TechLogoAfter the over-riding success of last year’s event, Tech-Fest returned bigger, bolder and brighter. This year saw the team take over the Newark Showground with its simple access to hangars for the stages, merch stands, bar and promoters. Not to mention the outbuildings for the loos, food facilities and adjacent closely-cropped field with running water for the campers. Of course the nearby run-off strip that allowed for parking was a bonus too. On the downside, and it is a downside. Once all the speaker stacks, assorted lighting rigs and accompanying band gear had been rolled into place it was immediately apparent that the stages themselves were too low, too tight and too far back from the barriers. Once those hangars started filling up, there was only ever going to be a clear line of sight for the first few rows. That was an unforgivable oversight and, word of warning, one that will undoubtedly impinge upon this review.

On the Sunday that Ave Noctum rolled up, tail between legs, it was apparent that plenty of other djentlemen had taken up the challenge with 800 camping tickets sold and 200 more walking in on day tickets. Of those punters that this reviewer encountered, there were plenty of happy faces with the majority of those dining out on the positives rather than dwelling on any perceived negatives. For most, this entire event was a simple godsend, being less about all that unwanted promotional garbage, unnecessary levels of security and ridiculous pricing that so afflicts the big name festivals. The fact that the bands that they loved were here playing their hearts out (not filling up the bottom support slots elsewhere), supporting each other and walking amongst their fans, was the only thing that really mattered to the attendees.

Thrown straight into the action, the first band up were Shields (7/10) who, accompanied by stage two’s mad lighting set-up (hangar-flooding strobes and big strip lights burning holes in retinas throughout), tore into their set with energetic abandon. The heaps of echo on vocalist Joe Edwards was as much to do with the spacious metal hangar as whatever delay had been added through the sound-desk. Edwards and floppy-haired guitarist Sam Kubrick’s wild stage antics (one bouncing whilst snapping his neck violently, the other shooting himself in the chin with his fingers as he sprayed out water) deserved better than being met with bleary-eyes and folded arms but their hefty, inventive metalcore grooves certainly set heads gently nodding.

Aeolist (8/10) lead vocalist Bradley Gallacher made great use of a flight-case to raise himself above the crowd. Sporting a network of tattoos and augmented lobes (one fashioned into a teardrop, the other boasting a huge tunnel), his slow prowl, lascivious leer and eyeballing of the crowd certainly loosened a few bowels. More so, the entire band’s utter abandonment to their post-rock noodling (closed eyes, heads bobbing, swaying gently) made each passage of scathing death vocal even more effective. Part-Contortionist, part-Between The Buried And Me, they certainly proved beyond doubt that they know a thing or two about the art of flow.

Featuring a Mikael Akerfeldt lookalike on vocals and bursting with NWOBHM and thrash-light tendencies, Aeon Zen (6/10) seemed a little over-reliant on their introductory samples to get each song going but when they hit their stride there was plenty of warm, soft ambient keys courtesy of Tom Green. Sadly, it all felt a little tacked together and considering the fact that they were deemed strong enough to tour with the great Devin Townsend, that’s somewhat of a disappointment.

Saving the day (replacing Destiny Potato who had to pull out), Exist Immortal (8/10) over on stage one absolutely nailed it. Their death-heavy tech fired up the slowly-massing crowd into a bout of fist-pumping and frontman Meyrick de la Fuente made certain we reached a peak of frenzy for the big hit “Edge Of Infinity” from their debut full-length. With all that hair flying about it was hard not to buy into each and every swirling, hammering groove.

Italy’s Destrage (8/10) were an utterly manic burst of colour. No matter which genre you tried to stick them in (melodeath / metalcore / progressive metal) these Italians had a way of breaking free. Thanks to all the samples and a vast, floor-shaking bass drum, it sounded more like Rage Against The Machine were playing Nintendo against Dragonforce. Utterly bonkers from beginning to end. You had guitarist Matteo Di Gioia looking like Ali G, sporting a black beard, blonde crop, knee-length socks and a spasming body and singer/rapper Paolo Colavolpe tearing into the first few rows to deliver his invective in torrents.

