|Event:||ArcTanGent Festival 2023|
ArcTanGent Festival, Fernhill Farm, England, 16-19 August 2023
A year ago, I gave a fairly adulatory review to ArcTanGent 2022, an extraordinary edition of what is quite possibly the UK’s strongest currently running festival. So impressed was I by ArcTanGent 2022 that I bought a ticket for the following year’s edition (including for the bonus Wednesday) about as soon as they went on sale. Over the coming months, a solid first announcement was filled out with more and more killer bands until a similarly impressive line-up had been assembled in 2023 to that of the previous year:
Three mates and I set off early on Wednesday morning to go to the fest; the last time the four of us had shared a car was on the way back from ArcTanGent 2022, when we had a puncture and spent a few hours stranded at a petrol station, so there was a slight sense of trepidation making the same journey with such a packed car (once beers were purchased, bags and supplies were pretty much stacked to eye level in the back seats where I was located), but thankfully both the outgoing and return journeys went without a hitch this year. After arriving early in the afternoon, there was enough time to get set up and briefly relax before getting stuck into the first music of ATG 2023.
Table Of Contents
The ‘pre-day’ of ArcTanGent was one that I missed in 2022 due to a lack of bands I recognized (looking back to last year’s poster, Phoxjaw, Sugar Horse and Ogives Big Band are the only names I know, and none of them are particular draws); this year was a different tale. The Wednesday bands were drawn from bands from ArcTanGent 2022 (no other returning names were featured in the three main days of the festival, as far as I can tell, aside from a few from last year’s Wednesday making it onto the ‘main’ bill), and they did a pretty stellar job of picking some of my highlights from the previous year:
I was disappointed to miss Ogives Big Band (a big surprise from last year) and Five The Hierophant, but we made it in time for the evening rush.
Hippotraktor 17:35-18:05, Bixler Stage
This year featured the triumvirate of Mechelen post-metal bands; while Psychonaut had to withdraw last year, Hippotraktor made it, and joined Psychonaut and Pothamus on this year’s line-up as part of the Wednesday bill. I listened to Meridian on the journey, and unsurprisingly (since it’s their only album), Hippotraktor’s set drew heavily from the album, so the refresher helped with my familiarity with these hard-hitting songs. A strong track selection, well-flowing set, promising sound (which would turn out to be a bit misleading) and great performance made this a winning start to the festival; in particular, I enjoy Stefan De Graef’s shift from mysterious, side-on set-up when singing at the mic stand to full-blooded energy when abandoning the mic stand and screaming right at the crowd.
Dvne 19:45-20:30, Bixler Stage
The Pupil Slicer set immediately after Hippotraktor gave a good opportunity to sample this year’s food stalls (the baked potato stand made for a good first and, later on, final meal at the fest, although I frequented the taco shop quite a lot in between), given my indifference to previous Pupil Slicer shows. What I did catch near the end of their set validated my decision; the sound mix in the tent was notably lower quality than it had been for Hippotraktor, but also the music itself wasn’t as engaging. Still, with one of my most anticipated sets of the still-nascent festival just around the corner, these sound issues were a bit concerning.
The first time I saw Dvne was at Damnation Festival in 2021; both my passion for their studio and live music, and their extensive gigging, meant that this was the sixth time I would be seeing them. It’s a lot of times in a window smaller than 2 years, but every set is a joy. At the same time, every set has been pretty much the same (aside from their headline show in Hackney I went to earlier this year), and most of them have had some degree of sound issue, usually with the vocals and/or keyboards being very difficult to hear. There were no surprises with the all-Etemen Ænka set, which again opened with “Towers” and went through the other highlights of the album. Also, Daniel Barter’s vocals were again a bit quiet considering how much he was roaring into the mic. Still, there’s been far worse live mixes for the band, with Victor Vicart’s vocals very clear and the other instruments all sounding great.
This was another fantastic set by the band, who ended by saying they would shortly be heading into the studio to record their next full-length (good luck bettering the last one!), and curiously enough, it wasn’t the four well-established songs in the set (“Towers”, “Sì-XIV”, “Omega Severer” and “Satuya”) that was the highlight of the show; I’ve seen “Court Of The Matriarch” a couple of times in their shows, as it’s normally the fifth song added if they have enough time, but I don’t remember any of the previous times blowing me away quite like the ending did here. The synchronized riff in the final few minutes of both guitars and the bass playing the same technical pattern as the drums dictate the mood was spellbinding; everyone in my group of festival-goers was awestruck by this sequence of music.
