Arriving at Newark Showground feels like coming home; the community here is fantastic with friends, musicians and crew reuniting for another year. It’s only Thursday and already the site is filling up with metalheads, goths and music lovers alike. As usual, the weather is fantastic and already low grumbles of bass are vibrating through the ground as the first bands take to the stages.
It’s day zero, and yet the festival is getting going with bands, masterclasses and partying. Harrison White’s vocal health masterclass is the first of the day. It’s very fitting as the next few days will see some extreme vocals being performed live across the festival’s three stages. To see a workshop dedicated to vocal health discussing effective warm ups and advice is so important to help prevent injury for both performers and fans. The crowd is of a good number for such an early event, a few members have already made a start on the alcoholic beverages. Harrison both demonstrates vocal exercises and gets everyone involved. He is very engaging both delivering important information with a few touches of humour.
Hanging The Nihilist (8) take to the Fireball stage in the early afternoon. This deathcore band from Denmark are new to the scene having only recently released their debt EP Crow. The band’s sound deviates from the generic deathcore sound through the prevalence of keys in their tracks. Keyboardist Berna Baki, who is also known for her keyboard covers on YouTube, adds melodies to the tracks that break through the harsh sound of the guitars. Orchestral string and choir synth melodies also enhance the atmosphere of the tracks. Hanging The Nihilist’s sound is dynamic and very powerful. They are clearly a big hit with the crowd.
Following their performance, Berna leads a keyboard masterclass. Berna performs one of Hanging The Nihilist’s tracks with the rest of the band, demonstrating how her instrument is placed in their music. Going onto to explain how she writes her keyboard parts for the deathcore band, provides an interesting insight into their song writing methods. Berna goes on to perform her cover of Black Tongue’s Second Death (listen to her cover on YouTube). It’s fantastic to see her perform it live. Berna is clearly very competent with her instrument and her passion comes across.
Voices From The Fuselage (8) deliver a strong set raising the energy levels of the afternoon. The quartet have an atmospheric sound with prevalent synths throughout their set. The drawn-out synth melodies create a huge haunting sound, and this contributes to an emotive performance. Ashe O’Hara’s vocals contribute to Voices From The Fuselage’s signature sound and his tone complements the tone of the instrumentation. The guitars take a step back in their music, acting as a support with the main focus being on the vocals and synths. This works for their sound as it fills the lower tones of the music and the rhythms used effectively contrasts those of the synths. This is a very strong performance and brings something extra to the day’s line-up.
The Thursday headliner is Jon Gomm (9). Walking into the Line 6 stage, the atmosphere feels rather different from the previous performances of the day. It seems odd that the barrier is lowered to the ground and even more surprising when the security welcomes the crowd to sit on the floor. Suddenly being transported back to days in primary school, the crowd fills the space eagerly awaiting Jon’s appearance. From the start he has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. His performance is spectacular as he uses his acoustic guitar to perform rhythms, lead melodies, bass lines and drum beats. Jon is incredibly skilled using techniques that are not often seen. Few guitarists use the tuning pegs to change notes in the middles of their melodies. The set feels very personal despite being performed to a full venue. Jon’s personality also contributes to his performance. The northern humour of this musician from Blackpool does not go amiss and his demeanour is very humble. Jon’s performance is somewhat unexpected at a festival that focuses on metal genres, but his set fits perfectly as a Thursday headliner introducing everyone to the festival. This performance celebrates the technical abilities Jon has with his guitar, and therefore, fits in perfectly at Tech-Fest.
Friday sees the blaring heat continue and the festival is now fully underway. Siamese (8) give an incredibly energetic performance. Their music has a feel of pop meets djent and they bring a party vibe to the Line 6 stage. They perform a number of tracks from their latest album, Super Human, including B.A.N.A.N.A.S. and Ocean Bed. Pop influences are clearly displayed with references to Gwen Stefani and Justin Timberlake. They have a full live sound with dynamic instrumentation and soaring clean vocals. On a few occasions the violin becomes buried in the mix, but as the set goes on the sound levels improve. The R’n’B-core band from Denmark are full of energy and it radiates from the stage into the audience. They have great stage presence and are clearly enjoying the performance as much as the crowd. A heartfelt speech from the vocalist prior to their performance of Ocean Bed is very wholesome and deepens the connection between the band and the crowd.
