Earlier this month, Distorted Sound Magazine headed to Newark to check out this year’s fifth anniversary iteration of Tech Fest. The small but lively four day event drew in excess of 5,000 attendees last year, and this year performed even better under its biggest and most exciting line-up yet.
Of particular note on the Thursday were NO CONSEQUENCE, replacing a recent cencellation from HUMANITY’S LAST BREATH. The groove-heavy progressive metalcore act set a very high standard for the weekend as the evening settled in, boasting a very clear live sound and an engaging stage presence. Unfortunately, though the crowd was eager to be there and get down to business, it seemed as though many were unfamiliar with NO CONSEQUENCE’s material. Another possible detractor is that, though the band performed well, as far as Tech Fest goes, they aren’t particularly unique.
The weekend also boasted a number of fascinating clinics and workshops spread throughout each afternoon. Thursday opened this tin rather fittingly with, among others, a solid open forum from Edenborough-based fretboard virtuoso SITHU AYE, who ran through a number of his songs while covering various instructional points throughout his time on stage, taking questions from the crowd and ultimately providing a calm and engaging introduction to the weekend’s festivities.
Headlining the Thursday, Exeter-based shredders NAPOLEON were met with an extremely enthusiastic response from the audience. Boasting an energetic sound reminiscent of an admixture of ERRA and PROTEST THE HERO, along with some of the more impressive fretboard acrobatics of the evening, the band very clearly demonstrated that this weekend was going to be exciting, to say the least. NAPOLEON also showcased one of Tech Fest’s finer points: a staggeringly well engineered production set up. Clear, crisp, and capable, the four-piece’s competent musicianship carried a very well realised set into an uplifting close for the festivals opening night
Early Friday afternoon, MAKE ME A DONUT made an appearance on the second stage. While for the most part, the sound was solid and groovey, the band is evidently still developing, with their set being plagued by poorly performed clean singing and childishly constructed atonal soloing. A band with potential, but not without a few years of practice and a few line-up changes.
Following on from this on the mainstage was deathcore newcomers HARBINGER. With an enthusiastic response from the crowd despite their relatively new appearance on the scene, the band seemed pleased with the results, spinning riff after riff into the atmosphere.
With the day only gaining momentum, the mainstage then played host to A NIGHT IN THE ABYSS, a new face bearing the blackened side of deathcore. While the band leads a modest following, they performed with incredible professionalism. Between blast beats, vicious riffing, and some incredible lead-work, they proved one of the highlights of the afternoon, paving the way for the evening to come.
Continuing the deathcore trend of the afternoon, the second stage played host to OSIAH, a band seemingly focused on being the biggest sonic caricature of the weekend. Between the bland riffing, obnoxiously uninspired and repetitive breakdown sections, and an endless barrage of pig squeals, the Newcastle-based act did little to positively add to the atmosphere.
With the afternoon descending into dusk, many gathered in the main arena to offer witness to one of the most critically acclaimed acts in instrumental progressive music: Australian prodigy PLINI. Performing a calm, collected, and captivating set of fan-favourites and new material, including the debut of a brand new track, PLINI proved a testament to the incredibly high standard of musicianship on display over the weekend. As an added surprise, fans were delighted to learn that among the guitarist’s backing musicians was INTERVALS mastermind Aaron Marshall, who performed a couple of dazzling solos in between PLINI’s many finger-splitting upper fret runs and heartfelt phrasing, letting the set fall as one of the finer points of the weekend.
Carrying the excitement over to the second stage entreated the audience to a headlining set from DISPERSE, who continued the high standard of musicianship via the leadwork of guitarist Jakub Żytecki, an individual renowned for his appallingly skilful playing. Unfortunately, the band is not as strong on all fronts. Namely, the vocalist seemed somewhat at odds with the absurdly high standards set by the rest of the bands. While performing well, he seemed unable to quite demonstrate the vast range needed of a singer unwilling to venture into the territory harsh vocals.
The next piece of technical wizardry on display in the main arena was INTERVALS, featuring PLINI returning Aaron Marshall’s earlier favour with particular flair. This kind of musical alliance is the stuff of progressive metal fan dreams, and it certainly lived up to expectation, with the two shred enthusiasts seemingly intent on out-performing the other, much to the delight of the crowd. Among songs performed were several catchy numbers from The Shape of Colour, the latest release from INTERVALS. These proved a mesmerizing display for new and old fans alike, and the band were undoubtedly pleased by the response they garnered.
