ArcTanGent Festival 2022 – Part Two (see Part One)
Fernhill Farm near Bristol
17-20th August 2022
We move into Saturday and the final day of the ArcTanGent Festival. Thursday and Friday delivered so many extraordinary and creative performances that there is a real sense of anticipation in the air for what the final day will bring, particularly with Opeth’s headlining set.
In fact, a great thing about the ArcTanGent Festival is its willingness to provide a platform for experimental and genre mixing artists. James Scarlett, festival organiser and founder, reflected on this when we spoke with him:
“One of the things that has made me the happiest is some of the really out there bands that we have had on. When I booked them…I was a bit worried that it is too weird, even for ArcTanGent. But no, it turns out it’s fine”.
Moreover, on the thinking behind the festival layout, puts watching music right at the centre of the festival experience:
“The thing people want to do at ArcTanGent is watch music. You go to some festivals and people want to sit in their tent and drink or they want to go and wander in the forest…but ArcTanGent isn’t like that. People are here to watch music. So, it is very intentional to get the stages as close together as possible”.
Early on Saturday, SEIMS are first on the main stage and deservedly still manage to attract a sizeable audience. It is a great performance that gets everyone moving, with an anthemic combination of guitar and violin and a tight rocking rhythm section. A spirited cover of Blur’s Song 2 gets a great reaction, and the band are all smiling at the crowd reaction. Well done guys.
Jo Quail with her cello, is silhouetted by a series of pulsating red and white lights on the main stage and gets a rousing and very warm welcome. Disarmingly, she shares with the audience that the first number went a little wrong and that it was a relief to still make it to the end of the song.
The second number, Rex Infractus, from 2010 debut album From The Sea, has a lament-like presentation, with each stroke of the cello emanating the most graceful and elegant of sounds. The emotional timbre of the playing completely draws the audience in. Interestingly, at points in the piece, the cello is used as a source of percussion, which is then incorporated into a percussive loop. As the piece develops the cello adopts the tone of a distorted guitar. The use of loops and effects, to create such an imaginative topography of evolving musical movements across this dazzling set, is simply astonishing.
Forge completes the set, and has a sweeping cinematic scope, with resonances in sound of film noir. With a booming rhythm, and electronic counterpoints, a series of jagged phrases fly out from the stage as the piece slowly builds. The pace shifts and there is an incredible musical lift-off, as melodic and dissonant bowing, showering the audience with shimmering shards of sound. The applause at the end is tumultuous. This was a set perfectly pitched and played with a passion and free musical spirit, that completely captivated the main stage audience who absolutely loved it.
We were pleased to have the opportunity to speak with Jo Quail following her performance and asked about how she approached her set at the festival.
“The audiences that come here are very broad minded. I also think it is quite nice every now and then to have moments that have a dynamic variety.… I am on tour at the moment with Emma Ruth Rundle ….I never tailor for an audience. I never think I can pre-imagine what someone wants, but I do pay attention to the whole ambience. So, with Emma it is very powerful and intimate. So, what I was going to play on stage, it would have worked, it would have been a very different vibe, but on the way here in the car I thought, you know what, we are just going to turn it up to eleven today. That seemed to be the vibe that the audience enjoyed too”.
We also asked about the amazing loop technique that Jo Quail utilises so creatively on stage, to build the layers within a piece of music.
“It is important to me that things only get looped because they absolutely need to be looped. Usually for me what I will do is run, for example, a one loop channel which will maybe have a one bar cycle, then loop two might have a three bar cycle, and loop four might have a five bar cycle. So that’s the way I can build a little bit quicker…I call it masquerade because what you are doing is playing something, and then within the phrase you are playing, one thing will go into the loop. So, you don’t have to sit there and wait for the whole bar cycle”.
Emma Ruth Rundle, on the Yohkai stage, is performing her 2021 album Engine of Hell, in its entirety. The songs are beautifully constructed, matched by a voice, that has a very expressive story telling quality. Singing both at the piano and with acoustic guitar, Emma Ruth Rundle’s voice seems to inhabit all the spaces in the tented stage.
The Company is a song with a blues essence, which gives full rein to Emma Ruth Rundle’s rich vocal phrasing, conveying a complexity of emotions. Reflecting the honesty in these songs, she shares from the stage, “The idea is we are capturing imperfection in these songs, so if the guitar is not in tune, we let it slide“,.
Jo Quail joins the set for Citadel from the album. The combination of acoustic guitar, voice and cello enables a very folk based delivery that brings into focus memories of the great Sandy Denny. A set that fully held and transfixed the ArcTanGent audience.
