In the last few years of my life there have been many constants but none of them quite so stable and predictable as looking at the lineup for ArcTanGent Festival in the UK and cursing myself for not going. In a festival scene seemingly obsessed with the same number of bands (seriously, trawl the European festival lineups and see if you can spot a pattern; it’s a pretty obvious one), ArcTanGent seems to be committed to draw deep on the progressive, post-rock, math-rock, and just plain weird scene and bring forth a lineup made up of unique combinations, both small and mighty. But this year, this year is different; not only is the lineup one of the best I’ve ever seen but Heavy Blog will also be in attendance!
That’s right, no less than four members of Heavy Blog are attending ArcTanGent this year (myself, Simon Clark, Trent Bos, and Joe Astill, with Matt joining us in spirit) and we couldn’t be more excited. It takes place next week, just outside of Bristol, England, on the 15th of August. To be honest, if we actually made a list of all the bands we were excited about seeing at the festival, it would….just be the entire lineup. But, as anyone who has ever attended a big festival will tell you, choices must always be made. You can’t always see everyone you want to see; sometimes times clash and, even more often in my case, your body just gives up on you (after all, you feed it only trash, sleep outside, and mosh constantly will also imbibing absurd amounts of alcohol for three days).
And so, we gathered up a list of the acts we are most excited to see during the festival. There are obviously many more (I mean, I didn’t even include Thank You Scientist). But this post also has another goal in mind than just music/set recommendations; this is an open invitation to come say hey to us at the festival! I’m a massive dude and I’ll probably have my blog shirts on at most times. Simon Clark is a celebrity in the UK scene, just ask people where he is. Trent is the nicest person ever and Joe is incredibly handsome. Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out! We’ll be hanging around at the festival every day so please, if you like to and are attending, come say hello to us.
The rest of you lot? Start planning your attendance for next year.
For me, this is ground zero. This is the band that made me decide to attend this year’s festival. My relationship with 65daysofstatic has shapeshifted in recent years; they used to be a band which I enjoyed to be sure but not some long term infatuation. However, as they moved closer and closer towards the realms of science-fiction, radicalism, and futurism, I have drifted ever closer to their music. Music For an Infinite Universe is one of my all time favorite albums; their recent experimentations are fascinating and important to me; their outlook on the industry is a crucial voice as we move ever forwards into the haunting future. I fully expect this show to be life-altering. Seeing their unique post-rock become electronic on stage is a bright point in my future which I have been slowly moving towards. I can’t wait.
For various mental reasons, I’ve always wondered what having your body taken apart piece by piece and pulverized would feel like. It looks like I’m about to find out; if Frontierer’s recorded music is any indication to go by, this show will throw me in the mixer, turn it up to eleven, fill it with a swarm of angry bees and just let the lot go at each other. From the videos I’ve seen, the band are impressively capable of performing their highly technical and challenging material live and seeing something so oppressive, intricate, and overwhelming come to life on stage is an experience I’m sure I will never forget.
The Ocean (Eden)
This is another big one off my checklist; The Ocean have been one of my favorite bands for a long time now. Especially with their excellent album of last year in tow, this show is set to be the most emotionally laden one of all. I’m hoping they’ll also play some older material, spicing the vibe up from gloom and doom with some hardcore-tinged aggression. I don’t do a lot of moshing anymore (“I’m too old for this shit!”) but that switch into their older sound, should it come, is sure to set the wild thing within me (and within the entire audience, I hope) loose on its environs. Regardless, this is another show that I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.
Carpenter Brut (Eden)
I won’t mince words here: this is going to be the most “fun” set of the entire festival. I saw Carpenter Brut play Brooklyn and it was a fever dream of beats, dance, and synths. It was shout-from-the-bottom-of-your-stomach levels of fun. An open-air environment is sure to just make it all the more enjoyable and wild and I can’t wait to break into dance with a bunch of sweaty metalheads.
Regardless of how you feel about their progression as a band and recent material, Russian Circles are known for always being a force to be reckoned with live. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them once on a headline tour several years ago and that performance has stuck as a top ten all time for me. Something about their combined wall of atmospheric heaviness and calculated driving rhythms translate brilliantly in a live setting that augments every moment. Post-rock is a genre that can suck you in live, and when it can grab a hold of you in the way they can it is a rewardingly exhilarating time that I’m really hoping to experience again. This is also one of those bands that you can just be awed by their drummer if you want to focus in on something during their headline-length Friday set.
I think it would be disappointingly off-brand to not mention Meshuggah here. On a recent post from a friend of the blog asking for the Top 5 live bands you’ve seen, a considerable chunk of the responses name dropped along with of course TDEP, the one and only Meshuggah. I use that dramatic language because no matter how many bands their [particular style of guitar playing and composition] has perhaps reluctantly spawned, there really is no other band quite like them. While being a fan of said style and of Meshuggah for a consider time it’s a bit sad that I have actually yet to ever experience them live and I’m very ready to have that remedied. I’m hoping they play a healthy spread of their discography, but I’m really just ready to be obliterated by their sheer presence, which should be a perfect way to cap off the whole weekend on Saturday night.
Last year, Daughters exploded back onto the scene with their first release in 8 years, You Won’t Get What You Want. While a departure from their earlier grind and mathcore styles, this new noise/industrial hardcore/rock vibe immediately shot their name across the online-music-sphere getting attention from a broad range of music backgrounds with high acclaim. The new album which I’m certain they’ll play a healthy chunk of, is a swirling maelstrom of sound and emotion. Pulsating, hypnotic drums and rhythms coalesce with Marshall’s unique shouted vocals for a crazed-slipping-into-psychosis feel. This is matched by the equally visceral and intense lyrics that lend themselves to live performances – “This world is OPENING UP”. Really hoping to hear their moody darkwave track “Less Sex” to spice things up too. YWGWYW fit easily into my top-10 albums last year and has not fallen out of circulation so I’m pumped to experience it live while still fresh.
