ArcTanGent Festival, 18 August 2023
All photos by Keith Shapland
If you haven’t come across ArcTanGent before, it’s a small extremely well run three-day festival in Compton Martin, south of Bristol. It’s a full-on affair, too, with five tented stages: at any one time there’s either a band apiece on the main stage and PX3, or, as soon as they’ve finished, three further acts on the Yohkai, Bixler and Elephant stages. There’s no respite from the noise bleed, and it doesn’t help though that the tents aren’t actually named, so for the first few waves of bands it’s easy to get confused as to whom you might be watching.
Witchsorrow by K Shapland
On Friday, the middle of the three days, WESS MEETS WEST, an instrumental quartet from the US, opened proceedings to a small crowd in the main tent. Well, it was 11am. It was worth taking a quick look at HIDDEN MOTHERS at the PX3 stage, but they were a little too noisy for a morning so we went back to watch the Americans finish their set in some style. Time to investigate the next set of bands, starting with the downtuned trio WITCHSORROW who in both line-up and sound channelled the influence of prime-time Angel Witch. After watching half their set it was over to see HAAST, an exciting, progressive Welsh four-piece, then back to the main stage for CURSE THESE METAL HANDS: created by members of Conjurer and Pijn, they pulled a big crowd but it didn’t do it for me. It just felt like something was lacking – in fact, it sounded like a load of demos or unfinished songs – but the crowd lapped it up.
Spurv by K Shapland
Next up on the Bixler stage were SPURV, a Scandinavian instrumental act with three guitars, bass and drums. And trombone. The trombone actually added depth to the bottom end like a well-utilised keyboard and turns out to be an interesting addition to a progressive act. The main stage’s next act were CALIGULA’S HORSE, and the Australian progressive metallers were the band of the day for me. For sheer entertainment though ’68, a singer/guitarist and drummer (both in full evening dress), facing each other centre stage and playing a blinder, took the honours. Especially as, having set up a sequenced riff, to end their set Josh Scogin dismantled the drum kit piece by piece as Nikko Yamada kept playing until he had nothing left to work with.
Project Mishram by K Shapland
HOLY FAWN were a bit generic doom for me, so we sat out their second half and the next tranche of bands to get some rest and something to eat. Back in business once more, I hopped between the aggressive DAWN RAY’D, and the jazzy JVGV JVZZIST. As they seemed to have quite a following t-shirt-wise, LITURGY seemed a good bet. Two blokes, keyboard and drums, making a lot of noise. Oh, hand on: that’s PETBRICK. We’re in the Bixler tent: why in God’s name don’t they actually label the stages? So, we race off to Yokhai, where Liturgy were making quite a racket and didn’t really seem to be playing a discernible song. Or have any lyrics, as the female vocalist kind of yipped and squealed over a wall of noise. After two songs of that the only other place to be was the Elephant stage, where the six guys of PROJECT MISHRAM mixed Asian and metal influences, played a great set, and never stopped smiling. Quote of the day: “we haven’t got any merch because it’s still in customs, but you can buy it online.”
The Ocean by K Shapland
AND SO I WATCH YOU FROM AFAR filled the main stage tent, the Belfast instrumental four-piece doing the post-rock thing with aplomb. With no disrespect intended, we left a bit early to get a good spot in the Yohkai tent for THE OCEAN (COLLECTIVE) who were stunning, although the German progressive band’s songs and albums based on geological epochs do take some spelling. Top marks for vocalist Loïc Rossetti who threw himself into the crowd once, only to be palmed back, did it a second time and this time succeeded in standing up and singing, and then leapt out a third time, on this occasion carrying both mic and a high-end video camera. I guess it’s probably perfectly natural behaviour in Germany...
Enslaved by K Shapland
I’m afraid I didn’t get SWANS at all. Psychedelic and dark, with lots of people onstage, including two (or possibly three) lap slides at one point, one of which was played by Dana Schechter who attacked the instrument like a jilted lover dismembering her unfaithful partner’s cadaver. Frontman Michael Gira endlessly shouted the same lines, and although I guess it built and built if you gave it enough time it just didn’t do it for me. Still the ever-reliable ENSLAVED were no disappointment, and although I shot off before the end – long drive, and getting rather tired by this stage – it was another triumph for the people who organise the festival. As I didn’t get to see the headliners HEIMLUNG, Keith’s photo does a good job of showcasing what they’re about:
© John Tucker August 2023