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ArcTanGent Festival 2019 - The Review | Saturday

September 11, 2019

 Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

 

With the torrential horrors that was yesterday's weather having now passed, the late summer sun shines down on a wet, but grateful Fernhill Farm this morning. However, within the shadows of the PX3, it feels like the odious weather has remained, with Sugar Horse (8) conjuring an atmosphere that’s akin to that of a hurricane. Effortlessly showcasing their perfect knowledge of both timbre and juxtaposition, the Bristolian collective lull and pacify today’s early risers with their delicate soundscapes of alluring cold comfort before sandblasting such allurement away with their abstract and noise tinged progression. It’s a wonderful yet harrowing showcase of angularly obtuse walls of noise, with content from their recently released debut EP Druj entertaining thoughts of Deftones and Oceansize at their most very most darkest and macabre. Whilst it may be 11am on a breezy Saturday morning, Sugar Horse bathe in an atmosphere of inhospitable and authentic trepidation and judging from the respective turnout and reception, great accolades and achievements await this brilliant band in the not so distant future, plaudits in which they well and truly deserve.

 

Opening the Yohkai stage this fresh morning are the south coast newcomers in Wild Cat Strike (7). Amalgamating progressive left field sensibilities with subtly tasteful grassroots indie with distant touches of folk, Wild Cat Strike’s craft this morning is simultaneously hospitably warm and over so slightly melancholic. Over the course of their set, the southern group reveal and annotate their vulnerabilities and anxieties through their voluminous intricacy, with choice content from their 2018 debut Rhubarb Nostalgia perfectly resonating the group’s delicately crafted home-brewed take on contemporary progression. With a collective sense of dynamism that’s far beyond their years, Wild Cat Strike’s unison of influences is haplessly agreeable and contains massive crossover appeal.

 

With the rising warmth of the day now transforming the sodden earth into a substance that resembles the consistency of glue, the usual jovial violence that’s synonymous with The St Pierre Snake Invasion’s (8) live presence has sadly become physically impossible. As predicated however, St Pierre’s main stage set is one of masterfully obnoxious intensity, with the Bristolian bruisers tearing through content from Caprice Enchantè and choice cuts from A Thousand Year’s A Day with impactful force. In true vein of the bands’ renowned reputation, the ArcTanGent staples steamroll their way through technical issues, paying no mind to hitches that may stagger or derail set’s from other artists, all whilst radiating the sheer power and combustible energy the band infamously harboured. Whilst it may be remorseful that the environment may forbid any completely unrestricted physical signs of approval from the masses gathered, as the group dive into the metaphysical sonic middle finger that is ‘The Idiot’s Guide To Music’, it’s clear that The St Pierre Snake Invasion are amongst like minded friends this early afternoon.

 

 Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

 

Gender Roles (7) are an altogether different proposition and certainly one of the 'lighter', per say, acts of the entire weekend - their poppy indie-influenced sound and more conventional time signatures certainly setting them apart from a great many other bands playing the festival. This isn't a bad thing, though; there's an infectious sense of fun that pervades the setlist even with lyrics like "you look like death". There's another solid crowd for the band here as well, clearly receptive to the band's melodic charms. By their own admission, it's their first time gracing a stage here and there's a nervous energy initially that keeps them mostly static but it soon dissipates and they take it in their stride with aplomb. 

 

Back on the Yohkai stage the horsing around starts even before the set during soundcheck with a wonderfully terrible joke about the difference between a hippo and a zippo ("'one's really heavy, and the other's a little lighter), Curse These Metal Hands (10) walk on to a tent that more closely resembles a sardine can with the crowd jammed in tight and still spilling out. The collorbation between Pijn and Conjurer, fresh off the back of yesterday's record release and the bottles of Buckfast around the stage, the band tear through Curse These Metal Hands in full and running order, opening with a joyous and utterly mesmerising 'High Spirits'.Despite being bone-crushingly heavy, the music is nothing but uplifting, driven by an undercurrent of joy - in the band's own words, 'written in the key of mirth'. The sprawling, expansive sound only gets bigger live and it's impossible not to be swept up in the waves of sound that pour forth from the stage. They're also clearly having an incredible time too, demolishing not only the stage and crowd but the bottles they've brought with them too, as well as cracking jokes about those comparisons.

 

It's testament to the friendship and camaraderie that exists between the two bands joining forces as well as between them and fans, and just proves again that ArcTanGent is a hotbed of talent and one of the best festivals in the country right now. Even if Curse These Metal Hands never do anything again, this record, this set is nothing short of a stone cold classic, the musical equivalent of the rapture for those assembled here. Closer 'Sunday' is nothing short of transcendent, leaving every jaw well and truly on the floor. However, what makes this set and collaboration so enticing this afternoon is the fact that it's not just the punters that are having the time of their lives. Everyone under the canvas of the Yohkai, from the stage staff, to the photographers to even the band themselves are just beaming with life affirming ecstasy, relishing the fact that are a pat of this unison. A wondrous and perfect celebration of contemporary heavy music, shared ideals and maybe even most vital of all, friendship. 

