The weather gods are smiling as Hammer descends upon Newark’s sun-drenched Showground. This year marks the fifth anniversary of Tech-Fest and, with its biggest headliners and highest attendance to date, the weekend ahead is further proof that the progressive end of the metal spectrum is burning brighter than ever before. The main stage is already swelling for opener NOVENA  and their four-part harmonies and Opeth-esque riff-laden set is a prog-lover’s wet dream. It’s a hard act to follow, but rising five-piece HARBINGER’s  intense technicality and muscular beatdowns almost set the blooming hangar on fire. Josh Hillier’s vocals may be inaudible, but it’ll take more than a dodgy mix to halt the brutal assault of A NIGHT IN THE ABYSS , whose crushing death metal littered with startling theatrics is akin to a full-scale siege on the ears. On the second stage, old-school deathcore outfit OSIAH  are engaging and entertaining from the offset. Tracks like Humanimals and Perennial Agony not only sound colossal, but are unleashed with enough abrasive panache to incite countless pits. Djenty Danes COLD NIGHT FOR ALLIGATORS  proceed to reaffirm their status as one of the most diverse bands within the tech spectrum. Complex riffs give way to ambient melodies, which sit alongside jarring time signatures and instrumental noodling.
Technical issues are most likely the culprit behind the final song exodus, but it could also be the ferocious pull of NO SIN EVADES HIS GAZE  next door. Between the seething aggression bleeding through James Denton’s tight vocals and those omnipresent thunderous grooves, the sky’s certainly the limit following this blistering performance. Heads are nodding as DISPERSE  whisk all and sundry into
a state of proggy bliss courtesy of those heady electronic nuances and syncopated beats. They are however, outshone by INTERVALS . These ambient djentlemen not only pack out the main stage, but have people cheering wildly for a simple guitar change. Headliners ANIMALS AS LEADERS  enrapture the festival with a glorious set of prog metal intricacy. Tosin Abasi’s wizard-like shredding beneath epilepsy-inducing strobes during Cafo is as staggering as it is beautiful. Stunning stuff.
There’s nothing like a slab of raw bludgeoning metal to blow away a hangover and quartet FROM SORROW TO SERENITY  do just that. When LOATHE’s  conceptual darkness hits, it hits hard, but the award for the biggest trail of destruction surely goes to ABHORRENT DECIMATION ,whose tech-death cacophony sends fists skywards and leaves ears bleeding.
Delightfully quirky Serbians DESTINY POTATO  are rendered speechless mid-set by the unequivocal love for their djent-meets-pop experimentation. Not even a chest infection can hinder Aleksandra Djelmash’s delivery – veering from soaring vocals to growls at the drop of a hat. This is only FIT FOR AN AUTOPSY’s  second time in the UK and they aren’t messing about. Brutal death metal spliced with hardcore grooves reverberates from front to back of the main stage creating a vortex of bodies. FALLUJAH  show exactly why they are regarded as the finest purveyors of atmospheric deathcore with a set capable of peeling the enamel from your teeth. Pummelling riffs collide with emotional ambience as the likes of Amber Gaze incite numerous circlepits. Saturday headliners PROTEST THE HERO  don’t hit the stage until well after 10pm, but the hordes pass the time with a spot of crowd-surfing and a Bohemian Rhapsody singalong. The room is bursting at the seams as the prog masters smash through Bloodmeat, Sequoia Throne and Clarity in quick succession. Lyrics are bellowed back at the hugely engaging Rody Walker, whose range sits somewhere between Howard Jones’ and the histrionics of Bruce Dickinson. Jokes about Brexit and Lucozade entertain, but it’s an onstage marriage proposal for production head Amanda from partner Rob that truly makes this set memorable. The floor is slick with the tears of grown men, but some bottom-end brutality restores the heavy and ensures PTH finish off Saturday night in style.
Only a handful of curious punters are gathered to check out Greece’s TARDIVE DYSKINESIA , which is unfortunate as their Meshuggah-does-prog thump is highly enjoyable. Numbers aren’t an issue for THE FIVE HUNDRED , whose balls-to-the-wall metal immediately gets the crowd bouncing. Belligerent aggression juxtaposed by haunting vocal melodies and ear-rattling breakdowns dominate a short but solid set that screams with promise. FRONTIERER  alluded to the type of performance that’d blow minds on social media prior to their 4:30pm slot, but nobody is prepared for the sonic filth that spews forth. They smash through material from Orange Mathematics so hard that by the final note you expect stretchers are about to be hauled out. SHIELDS  are a worthy support to the second stage headliners, Novelists, but following such levels of insanity, their blend of metal and hardcore falls somewhat flat. Bringing the tech back are HAKEN ,who serve up a main stage plethora of polyrhythmic riffs and fills so bruising their kick drum is punctured mid-set. The lack of movement during NOVELISTS  could easily be mistaken for quiet reverence, but it also takes nothing away from the savage beauty running through the heart of Echoes or The Lichtenberg Figure. Despite the absence of bassist Remko Tielemans, TEXTURES  are enthralling tonight, fusing ambient interludes with dizzying instrumentation. Frontman Daniel de Jongh is on point and his searing vocals during a raging djent-tinged New Horizons in particular, are nothing short of brilliant. If anyone can surpass them however, it’s BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME , who drop a prog odyssey of epic proportions upon a captivated audience. Heads bob to absorbing melodies and frantic rhythmic changes whilst jaw-dropping solos (Selkies and White Walls) are indicative of a band capable of taking the listener on a sonic journey ranging from psychedelic virtuosity to endless blastbeats. Astounding.