FESTIVAL REVIEW: ArcTanGent Festival 2022 Live at  Fernhill Farm – Bristol UK


Having steadily grown since its inception in 2013, ArcTanGent Festival’s 2022 event is a three-day, five-stage (plus single-stage warm-up day) outdoor affair showcasing a curated lineup of over 120 metal, rock and alternative artists with a focus on post-rock, progressive and experimental styles. 2022 marks the return of ArcTanGent to Fernhill Farm near Bristol following the inevitable cancellation of the previous two years’ festivals.



For the Wednesday warm-up just one of the five tents is open, and the lineup is composed of local Bristol-based artists. Mother Vulture are dark, gloomy and sludgy, with catchy hooks and a scuzzy punk influence. Memory of Elephants (incidentally the first band on at the inaugural ATG back in 2013) sound a bit like a heavier Hüsker Dü gone prog; tight, explosive, uplifting post-hardcore influenced noise rock delivered with with joyous abandon. Sugar Horse’s slow, hypnotic and atmospheric post-rock incorporates Neurosis-style monstrous guitars and growling vocals, but juxtaposes this heaviness against fragile melodic introspection that borders on Radiohead territory. The St Pierre Snake Invasion close Wednesday night with a set of energetic heavy alt-rock that has echoes of Alice In Chains, Queens Of The Stone Age and Converge plus occasional bleepy synths and lashings of droll patter from the frontman. The admirable decision to put lesser-known artists in front of a couple-of-thousand early-arriving festival-goers seems to have paid off — the bands primes the mood for the main event.



DVNE play early on the Thursday following a year of prestigious tours and festival dates. As always, they captivate and compel with their atmosphere-rich sci-fi-themed melodic and riff-heavy post-hardcore space rock. DVNE’s intricate progressive soundscapes deftly shift between delicate contemplation and anguished aggression, and the balance of extravagant prog rock and earthy punk-infused noise is superbly effective. 

A.A. Williams takes to the stage soon afterwards and the audience is doused with a intro of dark bluesy swamp-wash before heavy drums kick in along with sombre and ominous textures over which Williams’ commanding voice — both honey-sweet and searing — paints cathartic renditions of her melancholic songs. Williams invokes Nico, Marianne Faithfull and even Sandy Denny as catchy melodies are delivered with a faint undercurrent of menace. A guitar player often employs a Mellotron effect which adds a cinematic and surreal dimension as counterpoint to the doomy heaviness that often pervades. There are also some wonderfully rich vocal harmonies between Williams and the same guitar player. Even during the most tender and soft moments the crowd is firmly enraptured by A.A Williams’ impassioned and affecting performance.


New York’s Imperial Triumphant step out on the Thursday afternoon dressed in their trademark black robes and golden masks and, following a creepy avant-garde classical music sample, whip straight into an utterly bizarre set of experimental black metal / jazz fusion. Witnessing their performance often feels like being on an out-of-control merry-go-round at some kind of demonic and freakish fairground. There are guttural growls, delirious tremolo-picked guitars, jazz shuffles and screaming wah-wah distorted noise bass solos. It’s difficult at times to make sense of Imperial Triumphant’s stylistic melting pot, especially when the sound mix is on the muddy side. Undoubtedly their manic energy and downright weirdness is compelling though, and there some excellent moments, including a hypnotic chugging breakdown in 61/16 time!

As afternoon shifts into evening, synthwave luminary Perturbator, AKA James Kent, takes the stage with a guitar and stands behind a bank of synths on an oversized keyboard stand. He is joined by a live drummer and the stage is adorned with a huge geometric LED structure, the centrepiece of which is an inverted pentagram. Throughout a set focused mostly on instrumental material, Perturbator plunges ATG into a world of dark and forceful electronica that gets the crowd of metalheads jumping up and down with their hands in the air. 1980s gothic jangle guitars shimmer in and out as the punishing techno grooves seem to constantly increase in intensity. Occasionally Kent’s gloomy draw of a voice takes centre-stage but, more often than not, huge synth textures dominate. The live drums blend seamlessly with programmed dance beats as the soundscapes morph and contort and angular shapes pulsate and flash from the LED structure. With no verbal interaction at all, Perturbator’s simultaneously joyful and downcast set is intense and mysterious. in the last few moments, as Kent windmills his hair behind the keyboard, the tempo ramps up to turbo levels until, with a monstrous bass drop, it’s all over.

France’s Alcest instills a sense of spiritual harmony throughout a set that often has the audience chanting along to their anthemic melodies. The seamless fusion of black metal elements with more subtle melodic post-rock and shoegaze is a perfectly fitting, if idiosyncratic, vehicle for their emotionally sensitive songs. There is an air of magic about Alcest and, even in a live festival setting, the nuance and grace of their extraordinary music comes across unimpaired throughout a spellbinding set.


