared witness. (10) (BP)

Friday

A.A. Williams- When A.A. Williams plays, my heart stands on edge as though protecting my breath from interrupting the music. It feels like everyone is removed from the tent around you until the cheers of the crowd snap you out of your hypnosis. Although this set didn’t quite have the heart-shaking, serene qualities of her 2000 Trees set, the darkness brought something new to the folk-rock serenading voice of Williams. (8) (PF)

Slow Crush- Slow Crush, admittedly, have a strong place in my heart. By sounding like a moody shoegazed version of the 90s alt-rock bands I grew up admiring, I lose myself within their set and just see hearts. That’s not to say that they aren’t doing something exciting and unique to them though, this is a band that goes exploring and takes you along with them, they don’t disappear into their own musician obscurity. It’s soothing, shivering and maybe it’s not conventionally ‘lovely’ as there is a lot of darkness around it, but that’s lovely to me. (9) (PF)

ToskaIt’s probably worth mentioning at this point that the weather was so bad that power was cutting out across the site, unfortunately, that happened to fall during Toska’s set. A lot of the time, prog rock bands struggle to actually progress the song along without losing my attention, but when Toska are on, I’m in the moment. The band’s musicians aren’t just technically proficient but understand how to hold the audience’s attention and bridge to gap between playing enough exciting stuff but not playing forever. (9) (PF)

Birds In Row – Birds In Row are a hardcore band shrouded in mystery. With promotional photos omitting or obscuring their faces, not to mention being one of the few hardcore bands to come out of France, it would make sense that their stage show would follow suit, and attracted a fair crowd in doing so. The minimalist set up reflected that of the band’s music, creating vast sounds and textures from a three-piece arrangement, with a sparse lighting display that keeps the band’s faces hidden. Performing material from their long awaited second album ‘We Already Lost The World’, the three-piece’s sound seemed to be lacking in guitars, meaning new listeners may have missed out on the full experience, but those already converted would have walked away very happy with the band’s set. (7) (BP)

Saturday

Azusa – After The Black Queen’s absence from ArcTanGent was announced, attention from Dillinger fans hoping for their collective itch to be scratched turned to Azusa, the new project from bassist Liam Wilson. Unfortunately, Azusa were possibly the band most plagued by technical difficulties over the weekend, suffering from a late start, faulty ear monitors and occasionally no bass at all. As such, it felt the band were only able to deliver a truncated set, most of which was performed with caution lest another technical issue arise. When the issues subsided, the band showcased their own spin of technical metal, blending the likes of Cynic and SikTh to create some rhythmical wizardry, but it seems either the energy from the audience was lost due to the multiple interruptions, or those in attendance just didn’t find the new project as exciting or interesting as Dillinger. (6) (BP)

 And So I Watch You From Afar- Listed prior as a ‘secret special guest’ and only revealed through the purchase of a festival lanyard, ASIWYFA were in attendance as a celebration of the ten-year anniversary of their self-titled debut record. Due to the amount of people spilling out of the main stage, it seems word got out regarding the secret act, or that the ATG festival goers are all of a curious nature, but as the band take to the stage, it is clear they are met with legions of die-hard fans. Guitarist Rory Friers provides brief interaction with the audience between songs, but lets the music speak for itself as the Irish-quartet make their way through their debut full length from start to finish. The energy provided by the band is matched and then some by the audience, with the atmosphere suggesting ASIWYFA will be the highlight of the weekend for many. (8) (BP)

 Car Bomb- This year’s edition of ATG seemed to feature more extreme metal than is normally found at the festival, with Car Bomb being a prime example. Being one of the few bands not to be plagued by sound issues, the New York four-piece manage to fire their sonic assault on all cylinders. Treating the audience to some new offerings from their upcoming album, including ‘Dissect Yourself’ (AKA the laser gun song), listeners are left stunned by both the sheer heaviness of the band’s music, but also the baffling sounds emitted from Greg Kubacki’s guitar. (7) (BP)

Employed To Serve- No doubt one of the festival highlights for many, and with good cause. With their set occurring just before Meshuggah’s, the crowd seemed noticeably smaller at the beginning of Employed To Serve’s set, due to many wishing to secure a good spot for the headline act. Those people missed out. As the band took to the stage, brimming with malice and anger, the crowd erupted as soon as the first note struck, the mosh pit seeming to never ease up during the entirety of the set. Eternal Forward Motion being only several months old at this point, it makes sense that the focus is on new material, and hearing it in a live environment reveals just how strong a record it is. Midway through their performance, guitarist Sammy Urwin crowd surfs out to the middle of the audience, with the opening groove of ‘Harsh Truth’ beginning as he returns. The band close their set with ‘I Spend My Days Wishing Them Away)’, the lead single off of previous release The Warmth Of A Dying Sun, proving just how consistent their songwriting is. Their set performance, however, proves just how much they’ve improved. (10) (BP)

 Meshuggah- Based on the incredible increase in attendance by Saturday evening, it appears Meshuggah were the main draw for many to ArcTanGent, and with this being their only U.K. appearance for 2019, what better place to witness them than headlining the most mathematical festival going?

Exploding into their set with ‘Pravus’, the Swedish metal heavyweights provided the audience with a greatest hits set list (surprising, as their stage production was heavily themed around The Violent Sleep Of Reason), with material taken from nearly every album. Despite most knowing the band for the pummelling rhythms of Bleed, a tour through their back catalogue demonstrates just how many big hits the band have yielded, and are much more than a one trick horse.

The technical setbacks once again became an issue, with several extended delays occurring throughout the set, eased by Jens Kidman’s interacting with the audience (something which he unfortunately doesn’t seem all too comfortable with), but this does nothing to quell the audience’s fixation on the prog masters. Closing their set (and ArcTanGent festival) with Koloss’ ‘Demiurge’, Meshuggah provided the perfect end to the weekend, and those who missed out on their U.K. exclusive appearance should have a good long talk with themselves. (9) (BP)

That’s it, another year of ArcTanGent down. Few festivals can do with ATG does, putting on one of the best lineups in the country and booking bands that very rarely (if ever) let you down. We’ll always cover this festival in some form, and they’ll always put on a lineup that we could never ignore. 

 

Photo: Kaine Crilley (Mind Noise Network)