RosFest 2017 Festival, USA - live review

Rites Of Spring returns to Gettysberg with performances from Moon Safari, Neal Morse Band, The Fierce And The Dead, Anglagard and more

Neal Morse Band on stage with a video screen behind them
(Image: © Joel Barrios)

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Rain and cloud dominate the skies over the historic town of Gettysburg for the 13th Rites Of Spring Festival in Pennsylvania. If there’s any hint of ill portent from the supposed unlucky number, this is soon dispelled by the Friday night opening act Kyros. Retooled after changing their name from Synaesthesia and replacing band personnel, the young Londoners present a leaner and more aggressive side to their work and continue to develop momentum.

Moon Safari struggle early in their set from a sound system hell-bent on smothering their mellifluous harmonies. However, the band resolutely push past the technical difficulties to deliver an inspiring set. It’s a performance that regularly drives the hairs on the back of the neck briskly to attention. By the time they leave the stage with Lover’s End Pt. III ringing in the ears, everyone present knows the standard for the rest of the weekend has been set extremely high indeed.

The opening slot on the second day is occupied by The Aaron Clift Experiment. The Texan outfit, augmented by a live string quartet, play a selection of powerful tunes from their two albums Lonely Hills and Outer Light, Inner Darkness. On the strength of this performance, they’re worth watching out for.

Syracuse’s Unified Past play a brooding set. The dark performance throws singer Phil Naro’s crystalline vocals into sharp relief as it crests a wash of menacing guitars and Tool-like growling basslines. Made up of personnel from Unitopia, Southern Empire, UPF and Resistor, U.N.I.T. dB from Australia are the surprise guests of the festival. The band deliver one of the standout performances of the weekend, with music taken mostly from Unitopia and Southern Empire’s back catalogue, earning them several standing ovations from the crowd.

The Neal Morse Band close out Saturday night with a tour de force performance of the album The Similitude Of A Dream. Fresh from touring in Europe, the sheer scale of the material and the delivery by the band are breathtaking. Everybody involved is relaxed yet engaging, even joking with one another and the audience during a technical outage, before launching full throttle back into the set without a second thought. Morse is an artist famed for his ambitious arrangements, but the tunes on display are alive with nuance and grace. This is progressive music at its very best.

Sunday morning’s ‘church lot’ is occupied by London’s The Fierce And The Dead. Their brand of intense instrumental post-rock/punk proves a huge hit with the crowd, who are treated to a performance filled with ghostly guitars and vicious rhythmic onslaughts. It’s a ferocious but magnificent US debut. Nashville’s Evership provide the weekend with its most overtly theatrical performance, and they immediately capture the imagination of all present. Keyboard player and project mastermind Shane Atkinson presides over proceedings like a paternal steampunk version of Vangelis.

Edensong have spent the last decade crafting an epic yet dynamic sound. Here the New York-based outfit offer an intriguing set, filled with delicate drops of catchy dissonance that deftly give way to heavy red-meat riffing.

Neoclassical behemothsÄnglagård continue to push the boundaries of what’s compositionally possible with every show. There’s a focus and intensity in tonight’s performance that’s hard to deny and absolutely impossible to forget. They inhabit a sonic landscape devoid of technical mediocrity and hold the audience rapt throughout, before hauling them to their feet and providing the festival a resoundingly epic finale.