• Rockodile

REVIEW: RADAR FESTIVAL 2019



Turning up to the inaugural Radar Festival in the quaint town of Guildford, it was hard to know what to expect from a new festival in a familiar setting for myself. Having been absent from the tech scene for the past two years for various reasons, it was also exciting to me to see who would be in attendance.



Whilst the venue itself was slightly unorthodox for a music festival on first entry (there were lavish chandeliers and giant disco balls on the ceiling!), it soon became apparent that this was a very well-constructed festival given that this was its first go! While the lack of A/C in the mostly busy rooms did make watching bands somewhat of a challenge at times, the quality of said bands and the overall atmosphere of the festival was enough to shed the heat.


Harbinger


Walking in to the grand main room to the booming sound of Harbinger playing to a packed room was enough to help anyone ignore the heat mentioned. The band pummel through material, mostly from their recent debut album Compelled To Suffer, which manages to stir up some sizable pits for their early afternoon slot. Unfortunately, they do slightly suffer sonically as Ben Sutherland and Charlie Griffiths’ intense riffing is slightly muffled under Joel Scott’s crushing drum hits and Thom Gardner’s record perfect roars.



ROCKODILE RATING: 7/10






Shattered Skies


Entering the second stage, it became apparent that there was a disproportionate ratio of people who struggled to find a comfortable place to watch the bands. That said, it did create some wonderfully intimate sets, one of those being for British/Irish prog metallers Shattered Skies. Back in 2015 it seemed like the sky was the limit for the band after dropping an incredibly fresh sounding tech album, but unfortunately with a change in vocalist their rise took a slight plateau. The band returned with an EP in early 2017 with new vocalist Gerry Brown in tow and while it still held their trademark accessibility, it slightly lacked in content compared to their previous effort.



That all changed with their 2018 comeback Muted Neon, a return to form that proved that Gerry certainly had what it took to fill ex-vocalist Sean Murphy’s shoes. They seemed comfortable and confident in their performance and worked well off the intimacy of the room. Even though there was some inconsistency in their live sound, the band were clearly having the time of their life on that small stage and their newer songs blended seamlessly in with old favourites. Here’s hoping they continue down the path they were projected to go on back in 2015!



ROCKODILE RATING: 7/10






Loathe


Becoming somewhat of a commonplace sight for me in the last year, the Liverpudlians have been somewhat quiet of late, working on new material from what they told the crowd back in May at the Employed To Serve show (where they threw in a sneak peek of what was to come). It's a shame that they got such an early slot on the festival considering how much momentum they've been building up for themselves, but that doesn’t dampen the energy in the room one bit. They blasted through songs from their debut album and split EP, making sure that the crowd got into plenty of pits in the process. Loathe always give 100% and they never fail to put on a fantastic live show.



ROCKODILE RATING: 8/10






Mask Of Judas


Despite a thoroughly enjoyable debut album last year, Mask Of Judas haven't been playing many live shows to support it. They didn't seem to be entirely comfortable and it may not help that they were playing without second guitarist Reece Fullwood for this set. This was certainly no problem given Sam Bell's incredible guitar virtuosity but it demoted many of the rhythm guitar parts to the backing track, making the songs lack the punch that they should in a live environment. As with Shattered Skies before them, it would be great to see Mask of Judas get regularly gigging again and become more confident in commanding the stage, as Jo’s unique vocals over Sam’s deft guitar skills is still a unique sound in today’s tech metal scene.



ROCKODILE RATING: 6/10






Uneven Structure


Having watched only parts of melodic hardcore act Polar and then up and coming tech metallers Unprocessed, it's hard to say much more than that they both manage to fill their respective rooms (surprisingly in the case of Polar!) to a devoted audience. However, it is Uneven Structure that piques many people’s ears. With bassist Benoit Friedrich sitting this show out, the French four piece seemed even more bare than they have done of late after the conversion from three guitarists to one over the past few years. Nevertheless, their performance was still sleek and powerful, with the band adopting a reverse triangle stage set up on the festival's main stage.



While they played through old favourites such as "Funambule" and eventually the classic opening tracks of their debut album Februus, it was the new song "Innocence" that really shone above all else. Vocalist Matthieu Romain displayed a fresh range in his voice, blending his trademark baritone with airy falsetto licks which were a refreshing surprise and brought huge promise to how their third album will turn out.



ROCKODILE RATING: 8/10






Eschar


Eschar have been extremely silent over the last few years, so it's forgivable for many to have thought they had maybe called it quits. This does not seem to be the case however and although they may not have any plans for a follow up of 2014s album Nova, they can still hold their own as a live act. Leaning more towards the post-rock side of things, the local four piece still manage to feel right at home at Radar Festival, providing a hint at the musical diversity the festival could have in future instalments.