Conjurer 20:00-20:45, Bixler Stage
One of the few bands that I’ve seen more often than Dvne is Conjurer, as this would be my eighth occasion, and the first time since I saw them at the previous year’s festival, when I called their Saturday set ‘possibly the strongest performance of the festival’s final day’. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be the same this time; the sound reverted back to the washy mess that Pupil Slicer suffered with, which really dampened the band’s impact. However, it wasn’t just the mix that made this less impressive than last year; I wasn’t a huge fan of the setlist, which left out sure-fire hits like “Hollow” and “It Dwells” and focused to a surprising extent on the band’s ‘softer’ material. We are still talking about Conjurer, so this is relatively speaking, but I reckon at least 3 or 4 songs had some softer/quieter sequence, and the knock-on effect was that the overall performance felt a tad underwhelming when one thinks of how reliably great Conjurer shows normally are.
Scalping 22:15-23:00, Bixler Stage
Scalping were one of the surprise standouts of last year’s festival for me; their rock/techno mix sounds so much more intense live than on album, and I enjoyed it so much that I went to see one of their standalone shows later last year. This was once again a pure delight, 45 minutes of unadulterated banger material; “Caller Unknown” in particular just sounds so much fatter and hencher in the live setting. Not much more to say: this was super fun.
After Scalping, there was a silent disco set from Straight Girl; to be honest, I can’t remember much of this at all, but I seem to remember having a good time during it. I did also enjoy the actual silent disco that followed; the channels overall were pretty underwhelming this year on the main days of the festival, but there was a very solid selection of tracks from the likes of Meshuggah, Gojira, Protest The Hero, Pendulum, and more that made this first night the best of all the silent disco days.
The first full day’s line-up was arguably the least stacked for me; there were no awful clashes and a few slots where I could rest for a bit, which is more than I could say for the following 2 days. Still, there still a good half-dozen groups I was stoked for this day, and they pretty much all delivered.
Grief Ritual 11:00-11:30, PX3 Stage
The first band of the day was Grief Ritual; I was vaguely aware of their [insert prefix]-core aggression, but mostly chose them over post-rockers Barrens due to others in my group going there. Ultimately, it was fine, offering some decent morning sonic violence, but I can’t say this set has stayed in my memory.
Din Of Celestial Birds 11:35-12:05, Bixler Stage
Din Of Celestial Birds was a name I mostly became aware of due to their brightly coloured shirts in the merch stand (which also stood out for being the cheapest); for some reason, due to the name I was expecting some maddening chaos (perhaps I was associating with A Million Dead Birds Laughing), but it turned out that these guys actually played some pretty par-for-the-course post-rock. It wasn’t overly noteworthy, but it was a pleasant change of pace after the opening band, and with ArcTanGent, it’s nice to know that there’s some pleasant crescendocore likely happening within earshot as a palette cleanser to whatever has been on before.
Mountain Caller 12:10-12:40, Main Stage
The instrumental post-heavy morning continued with the slightly heavier Mountain Caller, a name I’d seen around a bit without ever really exploring. I didn’t stay for their whole set, but I enjoyed the heavier, doomier tone to this trio’s music compared with the previous band. Still, the day only really kicked into life with the next band.
Pothamus 12:45-13:15, Yokhai Stage
Holy fucking shit: that was my overriding mental state during this set. Out of the 3 Mechelen bands, Pothamus are probably the one that I’ve listened to least frequently, but I suspected that their ritualistic, atmospheric sound would translate well; as it turns out, ‘well’ was an understatement. The 3 members were arranged facing one another, with the dense fog on stage and lighting turning them into ominous silhouettes. This vibe fit perfectly with the drum-driven, textured, fluid, densely atmospheric music, which left me entranced. I also thoroughly enjoyed Sam Coussens’ vibe on stage, from the ‘no shoes’ approach to the lunges and constant fluid body motions; furthermore, I really dug his vocal mix of eerie cleans and fierce roars. Some of my friends were less impressed; one mentioned that he found the heavy climaxes to be very underwhelming, but I actually thought they didn’t need to sound that heavy, and going ‘full Amenra’ would have undermined the trance-like feel of this set. This was my favourite performance of the day, and possibly ArcTanGent 2023 as a whole.
I caught some of Attan after this, who seemed to be playing some mix of frenetic hardcore and more poised, atmospheric material. I really enjoyed what I caught of them in the latter vein, but I didn’t see enough of this set to go into more detail.
Wallowing 14:05-14:35, Bixler Stage
The first thing I was told about Wallowing was that ‘they all wear beekeeper outfits on stage’; I subsequently discovered that they play a furious mix of sludge, doom, black, hardcore and harsh noise, which I found to be impressive but challenging on this year’s Earth Reaper album. Still, when you actually see the band in person, the beekeeper thing does stand out. The 5-piece contain a pair of vocalists/keyboardists, one of whom is more active as the vocalist, stomping around frantically on stage, and at one point entering the pit; I’ll be honest, I found the juxtaposition of the hardcore frontman posturing and the beekeeper outfit a bit comedic. Still, beyond the costumes, this was as belligerent live as on record, with the frantic hardcore/black metal really coming across, and on the whole I found this to be pretty enjoyable.
