Over the past decade, Arctangent Festival has cemented itself as the primary festival for all things post-rock, math and alternative with people travelling from all across the globe every year to see their favourite artists all in the same place. With headliners varying from ‘Russian Circles’ to ‘Converge’ to ‘Godspeed You! Black Emperor’; Arctangent never fails in providing a phenomenal yet diverse lineup of some of the most interesting artists in rock music.
We arrive at Fernhill Farm just in time to catch the second half of ‘Body Hound’ (7) who set the tone with an instrumental blend of prog with dashes of heavier math rock thrown in for good measure. Spirit Level are shamefully new to the world of prog and post-rock so this weekend serves as a serious learning curve and we can’t help but feel that if we were to see ‘Body Hound’ again we would have a much deeper appreciation for their musicality and craft. Continuing in the theme of instrumentals, ‘Alpha Male Tea Party’ (8) are the first of many bands this weekend to blow us away. Blending trance like melodies with some crushing breakdowns, the three-piece draw you in throughout their short but powerful set.
Next up are ‘OHHMS’ (7) who play another spectacular set. The energy and charisma that ‘OHHMS’ carry with them on stage is infectious and it is great to see them playing to a significant crowd. The new material from their upcoming sophomore record sounds sensational and we cannot wait to hear more. This is the first time that we have seen ‘Svalbard’ (7) since the release of their incredible second album ‘Its hard To Have Hope’ which is still a serious contender for our album of the year. Serena Cherry holds the packed tent within the palm of her hand as she screams “Arctangent, this is what a feminist looks like” before tearing straight into ‘Feminazi’. The new material sounds brilliant in a live environment, but we cannot help feeling that ‘Svalbard’ are still capable of more. ‘Revenge Porn’ makes a powerful closing track and Serena’s clean vocals shine through, we wish that they had played more, but that is hardly a criticism when the band have too many great songs to fit into their set.
One of the great appeals of Arctangent festival is that it often provides spectacles that you will never witness anywhere else and today is no exception as members of ‘Conjurer’ and ‘Pijn’ have been asked to collaborate together to create ‘Curse These Metal Hands’ (7). Adding more of a melodic guitar hero element to their set, this is a chance for both bands to show off their musical prowess. The riffs are fantastic as are the solos (of which there are many) and an almost undistinguishable ‘Elton John’ cover at the end make this one of the most entertaining sets of the day. As the day progresses, it is time for the more experienced artists to take the stage and show the newcomers how it is done. At least this is the mentality of ‘Rolo Tomassi’ (8) who are on incredible form. This is the third time that we have seen ‘Rolo Tomassi’ since the release of their latest record and they seem to get better with every show. Eva Spence is a wonder to watch as she stalks her way across the stage and appears to maintain eye contact with every single person in the tent. With another tour set for October, we doubt that this is the last time we will see them before the year is up. Sounding completely different, yet just as powerful ‘Bossk’ (8) spend the first half of their set performing beautifully intricate prog melodies with shreds of psychedelia before vocalist Sam Marsh takes to the stage and seemingly opens up a portal to hell with a demonically savage vocal attack. For the remainder of the set ‘Bossk’ power their way through riff after riff with the occasional horrifying interjection from Marsh.
On the cheerier side of things, ‘Jamie Lenman’(7) is brilliant as always with a widely varied set that includes hits from his latest album ‘Devolver’ as well as some of his heaviest tracks from ‘Muscle Memory’ and some covers from his old band ‘Reuben’. We are also treated to an unexpected, but thoroughly enjoyable rendition of ‘Rosanna’ by ‘ToTo’. After a string of heavier bands ‘Pianos Become The Teeth’ (6) make a welcome change with their super chilled alternative rock, but there is nothing hugely memorable about their set. Sub-headliner ‘La Dispute’ (6) sound notably better in a live environment than they do on record, but we have never been huge fans and tonights performance does very little to change our minds. However, headline act ‘And So I Watch You From Afar’ (9) make up for this in spades as they throw everything that they have into an absolutely sensational performance. Playing their latest record in its entirety, we are treated to a blinding set of some of the most incredible instrumental songwriting and guitar playing going. It has only been a few years since the last time that the Irish quartet headlined Arctangent so they had to ensure that they would make something special and tonight is a massive success.
