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FESTIVAL REVIEW: ArcTanGent – Saturday

After a day of constant rain, we start the final day with a dose of Mexican sunshine at the Arc, courtesy of DJ Perro. The instrumental math rock quintet bring a summery vibe with their upbeat, uplifting songs and the band’s enthusiasm brings a much needed vibrancy to the stage. The three guitarists trade off well, sharing lead lines, melodies and riffs to good effect, offering a wide range of tones and styles, all complimented by a watertight rhythm section that navigates changes in tempo and timings impressively. This genre can suffer from a lack of variation over the course of a long set, but DJ Perro pack in a wide array of tempos, styles and moods, ranging from fast, uplifting shred fests to all out pop and a slow, brooding ballad for good measure. Their musical brilliance, coupled with an endearing stage personality make them one of the surprise standouts of the whole weekend, and when they tour the UK later this year, you’d be well advised to go and check them out. 9/10

The St Pierre Snake Invasion dial up the intensity next at the Arc, pummelling the crowd with a succession of hefty riffs. There’s considerably less subtlety in what they do compared to their predecessors, but the audience don’t seem to mind, heads bobbing in unison throughout and a fair number of air guitars being waved around for good measure. Vocalist Damien Sayell commands the stage well, and the rest of the band inject the energy needed to stir up the early afternoon crowd. Sometimes you just need a blunt object to get the job done and The St Pierre Snake Invasion successfully hammer the crowd into submission. 7/10

Kaguu continue the Mexican math rock takeover at Yokhai and maintain the energy levels and humble appreciation that DJ Perro began earlier in the day. As a three piece, Kaguu have less tools available to them than their compatriots, but certainly no less talent. The guitarist’s fingers dance along the length of his fretboard, finger picking and tapping his way through various patterns, tempos and timings. The band’s bass player is the most animated of the trio; his beaming smile and enthusiasm becomes infectious as the set wears on, maintaining the spirits of the audience. Their instrumental offerings do tend to bleed together in the second half of the set, but considering this is just their ninth ever show, it’s hard not to be impressed with what they’ve accomplished so far. There will certainly be more to come from this high potential act. 7/10

In-ear monitors, wireless microphones and samples all being routed through an onstage laptop is fine when it works, but when it doesn’t all come together, it makes for uncomfortable viewing. Metal quintet Azusa get off to a late start at Bixler due to in ear monitor problems and even once they do get going, vocalist Eleni Zafiriadou loses all sound, before the bass entirely cuts out for song number two. It’s a frustrating sight, particularly given the anticipation afforded by their excellent new album Heavy Yoke. The guitars and drums cut through well throughout to give the crowd at least something to mosh to and the superb riffs represent the promise and potential lurking within this talented unit. The frustration is all too clear for Zafiriadou though, who appears defeated from her body language. Technical difficulties are understandably frustrating, but the band could’ve put on a more positive mindset for the crowd, who seem as deflated and worn down as the band by the end of it. A disappointing end to a set that had a lot of promise. 5/10

Taiwanese math-rock trio Elephant Gym are on hand to build spirits back up again at Bixler with one of the best performances of the entire festival. Led by their humbly endearing and insanely talented bass-player KT Chang, the band serve up a series of intoxicating instrumental compositions that have the entire crowd stunned with awe. Chang’s precise bass-tapping skills provide an alluring backdrop to intricate snare flourishes and luscious guitar patterns, all woven around clever timings and tempo changes that keep each composition fresh and interesting. The band visibly enjoy everything they play, each member losing themselves in their own music, not unlike the majority of onlookers, who can’t resist dancing along to the upbeat offerings, and swaying in time (which is harder than it sounds) to more brooding, soothing tracks. For the first song of the set, Chang struggles with technical difficulties of her own, having to adjust the equipment behind her before finally conceding and stopping halfway through. In contrast to Azusa before them, Chang takes it in her stride, laughing off the problems and proclaiming to the crowd “ah well, at least I can still get drunk!” With the band unphased, the crowd pay little attention to it as well, and once the set gets going in full swing, it carries irresistable momentum and leaves the audience delighted. 10/10

Car Bomb kick off an evening of brutal heaviness at Bixler, launching into a barrage of noise that has the front half of the crowd launching themselves at each other within seconds. There are some clear parallels between the quartet and tonight’s headliners; the clever time signatures and ultra low-end riffs are reminiscent of Meshuggah, but they’ve done well to carve out their own niche within the genre. The guitarist’s barrage of crunching riffs are broken up, almost laser-beam sounding effects which are so out of context on first listen, but become wrapped into the band’s own signature sound as the set goes on. There’s more to Car Bomb than bluster and noise; amidst the chaos their songs are intelligently written and well layered, adding a progressive and interesting balance to their sound. Given the audience’s reaction, we’d expect the band to be back in the not too distant future. 7/10

There’s more heaviness to enjoy at Arc with Cult of Luna, who embody a true sense of weight with their enormous, expansive sound. Brooding, atmospheric and always emotional, the Swedish act make the confines of the stage feel suddenly very small, pulling the crowd in, burying us under a cloak of post-metal. The three guitarists expertly weave epic compositions, accentuated by two drummers and a thundering bass, all combining to create an unforgettable cocktail of raw power. The staging is a perfect accompaniment to the atmosphere of the band’s sound, each member backlit with a white-washed light show that frames them angelically. 8/10

It falls on Meshuggah to bring another hugely enjoyable ArcTanGent to a close and they hold absolutely nothing back. The iconic tech metal giants test the festival’s sound system as far as it will go with an endless procession of crushing riffs, and setting a new benchmark for all future headlining acts. In ArcTanGent history, there hasn’t been a band that’s sounded this heavy, yet so perfectly precise at the same time. It’s a testament to Meshuggah’s immense quality to have such a pristine tone that is able to shake the teeth from your gums with power, yet be audible enough to pick out every last note. Fans at the heavy end of the spectrum have been waiting for this all weekend and waste no time throwing their bodies into the mix, while those in the crowd not moshing and moving their feet are likely to have been hammered into the ground by the magnitude of Tomas Haake‘s drumming. A staggering set that justifies the band’s headlining position, and legendary status, and leaves all future headliners with a lot to prove. 9/10

Written by: Mark Johnson