Situated in Mendip, near Bristol, ArcTanGent Festival played host to yet another excellent weekend’s math/post-rocking, this year with the added bonus of not terrible weather. Limited to 5,000 attendees and with nearly 80 acts spread over three days and four stages, ArcTanGent is small enough to get between stages easily but has enough space to sit about and soak up the friendly atmosphere for some required downtime. With an ever eclectic and packed lineup, I went with clashfinder in hand ready to see all that I could and this year saw close to half of the bands playing. It was great to see so many amazing bands and to spend the weekend in a field with some excellent people, drinking beer and eating decent food.
Starting the weekend’s festivities in the perfect way, Boss Keloid were on fine form as they treated the early crowd to a riff-filled set consisting of four songs from their excellent Melted On The Inch album. With slight lineup changes since last year’s appearance, singer, and now guitarist, Alex Hurst’s bellowing delivery on the likes of “Chronosiam” sounded great in the Yohkai tent and the addition of keyboardist Matthew Milne really filled out the band’s proggy yet groovy and catchy sound.
With the staggered start times between the two stages, the fun continued instantly and there was no time to spare for the short walk to the PX3 stage for Body Hound and then back to Yohkai for Alpha Male Tea Party. Both bands offered up slightly different takes on instrumental math-rock; Body Hound provided a jaunty, jazz-infused angle full of odd time-signatures and complicated rhythms, whereas AMTP oozed straight up good vibes and huge riffs, and instigated the first moshpit of the weekend. Returning to Fernhill Farm after a triumphant performance on the main stage last year, AMTP are clearly crowd favourites at ArcTanGent and watching them happily blast through a buoyant set it’s also obvious that the trio revel in playing to such an appreciative and responsive crowd.
Canterbury prog-doom quintet OHHMS took a bit of a gamble with their ArcTanGent set by making the brave move of playing solely new material, never mind the fact that the first of these two new songs was a near twenty-five minute Floydian epic, and thankfully it paid off. “Subjects”, that lengthy prog epic, had the band ebbing and flowing between crushingly heavy doom and soaring melodies, aided by Paul Waller’s powerful delivery and distinctive stage presence. “Firearms” took up the remaining five minutes and was a raging, urgent punk blast in support of the animal rights movement. Continuing the theme of angry hardcore punk with a socially conscious message, fellow Holy Roarers Svalbard belted through a fast-paced set lifted heavily from this year’s terrific It’s Hard to Have Hope. The inspiring Serena Cherry looked to enjoy screaming politically fused mantras through a rasping and passionate delivery. Both her and Liam Phelan’s distortion-heavy, Kurt Ballou-like riffs were excellently countered by the surprisingly melodic black-metal layers on songs such as ”Unpaid Intern” and “How Do We Stop It?”.
I had highly anticipated the collaboration consisting of three parts Pijn and two parts Conjurer, and was not disappointed as the Peep Show referencing Curse These Metal Hands unleashed a dramatic post-metal performance like a riff-filled, Buckfast-laced ISIS. The quintet, with three guitarists creating walls of noise, played half an hour of intense original compositions that delved to abyssal depths of heavy and ascended to heights of lighter, melodic post-rock. Here’s hoping a Curse These Metal Hands album release isn’t too far off.
Riding high from the release of the critically-acclaimed Time Will Die And Love Will Bury It and after a run of sold-out shows earlier in the year, Rolo Tomassi gave an energetic and uplifting performance of the majority of songs from their hit album. After walking onstage to TWDALWBI’s delicate intro “Towards Dawn” they played through the lush post-rock of “Aftermath” and segued directly to the ferocious “Rituals” with complete aplomb. Eva Spence seamlessly switched from melodious clean singing to fierce growls and snapping yelps and back again throughout their set, as the musicians dispensed complex, enthralling melodies and exciting mathcore. Their enthralling performance closed with the marvellous and at times ethereal “A Flood of Light”. The swathes of synth, the rolling bass and the rousing contrast between the light and then the heavily distorted guitar really benefited from the Yohkai tent’s excellent sound. I could easily have watched Rolo Tomassi play a much longer set, but as the crowd’s approving applause rose and James Spence’s keys faded out, it was time to go see Bossk. With incense burning on the band’s cabs, layers of stage smoke and the PX3 tent crowd bathed in beams of light from the low sun a suitably transcendent atmosphere was primed for the post-metallers to open with two parts of “The Reverie”. Playing in a more immediate manner than I had seen them play since their reformation in 2012, Bossk still left room and time to include their refined, melodic moments as they fired through a 45 minute set with vigour. A lesson in build and release post-metal, the tease and final delivery of a huge crescendo on the instrumental “Define” was masterful and led perfectly to the impactful “Heliopause”. Even though the experience was marred slightly by an arsehole in the crowd, I doubt I’ll ever tire of seeing Bossk live.
I don’t revere Jamie Lenman or consider Reuben as seminal as much as the majority of the ArcTanGent crowd does, it seems. The set was certainly enjoyable – focussed mainly on Devolver, the guitar and drum duo also threw in a few crowd-pleasing Reuben tracks and a sing-along cover of ‘the best Toto song’ “Rosanna” – and launched a steady stream of crowdsurfers towards the stage. His onstage banter and crowd engagement kept things a lot more personable than many of the bands this weekend, even if he did sound a bit like Barry Homeowner. Thursday’s main stage headliners And So I Watch You From Afar are another crowd favourite at ArcTanGent, this was their fifth appearance at Fernhill Farm. This was the Irish post-rockers first time headlining a stage at ArcTanGent, although their 2016 show felt a lot like a headline slot, and they handled it amazingly, exuding confidence and showing everyone exactly why they are so highly regarded. It was interesting to see and hear 2017’s The Endless Shimmering in full and ASIWYFA filled out the remainder of their show with a selection of well-loved tracks from their other works, such as highlights “Search:Party:Animal” and “Gang” and closing with the catchy vocal harmonies of “Big Thinks Do Remarkable”. It’s just a shame that ASIWYFA’s glorious efforts were lost on so many as the band suffered from the new ARC stage’s ‘iffy’ sound – this was to be a bit of a theme for many, but not all of the bands I saw playing this tent. Standing next to the sound-desk is usually a sure way of getting a decent audio experience in bigger tents / venues, but here, people were able to hold conversations at normal talking volume during even the most raucous moments. It didn’t detract too much from their big, triumphant moment but some of ASIWYFA’s energy was missing for the crowd standing beyond the mid-tent pillars.
The night didn’t end with ASIWYFA though, as ATG had organised a completely silent full live set from Gallops in the Yohkai tent. Playing to the crowd through Silent Disco headphones rather than through a PA system Gallops provided an audio-visual treat. Removing the headphones all I could hear was the murmur of people chatting and Liam Edwards striking his drum pads, but with the headphones on the trio’s all-enveloping electro-infused rock sounded stunning. It was a quite unique and surreal experience standing in a dark tent listening to the likes of “G Is For Jaile” and the pounding bass of “Darkjewel” with perfect audio and watching the impressive light show and glitchy projection. With all the headphone lights bobbing about in the crowd it was like something out of Tron and great way to end the performances of the first day.