“An absolutely massive celebration of the year in rock and Metal, hosted by Melbourne’s very own Hard Rock Show.”

The Hard Rock Show End of Year Extravaganza was plagued by line-up changes in the lead-up to the event. In a stroke of ill fate, both the original headliners – Electric Mary and Teramaze – had to bow out of the bill, but were thankfully replaced by two of the finest acts in Melbourne Power Metal – Vanishing Point and Damnations Day. Despite the changes, it was a high quality bill from start to finish, and the Hard Rock Show folks hosted a solid eight hours of rock and Metal at Max Watt’s. The only truly disappointing aspect of the day was the turn-out. Though faces changed throughout the day and into the evening, there wouldn’t have been many more than 150 people in the venue at any given time. There was consistently a row of people at the barrier, while many others simply enjoyed the socialising and of course, the bar. It was probably simply a matter of timing, as there were an unusually high number of quality gigs on offer that night, and many punters were ducking between several events.

The day began with self-proclaimed “Party Metal” band Sudden State, who truly lived up to that designation. Sudden State consistently hit above their weight when it comes to opening bills, with a fast-paced set that doesn’t let up for a moment. Frontman Adam Patten took over the stage with massive energy, despite that fact that an injury to his hand the night before meant that he couldn’t – well, shouldn’t – play bass, and nearly robbed the bill of this band as well. Thankfully, Patten was ably replaced on bass, and the show went ahead. In addition to their high-voltage originals, Sudden State brought Espionage frontman Andrew “Frosty” Morris on stage for a cover of Judas Priest’s ‘Electric Eye,’ and absolutely nailed it. Sudden State were also the only band of the night to include a beer bong in their set, as well as very generously sharing the beer from their rider with the punters in the front row!

Next up were Sonic Circus, continuing in the vein of classic Heavy Metal. Fronted by none other than the Hard Rock Show’s Jimmy Van Zeno, Van Zeno naturally joked that the only reason his band got on the bill was because he was running the show. Humorous nepotism aside, Sonic Circus brought another high-quality set to the day’s early proceedings. Particularly noteworthy was the shredding guitar work of Alan Leslie, who absolutely set the stage on fire.

Sonic Circus were ably followed by Espionage, one of Melbourne’s most prolific bands when it comes to live performance, as well as being the folks behind Espionage Bookings. Espionage are a band at the frontlines of keeping the classic 80s Heavy Metal sound alive, particularly New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the vein of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. While always a rip-snorter of a set, it wasn’t the tightest Espionage have ever played. Being used to playing to packed out rooms – one generally can’t move for punters when Espionage hit the stage at the Bendigo Hotel – part of that may have been due to the lack of energy in the room. Morris had the band’s trademark humour ready to go through, leading the crowd in a public roasting of guitarist Denis “Den Den” Sudzuka by the leading the crowd in a chant of, “Fuck you Denis!” Sudzuka responded with good humour, “I don’t disagree!”

Next up were Cicadastone, another late addition to the bill and quite a surpising change of pace. After the blistering classic Metal stylings of Sudden State, Sonic Circus and Espionage, Cicadastone were more downbeat and grooving. Indeed, their style could be described more as grungy hard rock than Metal, per se. While a change in mood was welcome on a bill that did suffer from some homogeneity, Cicadastone’s set itself didn’t have a lot of diversity to hold the listener’s focus. That being said, Mat Robins was an exceptional vocal performer, particularly emphasised when he accepted a dare to perform a Power Metal wail in the intro to one of their songs – absolutely nailed it! With skilled performance and well-developed compositions, Cicadastone were ultimately a credit to the gig.

