It seems like a very, very long time since UK Tech-Metal Fest took place in a field just outside Peterborough earlier this year. So long ago that the powers that be decided to have a rehabilitation clinic for those suffering from Tech-itis (a condition involving your neck moving in a permanent groove to unheard polyrhythms), and to hold this rehab clinic somewhere a little more populated than a field in the middle of nowhere. Croydon’s Scream Lounge was the designated venue, the hour was set and the wheels were in motion. Events conspired against the organizers on the day, with traffic holding up many of the key people involved, but after a while things were soon righted and the bands got onstage to do their thing. The stages alternated, so those who had the superhuman stamina to take in all 14 bands were able to slot them in while only losing around 5 minutes on each set. As a mere mortal I only managed to catch the majority, the results of which you see before you.
Opening up the festival were a lively bunch of lads by name of Hands Of A Saviour. Groovy chugging metalcore was their trade, with an incredibly eccentric frontman to draw the crowd forward. Tracks like ‘If It Bleeds, It Leads’ and ‘Untouchable’ showcased their sound best, particularly the latter’s atonal rhythms and accusatory lyrics. The band themselves were pretty on-point with their headbanging, and also unafraid to delve into some unorthodox stage banter (“Come on Joe!”, in reference to the collective name assigned to the audience). However, it was concerning his vocals where the eyebrows started to raise. I’ve seen cathartic performances, particularly in the hardcore scene, but few can top a man who ends up on his knees bent over double on the floor as he squeezed out the last of his screams. A strong and memorable start to the afternoon’s proceedings.
Things really were not in Accursed Kingdom’s favor right from the start, as both the vocalist and a guitarist had to perform on the floor due to there being not enough space onstage. They soon launched into a brand of brutal deathcore that had tinges of atmosphere in some submerged melodic leads, and a range of piercing shrieks and guttural growls. This all sounded quite promising, except for the atrocious stage mixing which muted the vocals at random intervals and buried much of the interesting melodies, resulting in a drum-heavy wall of noise. Things improved later in their set in this respect, and the growls in particular came out strongly, although the addition of a guest vocalist who sounded near-identical to the frontman was perhaps not the wisest choice. The band’s final track was an enjoyable meaty romp, somewhat salvaging an overall slightly lacklustre set.
Upstairs, the reverse was true for the mixing, where it was full of high range and tinny frequencies but still minimal guitar in the mix. This made listening to The Projectionist, already something of a confusing act genre-wise, even tougher to fathom. From what could be gathered from the sonic mess, they played chaotic hardcore with occasional touches of metalcore. There were harsh vocals trade between the guitarist and frontman, the latter of whom looked almost nervous to be up onstage as he paced back and forth bellowing in an almost powerviolence-like fashion. Generally they put on a solid performance, with a particular strong bass tone, although I could have done without the clean vocals that came intermittently. Time for a change of scenery.
With the mix finally allowing guitar melodies some limelight, it was time for Ariyah to serenade us with their melodic metalcore. Their stage presence was a lot more active and encouraging than the previous two bands, fully interacting with the audience and grooving out when the music required. For a young band, their sound was quite developed, with catchy choruses and heavier chugs as per the genre’s requirement. The vocalist’s cleans were of particular interest, although the harsh screams got a little lost in the mix on occasion, especially when the drums took over. Still, a promising start for the band and I look forward to updates from them in the future.
This next band, Hieroglyph, are also a recent formation, and were phenomenal to watch. Featuring Cambion’s ex-bassist Helen Tytherleigh along with three other talented musicians, this show was, in a sense, a trial by fire for recently-announced vocalist Mark Howes (who may be familiar as vocalist of Bludger). Fortunately he pulled it off with style, alternating between screaming into a megaphone and a slightly faulty microphone. The music played was a little more Swedish-based than the other bands on the bill, drawing from Vildhjarta’s dark and proggy world coupled with Howes’ good impersonation of Cult Of Luna’s roaring screams. The instrumental tracks were also of note, twisting through each section with ease, and allowing Helen to get some hair-flinging rhythmic headbanging going. Fantastic live show, with a promise of an EP in stores soon.
