Fightstar return for massive Wembley headline show in 2024
Fightstar are back and they’ve just announced their biggest-ever headline show!
When ArcTanGent first arrived at Fernhill Farm back in 2013, it was very much a niche proposition. Named after the third album by underground Nottingham alt. metallers earthtone9 and with its focus narrowly on the worlds of post and math-rock (as well as a metal-oriented stage curated by the guys at Damnation Festival), it was a brilliantly intimate gathering that seemed to revel in its weirdo outsider status.
Ten years later, it’s every bit as fixated on the weird and wonderful cutting edge of alternative music, but with a far bigger site, expanded sonic palette and thousands more fans filling the sheep-fields, ATG is able to mix it with the biggest and best events in the UK festival calendar.
We grabbed our welly boots, filled up on cider and headed back down to Somerset’s Mendip Hills for one of the wildest weekends of the year…
Kate Davies has described Pupil Slicer’s ArcTanGent 2022 debut as their favourite festival set ever. Judging by the raucous reception for the Brit extremists’ Wednesday evening return, the ATG faithful hold them in the same high regard. Not that you can hear the cheers, really. With the volume cranked to ear-wrecking levels, the unstoppable onslaught of Stabbing Spiders, Martyrs and Wounds Upon My Skin is simply overwhelming. Even Kate looks a little stunned by the righteous power they’ve come to wield. (SL)
“The Spice Melange!” howls one punter just before Dvne hit the Bixler stage. It’s a moment of silliness before the atmosphere thickens for the expansive Edinburgh collective. Forty-five minutes isn’t nearly enough time to fully unpack their fathoms-deep sounds, but seeing the power of songs like Court Of The Matriarch and Satuya – equal parts Mastodon, Cult Of Luna and Tool – unleashed against the setting southwestern sun underlines this group’s rapidly growing reputation as one of the UK’s biggest-sounding bands. (SL)
From the moment Conjurer step out onto the stage, the energy exuding outwards feels like they're tonight's headliners. “Thanks to James [Scarlett] and ArcTanGent for showing faith in this band,” shouts singer/guitarist Brady Deeprose, as they thunder their way through The Mire, a song they haven’t played since 2019. What truly sets Conjurer apart is their ability to flawlessly transition between bone-crushing heaviness and haunting melodic passages, creating a dynamic performance, all backed with a foray of dazzling lights. The firing of deafening screams from Brady and fellow axeman Dan Nightingale are consistently flawless, as the Rugby four-piece remind us why they’re one of the best at what they do. (JH)
After the brutality of Conjurer, it's left to Scalping to bring in their electrifying barrage of pulsating beats to see out the first night. From the moment they spring into action, the air crackles with anticipation, before they engulf the audience in a whirlwind of sonic ecstasy. The band expertly blend gritty beats, distorted synths and mind-bending visuals, with the image of a human skull continuously being warped behind them. Scalping's headline set left no one unmoved with an intense display made for losing your mind to, the ultimate musical catalyst for a mind-bending transcendent experience. (JH)
Wakey wakey, ArcTanGent! It’s 11am on Thursday morning and there’s already a muscular lad cartwheeling shirtless through the pit on the PX3 stage. Cheers, Grief Ritual. There isn't much choice but to come completely unhinged, mind, as the righteous English hardcore crew deliver a live experience that's the sonic equivalent of riding a pushbike into a demolition derby. And when it comes to frontman Jamie Waggett's surprisingly soft-spoken between-song banter, it just makes bangers like Atrophy seem to hit all the harder. (SL)
Stoner-prog trio Mountain Caller take to the festival's biggest stage like a duck to water with an incredibly huge wall of riffs. They use their blueprint of instrumental prog to dabble into the old-school with intricate, pin-point guitar work, whilst moving into the modern day with crunching chugs all culminating in a wonderful display of prog brilliance. “This is a magical occasion, playing ArcTanGent for this first time,” screams bassist El Reeve, and quite frankly, we find it hard to disagree. (JH)