Friday morning, we awake feeling relatively rested and relaxed, a feeling that is amplified by the dulcet tones of harpist ‘Natalie Evans’ (8) who gently rouses us from our sleep with a beautiful collection of songs performed both on harp and acoustic guitar. Feeling cherpy, but in need of something a little more energetic, we then move across to see Bristolian alternative rockers ‘Modern Rituals’ (6). Bringing a bit more bounce to their set, ‘Modern Rituals’ set the tone for the rockier bands of the day. Over on the main stage, ‘Space Blood’ (7) easily win the award for weirdest and most memorable performance of the weekend. Two masked men wearing skin tight boxer shorts and vests perform a brilliant set of avant-garde instrumental math/jazz rock with the aid of a bass guitar, a loop pedal and a drum kit. Armed with multiple inflatable sex dolls, beach balls and confetti guns and with introductions such as “This song is about a music video we made”, ‘Space Blood’ will stick with you regardless of whether you liked the music or not. Finishing their set with a confetti gun murder, suicide is the icing on the cake of a beautifully bizarre performance.
Following from ‘Space Blood’, Swedish hardcore outlet ‘God Mother (10) couldn’t be more different if they tried. Signed onto Party Smasher Records by Ben Weinman (of ‘The Dillinger Escape Plan’ fame), there has already been a fair amount of buzz surrounding ‘God Mother’, but this summer marks the first time that the Swedes have played on British soil. My god, is this a show to remember! Straight from the outset, it is clear that ‘God Mother’ are something special as vocalist Sebastian carries his mic stand over the barrier and into the middle of the tent. What follows is a ludicrously heavy set which sees Sebastian climb everything around him including the stage, drum kit and audience as well as initiating a wall of death inspired limbo competition! We cannot remember the last time that we fell in love with a band so quickly from a live experience, but ‘God Mother’ are not one to miss. Continuing the theme of aggressive hardcore, ‘Wren’ (7) take a much more low end, groove oriented approach to their set. Gnarly as hell, ‘Wren’ do not make easy listening, but for those who can stomach their brutality, they are well worth the watch.
Returning to more peaceful terrains, Spanish ambient instrumental trio ‘Astralia’ (8) take us back into the serene world of post rock. ‘Astralia’ generate an astounding level of depth and complexity considering their size which becomes all the more noticeable when bassist Albert Clemente ramps up the fuzz against Jordi Guzmán’s drumming and Roger Guzmán’s tremolo guitar work. Continuing in the theme of post rock, ‘Talons’ (8) cement our love for the genre as they bring a significantly heavier feel to the genre whilst maintaining all of the subtle intricacies. The addition of dual violinists make the music feel all the more immersive. Taking a step back into the world of metal for a moment, ‘Conjurer’ (9) play the best set that we have seen them play so far so a fully packed tent. It is mad to believe that less than a year ago we saw them play to a half empty pub in Camden and it is testament to their level of musicianship, technicality and dedication that they have come so far in such a short period. On the opposite side of the sonic spectrum ‘Jo Quail’ (10) transports us to another world with her immense soundscapes created entirely with a cello and a loop pedal. With a new album on the way and an upcoming tour with ‘Myrkur’, we will definitely be keeping a close eye on her as she performs one of the standout performances of the weekend.
Glaswegian instrumental prog quintet ‘Halo Tora’ (8) continue the string of superb post rock acts that we have seen so far, alternating between moments of beautiful, slow melodies and blasts of cataclysmically heavy sections, ‘Halo Tora’ add their name to our ever growing list of artists to check out when we return home. Representing instrumental metal from the other side of the pond ‘Pelican’ (7) play a blinding set with one of the dirtiest bass tones of the day. It has been almost five years since their last studio record, but today we are treated to our first taste of new music before they return to the studio. When it comes to heavy performances though, no-one can compare with ‘Zeal & Ardor’ (10) who absolutely decimate the crowd of adoring fans and put their already sensational Download performance to shame. It has now been a few months since the release of sophomore album ‘Stranger Fruit’ and both the band and fans alike have had more time to process the new material which makes them all the more enjoyable. Any reservations that critics may have had that ‘Zeal & Ardor’ were just a gimmick or a one trick pony have now been violently laid to rest and we can only see them gaining traction over the coming years. Following from the black metal intensity of ‘Zeal & Ardor’, ‘Anathema’ (8) bring a significantly more relaxed vibe to the evenings proceedings. The music may be more relaxed, but that doesn’t mean that the Liverpool quintet are making any less of an effort as they put on a performance that could easily be a headline show in its own right. Such is the power and raw emotion of their set that we find ourselves forgetting that there are still two more bands to see before the night is over. With that in mind, we race back to the second stage just in time for ‘Leprous’ (10) to take to the stage. As prog bands go, there are not many in the game who can hold a candle to ‘Leprous’ as the Norwegians demonstrate tonight with a stellar performance of prog rock genius. Not a note is off, nor a beat out of place as ‘Leprous’ school every other band in how it is done without seeming to break a sweat. When you add the phenomenal vocals of lead singer Einar Solberg to the mix, it hardly seems fair that other bands have to share the same stage. Finally, closing the main stage for the day are post-hardcore outfit ‘Glassjaw’ (7). With a mixed reputation when it comes to live performances, ‘Glassjaw’ perform an entertaining set that is sure to satisfy long term fans, but it is telling that they are warming up for their headline show at Brixton Academy the following day. If this isn’t clear enough, lead vocalist Daryl Palumbo, plugs the event multiple times throughout the set despite knowing clearly that the festival is still running for another day.
