LIVE: Arctangent Festival 2019 – Friday

By Dave Stewart

ArcTanGent is one of the metal worlds best kept secrets – or one of its worst kept secrets, if you’ve ever been one of its guests. Tucked away in the rural countryside of Bristol, the festival is a haven for anyone harbouring an intense love for all things progressive, from extreme metal and raw hardcore, to instrumental jazz and electronic showstoppers. 2019 was their biggest, most diverse line up to date, and also garnered their largest attendance numbers as a result.

Everyone that attended ArcTanGent this year knew there would be some poor weather at some point. Everyone hoped that it’d just be a little sprinkling of rain, but nobody predicted it’d be the relentless downpour that loomed over the grounds for the entirety of Friday. What began as a light drizzle in the early hours slowly evolved into a full torrential storm before lunch time – but did it stop anyone from tucking their jeans into their wellies and piling into the festival? Absolutely not.

We Never Learned To Live

Friday morning may have started off wet and miserable, but it didn’t stop anyone from starting their day early, with hundreds piling into the Yohkai stage to watch We Never Learned To Live. They tried their absolute hardest to draw peoples attention away from the rain and get lost in their music – a feat which, for the most part, they pulled off. Their beautiful yet equally sonically punishing music held the gaze of everyone in attendance, with every single chord and thunderous drum hit making it impossible to look away. Some mid-set technical issues lead to some ever-so-slightly awkward rambling from front man Sean Mahon, but as soon as the problems were rectified he wasted no time getting back to business as usual. A rich and mighty start to a dull day that tried its hardest to entice the sunshine to burst through the clouds.

Good Game

American duo Good Game nervously graced the Arc stage to play what was surely their biggest show to date. They were visibly reserved, but you can’t blame them for that – if your biggest show outside of your homeland was the main stage of a UK festival, you’d be scared too. Their Fall Of Troy-esque jazz fuelled opuses were undoubtedly musically impressive, but the songs lacked punch and flew over almost everyone’s heads. Imagine classic elevator music, only the people making it are shredding. Unfortunately, it seemed like a lot of people in the tent were just using the space as shelter for the rain, their conversations often overshadowing the music and turning it from a performance to background noise. Very cool to listen to, but a little boring to watch.

Slow Crush

Slow Crush are one of the most aptly named bands of the weekend, with music that sounds like falling in love to a soft and luscious 80’s movie soundtrack. Their performance mirrored this too, with every member moodily stomping across the stage as the music swayed in and out of relaxing lullabies and gritty punk belters. Some of their songs could’ve easily slotted into any old school chick flick, others into an angsty teen drama. They ploughed through all their material with a real smoothness, caressing the senses into a state of pure relaxation and admiration. A delicate and emotional walk through a stunning and brooding landscape.


If you’ve ever wondered what kind of music someone would make if they were obsessed with sharks, fruit, and Tesco, then you should listen to Standards – a completely instrumental two-piece from Los Angeles, armed with a drummer so tight he might be a robot and a man-child guitarist hyped up on e-numbers. They were like a whole band compressed into two people, with guitarist Marcos Mena acting as the bassist, rhythm guitarist and lead guitarist all at the same time, jumping from barre chords to sweep and tapping patterns like child’s play. Every single song was performed with giant grins on their faces, their happiness rubbing off onto the crowd and forcing them to fall victim to the good vibes surrounding them. If things weren’t already fun enough, Marcos enticed the crowd to participate in “a wall of life”, splitting the tent down the middle and encouraging participants to charge into a mass group hug. A set built from pure joy.

Thank You Scientist

“Just because the world is becoming a toilet doesn’t mean we have to flush down with it. Take all of the drugs and have as much sex as you can whilst you’re still alive.” Probably not a statement that the festival security were particularly enthralled about, but one that the crowd watching Thank You Scientist lapped up as it was preached to them by front man Salvatore Marrano. If Coheed and Cambria were a jazz fusion band, they would sound something like these guys. Imagine taking shrooms on a 70s police chase and you’ll be in the right ballpark. Comprising a vocalist, guitarist, bassist, drummer, violinist, saxophonist, and trumpeter, their music had a unique texture to it, made ever more impressive by the quality of the musicianship. They were clearly all having a whale of a time too – never had a violinist ever headbanged so low. An incredibly tight, insatiably fun performance.