Given the stature and history of this festival it would be wrong not to include a math-rock band in my picks, and one of my favourites performing this year is New Jersey’s Invalids. The genre has a reasonably healthy representation this year on the less-heavy side with big names like TTNG and Covet, as well as Good Game and standards. Of the many bands in this realm of the genre playing however Invalids have put out my favourite material of late. Their 2018 release Fulfillment EP is about everything I want in a modern twinkly math-rock album with vocals, and I’m pumped to see their enthusiastic fretboard dancing in person. I think they’ll stand out among the lot of bands throwing a lot of notes really fast at you this year, as they also happen to be damn good at writing catchy and fun songs full of earworms.
Denmark’s bassiest (not a word) musical project LLNN should bring enough low frequencies and post-apocalyptic gloom to level the stage with decibel content. Last year’s Deads saw the Copenhagen post-metallers employing a cinematic level of audio assault alongside their traditionally snow-blasted gaze, and tracks with as much impact as “Parallels” will surely blow any cobwebs out of hungover arses on the Saturday. Possibly one of the only chances to see this band playing in the UK, so don’t fucking miss them. It’s big music for a big stage.
Cult of Luna
It’s always a big year for ArcTanGent fans when Cult of Luna release music. Realistically, upwards of 90% of the attending crowd should be at least somewhat familiar with the legendary Swedes. If not, what are they doing there? Those lucky enough to be in attendance should hopefully hear some material from the pleasing, if not a little pedestrian latest record A Dawn To Fear. If they’re still playing anything from Salvation, I’ll go fucking mad that I’ve missed it. You know what you’re getting with this band. That’s a good thing, by the way.
Out of any band at the festival, Ithaca probably have the highest chance of getting push-pits, circle-pits, and karate kids starting lawnmowers in between attempted roundhouse kicks.The young band’s sharp metalcore has already proven to cut up club floors in just about every corner of the UK, now it’s the festival stage’s turn. Any one nostalgic for those fantastic Cave In or Dillinger Escape Plan festival performances some fifteen years ago needs to check this lot out.
In my mind, Nordic Giants and ArcTanGent will be forever linked together. I first encountered the lush post-rock soundscapes and astonishing visuals of the mysterious duo at the inaugural festival back in 2013. With no idea what to expect going in, their set was close to a religious experience for me. Even seeing them multiple times since then has hardly diminished the magic. There are plenty of bands marrying post rock with extended spoken word clips, but few manage to do so with the success and sheer grandeur of Nordic Giants. That they then set these unnaturally gorgeous compositions to thought-provoking and equally emotive award-winning short films sets them up firmly in a field of one. I can confidently state that there really is no band that delivers a live experience quite like Nordic Giants. 2019 will be at least the bands fourth appearance at the festival, but the first on the main stage. Get there early enough to get in close, and probably bring some tissues with you.
Schedule changes and cancellations are simply an awkward fact of life for any weekend festival, but the precise nature of what would be filling the second slot on the second stage on the second day has been something of an emotional roller-coaster. Arguably the most painful post-announcement amendment this time around has been The Black Queen’s decision not to return to Europe this summer. This blow was somewhat softened by the news that Black Peaks would be replacing them. But that wasn’t the end of it – Black Peaks have in turn subsequently cancelled the majority of their summer shows to allow vocalist Will to recover from some serious health issues. However, the majority of the band will still take to the ArcTanGent stage, for a special, one-off set fronted by long-time friend, occasional collaborator and all-round splendid human being Jamie Lenman. As we all know, the thing which pushes a good festival weekend into being a great festival weekend is a smattering of never-to-be-repeated, you-had-to-be-there moments. We expect a collection of greatest hits from Black Peaks’ pair of outstanding albums, and probably a couple of extra-special surprises alongside them.
In all fairness, the most surprising thing about Battles headlining ArcTanGent is that it has taken seven iterations of the festival for it to happen. Outside of previous headline acts , and including a fair few of them, it is difficult to think of a more fitting group to round out a full day of splendid glitchy weirdness.As genuine pioneers of math-rock experimentalism, Battles have been blurring the lines between a traditional live band and various flavours of EDM since 2002. Originally starting as a quartet, they spent most of the last decade as a trio, and have recently announced that Dave has also now departed, leaving guitarist Ian Williams and drummer John Stanier to continue as a duo. And, presumably, a duo with a quite phenomenal amount of onstage gear. On record, Battles can be a challenging listen, but in the live environment it becomes all-encompassing and hypnotic. The reduction in personnel is likely to increase their reliance on loop pedals, but the net result should be the same. What’s more, from a personal perspective, thanks to his work with Helmet and Tomahawk as well as Battles, John Stanier is just about my favourite drummer of all time, so just getting to watch him play is a special treat all on its own.
Curse These Metal Hands
I’ve recently spoken at length about the Curse These Metal Hands project in my review of their recorded output, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here. Nevertheless, it feels fitting to include them, as the collaborative effort between members of Pijn and Conjurer was originally brought into being specifically for a special performance at last year’s ArcTanGent. Their individual schedules have meant that activity in the interim has been limited to just a single live performance, and enough time in a studio to record their four song, half-hour set for posterity. As you can see from the review, I’m very glad they have. Just to borrow the neatest, tidiest description for those afraid of hyperlinks, Curse These Metal Hands sounds like Baroness jamming with Isis in a particularly good mood. Their uplifting, unpretentious no-nonsense celebration of The Riff should coax even the most tired heads into some gently spirited nodding in their early Saturday afternoon slot.