It may have been the early hour, my lack of sleep (thanks, annoying tent neighbours!) and a lack of coffee, but Madilan’s weird getup and prog-leanings didn’t hit the mark for me. They were good but compared to the bands that had played the day before, and definitely to what was still to come, they just seemed a bit half-boiled.
The same cannot be said for Edinburgh’s BRITNEY. I have no recollection of what their setlist was, even knowing at least some of their catalogue, as they suffered from maybe the worst sound mix of the weekend, but it was a frantic assortment of short, snappy tracks and it was loads of fun! Similar to the likes of Melt-Banana or The Locust, Britney played a high energy, near slapstick, mix of grind and noisy punk using bass, drums and a selection of effects boxes tweaked by hyperactive vocalist, Stewart.
Another energetic trio, Alpha Male Tea Party had an absolute blast playing the ARC stage in the sunshine, belting out their upbeat but furiously heavy math-rock tunes. Bass player Ben Griffiths certainly looked like he was having a great time bouncing about, kicking the air and headbanging along.
Focussing mainly on their recent album, Health, AMTP were perfectly suited to the early afternoon atmosphere, and, much like Gallops the day before, got much of the crowd dancing – there was an actual dance-off in the pit. Good times!
Far from jolly were Hemelbestormer, an epic instrumental post-metal band from Belgium, who after a late start, began playing whilst a storm brewed outside the tent. Choosing to use next to no stage lighting and with the skies darkening and unleashing a downpour, an atmosphere was built that was befitting of the band’s sludgy sound and their moniker (although Google now informs me that Hemelbestormer actually translates from Dutch as ‘someone concerned with the welfare of humans’ and has nothing to do with weather patterns).
Continuing the sludgy, doomy goodness, Canterbury’s OHHMS were next up and played a crushing set taken mostly from their tremendous album The Fool. “The Hanged Man” (a song about how horrible The Sun, the Daily Mail and their ilk are) was a particular highlight with Paul Waller’s powerful vocals ranging from clean singing to anguished yells and bellows. Treading the stage and the photo pit barefoot like a man possessed, Waller’s unique stage presence seemed to draw more and more energy from the crowd as OHHMS’s slot went on. OHHMS finished off with the impressively epic “The Anchor”, from Cold – its groovy, almost jazzy guitar solo during the quiet breakdown slowly built tension until the massive crescendo of riffs left the crowd shouting for one more.
To be fair, most bands would struggle to follow such a powerful performance but on the main stage, Listener seemed weak in comparison. Dan Smith’s strange anecdotal style was interesting at first but the Kansas City storytellers’ sound didn’t suit the big outdoor setting and would maybe have been better in one of the tents, which is a shame because I was looking forward to seeing them.
Thankfully, another highly anticipated band, Frontierer, a five piece with members hailing from Scotland, Portugal and the US, fired out an assured and ruthlessly heavy blast of hardcore tinged tech-metal to an energetic and highly appreciative packed out PX3. They came flying out of the blocks in front of harsh strobes and immediately got to pummelling the crowd with the intense “Time Disruption Footprint”. This relentless bombardment continued with a set full of tracks from the excellent Orange Mathematics, drummer Owen Hughes doing a stellar job of playing the album’s complex programmed drum arrangements live.
Before a synchronised stage dive during “Bleak”, Pedram Valiani and Dan Stevenson doled out punishing riffs and strangled all sorts of weird sounds and sirens from their heavily effected guitars. Vocalist Chad Kapper paced the centre of the stage, motivating the crowd to let loose, not that they needed any further goading – there were bodies, inflatable bananas, sweat and bits of clothing flying about the place. On the evidence of this performance, you would not have guessed that this multinational project had played less than ten shows together and I cannot wait to see Frontierer again when they play Glasgow soon.
Up next were Bossk, surely one of the best (live) bands in the UK right now? Beginning with “Kobe”’s echoey guitar and background keys, each other instrument was then steadily introduced: the crisp, steady drums of Nick Corney, then the rumbling bass, then second guitar and finally Sam Marsh’s rasping, reverb heavy vocals coming in during the shift to the gigantic second half of the song. This one song alone encapsulated Bossk’s ability to blend beautiful ambience with extremely heavy, harsh sections of music. When they hit hard, as on “Atom Smasher” they’re as heavy as they come, but Bossk are also masters at producing calmer moments, like “Truth”, even if only to exacerbate the heaviness. As with Russian Circles, Bossk’s faultless performance was further boosted by their fantastic light show. At times the band only appeared as silhouettes against the backlighting, adding to the atmosphere within the Yokhai tent.
One of the three UK exclusive performances, Irish post-rockers God Is An Astronaut put on a decent and enjoyable show on the main stage but after the stirring intensity of Bossk, their contrast between light and heavy just didn’t quite manifest as well. As a warm-up for headliners Converge, I decided to catch The Number Twelve Looks Like You instead of Ho99o9, and was quite happy after seeing their scatty but very tight hardcore but after hearing rave reports on Ho99o9’s set I felt I might’ve missed out.
Another ArcTanGent exclusive, Converge were a joy to watch as their one hour set closed the main stage for the day. Firing out hit after hit, the veterans of hardcore came bursting out with “Dark Horse” and barely let up until the moderately slower but no less pulverising “Worms Will Feed/Rats Will Feast” over midway through their set. Maybe more suited to a slightly more intimate live setting, Converge did not struggle on the main stage and were able to grab the thousands strong audience and keep their attention. Jacob Bannon stalked every inch of the stage, whipping his mic lead, and pacing and bouncing around as Ben Koller’s complex but clockwork precise drumming kept the pace.
As with the rest of the day, the weather was patchy, to say the least, and at points Kurt Ballou would run to the opposite side of the stage to escape the torrential rain that was blowing in. Along with old favourites, Converge played three new songs, blending the post-metal build of “Eve” straight into the intense “I Can Tell You About Pain”. As a final flourish to epic closer “Jane Doe” Bannan threw his mic the height of the ARC tent narrowly missing bassist Nate Newton as it crashed back down onto the stage – a fitting end to a fervent display from the hardcore legends.