ArcTanGent Festival 2018 Review – Friday

Feeling a bit ‘under the weather’ on the second day of ArcTanGent, I was not sure that Space Blood would be the best thing for me, but I grabbed a strong coffee and a bacon roll and made my way to the main stage for the masked bass and drum duo. A weird mash-up of improv comedy and math-rock, the duo, wearing skimpy lycra about two sizes too small, use loop pedals, staccato rhythms, party canons and blowup dolls to create an odd, anarchic and strangely charming live experience.

God Mother – Photo by John Higham

Truly blowing away the cobwebs, God Mother continued with the anarchy (and the charm) but in a way more frantic and energetic manner. Moving into the crowd before a single note had been played, frontman Sebastian Campbell spent the majority of God Mother’s show either within or on top of the Bixler crowd and found his way to every inch of the packed out tent. All the while, the rest of the band bounced around the stage dealing out frenzied hardcore. Making full use of the tent’s floor area, Campbell parted the crowd to open a huge empty space, but instead of instigating the anticipated wall of death, used a stretched out mic cable to start a mosh pit limbo. This was exactly the fun, chaotic hardcore nonsense that I needed to kickstart the day properly.

Talons – Photo by John Higham

A bit more straightforward and restrained in comparison, Wren in the PX3 tent might not have been as much fun but they were no less captivating thanks to their hefty doom enriched post-metal. Bordering on drone at points, the foursome mixed brooding atmosphere with all kinds of heavy to great effect. Talons drew the majority of their performance from their recently released, and wonderful, All We Know, playing the first four songs in order. Dressed all in white, and with the two violinists taking centre stage, the sextet were bathed in red, blue and white light on the still not sounding quite right ARC stage. Even with the patchy sound Talons’ stirring instrumental post-rock washed over the afternoon crowd.

Conjurer – Photo by Helen Messenger

With their set at Damnation a couple of years ago being my only experience of Conjurer live, I counted their ArcTanGent slot as one of my most anticipated of the weekend and the quartet were every bit as potent and as crushing as I had expected them to be. An aural assault from the opening stomp of “Choke”, metal this intense can sometimes come across as indiscernible noise, but Conjurer’s blistering riff-fest sounds incredible. Both Brady Deeprose and Dan Nightingale’s guitars cut above but don’t drown out Conor Marshall’s rumbling bass and the best drumming of the weekend drives the whole colossal thing along.

The brief moments of reprieve offered by the more melodic moments (and those incredible silent single beats on “Scorn” and “Hadal”) provide balance and serve to highlight the impact the devastating heaviness of Conjurer’s full-on blend of blackened hardcore, sludge and death metal. One of the weekend’s highlights, this was a memorable set epitomised by Dan Nightingale making his way to the barrier, screaming lyrics with no amplification like a man possessed, and still being audible near the back of the tent. Showcasing the interesting and diverse songwriting of the tracks from both Mire and I with confidence, Conjurer left the Bixler tent and members of the crowd in tatters.

Maybe it was seeing them following Conjurer, maybe it was the ARC tent’s sound but I left Pelican feeling quite underwhelmed. The instrumental post-metallers were perfectly fine and played quite an energetic set incorporating new, angrier songs but were still lacking the extra bite that would’ve made the quartet that bit more engaging.

Zeal And Ardor – Photo by Helen Messenger

I’ve been fairly up and down on Zeal & Ardor over the past two years, with Stranger Fruit recently bringing me back around in favour, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect from Manuel Gagneux’s soulful and Satanic blend of Delta blues and black metal. Walking out to “Sacrilegium”’s deep bass and glitching call to prayer, the six members of Zeal & Ardor, all wearing hooded black robes stood under a pentagram formed by beams of white light. It was a spellbinding introduction and from the first tremolo riff and “Burn the young boy, burn him good” chant of “In Ashes” any hesitations that I had were blown away.

Zeal & Ardor sounded monstrously huge in Yohkai, the best sounding tent of the weekend, and were way heavier than I had expected. Flanked by two backing singers, Gagneux’s vocal delivery (utilising two mics – one for singing, one for screaming) was outstanding and exuded emotion. With mouths agape, much of the audience were transfixed by these catchy, and powerful hymns to The Dark Lord, myself included. “We Can’t Be Found”, “Blood in The River” and set closer “Baphomet” were all highlights of a dazzling and unholy performance. My faith may have wavered but consider me now a true believer in Zeal & Ardor.

Glassjaw – Photo by Helen Messenger

Having just flown in from performing at Pukkelpop Festival in Belguim earlier in the day, I can understand why it took a while for Glassjaw to get going, but there was still something lacking from the rest of their headlining show. There was no headliner’s walk-on for the post-hardcore New Yorkers, the three musicians sound-checked and a disinterested Daryl Palumbo dumped his bag by the drum riser before they unceremoniously started the show with “Cut And Run”. Lifting the bulk of their set from the recent Material Control and 2002’s Worship And Tribute Glassjaw mostly sounded a bit weak and lacked the edge and the energy that so many other bands had displayed so far over the weekend.

There were a few moments that felt special; the run of “Mu Empire”, “The Gillette Cavalcade of Sports” and “Ape Dos Mil” was a definite high point. Both Justin Beck, whose non-stop swaying and intricate guitar playing drew most of my attention, and drummer Chad Hasty (ex-Glass Cloud) kept things interesting. Palumbo’s vocal delivery was great, hitting the highs and screeching at all the right places, but there was little crowd interaction, other than to plug the band’s gig the next night. An okay, if underwhelming end to the excellent second day of ArcTanGent 2018. 

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