Wiegedood 14:40-15:15, Main Stage
There’s something to admire about a black metal band that goes ‘black metal is tremolo riffs and blast beats, so that’s just what we’ll play’, and then makes a song as relentlessly vicious as “FN SCAR 16”, which Wiegedood have opened with both times I’ve seen them. Such a primitive sound could become very draining over a long set, but there’s something about how Wiegedood write that manages to stave off fatigue, despite an overwhelming lack of serious downtime. It’s still weird seeing such an aggressive 3-piece occupying a large stage, with them now appearing on the main stage at both Roadburn 2022 and ArcTanGent here, but they have enough presence to make it work.
Hypno5e 15:30-16:00, Bixler Stage
Hypno5e’s Sheol is one of the stronger albums released thus far this year, so I was interested to see how they translated to the live setting. I was a bit concerned about how the more technical parts would come through in the mix, given some of the issues with sound on this stage, but they do also have big groovy riffs and cleaner passages. Ultimately, it didn’t turn out to be an issue; this wasn’t the most memorable set of the festival, but it was solid on the whole, with the group’s ‘cinematic’ sound coming across well.
Chat Pile 17:00-17:45, Yohkai Stage
Immediately after Hypno5e, I joined a couple of others in having a seating break within earshot of Cave In, who once again failed to do anything of note to inspire me. Another band that I’ve failed to join the hype train for is Chat Pile, but this was an opportunity for me to click with them live where I didn’t click with them on record. I remember not really liking God’s Country when it came out, but didn’t quite remember what it was that I found off-putting; having seen them, I reckon it’s the vocals, which have a very rambling quality to them; Raygun Busch wandering aimlessly around stage while topless and shouting about sending his body to Arby’s is certainly distinctive. I think this music worked better for me live, though; the primitive sludge riffs gain a weight to them live that overcomes some shortcomings, and having visuals to go with the vocals lends a certain charm to them. I’m definitely not converted to Chat Pile, but I did enjoy this set overall.
After Chat Pile was a clash between Empire State Bastard (Dave Lombardo’s billionth project) and Birds In Row; I opted for neither, instead enjoying some downtime before a back-to-back of top-tier bands.
Elder 18:35-19:20, Bixler Stage
I saw Elder last November; it was one of my most anticipated gigs of that year, but oddly enough it didn’t leave a huge impression on me, so I was intrigued as to how things would go this time around. I don’t know what factors played into it, but this was everything I hoped last year’s gig to be; they had a shorter set, playing only 4 songs, but damn if they weren’t some of the most enjoyable songs of the festival. “Thousand Hands” was a slightly inauspicious start to the set, but then there it was: “Lore”. I was gutted that they didn’t play this song last year, and the delight when I heard that first lick was because I knew the next quarter-hour would be sensational, and it was; the second half of this song gets stuck in my head on a weekly basis, and it was equally superlative live, crushingly heavy and enchantingly melodic in equal measure. With “Merged In Dreams - Ne Plus Ultra” and “Halcyon” similarly stunning me, this was right behind Pothamus for the highlight of the day.
Russian Circles 19:30-20:30, Main Stage
Elder were an incredibly tough act to follow; Russian Circles were one of the few bands booked for ArcTanGent 2023 with a chance of rising to the challenge. In the end, I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as their sets at ATG 2019 or Roadburn 2022, but it was still a very fine performance from the trio, with a set that mixed 3 songs from the last two records with long-standing classics such as “Afrika” and “Harper Lewis”, the former of which was as enchanting as ever. I do still think there’s something about the lack of a vocalist that holds back Russian Circles from having their songs be consistently memorable enough to reach the top of the post-metal totem, at least for me, but an hour-long set of their best songs at a festival will always be a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Converge 21:30-23:00, Main Stage
The first night’s headliner was Converge, who I really enjoyed at Roadburn 2016 when they did Jane Doe in full and the prototype Blood Moon performance with Chelsea Wolfe, but who I was less keen on at Hellfest 2018, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was also pretty knackered at this stage, and was intending to only see half the set and get a quick rest before silent disco unless Converge overly impressed; as it turns out, Converge were good enough that I would have stayed if I had more energy, but not enough to compel me to stick through to the end in this instance. I don’t know their music nearly well enough to recognize songs, but it looks like the setlist drew mostly from Jane Doe and Axe To Fall, and the performance was full of conviction and with a decent mix for such abrasion, so I imagine more serious fans of the band would have enjoyed this show a lot.