There is perhaps only one name that could so adequately complete this veritable trifecta of instrumental juggernauts: ANIMALS AS LEADERS. As soon as the lights dimmed, the crowd was alive with excitement, but no preparation or anticipation could quite do this set justice. As soon as the opener, Wave of Babies, slid into its hypnotically heavy rhythmic grooves, it became apparent who could potentially be the reigning champions of this year’s tone battle. Perfectly resonant, appropriately analogue despite being oh so delightfully digital in nature, both eight string guitars drove the set with unparalleled precision. In a meticulous display of technical prowess, guitarist Tosin Abasi treated the audience to a true master class in fretboard marathons. Few artists can perform such physically demanding music, let alone thirteen full songs of it. While the setlist was fairly predictable fare for the band, the crowd was nonetheless delighted with the performance. ANIMALS AS LEADERS truly set the standard high for the weekend, and there did not look to be any slowing down.
Saturday arrived bearing a few sweet apples, and a couple of fetid lemons. One such lemon, deathcore act BELIAL, appearing on the second stage in the mid-afternoon, proved somewhat of a disappointment. Despite a promising first EP, and a new single earlier this year that boasted a uniquely dark atmosphere and style, the band has failed to deliver on their deadline for their most recent release, and appears to have neglected their live performance too. Stagnant, dull, generic, the band was not up to scratch with the rest of the weekend, leaving a few disappointed faces.
But, as the evening progressed, so too did the musical styles. Returning for his second performance of the weekend, this time joined by a full band and an actual live setlist, SITHU AYE headlined the second stage to an immensely positive response from the crowd. Playing a number of songs spanning his whole career, the famed guitarist did naught but impress with his incredible soloing abilities. The fact that his seventeen year old brother was playing bass for him only made it cooler.
On a high note, the crowd promptly migrated to the mainstage for another weekend highlight: Californian technical death metal masters FALLUJAH. With their third studio album, Dreamless, released earlier this year, the band presented the audience with a captivating showcase of ethereal musical proficiency. There are performances, and then there are performances, and this set was of the latter. Blasting through blistering new auditory assaults such as Amber Gaze and The Void Alone, few were spared the uncompromising strength of FALLUJAH’s live sound and presence, one which drew a lively reaction from the crowd. In terms of musicianship, the band was practically unparalleled all weekend. Between soaring solos and punishing bass drops, FALLUJAH delivered the best elements of their sound in droves, definitively displaying precisely why they are one of the most promising bands in death metal right now.
Closing out the evening was PROTEST THE HERO, seemingly determined on promoting a far friendlier and upbeat atmosphere in comparison to the bands preceding them. They were met with invigorating enthusiasm from the audience as they ran through fan favourites across their discography. While the band performed to an impressive standard, the performance was ultimately staggered by an unimaginative setlist. Of course, practically every band playing a festival must lean towards singles and imbued nostalgia to win a crowd, but these were song choices that seemed somewhat uninspired, especially for a band with such an expressive and expansive sound. Had the band favoured more recent material, particularly cuts from the well-received Pacific Myth, one might have seen a fresher side to the band.
The festival’s final day rounded out the weekend with a handful of worthy acts on both stages. Amongst the second stage fare was PRAVITAS, who, despite their vocalist pushing overenthusiasm to uncomfortable levels, managed to impress with some incredible leadwork. Unfortunately, the rest of the band’s sound was somewhat lacking, leading to a moderately entertaining set with a decidedly subdued punch to it.
The weekend’s final headliner, BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME, are indeed iconic in progressive metal. Over the course of their career, they have built an impressive and deservedly loyal following via a hugely diverse catalogue of critically acclaimed records, and their performance was a true testament to that achievement. While the sheer length of their compositions precluded them from playing a particularly long list of songs, their set certainly did not lack for density, with a huge selection of material on show. Of note during their set was the stellar performance of Paul Waggoner, a true titan of modern guitar playing. The audience enjoyed the direction of the set, particularly the vicious recital of Telos, and reciprocated with joyous revelry. A fitting final headliner, it is safe to say.
One of the final bands of the weekend, due to a scheduling issue, was Brazilian instrumental group VITALISM, who enjoyed an enthusiastic crowd at the final after-party of the weekend. Displaying one of the finer selections of guitar pyrotechnics to be seen over the course of the festival, the band more than made up for their obvious lack of audience chemistry. With some dazzling alternate picking and some truly jaw dropping arpeggios, they rounded out the experience in stunning fashion.
Tech Fest has proven to be worthy of its five years running. Few festivals can capture the friendly atmosphere, stellar collection of bands, and affordable price all in one field, but a dedicated group of people certainly made a valiant effort of it, and it’s certain that many will be returning for another round next year. If one is a fan of progressive metal, then it’s a very simple course of action: be there.
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