Friday begins with Fraktions, rewarding those who managed to make it to the stages at midday with some fine prog-tinged djent, including a guest appearance from No Consequence vocalist Kaan Tasan on ‘Panic’. It’s a set of contrasts – slightly ominous melodies swirling amidst technical heaviness – and one that probably benefits from knowing their material.
Over on the main stage, James Norbert Ivanyi, “a guy who plays guitar in his bedroom to his cat,” then proceeds to give possibly the finest instrumental set I’ve seen: a dynamic show of infectiously catchy instrumental prog metal that Petrucci himself would be proud of.
Between the goofing around on stage, comedic skits – think firing the bassist live on stage, vocalist Lee Mintz’s Rick Sanchez impressions, and introducing the set as improvised comedy – and the fact that he’s largely famous for his pop covers, it’s easy to forget that Drewsif Stalin is an incredible tech/deathcore songwriter, and he and his band – Mintz in particular – are on top form today.
Valis Ablaze are another band in decent form today – really benefiting from their sound change a couple of years ago, and delivering a set of impassioned and emotive tech, that brings Tesseract to mind. With their complexity and emotional depth, they’re not necessarily the best band for an early festival slot (especially on such a death-metal heavy day), but also very much a band worth checking out.
Offering another change of pace in the Gigantic Stage (ironically the smaller of the two) are instrumental rockers Toska. The three-piece provide a dreamy and mesmeric journey through labyrinthine math rock compositions; the sort of music you can’t help but party to – if by party, you mean nod along introspectively, off in your own world somewhere.
Slovenian slammers Within Destruction go in the complete opposite direction, hyper-heavy breakdowns and ferocious gutturals interspersed with some fine leads and the occasional atmospheric moment. It’s testament to their quality that they have a steady pit, despite the sweltering heat in the two stages for most of the day.
Rolo Tomassi live is a seriously intense experience. From savage screams, bodies writhing across the stage to instant serene beauty in less time than it takes to say, “call an exorcist.” It’s a set you struggle to divert your gaze from, the sheer quantity of stuff that is going on, both musically and physically. As much as Eva Spence might be the focal point, the whole band are an incredible watch.
Swiss act Virvum then proceed to be one of the most impressive acts of the weekend, mixing striking tech death elements with shades of epic melodeath; a grandiose performance that washes over you, and leaves you in a stunned silence until you realise that 45 minutes have passed in what feels like 20, and then proceeds to make up most of your post-festival listening.
Belgian death metal machine Aborted, easily the most extreme act on the bill, rolled into Newark for the first (and hopefully not last) time, and destroyed everything in its path. I’d love for this review to include observations about particular songs (I remember one being dedicated to Trump, and one being compared to Pokémon, that’s about it) or musical skill, but my only real memories of their hour are the endless chaos in the pit, only managing to last the length of the set on adrenaline, and downing of water at the end of it before collapsing into a well-earned sleep… wait, there’s more?
The Black Dahlia Murder had the unenviable task of following Aborted, but still put in a top drawer performance. Playing a set drawing heavily from their Nocturnal album for its ten year anniversary, they quickly prompt the crowd to work the security, and end up playing their set to a reasonably constant stream of crowd surfers. Trevor Strnad shows off his impressive vocal range, and gives an energetic performance as frontman befitting the high-tempo music, while the rest of the band maintain the frantic pace throughout – aside from the occasional technical issues. This is one listener converted, and one hell of a way to end the day.