Bloodstock confirm final 2024 headliner, plus more bands
A fan-chosen Opeth headline set! Hatebreed and Enslaved on the main stage! Bloodstock have added more bands to next year’s line-up…
ArcTanGent has grown to become one of the greatest state of the scene addresses underground music could ask for. With headliners like Opeth and Cult Of Luna, the legendary quotient is well catered for, but it's in the championing of smaller – and, pleasingly, often homegrown – talent that the Bristol festival can truly take pride.
Ready to have both our hearing blown out and our souls soothed in equal measure, we headed west to bring you all the highlights from one of the world's most perfectly-curated fests…
The last time A.A. Williams played ATG, she didn't have an album to her name. Three years later and a couple of months away from releasing album number two, she's scaled her show up into a stately spectacle that works beautifully on the main stage. The stormy sounds of Evaporate and Melt provide utterly divine moments, and even the slower burning, quieter songs do well to transfix this reverent crowd, and the as-yet-unreleased opener For Nothing does especially well considering nobody knows it. Even if there are the occasional undercurrents of between song chatter, they quickly settle. A gorgeous showing from an artist who more than deserves her flowers.
Imperial Triumphant's brain-scrambling black metal has the potential to electrify the tent housing the Bixler stage, but today, that isn't meant to be. They're weighed down by a muddy mix, particularly near the beginning of their set, to the extent that their performance sounds like little more than a fancy drum solo, with cymbals that sound like breaking china. Things do improve later, as they press on in their mission of breaking all the laws of music, but unfortunately, it's not the sort of set that will win over anyone who hasn't understood them up until this point.
How do you get metalheads raving? It's easier than you think: you just put them in front of Perturbator. The Frenchman otherwise known as James Kent's metal-adjacent synthwave tunes are eagerly lapped up by the revellers at the main stage, and the immaculate sound and a dazzling, pentagram-heavy light show make this a fantastically immersive experience. It's a refreshing break from the usual sorts of more demanding ArcTanGent fare (and it's quite a tonic after Imperial Triumphant), but above all, it's non-stop fun that everyone could easily enjoy.
There's a sense of gracefulness about the way Alcest perform – they are measured and focused, knowing they can become as absorbed in their music as they like because the swelling beauty of their sound does all the talking. With their figures glowing under the light, smoke swirling around them, their performance becomes a beautiful thing to behold. This crowd clearly thinks so, cheering loudly when frontman Neige introduces Autre temps, and booing when he announces Délivrance will be the last song. Theirs is a quietly stunning performance.
It's Cult Of Luna's first time headlining ArcTanGent, and it's crystal clear why they are getting top billing. Starting as they mean to go on, opener Cold Burn's thunderous drums and the lion roar of frontman Johannes Persson sound utterly cataclysmic, and what follows is a 90-minute sonic assault on both the eyes and ears. For a debut headline set, there is not a lot of ceremony about it, especially when not a single word is spoken between songs, but the music is ceremonious enough. Every song feels like an odyssey in the best way possible, and it makes for an unforgettable performance.
Let’s be honest: listening to what might be described, in its simplest terms, as doom-jazz isn’t the most conventional way to start a morning. Then again, this is ArcTanGent, and so weird is wonderful, even if Five The Hierophant aren’t quite the weirdest act here (we’re looking at you, Imperial Triumphant. You too, Oranssi Panzuzu). Nonetheless, they bring a satisfyingly tight performance to the main stage, with chunky percussion, jangling bells and a saxophone that lurches in melody here, there and everywhere. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but the punters who decided to check it out appear to like it, even if they have to headbang very slowly.
Danish quintet MØL play blackgaze that’s equal parts bruised and spirited, but above all cathartic, and nowhere is this more apparent than in their live show. On the main stage, songs both new and old – half from last year’s Diorama, and half from 2018’s Jord – sound as giant as they deserve to, and frontman Kim Song Sternkopf is clearly finding just as much as catharsis in performing as the crowd are in watching his band, moving across the stage with huge power in his every stride. It’s the sort of set that could have you smiling or crying – maybe both.
Everyone at ArcTanGent is here because they like riffs. It means Tuskar go down a treat in the PX3 stage, because, as it happens, they’re quite good at riffs, specifically the sludgy, bulldozing kind that’ll be particularly dangerous for anyone who left their earplugs in their tent. When their caveman riffing goes big, it goes massive, and even the punters further down the back cannot resist joining in with the headbanging. If they can sound like this having only just put out their debut album, then who knows where they could end up eventually?
Belgium’s Slow Crush probably win the prize for the prettiest-sounding set. Perhaps that isn’t hard compared to the sorts of bands they’re surrounded by, but regardless, their floaty shoegaze manages to translate wonderfully into a live setting, particularly on the festival’s second biggest stage. They’ve risen to the occasion for certain, and do a great job of punctuating their set with personality when Manchester-born vocalist Isa Holliday remarks that Belgium feels extra far away “because of Boris”, to which the audience boos in solidarity. Indeed, today’s set is a reminder that Slow Crush have emerged as one of the European underground’s most underrated bands – their potential is not to be underestimated.
London duo Zetra are a band in their relative infancy, but it’s clear from their set-up that their dreams are big. There’s a stack of old TV screens flickering behind the corpse paint-clad pair, which gives the impression that the size of the stage will never put a limit on their theatricality. They’re not hiding behind a gimmick, however – their goth-tinged shoegaze (gothgaze?) is intriguing and slick, and it’s admirable how much both of these performers throw themselves into their performance. It looks like Zetra may well be a band to watch.
