Whilst the previous day’s unsettled weather may have reduced parts of the site into swamps worthy of harbouring sea monsters, with the soft fluffy clouds drifting in the warm morning air, a pleasant and cheery vibe hangs over the festival this morning. With this in consideration, it feels like the perfect time for HCBP’s (6.5) first festival appearance. Featuring half of the now defunct Heck, the duo shares the energy, passion and DIY ethos of their previous outfit, but with added groove, blues orientated tones, musical layers and complexity and less flailing limbs and a sense of danger. Despite this, an early morning main stage slot doesn’t do their blues-meets-mathcore justice, and it feels like more intimate venue would be more relevant. Despite this, it feels fitting to see the duo play their first major festival performance just days after the passing of their previous band.
Opening the Bixler for the day is soothing and ethereal sounds of Real Terms (7). Launching their set by simply stating that everyone will be alright, the Liverpool trio treat the early risers with their wholesome and dreamy indie speckled math rock. It’s inviting, and with some fantastic vocal harmonisation, proves to be an engaging and alluring experience, despite the early start. In turn It’s exactly the type of music, vibe and aurora you would desire when collapsed on your parents sofa suffering from a comedown whilst playing Spyro the Dragon at 5am on a Sunday morning. Whilst only a young band taking their first steps, if this pacifying set is anything to go by, the band are in for some considerable success in the future.
Toska (6.5), deliver heavy doom laden riffs with their established sound of instrumental prog-metal. Whilst they possess a solid and refined sound, for the most part their structure is extremely conventional to the genre and there’s little to differentiate them from the rest of the pack. Yet, with this in consideration there are moments within their set where the group truly come into their own. With a fantastic bassline present and some moments of impressive song writing, they clearly present the skills to expand on their currently conventional sound.
One of the few strictly mathcore bands appearing this weekend, Future Horizons (5.5) don’t initially do the genre the justice it deserves. Opening their set with tracks that strictly stick to tried and tested conventions that many bands revel in replying against, the first few tracks feel a bit like math tinged metalcore by numbers. However, as their set progresses, the band gradually come into a more finer form, presenting moments of brilliant technical song writing and skilful performance. There’s real possibility for this young band to become a giant in the mathcore scene, but work and refinement is required.
Back over on the Arc stage Spectres (6.5) deliver a set that fringes upon the boundaries of both shoegaze and noise-rock. With soft vocals speckling minimalist droning guitars, it’s certainly not for everyone at the festival, but it keeps fans of the genre engaged and occupied for a while. However, with most of the punters in the area basking in the warm air on a Saturday afternoon, it’s disappointing that none of the associated dark and looming vibes of their associated genre are given out, and in turn, their set feels a bit flat in comparison to the rest of the acts on the main stage.
Spectres: Photo Credit - Helen Messenger
To compare, Manchester’s Pijn (7.5) feel right at home under the darkened canopy of the Bixler stage. Their sparing use of hushed growling compliments their bleak, impressive and immersive walls of sound, and the juxtaposition and contrast between these walls and their quieter more astute pieces is fantastic, presenting constantly shifting tones and auroras in the process. This 4 piece truly embody the age old saying; the longer the note, the longer the dread.
In similar vein to the previous day’s Alpha Male Tea Party, The Physics House Band (8.5) are another act regarded as upcoming heroes in the math and noise-rock scene. It’s weird as fuck, immersive multi-layered synth and horn laden progressive post-math-rock that sounds crystal clear live and exactly like it does live as it does on record. Truly, the perfect sound mix and masterful performance is both something that gratifies the core fanbase gathered and the extended audience. Primarily performing material from this year’s Mercury Fountain, the group display an appealing confident and suave attitude towards their performance, a notable component that seeks into the crowd and atmosphere, and with incredible skill supporting their distinctively and unique written music, the group truly show why they’re one of most crucial bands within this scene.
Over at the Yohkai stage, the Parisian post-rock outfit Lost In Kiev (7) begin with a rocky start due to a string of technical issues halting their set for some time. With the 4 piece knowing little English, it’ a rocky and slightly awkward start to affairs, but after some time, the quintet come into their own, delivering frosty and refined post-rock that shares similar vibes, tones and to celebrated acts like Maybeshewill and Cult Of Luna. Whilst vocal sampling may be a popular form of surrogating traditional vocals within the genre, the group’s heavy usage and reliance on this becomes transparent as the set progresses, and at certain times, a little pretentious. Despite this, their concrete sound works wonders and after initially unsure start, the group present a set showcasing how well post-rock can be done at times.
Potentially the band that’s travelled the furthest this weekend, whilst Sydney’s Sleepmakeswaves (7.5) may be thousands of miles from home this weekend, their dedicated fanbase on these shores ensure that they feel right at home. Whist post-rock may be the most performed genre this weekend, this artist’s delicately woven, technical and positively upbeat approach to the genre provides a welcome breath of fresh air. The group’s visible upbeat chemistry seeps into the buoyant and somewhat mesmerising atmosphere, and in turn, becomes a testament on how this typically blasé and elitist genre can be optimistic and heartening when performed and presented in the right hands.
