Heavy metal is a genre crammed with overly worn cliches. Every other lyric dictates the pros of necrophilia, every other frontman screeches in cheap corpse paint and every other band logo is as legible as tea leaves. The exceptions, however, are on show at ArcTanGent, which has returned to Fernhill farm after a Covid-warranted hiatus to showcase the best of loud yet convention-shattering music. A reputation for quality bookings has seen the three-day event grow to five stages and a capacity of 10,000 in less than a decade, and the 2022 edition accompanies that growing scope with the best lineup yet.
Fes make for a vibrant start on Thursday. The math-rockers prove intellectual tunes needn’t skimp on a good pop hook, as frontperson Pollyanna Holland-Wing sings while playing guitar like a virtuoso. A sombre counterweight comes from instrumentalists Pijn, who accentuate their devastation with sorrowful violins. They’re the first of a legion of post-metal bands to decimate this weekend. The genre shines brightest – ironically – with the hellish density of Thursday headliners Cult of Luna. The sextet could be the world’s heaviest band, and hearing behemoth songs such as Blood Upon Stone blast out of fog thicker than John Carpenter could conjure up affirms that idea. It’s the apex of the festival, their closest rivals being Amenra. The Belgians are an existential crisis in sonic form, casting dread-laden post-metal against panicked shrieks to curate the most perfect kind of horrible.
On Saturday, Leprous also stake a claim to supremacy. Hosting a math-metal masterclass, they floor the second stage with their avant-garde crescendos, as well as Einar Solberg’s impeccable voice. Alcest ascend to similar heights of beauty as vocalist Stéphane “Neige” Paut wails over blackgaze hymns. Oranssi Pazuzu, in contrast, invoke a black metal nightmare on Friday. Jangling synths and seemingly random time signatures make their set perennially addictive. Møl offer a more jubilant take on the genre, arriving in pink to ignite their crowd with flamboyant guitar licks.
“I was booked on to this festival for my demanding stage presence,” Emma Ruth Rundle quips on Saturday. She may be sitting in front of a blank backdrop with nothing but a piano and guitar, but when you have a voice that can reduce a festival crowd to silence, you don’t need anything else. Fellow dark rock singer/songwriter AA Williams ups the drama, with suites such as Wait escalating from acoustic quietness to full-band climaxes. More uniformly noisy are Ithaca, whose setlist flaunts the righteous metalcore of new album They Fear Us. The moshpit never stops.
Friday headliners Tesseract apparently found the Triforce of Power during the pandemic. Their live show has levelled up, with lasers flashing in perfect time with every wonky riff, and singer Daniel Tompkins looks and sounds more imperious than ever.
Opeth’s Saturday headline set is business as usual. That said, who needs window dressing when they have such progressive death metal masterpieces as Demon of the Fall? Their early finish lets Her Name Is Calla conclude the weekend, wrapping up ArcTanGent in a bow of heartbreaking post-rock. It’s an aptly bittersweet end to three days that never put a toe wrong.