ArcTanGent Festival, Fernhill Farm, Bristol – 18th to 20th August 2022


Held over three days in the genteel surroundings of Fernhill Farm, the ArcTanGent festival makes a triumphant return after the pandemic enforced hiatus. A sold-out crowd have come to enjoy an eclectic bill that covers the whole spectrum of alternative music from emo to metalcore via math rock and blackened thrash. With its laid-back vibe, friendly atmosphere and, of course, some of the very best live music, Fernhill Farm has become the place to be in late August.

This year the festival site has been re-configurated which makes it easier to zip between the five stages, and while there’s a few difficult choices to be made in terms of band clashes, the compact site keeps these to a minimum. So, without further ado, here are the bands who rocked my sojourn to the Mendip Hills…

Thursday 18th

 My ArcTanGent gets off to a sublime start with the angular and spiky Fes. Hailing from Peterborough and Leeds, they’re a trio who radiate positive vibes and a hefty sized crowd have come to bask in their bright effervescence. They remind me a little of The Sundays (only on Prozac) and each of their songs, wrapped in delicious melodies, is a delectable piece of ear candy. Armed with a plethora of catchy tunes, it seems the only way is up for this band, and they’ve formed an instant connection with the crowd which is enhanced when they throw several Fezzes into the audience, and parting shot ‘Chew’ (from latest album With Regards From Home) ensures they depart on a high.

Over on the main stage, Edinburgh’s DVNE are a musical tornado that’s taken a few unwary souls by surprise. Employing tonality to great effect, they create discombobulating, other-worldly soundscapes which affect the listener on a primordial level. Each song is a towering, monolithic structure that’s built in the worship of some strange deity, and their enormity dwarfs the listener in their shadow. Since their formation in 2013, they’ve produced an impressive discography and today’s set visits all points of their career. Signed to Metal Blade records it seems they sky’s the limit for this quintet, and their unique brand of sludge and post-metal marks them as Meshuggah for the next generation.

Local band Skin Failure bring more than a touch of brevity with their hardcore/thrash metal fusion and, featuring members of Memory Of Elephants and ex-members of Black Peaks, they’re an intriguing proposition. They don’t take themselves too seriously, as the high-powered water pistols and beer bongs attest, I’ve seen so many of these things descend into chaos, but ferocious tracks such as ‘Give’r By The River’ ensure they’re no joke. Splitting the crowd down the middle for a huge Wall Of Death is a good move, and then they collide like two juggernauts, and those in attendance are tired out for the whole day.

Bicurious are a two-piece who make a sound that’s far bigger than their constituent parts. Employing some choice samples (wailing sirens and b-movie sound bites) give their sound a rich texture. The singer has a bad case of St Vitus Dance and covers every inch of the stage while dishing out some superb guitar trickery and, refusing to be overshadowed, the drummer unleashes some sick beats. Bicurious describe themselves as “a confused duo”, yet they seem fully focused and tracks such as new single ‘We’re All Totally Fucked’ and ‘I Don’t Do Drugs, I Just Sweat A Lot’ really capture the current zeitgeist. Bicurious; once seen, never forgotten.

The name Puppy suggests a creature that’s cute and fluffy, and while that might be partially true for this trio, it’s only one facet of their persona. There’s a duality running through their sound which makes Puppy an interesting beast as heavy beats are overlaid with lithe harmonies, loud sections nestle next to quiet, and complex songs are made deceptively simple. Heavy metal, occult rock, and alternative metal are just some of the tags thrown at Puppy, and it is credit to their malleability that none of have them have really stuck. With two albums and three extended plays to draw upon, Puppy deliver a crowd-pleasing set

Although they formed in Canterbury, Kent, Delta Sleep are now breathing the rarefied air of Brighton, and after their recent global exploits, they’re welcomed back to ArcTanGent like returning heroes and immediately set the stage alight with ‘View To A Fill’. Devin Yüceil has such a wide vocal range that he illuminates the whole venue with his golden tones, and turns an overcast Thursday into a sparkly Saturday night. In fact, the whole band are on fire with bassist Dave Jackson and Blake Mostyn powering the band forward alongside Glen Hodgson delivering some gnarly guitar. Although a couple of Delta’s albums have been concepts, songs such ‘Afterimage’ don’t sound out of place when removed from their original context. However, half of this ten song set has been culled from their latest album, Spring Island, and despite their freshness, they’re strangely familiar. It’s my first-time catching Delta Sleep live…but it won’t be my last.

