It’s come round quick and despite being a Saturday it is in fact the final day of ArcTangent 2022. Inundating the main stage at midday with her innovative and awe-inspiring cello playing is the tour de force that is Jo Quail. Having collaborated with an eclectic range of artists and recently toured with a huge orchestral arrangement for her monumental The Cartographer. Today, the London based cellist and composer is just as, if not more powerful as a lone figure on the vast stage. Quail composes the most stunning looping and escalating arrangements while exploring pace and tone; from cacophonic to subtle, and with an overall forlorn and ominous atmosphere. With just her skeletal looking cello and an array of pedals while epically framed by pulsing laser lights she stuns a respectfully quiet crowd and earns a resounding round of applause.
There’s been a lot of loud this weekend, even some complaints over the fact, but it’s probably Conjurer that take the award or possibly the piss (in a good way!) for the loudest so far. Even from the entrance at the back of the tent earplugs are a necessity. The crowd are spilling out from all sides of the main stage and some mini mosh pits break out around the vicinity- much to the bemusement of onlookers. The Rugby quartet are on fire though, playing a cross of pissed off obliterating hardcore and death metal, with some seriously doomy riffs; they keep things fresh and interesting without becoming a cliché. Conjurer exploded onto the scene in 2019, have kept going and judging by this performance will continue that same trajectory.
Frontierer are not an easy band to describe, a swirling chasm of intense electro driven metal hardcore might just about do it but it’s what they play over at the Yokhai. An aural assault of blistering metalcore with enough dynamics to make it bearable for a couple of songs; but, as a non-math fan, a little too mathy and schizophrenic in places and after a while it becomes overwhelmingly abrasive, head fucky, and repetitive.
The Yokhai is overflowing with fans new and old who show up to watch the imitable Portland based Emma Ruth Rundle struggle against festival background noise with her stunning and beguiling tear-jerking melodies. As she continues to play, the background chatter miraculously ceases as those unfamiliar with her pared down bleak folk songs fall for her bewitching and humble charm. Her satire adds a light sense of relief to the intensity of the emotions she portrays quipping “I believe my description is a clown so it’s great to finally be playing in a tent” but she is really no joke. Switching seamlessly between an acoustic guitar and piano, the needle-sharp poignancy is a lot to endure but is also captivating. Her fluctuating vocals which soar and whisper are especially touching as she treats the enamoured crowd to a full rendition of the critically acclaimed Engine of Hell. The pinnacle of the already outstanding set is when the equally prodigious Jo Quail joins her on stage to perform ‘Citadel’. Despite running over, Rundle is permitted to play the devastating closing track ‘In My After Life’. There is a considerable amount of loud music leaking from the neighbouring stage, but this does not faze her or the crowd who are either on the verge of tears, or already letting them flow. Simply outstanding.
Considering the sound issues on some of the stages it is quite a feat that the anonymous collective of the currently sixteen (?) limbed The Armed – with their array of instruments, vocalists and laptops – sound quite so tight and clear. Playing maximalist post hardcore pop these genre bending masters on Sargent House records are quite the spectacle and their discovery is one of the best of the weekend. They play a vibrant and carefully curated bedlam of innovative, heavy and mercilessly energetic noise (think Genghis Tron) that is filled with a manic joy. A happy hardcore beat is layered behind grinding shredding riffs while the drums; programmed and manual, are relentless with rolling fills and blast beats. The gang of four(?) vocalists are each a ball of energy that continue to explode like fireworks, covering a range of vocal styles with a nonchalant rock n roll swagger, hefty growls and unhinged squeals. All this mania is backed up with electro glitches and samples creating an infectious rhythm that is nigh on impossible not to get sucked into.
Back over at the Yokhai are another indescribable and unhinged band who come in the form of Rhode Island’s nearly 30-year-old duo of lacerating bass and incendiary drums, the legendary DIY to the max Lightning Bolt. With admittedly tough competition they probably pan out as the most insane set and indeed band of the weekend. Through a microphone worn or even taped to his face under a trippy mask, drummer Brian Chippendale ferociously screams incessant garbage over his own machine gun drumming onslaught. Brian Gibson’s gnarly and obnoxious glitchy bass riffs could be a little louder in the clamorous mix, especially with the manic electro backing track so Chippendales prodigious drumming garners most of the attention. Despite the causticness, the electro samples have a kind of euphoric pop sensibility that is happy rather than angry and the mayhem is contagious inspiring the audience to go to berserk.