Pallbearer, on the Bixler stage, combines doom metal and post-metal in an exhilarating mix. The guitar phrases, full of piercing notes and sustain, permeate the doom-infused percussive patterns. The unison playing between the two guitarists adds a real majesty to the sound, and the power of the bass drum literally thumps you in the chest, with the drum fills adding extra layers.
Wheel, on the PX3 stage, share with the audience that they wouldn’t see the usual intro and “stage entrance full of mystery”. They proceed to hit just the right note as they immediately launch into their high-powered mix of post-punk and metal. The funk-driven bass and lean guitar shapes, with resonances of the Gang Of Four, merge seamlessly with the dynamism of metal. It is a great musical combination.
The band live utilise lots of dynamic shifts of tone and pace in their songs, together with some great vocal harmonies. They build the tension before erupting into a rush of guitar riffs and rumbling bass, that of course is met with frenetic headbanging in the audience.
Leprous, on the Yohkai stage, begin their set with Out of Here, from the 2021 Aphelion album. It has a quite lovely lilting keyboard introduction, followed by a beautifully paced vocal by Einar Solberg. This leads into a massive scything riff with a stunning falsetto vocal chorus, which seems to literally fly over the top of music. A very impressive beginning to their set.
From The Flame, from the Malina album, has a magnificent rolling riff, with a wonderfully rousing anthemic chorus, all of which is underpinned by an engaging rhythmic groove. The Price opens with a guitar and synthesiser duel before evolving into a shuddering riff, with the audience magically harmonising with Einar Solberg. Then the electronics turn into a percussive pattern, and the whole band steps everything up a gear, with the delivery of the central musical theme becoming even more intense.
Einar Solberg explains that the band collaborated with their fans on the writing of Nighttime Disguise, also from the Aphelion album. It is clear from this live performance of the song that the collaboration resulted in some very challenging rhythmic twists. Of course, the band navigate these with flair and skill. The song also has a stunning vocal section which has all the qualities of the legendary Queen’s musical theatricality. The final sequence is almost technical death metal, in the controlled power of the music. A real musical highlight. Leprous live is a gripping musical experience, with musicality, dynamic arrangements, and a passionate delivery.
Opeth conclude the festival on the main stage. They appear to have on board Sami Karppinen, continuing to carry drum duties, following the departure last year of Martin Axenrot. His style of playing adds a new expansive feel to Opeth’s musical arrangements, with some inspired drum fills, and an approach that utilises all the percussive possibilities of his drum kit set up.
Ghost of Perdition is an early set highlight, with Mikael Åkerfeldt’s superb growled vocal fitting perfectly with the controlled staccato guitar refrain. The keyboards swirl atmospherically, and in one of the song sections the audience affectionately sing along with Mikael Åkerfeldt’s wordless vocal, accompanied by the gentlest of guitar figures. Following the conclusion of the song, Mikael Åkerfeldt’s tells the audience, in the most winning of ways, that “We entertain in our own boring way. We play music. We play our songs”.
The Devil’s Orchard, from the Heritage album, is a song with a beguiling instrumental intricacy, where in live performance, elements of classic progressive rock merge seamlessly with metal dynamics, and a jazz informed rhythmic subtlety. Overlay Mikael Åkerfeldt’s masterly vocal, and this a fantastic performance of an excellent song.
In My Time of Need from the Damnation album, is introduced by the invitation to the audience to “Sing along. With the lyrics is best, but if you want to sing Adele or the Beastie Boys that’s okay”. Mikael Åkerfeldt’s very celebrated dry sense of humour is being given full reign at ArcTanGent. It is an evocative ballad, and when the voices of Mikael Åkerfeldt, guitarist Fredrik Åkesson, and keyboards player Joakim Svalberg come together on the song, the effect is electrifying.
Sorceress is where Opeth take on the mantle of the great King Crimson. The heavy reverberation from the guitars and Martín Méndez’s bass, creates a live sound that is industrial in its sheer power. The keyboard motifs and intricate drum fills add a further sparkling musical layer.
Deliverance concludes the set. Mikael Åkerfeldt describes it to the audience as “Our Paranoid except it is fifteen minutes long”. The crowd surfers begin to come over the barriers. This is a tour de force of musical composition and ensemble playing, where the band are in complete sympathy with each other, navigating a song that is both complex and full of passion and energy. It is also a setting for Mikael Åkerfeldt to put together some great melodic solo guitar runs. For this reviewer, this is probably the best Opeth performance I have experienced, where the bar was already set high from performances experienced over the years.
ArcTanGent 2022 is a celebration of everything that is wonderful about metal music. If you love metal, make sure you are there for 2023.