ArcTanGent Festival 2019 - The Review | Thursday

Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

The UK's best small festival came to town (or more accurately, a muddy field in Bristol) for its 2019 outing featuring arguably its best lineup ever, if not the best weather forecast. Punters have been arriving in droves since Wednesday night and with more on the way today, five thousand people will be descending on Fernhill Farm for a weekend of post-rock, math-rock, noise rock, extreme metal and absolutely everything in between and adjacent. It'd be an understatement to say we were excited to get down there for for a showcase of some of the best bands from across the planet - from Danish blackgaze courtesy of Møl to headliners Coheed and Cambria. Read on for our recap of all the action from across the site on Thursday at ArcTanGent!

Whilst the prospect of opening at a festival of this size and reputation may be dauntingly intimidating prospect for many an artist, Cultdreams (8) launch headfirst into their empowering set with urgent energy and confidence. Opening with the unflinching personal poetry of ‘Not My Generation’ and the impassioned energy of ‘Flowers On Their Gravestones’ the dynamic two piece channel their experienced trauma and injustice for devastating effect. Whilst handpicked content from their debut Seafoam radiates the fang-bared acidic intensity that made the record so initially arresting, it’s material from the fantastic Things That Hurt that truly presents their skill and prowess, with the despondent riot grrl dream pop of ‘We Never Rest’ standing as a testament to their skill. It’s a deeply intimate encounter, with frontwoman Lucinda Livingstone reeling tales of her experienced suffering with unyielding honesty, but one that’s paralysingly arresting.

Decked in vibrancy, those unfamiliar with Ithaca (9) would be forgiven in thinking they are one of many idyllic math pop artists performing this weekend. However, once the London group plunge into the angular grind of ‘New Covenant’ such potential misguided assumptions are immediately discarded. As per the norm, Ithaca are pure, all annihilating sonic intensity. Absolutely authentically seething, Ithaca are righteous youthful rage in musical form, with the hardcore punishment of ‘Youth Vs Wisdom’ igniting the first of many pits of jubilant violence this weekend. Whilst this band have been the subject of almost limitless praise this year, such a performance demonstrates that such acclaim is totally deserved. 30 minutes of poignant aggression, a set that proves that Ithaca are indeed the frontrunners of future technicolour intensity.

Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

Following Cultdreams back on the Bixler stage are a rather different beast, the entertainingly-named Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard (7). The stoner doom collective more than live up to their name with ponderous, fuzzed-out grooves akin to Electric Wizard with vocalist Jessica Ball’s ethereal, ghostly crooning overlaid. The atmosphere is meditative, almost trance-like with rumbling bass, thunderous guitars and almost tribal drumming; it’s certainly music that’s felt as opposed to heard. There’s also an unmistakable herbal aroma to the air - hardly unexpected given the band name and the style of doom they peddle. The loosely defined song structures alongside slow, chugging riffs interspersed with drone elements, as well as occasional urgency with louder vocals and more urgent riffing. It’s a captivating affair that cements their status as rising stars in the doom underground and truly, it’s impossible not be to dragged into the corrosive swamp the collective call home. Noxiously intoxicating, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard present stoner doom at it’s most inescapable form this late summer afternoon.

If there’s any any artist that can perform at Fernhill Farm year after year and never get dull it’s the spellbinding Bossk (9). Whilst this year marks their third consecutive appearance at ArcTanGent, this year see’s the post-metal collective grace the infamous Arc stage for the first time, a feat they take in their stride. Backed by cosmic imagery, Bossk interweave an interstellar tapestry of ethereal allurement that is as wondrously spectacular as it is abundantly dense. As the group paint their astral soundscapes, they flawlessly demonstrate their knowledgeable of timbre and juxtaposition, with material from Audio Noir sounding colossal. Yes, it’s an understanding they’ve demonstrated numerous times here at ArcTanGent over the past decade, but the live premiere of new material solidifies their stance as one of the masters of such musical ways. Future headliners you might ask? It’s far too early to tell, but going from this set it’s clear they harbour the skill required for such achievements, and going from this turnout and reception, the group are certainly climbing their way to such a feat.

Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

While fans of all things heavy understandably flock to the PX3 in droves, the illusive Nordic Giants (9) treat the Arc stage to something contemporarily wonderful indeed. With the Arc’s new videographic backdrop, it seems like the stage has been constructed with the post rock sensations in consideration. Backed by thought provoking, humorous and beautiful short films, Nordic Giants provide a cinematic and deeply theatrical post rock experience that’s completely unparalleled not only at this festival, but within the global post rock scene as a whole. Such wondrous visuals only intensity the imaginative and luscious craft that the duo provide, with the fantastic animated vibrancy of ‘The Seed’ and the melancholia of ‘Dark Skies Mean War’ silencing the inhabitants of the Arc into captivated allurement. However, what truly solidifies their stance of being one of the most spectacular acts of this weekend is a beautifully touching reimagining of Queen’s ‘ Bohemian Rhapsody’. Devoted to the dearly missed Dan Beesley, it’s an emotionally tribute to one of the scene’s greatest. A phenomenal set courtesy of the best musical storytellers in the global post rock scene.

One of the UK metal’s brightest stars and one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend - Conjurer (9) have been riding ever higher since Mire last year and have made a name for themselves with their sonically devastating approach on record and live. Thankfully, today is no exception and they open with an utterly crushing ‘Choke’ that takes the heaviness of their record and turns it up a lot higher than 11. The guitar tone is monolithic, drums pound like an earthquake hitting and the vocal interplay is both cavernous and scorching. The PX3 stage is bursting at the seams and the crowd spills out well into the surrounding area and the band, as always, bring their A-game, delivering a masterclass in brutality that is both hugely compelling and enthralling. Despite the extremity of their sound it’s clear that they tap into something raw and primal, delivering the kind of aural assault that smashes genre boundaries as well as skulls. The band barely say a word between songs, letting their ludicrously heavy riffs do all the talking; the crowd, on the other hand, scream back a good number of the lyrics. Conjurer absolutely deserve the praise being heaped on them and are easily one of the best sets all weekend.

Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

Another band making waves in the world of extreme metal are Danish mob Møl (8); mixing a scorching black metal assault with expansive shoegaze, they paint bleak soundscapes thoroughly drenched in atmosphere. The band are clearly having a fantastic time and are all too happy to share their joy with the crowd; frontman Kim is in the crowd, surfing or walking with mic stand held high almost as much as he’s on the stage and the band throw themselves into their set with reckless abandon. The set is captivating and in spite of the ‘shoegaze’ moniker there’s plenty of movement on stage and in the crowd. Cuts from Jord as well as earlier EPs I and II sound huge and enthrall the crowd who are totally under Møl’s spell. It’s yet another highlight of the weekend at a festival fast becoming known for showcasing some of the most exciting talent across rock and metal, and a surprise appearance from Conjurer wraps up an incredible time at the Bixler stage as well as showcasing the wonderful camaraderie to be found in metal and smaller festivals like this.

Back under the vast canopy of the Arc stage, Zeal and Ardor (8) are wickedly electric. Even after becoming a staple of this unique festival, the sheer power and dark charisma the collective preach is utterly captivating this late afternoon, with their characteristic marriage of blackgaze and spiritual soul filling the stage to maximum capacity immediately. As the group march though content from 2018’s Stranger Fruit, they impose sacrilegious majesty in a fashion that’s irresistibly captivating. Of course, repeat attendees of this festival will know be fully aware of the charismatic brilliance this band harbour, but to see them effortlessly perform their unique art in such a setting as this is breathtaking. It’s 45 minutes of musical charm in it’s most maleficent form, and as the group close with the blasphemous hymn of ‘Baphomet’ it’s clear that their next ceremony at this festival is already being hotly anticipated.

Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

Gracing the stage for the first of two sets for some of the band, post-rockers Pijn (7) are bringing the (mostly) instrumental noise to the PX3 tent. The use of strings lends an ethereal gravitas to the swirling, crushing rhythms the band employ. The focus on instrumentation and composition rather than any definable lyrics gives the band real leeway to explore different textures and soundscapes; minimalist interludes give way to furious, sometimes desperate-sounding heavier sections. ArcTanGent is well known for being a celebration of post-rock, math-rock and other weird and wonderful music, and once again the tent is completely packed out for Pijn. Their music relies heavily on an emotional connection through their lush instrumentation and this is something they deliver in spades today.

