Live Review: ArcTanGent Festival 2023 – Friday

Live Review: ArcTanGent Festival 2023 – Friday
Words: Matt Noble
Photos: Joe Singh / Jonathan Dadds

Early on the second stage on Friday morning are Southern doomers Witchsorrow, clearly having the times of their lives. Nick's vocals sound fantastic, and the band go from upbeat Sabbathy swings to menacingly slow crawls with ease. The opening Hexenhammer leads into the more upbeat The Devil's Throne - they do well to structure the set around a range of dynamics and preventing all the slower or faster material being played around the same time and losing impact. They start what's presumably the first circle pit of the day to the lumbering Made of the Void - and probably the slowest circle pit of the whole weekend! - showing the charisma and sense of fun that goes into their performances, which the bleary-eyed crowd lap up. Nick even goes right to the barrier to engage the crowd for the dark set closer Demons of the Mind, backed by a tight rhythm section who carry the thunder and frankly, sound huge. It's a solid performance from Witchsorrow, who bring a wickedly dark start to the third day.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Dadds

Possibly the worst clash of the weekend follows, but I make sure to check out at least most of Silverburn's set for the first time, who are playing their second ever show today. Fronted by Jimbob Isaac, formerly of Taint and Hark, his latest project takes on a more hardcore approach sonically than ever before, though still with his trademark interesting guitar-isms, which I've always personally found draws me in a lot. Whirring electronics make way into the vicious groove of Annihilation, which has titanic Gojira-style undertones lurking beneath the punishing, angular hardcore riffs. Silverburn goes for the jugular a lot more than Isaac's previous projects, but the guitar fills, progressive elements and his vocal roar has his musical identity stamped all over it. The drumming is also excellent, navigating different time feels expertly alongside a filthy bass tone. The band's debut album 'Self Induced Transcendental Annihilation' had barely been out for a week by this point, but today's set gives me some clear listening homework to do when I'm back home. The performance was supreme, and despite this early point in the band's career they really did not disappoint.

The next band I'm able to catch is Bell Witch in the early evening. Performing as much of this year's 83-minute The Clandestine Gate as they can in their allotted stage time, it's thick, crushing and intense, and seriously fucking loud. The music trudges along at snail pace, allowing the duo to wring out every ounce of sorrow from each desolate note. Most of the crowd seem to stand mesmerised in silence, particularly the doom faithful towards the front. The duo utilise vocals that are either low and guttural, or made from delicate, clean singing, allowing for a fairly rich journey that they send the audience on. Yes, it might be pretty slow and miserable, but there are some serious layers to the music for those that are really into it. I can't escape the feeling that Bell Witch could have done a bit better earlier in the day on a larger stage, as a few further back are clearly quite merry by this point, but nonetheless as a doom fan it's a real bucket list moment to have seen Bell Witch and they delivered everything I wanted out of the performance.

I've really got no idea what to expect from Swans, though a few in my camp are really excited for them and I'm not sure I'll get the chance to see them another time, so I make sure to get a good spot. A thick, claustrophobic wall of sound starts off the set. It's effectively about seventeen minutes of a D note that ebbs and flows in intensity - though there's something quite hypnotic and alluring about the whole thing. There's a massive range of instruments and sounds, including synths, cymbals, vocal whistles, acoustic instruments, and what seems to be a theremin from my angle. At one point, there's two of them playing drums, before the secondary player goes back to keys. I've truly never seen or heard anything like this. During the more ambient parts, the two synths reverberate to the point where the different overtones the chords are producing seem to harmonise with each other. There really is a lot to unpack beneath the droning surface here. Led and conducted by Michael Gira, whose transcendental vocal delivery adds interest in itself, Swans definitely leave their impression on newcomers like myself, and presumably also those that know them well!
Photo Credit: Joe Singh

I'm really excited for the chance to see Heilung on this stage. The German word for 'healing', there's something otherworldly about their performance which can only really be described as a ritualistic experience. Before the curtain is pulled, they set an earthly tone with forest and cricket noises, before the musicians gracefully walk on stage and begin with a call-and-response that I'd guess was some sort of prayer. It's not all ritualistic though, with a few war chants to mix up the mood, even at one point with warriors dancing across the stage with swords and shields in their hands. Vocally, some of the throat singing sounds really guttural - this isn't out of place here by any means - and then the higher melodies can be really haunting at times. Some of the percussion arrangements and rhythms are also pretty unconventional, which certainly adds to the otherworldly feel.

Photo Credit: Joe Singh
Visually, Heilung put on a real spectacle. The light show is absolutely excellent - sometimes you can only see the silhouettes of the band onstage - and the pyrotechnics bring an even greater sense of intensity. Their finale is fairly calming after over an hour of pretty gripping, fervent Viking music, bringing us back to the dimension that we entered the tent in. The band only break the fourth wall and acknowledge the crowd at the very end of the set, allowing the veil to come down exclusively to show their appreciation for the turnout and audience, who give them a deserved reception, clapping along to the rhythms and involving themselves in the ritual as much as possible.
I think Heilung are my band of this year's Arctangent. Though it's another act of standing still, straight after Bell Witch and Swans, they had my attention in a vice grip and I felt completely transfixed by the whole thing. Though I wouldn't necessarily listen to them at home, they were a must-see band based on the hype I'd heard and they delivered with flying colours. In every sense, the whole thing was an experience, and despite deliberately ignoring the audience for the majority of the set, I still felt that I was part of the full thing and involved in their ancient magic.
Photo Credit: Joe Singh

Photo credits: Joe Singh / Jonathan Dadds

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