Ten years has passed since the humble beginning of ArcTanGent festival, held in the middle of August on a working farm called Fernhill Farm, just south of Bristol and set in the beautiful, away from civilisation (and signal) Mendips.
Having grown from a mostly math core background it has blossomed into a diverse amalgamation of experimental genres in the world. Even the headliners could not be more different boasting a high calibre of acts including Converge, Heilung and Devin Townsend From the blistering black metal of Wiegedood to furious and obnoxious post punk/ noise from Chat Pile to a sprinkling of indie rock bands, shoe gaze, progressive, sludge to noise pioneers Swans There really is something for everyone, and with an open-minded inclination, they embrace and give a platform to bands with a political leaning, female representing members, people of colour and those who use their platform for social commentary. Be it anti-fascist, anti-capitalist, allies of LGBTQIA+ and so on it makes for a wonderfully inclusive event.
This year we managed to catch the bonus day on the Wednesday, the 16th of August to be exact and running till Saturday the 19th – which featured the return of many that crushed last year, so we’ll keep it short and sweet.
Starting off with Five the Hierophant easing attendees into four days of musical mayhem with dark and brooding jazzy/ doom that even has a tinge of black metal. Made up of smooth and searing saxophone that fluctuates between solemn and frenzied dynamics, played to a bleak and dissonant back drop of steady rumbling basslines and menacing drums with distorted metallic riffs thrown in for good measure. Though they take a while to get into the flow of things it ends up a wonderful and alluring journey through an otherworldly, heavenly and hellish realm.
Bi-Curious are a melting pot of genres and the perfect fit for the eclectic Arctangent. Hailing from Dublin their energetic set proves that infectious, pop laden, electronic math-rock has a place at Fernhill Farm too. ‘Sleep’ as an eye opening first track off their I’m So Confused Ep kicks things off and we get a glimpse of new music on the horizon as they unveil the well received ‘Acrylic Fences’. Jumping into the multi layered groove declaration ‘I Don’t do Drugs I Just Sweat a Lot’ has the audience moving in a way they might have not moved before and they close with the euphoric, post-rock, groovy, title track of their debut LP ‘(re)constructed.
© Carl Battams
We are big fans of the Scottish based quintet of DVNE, and it is wonderful to see them continue their trajectory into the stratosphere of progressive sludgy metal, blending elements of Mastodon with post-hardcore. Once again It takes a little while to really get going and warm up the evidently weed loving crowd due to some sound issues. But once they do, they prove what all the hype is about, and really get the party started with an upbeat plethora of widdly guitar work, complex riffs, and elevated vocals.
Conjurer hit hard with their audio assault of ‘Suffer Alone’ and the energy in the packed-out tent is infectious as they unleash an unrelenting pummeling of progressive blackened sludge. The Nuclear Blast Records signees continue to muscle through a barrage of heavy bangers including ‘Retch’ exploring rot, disease and external sleep as a means for escape, all delivered at extreme metal speed matched by the swirling mosh pits. Emotionally drained by the blistering assault of progressive thrashy riffs the now regular ATG alumni make sure they are indeed remembered, with the aptly named ‘All You Will Remember’ as they leave the stage.
The powerful trio of Londoners Pupil Slicer are as fast, frantic and frenetic as always, igniting the Bixler with their LGBTQIA+ focused progressive mathy power violence. In actual fact, they are pretty much genre defying, and they obliterate heads, hearts and ear drums with a hurricane of blast beats and face melting, technical riffage while stirring up an enthused circle pit.
Scalping, now Scaler, who were a huge hit last year (but sadly missed by us) bombards the Bixler with a cannonade of electronic beats and it is a joy to see just why they were the talk of the festival. Silhouetted against trippy visuals, the four Bristolian musicians blend distorted electronics, including synths, with thunderous drumming, and it is a mind-bending experience. So, why NOT lose that (and one’s hearing) on the very first night to a sonic cacophony of pounding beats resulting in reaching a state of contagious, manic and unhinged ecstasy.
As was the case last year, Thursday is probably the most densely packed with bands of a similar ilk, each possessing a progressive or post–something vibe which veers off into different territory for each act.