 

 Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

 

Can you actually imagine an edition of ArcTanGent without the presence of The Physics House Band (9)? It’s difficult to visualise indeed. Despite this year standing as their fourth appearance at ArcTanGent, it’s transparent that the math rock surrealists will never outstay their welcome at this event, with seemingly half of the festival now crammed under the steel and canvas of the Arc to witness their set. As anticipated, the south coast collective play at their absolute prime this afternoon, with the gathering in attendance being helplessly transfixed and hypnotised as the dynamos bend music and noise to their utter will. With an extensive arsenal of musical weaponry at their disposal, the group weave an enchanted polyrhythmic tapestry of music, transporting the thousands in attendance to an otherworldly soundscape of musical impossibility. Select movements from their most recent offering Death Sequence stand as their most calculated and rich work to date, with the clashing brass and synthetic beats of ‘Death Sequence II’ plunging the masses into an intangible labyrinth of incalculable time signatures and intangible polyrhythms, a sonic maze in which the punters gathered have no intention of leaving. Whilst The Physics House Band are essentially part of the furniture here now, this is by far their greatest set the band have performed here at Fernhill Farm thus far. The very sonic embodiment of the ideology that ArcTanGent is renowned to resonate. 

 

Crystallising and translucent, Three Trapped Tigers (7) are, for the most part, on wonderful form this pleasant afternoon. Performing a setlist that spans their widely celebrated back catalogue, the soundscapes in which the trio weave are seemingly alive, with such rich textures morphing between jarringly angular rhythms and fluid, crystalline melodies. With their craft freely flowing between the waters of industrial, electronica and post rock, the scope of Three Trapped Tigers’s craft is colossal and is performed with fulfilling enthusiasm. However, no matter brilliant Tigers are, their set today is plagued by technical hitches that stutter and impair what should be fluid experience. However, when freed of such hinderances, the trio are sublime, with the collective pulling notes and melodies from the air rather than constructing them. It’s a welcome return for the post rock heroes, maybe one that less triumphant than anticipated, but still, such hindrances are clearly forgotten and forgiven when the group provide the delicate soundscapes that the punters gathered here have been clearly craving.

 

 Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

 

Back within the canvas of the Yohkai, given their respective turnout, one can only imagine why it took so long for the eccentric Invalids (8) to visit our shores. Reeling tales of love, loss and youth though blistering fretwork and hyperactive time signatures, Invalids perform with infectiously relentless speed and vigour. With their acute yet vital pop punk tendencies showing just ever so slyly, the pace in which the state side math rockers play at is borderline overwhelming. Yet, despite the madcap fretwork, there’s never a misplaced or absent note. Speeding through content from their discography, the speed in which that perform at is utterly transfixing, and furthermore, a testament to their incredible skill. It’s absolutely breathtaking to see such skill being aired live, with the group radiating a sense of childlike wonder and wholesomeness as they trail blaze their way through a set that spans their discography. Truly, it’s impossible not to be drawn into the vibrant and widely eccentric world in which Invalids inhabit, and as they close with the pop tinged madness that is ‘Sherman Is Connecter’, there’s nothing but amused, and some slightly jubilantly bemused, grins within the Yohkai.

 

Despite being printed on every lanyard timetable, it appears that this evening’s secret set, the legendary And So I Watch You From Afar (9) have remained a mystery to some for the entire weekend. Never the less, as the post rock heroes drop into the triumphant post rock echo that is ‘Set Guitars To Kill’, the Arc fills with lightning speed, with fanatics jogging through the quagmire for a space within the tent. Performing their self titled debut in full in celebration of it’s tenth anniversary, whilst the Irish post rock legends headlined this very festival just last year, they’re treated to a rapturous roar of appreciation from the crowd at every available instance; a welcoming heroes return. What follow is an essential masterclass of feverish post rock dynamism, with their debut radiating all the wondrous qualities as it did upon release all those years ago. As the vast majority of the festival bask and let loose in the gleaming light of the band’s perfectly performed craft, those sparse individuals in attendance not knowing of the legacy of this band swiftly come to understand the importance of this record. Truly, to witness this album being played in full, in surprise never the less, is a life affirming moment for all post rock concessioners in attendance. Simply colossal, this set ultimately shows and highlights And So I Watch You From Afar’s status as being of the brightest flames within the global post rock scene.