I wasn’t able to catch much of When Prophecy Fails, but what was on offer piqued my interest quickly. Eschewing the seemingly obligatory harsh vocals in much of djent, these guys instead had an exclusively-clean singing style à la new Tesseract meeting Muse over coffee. The rhythms they struck were top-notch, and the unconventional melodies when in “prog-mode” showcased a much wider set of influences than meets the eye. The vocalist in particular gave an impassioned performance, the title track of their new EP “Everything Ever, At Once” springing to mind instantly. Those who love the newer wave of melodic prog would do well to check these guys out, either onstage or on Bandcamp.
Upstairs, the lights went a familiar shade of red and green, and the crowd were instantly transported to a more atmospheric kind of tech-metal. This was my third time seeing Subversion, each time with different people on screaming duty. New face Karl Harrigan did a fine job slotting in with the rest of the band, who were all seemingly locked on a similar, rhythmic wavelength, headbanging on tracks like ‘Novation’. Guitarist Kai Giritli still has an incredible singing range to counteract Harrigan, particularly on the melancholic yet catchy ‘Treason’, although the atmosphere was incredible throughout. Subversion are definitely a band at the top of their game, and new material is highly anticipated.
Later, on the upstairs stage were the shred-influenced groove metal band Mask of Judas, full of impressive widdly guitar displays and that familiar chugging groove that unites much of modern tech-metal. Evoking elements of the Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza clashing with Periphery, the instrumental aspect of the music was slightly bewildering to follow but impressive nonetheless, particularly when Sam Bell went nuts on his guitar for the solos. The only marring aspect of the set, again related to mixing, was that frontwoman Jo Challens was nigh on inaudible for most of it, both with her screaming and singing, a true shame given she excels in both. This was mercifully remedied just in time for a new unreleased track, which was high calibre and a fine addition to their arsenal.
Next up on our list were Aeolist, who were completely new to these ears and did very interesting things to them. This being their EP launch show, there was something of a celebratory mood onstage as the band launched into their first track, chock full of hardcore screams and a tech/melodeath backing for the first half. But then, something happened, and it elevated the show to an eyebrow-raising level: the band started mixing in post-rock with the above-mentioned sound, resulting in a dynamic rarely experienced in a scene full of bands attempting to be the heaviest or the most technical. While Aeolist certainly had these moments throughout, they weren’t the primary concern. Even when the band dropped into quiet lulls or even jazzy moments, there was still an intense ambience, almost as if the crowd were preempting the next explosive moment. How blastbeats and jazz breaks ended up in a tech-metal set is beyond me, but it worked spectacularly and has placed Aeolist firmly on my list of top-notch recent discoveries.
Some bands just epitomize Marmite qualities: while I can see the appeal, the music doesn’t speak to me personally. This was long the case with Northern deathcore act Nexilva, whose sound is certainly brutal and pulverizing, but had never left a deeper impression than that. Apparently something happened while I wasn’t looking, and the band that hit the downstairs stage were much more attention-grabbing, not least because they are now including symphonic keyboards that sound like they were taken from Cradle Of Filth’s “Midian” period to mix in with their tech-death-meets-deathcore sound, as can be heard on ‘Eschatologies’. Vocalist Gary King, however, hasn’t changed one iota, still delivering the same intense roars and shrieks with a maniacal look in his eye, and still able to whip up an intense wall of death on command. By the time their set rounded out, I understood a little more why these Sunderland lads are causing a stir in the scene.
Meta-stasis, the final band for the evening, were more than a little terrifying and exhilarating. Any band possessing ex-members of Sikth and Ted Maul were bound to sound more than a little messed-up, but little could have prepared the crowd for something this savage. Taking to the stage dressed in dusty tunics, and a keyboardist sporting an Anonymous mask, they unleashed an industrial-death-metal maelstrom on the unsuspecting audience. The vocalist was incredibly animated as he did unspeakable things into the microphone, and the rest of the band were a flurry of hair as they let riffs rip. The hodge-podge of genres that they combined was mind-bending, particularly during the more symphonic moments, but somehow everything gelled magnificently. Gibraltar-born frontman Solomon J Lucifer Christ channelled some of that Mediterranean energy into his passionate performance, although the rest of the band were far from slacking on the headbanging front. By the end of the set, it was plain to see why Meta-stasis have been tipped as one of the best new extreme metal bands in the UK, and if the strong songwriting and off-the-wall performances continue, they will expand far beyond the void that their previous bands left in fans’ hearts. And now it is time to lay my ears to rest…