As the Thursday night falls, Amenra bring their fierce and mercurial performance. Strobes, black and white projections and dry ice dominate visually, with the band hardly visible most of the time. They put an incredible amount of energy into their dismal and dread-laden doomy post-metal, and it hits hard. The music often reaches terrifying intensity levels, with blood-curdling screams, elephantine drums and earsplitting guitars. But Amenra also make use of the soft end of the dynamic range, with ominously hushed segments breaking up the behemothic noise throughout an imposing and mournful set.

Cult Of Luna headline the main stage on the Thursday. Again largely obscured by a mire of smoke and backlights, and without talking to the crowd at all, they blast through a relentless and unsettling set that seems to drive unwaveringly forwards with the weight of a a battle tank. The use of two drummers (one focusing more on additional percussion layers on top of the main beats) is magnificently tight and adds an extra dimension of rhythmic interest to sit alongside the massive twin guitar and bass onslaught. Although the forward motion of the music is unrelenting, the use of dynamics is excellent; there are many tense builds that lead into dense, oppressive and impossibly heavy climaxes of guitar noise and feral growls. The music feels dark, grim and ominous, and electronics such as filter-swept lead synths enhance the unearthly atmosphere. By the time the final cathartic and cinematic build towards the set’s end is complete there is a sense that the whole tent has undertaken a kind of sonic purging ritual.



The Friday sees Slow Crush bring their lush, warm and heavy “abrasive shoegaze” to ATG. The dreamlike music is somehow both melancholy and uplifting, with Slowdive-esque reverbed guitars, flowing delay pedal melodies and glorious melodic vocals (often processed through some kind of harmoniser for enhanced richness). The sound is great, and the strong songs with their powerful melodies are supported by intricate textures that occasionally get harsh and grinding but are always entrancing and otherworldly.

A little later, Finnish experimentalists Oranssi Pazuzu arrive with their pulsating synthesizers, bleak guitars, slow-burning atmospherics and snarled black metal vocals. They don’t really sound like anyone else, but perhaps “Hawkwind combined with Darkthrone” might serve as a ballpark description. Skittering jazzy rhythms collide with chaotic black metal harshness as members swap between instruments — guitars, keyboards, noise effects boards — and weave their idiosyncratic and strangely transfixing sonic tapestries.


France’s Bruit have a soundcheck marred by technical difficulties on the Friday afternoon and they eventually take the stage much later than planned, apologising for “this fucking nightmare”. Featuring a cellist and a violinist (who also doubles as bass player in the heavier sections), Bruit play an instrumental set that combines contemporary classical influence with heavy post-rock. At first the sound is a little muddy and the musical communication is somewhat lost, but eventually muted meandering gives way to ferocious yet graceful doomy post-metal enhanced by sublime cello parts, and it really hits home emotionally.


As darkness starts to fall, Straight Girl, based in Leeds, UK, takes the stage. The non-binary electropunk artist’s stage name is not only ironic in reference to their gender identity and sexuality but also when applied to the music itself, which is anything but straightforward. Straight Girl struts and stomps around the stage in between operating the various knobs and switches they use to manipulate the kooky, dark and eminently danceable electro that flows out of the speakers. Equal parts elegant, humorous and confrontational, the anarchic gothic disco tracks are often augmented by Straight Girl’s delightfully unconventional and sometimes heavily processed vocals. The tent grows ever fuller as the music continues to turn new corners of enticing weirdness. The set’s climax sees Straight Girl singing from on top of the bar before leading a mass conga circle!


Mono’s evocative instrumental set takes the Friday night crowd through a journey of epic proportions. The enveloping music ebbs and flows like an ocean beholden to capricious weather. Subtle cymbal washes and gentle guitar drones give way to dramatic and grandiose explosions of joyous heaviness. Scuzzy bass riffs and trippy lead guitars paint with graceful abrasion over rapturous crashing drums. It’s a lush, contemplative and dreamlike set that seems to steadily breathe, inhaling melancholy and exhaling elation. 

Tesseract’s Friday main stage headline slot features an impressive light show with laser beams shining through dry ice to create patterns in the air. Their melodic progressive metal is adorned with heavy syncopated groove riffs and pop-tinged clean vocals which occasionally switch to a death growl. One devoted fan continuously waves aloft what looks like a washing line prop with a 3D model of the band’s logo on the end as Tesseract’s heavy but oddly mellifluous set rolls on riff after riff.



