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.
Self-styled “post-everything collective” Respire have travelled all the way from Canada to play ArcTanGent, so it’s excellent to see a healthy crowd for them despite an early billing. The band are usually at least seven or eight members deep on stage, with violins and brass instruments making up several layers of their multi-faceted sound, but for this particular jaunt they’re down to a core five made up of just guitars, bass, drums and vocals. Thankfully this doesn’t dull their impact, as their white-hot brand of blackened screamo mixed with a smattering of post-rock is still beautifully harrowing without the extra instrumentalists. It’s fantastic to finally hear songs from 2020’s stellar album ‘Black Line’, particularly the blistering set opener ‘Tempest’ and chaotic anthem ‘To Our Dead Friends’. If Respire can hit this hard when it’s barely lunchtime and they’re missing half their lineup, lord only knows how powerful their performance must be when they’re firing on all cylinders. [LK]
Only a couple of weeks before this ATG performance, UK metalcore darlings Ithaca released ‘They Fear Us’, and the buzz around that album has made this set one of the most anticipated of the entire weekend. Unsurprisingly, Ithaca absolutely live up to the hype. Captivating vocalist Djamila Boden Azzouz takes to the stage in a striking orange dress accessorised with Shibari ropes, her band behind her clad in white, stirring themselves up before launching their assault. They launch straight into ‘In The Way’ and don’t let up for a full half hour. The new songs sound massive; the frenzied panic chords and savage breakdowns we’ve come to know and love from Ithaca are all present in ‘Camera Eats First’ and the positively wild ‘Cremation Party’, but what really stands out is how far Djamila has come as a performer since the band’s last ATG performance. Her clean vocals are incredible when taking on the big choruses in ‘The Future Says Thank You’ and the new album’s title track, and she is unwaveringly confident and genuinely intimidating throughout the set. Their fanbase has also clearly increased in both size and fervour, as the pits throughout the set are absolutely mental, particularly during the aforementioned ‘They Fear Us’ and older number ‘Impulse Crush’. Ithaca are a band with seemingly limitless potential, and carry with them an authentic and important message of inclusivity and healing. It’s truly exciting to consider where they could go next with this much talent, creativity and passion. [LK]
Speaking of hype, another hotly tipped band right now is Heriot, who pack out the PX3 stage with plenty of time before their set actually starts. Their sound is somewhere between that of Nails and early Code Orange, after they dropped the Kids from their names but before they started to sound like Spineshank and dress like Orgy. The twin vocal assault of bassist Jake Packer’s deep roar and guitarist Debbie Gough’s unholy shriek makes for an overwhelming experience as the band tears through bludgeoning tracks like ‘Enter The Flesh’ and ‘Cleansed Existence’. Considering the fact that this incarnation of Heriot only released their debut single in 2020, they already feel like a fully formed unit that can easily hold their own against similar bands that have been around much longer. At this rate Heriot could be one of the biggest names in the UK metal underground within a year or two – watch this space. [LK]
The anticipation for Conjurer grows steadily for the ten minutes preceding their Saturday afternoon set, with the Arc tent filling to near capacity before the first crushing metal chords are unleashed. The whole set is a whirlwind of cleverly balanced heaviness and exquisitely timed breakdowns, with mesmerising slower sections erupting into frantic blasts and guttural growls. The pit is total carnage, and for those of us slightly further back, at points all that can be seen through the throng of thrashing heads is a glimpse of bassist Connor Marshall’s windmilling hair, spinning at close-to-breakneck speed as he churns out doom-laden rhythms. The band transition seamlessly between small moments of refined clarity and brutal, screaming noise, with every tight stop and acceleration into another onslaught of double-timed ferocity delivered with precision and passion. [EO]
You’ll struggle to find a more viscerally bonkers band at ATG than math-metal lunatics Frontierer. From the second they screech into set opener ‘Corrosive Wash’, the packed-out Yokhai tent is subjected to an onslaught of flailing limbs, flying band members, dial up internet sounds and riffs that sound like a printer trying to kill you. Towering vocalist Chad Kapper holds a monolithic presence on stage while various other band members climb the rigging and hurl themselves around with no regard for their own safety. The set itself is pretty much a 50/50 mix of material from 2021’s ‘Oxidized’ and 2016’s ‘Orange Mathematics’ – for some reason their 2018 album ‘Unloved’ barely gets a look in with only ‘The Molten Larva’ making an appearance. Honestly though, who is keeping track of what song is being played when you’re too busy dodging guitarists and trying to keep your head above water in a sea of wild mosh gremlins, all desperately searching for a time signature that stays still long enough for them to headbang to. If you like your music to sound like a futuristic panic attack, you need this band in your life. [LK]
Devil Sold His Soul
Devil Sold His Soul have been around since 2004, but the intensity of their ambient, cinematic post-hardcore hasn’t wained in that time, nor has the energy they play it with. Today’s main stage set is entirely made up of material from 2021’s excellent ‘Loss’, which was the first of their recordings to feature both original vocalist Ed Gibbs and his replacement (and now co-vocalist) Paul Green. The two frontment hurl themselves around the stage while expertly trading vocal lines on emotional tracks such as ‘Witness Marks’ and ‘Beyond Reach’. The band’s sound is as enormous as always, and having two vocalists has made them even more powerful than previous iterations, so you can only imagine the jaws on the floor when Ithaca’s Djamila Boden Azzouz and Frontierer’s Chad Kapper join the band on stage to help them deliver a four-pronged vocal assault on ‘The Narcissist’. As the band and their guests all scream the final lyric “only time will tell” in unison, it’s clear to everyone present that they’ve just witnessed one of the coolest moments of the entire weekend. [LK]
