LIVE: ArcTanGent Festival 2022: Friday

For obvious reasons, it’s been three years since the last ArcTanGent festival. For 156 long weeks, fans of math-rock, post-rock, post-metal, ambient and noise fans, plus weird alternative music nerds of all other persuasions, have been without their mud-swamped mecca. Well: ATG is back, and it brings with it one of the finest, if not THE finest, “leftfield” alternative festival bills of all time. Also the sun is out, which is unheard of at this particular festival; ATG is usually a treacherous bog by about halfway through the second day. All the ingredients are there for this to be the best iteration of the festival in its history – so without further ado, let’s talk about the bands and artists that made this weekend so incredibly special.

Words by Liam Knowles [LK] & Ellie Odurny [EO]. Photos by Paul Lyme.

Last Hyena

It’s 11:30am on the second day of the festival for most people, and the third for some, so it’s safe to say that there are a fair few hungover tent-dwellers shuffling around Fernhill Farm on Friday morning, looking for some sort of miracle cure. Well, that cure exists in the form of a band, namely Bristolian (mostly) instrumental trio Last Hyena. Their infectious blend of angular math-rock, atmospheric riffs and arse-shaking grooves goes down an absolute storm with the festival’s early risers, sparking perhaps the earliest mosh pit in ATG history. The set ends with an extended rendition of ‘Doctorpus’, and as the crowd roars the line “DOCTORPUS! YOU’RE JUST AN OCTOPUS! YOU’VE GOT NO ARMS!” back at the band, there can be no question that Last Hyena is a perfect early booking for what looks to be a stacked day ahead. [LK]


Hull-based blackgaze quartet Still are up next, and their vibe couldn’t be more different to Last Hyena. Still are all misery, no party, and while their songs are definitely excellent (check out their superb debut album ‘{ }’ for proof of this), and their performance is of a technically high standard, their almost total lack of stage presence makes for a fairly uninspiring watch, especially after what preceded them. That’s not to say their set isn’t good, the band are extremely tight and there’s a solid crowd enjoying their atmospheric blend of black metal, post-hardcore and screamo, but there’s definitely a seeming lack of energy in the overall performance – once they crack this aspect they’ll be on to something special. [LK]


MØL have played ATG a few times before, but today marks their first time on the main stage. How will their uplifting, major key black metal fare in a less intimate environment? Well, first of all it turns out that Kim Song Sternkopf is just as intimidating a presence on a huge stage as he is when he’s six inches from your face. His absurd range takes him from a rumbling growl to an inhuman shriek as the band tear through numbers such as ‘Photophobic’ and ‘Ligament’. The band behind him, cast in striking pink and blue lighting and dressed in loud Hawaiian shirts, are clearly having an absolute blast, particularly on the jubilant ‘Vestige’. MØL must surely take the crown for the most fun band in black metal – they’re as viscerally heavy as any of their peers but there’s nothing grim or bleak about them. Instead, their set is joyous and triumphant, not to mention note-perfect; this may well be the best performance the main stage sees all day. [LK]

God Alone

Ireland’s God Alone are a relatively unknown compared to some of the bands on the lineup but that doesn’t stop them from being one of the surprise highlights of the entire festival. Imagine if Bloc Party were a hardcore band and you’re somewhere near the noise these Cork lads make. Their infectious blend of driving post-punk, mathy hardcore and pulsing electronics wins over the rapidly filling tent almost immediately, and as the last chords of their high-energy set ring out and twin vocalists Jake O’Driscoll and Cian Mullane launch themselves into the crowd, it’s clear that they’ve made literally hundreds of new fans over the course of their allotted half hour. [LK]

Oranssi Pazuzu

There are, perhaps, insufficient words in the English language to accurately describe the musical output of Finnish outfit Oranssi Pazuzu. Floating around the stylings of black metal, they combine elements of industrial, psychedelic jazz and electro prog to create a complex, unnerving and entirely compelling sonic experience. Ghostly vocals erupt over eerie synths, building into swathes of twisted guitars and jumpy time signatures. The set swells and contracts like a living creature, with vocalist Juho “Jun-His” Vanhanen’s warped words making way for electronic trills and reverberating bass. Each additional layer of sound adds to the ominous atmosphere, assaulting the crowd’s senses and immersing them in a hypnotic world of dark, brooding mystery. [EO]


Drowned in smoke and clad in black cloaks and corpse paint, the stage behind them a horror movie set made of chains and eerie video loops, London-based duo Zetra take to the stage and do what they do best – sounding nothing like their image would have you imagine. Blending Cocteau Twins-esque dream pop with the most shoegaze-y end of Deftones’ arsenal, topped with a touch of Type O Negative’s gothic allure; Zetra are the perfect band for any horny goth looking to soundtrack their dark fantasies. Their sound, made up of a simple arrangement of synths, guitar and a drum machine, is technically perfect throughout the set – but too quiet. The Elephant Stage is marred by this issue throughout the weekend – already low volumes competing with the noise of the merch area (which is in the same tent) and the soundchecks from other nearby stages. Perhaps it would be better for ATG to keep this stage for the Wednesday only, or get rid of this 5th stage altogether, and give excellent bands like Zetra more of a fighting chance to make an impact on their audience. [LK]