With an extra day of standing than normal in my legs, I wasn’t prepared from past experience to be this tired at the start of the penultimate day of the fest, and it wasn’t going to get easier; the start of the Friday was low-key, but there were more clashes than empty slots in the schedule today, so it would be a tiring one.
I watched Hidden Mothers and Haast to start the day; the former was new to me, while the latter was added to the Metal Storm database by myself after discovering and enjoying their 2021 album Made Of Light. Having said that, neither made enough of an impression on me at ATG to warrant individual write-ups. Hidden Mothers started off with a frantic bout of hardcore, but turned increasingly melancholic and dreamy as they went on; I do wonder whether the screamed vocals really fit the lighter songs, but I suppose if you have a frontman that screams and plays no instrument, you need to find some way to keep them busy on softer songs. As for Haast, the neither heavier nor the more atmospheric parts of their alt-tinged posty prog sound made the kind of impact I was hoping for here.
Curse These Metal Hands 12:10-12:40, Main Stage
Both Conjurer and Pijn were at ArcTanGent 2022, so it’s odd that their merged band, Curse These Metal Hands only performed the year afterwards, but since I missed their show in 2019, I’m not complaining that I got another chance to see this. The band’s merch very much plays into comparisons with Baroness, which are a useful reference point for how CTMH sound, but they’re certainly not a direct copy. I enjoyed this set a lot; the group are clearly intelligent songwriters, as demonstrated by both their primary bands and this project, and there is a sense of fun, with cameo instruments including a banjo segment (as well as another guest, who came on stage carrying something I couldn’t see or hear, ‘played’ one note that nobody heard, and then immediately left).
Curse These Metal Hands got the Friday properly going; there was a slot after them in which I didn’t know either band, so this was a good time for lunch. I did pop over to see a few minutes of Spurv, who also had people shifting between instruments, as one guy went from the glockenspiel to the trombone while I was watching; it sounded like it would have been a good set to catch, but unfortunately, with a festival this rammed, it’s just not possible to see everyone worth catching.
Caligula's Horse 13:20-13:50, Main Stage
I do like Caligula's Horse quite a bit, but I can’t quite help feeling that they’re a 7.5/10 band that Reddit prog nerds have collectively convinced themselves are a 9+. Seeing them for the first time (I believe a man down, as I only saw one guitar), I had no sudden revelation; the sound was not ideal for them, with “The Tempest” pretty muffled, but I still felt like their heavy riffs lacked flavour, just like I’ve found them to on album. Ending with “Dream The Dead” was a nice touch, but considering they soundchecked to a snippet of “Graves” (which is the only song of theirs that I feel is as good as other people think all their material is), I was slightly sad not to hear more from In Contact, which I think is still clearly their best album.
Holy Fawn 14:35-15:10, Main Stage
Holy Fawn? More like ‘holy fuck, I didn’t expect this to be so good’. I’ve heard both Holy Fawn albums and their 2020 EP upon recommendation of friends, and it’s been nice stuff, but I’ve found them a bit ‘metalgaze-by-numbers’ up until now. In fairness, post-metal and metalgaze are sounds prone to coming across better live, but something about this set really elevated the music; the sound mix was great, the lighting backed up the waves of sound, and the final song had such a monumental swell to it sonically that I was genuinely getting emotional during it. For an American group, they seem to end up on UK shores quite frequently based on the number of recent/upcoming shows I’ve seen ticket links shared about for, and I could be tempted to see them again (although they may have had multiple stand-ins, seeing as they had a female drummer and bassist despite having an all-male line-up listed online).
Ashenspire 15:15-15:45, Bixler Stage
Having only heard Ashenspire up to this point without seeing any pictures, I was imagining something akin to A Forest Of Stars visually, which was apparently a very incorrect assumption. Instead of ‘ye olde times’ outfits, there was a saxophonist in white dungarees jumping around and a maniacal vocalist in some thigh highs climbing (at one point, quite high up) the central rigging holding the stage up. Musically, Ashenspire aren’t the easiest thing to approach, but the energy from the frontman in particular was infectious and brought a charm to their avantgarde political black metal (with Dawn Ray'd and Liturgy coming right after, this was apparently the theme for mid-afternoon today). There was one riff that came out of nowhere at one point, smashed my face in for 30 seconds, and then went away; I wouldn’t mind if they went for banger riffs like this a bit more often, but I appreciate what they’re going for here, and I enjoy it. The last song in particular was very impressive, and I look forward to (pending clashes) seeing them again later this year at Damnation Festival.