Formed in New York in 2005, Imperial Triumphant deliver a live experience that’s both visually and sonically harrowing. With the stage bathed in blood red light, things look pretty spooky to begin with, but then the band appear dressed in long black robes and hidden behind steely masks. These masks are very unsettling in themselves; they ensure the band remain hidden throughout, and we are denied the visual clues that artists project throughout a performance, instead we’re left with the blank, impassive stare of a vizard. And, of course, the music is something else. In a genre where bands hark back to some mythical age, Imperial Triumphant’s avant-garde take on black metal is a welcome relief, and the incorporation of free form jazz contrasts well with the insane drum fills and turns a track such as ‘Merkurius Gilded’ into a brutal, crushing affair. When ‘Swarming Opulence’ pours from the PA, things get really interesting and the pit in front of the stage turns into (Dante’s) inferno. Such is their image, Imperial Triumphant could easily be construed as a strange gimmick, yet the strength of their musicianship means you have to take them deadly seriously, and we do.

Pioneering the whole gothic metal movement, Lacuna Coil perfectly fused the two genres to create a whole new beast, and subsequently, heavy music would never be the same again. I recently saw Lacuna Coil performing a daytime slot at The Alcatraz Festival and, in bright sunlight, that seemed rather strange. Attired all in black and with the band members wearing corpse paint, that was a strange performance, and I feared they might shrivel up at any moment (like a vampire). Hitting the stage at 10pm, the pitch darkness that shrouds Fernhill Farm is a much more authentic way to experience the band, and I’m sure the band can sense this. Aided by a crisp, crystalline sound they hit the ground running with Blood, Tears, Dust’, and they rarely look back over the next 90-minutes. Part of the attraction of Lacuna Coil is their whole aesthetic, and there’s lots of stark contrasts on display between jet blacks and ice whites. They certainly understand the sense of occasion, and use every means possible to make this show an event as the white spotlights pierce the night sky like searchlights looking for enemy aircraft and scarlet red light paints the stage with blood. The band delve deep into their back catalogue to deliver a crowd pleasing set, but it’s the cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Enjoy The Silence’ that gets the biggest cheer, and makes a fine precursor to three well-earned encores.


Friday 19th 

A rather surreal way to start a Friday morning is with quintet Five And The Hierophant. A collection of robed figures playing a variety of instruments, they’re powered forward by two drummers and the result is a sound that’s both heavy and expansive. Riffs which are dredged from the very depths of hell are overlaid with sorrowful saxophone, their whole performance is like a weird Pagan ritual that’s set to a soundtrack of “Heroes” melded to Volume 4.

Two mad scientists who’ve escaped from a top-secret nuclear facility, Ni Maîtres are an acquired taste, their hard-hitting sound isn’t for everyone and a steady stream of people leave the tent as their set progresses, but on the flip side an equal number are attracted by their offbeat rhythms. They’re perhaps the ultimate “Marmite” band, but if you like your beats delivered by a drummer who is intent on nailing his drum kit to the stage floor, then Ni Maîtres are for you.

