Earlier this week, it became apparent that the UK was in for a rough few months ahead. The EU Referendum aftermath is still being felt, the political landscape has changed significantly and, as the old British tradition goes, we still get rain wherever we go. However, whenever UK Tech-Metal Festival comes along, we can forget all about that, if only just for a weekend.
Music ‘scenes’, for lack of a better term (excuse me, I’m still exhausted from having about 8 hours sleep the whole weekend), tend to evolve out of the simplest and most standard of concepts. Or even just ideas that are had. There should never be an aim to create something within a music scene, such as a festival, with the aim to make it solely successful, whereby if it doesn’t, then it is considered a failure. The aim should be to give back to those who are passionate about the craft you are showcasing and expand upon that. You will find the successes and you will find the flaws, and you will build upon that and execute better results year on year.
I am no festival expert by any stretch but this is what Tech-Fest does to absolute perfection. From what was a very niche gamble five years ago has now evolved into an annual event that treats festival-goers differently as well as its acts. Everyone is not only integrated within the same small area but there is no segregation of celebrity and fan, no such proportional separation exists. Tech-Fest has become a place where the line-up caters to several fans within many unique aspects of technical/progressive metal music but also gives something back to the fans. Each year they try new things and they work. By doing so, more people come, as experienced this year where reports of over 2,000 people attended, compared to 3 years ago when it appeared that it barely scraped the 500 mark. I do not know the correct figures but hopefully someone may enlighten me.
But I digress, this is a review after all and there are a lot of bands to cover, but I believe it is important to notice Tech-Fest for doing what they do and why it is currently one of the finer festivals around in this day and age.
Between the Buried and Me
I have been a Between the Buried and Me fan for about 8 years now. When I first heard the band their whimsical direction into creating such fine-tuned progressive metal was very hard to grasp at first. It didn’t make sense. How could a fan of, at the time, very formulaic bands be expected to like this music that was so far removed from what I was used to?
So I listened, listened some more, and some more again.
And then it hit me.
What makes BTBAM so enjoyable is their ability to write, create and translate a musical story from scratch into every song. Channelling vision and idea into paper, into studio and then into live show sounds like a challenge, but with a back catalogue as extensive and diverse as BTBAM’s that even harder.
At Tech-Fest, as a fan, I was in awe at how this could have been done. Not only the speed at which everything was executed but at how their choice of songs flowed so eloquently and without a hint of restraint or hesitation. It worked. So very well.
At Tech-Fest, their musical story worked. Here is a band, a first-time headliner, headlining the fifth anniversary of a niche festival that came from a passionate vision. The band share a passionate vision in their own right into creating such an intense multitude of varied sounds, effects and notes to channel their creative ideas. That creative idea is their musical story.
Tommy, Blake, Paul, Dustie and Dan went out, and even though they may not always be every fan’s cup of tea, they turned some heads on this night and it was spectacular.
Following this band was going to be tough, and so as a Sunday headliner, this was exactly the right call.
This will probably go down as one of the top 3 live shows I have ever had the pleasure to experience.
Animals as Leaders
Instrumental bands are hard to appreciate from your average Joe who’s a music fan. The idea being that without the need for vocals, your attention is entirely devoted into the notes on the instruments that create the moments where the listener feels enjoyment, sadness, elation, whatever the feeling may be. Usually that is the vocalists’ job, but as such, Animals as Leaders evoke such emotions and that core melody that people latch onto in their sound is the guitar.
The only issue I have is that at times Animals as Leaders tend to find themselves executing their material flawlessly but it’s hard to appreciate that emotion if the fans’ focus is shifted on its technicality. Tosin Abasi is a phenomenal guitar player and should always be recognised as such. He has this ability to captivate the listener from questioning how a human being can feasibly play that passage so cleanly into appreciating the eloquence of the music as a whole. When they both work, it’s great.
That was also the only downside. I was frustrated at myself at how I sometimes wasn’t able to enjoy the musical journey without being distracted by a supremely technical hook. From that, I remembered the technical-melodic hook and appreciated it, but forgot about it moments later because the overall mood of the song was slightly shifted.
There were more times when the songs worked, for example in the opener “Wave of Babies” which was its usual sonic self but keeping that mood in such a way for so long is a challenge and I couldn’t stay as interested.
That’s a common struggle I have with instrumental bands anyway, and it is in no way meant to discredit the talent that Animals as Leaders have and the reception that they got because they fully deserved it. But it wasn’t a home run hit for me.
Protest the Hero
This headline slot was almost guaranteed to blow the roof off the place and it so very nearly did had it not been for the structure of the building.
By the time “C’est la Vie” hit, the entire room was a warzone. Protest the Hero came out of the blocks swinging with an unrivalled energy and with the strength of about 10 battalions of war elephants.
This was so much fun.
Blinding strobe lights and a ferocious mix of Protest the Hero’s mathy brilliance plagued the entirety of the band’s set and they kept their energy up to maximum while frontman Rody Walker charmed the crowd with his usual appreciative gestures and comedic routine whilst the viewers struggled to get their breath back.
Their succinct solos and harmonies, coupled with their destructive polyrhythmic patterns and Walker’s soaring voice made for an incredibly entertaining set.
The band should be absolutely commended for something, though. Amanda, a festival mainstay, who was watching her favourite band storm a festival that she had helped to create, received a friendly shout-out from the band too. That was cool.