Back over on the Yohkai are Devil Sold His Soul (7), an act that have generated a lot of hullaballoo within the scene not only due to 2017 being the tenth anniversary of their widely celebrated debut album, A Fragile Hope, but also because of the return of their original vocalist Ed Gibbs. With the album anniversary tour now done and dusted, it seems the post-metal outfit have kept the dual vocalist dynamic, an element that adds unprecedented energy and a new breath of live into this act. The chemistry between the vocalists is evident and the harmonization on both the harsh and clean vocals is something unseen so far this weekend. However, with a focus on performing older cuts from their aforementioned debut album along with new material, the group’s classic greatest hits are strangely absent from the setlist. Never the less, even after many years within the scene, it’s still great to see that the group still haven’t lost their edge.
Devil Sold His Soul: Photo Credit - Jonathan Dadds
With the pleasant afternoon sun now gleaming down upon the muddy pastures of Fernhill Farm, there’s clearly no better time for the experimental Japanese doom-noise outfit Boris (7) to grace the main stage. Backed by a giant ceremonial gong and decked in black, more conservative clothing, the culture of their home country shines through aesthetically, and seeps into their musical output. It’s the slow, vibrating droning of their more doom-laden material that’s presented today, that whilst appeals to the more diehard fans of the 3 piece, it seems that these more slightly obscure cuts don’t appeal to the extended gathering here this afternoon, with many seeing the group is a more novelty booking.
With this in consideration, their more conventional material from their widely celebrated Pink album might be more suitable for this festival audience. Yet, the group clearly dispute that, performing their experimental noise with conviction, creating a bleak vibe that lives up to the band’s reputation. Performing immediately after inside the adjacent Bixler stage, Defeater (8.5) prove to be notable contrast, considering the fact that the band have more in common with the hardcore scene than the noise, math or post-rock/metal scene. Despite this, they thoroughly hold their own with their emotive, yet incendiary brand of post-hardcore that sends the majority of the tent into a finger pointing frenzy. Performing a short, yet oh so sweet set bosting material from the vast majority of their releases, the group clearly present their fully established sound that incorporates elements from a plethora of genres, ranging from emo to hardcore punk. Whilst some may be disappointed with the lack of softer and acoustic material from the band’s discography, and while their set may be slightly shorter than their advertised slot, the Massachusetts group truly represent the best of what the post-hardcore scene has to offer.
Potentially one the biggest acts within the UK prog scene and an act often regarded as one of the forefathers of this decade’s djent movement, Tesseract (8.5) truly show why they’re a crucial act within the extended progressive scene. The Milton Keynes act have shed their rougher, heavier edges in recent years and have blossomed into a magnificent beast in their own right. The crystal clear sound quality, flawless, precise performance and soaring, melodic vocals are the most prominent components of this main stage set, with their technical and polyrhythmic riffs creating an almost spellbinding aurora.
Clearly, with a mixed setlist spanning all releases, older fans revel in absorbing the notable evolution of the group’s established sound, with their newer material shifting away from their heavier foundations, but still conveying to their aforementioned, deeply rooted tone. However, the group truly bring the house down as their set progresses, with a thunderous performance of 'Concealing Fate Part 2' and closing with their fantastic 'Nocturne', and overall, prove themselves to be the front runners of the prog-metal scene.
With Tesseract over and done, thus begins the great exodus across the site to catch fellow prog-metal titans, Sikth (9), who are closing the Yohkai for the year. With the tent bursting in the seams and with a horde of people gathering at the perimeters just for a glance, the group vocally shun their newly released album, The Future In Whose Eyes?, in favour for their previous, pre-breakup, material. It’s fantastic, with their brutal moments of sonic abuse metamorphosing into moments of brilliant technical melody.
SikTh - Photo Credit: Helen Messenger
However, hands down the most appeasing element of this set is the chemistry and contrasting, yet complimenting vocal deliveries of the two front men, with Mikee Goodman’s distinctive jabbering and frantic scat orientated vocals being prominent. It’s a greatest hits set that almost feels like an extended history lesson of the group’s material, which is perfect for younger fans of the band, but with some more deeper cuts thrown into the mix to satisfy the older fanbase gathered tonight It’s extremely high energy listening, with bodies flying in all directions down in the front, despite the less solid ground underfoot. Closing the set, and in turn the stage with an chaotic, turbocharged rendition of their 2003 hit ‘Pussyfoot’, it shows that this group has truly aged to perfection over the past decade.
With dusk fallen and temperatures now falling into unseasonal single digits, what feels like an entire festival now crams themselves under the protective canopy of the Arc stage for this weekend’s closer; Explosions In The Sky (10). And what a close it is. The group humbly announce their presence before opening with the gradual, slow building introduction ‘Wilderness’. From here onwards, the communion gathered here are treated here to what can only be simply be described as the perfect post-rock experience possible, with the genre pioneers bending sound fully to their will to create a fully immersive, emotive and emotionally stirring ambience.
Their set ebbs and flows naturally, with material from their extensive carrier blending and mixing seamlessly; tender, more minimalist structures and symphonies give way to all consuming walls and waves of pure sonic bliss. A fantastic light show accomplices this audio experience, with vibrant walls of light reflecting off and illuminating the colossal canvas and metal structure that is the arc stage, and in turn, the set is truly aesthetic as it is atmospheric. Even with the thousands gathered here under this one tarpaulin roof, it truly feels like an intimate and deeply personal experience, with everyone here fully engrossed and captivated in the soulful performance before them. Closing off the set, and in turn, the festival with a triumphant, poignant performance of ‘The Only Moment We Were Alone’, the group forge an incredible, unbeatable climax to a fantastic weekend and festival. Simply magical.