Deathcore band Annotations Of An Autopsy (7) bring a dramatic sound to the day’s line-up. Incredibly heavy guitars and bass, low harsh vocals, pits and crowd surfing pretty much summarises their performance. Despite patches of sunshine breaking through into the Line 6 stage, the quintet creates a dark and dramatic atmosphere. Steve Regan’s harsh vocals remain strong throughout the set and are enhanced by the powerful tones of the instrumentation. The sternum shaking bass resonates through the crowd sustaining high energy levels in both the band and the crowd.
Ravenface (6) return for another year. Since their performance at Tech-Fest in 2018, the band released their latest album Breathe Again, saw the departure of guitarist Leah Woodward and have been touring around the UK. Ravenface’s set consists of a number of old and new tracks. They combine metal elements with catchy choruses and guitar motifs. The crowd isn’t as full as might be expected for the quartet, but there are clear number of fans in the audience. For their performance, the sound is generally well balanced and James Denton’s vocals are consistently strong throughout their set. The tone of the instruments is generally good, although a couple of the guitar tones don’t seem to quite fit into the rest of the sound. Vocals from both James and Jack Ormond-Prout contribute to Ravenface’s unique sound as they both have distinctive tones to their vocals. Their vocals enhance the sound and bring variety to their set.
Archspire (9), for those who do not know, push the boundaries of composition, musicality and live performance with their music. The crowd is full and it’s not surprising considering how talented and extreme Archspire are. This extreme technical death metal band from Canada specialise in high energy levels, ridiculously fast rhythms, machine gun drumming and vocals. Oliver Rae Aleron’s vocal style is not something one comes across often, and his ability to perform live is incredible. The audience is full of metallers headbanging, dancing and generally moshing (where possible) to the unrelenting fast rhythms. The technical execution of the guitar lead riffs further displays the immense talent of this band. Simplistic song writing is not definitely not Archspire’s preference. This performance is shows one of the pinnacles of technical metal – pushing the boundaries and creating a unique sound. Archspire’s performance is a high contender to be one of the best performances at the festival.
Friday headliners Dying Fetus (8) bring a drastic change from Thursday’s headliner. The death metal trio set the tone of their set from the start with heavy distortion and dramatic bass. The atmosphere amongst the audience is that of high energy and it isn’t surprising to see a sea of headbanging. Combing vocals from guitarist John Gallagher and bassist Sean Beasley gives their sound an extra dimension. Both bands members have different textures and tones to their vocals which complement each other and the instrumentation. The presence of shredding guitar riffs cuts through the harsh distortion of the instrumentation, filling out the higher pitches of their sound. They have good stage presence and the performance is enhanced through the lighting show.
Saturday sees 22 (7) take to the Line 6 stage. The progressive metallers from Norway make a statement with their faces smothered in gold mock-nineteenth-century style military jackets. This set is for the prog lovers. With their set featuring predominantly longer, progressive tracks which explore heavy tones, intricate guitar riffs and synth melodies. These tracks are fantastic however, the set would be even better if there was more variety in the tracks they performed. A full set without any catchy choruses, or greater variation in song-structure feels a little lacking. Their performance and stage presence are great. The guitarist seems incapable of keeping still. He spends most of the set running around the stage and jumping on the speakers. 22’s sound is, unfortunately, not quite balanced perfectly at times and their set is cut slightly short due to a late start.
Vexed (8) give an explosive performance on the Fireball stage. Megan Targett’s harsh vocals are incredible and she brings a huge amount of energy to the stage. Vexed give a tight performance with dramatic instrumentation producing a large sound. It would have been good to see more of the riffs performed live instead of having them on the backing track. This being said, the guitarists give a strong performance of the rhythm sections. Their set is enhanced through the addition of clean vocals from Megan. This contrast of her clean tones against the instrumentation creates a dynamic sound. For this performance, her cleans were not as strong as they could be. However, following their performance it became known that Megan is suffering with tonsillitis. To be able to perform both harsh and cleans live for a full set, whilst fighting illness, is remarkable.