It takes some doing to tear away from the aural and visual spectacle of Lightning Bolt to catch the end of Pallbearer as they have been playing the whole of their first funeral doom album Sorrow and Extinction. It was a tough decision to miss, as they close with the beautiful but devastating ‘An offering of Grief’ but the overwhelmingly emotional breakdowns on display prove that for once choosing joy over despair was worthwhile.
Godflesh is (as they should be) insanely loud and even from the outside of the tent fucking brilliant to stomp and jump about like a mad person to. Bleak, apocalyptic industrial dirge pounding out of the Bixler from the unstoppable and notorious Justin K Broadwick on vocals/guitar and programming of drum machines alongside bassist C.G Green. The two pioneers of industrial metal play three tracks from the ubiquitous ‘Streetcleaner’ including of course the self-titled track itself and that is the moment the already frenzied movement reaches another level. It is the first few beats on penultimate track ‘Like Rats’ that makes for the decision to get as close as possible and yup of course it is even louder, loud enough to vibrate through the sea of bodies pulsating to the tectonic drum machine. They’ve been making this racket since 1982 and there is no denying, they’ve still got it.
Pupil Slicer on the PX3 squeeze in a half hour of intense grinding metal as Opeth start over on the main stage. Playing a pulverising combination of grinding death metal and power violence that seems to try to claw back the last shreds of sanity. It is clear how these guys have come so far in a brief period as they effortlessly weave janky, mathy chords into their already dynamic and tight as fuck, controlled chaos. In between Katie Davies’ she-devil shrieking vocals and pulverising riffs are heart-warming messages of love and inclusivity. The crowd is mental and enticed into a writhing insanity helped by a dare devil member of the band scaling the speakers to hurl out merch into the swarming mass below, twice.
The Swedish progressive death metallers Opeth are set to play for two hours so having sacrificed half an hour for Pupil Slicer it is nice to be immersed into their nostalgic melodic death metal. They play a beautiful set of tracks from their vast discography, with small introductions and the usual dark humoured patter in-between. ‘As The Drapery Falls’ being a firm favourite is a highlight and it is a relief that they stick with their heavier tracks, but overall, it is a too familiar setlist with one track from each of their nine releases. They are quintessentially Opeth and what they do they do undeniably well, predictably closing with another favourite, ‘Deliverance’. However, after investing in their gorgeous melodies the fans are extremely disappointed when they end abruptly, half an hour early and fail to return for an encore.
Every cloud has a silver lining and the abrupt ending of Opeth means there is a decent amount of time left to catch Her Name is Calla who are quite simply stunning, euphoric but also devastatingly bleak. While the band could ironically be compared to Porcupine Tree the lead vocalist also possesses a self-deprecating humour to rival that of Ackerfeldt – mostly, tragically, about the bands struggles and their breakup. Upon sneaking into the side of the PX3 the first words heard are “this is about being alone and struggling with your internal shit” (wonderful). They launch into ‘A Moment of Clarity’ from their final release from 2019 Animal Choir. It has a post-indie vibe with subtle crescendos and soaring vocals leading to darkened trembling riffs likened also to the later work of Anathema. The English quintet play a dark and brooding set of songs full of reverb with haunting and distinctive intimate vocals that do not just pull, but wrench at the heart strings – cue yet another emotional breakdown. Featuring an array of instruments from brass and strings to the haunting theremin there is also a very folky bleak Americana element. Closing with ‘Roberta and Gerda’ the vocals reach a Sigur Ros pitch with gentle saxophone and eerie guitar picking which ascends to a celestial and almost hopeful climax. It is a crying shame that this is in fact their last show but it’s an honour to witness s and cements another turbulently emotional moment. Despite this it’s a poignant finale to a wonderfully diverse, friendly and open-minded festival full of enough heart to – for a moment at least be a distraction from the troubles of the outside world and through music heal the darkest souls.
Words: Abi Coulson