Rivers Of Nihil

There’s a decent crowd assembled before Pennsylvania death metallers Rivers of Nihil take to the Bixlar stage in the bright early evening sunshine. The daylight streaming into one half of the tent is a stark contrast to the dark brutality of the thundering drums and weighty bassline of opener ‘The Silent Life’. Nobody does metal saxophone quite like this band, and although it’s sadly not live this time, the soaring brass notes contrast delightfully with the heavy riffs and ridiculously speedy double bass drumming. A Rivers of Nihil show is at once predictable and at the same time unexpected. There is inevitably a Wall of Death somewhere in the middle of the set, there’s technically brilliant guitar work, impassioned growls, devastating breakdowns and instruments with too many strings. But there’s also something less concrete – a sense of ineffable togetherness and a heightened level of performance, each element of the set fitting together in progressive perfection. For many tech-leaning metal bands, the live shows are merely a demonstration of their technical prowess and musical skill. Rivers of Nihil manage to weave emotion around their expertise to elevate a tight set into something altogether more atmospheric and involved. [EO]


Japanese stalwarts Mono have some of the biggest dynamic shifts of the weekend, shifting from slow, ethereal build ups to mammoth soundscapes with layers of ascending synth and distorted guitars. Their twenty-plus year career of relentless live performances has allowed them to hone their craft to meticulous precision, with every explosive beat or isolated piano phrase timed to perfection. Eschewing the post-rock label, Mono have stated before that their aim is for their music to transcend genre, and in a way it does. Sure, they exhibit a lot of post-rock features – almost exclusively instrumental, with electronic elements end effects added to bulk out the sound and a big focus on dynamic variety – but there is definitely something more that cannot be so easily defined.

The core crowd towards the front are taken on an emotional rollercoaster, lulled into the dreamy, steady beats of the first two-thirds of each track before being pelted into oblivion with the eruption of noise for a short while, only to be dropped into near-silence once again. This slow build is perhaps a downfall for the stragglers dotted around the edges. In absence of that immersion into the narrative of the set, the quieter moments seem to lose the attention of some of the crowd, with chatter becoming more audible until the next explosion of sound from the stage. Mono are probably most at home in a darkened concert hall, where everyone’s focus is on them the whole time. That being said, they deliver a beautiful hour of powerful and emotional music, their passion for their craft apparent at every moment of the set. [EO]

Zeal & Ardor

There really is no other band on the planet like Zeal & Ardor. What started as a bedroom project born out of a Reddit thread has taken on a life of its own and become one of the most interesting and unique propositions in the history of alternative music. Like it or not, there’s no denying that Zeal & Ardor is a one-off. Anticipation ripples through the packed Yokhai tent as the band opens with ‘Church Burns’ from their recent eponymous record, with Manuel Gagneux’s preacher-like vocal holding absolutely everyone present to attention. From there, Zeal & Ardor pummel their way through a flawless set that spans the entirety of their relatively short career.

Fan favourites like ‘Row Row’ prove that Zeal & Ardor can hit just as hard and fast as any “pure” black metal band, while ‘Devil Is Fine’ leans perfectly into the African-American chain gang music that makes up the other half of the band’s personality. Over the course of fifteen songs, Zeal & Ardor completely justify why they keep getting booked for this festival, and why they’re given a higher billing each time. Maybe one day they’ll headline it. [LK]

Palm Reader

Palm Reader are perhaps the most underrated band in the UK right now. Equal parts Deftones, Glassjaw, and The Dillinger Escape Plan; their emotive brand of riffy post-hardcore has seen them garner a passionate fanbase, particularly after two perfect albums on the bounce, but they often seem overlooked when compared to some of their immediate peers. How wonderful, then, to see them given the opportunity to headline a stage at ArcTanGent, a festival they have played many, many times. And boy, do they ever seem like a headliner as they walk on stage to a rapturous reception from a positively overflowing PX3 tent and launch immediately into a transcendent rendition of ‘Willow’ from 2021’s ‘Sleepless’.

Their sound is huge, helped in no small part by the addition of Sam Jones on keys / electronics and Heck / Haggard Cat frontman Matt Reynolds adding a third guitar and backing vocals to what was already a very textured sound created by the five original members. Vocalist Josh McKeown is on fine form, commanding the crowd through the frenzy of ‘Swarm’, the hypnotic groove of ‘A Bird and Its Feathers’ and everything in between. The only disappointing aspect of the set was the omission of ‘Inertia’ from 2018’s ‘Braille’ – with Matt Reynolds right there on stage to do his guest vocals it seems like a missed opportunity. Overall, though, this set is an enormous victory for Palm Reader and should cement them as one of the most important bands in the UK’s thriving underground scene, and maybe even finally push them out of it. [LK]


Gentle vocals begin Tesseract’s headline set with the first of three opening tracks from 2013’s ‘Altered State’, providing a minute of calm before the chugging guitars and characteristic syncopated rhythm section kicks in and turns everything up several notches. Combining each element with mathematical precision, it’s not always easy for the crowd to match the beat, but that certainly doesn’t stop them trying. You might need a degree in experimental physics to understand the time signatures of each track, but the only thing anyone needs to become entirely enthralled with tonight’s show is simply to be here.

It’s a slight shame then that Palm Reader are closing the PX3 tent at the other end of the site, as the Arc tent is noticeably lacking a few bodies who would most likely have been present without the scheduling clash. Attendance issues aside, Tesseract’s fans are hanging onto every soaring vocal and perfectly timed djenty riff, with singalongs and mosh pits aplenty. Before launching into ‘Natural Disaster’, vocalist Daniel Tompkins repeats to the crowd “When the riff drops, your head bangs”, and they naturally obey, heads bobbing and hair flying both on stage and off.

If bands at the festival so far have elevated their performances with slick lighting, Tesseract go next level with perfectly timed lasers shooting out over the crowd, casting multi-coloured shapes onto the roof of the tent. Someone in the crowd has fashioned a model of a tesseract and mounted it on a stick, the geometric shape bouncing up and down, silhouetted against the matching backdrop. The visuals add another layer to an already complex and multi-faceted performance, culminating in an epic display of musical mastery and fervent execution. [EO]

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