One band who are tailor made for the whole ArcTanGent vibe are Brighton’s El Moono. An amalgamation of grunge, alternative rock and metal, they roll these disparate influences into a cohesive whole and the sound they create hits you right in the solar plexus. I’m a big fan of their recent Temple Corrupted EP, but I often wondered how its multi-layered nature would transfer to the live environment, and the answer’s very well as it transpires. Those musical dynamics come to the fore with the quieter sections acting as a foil for the heavier, and it doesn’t take long for a circle pit to erupt, it’s that kind of music, and tracks such as ‘The Wild Hunt’ and ‘White Gold’ only add fuel to the fire.

There’s a tangible tension hanging over the main stage as we await the arrival of Covet. Stopping by as part of their UK tour, the air of expectation is heightened by the green light that bathes the stage, and the dry ice that dances within the lime hue. Covet don’t disappoint, and while debuting new tracks to a festival crowd might be construed a risky move, it’s one that pays off as the guitar bounces around the Mendip Hills. New track ‘Love Style’ introduces some saxophone and gives proceedings a distinctly John Coltrane, My Favourite Things vibe. Today’s set is performed instrumentally, and while I miss hearing Yvette’s vocals, when the music is this sweet, that’s only a minor quibble.

My first-time seeing Jamie Lenman was on his on his acoustic, socially distanced pandemic tour, and while that was an entertaining evening, today’s gig is a totally different kettle of fish. Wired, amped and electrified, Jamie and band hit the stage running with new track ‘This Is All There Is’. Jamie has been a busy bee during the lockdowns and he unleashes a plethora of new songs including ‘Deep Down’ and, my God, man! that riff, and my appetite is whetted for the forthcoming record. But it’s back to the classics with ‘Television Is Not Your Life’ and ‘I Ain’t Your Boy’. A guest saxophonist makes an appearance on a cover of Madness’ ‘One Step Beyond’ which gets the whole tent skanking and puts a spring in everyone’s step.

There’s something magical when the four musicians comprising MONO pick up their instruments. It’s a strange alchemy that turns ordinary chords and notes into audio gold that’s music for the ears, and for the soul. The stage is framed with ice blue light and as MONO appear, it radiates waves of glacial coolness that seems to freeze the crowd to the spot. Tonight’s set is largely culled from their last two releases (Pilgrimage Of The Soul and Scarlet Holliday) and while the songs are the same as you’ve heard on those discs, there’s just the right amount of experimentation to render them fresh. New drummer Dahm Majun Cipolla has brought a new dynamic to the band, and he sets boundaries at which the other members can push. The best way to experience MONO is to empty your mind and let the sonics wash over you, and it’ll alter the very fabric of time and place you in a hypnotic state. Instrumental Heaven.

Lighting up the Elephant In The Bar Room with their energetic performance are Paranoid Void. Despite competing with Zeal & Ardor on the Yohkai stage, and Scalping on the Bixler, Paranoid Void have attracted a large crowd and, all smiles, they look genuinely stoked to be making the UK festival debut at ArcTanGent. Having played to reserved Japanese audiences, they seem to feed off the rowdiness of an English gig, and they create an electricity that tethers them to the crowd by an unseen thread. The band have a musical dexterity which makes their complex songs sound simple, and their set, a mixture of old and new material, is played with razor sharp precision, and their sound slices the air like steely knives. The amount of applause the band generates increases exponentially with the completion of each song, and I think this will be symbolic of the bands career; the only direction of travel is up for this tenacious trio.

Using a-ha’s ‘The Sun Always Shines On T.V.’ is a strange choice for an introduction tape, but it certainly get the crowd in the right mood for tonight’s headliners Tesseract. It seems that this Milton Keynes progressive metal band have the perfect moniker; a 4-D analogue of a cube which can be unfolded into eight cubes in a 3-D space. Just like their name, the band dizzy the listener with polyrhythmic riffs, odd time signatures, and overlaid with multi atmospheric layers, and that’s exactly what they bring to the party tonight. Opening with the three suites of ‘Of Matter’ (from their sophomore album Altered State) sets the tone for the rest of the set. Tesseract have thrown convention out of the window, and they deliver a performance that plays by no one’s rules but their own. Tonight’s show takes us on a tour de force of the bands back catalogue, and stops at all points on an amazing journey, and they even manage to squeeze in a new song, ‘Natural Disaster’. Containing all the band’s essential ingredients, it signposts a bright future for a band who are still pushing at boundaries after almost two decades of rabble rousing. However, it’s the more familiar tracks that are best received and ‘Dystopia’ and ‘Tourniquet’ both incite all kinds of craziness in the pit, and both make a fine prelude to closer ‘Juno’.


