Why Complexity Fest is a haven for forward-thinking metal fans

Sikth performing live
Sikth (Image credit: Jeroen Gest)

Following the success of last year, Complexity Fest has expanded into a two-day affair for 2018. Held in the sleepy town of Haarlem, Netherlands, three stages of metal invade the Patronaat venue for a journey into the more progressive, interesting and (yes) complex areas of heavy metal. Here are 10 things we learned from this year’s festival.

Disentomb love the C-Word

Aussie brutalists Disentomb kickstart the opening day of Complexity in suitably deathcore fashion, and are keen to educate Haarlem on the versatility of the word ‘cunt’. Sure, we might know it as The Worst Swear Word, but vocalist Jordan James Phillip assures us in his between-song banter that it can be a positive thing. In fact, in his lecture of lewdness, we learn that shit-cunt = bad but sick-cunt = good. He also demanded to “see some cunting violence”, which is top-notch swearing to be fair.

Oceano should be bigger

Oceano have been a mainstay of the American deathcore scene for a decade, and are often seen filling up the support slots for more in vogue bands, but this display of destruction should see them moving further up bills and into bigger venues. Frontman Adam Warren is the MVP, hurling himself around the stage and barking at the crowd like a dog with its knackers stuck in a car door. If you love a beatdown, get involved.

Carnifex have earned their headlining spot

Despite Oceano’s ability to level any room they walk in to, when Carnifex walk on stage it’s obvious why they’re headlining tonight. The main room has been awash with deathcore and breakdowns all day, but the Californian crew are a step above. It’s a perfectly oiled crushing machine, with no blast-beat or death growl out of place, creating a fully-formed wall of screaming hellfire, that finally whips up some mosh pits from the Complexity crowd.


Carnifex (Image credit: Wouter Van De Kamp)

More festivals should have their own beer

We’ve said it before, and by heck we’re going to say it again – festival beer is better than some pissweak flat lager. Complexity Black Ale not only looks menacing with its branding, but the potency is enough to send even the most hardened boozer for a nap after a few bottles. Imagine if every festival followed suit and started brewing their own delicious cold ones. A pint of Download Draught, anyone?

Kaoteon are real

This means something. Sometimes when you watch bands at festivals, they can’t be arsed and it’s just another date on the tour, but Kaoteon have a message and want to spread it across the world. It’s a message of unity, hope and love, a message of fighting for what’s right and staying true to who you are. Having fled their native country of Lebanon after persecution, the Beirut blackened death metallers are on a mission for change – one gig at a time. You can see it on their faces, in intensity of their playing, and as frontman Walid Wolflust skulks around the floor, screaming into the faces of the crowd, it’s hard not to be intimidated and impassioned by the Middle Eastern wrecking crew.

Employed To Serve can do no wrong

We’ve seen Employed To Serve a bunch of times over the past year or so, and each time they kill it. Following the release of The Warmth Of A Dying Sun last year, the Woking hardcore mob have become a serious force in the UK scene, demolishing every stage they walk on to, but could this translate to a tech-metal festival? Of course it fucking could. There’s an electricity in the air, something you can’t describe, a sense that something different is happening. While the bulk of the lineup is built to showcase matey boy’s super-polished fret-flailing skills, Employed To Serve are a more rugged beast, dragged from the underground and shoved in your face. This is a display of dominance and a show of intent that they can roll with any band, and put them to shame.

Walls Of Death don’t exist in Haarlem

Despite Employed To Serve’s weekend-winning set, there is one awkward moment. Vocalist Justine Jones splits the crowd in two just before the drop, so y’know, everyone can run at each other really hard when it kicks back in… but it doesn’t happen. Instead, a somewhat baffled audience stand in front of the stage in two distinct groups, starting at each other, just waiting for the song to finish. It’s a bit weird.

Employed To Serve performing live

Employed To Serve performing live (Image credit: Wouter Van De Kamp)

A lot of thought has been put into the merch

Sometimes when you go to a festival, the merch isn’t much cop. It’s £30 for a logo on the front and a lineup on the back. OH THANKS, MATE. But the guys at Complexity know that isn’t enough nowadays. When every band under the sun has their own intricately designed line of t-shirts on BigCartel for a tenner, festival merch needs to look good, and the Complexity merch design is metal as fuck. So that’s beer and a t-shirt. What more do you need?

Sikth are still the daddies

Without getting too deep into “Who started what”, there are basically two bands responsible for the tech-metal scene as we know it today – Meshuggah and Sikth. Both with two different approaches to the sophistications of contemporary metal and pushing boundaries, and both are still knocking it out of the park today. Sure, Sikth had a bit of a break, but they’re back, and deservedly closing the main stage. Mikee Goodman and Joe Rosser’s dual vocal play lifts the technical proficiency into a more fun, bounce-filled realm, proving that Sikth are still a party band at heart. And they know their audience. As Mikee laments the lack of metal bands trying something new and “bands wanting to scream just to get on a magazine cover”, Complexity knows that everyone who has played this weekend isn’t about selling out or doing anything by numbers. It’s about passion, heart and a pioneering spirit.

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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.