RADAR Festival returns for its third iteration. This time, it’s moved north…to Manchester.
Sporting a progressive line up to die for, with a few left hand turns along the way, RADAR Festival was a glorious success. Now housed at Victoria Warehouse in Manchester, the festival elevated itself. Naturally, there are gripes about certain aspects (see, the food on Friday, the merch queues, the photo pits being crowded); however, RADAR’s transparency in speaking to the people about it was great to see. Food queuing was addressed, merch management was enhanced, and there was clear communication about these things.
Those things aside, what about the music? Well…it was amazing.
Words: Dominic Walsh, Mike Ainscoe, Howard King
Pictures: Mike Ainscoe
A ‘summer’ Friday afternoon in Manchester is opened by Shattered Skies. This is their final show. In a Facebook post, the band summed up their moving on; “After a pandemic, family struggles, loved ones with illness, a band member having brain surgery and many other tribulations, we’re ready for our final show.” It is really sad to see bands having to call it quits, but what a way to go out. It is clear from the crowd that they are going to give Shattered Skies the send off they deserve, and the crowd do not disappoint.
In a ‘no clash’ schedule, the music is unrelenting. It also means that everyone gets the chance to see everyone! Playgrounded open the main stage with a blend of electronic effects and more familiar bass, guitar, drum and vocal combo. As an opening for the day, it eases everyone in gently. Without extended guitar solos, Michael Kotsirakis filled in all the available spaces giving this Grecian gang, based in Holland, a distinct prog flavour. With mood and atmosphere at the forefront of Playgrounded’s sound, there are plenty of unorthodox time signatures and soaring, but restrained vocals. “Thank you so much for coming out early to see us,” remarks singer Stavros Markonis before the band leave with fists aloft.
The Five Hundred are absolutely relenting in their rhythm and sound. Scarily so! “Let me fucking hear you…I wanna see everyone’s hands,” comes the cry before the first of many of breakdowns. The blend of clean and very harsh vocals suits the musical mix perfectly and ups the ante for those seeking a heavier style.
Enchanting Exploring Birdsong vocalist Lynsey Ward ended their too-short spot telling the audience, “If you didn’t like us, we’ll be around, so come and tell us.” Judging by the ecstatic applause to a half-hour of her vocal acrobatics, percussive wizardry driven by subtle nifty bass runs, she wouldn’t have had many takers unless they were completely void of musical appreciation. The set ranked highly with any other Exploring Birdsong live performance which focussed heavily on their debut album. Despite the absence of lead guitar, the sounds created by this burgeoning trio swirled into every corner of the cavernous Victoria Warehouse Arena.
The familiar sight of the large illuminated ‘A’ signals the appearance of A.A. Williams and her band. Her trademark deep and sonorous textures aren’t helped by a mix that sees the subtlety lost a little as the selection from the excellent As The Moon Rests and equally excellent Forever Blue albums do their best to radiate as effectively as they do on record. Even the tease of the opening notes of For Nothing on the guitar as the set drifts into view become sadly and slightly lost. It’s a shame as her set offers a unique definition of intensity to RADAR in the languid tempos and crafting an atmosphere, that over the weekend tends to be balanced more towards volume, guttural and aggressive vocals and the profane.
As the day moves on, Irish post-metallers God Is An Astronaut lay waste to the Prog Magazine Stage. There are a few technical glitches along the way, but this doesn’t dampen the stunning set. The best way sum up God Is An Astronaut’s set is ‘seismic’. But without merely being explosive, their performance offers melody reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma played to the max. Every bass note vibrates through the feet and up to the brain. Surprisingly, the old brickwork of the Victoria Warehouse stoutly survives the earth-quaking vibrations allowing the audience to enjoy safely, an extremely adept performance.
Recent RADAR headliners Haken return as part of their European Fauna Festival tour. Celebrating ten years since their breakthrough The Mountain album, a mid-set four-song run of Mountain highlights include a “do we have some jazz?” interlude in Cockroach King and climaxes with the ten minute snaking trip of Pareidolia; a reminder of how spectacularly good that album is. Either side, their most recent work from Virus and Fauna gets a decent look in. “Time to get heavy!” declares Ross Jennings before leaving the musical quintet to batter the Invasion/Prosthetic pairing from Virus. Sempiternal Beings brings the set to a close and a hint that their latest album Fauna, still has some legs. Even after following Haken for the past decade, they still beggar belief with their tightness, ambition and amazing telepathy between guitarists Griffiths and Henshell.
Monuments have been on the ATB radar recently, having been on the bill with Leprous at The Ritz in town earlier this year. There, they provided an onslaught that left no doubts about their firepower. It feels odd that a band who’ve recent;y displayed their Metalcore credentials at the mighty Download are now laying waste in more confined space but the claustrophobic effect is devastating. On the confines of the smaller RADAR stage they make a formidable – nay impossible to ignore – bid for a slot on the 2024 main stage. The first of a couple of bands who, as John Lennon once said (sort of) from the Apple rooftop, ‘passed the audition’ and are prime candidates for being the first names on the team sheet for next year.
