I planned to make it to the festival location, which is a few kilometers off Bristol, using the shuttle from London organized by festival hosts. Confusion about a potential bus hogging a small road meant we were delayed by an hour or more, and by the time I had got my badge and got to pitch my tent in windy conditions, I had given up catching Bossk. I did, however, get a few of their melodic post- sounds drifting from the Arc (Main) Stage that wasn’t too far away from the VIP camping area.
Once I was settled with the tent and had a bite to eat, I headed to the PX3 stage for Conjurer, a UK band that released their debut album, ‘Mire’, last year. Their bassist took center-stage, flanked by two incredible harsh vocalists doubling as guitarists. While I had given their music a go before, I didn’t realize how doomy some of the riffs are. And the way they built up to more technical, chaotic sections seemed to get a deservedly wild reaction from the crowd. The sound was solid, though I have to say a random pole in the middle stage (as was the case for Yohkai stage) was a poor design choice, blocking the view for that upfront.
Møl are one of my favorite recently-discovered acts. They play very melodic yet heavy black-gaze and their debut album ‘Jord’ also released last year. I made sure to collect a t-shirt at the end of the day to show them some love. The harsh vocalist was on fire, singing difficult lines with ease and rage in his eyes. He often joined in the crowd, something quite common for most bands in stages outside of the Arc Stage (Main Stage). The melodic tremolo riffing and blast beat combo made for great moments, and there was a guest appearance from Brady Deeprose (of Conjurer) who lent his great harshes on “Bruma”.
Zeal & Ardor were up next on the Arc stage. Having seen them during a festival last year, I was aware of how strong their stage presence is. The mastermind behind the band and the one who voices the black metal screams, Manuel Gagneux, was flanked by two others sporting hoodies and providing backing vocals and further harmonies. The gig starts with the lovely “Sacrilegium” instrumental and proceeded to include a mixture of ‘Devil is Fine’ and ‘Stranger Fruit’ tracks. The crowd joined in with claps during the soul sections and sang along the super catchy “Row Row”. Despite technical issues midway that meant that the show lost its effects, their core sound is so powerful that not much of a difference was felt. I was particularly a fan of the ‘dirty’ bass tone.
While I gathered a bite for dinner, I caught a decent section of the Polyphia set which was filled with heavy instrumentals and trap as well as electronic titbits that were introduced to a larger extent on the fun ‘New Levels New Devils’. I must admit that their set sounded slightly less appealing live than on record. One of the members using a few totally random screams to see if the crowd was alive was also eyebrow-scrunch worthy. The slightly shrill guitar type of playing was also present, though the extra drum solos were a nice addition. Carpenter Brut were a must to check out live I was told, and with a good view, I was excited about their hour-long set. I was a fair bit surprised that the music, for the most part, was performed by instruments and not software. The tone of all the instruments was impressive, and the drums sounded massive. They added a great visual element to their performance, using video clips of newspaper cut-offs and creepy 80s references that were gory and sexual in equal measure. Occasionally lyrics were also shown on the screen, which doubled down for the crowd to sing along, karaoke-style. I enjoyed them more live than on record as the videos and images helped one distract from the repetitive writing. The final “Maniac”, a cover, had great drum fills and guitar solo for variation.
Daughters were by and far my favorite act on the first day. Vocalist Alexis Marshall‘s phrase delivery comes alive in a person. The manner in which he forcefully thrusts phrases on your face, his voice even breaking at times, translates extraordinarily well live, and his persona itself is great. Sporting a shirt (which he loses at the end) that shows off his massive chest tattoo, he surfs on the crowd, even diving and standing on them during the epic “Satan in the Wait”. He also dropped the mic multiple times, which I didn’t know what to make off, though he at least had the performance to back up that particular gimmick. The drummer was on fire, setting the mood for non-stop headbanging and signaling sudden tempo changes that got the crowd crazy. There was a girl seated in the back on stage in charge of sound effects as well as additional instrumentation, who I consider an unsung hero during the act. I’ve heard time and time again that the band are amazing live, which is why I took the time to listen to their music beforehand (which I loved it too, though it took a while to grow on me), but they still blew my mind.
By the time Coheed and Cambria made it onto the stage, I was starting to feel the fatigue creeping in, but I thought missing one of the biggest acts in prog that I’ve never seen before would be a cardinal sin. As expected, the energy in the performance was incredible and the stage was illuminated by animated clips that reflect the various stories of The Amory Wars. I liked the songs of the new album, which I was most familiar with, though I’m not proud to say I didn’t survive their entire set. Frontman Claudio Sanchez‘s hair has its own stage presence, one moment covering up his face as he sings and next tied-up behind. I did find his vocals very low in the mix at times, which tends to happen quite often with cleans in a live metal setting. I’ve never been too into their music, but I was happy to see others around me having a ball, singing along each lyric and dancing to the tunes. After all, everyone deserves a good time!