Progfest 10th Anniversary
The Brightside/The Valley Drive In, Brisbane QLD
January 27th, 2019
Featuring: The Ocean, Monuments, Skyharbour, CIRCLES, Chaos Divine, CITY OF SOULS, Toehider, James Norbert Ivanyi, Glass Ocean, Opus Of A Machine, Aerials, Kodiak Empire, Hazards Of Swimming Naked, Magenta Voyeur, Flynn Effect, Mass Sky Raid, Sum Of Us, The Stranger, Therein and Seraphic
Australia can now boast a decade of successful shows for the technical, experimental and intuitively musical festival we know as Progfest. As a gift to the lovers of this eclectically palatable genre, Welkin Entertainment managed to DOUBLE the line-up and stage count, taking the line-up to 20 acts! We also saw some iconic progressive artists grace our enjoyment: the German post-rock/metal powerhouse we know as The Ocean, from London the groove and djent-metal boffins named Monuments, also Skyharbour, CIRCLES and Chaos Divine. My head is still spinning from the sheer amount of talent, diversity and impact.
Let’s be honest, you’re not going to be tapping your feet in erratic time signatures to any of these bands on mainstream radio. Although, if you’ve tuned into The Faction Radio, you would be familiar with most of these bands, even the festival opener; Seraphic. With similarities from the current and previous vocalists in Nightwish, Sam Al-Araji puts a killer foot forward for female musicians in the prog industry. Whilst also taking reins of the piano, her voice (that is clearly refined with years of technique and mastery) stands out the front of an epic and melodic metal group. The show featured their latest single ‘The Monster Within’ alongside a surprising one-off rendition of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ That was a ballsy decision considering any Queen cover will fall short of the real thing. But did they pull it off? They did in their own way. I’ve got my fingers crossed for another album from these guys soon.
We all walked outside to The Valley Drive In, became blinded by the sunlight, then proceeded to burn. The vast majority of progressive music lovers tend to spend a lot of their time inside, practicing their instruments. We are not a breed that works well in sunlight for more than 5-minute periods. The Stranger took our focus to the stage as they came out. With a heavy, progressive rock influence from Opeth, these connoisseurs blew through a variety of paced-ballad style pieces. Tom Franye’s vocals went up like an angel and down like an ox as he and guitarist Andrew Taylor spun their hair in an epically similar way to our Metalocalypse overlords; Skwisgaar Skwigelf and Toki Wartooth. Minus the hiccup of Franye’s microphone being accidentally and abruptly disconnected from its lead, the set was flawless.
Back inside, Therein introduced us to the slightly nerdy side of progressive music. That I mean as a compliment to the almost comedically virtuosic mastery of their instruments. The set took us through a journey of death metal, funk, reggae, mainstream progressive metal and 80s heavy metal. As if the Guthrie Govan level of musicianship wasn’t enough, the set’s variety took a strong step forward when their extra vocalist/flutist joined. After a very eerie performance of exotic middle-eastern style vocals, Therein proved the flute has just as strong a place in a progressive band as any other instrument. They then went onto play two more incredibly technical and meticulously crafted songs about possums eating your food and Spock from Star Trek…
Sum Of Us
Progressive music doesn’t necessarily have to be heavy, but Sum Of Us still put out the most impactfully heavy introduction out of the first group of bands. Bryce Carleton’s vocals married with the harmonically engaging band behind him in both a rhythmically and melodically colourful way that pushed them more towards a modern approach. It was at this point in the day everyone needed an aggressive addition to hype them up for the remainder of the festival and Sum of Us delivered accordingly. With only four released songs (Sharp Turns in Dark Tunnels EP), Sum Of Us are progressing (pun intended) quickly through the ranks of loved Aussie bands in the genre.
Mass Sky Raid
The modern and popular progressive metal genre tends to have quite simple, but rhythmic and harmonically rich choruses with atmospheric, reverberant verses. Mass Sky Raid steps into this world; however, they do so with only one guitar. Achieving the cinematically large sounds of bands like TesseracT with this line-up is an achievement to be proud of. The use of backing track sub-bass drops may have been overdone a little, but with powerful songs like ‘Closer’ and ‘Sacrifice’ from their latest EP, Science of Fiction, the Gold Coast four piece will continue to grow within their powerful alternative/rock style.
Opus Of A Machine
No strangers to Progfest, Opus Of A Machine return to the festival and kick their set off with ‘Simulacra.’ This is a perfect band to demonstrate prog is by no means about complexity. It’s about exploring and experimenting with songwriting techniques that intentionally breaks away from mainstream patterns. Opus Of A Machine keep their music relatively simple and chordal but still focus on delicately shifting through dynamic, melodic and rhythmic themes. Some highlights were definitely songs from their latest album like ‘Beacon’ and the slightly pop anthem-eske single, ‘Strength In Stone.’