As Chicago trio Alaya (9/10) hit stage one, everything changed. So accomplished, tight and superbly emotive were they, that there was an instantaneous sense that the thrilling mayhem of the support acts had ended and the assured pomp of the headliners had begun. With stonkers like “Grace”, “Sleep” and “Poor Gloria” threading their way through the minds and mouths of the crowd, the soft floating cascades and arpeggios that surrounded the infectious choruses hit home and moved heads. With such little material to choose from there was a tendency for a mid-set slackening of impact, but with frontman Evan Graham Dunn literally bubbling over with enthusiasm (“We’re having the time of our lives at this festival. It’s been worth every dollar and every mile”) it was easy to become completely immersed in the performance.

Having left bereft guitarist Chris Purvis behind, Friend For A Foe (7/10) made sure they paid due tribute and enjoyed the moment. After losing Chris Barreto to Monuments we were blessed with multiple vocalists tonight with regular leggy blonde Max Curnow taking the lead role. The alternate blonde, Nikki Simmons (Drewsif Stalin), played a superb cameo skipping her way into the crowd before cheerfully ending with a “Thank-you for letting me party with you guys”. The pumped-up guitarists were soon in with us too and Curnow quickly followed, fighting his way into the crowd only to sink to his knees to scream his heart out. There was a bit of mic trouble and a few holes in the sound but their infectious energy made for compulsive viewing.

Aliases (7/10) were able to laugh away stage two’s continuing “technical fuck-ups” by offering the crowd plenty of foot-on-amp posturing as Pin (ex-SikTh) and Leah Woodward hammered away at their guitars. It all made for a blindingly intense experience, both sonically and visually (those strobes again).

With a shift back to the main stage, there was a sudden sense of abandon, the pit properly began to kick-off and it was all due to those happy-go-lucky Eggheads The Safety Fire (9/10). Each of their firecracker numbers like “Old Souls” and “Mouth Of Swords” sparked a new bout of bouncing bodies as fists punched the sky. Amongst it all one overzealous fan was manhandled from the venue (never a pleasant side) by some pretty heavy-handed security who seemed desperate to calm the fervour. The taped segues brought a certain element of calm to proceedings but those titans of scrambling tech had their moment of genius to blow our minds and the high-pitched climax of “Beware The Leopard (Jagwar)” was it as vocalist Sean McWeeney hit that insane top-note.

The Ocean (8/10) were restricted a little by their surroundings. Undoubtedly, that pesky sun peeking through the roof and the downsized stage set didn’t allow for complete immersion in their moody masterpiece Pelagial. They still made a fist of it though with the lighting crew doing a grand job of throwing blues and purple spots down at them. There was also a scattering of interesting filaments shining out from on stage and their enigmatic ocean blue bubble-boards offered a visual piece of the puzzle to connect to. Without the band backlit and the enigmatic video to fall back on though (something that so powered their own intimate tour performances) the show lacked the necessary impact. However, this being Tech-Fest we did get a robot dancing in the crowd so it wasn’t all a wash-out! The joys of those soft builds and the deep, scarring, all-encompassing vocal attack of Loïc Rossetti was immense. Time and again, he ran forward to scream into the faces of his adoring fans. Robin Staps was equally monstrous as with head hung he hammered out the doomy strains of the emotional “Bathyalpelagic II”. Against all the odds, they’d only gone and left us dazed and confused once more.

With UK progressive metal godfathers SikTh (9/10) reforming and headlining here, you could forgive the venue for packing them in until catching a glimpse of the band became a matter of Darwinian theory. The stronger and more determined won out leaving this old sod with little to view but a red glow and the occasional choice bobbing of Mikee Goodman’s dread-covered head as he mounted the barrier. What was heard was more than enough to inspire. Referring to the mayhem before him, Goodman’s satisfied cry of “Having been gone seven years you don’t expect this kind of shit” said it all. You only had to know how much this all meant to the crowd from the reverential chanting that emerged from every mouth in the venue as “When Will The Forest Speak…?” rung out. With Goodman leading them like some deranged puppeteer the whole gig became an utterly cathartic experience. A place of worship – where else would a chant for the festival organiser kick off? Yet here we were hearing “Si-mon, Si-mon” spinning round the hangar. Mr. Garrod must have shed a tear, this event being a real labour of love for him. Like the fans, he too must have been in his element as “Sanguine Seas Of Bigotry” kicked the conveyor belt of crowdsurfers off. Sadly, as “Wait For Something Wild” left us with jaws agape this reviewer had to tear himself away.

Old Father Time is such a cruel master, but even he might have moshed a little that night that SikTh preached to their disciples once more.

Review and photos John Skibeat