Words By Joseph Dipisa-Fiorenza
It was a scorching hot day in Richmond as fans of progressive music began arriving at The Corner Hotel from all parts of Victoria (and in some cases beyond) to witness the annual congregation known as Progfest.
Long before the show even started it was clear how tight knit the prog community is. Band members were walking around socialising with the fans and all kinds of people were found bonding over their love for the genre. Anyone you spoke to would comment on just how much the community vibe keeps growing and growing all the time.
With such an incredible atmosphere from the very beginning it was no surprise that the energy was explosive as soon as Logic Defies Logic launched into their set to kick off the show. It’s obvious why the band give themselves labels such as “Organic Metal” and “Pleasure Groove.” They play the kind of prog metal that feels very natural, no forcing technicality or length here, and they write in a way that lends itself to drum and bass grooves that you can’t help pleasurably rocking along to, even in their heaviest moments. There were certain songs that definitely had surprising twists musically, quickly jumping between heavy and mellow sections that kept each song fresh. All four members also had just the right level of stage presence to get the audience more pumped for the band that would follow, they made excellent use of the smaller stage dubbed the “Poseidon Stage”.
Up next over on the main stage, (Atlantis Stage) Fierce Mild provided what would be best described as an intense audio and visual experience. The combination of the experimental soundscapes they created and the video show, which was projected on three screens, created an intriguing atmosphere. Whilst there was nice contrast between sections of some songs, overall the set could have used a little bit more variety. The band should be commended on their excellent use of technology and effects.
Enlight were the next band to take over the Poseidon stage, by the end of their set however, most people were so impressed that they were of the opinion that the band should have been placed upon the larger Atlantis stage.
The band skilfully delivered their unique brand of ambient music. It’s the type of prog that has plenty of air and room to breathe, whilst still being absolutely crushing when the need arises. The way the members play off one another are what makes their performances special. The way Sam and Max lock in together on bass and drums respectively. The way Julia and Nguyen fluidly exchange guitar solos or even the way that the two members on Vocal duty, Nguyen and Racheal present their parts. When frontwoman Racheal sings, she has a regal and flowing stage presence which matches perfectly with her clear, bright vocal tone. Then when Nguyen steps forward to deliver his screams his presence is the complete opposite to match it, intense and powerful. These contrasts are what make Enlight a great live band.
Acolyte were perfectly suited to the Atlantis Stage. Delivering the next set with an epic performance of a handful of their longest songs. This is a band with clear aesthetic visually and a distinct style. A style which for most of the time is crushingly intense. Every member of this band has the ability to play in a multitude of styles however which makes the overall performance very diverse. Amid the proggy riff build ups and the slow breakdowns shine sections of ambience with operatic vocals lines sung using exotic scales by frontwoman Morgan-Leigh Brown. Pair all that with the bands excellent stage movement and you have a fantastic act indeed.
Up next Dyssidia delivers an especially dark set. This band stands out as being able to create an atmosphere of intensity. They accomplish not only through their exceptionally heavy music but also in their presence on stage. Even when the members display more movement then usual and jump around a bit it retains an aggressive vibe definitely makes watching one of their sets a worthwhile experience for any fan of the heavy sides of prog, and indeed worthwhile for any metal fan in general.
By the time instrumental 3-piece Meniscus take to the Atlantis stage, the crowd had begun to get so thick that it was becoming increasingly difficult to move from stage to stage after each set due to the sheer amount of bodies. All 3 members displayed superb technique on their respective instruments and were another stand out in terms of effects usage. Using the technology at their disposal to create soundscapes and loops that propelled their music to the next level. Something that was enjoyable to watch was the grandiose movements the members used and the way that carried themselves. It was almost reminiscent of Muse.
Starting off the latter half of the festival, Branch Arterial took the stage to deliver their final performance ever, after having been a band for ten years. Naturally, this meant that the performance was emotionally charged. Every word sung and every note played had weight and meaning behind them. The band was savouring all of them and packing them into one powerful final delivery. Their songs are powerful enough already in their own write via the composition but it’s undeniable that the emotions brought out even more power in each song. A perfect close to the story of Branch Arterial.
When 7-piece band Alithia got up to deliver their set it was clear straight away how much of a family they considered each other. It was an interesting performance to watch because they would take the music from a straight up metal section to a psychedelic ambient section. What stood out here though was when the band would launch into a section that would be reminiscent of club music, but of course metal. Definitely a sight to behold, especially when you throw into the mix the way all the members run around swapping instruments and jumping off any elevated surface they can find.
Everybody gathered tightly packed around the Poseidon stage for one of the most anticipated acts of the evening, the legendary Toehider. The 3-piece were in incredible form as they made their way through a set filled with fan favourites like ‘Whatever Makes You Feel Superior’ and ‘On and On.’ However, some newer songs were performed as well. Fresh off the new album, set closer ‘How Do Ghosts Work?’ translated to the live stage especially well.
Frontman and mastermind Mike Mills humorous stage presence was the perfect punctuation points between songs as he joked around with the audience and shared banter with bassist Nick Delaney. A point of interest was the introduction of brand new drummer Aaron, who’s grooves locked exceptionally with Nick’s huge basslines and Mike’s nuanced riffing and shredding.
Those who have seen Toehider before knew to expect blazingly fast and tight sections with poetic storytelling lyrics and vocal prowess that would have had Freddie Mercury applauding from beyond. And that’s exactly what they got. Those who hadn’t seen Toehider before were left with their jaws on the floor by the time this trio had left the stage. An awe-inspiring performance.
With Voyager came the return of the synth to the stage as the band made their way through a relentlessly heavy set. Whilst being undeniably progressive, the band had a way of conveying a more metal sound than some of the others. This could potentially be attributed to the crushing guitar tones and the bass and drums choice of rhythms. But amidst all of that remained the swirling time signatures and unique song structures that showed the audience exactly why this band is one of the most successful Australian prog acts going around. The audience loudly chanted along right until the last line of catchy and clever lyrics was sung out.
As the penultimate band of the evening, Orsome Welles were a pleasure to watch as always. Even when not acting out a concept EP with ghost make-up on and a bard to tell the tale, this band remains theatrical in the most pleasing of ways. They make their way through their set with unfaltering energy and accuracy as frontman Michael Stowers conducts the band and delivers operatic but gravelly vocals that soar above the maelstrom of heavy swirling riffs. At one point the audience is invited to conduct the band as well during popular song ‘Maestro’ The band must be commended on managing to make such good use of the smaller stage considering that last year they were on the main stage. Considering they are a 5 piece and are have huge presences and love to move around, they really used the space well.
At long last, the curtain opens on Norwegian headliners Leprous. Rapturous applause erupts from the audience and the band waves and greets them. Changing up the norm of playing an explosive song from the get go, Leprous begins by slowly building up a soundscape. This soundscape eventuates into the song ‘Bonneville’ which is a slow build into an explosion of music which has the audience roaring. The band skilfully plays their way through a set of some of the greatest pieces and by the time fan favourite ‘From The Flame’ begins, it’s clear the fans could watch this incredible act forever. The entire band has stage presence that captivates the whole room and Einar’s ability to go absolutely mental whilst still holding down synth chords is unmatched, not to mention how quickly he snaps back into a tranquil position to deliver his nuanced vocals in one of the softer sections.
Throughout the set the band show themselves to masterfully honed and incredibly precise, finishing with ‘Mirage’ was a treat but the audience craved more which led the band to perform ‘Slave’ as an encore and go out with a enormous applause.
Progfest 2018 was an incredible day and night of the finest progressive music Australia has to offer, with 12 world class bands that are not to be missed whenever they play a live show.