Making their very first appearance on UK soil, Wuhan’s Chinese Football sprinkle the Arc stage with dazzling display of uplifting mathcore-meets-indie rock, in large part a tribute to their U.S. inspirations in American Football. “The world is splitting in two,” shouts guitarist/singer Xu Bo. “I want everyone to split into two down the middle and come together as one.” It's a message received with open arms by the crowd, and an uplifting moment that shows the power of music and what it does to bring people from all walks of life together. (JH)
Wallowing aren’t really the kind of band to ‘fit in’ anywhere, but at ArcTanGent they feel surprisingly at home. Well, as at home as any mob in beekepers’ outfits swinging their smoke machines around as if fending off some invisible swarm while playing genuinely unsettling sludge-grind songs about sci-fi nightmare scenarios like Flesh And Steel and Earth Reaper can ever really feel. More than a few of the punters squeezed into the heaving Bixler stage appear to have already dipped into Thursday’s supply of hallucinogens, and they 're having one hell of a half-hour watching the unhinged cacophony unfold. (SL)
Belgian extremists Wiegedood initially look overawed by the massive crowd who turn out for them on Thursday afternoon. Keeping their eyes on their instruments, though, the Ghent gang proceed to unleash absolutely horrible compositions like FN SCAR 16 and De Doden Hebben Het Goed II with skin-flaying force. Forty minutes of bowel-loosening blastbeats and sandblasting guitars proves simply too much for some of the mid-afternoon crowd, but those who stick around are happily eviscerated by a masterclass in unrelenting violence. (SL)
When Svalbard make their welcome return to ArcTanGent, there’s an energy bellowing from the stage that feels infectiously positive. Between the glacial hardcore of Open Wound and stunning new track Faking It, the band are play with such a ferocious nature that it’s hard not to feel captivated by it. A collective 'Fuck off' is led by singer/guitarist Serena Cherry as they bring Click Bait to an end with a giant middle finger to all those trolls on the internet. But it’s the closing brilliance of new single Eternal Spirits that shows that their future is very much in rude health. (JH)
The curiosity and emotional charge around Cave In’s decision to keep going following the death of frontman Caleb Schofield in 2018 may have begun to subside at this point, but that’s allowed the excellence of their music – particularly songs from last year’s excellent Heavy Pendulum – to come to the fore. The sludgy power of old favourites like Sing My Love feels as elemental as always. But the decision to maintain focus on newer tracks like New Reality and Careless Offering confirms their unwillingness to luxuriate in nostalgia, and the momentum of a band whose focus remains on the road ahead. (SL)
The decision to book Chat Pile in the Yohkai tent feels a little odd. As massive as ArcTanGent’s second stage has grown to be, it still doesn’t quite match the hype around the Oklahoma City noise rockers, and many in the crowd left spilling out into the sunshine seem disgruntled to not properly soak in the off-kilter, loud-quiet-louder attack of stubborn sonic nuggets like Rainbow Meat and Anywhere. Those who make it in aren’t complaining, of course. At times, they seem to show the woozy fatigue of players nearing the end of what’s still their first summer of international touring, but for the most part, it’s an appearance to justify their rapid reputation and rabid reception, particularly when they give a shout-out to Greggs bakery. (SL)
Who likes short, shorts? Simon Neil likes short, shorts! Bringing Empire State Bastard – his latest project with Oceansize man and Biffy live guitarist Mike Vennart – to the farm for the very first time, they're in full-on noise mode today. Here, Simon gets even more eccentric with his vocals, screeching like we’ve not seen him do for years, especially during tracks like Corpse In The Chateau. The music is abrasive, mystical and the perfect juxtaposition between grindcore and shoegaze, unsurprisingly going down as a true hit with the ArcTanGent hordes. (JH)
Brutus feel like a band reborn right now. The Belgian post-metal trio have been around for 10 years, and wowed the crowd at Fernhill Farm as far back as 2017, but the stasis of lockdown and the strength of 2022’s third album Unison Life seems to have supercharged the feeling that drives them and galvanised their purpose to be one of the defining bands in the intelligent alt. world ATG has come to represent. Stefanie Mannaerts’ understanding of how to convincingly front the trio from behind the drum kit has visibly matured, too, with the likes of Liar and What Have We Done cutting to this adoring audience’s hearts. (SL)
