Geelong’s Barwon Club Hotel received a double-whammy last night when it hosted both Damnations Day’s triumphant live return to Australian soil – for a hometown show, no less – and part of Espionage’s release tour for their debut full-length album, ‘Digital Dystopia.’ These two events were supported by one of Sydney’s premiere Power Metal acts, Darker Half, Melbourne’s prolific melodic Metallers Trigger, and Wollongong newcomers, Panik.

It was great to see the trio of youngsters Panik up on the stage with such a diverse group of bands, and bringing a sound that was unique to the mix. As is often the case with up-and-coming bands, they wear their influences very much on their sleeve, chiefly the Punk-infused old school Thrash Metal of early Metallica and Slayer. Frontman Mitch Gruevski certainly draws on both James Hetfield and Tom Araya in his vocal stylings, though he seems to have not yet fully relaxed into his performance persona. His on-stage antics were certainly stronger when he was able to fully focus on his bass playing. Similarly drummer Corey Baxter, while precise, is currently fully invested in his playing while the theatrical element could still be developed. A stand-out in this regard however was the performance of guitarist Danny Ritz, who can definitely shred, and at the same time moves about the stage and engages with the crowd with an enthusiasm and energy that hopefully the rest of the band can match over time; this will likely be the step that takes them to the next level of live performance.

Trigger raised the energy in the room superbly with a blistering set of tracks covering crowd favourites from both their debut full-length album ‘Cryogenesis,’ and earlier EP ‘Machina.’ Tim Leopold put on an exceptional vocal performance for this show, and it was only a pity that a bit of a rough sound mix prevented it from cutting through the rest of the band’s sound more. This was emphasised by the fact that Sean Solley’s guitars were considerably louder than Luke Ashley’s. Technical quibbles aside, Trigger were kicking it to the next level by the middle of their set, when Tethered to the Tide really got the heads banging. Fittingly, Ascension absolutely raised the roof, and of course Dead Sun closed the set with appropriately climactic energy. Particular kudos are also due to Ashley for putting on a heroic performance despite a recent hand injury sustained in an Orpheus Omega moshpit – especially considering he was sporting an Orpheus T-shirt for this gig!

Darker Half brought great anticipation for their as-yet untitled new album with them from Sydney, as they played Geelong for the very first time. Playing up to the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne in good humour, frontman Steve “Vo” Simpson indicated that even the Geelong crowd was better than what might be found in Sydney. This was of course met with great acclaim, though not as much acclaim as the fast-paced Power Metal Darker Half smashed out. The band played a great selection of newer and classic tracks, including the powerful Heaven’s Falling from the latest EP ‘Classified,’ and crowd favourite Stranger from the previous full-length album, ‘Never Surrender.’ Amongst all that, the crowd were treated to a sneak preview of the new album with The Bittersweet Embrace, a chunky celebration of riffs and solos that promises great things for when the album makes its way into the world.

It was a great night for vocalists as Espionage frontman Andrew “Frosty” Morris also put on an exceptional performance for the night. From the very first song, the title track of the new album ‘Digital Dystopia,’ Morris’ voice rang with power and clarity. Perhaps this is an indication of the band’s enthusiasm for the new material, as the joy of performing it was clear to see on Denis “Den Den” Sudzuka’s face as well. The crowd response proved the album’s warm welcome so far, as punters packed out the intimate space in front of the stage to ensure they got up close and personal with Espionage. Of course, Espionage didn’t neglect their older material either, bringing the much-loved Hellfire and Wings of Thunder into the mix, and closing with a rousing rendition of the Helloween classic, I Want Out.

Rounding out the night were Damnations Day, ironically the band who had travelled the least distance to get there from neighbouring Lara. That being said, Damnations Day performed hot on the heels of their recent European tour, with some new additions to the set list and plenty of fire in their bellies. Damnations Day’s performance was top notch from the start, with Mark Kennedy’s always exultant vocals more powerful than ever. It seems the European trek really has ignited something in Kennedy, as his voice seems to be filled with even more passion. This energy was reflected in a surprisingly active crowd, the pit at one point getting so tumultuous that several audience members were thrown from their feet. Of course this didn’t deter the precision of the band for a moment, as they played favourites like The Witness as well as older tracks that hadn’t had an Australian outing for some time, such as the deep and stirring Reflections. I Pray proved another highlight, capturing the spirits of everyone in the room.

After five powerful sets, everybody in the room was certainly spent. The punters shuffled out exhausted but with grins of satisfaction, and much the same could be said of the bands. The diversity of styles, as well as the coming together of bands from across Victoria and New South Wales, really emphasised the unity of the Metal scene; with its ongoing strength exemplified in recently-released bangers, covers acknowledging our heritage, and new music teasing great things to come.