First up is Barrens on Pelagic Records who have a knack for producing some of the most diverse, interesting and genre blending atmospheric focused bands this scene has to offer, and the Gothenburg based duo who are the first band on the main stage also known as The Arc are no exception. Opening with the melodic soundscape of ‘Atomos’, they deliver layered euphoric post rock excellence that takes you on a journey through space and time. At times the the ambient guitar pieces are reminiscent of Eighties Robert Smith or ‘Post-Cure’ which is certainly an interesting combination. You can feel that the attention and influence of Cult of Luna’s Magnus Lindberg behind the mixing desk on their record ‘Penumbra’ has transcended into the live arena with each track seamlessly beautiful and yet seismic in scale.
© Jonathan Dadds
The Leeds based Post-metallers Din Of Celestial Birds kick the Bixler stages midday crowd into full gear with deeply ambient yet equally heavy toned ‘Laureate of American Lowlife.’ You can see the pure joy on the faces of the band as they relish every moment.
Mountain Caller from London seem a little enveloped by the main stage but come into their own as the riffs build and the audience falls under their spell. In the end they are really quite magical, especially as the first band of the day, and a young one at that – screaming that it is great to be here and treating us to a new track from upcoming and only second LP album to be released the following week. What follows from the unimposing trio is a scintillating tapestry of progressive riffs and intricate guitar work which builds up to a chugging wall of sound and
Continuing on from the euphoric storytelling and mysticism, we are thrown, mercilessly into a desolate, dystopic hellhole/ future warning – courtesy of ‘bee keeper/ terrifying space overlords Wallowing. It has been wonderful to see their progress over the years, all the way to dominating the Bixler with their acerbic and abrasive and disturbing sci fi sludgy grind. They are on absolute fire and bring the crowd to their knees with a punishing explosion of harsh noise. While normally squeezed into the tiniest of spaces it is a joy to see them decimate and command the space and crowd complete with guitar wielding, stomping, climbing the tower (an ATG initiation) and maniacally screaming into the crowd from the barrier.
Opening with the dizzying and disturbing (if you’ve seen the video you know) track off their latest album, Wiegedood descend like a swarm of angry hornets and aptly continue the rage against humanity. The crowd is packed out and they seem genuinely touched by the sight. Powering through a blistering set of lightning-fast visceral black metal, for this obsessed reviewer it is the first sure highlight and a pants wettingly exhilarating experience that is enough to take your head off. face shredding blast beats and disorientating riffs with hellish growls from ex Amenra bassist Levy Seynaeve.
At the Yokhai guitarist and vocalist Serena Cherry, gets straight to the point of portraying the rawness of the Bristol based quartet Svalbard with ‘Throw your Heart Away.’ Their unique brand of hardcore bleakness is welcomed in these tough times with existential dread filled tracks, but we manage to find some comfort in their dynamic and captivatingly energetic set. The Weight of the Mask, the brilliant new album out via Nuclear Blast is showcased perfectly with hints of post rock, intense melodic leads, dual guitar licks and both barks and shrieks throughout. The honesty and rawness of this dynamic performance climaxes with ‘Eternal Spirits,’ and faces are literally melted all around the tent, maybe a mask IS needed after all?!
Fans are spilling out of the densely packed Yokhai stage ifor the acerbic, anti American, Americans Chat Pile and given their huge, almost cultish following it seems they would be better suited to the main stage. The quartet of obnoxious Oklahomans consist of an angsty wailing vocalist, thunderous bass, squealing discordant guitar and steady, formidable, snare heavy military drums.
Opening with their now infamous tantrum tinged ‘Why’ an angry social commentary on poverty, Raygun Busch jokes about Greggs bakery being the UK equivalent of Arby’s – “Send my body to Greggs” before launching into the track itself, ‘Rainbow Meat’.The music – if you can call it that, is trudging harsh noise that is dragged out through a sludgy quagmire and sometimes speeds up with chugging bassline riffs, blast beats and plain weird, sonically jarring guitar notes as a feverish rage is unleashed. The nihilistic outlook, disgust at his home “This song is about the worst place in the world, Texas” and self deprecation in ‘I’m Garbage’ makes for an intense wave of emotions, it is not for everyone, but certainly something to behold, and a fantastic outlet for raging at the fucked-up world.
We went along due to pure hype for Empire State Bastard and to see what all the fuss was about for the Biffy Clyro, Oceansize, and Slayer supergroup and we were not disappointed. Far rawer and jarring than the BIffy Clyro of the last few years, the lurching vocalist Simon Neil flexes his Dr Hyde muscles and expresses a darker side than his usual soft/rock background. Backed up by a dissonant avant-garde grinding background of distorted screeching guitars though sadly not Dave Lombardo on drums, he yells and shrieks and generally loses his shit – stopping to experiment with the occasional synth composition amongst the clamour that absolutely decimates the Arc – all in all, yeh, we get it..