“We are Norwich’s greatest rock formation,” grins Other Half guitarist/vovalist Cal Hudson as the rising alt. punks hit their stride on Thursday night. “Thank you for climbing on top of us!” Up against festival favourites Russian Circles, the drum-tight trio do well pulling punters in with their combination of sarky wit and impressive weight on songs like Slab Thick and Trance State, proving their chops as a Brit-punk force worth paying attention to. Then they do it all again, pulling double-duty to fill a vacant slot on Saturday. Not half bad. (SL)
Russian Circles are no strangers to either this festival or to making grand entrances. So much so that the abrupt opening of Station is so sudden and sonically charged it catches some people off guard, while their wall of fuzz leaves some punters jumping out of their skin. What follows is an hour of stunning instrumental post-rock with intertwining melodies, intricate guitar work, and powerful drumming all elevated by atmospheric lighting which truly enhanced the ambiance into something genuinely artistic. (JH)
Everybody at ArcTanGent knows that Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs are one of the cleverest bands operating in the UK right now, but their Yohkai-closing slot on Thursday night seems to lack their regular spark. They deliver the irresistible stoner-rock rumble of bangers like Mr Medicine and Big Rig, sure, and wry observations about how they’ve played festivals headlined by Stereophonics despite being exactly the kind of oddballs ATG was made for, but, surrounded by so many other great bands, tonight they could do with a little more. (SL)
There’s a slight trepidation in the pit as Converge step up on Thursday night. Having headlined last November’s Damnation and this June’s Outbreak – not to mention the 2022 Bloodmoon shows – a few of the faithful can’t help but wonder whether you can have too much of a good thing. Fortunately, the Massachusetts metallic hardcore masters simply don’t do diminishing returns. The last time they headlined ArcTanGent, back in 2017, they were competing with heavy rain and high winds sweeping the stage. Tonight, it’s a storm all of their own making, as frontman Jacob Bannon and master drummer Ben Koller lead the way through a barrage of classics, from Eagles Become Vultures and Dark Horse to Homewrecker and Reap What You Sow. A first encore of I Can Tell You About Pain and Concubine sends the furious front rows into overdrive. Then an unplanned second of Entombed classic Wolverine Blues – dedicated to that band’s late frontman L.G. Petrov, and living your life while you’re still alive – sends everyone out into the night on an emotional gut-punch. Incredible, as always. (SL)
Sugar Horse headline the PX3 stage at the same time as Converge over on the Arc, but despite this challenge the tent is packed out for the exciting Bristol band. Their dazzling light show was carefully tailor-made to give an extra spice to their blend of extreme metal aggression and stratospheric post-metal. It’s a truly all-encompassing attack on the senses, that leaves most in the tent under their spell for the entirety of their set. Proceedings are brought to a beautifully devastating end with the 20-minute behemoth that is new track, Truth & Consequence: New Mexico, which leaves everyone in a state of euphoria. (JH)
Opening the PX3 stage on Friday morning, Hidden Mothers arrive with one mission in mind: blow away the hangover cobwebs with an exhilarating display of visceral post-black metal. Frontman Steffan Benham makes it known to the crowd that they are not here to ease you back into the day, as he gets up close and personal with the early risers and commands those here to pit hard. Already, the Sheffield quintet are a force to be reckoned with, and if they continue in this vein, expect them to rise to higher echelons of ATG sooner rather than later. (JH)
Doom bands have no right to be as fun as Witchsorrow. Opening the Yohkai stage well before noon on Friday, the Hampshire trio – fronted by K!’s own Nick Ruskell – seem determined that everyone here have a sublimely “sinful” good time. From the stomach-twisting heaviosity of Hexenhammer to the brilliantly lethargic ‘slowcle-pit’ for Made Of The Void, to the bit where a bloke dressed as Sonic The Hedgehog spills over the front barrier, it’s a maleficent mission accomplished. (SL)
"Hello everyone, we’re Baroness,” Brady Deeprose cheekily tells the crowd, as the musical collective of Curse These Metal Hands arrive. ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Baroness,’ read the tongue-in-cheek shirts, and the collective attract a considerably big crowd for midday. High Spirits and Endeavour show a group of mates having fun, while delivering floral guitar tones and huge-sounding choruses. There's even time for Queer Brewing’s Lily Waite to join them to play the Otamatone. Can't believe it's not Baroness? They're almost as good as the real thing. (JH)