Whereas today has been host to left field progression aplenty, there hasn’t been many acts that have challenged the very notion of heavy music thus far. However, the time has come for Raketkanon (8). Sporadic, worryingly unpredictable and unconsolable, the group introduce themselves with the alien laminations of ‘Fons’, a bizarre and surrealist expression of artistic intent. From here on out, the Belgian quintet communicate purely in tongues, pulsating synths, obtuse soundscapes and most importantly, physical motion. Violently navigating the stage like their own skeletons are trying to escape their mortal bodies and with a setlist spanning their three full lengths, what the dynamos gift is florescent noise rock that’s akin to both long forgotten music from advanced ancient civilisations and language belonging to impossible futures. It’s a surrealist display of vibrant artistic expressionism courtesy from one of the most uniquely brilliant and arresting bands in the contemporary noise scene.

Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

Whilst the notion of synthwave at ArcTanGent may be a questionable inclusion to a select few attendees , with an aesthetic and sound inspired by 1980’s pop culture, Carpenter Brut (8) devilishly play into the hands of this festival and it’s many seekers of authentic progression. Neon soaked and danceable, but with a relation to the gore, macabre and lust of the era they draw inspiration from, the French trio’s live performance is a fluid entity, with the group only utilising the sound of silence for intended effect. With renewed tracks such as ‘Roller Mobster’ ‘Turbo Killer’ and ‘Meet Matt Stryker’ inciting exacerbated energy within the crowd, Carpenter Brut are a product of outsider culture that universally appeals to a multitude of scenes and genres. However, what truly separates their live sound from their recorded output is the metallic fretwork of Adrien Grousset. Providing extra textures to the group’s already multilayered sound, his additional output animates to the group’s craft to highly excitable levels this evening. It's set of indulgence hedonism, an escape from the dizzying polyrhythms and time signatures that reign supreme here whist still catering for the festival's progressive ideology.

Walking on stage to rapturous applause to a full tent, it’s obvious Daughters (8) were missed on these shores following the 8-year wait between albums for last year’s excellent You Won’t Get What You Want, something of a misnomer tonight as the band give it their all and the crowd gets exactly what they want - a reinvigorated band on top form. Known for their caustic noise rock and incendiary live performances, Daughters don’t skip a beat tonight and vocalist Alexis is up in front row’s faces near constantly as they tear through old and new material with gusto. There’s a pervading aura of menace, as if there’s a powder keg that could go off at any second. Sometimes, the keg does go off and is nothing short of a sonic riot; cacophonous, angular guitars, frenetic pacing and Alexis’ ever-present snarl. The band throw themselves around with reckless abandon, as does the crowd; they might have fizzled out before playing to quarter-full venues but they’re back now and ArcTanGent are more than here for it - it’s like they never went away.

Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

Considering their status as global prog rock titans, it’s almost surprising it’s taken this New York’s Coheed And Cambria (7) to appear at the marshes of Fernhill Farm. Granted, they might not be as avant-garde as the music this festival champions, but judging from the respective turnout, it’s sentiment shared among the populace of ArcTanGent. It also seems to be a fact that the band themselves seem to surprise in, but as soon as the progressive juggernauts drop into the space opera that is both ‘The Dark Sentencer’ and ‘Unheavenly Creatures’ it’s clear that the band are making up for lost time. With their penchant for hard sci-fi proudly on display both visibly and musically, Coheed take this headline slot and opportunity confidently in their stride. Maybe a little too confidently in fact.

As with a discography as extensive and as celebrated as Coheed’s, it’s completely inevitable that many anticipated hits and deep cuts would be absent from the setlist. However, what is rather surprising is the volume of material from their most recent album, 2018’s The Unheavenly Creatures. Granted, it’s perfectly understandable why the group would use this performance to promote such material, with the record being a rightfully stellar releaser. However, the reception between deeper cuts from the aforementioned album and content from their back catalogue is subtle, yet highly noticeable. However, despite this such slight differentiating reception, Coheed are, as always, a pleasure to witness. Enthusiastic yet professionally reserved, Coheed have the crowd hanging onto every word and riff, with material such as the pop tinged ‘The Suffering’ and the monumentally euphoric ‘In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3’ trigging what could be described as mass hysteria within the crowd.

Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

Even with tonight’s setlist being a topical point of debate and conversation, Coheed And Cambria prove, almost without effort, why are still globally celebrated as one the titans of the prog rock scene. Fittingly closing the first day of this year’s ArcTanGent with the iconic riff that belongs to the timeless ‘Welcome Home’, whilst such a set will be discussed among prog rock connoisseurs for some time to come, those who questioned their status as worthy ArcTanGent headliners are ultimately silenced. A worthy conclusion to the end of a brilliant day at one the best festival’s within the UK festival scene.

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