Saturday 20th

There’s a real buzz surrounding Seims, and as the first chords ring out it’s easy to hear why. Maybe it’s a form of cultural assertion, but Australia is currently a hotbed of exciting young bands, and Seims are bringing their own unique flavour to the party. Adding some viola to their palette gives them another texture, and their whole chutzpah reminds me a little of America’s Foxing. A surprise cover of Blur’s ‘Song 2’ goes down particularly well, and marks this combo as one to watch.

The aptly titled Thumpermonkey are a London based four-piece who produce an earth-quaking sound, and it’s one not for the faint of heart. With two guitarists dancing around each other like a pair of caged tigers, they employ tonality to great effect and subliminally alter the listener’s cognitive thinking in the process. Acrobatic would be a good word to describe this quartet; they can stop and start on a dime, and they place heavy passages next to lithe and set closer ‘Ouija Board’ casts a dark spell.

Self-described “post-everything collective”, Toronto’s Respire are a difficult band to pigeonhole. Just when you think you’ve got them cornered, they shape shift like a weird alien life form and take on new substance. However, into whatever genre they stray, they sound comfortable, and at home. Today they’re performing with reduced numbers (they’re usually a six-piece), but they’re no less powerful for it, and their blackened hardcore soundscapes are at once discombobulating and enticing. They’ve won more than a few fans today, and their set is a nice prequel to their upcoming jaunt with rising stars, Ithaca.

Speaking of Ithaca, they’re up next on the Bixler stage. Things have gone stratospheric for this crew since their sophomore album, They Fear Us, and the first thing to note is that the stage seems to small for them. The tent is bursting at the seams as the assembled throngs strain their necks as they try to catch a glimpse of these rising stars. Their European tour with the aforementioned Respire is sure to be one of the heaviest in a long time, and will leave a trail of scorched earth in its wake. There’s is a mosh-pit (and nose-bleed) inducing sound which is heavy both musically, and lyrically, and while this could become oppressive, they make sure to temper their rage with a ray of hope. If you want to know what the future of heavy music will look like, I suggest you check out Ithaca.

A 300-mile road trip finds kokomo rocking ArcTanGent’s main stage. Formed in Duisburg, Germany, in 2008, their unique brand of post-rock has drawn favourable comparisons with the likes of Mogwai, yet I’d argue they’re far greater in scope. Unlike their moniker which is present in subdued, lower case, they create a huge, monolithic sound. With three guitarists all firing in unison, they create huge, impenetrable walls of sound that are very hypnotic in their repetition. Creating a hypnotic air that will transport you to another dimension, kokomo will suddenly introduce crashing crescendos to shake you from your reverie.

With deep roots in the stoner, doom and psychedelic genres, Elephant Tree deliver a chest thumping sound, and it’s one that stomps all over the shop, like an angry Golem (on a naked rampage). By second track ‘Wasted’, they’re firmly in the zone, and their rocking their own, special groove. ‘Exit The Soul’ continues in a similar vein, and rocks at a similar tempo; and that’s a pertinent point. There’s not really enough variety here for the casual fan, and Elephant Tree are in a space between Porcupine Tree and Green Lung, and subsequently, they’re neither here nor there.