Birds In Row

French trio Birds In Row garnered a huge crowd on the Bixler stage, all of whom were eager to witness their well adored brand of audio violence. There’s an air of The Dillinger Escape Plan about them, both in certain aspects of their music and the way they performed. They had seemingly endless amounts of energy, their performance reflecting the intensity of their raw, unrelenting and dangerous songs. It was clear from the get go that they had a real passion and love for what they do, not only enjoying themselves but ever grateful for those in attendance. A lot of their songs are about unity and growth, which the attending masses fully got behind and elevated their performance to a height far greater than that of the tent they were contained in. The closing song of the set ‘I Don’t Dance’ was furious and huge, stirring the crowd into a tent wide pit as the music ripped through it like a freight train. A breathtaking display of passion for heavy music.

The Ocean

Every festival has a band that suffers catastrophic problems, and unfortunately for Friday ArcTanGent attendees, that band was The Ocean. The hugely loved prog metallers had an enormous crowd waiting for them on the Arc stage, all of them eager to witness their thunderous and expansive music to help them forget about the miserable weather. They suffered some serious technical issues on the lead up to the beginning of their set which not only impacting the size of the crowd in attendance, but also the length of their set. When they finally took the stage, though, they did all that they could to make up for lost time by blasting through as many of their dark and haunting epics as possible with the time they had left. To their credit, they acted as though nothing had happened and tackled the remaining onlookers head on, snarling and thrashing with everything they had inside them. Everyone that stuck around was stunned by their serene yet heavy performance, staring blankly at the stage with their internal monologue repeating things like “wow” and “I don’t want to play music anymore, I’ll never be this good.” A disappointingly short storm, but a devastating one nonetheless.

Sleep Token

The air of mystery that surrounds Sleep Token is alike no other band on this year’s bill. The entire band are completely anonymous and move in an unpredictable way, announcing everything that they do with little to no warning, amassing legions of loyal followers along the way. Their aim is to create offerings for those followers to worship, and their set on the Bixler stage converted an awful lot of people to their cause. Skulking onto the stage shrouded in veils and covered in thick black paint, their entire set was a hypnotic and haunting tale, using every possible opportunity to send shivers through a vast number of bodies. Front man Vessel was preaching to every single person in that tent, and every single eye was fixed on him. Their anonymity stopped being a gimmick and became completely unimportant – the music did all of the talking and their appearance only added to the texturally dense atmosphere. It was epic in every sense of the word, and the addition of their cathartic performance made a borderline religious experience. One of the highlights of the entire weekend.

Palm Reader

The rain was really belting down onto the festival grounds at this point in the day, and lots of soaking wet attendees were really starting to show signs of irritation and frustration. What better way to vent it than by watching Nottingham’s Palm Reader birth a storm of their very own? They pair their raw and relentless sound with an unstoppable, venomous performance, their anger slowly dispersing through the tent and coarsing through everyone in earshot. A mere two songs into their set and they’d summoned the first pits of the day with a crushing performance of ‘Internal Winter’, with every tortured vocal from front man Josh McKeown connecting like a guided missile. The weather beyond the tent now seemed irrelevant, and all that mattered was waiting to see what happened next. They stormed through a high quality set of their biggest and best, with weighty renditions of the intense ‘Inertia’, the thrilling ‘I Watched The Fire Chase My Tongue’ and set highlight, the stunning ‘Ode To A Shadow’, to name a few. How Palm Reader still aren’t enormous is completely baffling – they never disappoint. A stage conquering, mind bending and breathtaking display from one of this country’s most criminally unsung heroes.