Jaga Jazzist 15:55-16:40, Main Stage
One of the best things about ArcTanGent (like Roadburn) is how much scope they leave themselves for inviting groups that are outside of the box; Jaga Jazzist are a group I discovered a couple of years ago with their great album Pyramid, but who I likely would never have seen if not for this. They started with the first song from Pyramid, “Tomita”, and while I liked it, I’m not sure how much the mellow jazziness played to the full potential of this stage. Later on, however, Jaga Jazzist became increasingly enthralling, with big layers of sound (the I think 8 people on stage, aside from the drummer, pretty much all shifted between synths and their own instruments, which was a sight to behold trying to track who was playing what) and a playfulness at the centre of the music. Sadly I didn’t have any good pictures to show off the extent of their stage show, but this is something I’d love to see again in a setting where it doesn’t start to blur with 20 other sets.
Spook The Horses 17:30-18:15, PX3 Stage
After Jaga Jazzist was a clash of Liturgy and Petbrick; I’ve heard Liturgy were great, but I instead chilled outside Petbrick’s tent to sit for a bit, enjoying the chunky electronics Iggor Cavalera and Wayne Adams were blasting out. Afterwards, I went to see Spook The Horses, one of many Pelagic Records bands at the festival, and one of the least known based on the crowd size. I knew them through 2020’s Empty Body, and the gnarly sludge/post-metal I expected very much came to fruition. Three guitars and one bass made a lot of loud sound, and while this isn’t one of the more memorable sets from the Friday (another one lost in my memory amidst the sheer number of amazing bands here), it was definitely a solid performance.
The Ocean 18:30-19:15, Yokhai Stage
One of the most brutal clashes of this year’s festival was The Ocean versus Bell Witch. I’d seen the former several times (they were in fact the first band I ever went to see by myself when they opened for The Dillinger Escape Plan back in 2010), but not since the pandemic, so there was 2 albums’ worth of potential songs to catch; while I would like to see Bell Witch one day, I’m not enough of a funeral doom enjoyer to overcome my inherent affinity for Pelagic bands. The Ocean’s set did very much draw from those two albums, with “Silurian: Age Of Sea Scorpions” the only song in the set not from one of them. I must admit I was slightly disappointed by some of the song choices, with no “Triassic” or “Unconformities”, but the performance was still very good, with Loic Rossetti as energetic as ever, crowdsurfing on at least one occasion. Ultimately, this set was saved/elevated to greatness by the closing song being the monstruous “Jurassic | Cretaceous”.
Helpless 19:20-19:50, PX3 Stage
The next clash was between Helpless and Swans; it might be heresy given Swans’ reputation, but I went to see Helpless. I may be the only one (particularly considering their baffling 2 votes in this year’s Metal Storm Awards), but their mathy, sludgy grindcore is well up my street, and while I didn’t see all this set, I thought the trio sounded very chunky and tasty live (apparently I’ve already seen Helpless live supporting Wren in 2021, but I’ll be damned if I can remember any of that). After getting dinner, I did hear Swans on the wind, and they sounded like they would have been a good watch, but having never really clicked with their studio stuff, I’m OK with having missed it.
Enslaved 20:35-21:20, Bixler Stage
Enslaved are another band that I’ve seen live many times now, but who I will always try to see, particularly since it had been 5 years since the last time back at Hellfest 2018. Given they will be doing 2 sets at Damnation Festival later this year (albeit full-album sets of Below The Lights and Vikingligr Veldi), I could have gone to see SikTh, but they’re another group I’ve never really gotten into, and I hear they had sound issues plaguing their set. Enslaved had pretty good sound, which means that my muted response to the Heimdal-heavy set they played might indicate that this album doesn’t quite live up to their greatest work. Funnily enough, probably my favourite songs here were both Below The Lights cuts (“The Dead Stare” and “Havenless”), so I am very much looking forward to that performance later this year, but as far as Enslaved sets go, this is probably one of the least noteworthy I’ve seen.
Heilung 21:30-23:00, Main Stage
I saw Heilung back in 2019, and have been very eager to do so again, particularly having overlooked getting tickets for shows of theirs post-pandemic, and especially after reading Radu’s Rockstadt Extreme Festival review praising their live show so much. As such, the Heilung-LLNN clash announced for the headline slot of Friday was devastating; very few bands are reliably awesome in the way LLNN are. As it is, the sludge behemoths only overlapped with the second half of Heilung’s set, so I aimed to see the first half and then figure out what to do next.
All the stages at ArcTanGent are underneath tent cover; at some point during Heilung’s set, the heavens opened, so it probably says a lot that I left Heilung after half an hour to go to LLNN. Were they bad? Not at all; it’s mesmerizing seeing so many instruments and people on stage putting on such a theatrical performance, and I do enjoy their neofolk (even if not to the level of, say, Wardruna). I just really needed something a bit more energetic to keep my feet alive after so much standing today, and as I stood there, I realized this wasn’t going to cut it. I’m pretty sad that “Krigsgaldr” started playing just late enough that I could hear it while not being close enough to turn back around, but I’m going to make sure to take the next opportunity to see them properly when it comes around.