Day one of RADAR culminated in the sold out audience in full chorus accompanying the enigmatic, anthemic, Sleep Token. With a reputation growing with every performance, top of the bill status is the only place for the group.
Gowned and masked, Sleep Token enthrall their faithful followers and impress newcomers to their act. Frolicking fairy-like around the stage vocalist, known as Vessel, leads the mesmerised audience, Pied Piper-like from the first note to the last. If he’d danced into the nearby murky Salford Quays, this audience would have willingly followed! II, III and IV powerfully and majestically provided the musical foundation for Vessel to indulge his theatrics. Three backing singers, similarly clad, add choral flourishes to the worship.
With three albums in four years, and a slew of EPs, Sleep Token’s followers are clearly devout. Almost every word, from every song, is sung back in unison – even from 2023’s Take Me Back To Eden. The furor at the front of the crowd is tantamount to mania. It is a long time since this kind of fandom has been seen in metal circles. People held their front row spots from the moment the doors opened. A band for a new generation, and good on them if they bring a new (and it has to be noted, largely young female) audience to the hallowed halls of live Metal music!
As day one rolled to a close, it is clear that Sleep Token are bound for huge things. For those in attendance, they were treated to a truly mesmeric performance that they will never forget. It was one of those moments that will live on in the memory, and a real ‘I was there’ moment.
With the mania of day one giving a little bit of an emotional hangover, Crushed By Waves open up the second stage. The Welsh alt-rockers do their best to get the slowly amassing crowd moving. Modern Error has the opening task on the main stage. The collective keep the sound hard but have a brilliant augmentation with electronics that gives them a Nine Inch Nails / latter day Gary Numan industrial edge. So far, so heavy. Day two is off to the races.
Birmingham dream pop outfit Graywave hold the crowd with a fine mix of music that includes a stunning rendition of Joy Division’s New Dawn Fades that holds more semblance to Moby’s take rather than the original.
Over on the mainstage, Harbinger take things down the death metal route. It is heavy, loud, aggressive, pummelling but flipping good fun. Singer Dilan Alves has wonderful command of the crowd and they do his bidding when instructed to move or “open up the pit!” Naturally, a huge circle pit ensues as the band deliver riff after monstrously thick riff with breakneck solos scattered throughout. Harbinger is a band that deserve your attention; they take no prisoners and deliver a top class concert experience.
Tiberius offer a little shift in sound for the day so far. Hailing from Edinburgh, Scotland, the five piece are already having fun during their soundcheck. From the off, Tiberius are into the crowd, ploughing a furrow through the swarm of photographers. Guitarist, Chris Foster, perches overhanging the crowd on the barrier. Clearly, the barrier means nothing as he later takes a full trip out into the crowd. The same can be said for singer, Grant Barclay. At one point, the the only member of the band left on the stage was drummer, Nick Kelly (who is sporting a particularly brilliant Amigo The Devil tee shirt). In a bold move on a festival stage, the band play a new track; Tip Of The Spear. The crowd are more than happy to play along with singing the chorus back. On this showing, Tiberius will build some serious momentum and hopefully go on to bigger things. They will have a new album ready in 2024.
The relentless nature of the music continues with Allt. Their metallic sound is crushing and an airing of Paralyzed from 2022’s The Seed Of Self-Destruction is a testament to just how good this band is.
If Harbinger and Allt were heavy, things were about to get nasty with Pupil Slicer. They are another of the festival’s most extreme bookings. As a band they are completely belligerent. Their sound is uncompromising and flits between pure grind to death metal to black metal to shoegaze with electronic interludes peppered in. We caught the band with the mighty Ithaca in 2022 and they’ve only gone on to hone their craft further. It is complete and utter aggression in music. The snarl and scream of Kate Davies makes the senses rail. Also, the band throw in a first live outing for Departure In Solitude from their 2023 album, Blossom. Pupil Slicer are a rare breed and deserve all the praise they get.
Thornhill are greeted with a huge cheer and a round of “wooh”s as the lights go down. The drums provide a real sense of groove from the back as the vocals shift from clean to aggressive. Once again, like many of the bands on show, the technical prowess of the playing is tremendous. As the set progresses, the crowd plays along with the band in clapping along to the pulsing rhythms. To boot, these Aussies are sharply dressed as they set about their work; a hint of the Lizard King reincarnated perhaps?
We may have mentioned ‘bands for next year’s main stage’. Here’s our second pick. Wheel are basically quality, and it’s a shame that RADAR ’23 has to witness the last gig for bass guitarist Aki Virta (aka ‘Conan’ – emblazoned on his instrument FYI). Jussi Tutunen remains the epitome of ‘cool guitarist’, keeping cool and long hair blown by the floor fan as the quartet explore a more subtle and controlled but suitably heavy direction. They literally head chronologically backward through their small catalogue in the short five song set; the most recent Rumination EP provides the curtain-raising blend of atmosphere/heavy balance in Impervious.
