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Tech Fest began in 2011 with a mission to provide a place where “bands and fans are able to integrate, network and share the passion of music together”. Now in its eighth edition, it’s fair to say the mission has been accomplished, judging by the loyal community that comes out to support the festival each year. Its line-up caters for the fringe genres of metal, including tech-metal, metalcore, grindcore and instrumental math rock, to name but a few.
This is the fifth year that Tech Fest has been hosted in Nottinghamshire, at the Showground in Newark, and the location’s compact site puts the whole festival within easy reach, allowing you to get from your tent to the main stage in a maximum of five minutes. The festival’s two stage set up also means you can enjoy the entire line up without worrying about clashes, as stage times are staggered between the two, allowing one band to sound check while another performs.
While the festival officially opens on the Thursday, playing host to a smaller line-up, things get into full swing on the Friday, which is where we begin our Tech Fest journey with Schiermann. The guitar virtuoso’s solo project kicks us off appropriately, supplying all the competencies that typify bands at this festival: superb technical ability, complex and intricate musicality and an endless supply of talent. As an instrumental act, the technical display is impressive but as the set wears on, the lack of central groove means the crowd remain largely static throughout.
With the summer sun reaching almost 30 degrees, and the two indoor stages at Tech Fest being effectively cattle sheds with iron rooves and barely any ventilation, the atmosphere in the stages is stifling, which goes some way to explaining the static reaction to Miscreant‘s raft of heavy songs. On any other day the crowd would be obliged to move around in response to the band’s impressive riffs, but in this energy sapping heat, they’re greeted by a lukewarm reaction to an otherwise solid performance.
Scotland’s From Sorrow to Serenity are next in line to try and inject life into the audience and they fare a little better, managing to elicit some enthusiastic head banging from one corner of the room. Vocalist Gaz King displays an impressive range with both guttural and high pitched screams being mixed in with raspy cleans, and once the initially poor mix is solved, the guitars are punchy and driving. It’s still early in the day, but the crowd is slowly coming out of its shell, thanks to this quartet’s solid offering.
Sensing the energy deficiency, This Is Turin front man Darryl Jones draws on his performance experience to stir the crowd into action. Dropping into the faces of the front row, Jones encourages them to sing along and instructs people to bang their heads in time, and with a classic helping of mass hand clapping for good measure, he elicits the best response so far. It helps balance a lacklustre musical performance that’s not helped by a muddy mix which makes all guitar notes bleed together and bury the snare drum beneath it all. Despite this, it’s a decent offering, punctuated by a great front man performance.
Stepping up in place of Jinjer, who had to withdraw from the festival due to Visa issues, come The Dali Thundering Concept, and they’re greeted by more technical gremlins, forcing them to restart their opening song. Even after this, problems still persist as the massively down tuned guitar gives out a barely audible frequency for the first track, but once it’s corrected the band come into their own. When the three musicians settle into a groove, the riffs are meaty, causing heads to bob, particularly when Sylvain Conier barks over the top to inject some energy. Léo Natele’s occasional solos are also noteworthy moments and emphasise the talent lurking within the band, making for an enjoyable set despite the early niggles.
Despite Exile prove how good the Waghorn Guitars Stage can sound when everything is balanced just right. And this balance goes beyond just their live sound, the Italian act bring the widest ranging metalcore formula to the festival so far, managing to sound melodic and atmospheric as well as brutally heavy. The transitions from driving rhythms with sweeping lead lines to bone crunching riffs is seamless and the crowd finally oblige with a wave of energy, the entire room banging heads in unison and moving their feet. Front man Jacopo Durisotti fuels that atmosphere, commanding the stage and getting in the faces of the front row, capping a fantastic performance that lifts the mood for the rest of the day.
Vola continue the theme of excellent sound quality, their set is the most pristine sounding yet on the Winspear Stage, every note audible despite how low the guitars are tuned. They kick in with an attention grabbing djent-like groove, before Asger Mygind treats us to our first real dose of clean vocals so far, highlighting the melodic tendencies of the Scandinavian act. The band deliver wave after wave of impressive riffs and punchy rhythms and while Mygind’s voice is refreshing among the line-up and technically very good, there are times when it lacks the oomph to match the instrumentals and as such, some choruses lack impact. For the most part though it’s an excellent set that ranks among the most memorable of the opening day.
German riff masters Unprocessed keep the new found energy pumping, packing a massive punch with huge sounding guitars over at the Waghorn Guitars Stage. Between the three guitarists and bass player, the band are definitely leading the contest for most strings on their instruments, but they’re all used to good effect. Ranging from spine crushing, drop tuned riffs to technically noteworthy lead lines and solos, the quintet use everything at their disposal to craft intricate, complex and interesting compositions that come alive on stage and shake the speakers. Doubling up as the band’s vocalist, Manuel Gardner Fernandes’ ability to switch from low, aggressive screams to effective clean harmonies adds yet another string to their already overwhelmingly impressive bow. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable set that has the audience grooving along with every riff.