Everything about Zeal & Ardor’s hour-long set feels like a moment. The lights are harsh, the sound is shiny yet full of barbed aggression, and there’s an unbelievable sense of intensity to these songs, particularly the pulsing Run and the stomping Gotterdammerung. It works the crowd into a fervour that’s only usually seen at shows populated by a band’s own fans, with huge sing-alongs and, at all times, a sea of phones held aloft above heads. Tonight is confirmation that Zeal & Ardor are not just one of the most distinctive bands to emerge from metal in the last decade, but one of the strongest live too. This is the set of the day – if not the weekend.
Ithaca are having a bit of a moment right now, having released one of the finest records of the year, the 5/5-rated They Fear Us, just three weeks ago. It’s no surprise that the Bixler tent is packed for their early Saturday afternoon slot, and as they rip through a volcanic airing of In The Way, the moshing is practically instantaneous. It’s a triumphant half-hour of non-stop heaviness, but it’s also got heart – with guitarist Sam Chetan Welsh injects a note of poignancy into proceedings as he remarks upon the themes on their new record: 'Your trauma does not define you, and you will heal.' Applause all round.
Heriot have been conquestadors this festival season, seemingly popping up everywhere to come and slaughter on yet another stage. Performing as much as they have done this summer appears not to have worn them down, but fired them up – the guitars are extra beastly (and a shoutout is due to bassist Erhan Alman’s incredible riff faces), the drums sound like a stampede, and Debbie Gough screams like she’s got razors in her throat, especially in the furious rendition of Cleansed Existence that closes the set. They came, they saw, and once again, they have conquered.
The potential for greatness that Conjurer could reach today, in an atmosphere as cavernous as the ATG main stage, is huge. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they fulfil all of it, delivering a monolithic showing where every riff carries a level of volume and weight that could leave jaws glued to the floor. The standout moment comes when Brady Deeprose screams without his mic, still managing to sound crystal clear even without as much volume, and somehow, it seems to sound even more potent. The Rugby metallers have can now proudly consider their live show essential viewing.
On multiple levels, Emma Ruth Rundle’s performance is like nothing else at ArcTanGent – for one, there is not a single electric guitar onstage. All she has is a piano, an acoustic guitar and her voice (save for a guest appearance from Jo Quayle on Citadel), but so many punters are eager to see it that the tent overflows. The likes of Return and The Company are breathtakingly fragile, holding the crowd in a chokehold of awed silence until the song ends and they break into huge applause. Bonus points for her fantastically dry wit – “My job title is ‘clown’, so I am happy to be playing in a tent,” is one such genius one-liner. A stunning show to witness.
Onstage, The Armed are a band that revels in chaos and mess, and in both sound and performance, their main stage set is wild to say the least. Soundwise, it is occasionally a little sloppy in the first half of the set, and there’s some nasty screeches of feedback, but in a way, it befits the frenzy. The best thing about this, however, is the unhinged energy of this collective, with vocalist Cara Drolshagen as the MVP, throwing herself maniacally about the stage in a sequined silver mask, screaming like a banshee, as crowdsurfers sail over the barriers. It’s unrefined and bonkers, but plenty of fun.
Pallbearer’s set is the doomiest, darkest birthday party around – they’re playing their debut album Sorrow And Extinction in full this evening to celebrate the record’s 10th anniversary. It’s a set of the slow burning variety, and the mood is reverent but deeply solemn; in fact, hardly anything is said about the album’s anniversary at all. The sound is immaculate, but it’s generally accepted that the best of Pallbearer can be found later in their discography, and consequently, it’s unlikely to be a set that’s as memorable as some of the mind-blowing performances before and after them.
With decades of gigging behind them, Godflesh are bound to have this whole live music thing down to a tee. There's no justifiable way they could be accused of sounding bad when their percussion sounds like a hammer pounding on sheet metal (they don't call it industrial for nothing, eh?) and droning, organ shaking bass. It sounds like dystopia, to an even greater effect as the sky darkens outside. Endearingly, at the end of the set, the crowd applauds and Justin Broadrick applauds them back, bowing humbly before them. They've still got it.
"I don't know how we've done this," Pupil Slicer's guitarist/singer Kate Davies says midway through their Saturday evening set. "We only played our first tour six months ago." They've drawn a markedly healthy crowd despite clashing with headliners Opeth, something that’s made all the more spectacular when you remember just how short a time they’ve been around. The gnashing Vilified feels even more vitriolic live, Thermal Runaway is doubly chaotic, and closer Collective Unconscious is so heavy with emotion that it feels alive on another level. Now, they’ve got the live prowess they need to become properly huge.
Look at the size of their stage and the heaving tent, and it’s possible to imagine that Opeth’s closing headline set is the prototype arena show of fans’ dreams. The Swedes know they’re playing to the devotees – they do cheer for 15-minute-long songs, after all – and consequently there’s an air of friendliness and intimacy to it all, particularly in vocalist Mikael Akerfeldt’s warm jibes, jokingly getting the crowd to boo Leprous for being Norwegian. Their greatest this sound crystalline and gently atmospheric, and it leaves their audience chanting their name, begging for more.
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