Another turn on the other stage are Dream State. They offer a slightly poppier slant in some of the vocal stylings but have the ability to go extreme. The breakdowns early on in the set are emphatic. Dream State ask for every part of the crowd’s energy…Manchester is suitably up for it as the day moves on.
As day two moves towards its conclusion, the music takes a bit of a left turn. French act Perturbator have one of the more elaborate stage setups of the weekend with their altar of light taking centre stage. The room is filled with dry ice and from the balcony perspective, the hazy lights create a sense of horror as heads and hands poke out. If the music evokes John Carpenter, the scene evokes Sam Raimi. During their set, the crowd are visibly pumped up for the synth-wave act. Strobe lights are unforgiving and the patterns on the lighted altar are mesmerising. They are the perfect act to set up for the closing act of day two.
And so to Igorrr. If ever the term polymath is to be applied to a person, then this is the person to apply it to. Gautier Serre is a musician who utilises a wide range of styles in music. You can expect the baroque, black metal, trip-hop, breakbeats and plenty of other stops in-between. In their headline slot, Igorrr leave RADAR Festival completely dumbstruck with the wide array of music they have experienced. There is operatic singing, tempo changes to give you whiplash, riffs to bludgeon the ears and a complete sense of satisfaction as the day comes to a close.
There is so much more to RADAR Festival than the hard music. For the guitarist, budding or experienced, there’s a plethora of guitars to pluck, strum, sound systems to sample, drums to bash, and space to test your voice in the scream booth. For the voyeuristic, you can display your outrageous flamboyant nature without fear of snooty nose lifters. It’s all part of the fascinating rich tapestry that is the metal music community and RADAR experience. You can flit from stage to stage without missing a note of any of the awesome daily line ups or seek respite in the multi-roomed venue and still hear what’s being played.
Day three provides another heavy start with Dead Speaker and Where Oceans Burn waking up the neighbourhood. On the main stage, I Built The Sky build their atmospheric set with a stunning instrumental set full of abrasive riffs, rumbling drums and multi-layered music. The grooves they hammer out attract heavy, vociferous, applause. Although crushingly wild, they never reached the unhinged. The Fire Inside closes the set with the band joined by Andy Cizek from Monuments for the only song to include vocals. This addition to the sound offers a different colour to their set which ends with tumultuous applause. Guitarist Rohan Stevenson has a touch of the John Petrucci about him: gorgeous guitar tones and not least when he raises his right hand in acknowledgment, the Dream Theater man springs to mind.
The much-anticipated arrival of Long Distance Calling began with a short taster of their melodic mayhem with Enter: Death Box. The German based unit was clearly as enthralled to be a part of the RADAR experience as the immediate approval of the audience was matched by multiple smiles from the Munster marvels. The twin guitarists swapped many a chunky riff. The soundscape they create is hypnotic as they selected material from earlier live favourites Black Paper Planes and Out There after opening with tracks from the latest album Eraser. The opener and Giant’s Calling. Ending with the mesmerising finale, Metulsky Curse Revisited with tick-tock and chiming guitar effects winding down the number. The raucous applause rang out too and was fully deserved, another half hour would have been much appreciated.
It’s the first time on a stage in the UK for five years for Caligula’s Horse – not the only Aussies who’ve headed this way this Summer. Most welcome they are too. Admittedly, it’s been three years since Rise Radiant, hardly a cause for concern, but Jim Grey is apologetic while most fans are just glad to see the quartet here and playing. Grey is also busy engaging and pointing out a few familiar fans in their Caligula shirts at the barrier as Sam Vallan grins and gurns his way through another short (another 15 mins would have been cool…) set that highlights their propensity for the heavy yet with a classy polish and melody.
With RADAR reaching its conclusion, Loathe lay waste to the tight second stage with a huge army of fans showing their appreciation. Volumes and Ten56 also have the metalcore fans happy as they await the finale of RADAR in the form of Periphery.
And so, to Periphery, who bring the three days of the various forms of progressive festivities to a close. The band too whom many on the bill will aspire to be or at least acknowledge as an influence and along with Sleep Token a worthy name to bookend RADAR. A busy band over the weekend too, providing much more than a headline name by adding a Q&A and masterclass to which the dedicated fans flock to learn about the mesmerising technicalities and subtleties of the masses of 6-7-8 string guitars and tunings. And a masterclass is onstage too led by the legend that is Misha Mansoor. Keen to remind the crowd that ‘djent is not a genre’, there are live debuts for Dracul Gras and Zagreus from said album, the latter a particularly brutal juggernaut that see them continuing to lead the way as trailblazers, for the likes of TesseracT and Animals As Leaders.
RADAR Festival 2023 was a complete success. Kudos to the organisers in pulling together a varied line-up from all over the world in a musical celebration. Also, a huge pat on the back goes to the crowd for being so kind, caring, fun, and welcoming. It was a joy to see people of varied ages coming together to take part in the celebration. A final thank you to the crew, safety teams, and all the people involved in making this such a great event.
Now…on to 2024!
Categories: Live Reviews