What was even more amazing was when her boyfriend Rob walked out the other end of the stage and the band made way, and proceeded to get down on one knee. We knew what was coming next. This was a very special moment that Tech-Fest 16 should exactly be remembered for. Memories.
Congratulations to Rob and Amanda.
It is this kind of moment that bands should be commended for; by allowing a special moment to be shared between two people in such a way that it makes them so very happy, it’s beautiful to witness and to appreciate. Protest the Hero get my utmost respect.
All the best to all the rest
Having conducted a soon-to-be-published interview with the band, a very slight element of bias was there because of how friendly and interesting they are as people. They also played Tech-Fest 2012, the first incarnation and now, with a new double-album partially released, they have more material for us mere mortals to drop our jaws at. Textures were on point here, wowing the crowd with some slow, thunderous riffs whilst also jumping right into a methodical techy piece at the right time for the mood not to be altered. This was awesome. More of this please.
This band were the perfect choice to headline the Early Bird portion of the festival, as although there ran a risk of being a slightly smaller crowd due to the extra day, the pressure was always still going to be fully on. Napoleon delivered with full force. Their lavish approach to progressive metalcore and sheer brutality behind the kit was impressive to watch, and the vocalist knew exactly how to turn up the heat tenfold.
Sub-headlining the Saturday is a tough spot to be in but death metallers Fallujah had no issues turning Tech Fest into a frenzied abyss of madness by the opening riff. Their atmospheric aura and captivating brutal guitar work was mesmerising, and was only exacerbated with a drummer who was able to play such ferocious material without any difficulty by the looks of it. What an absolute machine.
Intervals have a very enjoyable presence about themselves, as a vision of Aaron Marshall, he always does have the talent to pull it off on record and live. He was very good here. However, the only issue I have is just that I couldn’t get into it as much as other people. Maybe I struggled on this day as I caught some bug that had permeated the grounds, or maybe it was my attitude to instrumental bands (see Animals as Leaders). Having said that, objectively speaking, the band are tight as hell live.
Fit For An Autopsy
You know things are going to get heavy when Fit For An Autopsy step into the room, and you know chaos is about to ensue. It happened. There were many insane spots that many people felt their face would swallow inside itself, and they probably would have done. Undoubtedly a viciously well-oiled machine is Fit For An Autopsy, and we should always appreciate it when we are in their vicinity as they give Thy Art Is Murder a run for their money.
Their music is very par for the course at Tech-Fest, and Novelists were more than deserving of headlining the second stage on Sunday. However, their mix left a lot to be desired and the vocalist did seem to struggle. With energy he was phenomenal and the band followed suit exceptionally with no ill points to speak of, just that the vocalist had some issues on the high end of the mic. Otherwise, tight set and good vibes all around.
Perfectly suiting the prog gathering that Tech Fest is, and returning to the fold after last year and after a tour with headliners Between the Buried and Me. Haken have this ability to make any fan of older prog appreciate that style, whilst combining styles of new-and-improved prog (that I like to call Haken prog) and turn said older fan into a more open-minded person without doing anything. Haken are that good at what they do. This live show was full to the brim in everything we know from their set and that’s always going to be enjoyable.
This was a metalcore show held at the right time among some extravagant prog that had been going on earlier and it was most definitely welcome. What I can attest is that for some reason, the mix just didn’t work in the band’s favour as they had everything else nailed to a tee. The guitars were much too quiet where I was stood but this is just me nitpicking as otherwise, they were solid. The last song “I Just Feel Hate” was a perfect swansong and deserves many replays if anyone managed to get a video.
Heavy isn’t the word. The precision was impeccable, the timing was exceptional and the element of brutality will now get a new meaning every time Osiah step onstage. Oh, and they go to the gym. Did you know?
Carved out of former members of Acrania and Doomed From Day One, Harbinger essentially craft all the elements of those bands and then some. Opened a lot of eyes I am sure and they should definitely return again soon.
Death metal is death metal.
From Sorrow to Serenity
The vocalist is absolutely incredible both in presence and in execution. He has a natural persona onstage and this was a definite focal point. The rest of the band played along with simplicity and flawlessness, but it was Gaz who completely stole the show.
This was a progressive metal band playing in between progressive metal bands. They also happened to have nice touches of jazz, blues in between passages such as in “Clairvoyance” and a drummer who is insanely gifted at the math game. The instrumental beatdowns were cool.
The Five Hundred
Punchy, rhythmic and a very nice wake-up call to the usual Sunday morning hangover that everyone experienced. They had great stage presence, the guitars were mixed nicely and this was one band who I had never seen before. I was very pleasantly surprised.
Technically proficient fury at its best. Think The Human Abstract meets Architects with a side dose of heavy. It was a perfect addition to the stacked Saturday line-up and made for a perfect prelude to the other heavy acts featured later in the day, right after From Sorrow to Serenity as well was a perfect hour.
The Schoenberg Automaton
I didn’t catch as much of the set as I would have liked but from what I did see, this was exceptionally nasty and aggressive Dillinger-meets-Fit For An Autopsy and that was pretty awesome. If you like gutturals, this would have been the perfect one for you.
Grade A+ effort and delivery from Tech Fest this year, as expected, for such a well-deserved and thoroughly entertaining five years. Here’s to five more and continuing on with plenty of Shmoo’s Pizza for everybody.