From the relentless sunshine and the press of bodies gathered there, the Winspear Stage is now stiflingly hot and void of air, but Bleed From Within’s front man Scott Kennedy isn’t interested in excuses, immediately ordering a circle pit as the band take to the stage. The rousing command does the job, pushing reluctant energy into the crowd and as the order is followed by a Wall of Death, Kennedy knows he has them in his grasp. He continues to lead by example, charging back and forth, expending his own energy as he commands the stage. Behind him, the band churn through a standard fare of metalcore, providing heavy riffs for the audience to feed on and for Kennedy to bark his words over. Bleed From Within are the most imposing band to take the stage so far and their confidence and assured stage presence compensates for songs that gradually bleed together as the set goes on.
Voyager bring something completely different to Tech Fest, opening with a track that sounds like a mash up of djenty tech metal and Depeche Mode. The offbeat dance rhythm and electronic effects are surprisingly effective over low, heavy riffs and though Daniel Estrin’s quirky vocals are jarring at first, they’re just another unique ingredient thrown into this curious melting pot of a band. Add glam rock style guitar solos and a keytar for even more diversity and Voyager become one of the surprise highlights of the day. Alongside heavy metalcore acts, it’s no surprise that some people aren’t into it, but those willing to stick it out and experience something different are rewarded with an interesting and unique set that brings the party atmosphere to Tech Fest all the way from Australia.
The Contortionist have come out on top in the battle of the band t-shirts today, with festival goers sporting more with their name than any other on show. With the band a clear favourite among the crowd, anticipation is high as the day’s penultimate band take to the stage. The opener’s pedestrian pace doesn’t kick things off with a bang, but it does highlight Michael Lessard’s superb vocal ability as it saunters through a gentle tempo. The Contortionist’s genre defying sound bends and twists in as many ways as their name would suggest, so this pace doesn’t remain for long, instead bursting into a more aggressive track that sees Lessard switching to screamed vocals, which are just as effective as his pristine cleans. As the set progresses, more styles are ticked off the list, ranging from djent riffs and pulsating drums, to atmospheric passages that are beautifully ethereal when combined with soulful vocal melodies. At times the slower tempos can feel too lethargic and drawn out, but this is a minor niggle in an otherwise excellent set that justifies the anticipation and exceeds expectation.
Tech metal legends SikTh have the honour of closing out the day and the first notable part of their set is the absence of guitarist Pin. The band don’t draw attention to his absence, or offer an explanation, but his lack of presence is certainly felt as the pre-recorded guitar track that’s instead used to accompany co-guitarist Dan Weller often lacks volume and is over shadowed by the live instruments. Regardless, the band press on and with a strong set list that calls upon old favourites like ‘Hold My Finger’, ‘Pussyfoot’ and ‘Skies of Millennium Night’, it’s a crowd pleasing set that ends the day on a huge high. The interplay between co vocalists Mikey Goodman and Joe Rosser is as strong now as it’s been since Rosser joined the band in 2016, signalling that SikTh are very much alive and not just here to provide nostalgia. New material from recent record ‘The Future In Whose Eyes?’ proves they’re still at the top of their game, putting a fitting end to a talent-strewn day at Tech Fest.
When Skeletonwitch dropped their first major release ‘Beyond The Permafrost’ back in 2007, they stuck out from the then-burgeoning retro thrash crowd like a sore thumb. Where everyone else was content to play from the 80s crossover playbook, white high-tops and ripped jeans included, Skeletonwitch dared to be far more metal; their sound pulling not only from the Big Four, but equally as much from Judas Priest and Immortal, creating an intoxicating and exhilarating form of heroic, blackened thrash that nobody else could quite replicate.
Except Skeletonwitch themselves, who took this template and barely deviated from it over the course of their next three LPs. It’s hard to blame them, as the formula was solid and resulted in plenty of acclaim and success. Then, in 2015, the band experienced a major change when original vocalist Chance Garnette was fired for his destructive alcohol abuse, with ex-Wolvhammer front man Adam Clemans stepping into Garnette’s mighty large shoes in early 2016.
Clemans’ introduction into the act not only brought a shift in vocal stylings, but with it a palpable change in attitude. The EP the band dropped later that year, ‘The Apothic Gloom’, showed signs that some of Skeletonwitch’s more ‘theatrical’ aspects had taken a back seat, replaced with a bleaker and more legitimately angry sound. It was a statement of intent from a band who’d rested on their laurels for too long, and a promise that has been made good and then some by their new full-length, ‘Devouring Radiant Light’.
Before a note of music has escaped the speakers, it’s already clear that the band are fully rebooting from the album’s artwork. Where previous releases have been adorned with none-more-metal imagery of horned skeletons (courtesy of legendary artists like Andrei Bouzikov and Baroness’ John Dyer Baizley), ‘Devouring Radiant Light’ instead has a moodier and altogether more mysterious image of a hooded figure shrouded in smoke/clouds/waves/whatever. It’s a stark departure for the band visually, and acts as an effective signifier of their overall shift in approach.