It’s not easy to pin down Silverburn’s shapeshifting, albeit constantly concussive, attack. Ripping onto the PX3 tent early on Friday, the solo project of James ‘Jimbob’ Isaac – featuring a full accompaniment of accomplices – melds the slab-metal of bands like Helmet, modern hardcore heaviosity, and no small amount of proggy weirdness. Up against lesser-spotted heavyweights Curse These Metal Hands, they’re playing to a far smaller crowd than they deserve, but the sheer force of aptly titled cuts like Annihilation is a promise that their day will soon come. (SL)
Before they hit the stage, there is a sea of fans donning Holy Fawn merch in anticipation of their first ever appearance at ArcTanGent. What the Arizona quartet then proceed to do is use their ethereal, all-encompassing shoegaze to take everyone in attendance to a higher plane of existence. The crafted brilliance of tracks like Death Is A Relief and Glóandi are even more ambitious and grander from the stage, firmly wearing all the hallmarks as a truly special ATG moment. (JH)
“Suits were a bad choice…” gasps Damien Sayell as The St Pierre Snake Invasion’s sharp-dressed, all-action set on the Yohkai stage clicks into gear. Having become a father recently, the frontman has leavened the Bristolian favourites’ angular attack with a little more introspection and sensitivity, but the appeal of songs like Submechano and Remystery remains in their kinetic chaos. “It’s about being bold and brave and fearless,” Damien goes on. “Rock‘n’roll hurts ya!” Indeed. (SL)
On virtually any other line-up, Dawn Ray’d would stand out on the strength of their righteous radical politics and vicious, violin-infused black metal alone. It’s a little trickier than that at ArcTanGent. Having never backed down from a fight, the Liverpool supremos unleash their full fire on Friday afternoon, empowering those on the same page and scorching anyone who stands in their path with a scathing showcase in how to wring hope and light from deepest darkness. (SL)
If you didn’t know already, it’d take you a while to notice that Petbrick is an electronic side-project of legendary Sepultura percussionist Iggor Cavalera. Also featuring producer Wayne Adams, the project’s fixation on machinelike sounds akin to Author & Punisher or HEALTH rather than the more organic metal with which Iggor made feels like a strange sideward step to the uninitiated. As the irresistible thump of Horse and Bog Egg work their way under the skin, though, it’s not long until absolutely everyone is throwing shapes. (SL)
Let us face it, you’re not going to see Bell Witch to have an uplifting time. They're a bleak, droning affair that is made to be played as you enter the gates of hell. The duo spends the next 30 or so minutes displaying that they’re absolutely brilliant at what they do with the booming sounds doing their best to erupt your eardrums, even through earplugs. It’s grim music for those who want to feel a real chilling sensation, as if they have had someone walk over their grave. (JH)
You know an outfit is making truly uncompromising music when, even at ArcTanGent, a sizeable number of audience abandon ship in search of something a little more palatable. That’s the case with Swans, as punters spill out of the massive main stage in search of the relative listenability offered by, er, rising grindcore masters Helpless. The New York noise legends would surely have it no other way. With questions over how much longer mainman Michael Gira can and will keep going having been purposefully stoked by this year’s 16th LP The Beggar, they have the look of a band determined to burn out on their own terms, plumbing a depthless swirl of sound that feels utterly uninterested in winning over new converts while absolutely delighting the well-versed faithful. (SL)
In 2019, CLT DRP were opening the Bixler stage at 11 in the morning. Fast-forward four years and they've become stage headliners with their brand of alt-rock-cum-pop soundscapes. From the very first note, the trio's energy is infectious as they blend elements punk, electronic and pop to end the night with a bang. Lead singer Annie Dorrett commands the stage with her powerful vocals and mesmerising presence, while guitarist Scott Reynolds uses his axe like a DJ decks, using effects to creates synthwave bops creating a party atmosphere. (JH)
