8 things we learned at Complexity Fest

Ihsahn (Image credit: Cas Kerkwijk)

Last year Complexity Fest made its debut in Haarlem, and this year it’s back for a second round and is packing some seriously heavyweight power. Taking over the Patronaat venue in Haarlem for 12 hours, over 1000 beer and smoke fuelled metalheads witnessed a serious celebration of technical ability and progressive prowess. Metal Hammer went along for the ride, and this is what we learned from the European exchange.

The setting is ideal for a festival

Just a 20 minute drive from the capital city of Amsterdam sits the sleepy town of Haarlem. It’s very Dutch. A canal runs in front of Complexity Fest, a stunning gothic church sits in the town square, and everyone is surprisingly chilled out. You know how hellish Saturdays in town are? This is literally like taking a stroll down the Yellow Brick Road, but with more cyclists. No queues, no rushing, everyone is very polite and there’s a tech-metal festival doing its hardest to up the aggro. Even the venue itself is sleek and modern, but still very metal – like a bunch of Korn fans took over a Student’s Union. Comprising of three rooms of different sizes, it’s like Slam Dunk Festival for the djent generation. Djeneration?

Festival beer is the best beer

Usually at a festival you’ll be charged the price of a small car for the luxury of a flat, warm lager. Yum yum. But not at Complexity Fest! They’ve brewed their own 5.5% black ale, suitably named Complexity Black Ale, and it’s great! Sure, it comes in bottles instead of pints so you can’t get too messy too quickly, but at least they let you keep the bottle instead of walking round with a decanted half-pint like some lightweight idiot. The artwork looks pretty fucking metal too.

(Image credit: Jaap Kroon)

Humanity’s Last Breath are heavyyyyy

Not everything at Complexity Fest is noodly woodly techy bands showing off how fast they can tickle frets on their nineteen string guitars – some of it is absolutely savage. Swedish deathcore brutes Humanity’s Last Breath bring a hefty dose of evil to the main stage, with guitarist and bassist adamant on snapping their spines in two with full body headbanging. Despite the technical difficulties throughout, it’s an impressive display of how to bludgeon ears to death. The poor bar staff could only look on in confusion and fear.

(Image credit: Jaap Kroon)

Bossk should play every festival

The ‘post-everything’ five-piece never play bad shows. Ever. It’s a monstrous tidal wave of noise that threatens to drown everyone and everything in its path. It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen Bossk 50 times or you’re a virgin to their stormlike sludge, you’ll still be left in awe of their musicianship and the power they can create using just five men. Complexity Fest stands motionless drinking in the 45 minute set that is as beautiful as it is punishing. If you book a festival and you’re reading this, please give Bossk a call.

(Image credit: Jaap Kroon)

Agent Fresco should be bigger

Everyone we speak to throughout the day is eager to see Agent Fresco, and they do not disappoint. Drawing one of the largest crowds of the festival, the Icelandic alt-proggers prove why they’re such a hot commodity. Playing their first gig in months, taking time off to write the new album, the art-rock influenced four-piece show no signs of ring rust, with spellbinding frontman Arnór Dan Arnarson dancing around the stage, flitting vocal styles between soaring choruses and barbaric growls. Lovely.

Agent Fresco

Agent Fresco (Image credit: Jaap Kroon)

This isn’t the place for UK hardcore

Look at any all-dayer line-up in the UK and the homegrown hardcore scene will be represented in great numbers. It’s a scene that has cultivated and nurtured dozens of kickass bands in recent years, and has legions of fans across the Isles. However, this doesn’t quite translate to a European technical metal environment. Napoleon really have their work cut out in the second room, with a disappointingly sparse crowd compared to the likes of Bossk, and frontman Wes Thompson’s calls for more action falling on deaf ears. The band are going hard and prove worthy of their slot on the bill, but this might not be their natural habitat.


Napoleon (Image credit: Jaap Kroon)

The Netherlands love Hacksaw Jim Duggan

We don’t quite know why, but following almost every song by every band, the crowd shout “Hooooooooooooooooo!” as loud and as long as possible. We guess it’s like the Euro tech version of throwing the claw at a black metal show. We’re into it.

(Image credit: Cas Kerkwijk)

Ihsahn still rules

Speaking of black metal, Emperor founding member turned prog-metal maestro Ihsahn headlines Complexity Fest with the most powerful performance of the day. No longer with Leprous as his backing band, the minstrels he has gathered create grandiose soundscapes, even without a bassist. Sure, it’s total six-string worship at times, such is the nature of the festival, and Ihsahn is one of the most creative guitarists in metal – he even gave a cheeky demo of his new guitar earlier in the day. Performing a career spanning set, from the Emperor days to latest album Arktis (My Heart Is Of The North is a certified tune), jaws are firmly stuck to the floor throughout as Ihsahn goes straight past his designated set time to show Haarlem why he’s The Man. Had this been a more kvlt-friendly festival we might have seen more old-school material, although his little appreciation for ‘80s rock makes us want to ride a motorbike onto the ceiling. And while it’s hard to look cool while playing progressive music, Ihsahn has it nailed.


Ihsahn (Image credit: Cas Kerkwijk)

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Luke Morton joined Metal Hammer as Online Editor in 2014, having previously worked as News Editor at popular (but now sadly defunct) alternative lifestyle magazine, Front. As well as helming the Metal Hammer website for the four years that followed, Luke also helped relaunch the Metal Hammer podcast in early 2018, producing, scripting and presenting the relaunched show during its early days. He also wrote regular features for the magazine, including a 2018 cover feature for his very favourite band in the world, Slipknot, discussing their turbulent 2008 album, All Hope Is Gone.