CONNECTING WITH THE POLYRHYTHM: COMENDATIO MUSIC FEST 2019
To some, music and mathematics have a deeper relationship than what is perceived at first glance. While music theory itself has no axiomatic foundation in modern mathematics, many elements in music such as its form, rhythm and tempo can be related to the measurement of time and frequency which, in themselves, are topics of study in the mathematical field. Examples of musicians incorporating mathematical elements within their music are quite a few. The so called Holy Gift that reorganizes Tool’s quintessential record Lateralus to match the Fibonacci sequence and the title-track itself, whose time signatures form 987, the 16th number in the sequence, are a good example of this. Another example, albeit not considered to be so by the band itself, is that of Meshuggah and its odd, almost mathematically perfect composition. These examples, and more, spawned a movement within the heavy metal scene geared towards a more progressive and technical, guitar-driven sound – a subgenre of progressive metal which would be known as djent.
Now I know what you’re thinking: why am I telling you all this? Well, it’s no coincidence, given the festival at hand, that we talk a little bit about mathematics, progression and technicality. Comendatio Music Fest is a festival entirely dedicated to those modern approaches to heavy music and its lineup this year was conjured to reflect those very ideals. So, after a small and anxiety-filled trip that lead us to Paço da Comenda, in the outskirts of Tomar, we were ready to partake in the celebration of modern music.
The first day of activities started with two rather warm performances by Allamedah and Kælling, who tried to captivate the still bare audience at the ACDDS venue. The scarcity of active reaction by the audience wouldn’t last long though, as Pântano took the stage with their fusion of southern rock and grunge, calling back to bands like Kyuss and Alice in Chains. Distilling themes like “Semi-Alma” and the newer “Solitude”, the band gave an energetic performance which encouraged the first headbangs. Things then turned to the experimental with Sullen. Mainly focused on their debut record, Post Human, but also playing some new material, the band expertly alternated between calm and aggressive passages delivering a very atmospheric and doom-laden performance that became the first highlight of the festival. Kandia followed suit with their modern sounding rock that although somewhat enjoyable, was not anything to write home about.
The first international act came next and it was the Italian/British group Nosound. Initially formed in 2002 by lead vocalist and guitarist Giancarlo Erra as an almost completely solo project, Nosound evolved into a fully-fledged band of gifted musicians over the years thanks to the demand of some very endearing fans across the world. With a grand array of influences that range from Radiohead and Pink Floyd to Sigur Ros and Arvo Pärt, Giancarlo Erra and company make use of those bands and artists as a starting point in their venture towards various musical landscapes. Their sound is a beautiful progression between acoustic soundscapes and heavier ones, accompanied by Giancarlo’s mournful yet gorgeous vocals and sorrowful but heartfelt piano pieces. In a live setting, that all translates into an elegant showcase of professionalism and musicianship, with Giancarlo being a very gracious and modest host, always thankful for the affectionate reception by the Portuguese audience. This was the band’s first time on Portuguese soil and we can only wish its not their last.
The first day was nearing its end but we still had the first headliners of the festival to witness – Tesseract, in what was their first visit to Portugal in ten years. And if that seems like a hell of a long time, let me tell you that their show was well worth the wait. Armed with a new record but intent on playing songs both old and new, the British quintet journeyed through their entire catalogue as was expected from them. Earlier material such as the “Concealing Fate” and “Of Matter” trilogies where entertwined with the more recent melodies of “Dystopia”, “Survive”, “Juno” and “King”, these last two closing the gig. From the colourful light show to the whole polyrhythmic instrumentality and vocals, this was a top notch performance by the British djents. We just hope they don’t take ten more years to come back. The remainder of the evening was left to the care of Vincent Cavanagh of Anathema, who not only showed a few tunes from his personal ambient projects but also took the role of a DJ, spreading some cool 90s techno music to the few members of the crowd still standing. Fun times.
After a none too glamorous night at the campsite, we gathered our strengths in the food court with the help of some soup, meat or veggie dishes and mead. We love mead and it did save us from the thirst brought by the dreadfully intense heat that was felt during the entire festival. We powered through – the will to see the headliner of the second day gave us all the motivation we needed. But we’ll get to that part of the equation in a second, we had some fractions to do first.