ROCKODILE RATING: 6/10






Black Futures


The biggest crowd of the day by far was the one that was patiently awaiting the unveiling of the 'secret act'. Many thought that the appearance of Sleep Token was imminent but, with their ArcTanGent set around the corner and no other weird cryptic comments from them on social media, it wasn’t entirely to my surprise to see a flag-waving hazmat team usher in local electro-rockers Black Futures.



Following an extremely entertaining set at Download Festival, it was still a great surprise to see the Radar Festival team pushing the boundaries of what is classified as progressive and that’s certainly one way to describe Black Futures’ bizarre stage show. Sadly, many seem put off by the lack of the expected 'secret act' and subsequently missed out on enjoying the odd yet incredibly fun live act that Black Futures have become.



ROCKODILE RATING: 8/10






Sumer


Another band who have been noticeably quiet apart from the handful of shows are Sumer. Hitting a new stride with new bassist Jake Archer, Sumer showcased a handful of new songs during their packed out second stage set. Whilst their 2014 debut The Animal You Are feels like it came out a long time ago now, they haven’t lost any sense of showmanship and put the crowd into a trance of riffs and alt rock melodies that got the entirety of the room bopping their heads. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we hear news on their long-awaited sophomore release.



ROCKODILE RATING: 7/10






Heart Of A Coward


Now that their highly anticipated new album The Disconnect has dropped, Kaan Tasan’s mark on Heart Of A Coward has well and truly been made and he's proved he has exactly what it takes to fill previous vocalist Jamie Graham’s shoes. Performing a surprising set list that only included one new song, Kaan showed that he has swiftly matched both the sound and presence of his predecessor and that's an extremely gratifying sight to both myself and the band's long time fans.



Despite a slight set back in starting, the band managed to whip up mosh pits like it was nothing. Heart Of A Coward's return to rigorous touring has returned the band into being a modern metal machine - this is an extremely pleasing sight and bodes very well for the band's future as one of the juggernauts of British metal.



ROCKODILE RATING: 9/10






Monuments


The fact that Monuments played UK Tech Metal Fest not more than a month ago doesn’t seem to deter crowds turning out in their masses to see them. For myself, seeing them this time was an intriguing prospect as it was my first exposure to stand-in vocalist Andy Cizek, who brought a surprising breath of fresh air to the band - his youthful approach to the stage was refreshing from the at times cocky approach that has became the norm for their shows when they had Chris Barretto.



The band were unsurprisingly slick and polished, however it did become apparent that their recent album Phronesis did suffer from weaker song writing than its predecessors. Andy’s flexible vocals did however give the melodies a new life that made things more interesting. Whether they continue with him remains to be seen, but here’s hoping!



ROCKODILE RATING: 9/10






Valis Ablaze


Starting day two off a little late due to catching up with old friends away from the oppressive heat of the venue meant I only caught the last two songs of Vola's set - they had already amassed a brimming crowd! I moved down to the busy second stage to watch rising UK proggers Valis Ablaze and from the word go it was clear that their hard work over the past 3 years had paid off immeasurably. Their new album Render is some of their strongest material yet and this is apparent from the passionate fanbase they have managed to amass, much of which was out in force to watch the band's intimate set.



With material from both albums translating extremely well into a cohesive set and the band playing a precision perfect performance, it was easy to see how they had pulled such a large crowd at a festival full of progressive heavyweights. While their TesseracT comparisons are obvious, their recent material shows more of a leaning towards bands such as Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus, something which is helping them carve their niche within the bigger scene. All quite a feat when you consider their guitarist Ash Cook is one of the main organisers of this weekend’s proceedings!



ROCKODILE RATING: 7/10






Car Bomb


After Valis Ablaze were done, I returned to the main stage in time for the frenzy of crushing riffs that brings in Car Bomb’s set. The American four piece are quite the veterans to their own bizarre tech metal genre, something which set the mosh pits alight as they played through a dizzying mesh of butchered time signatures and whirring riffs, complete with effects that can only be compared to the laser beam sounds from the Lucasfilm archives.



They maintained a great level of banter with the crowd too, jokingly imitating heavier bands as they introduced the songs and even slid in the hook from Animals As Leaders“Physical Education”, which garnered plenty of knowing chuckles amongst the audience. Moshing seems to be the only real way to move to the music Car Bomb write and their new song “Scattered Sprites” proved that they are firmly claiming this abrasive sub-genre of tech as their own. They perform without the use of a click too, so how they learn their own songs is anyone’s guess!



ROCKODILE RATING: 8/10






Kadinja


It’s been a little while since I've seen Kadinja - my last run in with them was back in 2016 when they supported Destiny Potato (now known as Sordid Pink). With two new albums since then and a change in line up, the band really brought the thunder to Radar Festival. Whilst they could be written off as just another tech metal band, the ferocity in their riffs is more akin to After The Burial and their stage presentation is very much influenced by metalcore.