I personally think focusing on visual effects and performance routine is an under-rated topic of live-shows. We’re there to see the show as well as listen and move to it right? Flynn Effect weren’t shy of embracing that as both guitarist, bassist and singer had florescent blue lights illuminating their appearances. Seeing Tomina Vincent front the four-piece metal band was quite inspiring due to the uniqueness of her vocals. Her style was by no means dirty like Arch Enemy or operatic like Nightwish but sat in a register that reminded me of Evanescence, but with an undeniably individualistic tone. With the talented wall of metal musos accompanying her, Flynn Effect know what they do well and they hone in on it like a hornet.
James Norbert Ivanyi
Throw the microphone away because James Norbert Ivanyi is one of those god-like virtuosic musicians that require no words. Some people require the utmost amount of concentration to display their technical ability, but session drummer Liam Weedall couldn’t help but to slip out a cheeky grin as he characteristically shifted up his accents. Guitarist James Norbert Ivanyi is the mastermind and composer of the music. Unlike some world-class skilled musicians, the music created is by no means comedic, but tailored specifically to demonstrate emotion, skill and harmonic development. Every minuscule musical movement is made to look easy but sits in front of decades of refinement. No fault was heard by any for the entire draw-dropping procession.
“We’re proof you don’t need to be metal to be prog.”
This quote by lead singer Leon Van Lieshot stuck with me because it de-bunks one of the most common misconceptions people have with progressive music. Magenta Voyeur might come across as pretty fucking weird due to the vocal processing, paisley shirts and synth/harpsichord sounds, but in the way progressive music is defined, this group fits it more-so than most. Imagine if a psychedelic band with metal elements then catered to a more eclectic palate of musical genres. The exact sound is difficult to explain, but the crowd were accepting and intrigued by what was being performed. Irrespective of your musical likings, they’re a band that I would recommend listening to.
Finally, the sun was low enough in the sky to not burn anyone, so the entire floor of The Valley Drive In began filling as Chaos Divine began their set. The first thing that stood out to me in this band, was the tightness of the vocal harmonies. Again, like some other bands, the music wasn’t unnecessarily rhythmically complicated with riffs or time signatures but instead focused more on melodic quality. All of a sudden, the festival highlight came to stage as an African wilderness narration by David Attenborough began alongside exerts from Simba’s dad dying in The Lion King. Following this, the band evolved into meme lords and played a metal rendition of ‘Africa’ by Toto. The crowd loved the light-hearted feature proved through their cheering and hailing their new favourite entertainers.
Hazards Of Swimming Naked
The next band takes a particular type of ear and mood to get into. There is a section of the prog and instrumental music world that makes heavy use of delay and reverb effects on guitars (I think we can thank The Edge from U2 for helping pioneer that). Although Hazards of Swimming Naked made an excellent performance of this sort of music, it became quite difficult to remember without any vocals or melody from the three guitars. A small glockenspiel feature was probably the most melodic feature of the set and from my perspective the highlight. Bands like sleepmakeswaves catch my ear more convincingly, but with a few more melodic features, I think this band could break into the instrumental scene more successfully.
City Of Souls
Hearing vocalists blend their tone between unclean and clean to achieve a raspy and emotion fuelled sound is one of the most satisfying experiences. City Of Souls made the travel from New Zealand to feature as Progfest’s first international artist and boy were we lucky. Featuring their latest single ‘Wolf’ and their other 3 singles ‘Long Gone,’ ‘Sleep’ and ‘Water’ (I know right? Where is our EP/album!), the band captivated all who watched. Those who favour In Flames should get ready for a new favourite band. All dressed in black, the stylish 6-piece has an incredibly strong post-rock/cinematic-progressive sound I would love to hear more of in Australia.
Another band returning to Progfest, Kodiak Empire went straight to the dreamy guitars, but contrasted it successfully with a somewhat hyperactive drummer. Hearing both relaxed and energetic verse was something that hadn’t been featured by any band so far, so these guys deserve their praise for uniqueness. Although some parts did lose their intricacies behind the very active drummer, Bryce Carleton’s falsetto and clean voice confidently stepped over the supporting music. They’re a dramatic blend of alternative and progressive rock that have a very strong sense of rhythmic colour, as opposed to the cliché use of complex time signatures. Hailing from Brisbane, this modern quintet will hopefully continue to feature in this awesome festival of talent again in future years.
Who says you can’t make a mosh-pit at a prog show? Well, generally it doesn’t happen that often, but when CIRCLES come onto the stage, you disregard whatever rubbish mosh-laws you have and get in that pit! The band thanked Nguyen Phambam (Alithia, Enlight, Infinity & Beyond) for filling in their guitarist and unclean vocals position as they smashed out a set of djent-progressive anthems. The tightness between the bass, kick drum and guitar riffs induced an insane amount of power to their sound that was a key element to getting the crowd going. With vocals relating to a heavier Ian Kenny (Karnivool), Ben Rechter let his heart and soul out to Brisbane in a set that fell all too short of what it deserved. Keep an eye on their next tour of Brisbane because these guys are worth seeing a full set of. This also wasn’t the last we saw of Phambam and Rechter.
