Even without Protest The Hero topping it, Sunday was still a stupidly impressive line-up, from the highly anticipated Hirsch Effekt, rising UK stars like Conjurer and Employed To Serve, a return for veterans Cyclamen, and the mystery of a secret act, that was no longer much of a mystery. And after the quality sets on show on Saturday, the festival looked set to end on a massive high.
Leeched kick off Sunday’s proceedings, with a no-frills burst of fuzzy extremity, all nasty riffing and precision drumming. It’s as far from a delicate opening to the day as it’s possible to get, and probably worsened a few hangovers, but it certainly seemed like they won over a chunk of people with their tight, no-nonsense performance. Death metallers Cognizance follow that with a Winspear Stage set full of swagger, and a level of virtuosity that wouldn’t sound out of place in the weekends various instrumental bands – or indeed the many guitar clinics. Face-meltingly impressive.
Before Conjurer’s set, whenever anyone had asked who I thought had played the best set, I’d been stumped for an answer. After their set, for two hours at least, there was only one answer. Monolithically massive riffs combine with moments of smooth melody – mere oases of calm from the tortuously slow, atmospheric bludgeoning. Allow yourself to lose yourself in Conjurer’s music, and you’ll experience a truly magnificent live show. This is a well calculated assault on the senses, from a band that has released one of the finest albums of 2018, and are one of the most exciting bands in metal today. It’s only up from here.
Let’s sum up Crepitation with two of their song titles: ‘Gelatinous Interdimensional Spunk Trumpet’ (now officially my preferred insult), and ‘Equine Phallic Impalement’. There’s lots of extreme, lots of breakdowns, lots of unique vocal techniques, and most importantly (you might get this from the names) a sense of fun. This is a bunch of guys having fun on stage, performing songs about giant space penises jizzing on the Earth; and it’s hard not to smile, once you get over the bewilderment. And, any band that has a song called ‘Equine Phallic Impalement’, the intro of which is a twee, childish song with the lyrics, “I love horses, best of all the animals. I love horses, they’re my friends,” deserves all the plaudits.
Cyclamen have been varying their style recently, to the point of playing different sets on the UK tour that preceded Tech Fest: some sets consisting mostly of their more melodic recent material, others drawing largely from their earlier mathcore oeuvre. Tech Fest was the exception, drawing from their whole back catalogue, and any initial concern that the set might sound disjointed are quickly quashed; savagely chaotic mathcore slotting in naturally next to the softer tracks because of the consistent levels of virtuosity throughout. It’s the latter that sound particularly impressive live – smooth guitars combining brilliantly with Hayato Imanishi’s heart-rending, tender vocals to give a performance that, more than anything else, is beautiful.
The Hirsch Effekt take to the stage to the delicate sounds of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, in the ultimate example of the calm before a storm. The band are all on stage, egging the audience on, and then, almost on the flip of a switch, ‘Lifnej’ kicks in with a jarring blast and a scream. There’s a lot of talk about Hirsch Effekt filling a Dillinger-shaped hole, from people who’ve clearly never listened to either band – if we’re going along with this metaphor, this is a shrapnel-ridden hole caused by the cataclysmic explosion that is Dillinger, and Hirsch Effekt are a cruise missile travelling at such a speed as to be experiencing time dilation: while they are a similar level of destructive, there is no degree of discordance here; instead Hirsch Effekt blow minds with truly progressive song-writing that warps your expectations constantly. I thought that their (and Sleep Token’s) performance was a plateau above everyone at the festival, but then their London show the day after was at least an order of magnitude or two better.
Loathe pull no punches. Kadeem France might be the most natural front-person at the festival, furiously whipping up an already very receptive crowd, and spending about as much time on the barrier as he did on the stage. Live, grooves that already sound more massive than most on record, take on an even more pummelling feel. This is one of the most exciting new bands in metal, and one of the most positive. Another of the bands that could fall into the category of ‘most exciting new bands’ are Employed To Serve, who bring a seemingly never-ending supply of energy, staying ridiculously tight even when bouncing across the stage in their matching band windbreakers. The band have been earning plaudits for their studio work, but their live show is even more impressive, jumping (literally) headfirst into scream-along tracks like ‘Good For Nothing’ with reckless abandon. Very impressive.
Is there a band more fitting as a secret act than Sleep Token, the anonymous cult making waves in the UK music scene? By the end of August, they will have played ten live shows in their short history, including shows at Download, Reading, Leeds, and Camden Rocks. And most importantly, Tech Fest. They deserve all the plaudits: masks, robes, statuesque stage presence – not least from their rarely used guitarist – and complete lack of audience interaction make for an entrancing show; but where the magic lies is in the music. Piano and electronics combine, dirge-like, as the words of deity Sleep are channelled through Vessel’s falsetto, trembling yet soaring; His words moving, and sung back in droves by His most devoted followers. Venue-shaking grooves split the piano, each song brought to a crushing conclusion; Vessel quivering on his knees. Easily the most majestic, hypnotic set of the festival, from a band that will be huge. Worship.
If you ever need a band to step up into a headline slot and completely own it, Betraying The Martyrs are the band you need. With a light show most bands can only dream of, a set filled with hard-hitting breakdowns, sing-along choruses, hyper soloing, and stage presence and charisma oozing from every pore of every band member, they completely owned the stage. The chants of “It’s coming home” are brought back on vocalist Aaron Matts’ request (it must be hard being an Englishman in a French band), and he was on top form throughout, egging the crowd on to some of the most consistent pits of the weekend, and talking about how the band had been made to sign a waiver that they wouldn’t ask for circle pits or walls of death. The ‘wall of life’ that followed, led by an inflatable plane, was one of my highlights of the festival. Perhaps this show was a message to the organisers: this is a band that deserves to be headlining.