 

 Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

 

 

Just prior to Car Bomb levelling the Bixler, in vein of the elephant in the bar room not being a performance space designed to host a significantly large volume of people, the area is completely filled far past the intended capacity for the midlands instrumentalists A-Tota-So (8). With content from their 2018 debut full length standing as warm and dizzying melodies of intoxicating indulgence, A-Tota-So sow movements of pleasant instrumental hospitality, with passing punters being drawn to their craft likes moths to a flame. As the group indulge further into their set, the capacity of this venue get’s pushed to it’s utter limits, with the group displaying youthful intracity and talent at it’s most sublime. Ending on the newly released tender entanglement of ‘Spice Nights’, a track that unionises their sweet, almost innocent textures with monumental heft, such a set clearly showcases how A-Tota-So have a prosperous and glistening career ahead of them.

 

Despite the aforementioned And So I Watch You From Afar overrunning on the Arc stage next door, Car Bomb (8) have a tent packed to the rafters for their ArcTanGent debut, and true to their name they are nothing short of explosive - once again taking well more than just the bloody doors off. Their set is all angular riffs and jagged edges with delightfully awkward time signatures and massively dissonant. It's not what you'd call easily digestible, but the crowd here laps up every moment of it. The band are clearly veterans despite never having played this particular festival before, or indeed many other festivals by their own admission and they bring their A-game today, tearing the Bixler stage and all in front of them a new one. Occasional clean vocals sit over swirling atonality and the overall effect is a deeply uncomfortable, but engrossing experience. 

 

 Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

 

Whilst the Arc have played host to a range of acts specialising in musical desolation these past few days, it comes to pass that that the majority don’t compare to the engulfing dread and phobia that’s courtesy of Cult Of Luna (9). Shrouded in smoke and minimalist pale lighting, the Swedish sextet are utter apocalyptical forlornness in audio form, with frontman Johannes Persson’s pained and bestial roars spreading across the land like the final cry of a downed titan. Emotionally demolishing and crushingly ardent, the subtle inclusion of exquisite percussion only amplifies Cult Of Luna’s daunting atmosphere of nightmarish levels, with ‘Finland’ and ‘Ghost Trail’ casting total despondency upon the thousands gathered in sermon. Yet, despite such helpless destitution, there’s triumph and hope within Cult Of Luna’s sound this dusk. It’s a masterful lesson in how to cast emotion via metallic post-metal, a haunting sermon of authentic dread and misery, one that has undoubtedly indoctrinated in new followers tonight.

 

Headlining the Bixler stage tonight and fresh off the release of album of the year contender Eternal Forward Motion are Woking bruisers Employed To Serve (9); their reputation precedes them and they do their utmost to live up to it, with members in the crowd and even scaling the tent rigging, only too happy to incite as many comers to do the same ("security will catch you!"). The trademark windbreakers - that were briefly the most fashionable and desirable merch item on site during Friday's deluge - absolutely make an appearance and the unformity of stage getup is striking, a statement that puts the emphasis squarely back on their visceral, abrasive hardcore. The crowd is huge and well and truly here for it, even without frontwoman Justine's circle-pit incitements, their live show well and truly living up to its unpredictable, destructive reputation. Despite having less than a handful of records under their belt, they're still only going from strength to strength and and on the back of sets like this, it's clear just why they're one of the UK's most vital bands right now. 

 

 Photo: Dean Harries (WeTheDee)

 

Last, but certainly not least, this weekend are the legendary, almighty Meshuggah (9), a band who definitely need no introduction here, with their angular, grinding riffing, complex polyrhythms and searing vocals doing more than enough talking. It's a surgically precise yet brutal affair interspersed only by frequent chants of 'Meshuggah' whenever tracks end. Clearly, as the group decimate their surroundings with critical hits such as 'Born In Dissonance', 'Rational Gaze' and the genre defining blast of noise that is 1995's 'Future Breed Machine', it's absolutely transparent why this band have been hailed as the crowning jewel in the crown that is this year's ArcTanGent lineup The thousands gathered revel and possessively rejoice in the boundless tech death noise that this band gifted to the world, a celebration in praise of a band that founded and popularised a musical genre still being experimented with today. 

 

As the Swedes pulverise the festival with more intensity with each consecutive track, whilst this may be Meshuggah's only UK date this year, it's almost as if the band are channeling a year's worth of shows into this one singular performance. It's a flurry, an utter neon maelstrom of lights and lacerating noise, with the classics such as 'Clockworks' and 'Bleed' metamorphosing the crowd gathered into a collective and unified mass of swinging limbs and unified screams. Ending on the omnipresent audio mutilation that is 'Demirge', it's a headline performance for ArcTanGent history. Truly, if anyone present is ignorant to the name of Meshuggah, (not likely, we're aware) they are now fully aware of their renowned prowess. A thrilling climax to one the greatest festivals on this waterlogged earth. Until next year Fernhill Farm!

 

 

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