Not since the heady days of The Dillinger Escape Plan and The Chariot has there been a live band as unpredictable as The Armed. On their 2019 UK tour they sent a person in a gilly suit into the crowd to rile up the already excitable crowds. At 2000 Trees later that year they set up a table and chairs in the middle of the pit, and used it as a platform to pass out water, beer and pastries to the crowd, before abruptly launching into their chaotic set from their seats. You’d think, given that they’re on the largest stage at ATG, that they’d have to tone down the shenanigans a bit, but you’d be wrong. Two of their many manly muscular vocalists (what are their names? No-one really seems to know) seem to spend more time in / on top of the crowd than they do on stage, while Cara Drolshagen remains on stage in what appears to be a Harley Quinn outfit combined with a studded gimp mask, and adds a higher pitched vocal to the already absurdly unhinged sound. It’s tough to describe The Armed musically, especially the material from ‘Ultrapop’ which makes up the bulk of the set – at times they’re as wild and technical as the aforementioned Dillinger Escape Plan, but they also carry the sass and flair of The Blood Brothers, the rock’n’roll party vibe of The Bronx, and the progressive sensibilities of latter-day Fucked Up. Regardless of influences, all of it is delivered with equal parts rabid venom and light-hearted fun, somehow both at once; even when a guitar is launched recklessly into the crowd from the stage it’s laughed off by those in its path, passing it back to the stage before immediately starting the next circle pit. The Armed are as punk as it’s possible to be in 2022: diverse, unpredictable and 100% marching to the beat of their own drum – this could well be the best set of the festival. It’ll certainly be the most memorable. [LK]
This Will Destroy You
As mellow beginnings go, ambient Texan instrumentalists This Will Destroy You (TWDY) open with the some of the gentlest sounds of the weekend. As with many of their more melodic counterparts, the band use delicately layered guitars, keys and effects to build each track into a swelling, emotionally charged atmospheric experience. With TWDY, the rising levels of sound rarely seem to peak with enormous intensity, however there is a magic in the subtlety of each track. The elements of synth over the lower bass notes add depth to the set, with the stage lighting once again adding to the ambience in the tent. It’s an hour of beautifully constructed and sensitively performed calm amidst a sea of heavy angst. [EO]
Unlike most bands, Leprous didn’t let a little thing like a global pandemic stop them from playing live, broadcasting a number of live shows from their hometown of Notodden and also from Sentralen studios in Oslo throughout 2020 and 2021. Combined with a relentless touring schedule prior to their appearance at ArcTanGent, the band have a developed a dynamic on stage that is one of togetherness and self-assurance, without ever tipping over to arrogance. Vocalist Einar Solberg’s phenomenal voice is complemented by guitars and a rhythm section that is as tight as it is impassioned. Every chord seems to be packed full of feeling at the same time as being technically on-point. Solberg’s range is exceptional, switching seamlessly from booming deep notes to powerful falsetto. From the haunting melancholy of ‘Below’ to the epic closer ‘The Sky Is Red’, by way of the jerky, perfectly timed prog rhythms of ‘The Price’ and the amusingly introduced fan-collaboration ‘Nighttime Disguise’, the set to close the Yokhai stage for the weekend is a shining example of the band’s extensive writing and performing talent. [EO]
Swedish prog metallers Opeth are no strangers to the UK, and with their extensive back-catalogue, slick production and confident stage presence, it’s not hard to see why their appeal has lasted for their thirty-plus year career. With tracks spanning nine of their thirteen albums, there is something for everyone on tonight’s setlist, with the older, death metal numbers sitting comfortably alongside the proggier sounds of more recent releases. Vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt chats to the audience between songs, his light-hearted humour going down well with the crowd, at one point stating simply “We saw a pig today. It had humongous balls.” Farm life aside, Åkerfeldt also describes how Opeth differ from some more energetic bands, telling everyone “We’re not like David Lee Roth. We don’t do split jumps, we entertain in our own boring way. We entertain by playing our songs”. It’s unlikely that anyone here tonight would describe Opeth’s performance as “boring”, with husky growls leading into dulcet harmonies on ‘Ghost of Perdition’, macabre screams on ‘Demon of the Fall’ and syncopated beats, complex guitar trills and pounding bass popping up throughout the evening. That being said, Opeth finished their set with ‘Deliverance’ a full half hour before their scheduled finish time. With no further explanation, they left the stage leaving a hungry crowd a little baffled at the headline act closing the festival so early. Chatter suggested that they played their touring setlist, which only happens to be 90 minutes long, but it still feels like a slight anti-climax after what was a thoroughly enjoyable presentation of their work. [EO]
Her Name is Calla
For some, Opeth’s early finish is a blessing in disguise, as it allows those who chose not to wait around watching the crew load out to catch the last half hour of the one-time-only reformation of English post-rock outfit Her Name Is Calla. It’s a stark contrast from the glossy bravado of Opeth to the raw emotional style of Her Name Is Calla, and it’s a wonderful display of the variety of musical brilliance that’s been on display for the whole festival. There’s a real vulnerability to the stripped-back songs, with strings and soft harmonies adding to the poignancy of the moment. As their set draws to a close, the energy in the PX3 tent takes on a kind of enchanting tranquillity, a sombre but heartfelt goodbye to a rollercoaster of a weekend. [EO]