It’s that time of year again, when the lovers of technical guitars and poly-rhythms descend on a cowshed in Newark for a weekend of musical virtuosity and wizardry. And nobody’s more excited than the weather, with literal tornadoes storming the campsite on the Thursday, even if the announcement that visa issues have meant Jinjer are unable to perform is a disappointing one.
You Win Again Gravity are shifted to open up the Winspear Stage in Jinjer’s absence, and deliver a set that, more than anything, feels heartfelt. Vocalist Jack Jennings covers beautiful cleans, and savage harsh vocals (split with bassist Andy Mould) with consummate ease. Contrast is the name of the game with this band, from the varying vocal styles to song like ‘Seamless’ in particular, shifting between powerful post-hardcore melodies, smooth, almost jazz-like prog, and technical breakdowns fluidly – seamlessly even. They close with ‘Anonymity’, their full progressive nature on display, in a track that pushes eight minutes, full of twists and false endings. An excellent show to open up the main festival, from the band with either the best or worst name at the festival.
Chris Schiermann takes to the stage, seemingly aiming to prove that he should be one of the biggest names in instrumental tech, bringing a light show that would be impressive if it weren’t the middle of the day. It’s a set that, while virtuosic, never gives a sense of a band showing off or being virtuosic for the sake of being virtuosic; what is memorable is quite how dynamic the set is, driven by some unbelievable bass work, and exceptional song-writing, in particular on ‘Technical Disabilities.’
Close your eyes, and you’d expect This Is Turin to be performing with a stage full of fire, corpse paint melting off their faces in the heat of the hangar, and the remains of a bible scattered over the floor. The reality is, admittedly, more Northwich than Norway, in its own charming way; Darryl Jones prowling the stage like a man possessed, rage spewing forth in every vocal line. There’s no need for make-up or goat skulls; the songs are ominous enough on their own, none more so than the eerie calms before the short bursts of fury in ‘Thrones’. This Is Turin are a bright spark in the North-West’s metal scene, and it’s great to see them spreading their nihilist grasp across the lands.
The Dali Thundering Concept are one of those bands that ooze the very essence of djent. On record: technical as fuck, heavily researched intellectual subject matter. On stage: spinning, jumping, partying. They look determined to barrel straight into their set, get an early boost of momentum, and then they get hit by inevitable technical difficulties. They never quite get to full speed, and seem to spend the set with a barely audible bass, yet still manage to impress. Frontman Sylvaine Conier is engaging and hyperactive, not least during ‘The Myth Of Happiness’, and everyone leaves happy, even if I’m slightly disappointed at being robbed of what could have been one of the best sets of the festival.
Despite Exile have apparently travelled 27 hours to play the festival, and, at least in my eyes, it was worth the trip. They straddle genres, constantly melodic and progressive, over a shifting base of melodeath, tech death, and shades of metalcore; excelling in all, never staying long enough for any of them to stagnate. From the off, they barrel into extremity, and, like a runaway train, hardly let up. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the festival, their technical ability is impressive, but their ferocity is difficult to match. Even more impressive is during their final song, when the cascade of blast beats combines with the emotive, fading leads into a cathartic, and breathtaking, finale.
Sweet Jesus, Vola are impressive. The Danish act take to the stage, exuding cool from every pore; the sort of swagger that instantly puts the audience under the spell of their hypnotic vocal melodies and endlessly catchy synth choruses. Take a myriad of headbang-worthy, progressive grooves, add an unwavering ability to keep coming up with vocal hooks that are impossible to get out of your head, and some bouncy synths for good measure, and the outcome is outstanding. The reaction that greeted set closer ‘Stray The Skies’ said it all – this is a band that is doing something very, very right.
The day ends with two of the biggest bands in this scene, playing one after the other, in what is probably seen as one of the most eye-watering pairings Tech Fest has presented, but one that I personally greeted with a shrug. I’ve seen both bands before, and hadn’t been impressed with either. The Contortionist were up first, and, this time, were particularly impressive, with a set mixing older extreme material and their more melodic modern sounds, that’s ridiculously tight. There’s a dream-like feel throughout, and you leave feeling like you’re witnessing something magical in music. A very special show…
Sikth, on the other hand, I’m still not convinced by. Musically, the mathy grooves are ridiculously tight, and exactly as bonkers as their studio sound (even down a guitarist). Vocally, Mikee Goodman’s ‘insane hobo in a horror movie’ impression is every bit as unsettling as on record, perhaps more so when you see him prowl the stage. The two combined, however, just seem to distract from each other; there seems to be too much going on to fully engage with the band, and, with the exception of ‘Bland Street Bloom’, and a couple of wall of deaths, large chunks of the crowd seem uncertain how to respond. Well into their second decade now (admittedly with a lot of time off), there’s still nobody that sounds like Sikth. That might be a good thing though.