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FESTIVAL REVIEW: ArcTanGent – Friday

Brighton quintet We Never Learned to Live last played ArcTanGent in 2015, in a year where the band seemed to be taking off, following the release of their debut album Silently, I Threw Them Skyward. The band sadly went quiet soon after, but have now returned with renewed enthusiasm and second full length The Sleepwalk Transmissions. Their mix of melodic guitars with screamed vocals is perfect for stirring the emotions, and in the past, this conveyance of feeling has made for some unforgettable performances. Sean Mahon has introduced more singing into his repertoire on the latest record and on stage he reproduces this note perfectly. Despite one of the guitarists struggling with technical difficulties, musically the performance is spot on too, but something about the expansive surrounds of a festival tent takes away the intense atmosphere that their performance usually benefits from. It’s great to see the band back on stage and their performance is well executed, but if you get the chance to see them live at a smaller venue, it’s well worth the time. 6/10

We head to Arc next to catch New Jersey’s Thank You Scientist and with the rain relentlessly siphoning down, we might need an actual ark by the end of the day. Thankfully the Arc stage is big enough to contain the seven members of the band, whose instruments include a violin, trumpet and saxophone, as well as the traditional rock band set up. The brass section hits hard on the opening song, giving off an uplifting jazz vibe until all instruments combine for a jazz/math/progressive rock hybrid that sounds refreshing and interesting. Salvatore Marrano’s vocals are not too dissimilar in tone to last night’s headliners Coheed and Cambria, and though his voice is just as note perfect, it does lack the power of Mr Sanchez. The band have a great time on stage and the occasional saxophone solo, guitar solo and flourish of the violin is a joy to watch but over a 45 minute set, their songs tend to bleed together without much to separate them. 7/10

Another returnee to ArcTanGent after a sizeable absence is The Algorithm, who performed last in 2015. The brainchild of French musician Remi Gallego, his act fuses together heavy guitars with glitchy synthesisers, drums and other electronic effects. The combination of drop tuned riffs with electronically supplemented drums is perfect for a festival crowd looking to dance and a good portion of the crowd towards the front of the stage oblige, with the added bonus of keeping warm at the same time. Though Gallego’s multi layered music is interesting on record, it doesn’t make for the most captivating live show; he’s often too busy queuing up samples and looping tracks to interact with the crowd, making the performance sadly forgettable. Having a live drummer certainly does help, as Jean Ferry‘s impressive patterns and excellent technique gives the crowd something captivating to watch. 6/10

The anonymous, masked collective Sleep Token are gearing up to release their debut record Sundowning by unveiling a new song every two weeks, and it’s this new material that dominates their set at Bixler. The band’s leader Vessel, clad in face mask and hooded robe, projects his soulful, R’n’B tinged vocals with flawless ease, squeezing every last drop of emotion from each note. He’s complimented by a trio of masked women performing backing vocals and their addition to the live show helps to take the already spectacular vocal display to an even higher level. The Offering and Higher are particularly impressive, carrying massive impact live thanks to the drop tuned guitar riffs, and though Dark Signs breaks up the set with a slowing down of the pace, it doesn’t carry the same weight on stage as it does on record. There’s time for a couple of old favourites in Nazareth and Bloodsport which puts the crowd on a high towards the end of the set, and it’s clear that with each Ritual the band are getting stronger and more confident. Once Sundowning has been unveiled in full, we’re sure there will be much more success to come from this intriguing act. 8/10

Black Peaks are one of the most heavily toured acts in the UK, taking seemingly every opportunity to play shows. It makes the recent illness of talismanic frontman Will Gardener even harder to take for the band, as they’ve had to cancel their upcoming European tour. In danger of having to pull out of ArcTanGent as well, long time friend of the band, and scene legend Jamie Lenman stepped forward to volunteer his services, for a once in a lifetime show. Taking on the mantle of Gardner, one of the most impressive vocalists in the alternative genre, is no easy task but as the band launch into Can’t Sleep, Lenman is unphased and manages an impressive rendition. Lenman certainly knows how to work a crowd and his stage presence ensures that nothing is missing from the band’s usually captivating performance. “We’re going to do a song what I wrote, I’m not here for free” announces Lenman, as the band kicks into Reuben’s Suffocation of the Soul. It may be the first time drummer Liam Kearley has ever played the same beat for more than 8 bars, but the mashup works well, and pleases any in the crowd who are fans of both bands’ work. It’s a unique and interesting set that may never be repeated, and ensures we get the dose of Black Peaks we’d all been craving. 9/10

Two years ago TTNG played the Arc stage and treated the crowd to a surprise cameo from original vocalist Stuart Smith, who left the band in 2011. It sparked the start of a reunion tour to mark the ten year anniversary of their most successful record Animals, which has seen Smith tour with the current line up for the past year. Tonight is the last show of the tour, and as such, it’s a special, and emotional, performance. The Collis brothers Tim and Chris churn through the complexities of Animals with their signature ease, so in tune after all of these years that it seems like they’re simply warming up. Current vocalist and bass player Henry Tremain sticks to the bass, allowing Smith to take centre stage for what could be his last ever time and he takes the opportunity well, doing an admirable job of injecting life into the beloved, decade old album. Original bass player Dan Adams is welcomed onto the stage by the crowd who chant his name, ready to chime in with the glockenspiel for Badger. Adams’ greatest contribution is on the trumpet, as he serenades the crowd with the beautiful melodies of Elk, inciting all present to sing the infamous melody as loud as they can. Adams thanks the remaining members of the band for allowing himself and Smith to return, commenting that it’s rare for a new singer to let an old vocalist come back and take the stage in their place. It’s an indication of the lack of ego amongst the band and when measured up against their remarkable level of musical talent, it makes for a special performance from a very special group of musicians. 10/10

Written by: Mark Johnson