Given the sea of face-painted punters who’ve turned up to catch the Viking pageantry of Heilung, the Bixler tent doesn’t feel nearly as rammed as it could be for Norwegian legends Enslaved. More fool anyone not here, because they wield the crushing power of the jötnar tonight. Compared to the traditionalist, trance-inducing percussive approach of the headliners, songs like Isa, Kingdom and The Dead Stare communicate the violence and mysticism of the old ways via cutting-edge progressive sound. Brilliantly, they don’t hold back on the riffs as well, serving up more than enough neck-rending crunch for those less interested in high-minded mythology than headbanging themselves into oblivion. (SL)
Heilung's booking at ArcTanGent might be one of the boldest the festival has done in its whole history. However, it just makes sense. The band's unique blend of ancient Pagan chants, tribal rhythms and mesmerising rituals captivate the audience from start to finish. The stage production, featuring locally-foraged branches, be-antlered head gear, and 20 painted warriors makes this feel like we’re summoning a greater being. The thunderous sounds of goat-skinned drums is sacrificial, as a genuine storm starts pummelling the tent from the outside, making this truly feel like a fully immersive experience into the world of Heilung and into the historic nature of paganism. (JH)
Ostensibly, 11am on Saturday morning should be a strange time to delve into the murky, vampiric world of Naut. Working their dark magic in the shade of the PX3 tent, however, the gothy Bristol post-punks seem to wind the clock back to midnight as wave after wave of shimmering riffs, body-rocking rhythms and insistent drum-machine beats get everyone dancing their hangovers away. “We’re Naut, and we play in E Standard!” grins guitarist Jack Welch at one point, giving away a dry humour to compliment vocalist Gavin Laubscher’s big-brained ruminations on stoicism, but the main takeaway is just how damn sexy they manage to sound. (SL)
Edward Gibbs, of Devil Sold His Soul fame, is using this weekend to introduce his other band, Copse, to a curious crowd. After the release of their brilliant new EP, Old Belief | New Despair, the collective deliver a blistering set of post-hardcore inspired black metal, with devastating effect. Their closing opus, New Despair, is a 14-minute behemoth that sees Copse making a good go at etching their name into very pillars of this festival. More, plz. (JH)
There is a moment at the end of GGGOLDDD’s set on Saturday afternoon where everyone within the cavernous Arc falls absolutely silent. Vocalist Milena Eva has just unpacked the experiences with sexual abuse poured into 2022’s masterful This Shame Should Not Be Mine, and as the unsettling yet empowered lyrics of On You - ‘You put your filth on me / I will shake off that dirt’ – fill the space, the only other sounds are the handful of attendees sobbing, utterly overpowered by the awesome emotional power on show. From the glassy brilliance of songs like Strawberry Supper and I Let My Hair Grow to Marilena’s striking contemporary dance moves, it is a performance unlike any other even amongst ArcTanGent’s aggregation of the very best in outsider art. (SL)
Rolo Tomassi pull a crowd that even headliners of this stage would be impressed with. It's a grand reflection of how much this band are appreciated, and the mark they continue to leave. It’s a set that is faultless, with vocalist Eva Spence showing her incredible ability to seamlessly flip from guttural screams to ethereal tones, with songs like Cloaked reaching gargantuan heights. The whole performance is a relentless onslaught of brilliant sound that felt like a headline slot, solidifying their reputation as one of the most excellent and consistent bands in the UK. (JH)
The Callous Daoboys turn up selling a blue long-sleeve shirt sporting the bold mantra: ‘HUFFING PAINT THINNER MAKES YOU INVISIBLE’. It’s basically sold out by the end of the weekend, too. This sort of absurdist mischievousness is just one element of what turns out to be the most gleefully chaotic chunk of ArcTanGent 2023. Inhabiting the space where memes meet mathcore, the Atlanta collective make you laugh, absolutely, but in the masterful, likes of Star Baby and Title Track, they can make you fathom the deepest mysteries of the universe or shed a few tears over sublimated traumas, too. Mostly, today is about absolutely disregarding your personal safety, with the pit coming unglued as frontman Carson Pace demands to see “just how good UK healthcare really is!” By the time he rolls into the audience and A Brief Article Regarding Time Loops sends everyone completely over the top, each of the thick line of security manning the barrier seem shocked to have made it through in one piece. Incredible stuff. (SL)