LLNN 22:20-23:00, PX3 Stage
Having said that, I have zero regrets about my actions that evening; however elaborate the Heilung stage experience is, there is nobody out there that compare to what LLNN can do live. When I reviewed Unmaker, I really tried to emphasize just how mind-blowingly crushing and heavy the band’s tone is on record; now, imagine that but even heavier live. Out of 5 shows of theirs I’ve now seen, this is potentially the heaviest, and therefore maybe the heaviest set I’ve ever seen by any band. Part of that might be due to Christian Bonnesen having left and been replaced by Victor Kaas (Eyes, Telos); the opening to the set saw Kaas screaming with just an electronic backing track, and it played perfectly with the darkness and rain in setting the tone for a devastating set. Kaas’ vocals were in a similar range to Bonnesen, and the guitar tone was just as disgustingly low-end and crushing as always, so that added intensity from him on stage may be the final part of the puzzle for the group, as I can’t see how anyone could watch this and not think it to be the most amazing experience live. With neckbreaking riff after neckbreaking riff, one can see why LLNN were scheduled for this slot, even if the clash was unfortunate, as it would be unfair to ask any band to try and come on after a performance like that.
I passed on the silent disco tonight, content instead to rest my feet and hide from the rain that thankfully hadn’t leaked into my tent.
The last day of a festival is always a tricky one; often it has the best line-up, but it’s tinged with the sadness of knowing that all this insanity will be over after the last band plays. I was so knackered by this point that perhaps I was slightly more amenable than usual to the festival finishing and giving me a chance to recuperate (even as I suffer from a serious case of post-festival blues while writing this). Still, there was no rest for the wicked; there’s 15 bands I managed to catch at least some of here, and some of those I would have liked to have seen more of. Additionally, each day started with a couple of ‘podcast’ sessions, and on this final day I went to see one of them, specifically the one in which ArcTanGent organizer James Scarlett talked with Damnation Festival’s Gavin McInally about some of the festival logistics, which was insightful and enjoyable.
The Most 11:00-11:30, Main Stage
This day began with an amusing name clash between The Most and Naut (both being quantities, assuming ‘naut’ is pronounced like ‘nought’); I knew neither of them, but ended up seeing The Most just due to proximity to where we were when they began playing. The Americans describe themselves as ‘eclectic math rock’ on Bandcamp; maybe it’s just the saxophone, but it felt a bit jazzy as well. Whatever they were up to, it was a fun show, and probably the best ‘first slot’ band of the weekend.
Copse 11:35-12:05, Bixler Stage
I did not expect to see a band from last year’s Clandestine Cuts appearing at ArcTanGent this year; however, that’s because, when I was describing Copse as potentially ‘a real force in this sphere of metal’, I didn’t know that they had Ed Gibbs of Devil Sold His Soul on vocals. I suppose with how dreamy DSHS can be that it makes sense to go in a metalgaze direction; as for how Copse sound like, the blasty blackgaze parts tended to blend into a flurry of blast beats, but the slower parts hit fairly hard.
Psychonaut 12:10-12:40, Main Stage
The most disappointing withdrawal from last year’s ATG made it this time, although apparently it was a close call with missing a ferry to get here. Psychonaut completed the trifecta of Mechelen bands here, and they delivered just like the other two. I’m not sure “All I Saw As A Huge Monkey” was a good setlist choice given their 30-minute slot, but the title track from last year’s Violate Consensus Reality sounded great (although, despite Brutus being at the festival, Stefanie Mannaerts’ vocals were played from a track rather than by herself live), and “The Fall Of Consciousness” was a fantastic closing track.
Briqueville 12:45-13:15, Yokhai Stage
Considering I’ve put both Psychonaut albums as my albums of the respective years they were released in (or re-released, in the case of Unfold The God Man), I can’t say I expected to enjoy another Belgian band more on this Saturday (even though several were performing), but damn if Briqueville didn’t immediately top them. The foggy stage and robed costumes were eye-catching, but it was the dense post-metal that really captured one’s attention. The instrumental music featured thunderous drums that accentuated the atmospheric passages, and the black-tinged guitars ripped out some beastly riffs. I’ve not quite clicked with Briqueville before when I’ve listened on album, so I don’t know whether they gain an added X factor live or I just didn’t appreciate what they were doing when I listened to the records, as this was top-notch.
Gggolddd 13:20-13:50, Main Stage
I wasn’t expecting to listen to anyone in this slot, but after getting food, I ended up bumping into some friends and going to see Gggolddd. They’re not a band I’ve really taken to before on record, so I was surprised by how engaged I was by what I did see of this set. Mostly drawn from latest album This Shame Should Not Be Mine, the set was as emotional as one would expect from an album with such heavy subject matter, and was accentuated by a solid live mix.