Shokran (8) deliver an ethereal performance. With fierce bass and distortion, combined with melodic vocal lines and backing instrumentation, the progressive metallers infuse a number of genre styles to create a unique sound. Andrew Ivashchenko switches between harsh and clean vocals which increases the texture in their performance. Traditional and oriental instruments in the backing add subtle motifs and melodies. It is the extra detail in their song writing which intensifies their sound. Being able to hear multiple layers of a variety of instruments and vocals in a track strengthens the atmosphere of the overall sound. Shokran have a number of fans in the crowd and have made some new ones. Their music seems to be going down well with the crowd and is a fantastic addition to the day’s line-up.
Time, The Valuator’s (6) performance unfortunately falls short to preconceived expectations. Their sound is by no means bad but could be better. The lower tones of the vocals sound good and work well with the instrumentation. However, his higher tones sound very strained, particularly as the set progresses. Alternating between lower and higher pitches during a live performance is no easy feat and his strive to give a dynamic performance is admirable. On this occasion, anyhow, the strained tone does not sound particularly great in the mix. Time, The Valuator’s set does contain an unexpected surprise. Kmac joins the band on stage towards the end of their set, adding both clean and harsh vocals to a section of one of their tracks. For those of you who don’t know, Kmac is YouTuber who is pretty well known amongst the tech community for his talented guitar playing, vocal abilities, and hilarious memes.
Psycroptic (8) give an explosive performance on the Line 6 stage. They bring technical elements in the form of intricate guitar riffs, motifs and melodies, supported with distorted rhythm instrumentation. Powerful, aggressive harsh vocals increase the power of their sound. The crowd is full of headbanging metallers, and it isn’t long before a mosh pit forms. The Australian quartet’s set is filled with machine gun style drumming which gives their sound a powerful sense of motion. This combined with their high energy rhythms and dramatic breakdowns keeps the energy levels high throughout their performance.
Headliners Monuments (9) take to the stage to find an audience eagerly awaiting their set. Monuments’ Tech-Fest performance follows after the recent departure of vocalist Chris Barretto announced in early July. Andy Cizek, vocalist of Makari is filling in for the remainder of Monuments’ upcoming live shows. The balancing of their sound is spot on. The guitars and bass create a meaty distorted sound which is interrupted at intervals with abrasive dissonance. This enhances the power of their tracks and contributes to the drama of the atmosphere. Andy’s vocals suit the instrumentation really well forming a cohesive sound. The energy amongst the crowd is electric. People are crowd surfing by the masses, headbanging and diving to the music. The end of the set sees Andy himself surfing the crowd. Monuments deliver a fantastic set both musically with their performance and the atmosphere they create on the stage.
The Saturday after party sees Toto tribute band So Toto (9) take to the Strandberg Guitars stage. There is something rather wonderful about witnessing a room full of metalheads, goths and tech-metal enthusiasts belting out the lyrics to Africa. They also perform the classics Hold The Line and Rosanna. Musically, the sound was great, and the members of So Toto just managed to squeeze all of their keyboards on to the stage. This performance really highlighted the community feel of Tech-Fest with the crowd singing and dancing together, and generally enjoying themselves. The band themselves seem somewhat shocked at the response they received.
On Sunday, Project MishraM (8) open the Line 6 stage with a unique performance. The progressive carnatic fusion from Bangalore combine Western rock and metal styles with traditional Indian music to create a unique. The seven-piece hold the audience in a state of awe. Heavy, distorted guitars and breakdown sections see the crowd headbanging. Whilst, the violin and flute incorporate beautiful melodies into their sound. The vocals elevate the instrumentation further with vocalist Shivaraj Natraj performing a range of techniques. Throughout the set he switches between clean, harsh and konnakol vocals with ease. The stage has a great part atmosphere. The band members are clearly enjoying their performance, and this transmits into the crowd. Project MishraM have started the final day off with a wonderful and unique set. It’s great to see the wide variety of bands who perform at Tech-Fest.
