Come rain or shine, ArcTanGent is always a festival which offers up genre-bending bands and artists showing off innovative ways of displaying heavy music. And despite the festival site itself become a swamp of mud, that didn’t stop 2019 offering up a plethora post-rock, math-rock, metal and doom bands. Already Heard once again returned to Fernhill Farm, to soak in the atmosphere and witness arguably the festivals biggest line-up to date.
Getting proceedings underway were the bright a colourful Ithaca (4/5) who for a first-time appearance at the festival commanded the PX3 stage like they were veterans. The pinching guitars were amplified on a bigger stage for them and vocalist Djamila Azzouz’s vocals were punishing. To top it all off, the crowd brought their own confetti cannons to set off during closer ‘Impulse Crush’.
After a raucous start, things slowed right down with Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard (2.5/5) and the doom band brought the heaviness. The down-tuned guitars sounded monstrous and the haunting vocals added to the sound. However, there was no change of direction and once you’d heard one song, you had a sense of what the rest would be like.
On the Arc stage returning to ATG were galactic post-rock band Bossk (3/5) who’s beautiful yet brutal sound filled the tent. With the vast soundscape of the bands sound, the additional visuals behind the made it look like they were flying through space. Adding vocals to the close of the bands set added another dynamic, which begged the question why doesn’t the band always have vocals.
It was then time for the PX3 stage to get absolutely levelled as Conjurer (4.5/5) took to the stage. The band have cemented themselves as juggernauts of the UK metal scene and their performance at ATG showed that they are bigger than the PX3 allowed. The verbosity of the tandem offence of Dan Nightingale and Brady Deeprose was matched by the human windmill that is Conor Marshal.
It seemed everywhere you looked there was a band on Holy Records roster and following swiftly after Conjurer were label mates Møl (3/5). The Danish influenced shoegaze/metal band sounded as epic as always, but it was the energy and charisma of vocalist Kim Song Sternkopf which was really captivating.
Last year Zeal & Ardor (4.5/5) were one of the bands which opened a lot of people’s eyes. Now having graduated to the Arc stage, the group were just as mesmerising as before. Their brand of metal mixed with chain gang music is sobering and beautiful, all at the same time. With more tour experience now under their belts, the band has really honed their one stagecraft and presence.
One of the most eagerly anticipated performances of the weekend came in the shape of Daughters (5/5). Their odd and quirky approach to music is what makes them so intriguing, and it is the idea of playing by their own rules which makes people drawn to them. With a backing track of screeching guitars, vocalist Lex Marshall was throwing himself around the stage as the audience could not take their eyes off the hectic scene which was unravelling in front of them.
Closing out day one was Coheed & Cambria (4/5) who may not be a typical ATG band but they made to feel right at home. With ‘Unheavenly Creatures’, ‘In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3’, and ‘A Favor House Atlantic’ within the opening five songs, Claudio Sanchez and company deliver a brief greatest hits set early on. Accompanied by different visuals on each song, Coheed didn’t miss a step, with ‘The Suffering’ getting everyone to sing along. To finish off the day, Coheed closed out with ‘Welcome Home’ showcasing just how rifftastic a band they are.
If people were nursing a hangover A.A.Williams (3.5/5) was the perfect calming way to start the Friday. With a delicate yet haunting voice, Williams managed to fill the Arc stage. Williams’ rise to prominence has been rapid, but this performance showcased that the rise is well deserved.
Williams’ label mates We Never Learned To Live (3.5/5) brought energy levels up as the rain started to pour down. With a heavy atmospheric sound, the band blasted through songs from their new record ‘The Sleepwalk Transmissions’. It was drummer Gary Marsden who was the driving force behind the band, being able to change the tempo in the blink of an eye.
With the Holy Roar Records flavour very much in our mouths, Slow Crush (4/5) were next up. The showgaze quartet sounded massive and the bass tone cut through in the perfect way. The band showed the diversity that is on Holy Roar and with their reverb filled sound managed to bring a warm feeling inside the tent.
The festival spread its eclectic arm even further welcoming French screamo band Birds in Row (4/5) to this year’s proceedings. The perfect mix of emotion and raw aggression, the three-piece attacked their set at full pace and only took brief breaths to address the crowd. A band usually better suited to small basement venues, the trio did not look out of sorts on the bigger stage.
Despite turning up late, The Ocean (3/5) put on a bone-shaking set. Vocalist Loic Rossetti was clearly using the frustration of the band being delayed as a way to channel his aggression through the set, running wild around the Arc stage. The rest of the band provided the brutal yet beautiful backdrop consisting and heavy riffs and breakdowns.
If last year’s festival was the making of bands like Zeal & Ardor, this year that title belonged to Sleep Token (5/5) The mysterious group already had a huge level of intrigue about them as soon as they stepped on stage with masks and robes. The disjointed nature of the almost pop music leaning vocals mixed in with down-tuned eight-string guitars, in theory, shouldn’t work but for Sleep Token it just does.