After Gggolddd, I saw some of Grub Nap, a nasty 2-man sludge band featuring Dvne’s Dan Barter on guitar; it didn’t do anything remarkable, but it was good fun for the period until I had to go get a decent spot for Vola.
Vola 14:35-15:10, Main Stage
Vola’s performance when supporting Monuments in 2018 was my main introduction to the group, and it did a great job of turning me into, if not quite a fan, a definite enjoyer of their music. I was excited to see them again with more familiarity with their music, but I had a slight degree of skepticism; I still haven’t fully come around on Witness, and there were a few tracks whose potential inclusion in their set tempered my enthusiasm. As it turns out, pretty much all those songs actually were in the set, but despite this, I liked the performance; the heavy parts came through with a lot of power behind them, and the melodicism, particularly of Asger Mygind’s vocals, was very charming. I hope that they will explore their first two albums a bit more in any future gigs of theirs I see, and I’m on fence about the end results if their next album continues on their current trajectory, but as a snapshot in time for Vola, this was a good experience.
I had been excited to see Domkraft after Vola, but my group I was with took the opportunity to sit down, and considering Domkraft were in earshot of the haybales (the only real place to sit after the rain did a number turning the grass into mud), an opportunity to rest my feet before the following onslaught of sets wasn’t a bad idea. What I did hear of Domkraft (including a couple of songs that I did go to watch) was very solid, and I’m looking forward to their upcoming album Sonic Moons to see how it translates.
Rolo Tomassi 15:55-16:45, Main Stage
After Dvne’s set on the Wednesday, I remember saying to a mate that they, along with Conjurer and Rolo Tomassi, might be the strongest bands in the UK metal scene in terms of studio and live experiences. I apparently placed a hex in saying that, as not only Conjurer but Rolo were screwed by the sound. Considering they followed the chunkiness of Vola’s guitar sound, it’s amazing that the sound desk in the main stage managed to completely wipe out any guitar for most of Rolo Tomassi’s set, and the vocals also didn’t come through as well as they can. The underlying quality of the music (which drew a bit too much from Where Myth Becomes Memory for my liking) shone through, in particular with “A Flood Of Light” (I was delighted to see “Prescience” for the first time as well, even with the shoddy mix), but I’d say this was one of the few real disappointments of the festival for me.
Playgrounded 16:50-17:35, Elephant Stage
One of the trickiest clashes of the weekend was The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die with The Callous Daoboys; I was intending to see TWIABP, but then I noticed that, for once, I knew someone playing the fifth stage. Pelagic must have had at least a half-dozen bands playing just this day of the festival, and like all the others, Playgrounded sounded excellent. LLNN’s Ketil Sejersen agreed, as he was right next to my mate and I during the set (after which we took the opportunity to rave to him about how awesome the previous night’s set was). Playgrounded’s style is nicely rounded; they can definitely get heavy when needed, but the synths and rich vocals build a really nice atmosphere. I was slightly sad that “Tomorrow’s Rainbow” didn’t make the set, but “This Fire” made for a very powerful conclusion to their performance.
Aiming For Enrike 17:45-18:25, PX3 Stage
The big clashes just didn’t stop coming; most people naturally took the opportunity to see Deafheaven do Sunbather in full (although I hear there were massive sound issues); I heard the ending of that performance from a distance, but having never really got into Sunbather (New Bermuda and OCHL are my Deafheaven albums), I was intrigued by the prospect of seeing Aiming For Enrike. Their album from this year, Empty Airports, was quite ambient, but 2020’s Music For Working Out was incredibly fun dance punk, and their set was very much in this vein (the likes of “Don’t Hassle The Hoff” and “Hard Dance Brainia” made the set). The electronic rock mix, while less aggressive than that of Scalping’s, was similarly infectious and compelling live, particularly coming from two people (the guitarist armed with a huge array of pedals). Also, unlike for Deafheaven, the sound was huge and clear for these guys. I’ve no idea what other artists there are in this vein apart from Scalping and Aiming For Enrike, but any that are of the same standard would be an excellent addition to future ArcTanGents.
Health 18:45-19:35, Bixler Stage
I joined those that saw Deafheaven outside the Health tent, passing on The Fall Of Troy; my gripe when I saw Health at Roadburn last year was that, as good as the music was, the vocals did not fit well. From my distant vantage point, I actually enjoyed the music a bit more this time around, but I kept thinking how much more potential there would be with a more powerful vocalist instead of the gentle cleans that Health have. This set with a harsh vocalist would have slapped hard; as it was, I still got quite a bit out of it. However, it was an odd choice for an evening set; something like this would work so much better as a sub-headliner or a post-headliner, with such hype electronics.
