Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Johnski’s mission should he choose to accept it? Absorbing 7 hours of instrumental technicality; music sans vocals.
So what did he learn? Well, it imbued him with a new found appreciation of the drummer’s art. From the maniacally complex blur of sticks and feet on skin to the vast swathes of silence, deftness of touch and light glances of cymbal. The variety of percussion required when creating music devoid of the human voice was vast. And whilst there appeared to be a decreasing use of bass guitar there was conversely the increasing use of ambient recordings in this art form. It was also noticeable just how often certain instruments have risen to the fore in technical music over the years – see reviews for examples.
So… back to the present tense and the first band on the bill for the day. Altostratus, a quartet named after a high cloud formation, play a groovy, light, yet complex, form of technical rock with a soft, elegiac flow. Their bassist looms large in everything they do, setting a strong rhythm, striding wildly from step to step across the stage. The twin guitarists create some beautiful finger shapes, and aren’t afraid of palm-muting or riffing. They switch guitars regularly and at one point a small black box Strandberg guitar, no bigger than a banjo, is produced. Ultimately, they do thrash out one too many bar chords for my liking and just don’t work over their cute riffs for long enough to fully immerse yourself in their songs. Having said that, there are some wonderful flurries of colour to be found in key track “Hidden In A Cloud”. (JS)
Crushing bass lines, a growly vocalist, who looked as if he wanted to cause harm, and all-round heaviness were the meat and veg from Harbinger. Actually, not so much veg. The vocalist made the common mistake of mumbling song titles but I gathered beforehand from the guy on the merch stand that most of this set came from the recently released EP “Human Dust”. I loved the hard-hitting riffs, the heavy bass line and the technical hardcore energy. One vocalist briefly became two – that’s one way of getting over the noise. This was aggressive layered technical metal without ever being too clever about it. Structures held together well even in the onslaught of such brutal chaos. Harbinger had great presence too. The vocalist had grace and humour. Heads banged, faces twisted and the bassist in the multi-coloured shirt, which made me think that a blackcurrant-consuming bird had deposited its stuff, joyously lived and breathed every moment. The band rose to the occasion. This was everything you would hope for from a live performance. (AD)
With more Strandberg’s on display for Wisconsin duo (a trio for the tour) The Fine Constant, it certainly becomes apparent that it is this year’s instrument de rigeur. Adored by axe technicians for its lightness and adaptability, the guitarists here show just how adaptable they can be. Lead guitarist, Sarah Longfield, drives the twinkling top-end whereas the tour backing guitarist adds bassier textures with bar chords and riffs. Sarah’s finger shapes, speed and lightness of touch is astonishing and mesmeric in equal measure. She rarely visits the base of the guitar neck to strum, employing the finger-tapping method to great effect. Their music brings a strong arpeggio game, but sadly the performance and finished product feel vacant, like it’s missing something. Perhaps it’s the size of the stage, the loss of momentum between songs or the lack of engagement with the crowd, but for some reason the absence of vocal seems particular noticeable. (JS)
With less ambiguous arpeggios and a groovier soul, The Parallax Method, are three guys who obviously love what they do. Throughout the set, they’re exchanging smiles, teasing each other with new tricks and change-ups. Ben Edis on bass spends the whole set bobbing his head in time with his own rhythm, rocking gently forwards and backwards, and sandal-wearing guitarist Danny Beardsley isn’t far behind him. The drummer plays intense, rapid rhythms and displays huge technical skills. This band know their way around their instruments but they still fall short on variety. There is much similarity between the songs but what is there is solid. Pulling out of the groove to develop the layers would help lift what good foundations they have laid. (JS)
My immediate impression of seeing Exist Immortal on stage was that they are a well-drilled band. Co-ordinated head-banging, movement and horns gave a slick appearance. Musically, deep waves flowed through a heavily progressive sound. The singer mixed growls and clean vocals very well. Normally I pick up bands for having insufficient presence, but at the start I felt there was too much. All the gesturing and posturing were those of self-appointed, posing rock gods. The music itself had power and energy. There was plenty of energy in fact and moreover plenty of hair on stage to swing. And it flowed – the songs were strong, the riffs were solid and dark, and the clean vocals added impact to this melodic heaviness. The singer looked like Damian Wilson and when he spoke sounded like him. The vocal delivery was more akin to Scar Symmetry. Inciting the crowd to chant “we are non believers” was a bit daft, I thought, and the bassist became unhooked in his enthusiasm, but the stage performance settled down after initially being distracting. The crowd bounced, even the guy with the bandaged foot. I’d quite like to listen to the recorded version of these songs without the distraction of seeing these guys prancing about and without the wall of sound. I suspect they would be rather good. Well, on a hunch I bought Exist Immortal’s album “Breathe” (2016) so I guess I’ll find that out soon. (AD)
Maxi Curnow, producer, composer, fire-fighter and Tech-Fest favourite, always goes down well with the crowd and here it is no surprise to see just how well his unique brand of jazzy, progressive, groove-laden tech metal is received – he takes the adoration with a series of appreciative nods, thank yous and humble blushes. Further comment would be somewhat unfair seeing as, due to rumbling bellies, neither our intrepid reviewers got to witness his full set. (JS)