Opening with ‘Thousand Hands’, Elder at the Bixler are a calming, and uplifting jaunt, through an immersive, progressive, and psychedelic soundscape. Especially enhanced by the excellent lighting. There is nothing new to their performance, but it is still a beautiful cleansing luscious guitar licks, and meandering riffs, waves of crashing cymbals and pummelling basslines and drum beats behind soaring vocals. Things really get going when they launch into the heavier ‘Lore’ but as they break into newer and lighter material it feels like a good time to break away and catch Brutus.
The Belgian trio have been gaining a huge and well deserved reputation storming the underground music scene and once again are on absolute fire. The crowd at the Yokhai are spilling out of the tent when arriving to catch the anthemic ‘What Have We Done’ but we cheekily manage to squeeze in to get a good view of powerhouse vocalist and drummer, the imitable Stef Maanaert boisterously working the drum kit with mind-blowing energy, skill and precision. If that were not enough, her slighted cracked but still stellar vocals soar over the background of shimmering tremolos and technical riffs. Jaws hit the floor through the crowd of old and likely new fans with the earnest, punky, and searing ‘All Along’ followed by equally endearingly poignant ‘Sugar Dragon’.
An avalanche of riffs descends on The Arc curtesy of the legendary behemoths of post metal, Russian Circles. The American trio perform a colossal, mixed set list of new and old – opening with the dynamic and delicate ‘Station’ and from 2008 album of the same name and building to crushing crescendos in the most recent release of ‘Gnosis’. They are far heavier than one might have expected from recordings and both massacre and mesmerise the busy Arc in equal measure- all to an enchanting smoky light show, shimmering tremolos, and thunderous drums with uplifting moments of zen. They are truly a mind-blowing experience and conquer the main stage, proving to be a highlight of the weekend in all their formidable glory.
Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, the cleverly psychedelic, musically schizophrenic doom band from Newcastle – totally take us off guard in the most positive way and would likely do the same for any unsuspecting audience member. ‘Mr Medicine’ is the cure for any mid-evening festival fatigue, getting heads wobbling and feet tapping. ‘Terror’s Pillow’ and ‘A66’ are particular highlights, giving a healthy dose of psych/doom noise that is satisfyingly cathartic. The experimental dynamics go from hard and fast rock ‘n’ roll riffs to disorientating low and slow sludge, with nonchalant monotone vocals drawling over the top.
Converge the headliner of today unsurprisingly DECIMATE the main stage to a packed audience and of course attract a decent sized rabid mosh pit and a steady stream of frenzied crowd surfers. Playing a range of tracks of their impressive discography they open with the slow burner leading into explosive machine gun drum rolls and ominous oh so familiar for the initiated, dualling dissonant and strangely waltzing riffs of ‘You Fail Me’s ‘Eagles Become Vultures’ and the place erupts. Jacob Banon’s angry barks could take your head off, and he exudes all the energy of a ferocious wild animal as he prowls and lurches around the stage. Tracks such as the squealing and swarming ‘I Can Tell You About Pain’ has the audience, and yours truly screaming with various degrees of personal anguish “You don’t know what my pain feels like”, in the first encore, alongside the swirling mass of insanity that is Concubine with its almost punky breakdowns. Almost every track surges forward with the same intensity and is pitch (albeit skewed) to perfection and also includs a fanatic attempt to sing/shout/scream along.
Each member has barely stopped for a breath and throw their respective selves and instruments around the stage with wild abandon, especially the manically grinning Nate Newton. When it feels like that is it (and it seems a suitable time to rush to the loo) Banon has to say just a few words in what appears to be the second encore, this one is for L….. This reviewer has never turned round so quickly to rush back to then lose their proverbial shit to a personal favourite Entombed cover –the ubiquitous ‘Wolverine Blues’. The baying crowd’s reaction is not dissimilar and the whole main stages grooves, headbangs and yells along in honour of the late and great L.G Petrov.
Part Two here
Words: Abi Coulson and Mike Linehan
Photography: Abi Coulson// Darktones Photography – with thanks to additional ATG photographers