Cicadastone were followed by Destroy She Said, who Van Zeno pointed out may have been known to the audience in a round-about way as the band who composed the theme music for the Hard Rock Show. Accordingly, their sound was very much rooted in hard rock, and heralded some of that homogeneity of acts mentioned earlier. For this night only, Destroy She Said were fronted by guest vocalist Hayden Edwards of Idle Fret, who did an absolutely stellar job of filling in for Simon McCullough. If the audience hadn’t been told (and didn’t know the band), they would certainly have thought Edwards was a well-established member, not missing a note or a cue. Bassist Bo Remy also handled a guitar strap malfunction with aplomb, continuing to play while balancing the bass on his leg, as a guitar tech tried to re-attach the strap around him!

The next act on the bill were Lazarus Mode, with a very similar hard rock sound to Destroy She Said. Lazarus Mode however were particulalry distinguished by the performance of bassist Jay Pittas, who was arguably the most energetic artist of the entire gig. His constant rapid movement around the stage, jumping from the drum riser and interacting with the other members of the band certainly brought the visual spectacle, while on the whole Lazarus Mode kept the pace interesting by including both more frenetic, and slower pieces.

Darcee Fox unfortunately suffered from being the third of three very similar bands on the bill. However, it was clear from the audience response and the changing faces among the crowd that there were many punters in attendance purely to see them. Frontman Elliott Okerstrom engaged the audience with his powerful vocals and serpentine dancing, while the rest of the band powered through a classic rock ‘n’ roll set. For those at the rock rather than Metal end of the spectrum, Darcee Fox were undoubtedly the kings of the night, with comments from the audience both before and after attesting to their admiration of the band.

Host Van Zeno introduced the unstoppable Progressive Metal powerhouse Acolyte with, “Are you ready to add some classiness to the night?” The audience’s response to the question was lukewarm at best, but it was clear that Acolyte won them over before long, despite some technical teething difficulties. Trouble getting the audio right meant that the opening track ‘Perceptions’ didn’t come over as well as it could have, but by the time Acolyte busted out their next song – a new one, ‘Oasis’ – they were absolutely at the top of their game. Session guitarist Brandon Valentine (of Ten Thousand) has settled into the band masterfully in the absence of Pete Borzeta, while frontwoman Morgan-Leigh Brown absolutely dominated the Max Watt’s stage with her mind-blowing vocals and true force of personality. Not to be outdone was keyboardist David Van Pelt, who has contributed more epic soundscapes than ever on the band’s new material. This was never more evident than on ‘Rush Effect,’ the final song of the set that certainly proved Acolyte’s upcoming album will blow the current EP Shades of Black out of the water.

Acolyte were a difficult act to follow, but Geelong Power Metal act Damnations Day were up to the task. The first half of the set was dedicated to the band’s current release A World Awakens, with Mark Kennedy’s vocals leading a frontal assault on the senses, while Jon King and Luis Eguren kept the fast-paced, melodic Metal going on guitars and bass, respectively. The second part of the set drew on classics from the first album, Invisible, the Dead, with a number of much-loved songs being very pleasing to the crowd – particularly ‘Carried about the Sun,’ a melodic masterpiece that incomparably showcases Kennedy’s beautiful vocals.

The night was rounded out with one of Australia’s best-known Power Metal bands Vanishing Point, who well and truly proved why they have international recognition and pedigree. While their entrance was unfortunately delayed by further technical difficulties, the band took full control of the situation and owned the stage with a wall of Power Metal sound. Vanishing Point enhanced the impact of tracks from their latest release Distant is the Sun, with Silvio Massaro’s soulful vocals whipping the crowd into a frenzy of pathos. Unfortunately by this stage there would have been lucky to be 100 people in the room, prompting Massaro to wryly observe that the show was “cosy” and “intimate.” Nevertheless, dedicated fans banged their heads and sang along to favourites such as ‘Distant is the Sun’ and ‘Denied Deliverance,’ no doubt leaving Vanishing Point with reflections of a small but enraptured audience.

The Hard Rock Show End of Year Extravaganza was truly an incredible event, and certainly those who weren’t there missed out on something special. It’s not every day you come across a line-up like that. Hopefully the bad luck on the turn-out doesn’t deter the Hard Rock Show folks from putting on another event next year.