Black Peaks

Black Peaks and Jamie Lenman are both favourites among ArcTanGent goers, having both played the festival in previous years and being constantly requested by fans. Neither of them were supposed to be performing at this years festival, but a few things happened. The Black Queen, one of the bands first announced for the festival, had to cancel their appearance, and Black Peaks stepped into the slot. Shortly after this, front man Will Gardner fell dangerously ill and had to put his health before his performance, but the band didn’t want to cancel their set and thus roped in their good friend Jamie to stand in on vocals. And thus it was born – a one of a time meeting of minds. This was a completely one off, never to be seen again set, and the colliding of worlds was better than anyone could have expected. It worked. Not only did it work, but it was incredible. They rocketed through all the best parts of the Black Peaks catalogue, from ‘Glass Built Castles’, to ‘No Sleep’, to a breathtaking set highlight of ‘Aether’ – no stone was left unturned. The special treats came in the form of a couple of old Reuben jams that they slipped in which, according to Lenman, were so he could “pay for chips and bus fare.” Will was very much missed, but Lenman’s performance would’ve made him very proud. One of the biggest crowd reactions of the entire day and, unique novelty value aside, one of the best sets of the entire festival.

Russian Circles

Russian Circles don’t come over to these shores very often, and the turn out over on the Arc stage reflected that. It was completely full to the brim, with bystanders even taking to the very edges of the tent and braving the torrential rain for the chance to see them perform. The trio slowly walked out onto a dimly lit stage, spotlights shining from behind the band and turning them into silhouettes as they invited the crowd to join them in a waltz through their mystical and weighty set. They opened the set with ‘Hunter Moon’ and ‘Arluck’ from their mesmerising new record ‘Blood Year’, performed so exquisitely that it put passers by into a trance of sorts, snake charming them to seek shelter in their performance. The rest of the set flowed through their entire back catalogue, much to the appreciation of the audience who were hanging off of every single note, from serene delicacies to gigantic sonic crescendos. Their grasp on rise and fall dynamics and suspense building is second to none – there were goosebumps running throughout everyone in attendance, and not just from the cold wind against their wet clothes. They had a couple of technical issues, but recovered from them with such grace that the crowd seemed to forgive and forget almost instantly. A spectacular voyage through an expansive, stunning landscape.


If you took The Dillinger Escape Plan and Meshuggah, put them in a UFC cage with guitar pedals as weapons and made them fight to the death, the sounds you’d hear would be pretty close to the ones that Frontierer make. Yet another band that were affected by the curse of the Friday tech issues, their set started a little later than planned – as soon as they blasted into their first song, though, everyone that had piled into the Bixler tent had completely forgotten there was a delay in the first place. Their set was an adrenaline fuelled whirlwind, every member of the band flailing across the stage, up the scaffolding and over the crowd as they powered their gut-wrenching noise outward. They were technically brilliant and teeming with rage both musically and physically, like watching a lightning storm destroy everything in its path. Every single blow was powerful enough to wind a giant, made even more impactful by bass drops so naughty that your mum would put them in time out. A lot of the tones blurred into one another, becoming almost as muddy as the grounds they were playing on, but nobody seemed to care whatsoever. Their kinetic prowess is contagious, and the atmosphere was indescribable – chaos fuelled by chaos. Absolutely bonkers in the best way possible.


As Battles took the stage, the relentless rain that had plagued the entire day finally ceased. Everyone was dripping wet, the ground had become a swamp, everyone was tired. But did it stop anyone from sticking around to see Friday’s main stage headliners? Absolutely not.

The duo took the stage and immediately started to build one of their dreamy soundscapes, revolving around constantly evolving ideas that take on a seemingly endless number of shapes. The instrumentation had some real depth and diversity, all layered together with more loops than a box of Cheerios. It was the literal definition of progressive, blending together tonnes of influences ranging from dance and drum and bass, to math rock and shoegaze. It was like listening to an orchestra made of child’s toys, conducted by someone on a cocktail of drugs that’s having a good trip.

The actual stage show itself was largely driven by the light show, as the band were far too busy doing the work of the countless band members that they don’t have. It’s impossible to deny the talent it takes to juggle so many different things and make them all blend together, but it just failed to connect with a large proportion of the crowd. The audience began to disperse within the first couple of songs, almost halving in size by the time their set had finished. They’re very different and most definitely unique, just not everyone’s cup of tea. An eclectic but slightly anti-climactic end to an incredibly difficult weather day.