Dutch quartet, Exivious, featuring current and ex-members of Dodecahedron and Cynic, greeted us with the news that they were (like a couple of others) on their farewell tour. They certainly gave us a big echoing sound to absorb. Imagine yourself being in the belly of a whale, hearing the groaning of the ocean beyond its ribcage. Such was the impact of combining a multitude of effects pedals with an impressive and aggressive drummer. Some songs breathed fire, some froze in our veins. They certainly maintained a steely resolve throughout, their respective members smiling with each twist of the story conjured. Indeed, our lead guitarist seemed lost in his own little world; eyes covered by shades, ears covered by headphones, rocking and rolling his way to oblivion. With so little crowd interaction, the “all-male futuristic instrumental hit machine” left us a little bemused but certainly with something to mull over. (JS)
“Platfarm faave” was the sole contribution to humanity that I ever heard from the man on the gate at Hull Paragon station. It didn’t matter where you were going. It was always platfarm faave. The man was a legend. Not yet legends but also from Hull are The Colour Line. They certainly took the dull out of Hull. The band looked excited. Soon they were up and at us. Mayhem followed. The vocalist, guitarist and bassist ran around and jumped on things amid punk hardcore energy and noise. They wouldn’t stand still for Johnski’s photo, the buggers. The vocalist was in the moshpit and we were on the first song. I found myself confronted by the burly bassist. No time for chit-chat. It was carnage but let’s not forget they can play. Here was technical hardcore with extra ferocity but as a guaranteed bonus the rhythms were infectious and providing fuel. “I am extremely unfit”, announced the vocalist who set about disproving the point. Smash-bang-wallop: the noise was total, there was much kicking and screaming and hammering, and the songs were great. The vocalist reflected: “In our wildest dreams did we not imagine that so many people …. would be leaving the room at once”. The tension built up as “R.E.D” started with a tribal technical rhythm. The angry joy was abundant. Did I hear a little jazz insertion? Where to look? The singer was on the amp and in the crowd again. The guitarist jumped on the security guy’s shoulders. Leads got tied up. The guitarist stood on the drum kit. Heavy, heavy, thunder and chaos. The set was cut off at 4.30 but with a bit of persuasion all round, The Colour Line were back to play “Colonel Sanders Flying Machine” to delight us with more technical anarchy. And inevitably, orchestrated by the vocalist, it finished up with a mass pile-up of bodies in the middle of the floor. The guitarist confirmed to me later that the band is breaking up and they have just one more gig to play in their home city. That’ll be a riot. Newark 0, Hull 4. (AD)
Compared to previous acts, the Gigantic stage hall was fairly empty, maybe on account of the fact that people wanted their dinner. Around 50 spectators gathered to watch Red Seas Fire. This band hadn’t set the world ablaze on the last occasion I saw them. Here again there was plenty of honest energy but what I heard seemed uncoordinated. The angry tech rhythm wasn’t especially angry. The clean vocals weren’t strong and were a bit whiny. The strength lay in the drums department. Here and there Red Seas Fire came out of their shell with all guns blazing and showed they were capable of rip-roaring, bouncing metal. Judging by the number of members of other bands in the audience, maybe Red Seas Fire could be seen as a band’s band. (AD)
Having misread the band’s logo beforehand, Obscura was a lucky dip choice for me as I knew nothing about them. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. At least I was coming into it without pre-conceived ideas. A couple of knowledgeable people did tell me earlier in the day that Obscura are German and play technical death metal, which given this event isn’t so surprising. A potential distraction was the fact that I was bringing myself down after the improvised brilliance of Persefone. What I heard initially from Obscura was very technical, very clinical and very heavy. A sampled symphony did nothing to dispel a cacophonous high octane death metal song. This made way for another growly song marked by more heavily technical and purposeful progression. It moved along like an industrial machine. Progress continued to be mechanical, military even. I gathered that Obscura were from Munich and released albums called “Cosmogenesis” and “Akróasis” but for me it made little difference. Each song, wherever it came from, seemed to be borne of an apparent contractual obligation comprising the establishment of an unwavering technical pattern, growls and a clunking progression. Movements were made to order. The spokesman didn’t help by berating the audience for not being interested in the explanation of a song’s timing. He invited the audience to join in – to the growly parts? Band members smiled but there was no fun. There was no spirit or soul. “Sermon of the Seven Suns” was fast and hard but with the same technical riff it still managed to be colourless. To the band’s credit, they played well and tightly, and the grooves were good, but in spite of the occasional epic moment, this was all built on a classic model and came out flat and stingy for me. So whilst Obscura’s set wasn’t actually bad, there was nothing memorable. Once they were in a pattern, they found themselves stuck in it and it was all very pedestrian. To counter my own negativity Obscura have released four albums, and judging by the healthy crowd at the merch stand and a complimentary comment by a fellow-festival goer, it’s clear that Obscura have something to offer. I just never found out what it was. (AD)
The final word: as hoped for, this was a day of great bands, but what was particularly striking was the friendliness and natural camaraderie amongst everyone present. Even the security staff had smiles on their faces while doing their job efficiently. UK Tech-Fest world is one where people talk to strangers happily, make space for others and share their bottle of water. Band members are around to chat and everyone’s happy. World leaders please note.
Review: John Skibeat / Andrew Doherty
Photos: John Skibeat