Following a brief melancholic intro, opening track ‘Fen Of Shadows’ whirrs into life, and it’s immediately clear that this isn’t the Skeletonwitch we used to know. Like a snake shedding its skin, they have emerged from the last few tumultuous years a sleeker, deadlier animal, and where once sat wailing, Iron Maiden-esque twin leads and galloping drums, there is a swirling vortex of black metal fury. Over the course of almost 8 minutes, the band have crafted something more epic and apocalyptic than anything that’s come before, and that’s just in the opening track.
‘When Paradise Fades’ rolls back slightly and has a more familiar Skeletonwitch vibe, though it’s still cast with an icy demeanour that the band have rarely conjured before. ‘Temple Of The Sun’ continues the frosty forest-dwelling attack, piling on layers of piercing bellows as the thunderous drums blast away. The title track goes even deeper still into the black metal pantheon, introducing a melodic, almost folky sensibility that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Winterfylleth record, before launching into one of the band’s most anthemic choruses to date.
Later tracks ‘The Vault’ and ‘Carnarium Eternal’ add in Swedish death metal influences to jaw-dropping effect, the latter giving At The Gates a run for their money in terms of pulse-pounding velocity and fist-in-the-air riffing. Final track ‘Sacred Soil’ brings the whole record crashing down with a satisfyingly huge brace of bleak-yet-soaring guitars, featuring some of the finest work Nate Garnette and Scott Hedrick have ever put to tape.
The album as a whole sounds as spectacular as songs like these deserve, thanks again to producer extraordinaire Kurt Ballou (with whom the band previously worked on ‘Serpents Unleashed’), who recorded the band, Fredrik Nordstrom, who mixed the record, and Brad Boatright, who mastered it. Together these three men have created a crisp and clear album that never feels too clinical or produced, offering the right amount of coldness to emphasise the vibe of the material.
‘Devouring Radiant Light’ is arguably the finest work Skeletonwitch have ever produced, and feels like the start of a new chapter in their career, free from the shackles of the retro thrash scene they rose up from. Leave your preconceptions at the door, and wrap yourself in one of the finest blackened heavy metal records you will hear all year.
This is an exclusive look at the new Pohgoh video for ‘Business Mode’ which is taken from the upcoming album ‘Secret Club’ which is set for release on September 7. Pre-orders are available via Barely Legal, who will release the record in the UK and Europe, New Granada for the US and Canada, and Waterslide for Japan.
The band explain “The video for “Business Mode” is a literal take on the title – it’s meant to be light in contrast to the somber lyrics. But the office setting is also reminder of the mundane and how sometimes unexpected circumstances force us out of our comfort zone and leave us permanently changed.”
Pohgoh - "Business Mode" (Official Video 2018) - YouTube
Enter Shikari have announced a UK tour for December 2018 and January/February 2019. The band will play 28 dates across the UK.
Frontman Rou Reynolds had this to say about the tour:
“Our most recent UK tours have been of the “eight or nine shows in arenas / big sheds” variety, so we consciously wanted to switch it up a bit going into 2019. Enter Shikari have always kept dipping back into more intimate venues over the years, no matter how big our headline shows have become. That’s where we cut our teeth. The heat-sweat-and-visceral-human-connection of smaller gigs is every bit the equal of the impressive-scale-and-expensive-production of arena shows. We’ve never seen the latter as an evolution away from the former. They exist on opposite sides of the same coin for us.
It’s also no secret that austerity and the looming potential disaster of Brexit have seen people having to be a lot more careful with how they spend their money. With things being what they are right now, it doesn’t seem fair for only those who can afford the travel to a major city for a night out (plus the inevitable other costs that go along with it) to be able to see a show. Playing 28 dates across the UK is our way of taking what we do back to as many people as possible, in the most intimate and direct way”.
1 LINCOLN, Engine Shed
2 KEELE, SU
3 HULL, The Welly
4 CARDIFF, Tramshed
6 FROME, Cheese & Grain
7 EXETER, Lemongrove
8 PLYMOUTH, SU
9 PORTSMOUTH, Pyramids
10 SHEFFIELD, o2 Academy
11 NOTTINGHAM, Rock City
12 LONDON, o2 Brixton Academy
13 LEICESTER, o2 Academy
15 LLANDUDNO, Cymru
16 LIVERPOOL, o2 Academy
18 BRISTOL, o2 Academy
19 SOUTHEND, Cliffs Pavilion
20 NORWICH, UEA
23 GLASGOW, Barrowland
24 ABERDEEN, Beach Ballroom
25 INVERNESS, Ironworks
26 PRESTON, Guildhall
28 NORTHAMPTON, Roadmender
29 SOUTHAMPTON, Guildhall
30 CAMBRIDGE, Corn Exchange
1 BIRMINGHAM, o2 Academy
2 LEEDS, o2 Academy
3 MANCHESTER, Academy
4 NEWCASTLE, o2 Academy
Tickets go on sale at 9am on Friday 13th July here.