Jo Quail takes to a packed-out main stage early on Saturday. Her solo instrumental electric cello set is a more forceful expression than her recent performances in intimate settings on tour with Emma Ruth Rundle (more of whom soon). Melding avant-garde contemporary classical music with experimental rock via extensive use of effects and looping, the music is ultra-powerful and undeniably heavy. Quail creates intense percussion layers by hitting the strings of her instrument and weaves masterful webs of emotionally stirring melody lines that seem to stream effortlessly from her fingers and bow. She sends different elements to the left or right speakers and generates an intricate, immersive and expansive sound world that is both mesmerising and moving. She apologises for making mistakes that nobody could ever notice and unassumingly glides through one of the most riveting and potent performances of the festival.


Conjurer’s Saturday afternoon performance is full of blackened doom metal and chugging down-tuned off-kilter grooves. Occasionally they flirt with full-on black metal blastbeats, and the two vocalists shift between disturbed screams and deep growls. Maddening high-pitched discordant guitar harmonies trade places with bleakly grinding sludge riffs. During one of softer moments that punctuate the thunderous chaos one of the singers delivers un-miked growls that reach the back of the tent; it’s a crowd-pleasing highlight of a ferocious and rousing set.


Soon afterwards, Devil Sold His Soul arrive to deliver their post-rock / metalcore fusion. The two dedicated lead vocalists mix screamo-influenced shouts with pop-infused melodies and strong dual harmonies over the top of monstrous enveloping and sludgy soundscapes.


As afternoon becomes evening Emma Ruth Rundle steps without a band onto a stage housing only a nylon-string acoustic guitar and a keyboard. “I’m Emma and I’m going to play some very quiet music for you,” she says, facing the audience with her teardrop-painted face. Rundle’s set is essentially the same one she has been playing on tour — a complete rendition of her latest album, Engine of Hell. It’s more of a challenge to communicate the raw, delicate and stripped-back music at an outdoor festival than in the seated venues she has been playing (with actual acoustic pianos), but it works. The music is indeed quiet — no earplugs are required, for a change — but the audience gives total respect to what feels like a special pocket of reflective contemplation. The songs are heartfelt, personal, painful and cathartic, and the softest parts are often the most intense. Rundle is clearly feeling the emotional charge of every note and word as they escape her, and she seems to be constantly altering the push and pull of the tempos and the dynamics of the delivery. One song is assisted by touring partner Jo Quail, who recreates the cello parts she added to the original recording. Even the occasional blast of heavy metal soundchecking from the adjacent stage doesn’t burst the beautifully transient little bubble of this magical performance.


Finland’s Wheel take to the stage a bit later in the evening, following a long soundcheck apparently caused by them having “the wrong backline”. Their performance doesn’t seem to be affected much though; their melodic progressive metal songs sound tight and punchy. Unusual time signatures, complex rhythms, big riffs and vocals that recall Tool’s Maynard James Keenan combine during Wheel’s polished and emotive performance.


With Saturday’s darkness descending, Godflesh launch into their relentless onslaught of industrial noise rock. The drum machine pummels robotically as the guitar and bass grind and wail with a steadily advancing primal cadence. The sound is slightly unclear, especially at the back of the tent, but Godflesh’s dizzying discordance and determined drone gives the overflowing audience the hour of pulverising sonic detonation that they came for.


Opeth headline the Saturday night on the main stage. Excellent sound quality means that all the subtleties of their complex songs are perfectly communicated. The set is peppered with Mikael Åkerfeldt’s dry stage patter (“We’re not like David Lee Roth — we don’t do the split jumps, but we entertain in our own boring way,”) and features a crowd-pleasing selection of material including “Demon of the Fall”, “The Drapery Falls” and “In My Time of Need”. Opeth’s set mixes the languages of death metal and prog rock to stunning effect. Their virtuosic musicianship is never overplayed and always used in support of superbly crafted and effortlessly conveyed songs, many of which have become anthems to the longtime fans who regularly sing along with jubilation. Mellotron parts and acoustic simulators often add rich colour to the arrangements as they glide between quasi-folk-rock and punishing metal, Åkerfeldt’s voice morphing between angelic and demonic to suit the occasion. An unwaveringly triumphant set closes with the dark euphoria of “Deliverance”, and the crowd are left desperate for an encore that sadly never materialises.


ArcTanGent seems to largely avoid many of the problems that can plague outdoor festivals — the toilets are kept pretty clean, litter is at an absolute minimum and tent-covered stages keep the audience dry. Its ultimate strength, though, is in its careful lineup curation. It’s the sort of event that people can put their trust in; even if you’ve only heard of the three or four of the artists you’re an existing fan of you can be sure that many of the others will win you over when you experience them. To walk around the site is to feel the palpable sense of community that pervades ATG and, judging by overheard conversations and social media comments, many attendees are already looking forward to reconvening in 2023. Based on 2022’s unequivocal success it seems inevitable that ArcTanGent will continue to consolidate its growing reputation as an essential fixture on the heavy and alternative music calendar.










(all with permission from ATG festival)