Progressive metallers Sertraline (9) give an explosive performance on the Fireball stage. The Northern quintet erupt with heavy breakdowns, fast riffs and powerful harsh vocals. They also incorporate melodic guitar leads and soaring clean vocals which produces their unique sound. Vocalist Lizzie transitions flawlessly between cleans and harsh vocals, and her energy radiates from the stage. Their sound is well balanced with the instrumental tones complementing each other perfectly. Sertraline perform a variety of tracks from their EPs along with a currently unreleased track. They clearly have a number of fans in the audience and have obtained new ones. Sertraline are another great addition to the Sunday line-up.
Long Branch Records provide an interesting insight into the workings of the music industry with their afternoon masterclass. It’s great to see the opportunities Tech-Fest presents for musicians and those who work in the industry. With the festival attracting so many bands and industries being able to network and help further each other’s work is fantastic. The masterclass takes the form of an informal Q & A creating a comfortable atmosphere to share information. It’s also fascinating to see how record companies operate in an era where producing and self-releasing music is far easier to do.
Carcer City’s (9) performance is bittersweet as it marks the end of an era. Their performance at Tech-Fest 2019 is to be their last, and they go out with a bang. The Liverpudlian metalcore band perform to a full crowd and it’s not long before a pit opens up. Immense bass tones and heavy distortion on the guitars creates a full sound that immerses the crowd. Lead guitar motifs and riffs blend well with the instrumentation and develop their sound. Patch’s lead vocals are powerful throughout. His aggressive harsh vocals develop the heaviness of their sound, whilst his cleans soar over the instrumentation. The set shows off Carcer City’s talent and the reaction from the crowd reveals how they will be greatly missed.
The afternoon is moving on but Mask Of Judas (9) aren’t about to lessen the pace. With incredible dynamics from their instrumentation and vocals, the progressive metallers have a powerful sound that fills the stage. The guitars carry heavy distorted rhythms and technical guitar riffs which electrify their music. Jo’s live vocals are epic. Her harsh tones are incredibly dense, the low tones in particular, which emphasises the dynamics of the instrumentation. Jo has the ability to alternate seamlessly between harsh and clean vocals, which is remarkable considering she reaches the higher parts of her range with no issue. The instrumentation creates a wall of sound that envelops the crowd.
Valis Ablaze (8) are no strangers to Tech-Fest having performed at the festival on a number of occasions over the past few years. The progressive metallers’ performance takes place shortly prior to the release of their album Render which lands on 19th July. Their setlists consists of a variety of older tracks and a significant number from their new album. The give a strong performance which ranges from dramatic heavy tracks, notably Paradox, to lighter tracks which explore technical guitar melodies, synths and highlight the vocals. Phil’s vocals have a unique edge to them which greatly contributes to the originality of the band’s sound. His vocals come across clearly in their performance, balancing well with the instrumentation. The variety of guitar tones used throughout their tracks shows the Valis Ablaze’s diversity in their song writing and makes for an enjoyable live set.
Leprous (9) are the final headliners of the festival and what a performance do they give. The Norwegian prog-metallers are best known for their huge atmospheric sound, use of synths and Einar Solberg’s unique vocals. Their set consists of a variety of tracks, from the longer, dynamic progressive tracks, to those with catchy choruses and more danceability such as Illuminate. Their live sound is incredible. The mix is spot on with low rumbling bass, powerful guitars and dramatic synths. Leprous’ performance is enhanced further through the programming of the stage lighting. Being the last band to perform on the Line 6 stage, the stage is completely dark allowing the lighting effects to create a powerful, dream-like setting. The full force of these visual elements combined with the music immerses the entire crowd, removing everyone from world outside of the stage doors. There are clearly great fans of Norwegian quintet in the crowd from the cheers the ensue throughout the performance. Their penultimate track, From The Flame gains an immense response and is clearly a well-known favourite. This isn’t too surprising as this track involves a catchy synth riff, dynamic instrumentation and an incredible vocal melody line that jumps around between octaves. In true Leprous style they make their performance appear effortless.
Monday morning brings the sorrowful sight of the stages being dismantled, vans loaded up and festival goers saying goodbye for another year. The past four days have flown by and there is a sense of loss as everyone prepares to return to reality. The incredible atmosphere, the high-quality music and the variety of performances once again show how much care goes into this festival. It’s perhaps not too surprising that fans of the festival have coined the phrase ‘Tech-Fest is Best-Fest’!
Words by Holly Royle