Deafheaven have come a long way since bursting onto the scene with astonishing second album Sunbather in 2013, but they slip back into its depthless grooves with remarkable ease for Saturday afternoon’s 10th anniversary play-through. Sure, George Clarke looks far more relaxed here than the American Psycho-alike version of himself who originally toured that masterpiece, but songs like Dream House, Please Remember and The Pecan Tree only seem to have increased in intensity as they’ve become ingrained into the fundamental fabric of the blackgaze genre over the intervening years. A timely reminder of just how brilliantly subtle ‘extreme’ music can be. (SL)
The sun is setting as HEALTH crash onto the Bixler stage. Fortunately, the Californian industrial-rockers seem eager to blast into Saturday night on a wave of the biggest beats of the festival. Beneath the surface, there are dark themes and big ideas within prime cuts like GOD BOTHERER, THE MESSAGE and Men Today, but it’s their pulsating atmospherics and driving rhythms that really connect here. Because busting moves is the ultimate act of defiance in the face of the dying of the light. (SL)
It's by no means a negative, but on the very surface Igorrr's live presence is a bit silly. But, then, we are here to celebrate everything weird and wonderful. But they are the masters of their own design with their fusion of extreme metal, grindcore and classical music creating a sonic landscape that was both chaotic and captivating. They take you into an almost circus-like environment, with linchpin Gautier Serre ringleading a band of musicians capable of going from crunching riffs for unified headbanging, to the awe-inspiring, almost operatic vocals from singer Marthe Alexandre. It would give Zippo’s a run for their money. (JH)
Walking out to the calming Liverpudlian anthem of You’ll Never Walk Alone, Loathe quickly turn the early moments of tranquillity into an onslaught of heavy riffs, atmospheric melodies and haunting vocals. Frontman Kadeem France continues his ascent as one of the finest frontmen in the game, with a wonderful delivery of pure guttural rage. Their ability to convey raw emotion through their lyrics and no holds barred live musicianship helps create this truly cathartic environment, an experience meant to be done as one collective unit. (JH)
“Thanks for turning up and not going home early,” shouts OHHMS singer Paul Waller. Well, yeah, and this is arguably one of the best times we’ve seen the Kent post-doomers. From the stoner bonanza of Bianca to the magical heights of The Magician, this is a band firing all cylinders. It ends with bassist Chainy leaving the stage and climbing the heights of the pillar holding up the very tent they’re playing in, having his bass taken from him by a bouncer in the process. One of the standout sets of the weekend, this felt like a band really coming of age. (JH)
“Oh my god, it’s a collection of power-nerds,” grins Devin Townsend as he sweeps on to close Saturday night. “We’re gonna’ play all manner of awkward fuckin’ music for ya!” Oddball banter aside, the Canadian supremo seems almost apologetic that the economic realities of touring in 2023 mean that he’s not been able to bring along anything like the same level of production he has to previous UK festival headline slots. He needn’t worry. As much fun as giant video screens and inflatable animals are, they really are just set dressing for epic prog-metal numbers like Kingdom and Why?. Plus, he does scatter some actual balloons over the audience, his band are packing oversized cowboy hats, and he’s even brought along a theremin.
It doesn’t hurt that Heavy Devy’s latest album Lightwork is his best in years, and cuts like Lightworker, Dimensions and Heartbreaker (“The least enjoyable song to play in a festival environment…”) slot in effortlessly. Career-spanning visits to Strapping Young Lad (Aftermath) and Ziltoid The Omniscient (By Your Command) hammer home his headline credentials. And the closing segue from Bad Devil’s misfit stomp into an earthquaking rendition of Strapping Young Lad’s Love? feels like a perfect way to bring the curtain down on another incredible ArcTanGent.
We can’t wait come back to find out how the UK’s most brilliantly out-there weekender will get even weirder in 2024… (SL)
ArcTanGent 2024 takes place at Fernhill Farm, Bristol, on August 15 – 18
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