Phillipe Charny Dewandre’s perfect blend of intense screams and melodic hooks over the intense riffage from Pierre Daniel and Quentin Godet is tech metal done absolutely right. Whilst it would be interesting to see the band broaden their palette genre wise, they’re in a good position to be one of the bands at the forefront of the current wave of European tech metal.



ROCKODILE RATING: 8/10






Rolo Tomassi


Squeezing through the crowd of the second stage, I caught the opening notes from Sheffield's noisy quintet Rolo Tomassi. The band blasted into “Rituals” from their latest album, which instantly opened up the pits in a manner not unlike the onslaught Car Bomb had brought upon Radar Festival not long before. This is a great sight to see as about 4 years ago, fans of progressive music seemed perturbed by Rolo Tomassi’s chaotic take on math rock at 2015's edition of UK Tech Metal Fest.



Their set comprised of material entirely from their 2018 album Love Will Die & Time Will Bury It, which seemed to be the album that was most familiar to many of Radar’s punters. The band’s spiralling sections blended a mathcore aggression with post-rock maturity and this was reflected in the attire of the different members - bassist Nathan Fairweather sported a long cut black vest while vocalist Eva Spence donned her signature black jazz club dress as she weaved across the stage, leaping between the serene cleans and rabid barks she has become known for.



Their set closed in spectacular fashion with “A Flood Of Light” as the room filled with fog. They may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Rolo Tomassi have now comfortably settled in as a regular in the progressive realm and it looks like they're definitely here to stay!



ROCKODILE RATING: 8/10






No Consequence


Rushing to the second stage seemed to be the consensus as hometown heroes No Consequence returned to the stage for the first time since 2017. It felt like a tech metal school reunion and, thankfully, the band did not disappoint.



Despite being a guitarist short due to family commitments (which in itself is one of the reasons for the band’s hiatus), they powered through songs from Io and Vimana as though they had never been away. Kaan Tasan returned to his bouncier form and still sung in the way he always did without any influence from his stylings with Heart of a Coward spilling over, a great feat just in itself!



Drummer Colin Bentham (who now plays with pop rock group I See Shapes) had an unfortunate yet hilarious incident as his snare broke mid set, instigating a chorus of “gaffa tape!” from the audience as it was patched up. Closing on the undisputed fan favourite “Citizen”, the crowd erupted one last time for the hometown crew. I have all my extremities crossed that it won’t be another two years before we see No Consequence take to the stage again!



ROCKODILE RATING: 8/10






Agent Fresco


As if Saturday’s line up couldn’t be any more incredible, Radar managed to pull Icelandic progressive rock sensation Agent Fresco (which features frequent Olafur Arnalds collaborator Arnor Dan) over for a one-off UK show, much to the delight of the large audience who awaited their set. Sadly, they were held back by issues with Arnor’s in ear monitors. Ten minutes or so later they soldiered on with the set, though it became apparent that the issues continued to plague them as three songs in Arnor removed his monitors.



Technical issues aside, their musicianship truly shined through (As Arnor Dan said fittingly, “I’m wearing my best dancing shirt and dancing shoes”, so he definitely wasn’t going to let the issues get to their performance!). The audience even get a sneak peak into a couple of new songs, which blended seamlessly into their set and already felt as familiar as songs like "Eyes Of A Cloud Catcher" or "See Hell". Speaking to Arnor after their set, he explained that the band feel as though the upcoming material is their most experimental yet, but if Radar’s set was anything to go by it won’t deter any existing fans!



Closing the set, Arnor Dan waded his way into the crowd, splitting them apart with his mic lead before launching a cup of water into the air, much to the security’s disapproval after having already removed one patron for the same reason! With the five-year gap between their first and second albums, it seems we could be seeing a trend to Agent Fresco’s writing cycle and the long wait for album three will come to an end next year.



ROCKODILE RATING: 9/10






Animals As Leaders


After I returned to the main stage following some much-needed fresh air, American instrumental giants Animals As Leaders took to the stage as part of their 10 year anniversary tour of their debut album. They drew a large majority of their set from this album - this is clearly a big deal for long time fans of the innovative trio as the floor filled with head-bopping onlookers. There’s no denying that their technical prowess is incredible, however,what they boast in technique they lack in persona, leaving their live show feeling more like an amazing masterclass than a set. Then again, that is their niche!



While seeing them on Download Festival’s second stage was an impressive sight, it doesn’t quite feel the same in the sweaty casino room. For me personally it was only once they started playing material from their most recent two albums The Madness of Many and The Joy of Motion that their set really showed off more careful song writing choices, with build ups to bass heavy funk rhythms that help break up the more virtuoso riffs. All that being said, it's always a spectacle seeing Tosin Abasi, Javier Reyes and Matt Gartska dish out their dazzling licks in a live setting.



ROCKODILE RATING: 8/10






All in all, Radar Festival was a brilliant experience as a punter and one in which will be firmly placed in my future calendars as they look to announce 2020’s first wave of acts soon. I suppose you could say it’s something to…keep on your radar!


Words by William Alex Young

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