Even though this year’s festival may have had a wider range in terms of genres this year, there were still classic ATG bands like 65DaysofStatic (3/5). The technical post-rock band sum up what this festival is all about, epic soundscapes produced by unbelievably talented musicians. With the blend of electronics to their sound, there was a change in gears from the standard post-rock band.
If 65Days sum up what ATG is all about, then Russian Circles (5/5) are the pinnacle. Starting off in complete darkness as each instrument of the trio kicked in, they were illuminated by a spotlight behind them. As usual, the sound of the band came across like an epic movie soundtrack, and somehow, despite Russian Circles‘ music may be appealing to a niche demographic, they somehow manage to produce “bangers” in their genre which got the crowd banging their ends along with the band.
Then it was time for something completely different as Frontierer (3/5) absolutely crushed the Bixler stage. With constant strobe lights playing throughout their set it was like watching a murder scene from a Hollywood movie. Bodies were flying everywhere – both audience and band members – and the unusual rhythmic pattern of the band’s music was transfixing.
On a very wet Friday, Battles (3/5) attempted to lift spirits ahead of the silent disco. The uplifting, and at times party vibe, music was a welcome change from some of the harder-hitting music that had been witnessed throughout the day. Kicking off with a lot of newer material, it was interesting to see how the dynamic between the two members worked as they performed side-by-side rather than in front of each other. However, the set did seem to drop in the middle and there was a sense that a lot of people were just in the tent to hear ‘Atlas’. But when the bands most recognisable song did hit, audience members were bouncing in the mud and it brought about the biggest reaction of their set.
With their punk rock edge, The St Pierre Snake Invasion (3/5) were a more aggressive wake-up call than the previous day. Despite their aggressive nature vocalist Damien Sayell took every opportunity between songs to crack a few jokes before bursting into the next song. It was when the band hit ‘Rock’n’Roll Workshop’ that things really came alive with the crowd chanting the words back to the band.
If it was riffs you were after then Puppy (4/5) had you covered. Right from the off, their set was just full of shredding and catchy riffs. What is admirable about the band’s set was that the tracks they played from debut record ‘The Goat’ sounded pitch-perfect. And by the time the trio played ‘Black Hole,’ it was all eyes on Puppy.
Now it takes a brave band to walk out onto stage to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ but to keep repeating the track going up an octave is even bolder. This is exactly what The Contortionist (4/5) did. Their brand of technical metal with emotive vocals is what makes them stand out from the crowd, and when guitarist Cameron Maynard ripped out a solo, it was mind-blowing to figure how he was creating the sounds with his instrument.
When it comes to the old faithful at ATG, you can look no further than And So I Watch You From Afar (5/5). Their not so secret set saw the Northern Irish behemoths playing their critically acclaimed Self-titled record in full. As a sign of how special ASIWYFA are, there aren’t many post-rock bands that can ensure the type of euphoria they do, with waves of audience members crowd surfing during the set. This performance was a clear indication that the band will forever be the darlings of ATG.
After the upbeat nature of ASIWYFA, it was like taking a step into the breakdown future when Car Bomb (4/5) came on stage. With guitars sounding like laser guns and drums pummelling through your bones, the quarter certainly made their mark. Going from hyper-speed to slow breakdowns, this was a set certainly not for the faint-hearted.
If there was anybody remanence left after Car Bomb, it was about to be crushed by Cult of Luna (5/5). The Swedish doom outfit sounded apocalyptic in places with vocalist Johannes Persson sounding like he had just risen from the depths of hell. Despite the brutality of the band, there were some more sobering moments in their music and despite the epic nature of the songs, the band were completely engaging and had the audience attention throughout.
Aggression was the order of the day when Employed to Serve (4/5) stepped out on stage. Before the band even started, guitarist Sammy Urwin was getting in the faces of the front row. With their almost nu-metal twang, ETS have mastered the balance between metal and hardcore to produce a well-rounded and somewhat British sound. With all five members oozing anger, the band whipped up a frenzy which again saw Urwin among the crowd, encouraging for more violence from them. If anyone still had any doubts about the band’s credentials, this put them to rest.
When ATG announced Meshuggah (5/5) there was a lot of backlash. However, seeing the Swedes absolutely dominant the Arc stage was the proof in the pudding. At a quick headcount, there were more than 72 lights on stage and the band came out and open with their first chugging riff. Vocalist Jens Kidman completely commanded the stage, even with minimal movement his presence alone was enough to keep you transfixed on him. Playing for the best part of an hour and a quarter, there was no let-up from the assault as the band smashed through ‘Future Breed Machine’, ‘Straws Pulled at Random’ and ‘Clockworks’. But it was the unforgettable opening of ‘Bleed’ which sent the ATG crowd wild as the Djent giants absolutely proved their worth closing out the festival.
Once again ArcTanGent has flexed its proverbial muscle showcasing everything from a brutal assault of the senses to beautiful atmospheric moments. Despite the ground being like an absolute marshland, there were happy faces everywhere you looked and with arguably its most eclectic line-up to date, the festival continues to prove why it is one of the countries finest.
View more of Already Heard‘s coverage of ArcTanGent Festival 2019 can be found here.
Words and photos by Tim Birkbeck (@tim_birkbeck).