Igorrr 19:40-20:25, Main Stage
The next hard clash was Igorrr and Abraham, the latest Pelagic band of the day; I’ve enjoyed what I’ve heard of Abraham before, and have little relation with Igorrr, but Radu’s Rockstadt write-up also convinced me to go see the latter, and it was absolutely the right choice. This was a ‘wow’ performance; I’m unfamiliar with the vocalists that have replaced Öxxö Xööx and Rïcïnn, but Igorrr has made some great choices, as the female singer’s operatics were spellbinding, and the growling male singer brought so much energy. This was absolutely wild, jumping all over the place from slick breakcore to fierce metal, and was incredibly entertaining in the process.
The penultimate clash of the day was Haken with Loathe; however, word on the grapevine was that The Ocean were doing a secret set at the Elephant Stage after Tokky Horror dropped out, so that is where I went along with many others and saw... not much happening. After waiting around for a bit, I gave up and caught a bit of Loathe, which was good, but possibly the least memorable part of the day.
Devin Townsend 21:30-23:00, Main Stage
The final clash of the day was between OHHMS, whose music I like and who were great when I saw them back in 2019 on the same weekend I discovered LLNN, and Devin Townsend, who is an excellent showman, but who I hadn’t really got much out of when I saw him headline Bloodstock in 2021. I went with the latter, and was certainly more engaged this time; perhaps a slightly smaller arena fitted him better. There was pretty much nothing on stage in terms of theatrics; I’m fairly sure the main stage has a backing screen, but I don’t remember any Ziltoid animations this time around. Instead, Devin and his latest roster of backing musicians got stuck into a strong opening to the set, featuring “Kingdom”, “By Your Command”, and my own favourite Hevy Devy song, “Deadhead”. After that, there were a quite a few soft tracks, including songs from Terria, Empath and Lightwork; I began to lose interest during this period, and opted for a pit stop at the toilets, where I could hear OHHMS making enticing sounds from the fourth stage. Still, I caught the end of the set, which played to old fans by having “Bad Devil” and the Strapping Young Lad classic “Love?” Of the three main stage headliners, I’d probably say I enjoyed this one the most, with the proviso that I missed a lot of Heilung; it made for a good last band of the festival...
The Ocean 23:00-00:00, Elephant Stage
...or did it? Because it turns out the secret set rumours were true, just not communicated with when it would be happening. As Devin Townsend finished and we walked by the fifth stage to pick up silent disco headphones for one last go, we saw it was already full of people on one channel in particular, and accompanied by a snare sound. It turns out the secret set was a ‘silent disco’ performance, with all instruments mixed together and transmitted to the headphones (the only instrument that could be heard without was the drums; maybe an electronic kit would make this concept work better). The concept is clearly a massive gimmick, particularly as the headphone sound isn’t of the highest fidelity, but The Ocean are so good that it was worthwhile committing to it to see them play again, particularly as they went a bit further back into their discography, including 3 songs from Pelagial and one from Heliocentric alongside my other favourite track from the group, “Permian: The Great Dying”. This made for a great last band of the festival, particularly given underwhelming song choices and my own fatigue didn’t have me lasting long at the silent disco.
And with that, the weekend, and my mammoth write-up of it, have come to an end. I didn’t believe that ArcTanGent 2023 could live up to the impossible standards of the previous year, and I’m not sure they quite did; the main stage headliners overall were better last time, and there were fewer people in our group this year. However, it was still an awesome experience, and it continues to amaze me how ArcTanGent consistently manage to stack their line-up with so much quality that pretty much every timeslot has someone worth watching it, considering how often I can find myself settling for ‘best of a bad bunch’ sets at some of the larger festivals in the country. Logistically, it was also an incredibly easy festival once again; all stages were in relatively close walking distance, as was the campsite, and queues for beer and food were always reasonable. Additionally, while it’s nice to pick a good spot for anticipated bands, it’s never necessary to camp on a stage to get a halfway decent view (although it can be hard battling back through the crowd for a headliner if you need to take a mid-set comfort break).
One wonders how it could be possible to top this; it feels like 90% of ArcTanGent-worthy bands have already played here in either 2022 and 2023, and while I’m more than happy to see some of those groups on an annual basis (as the Wednesday would attest to), it would be very limiting for the festival to rely on too many repeat bookings, so I’m fascinated to see where they’re able to go next. With some of the few of our festival-going group that did make it to both years having to skip next year’s edition due to clashes with life events, it remains to be seen who, if any of us, will turn up next year (I’ve done solo festivaling in the past, but I’m not sure if I’ve still got it in me), but given how reliably brilliant ArcTanGent has been across 3 editions in a row, I can’t imagine it would take an awful lot to tempt me to go again in 2024.
||Written on 30.08.2023 by Hey chief let's talk why not|
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