The weather has managed to hold out for the majority of the weekend, but rain clouds threaten the sky this morning and it is noticeably chillier. Fortunately, we have elected to start the day with a much more energetic act than yesterday with math metal three piece ‘Trigger Thumb’ (7). Filling their set with savage riffs, technical rhythms and some startlingly high pitched clean vocals, ‘Trigger Thumb’ are a brilliant start to what promises to be a great final day. Taking things in a slightly more alternative direction, ‘Death And The Penguin’ (7) provide their own thoroughly entertaining take on math rock blended with indie music. After the absolute power house that was ‘God Mother’ yesterday, it is now time for their Irish touring companions ‘Ilenkus’ (9) to take the stage. Dialling up the heaviness all the way to eleven, ‘Ilenkus’ tear the place apart with a white hot ferocity. The idea of seeing ‘Ilenkus’ and ‘God Mother’ playing back to back is mind boggling, but for now we must make do with what is yet another spectacular demonstration of raw hardcore at its very best.
It has been a few months now since we last saw Croydon rockers ‘Bad Sign’ (8) and they have also seriously upped their game since we saw them supporting ‘Feed The Rhino’ at The Exchange. The songs have always been brilliant, but this time around there is an added sense of aggression and the bass punches through our chest like a pneumatic drill. On the topic of aggression, Danish shoe gaze ‘MØL' (9) play what is undeniably the heaviest set of the entire weekend. Kim Song, is an absolute tour de force vocalist and a sensational showman, meanwhile the rest of the band play savage metal to such a high standard and severe velocity that we are left desperately begging for more. Fortunately, ‘MØL' will be returning to the UK again in a few months. Back in the world of prog, ‘Telepathy’ (10) are easily our favourite instrumental band of the weekend. With a seemingly limitless arsenal of riffs and soaring melodies, ‘Telepathy’ are not just technically proficient, but also demonstrate a masterful skill at creating vast and immersive soundscapes.
With a new record scheduled for release in the coming months, ‘Black Peaks’ (9) are on a war path as they hammer through a set of banger after banger. The new material fits in just as well as the songs from their debut and the energy of their performance resonates through the entire tent. Meanwhile, on the main stage folk/black metal hybrid ‘Myrkur’ (10) once again steals the entire festival for Spirit Level as she casts us under her spell and reels us in. With a headline tour scheduled with the equally hypnotic ‘Jo Quail’, we cannot wait to witness ‘Myrkur’ play a longer set as the hour goes by far too quickly and we are left wondering where the time went. Equal parts, tranquil and spine snappingly heavy, there are few artists with quite the same level of charisma that ‘Myrkur’ exhumes. Brighton based instrumental three piece ‘Toska’ (9) demonstrate a level of quality far beyond their years. With only one EP to their name and a debut LP in the works, ‘Toska’ are definitely a band to look out for as they promise to be one of the most prominent prog metal bands in the coming years. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, we miss the majority of the final headline act ‘Shellac’, however ‘Arcane Roots’ (9) play a show worthy of a headline slot in its own right. After previously playing an electronic set earlier in the day, ‘Arcane Roots’ have already played most of the more ambient music that dominated their most recent record which allows them to fill their main set full of the heavy math metal riffs of their earlier material. With an extraordinary light show to match, ‘Arcane Roots’ pull off one of their most stunning shows in recent history and are a more than satisfactory final act for what has been an incredible weekend.
We will 100% be returning to ‘Arctangent’ in 2019!
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