Right at the kick off of day 2 we had Needle, a young group of Portuguese musicians that practice a prog rock sound rooted in Opeth, Porcupine Tree and Katatonia. This was a magnificent suprise for us and perhaps the biggest suprise of the entire festival, as we fell enchanted by the melancholic groove the band employ on stage. Special note to their vocalist Soraia Silva, what a tremendous voice! Definitely keep your eyes on them, they have bright future ahead. A Last Day On Earth came next and cut our enthusiasm a bit with a performance like so many others, but the Chilean Crisalida quickly stepped in afterwards to save us from utter boredom. Of all the international acts, they were probably the lesser known ones, but what they lack in fame, they more than make up for it in their presence and showmanship, with a powerful rhythm section that left a few in audience agape. Once again, a special note has to be made to the band’s vocalist, Cinthia Santibañez, who never backed down from addressing the crowd to thank them for their support and for being there. An all around great performance that revolved around their latest record, Terra Ancestral.
The British/Finnish group Wheel came up next. After having played in Lisbon a few months prior, where they opened for Soen together with Ghost Iris, the hooded gents returned to Portugal for a second round. And boy, did they deliver. If back then they lacked the necessary time to make a lasting impression, at Comendatio they had all the time they needed to conquer the Portuguese audience. Highly-influenced by Tool, the band almost played their entire debut record, Moving Backwards, which came out this year. Despite being a progressive metal band within a festival dedicated to that very style of music, Wheel did manage to sound different from the rest, thanks their refreshing approach to the genre. The intensity was upped a notch after them as WAKO set foot on stage and delivered a crushing mixture of death and thrash metal with a hint of groove. Despite not having a new record for eight years – they are working on it, though -, this did not mean the Portuguese quintet didn’t have anything left to say. They sure did because, among the material from their two records to date, they did debut a new song which was pretty neat, as was the entirety of their performance.
After them, Sinistro slowed the pace considerably with their sludge/doom, played songs from almost their entire discography, such as “Abismo” and “Relíquia”, from their LPs Sangue Cássia and Semente, respectively, as well as “Cidade (Parte II) from the EP bearing the same name. Those more unfamiliar with the band were taken by suprise by the band’s frontwoman Patrícia Andrade who, as always, broke free from the restraints of the more common and predetermined live performances and brought to us a very physical and theatrical act expressed through motion and body language, accompanied by a apocalyptic clamor of heavy riffs and Patricia’s own haunting yet soothing voice.
The French Uneven Structure were up next and with them, the fast and progressive tempos returned. Presenting their latest record, La Partition, the band showed why they are a tour de force when it comes to complex and dynamic compositions. Despite all their energy, however, at this point all heads were turned to the next band so, if anything, they were cursed by their slot. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable performance and their vocalist Matthieu Romarin really is a monster on stage, what a presence.
It was then finally time to see Leprous. Being the reason for many members of the audience to even be there – and considering the band hadn’t been in Portugal since 2015 and had released a new album in the meantime -, the expectations were at an all time high. They Norwegian boys did not disappoint in slightest though and dare I say, even suprised a few people, myself included. Bringing with them the aforementioned latest record, Malina, the band shot the first two tracks of that album, “Bonneville” and “Stuck”, and then diverted their path. This was an incredible act to see and it’s not in a mild manner that I say it was one of the best shows I’ve seen this year. Classics such as “Foe”, “Restless” and “The Valley” echoed through the entire ACDDS and every single member of the audience sang all the lyrics with Einar and hummed every instrumental part as loud as they could. It was really something, witnessing such brilliance happen. The band did not falter behind and kept playing enthusiastically to an audience that demanded more and more and didn’t want them to ever stop. Hell, there was even time for a cover of Massive Attack’s “Angel”, which worked really well in a live setting, creating a break moment in between all the enthusiasm, without killing any of it. That’s the thing with Leprous, they can create an incredibly rich ambience in any way they play. Long gone are the days of tutorship under the mighty Ihsahn – these guys are now in a league that is their own and they deserve every bit of respect and euphoria shown towards them. “Mirage” and “Third Law” finished up what was the gig of the festival, hands down. And there really isn’t much left to say about that, to be honest. Nor did any of us even dared to try for we were dead-ass tired from all the partying and drinking and still had a long way to go before reaching home.
Words by Filipe Silva
Photos by Rita Limede