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Saturday, 27 August 2022

A View From The Back Of The Field: ArcTanGent Festival (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

ArcTanGent Festival, Fernhill Farm, Saturday 20.08.22 

My first jaunt to Fernhill Farm was a spectacular day of music. Yes I say a day as even though the fest itself runs from Wednesday until Saturday I was only able to make it for the Saturday, due to work, a heavy metal wedding and on the Friday especially all of the traffic in the South West heading in the same direction due to a train strike.

This unfortunately meant I missed both Zeal & Ardour and Tesseract who I was looking forward too as well as Møl, but cest la vie it was into the hotel and over early doors Saturday. Picking up all my writbands etc (ArcTanGent is completely cashless topping up of the wristband beforehand a necessity) it was on to the festival site which was struck by a Wi-Fi disaster but managed to get some good weather for a change, so swings and roundabouts.

The site itself is quite compact the five stages all in tents with the food etc around the perimeter of the main arena. There was not much of walk between any of the stages so it was very easy to shift between stages, especially for those of us trying to review as much as possible solo. So into the arena to get my bearings it was time for the first band of the day, Midlands based melodic doom band Garganjua (6) who kicked off the noise well with some slow, heavy riffs and shouting, unfortunately it was quite a lot of that so managed to head over to catch some garage/grungy space riffs from Thumpermonkey (6) who do what they do well. Next it was yet another wonderful 30 minutes with heavy metals favourite cellist Jo Quail (8) who took some risks in her set admitting to fucking up the first piece and having only practised the last in her hotel room the night before. Still none of the metal heads were any the wiser as her compositional excellence and power as captivating as ever.

From power to force as next was the savage sounds of Ithaca (8) who were having as good a time as the revellers in the audience receiving a riotus reception as they kept an intense pace with tracks mainly plucked from their new album. Excellent vocals and heavy riffs can also be attributed to Heriot (7) who add a more groove-laden modern style. With so much heavy going on it was back over for some groove with local(ish) lads Sergeant Thunderhoof (8) who made sure the crowd was clapping along and nodding their heads in unison, stomping stoner riffs are what they do well, drawing from their latest album and finally giving me a chance to see them live as their support slot to Nightstalker was cancelled.

Then it was over to the main stage for the intense, assault on the senses that is Conjurer (9) as vicious and volatile as they were at Radar Festival, every time you watch them they get more heavy, more ferocious and more laser focused on bringing the crowd to their knees, little between song banter meant that the songs were jammed with crushing riffs and various styles fusing into one big maelstrom of heaviness. Following that was going to be difficult and while Famyne's (7) doom styling was welcome, the vocals being quite low in the mix and the ears still ringing from Conjurer perhaps didn't give a fair showing.

What was needed was catharsis, a chance to be quiet, introspective, lost in world of performance artistry delivered through emotive songwriting and musical dexterity. What was needed was Emma Ruth Rundle (10) the American chanteuse, or as she calls herself "a clown", entertaining a packed tent with plaintive, stripped back musical explorations, designed to make you think and feel. Using just a piano, a guitar (which she couldn't actually hear!) And her soft ethereal vocals Emma played Engine Of Hell in it's entirety and with every note there was an eerie hush that descended over the assembled crowd. Yes you could hear the voices from outside but inside the tent any talking was quickly shushed as each person drifted away into their own head space. 

Between the songs Rundle was charming and self deprecating in addressing the audience, as if welcoming us into her front room, for the last few songs she welcomed tour mate Jo Quail onto the stage and left each set of ears in the crowd twitching with excitement. I'm a little gutted I'm not seeing her perform in a small, intimate venue near me as I can imagine it being spine tingling if she can cast this magic at a heavy music festival.

It was back to the riffs after this though as prog doomsters Pallbearer (8) woke me up after my aural flight of fancy, their crashing percussion and low heavy riffage, pleasingly not accompanied by a fire alarm like it is at Damnation any time they play. Then there was a long wait, while we were in the tent for Wheel (8), they had arrived but their back line and drum kit hadn't so they were making the most of what they had. Still being absolute professionals, they cranked out a set of groove-heavy prog metal that got everyone going, the stage lighting doing a great job of covering for their lack of cloaks which are so often part of their aesthetic, even as the masses made their way to get a good spot for the next band there were plenty commenting on how good James Lascelles' voice was.

Speaking of voices one of the best in the business is Einar Solberg, and again he captivated a packed tent with both his soaring cleans and his aloof stage presence, Leprous (9) stuck pretty much to the set they played at Radar festival, even much of the banter was the same but who cares when you pack so much goodness into a set, the crowd singing back on the euphoric choruses then causing pits when the heavy kicked in. Very rarely do you see a bad Leprous show and the experience of the band was paramount to how they were received. Perhaps a perfect fit for this festival it would be hard for any band to follow. Thankfully Godflesh (6) were on at the same time but their industrial extreme metal didn't do much for me.

The final band of the evening, and really the reason why many were here with Day/Evening passes (yes they sell evening tickets) was to see Swedish prog veterans Opeth (9) having not done a UK show since December 2019, oddly their last being the O2 Academy in Bristol, it was a triumphant return for them, changing the set list from that tour to the one they have been slinging around festivals this year, in preparation for their Royal Albert Hall shows later this year. As the intro tape of Livets Trädgård segued into Hjärtat Vet Vad Handen Gör the show really got started with the modern heavy rock sound of Opeth finally being received as well as tracks from their 'death metal' period. 

Again Mikeal Åkerfeldt is part front man, part stand up, his dry whit as much of a trademark as the prog metal explorations. Any doubters in the audience were silenced with Ghost Of Perdition, the growls in full effect and also the oddest call and response I've witnessed. Back to the newer material with Cusp Of Eternity and The Devil's Orchard before really throwing back with Demon Of The Fall from My Arms, Your Hearse which was followed but The Drapery Falls from their masterpiece Blackwater Park. With such long songs their set clocked in at 9 performances but when you can end with a song such as Sorceress sandwiched between songs from both Damnation and Deliverance. It's no wonder why Opeth are held in such high acclaim.

A perfect way to end a brilliant day, and for many almost a week of music. A sublime festival that can keep up admirably with the big boys and may change a few minds too hopefully. ArcTanGent I will most certainly be back! (Though hopefully the train strikes won't be!)

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