Jackson Walkden-Brown has a voice that allows you to hear Aerials from a mile away. I’ve always imagined what Royal Blood would come across as if they took more of a metal approach and Aerials is probably the closest we’ll get. Hearing their latest song ‘Drawing Blood’ live in concert always sends a shiver down my spine, as does the experience of the rest of their set. It was also great to watch the adrenaline explode form Jackson as he jumped off the stage into the crowd, guitar in-hand whilst in one of their heavier breakdown sections. A mention needs to go to their lyrical efforts as well. It’s debatably quite rare for the lyrics to stand out enough to be noticed in progressive bands, but this band have put in the effort to feature the music just as much as the song topic. All-in-all the effort put in from this 3-piece really shows both in the studio and in concert.
As the night moved forward and the larger acts came to stage, we saw more of the modern/popularised progressive music come to stage. Skyharbour immediately reminded me of Polaris due to their balance of techniques. The rhythms are tight, but they still slip through a few magical spells of insane technicality. The vocals are pristinely clean, but we still get intermittently hit with roaring uncleans. The verses are reserved and suspenseful, but the choruses sound larger than the world. Classics like ‘Evolution’ and ‘Allure’ worked perfectly with songs from their September 2018 released album Sunshine Dust. The group is definitely at the forefront of progressive music that all agree to enjoy and aspire to.
It’s great that the progressive metal community accepts the traditional band set up can be enhanced by backing tracks, synthesised effects and extra harmonies because all bands use it to bring their music beyond what a 100% live performance can achieve. The perceived size of Glass Ocean was phenomenal. It was similar to the emotional impact The Plot In You creates, but with a much more mature approach to lyricism and harmonic decisions. Glass Ocean was one of the stronger bands I saw in terms of songwriting effectively to the range of their vocalist.
After a 15-minute delayed start, Monuments’ bassist Adam Swan announced that their lead vocalist Chris Barretto would not be joining them for the evening. Due to illness and the effect travelling can have on us, unfortunately, these things happen. Despite the disappointment, we were still lucky enough to enjoy an instrumental performance that, to be honest, beat the energy most other bands had in their songs. Hearing the delicately crafted palm-mutes, licks, riffs, drum fills and other techniques without vocals really made everyone appreciate the musicianship behind progressive musicians. The crowd still sang loud enough in ‘I, The Creator’ to be heard over the PA speakers which made the band grin from ear to ear. The entire performance wasn’t left to be instrumental though… As I mentioned before, Nguyen Phambam and Ben Rechter came to the stage to fill in vocals for ‘Mirror Image,’ a single from their latest album Phronesis. Their performances were perfect to the point where it was a shame they didn’t know any more songs. Please come back to Brisbane for a full set with all members!
I was a little sceptical at the start of Toehider’s set because, let’s be honest, they visually came across as more of a classic rock band. Boy was I wrong. The mastermind behind all of the music, Mike Mills walked out onto the stage proudly wearing a Skyrim t-shirt alongside his session musicians Nick Delaney (bass) and Thom Mann (drums). My thoughts turned to Devin Townsend; however, the music that came out seemed to be a blend between mythological epic anthems, speedy progressive rock and classic hair metal shredding. I think this is one of the most talented instances of playing guitar whilst singing. With songs like ‘Millions Of Musketeers,’ ‘How Do Ghosts Work?’ and ‘What Ever Makes You Feel Superior,’ Toehider were by far the most surprising display of progressive music the festival saw. Mike Mills’ falsetto was incredibly high and controlled, Thom Mann stormed through a mass of controlled and technical drum notes with ease and Nick Delaney stretched his way around both bass and vocals like he was born for it. The set also featured a range of what I think were pterodactyl noises which I can unfortunately not explain. Regardless, it was pretty special to see such a technical and fast band having such an incredible time playing to the people of Brisbane.
The Ocean were the last band to climb onto the stage of Progfest’s 10th Anniversary show in Brisbane. Smoke and red light surrounded the piano and modular synth table as cinematic bass and piano noises were cast over the eager crowd. Suspenseful and organised introduction pieces make sets so much more impactful and enjoyable. When the full band entered it was a relief to hear more uncleans than the rest of the bands on the line-up. Having more of a heavier focus, like this band, in Progfest would have bumped it up to 5-stars, but that’s just me. The complexity of the music was similar to that of Northlane’s, so nothing detailed enough to activate the technical prog-minds, but enough to keep the crowd captivated. Unfortunately, we were hit with rain during the set, but it phased only a few patrons. The potential slipperiness didn’t affect the decision of their lead vocalist at all as he dived onto the crowd, mic in hand before adventuring to and on the side walls around the audience. Their stage presence lived up to all reviews and their execution of music was flawless as expected.
Progfest’s 10th Anniversary show in Brisbane was a head-spinning, powerful, djetacularly technical and mind-boggling success. It was hot (as literally all the bands mentioned on-stage), but we had more than enough talent to take our minds off it. Bring on Progfest 2020!
Review by Kurt Boldy @kurtboldy
Photo Gallery courtesy of Gethin Hill (Gethin Hill Photography)
Please credit Wall of Sound and Gethin Hill if you repost.
Sum of Us
Mass Sky Raid
Opus of a Machine
Hazards of Swimming Naked
City of Souls