Now in their twentieth year, it’s apt that Japan’s Mass Of The Fermenting Dregs should stop by ArcTanGent as part of their anniversary celebrations. Taking their cues from bands such as Sugar, The Wedding Present and The Smashing pumpkins, theirs a sound that’s discordant and catchy, and it’s one that immediately adheres them to the crowd. They show no signs of being phased by a criminally short soundcheck and opening track ‘Kaku lu Mono’ sends the crowd crazy, and the band respond in kind with vocalist/bassist Natsuko Miyamoto in particular becoming a blur of energy. Today’s performance has the feeling of a special occasion, and as a special treat they perform the live debut of ‘1960’ (from latest album Awakening:Sleeping). From the opening track to closer ‘Bears’ this is one of those special moments that only happens when the stars align.

Hailing from the USA, Lightning Bolt are a two-man tag-team, who’re the musical equivalent of a landslide, a rockfall that’s about to cover the crowd at any moment. At the front of the stage are a sea of pogoing ne’er-do-wells, and it doesn’t take long until a tsunami of crowd surfers crash over the safety barrier. Drummer Brian Chippendale proves himself a beast behind the drum kit, and his infectious beats ensure there’s not a soul present who’s not grooving along. If The White Stripes had been weaned on a diet of eyehategood, then I’m sure the resulting brand of noise rock would resemble Lightning Bolt’s ferocity somewhat.

At every festival there’s always a band who you stumble upon whilst trekking between stages, and such a revelation for me was Wheel. Proving that progressive rock doesn’t have to be boring or staid, This Helsinki quartet deliver a sound that rotates like a series of interconnecting cogs and they proceed to offer a masterclass in prog rock. Despite having a few issues with the backline (most notably the drum kit) their solid set plays out to a packed PX3 tent. On the back of some European dates, the band are a tight unit and deliver fan favourites such as ‘Movement’ and ‘Dissipating’ (both from new album Resident Human). Where much prog can put you in a dreamlike state, Wheel’s revolving sound and energetic show holds you in rapt attention, and amen for that.

Godflesh: the band who join the dots between Black Sabbath, Killing Joke and Swans, a band who capture the sound of urban decay, and create the feeling of something so vast and huge, it can barely be comprehended. Tonight’s set is all of this, and more, and after a false start (a malfunctioning laptop) this pair of sonic terrorists get straight down to business with ‘Love Is A Dog From Hell’. The sound of heavy machinery producing tools for war, or tectonic plates colliding, Godflesh are an uncontrollable force of nature, a runaway juggernaut that cannot be stopped. Tonight’s set picks eight choice from their career that pits fan favourites against deep album cuts. However, it’s the songs from Streetcleaner which really pack a punch: ‘Pulp’, the title track, and ‘Like Rats’ are all musical bombs that are primed to blow at the optimum moment. Such is the ferocity of Godflesh’s sonic assault that as the final chords to ‘Crush My Soul’ ring out, we’re left a little dazed and stupefied at its conclusion.

Originally formed as a death metal band in 1989, Sweden’s Opeth have been a band in constant evolution. It didn’t take long for them to start incorporating progressive elements into their sound, and since then it’s been open season with elements of jazz, folk, classical and blues all adding colour to their palette. There’s a palpable sense of expectation as we await the band, and that sensation is only highlighted the haunting refrain of ‘Livets Trädġard’ that serves as an elongated introduction. When the band finally arrive, they are greeted with a roof raising roar and they launch straight into ‘Hjärtat vet vad handen gör’, and musical flames lick the venue as the two guitars entwine, and Mikael Åkerfeldt’s assured vocals float majestically throughout Fernhill Farm. Tonight’s 95-minute set is a pretty democratic affair and contains 10 songs that have been culled from 10 different albums. While this potshot set list could have resulted in an eclectic experience, the songs are stitched together by their progressive leanings, and of course, Mikael’s humorous in-between song banter. An action-packed set comes to a conclusion with ‘Deliverance’ (the title track of their 2002 album), and as it brings down the curtain on another successful ArcTanGent, I’m already ordering next year’s ticket.