Photos: Dylan Martin
Words: Jonathon Besanko
Power Metal has never quite had the largest of followings in Australia. In fact, you could likely count the number of bands from this genre who have toured this country over the last five years on two hands. With that being said, when one does tour here, it’s notable for this reason. The latest Power Metal act to hit Australian shores is Sweden’s Dragonland, a band this reviewer never thought we’d see tour over here. Being their first time over, Dragonland took in four dates for their East Coast Australia tour. Having already performed in Canberra, Sydney, and Brisbane, respectively, Melbourne was the final stop of their Australia tour, and I can tell you, it was one to see.
Taking place at the Croxton Bandroom, this was my first time visiting this venue and I was quite taken aback by it. With a beautiful and almost Victorian-style décor, the theatre aesthetic of the Croxton seemed all too fitting for a night of traditional Heavy Metal and Power Metal. Opening the evening was the first of four local Melbourne bands, Espionage. Kicking off their set at 6:20 pm, Espionage arrived with all the presence of a band that felt as if they had been doing this for decades. Given that Espionage only this year released their debut full-length album, ‘Digital Dystopia,’ it’s impressive to see how well they already mesh together on stage. Like fine wine, Espionage only grows stronger with age and the camaraderie shown between the band members draws the crowd in immediately every time. With sweet, neon-themed guitars on display, bassist and frontman Andrew ‘Frosty’ Morris announced with all the gusto of a young Bruce Dickinson, “We are Espionage and this is Nightmare Approaches!” Despite some minor technical issues, the band otherwise gave their performance 110%, delivering a hefty mix of traditional Heavy Metal stylings, twin guitar harmonies, and screams that not only wowed you but had an early-evening crowd headbanging and shouting along with them. Hell, even when the crowd was a bit quieter, Espionage only used this opportunity to kick things into even higher gear, with drummer James ‘Shelvo’ Shelverton putting on full show his incredible technical and stylised abilities, along with the always-brilliant one-two punch of guitarists Denis ‘Den Den’ Sudzuka and Matt ‘Matto’ Carroll. Throwing Dragonland into the lyrics of Haunting Horror and closing out their set with Light Begins To Fade, Espionage continue to demonstrate why they are a band with a very bright future ahead of them.
Following on was Envenomed. Bathed beneath purple light, Envenomed erupted into life on stage. The band’s greatest strength has always been in their hooks and it’s here that Envenomed shined for the majority of their set. With tasty riffs aplenty and admirable soloing from lead guitarist, Brendan Farrugia, where the band fell short, however, was in the weaker performance from bassist, Tom Nugara, whose backing vocals on the first couple songs felt out of key. Whilst he picked it back up near the end (and thanks to Frosty from Espionage, who lent Nugara his bass after Nugara suffered some technical issues of his own), it wasn’t the band’s best performance that I’ve seen. That being said, Anthony ‘Mav’ Mavrikis is still a beast of a frontman and there’s a definite charm to him that really brightens the band’s on stage presence whenever they perform. John Price also delivered a solid performance on drums.
As the only non-Melbourne opener of the evening, Sydney’s Darker Half burst forth with an energy and power befitting of the band’s namesake. While the Speed Metal style of Darker Half was entertaining to watch on stage, it got to a point with their songs where it all began to feel a bit “samey.” Aside from the entertaining antics of the band’s lead guitarist, Jimmy Lardner-Brown, who took a fancy to twirling his guitar around his neck, or the bassist, Simon Hamilton, who leapt all about the stage (his mullet flying fancifully behind him), there wasn’t enough that was particularly interesting musically to keep me invested. Hamilton was an interesting sort also, coming across at times as if he wasn’t sure what band he was in. He had the presence of someone who thought they were the member of a punk outfit rather than a Heavy Metal one. Despite some musical shortcomings, I can’t fault Darker Half’s exuberant energy on stage, and although vocalist / guitarist Steve ‘Vo’ Simpson is decent, the band shines most with its drummer, Dominic Simpson. He may well be one of the most insane drummers I’ve seen in Australia in a little while and he didn’t let up once.
Rounding out the last two openers of the evening were Melbourne’s Eyefear and Black Majesty, two bands who each share a long legacy as part of Australia’s Metal scene. Eyefear has existed as a group since 1994 and have, to date, released five full-length albums, with their last effort being 2012’s ‘The Inception of Darkness.’ Having never seen them live before, I was interested to see how they’d perform. Eyefear emerged to a decent crowd, which unfortunately never grew far beyond a crowd of a hundred or so during the night. Musically, however, Eyefear had one of the best mixes of the night, with the symphonies coming in over a pleasant barrage of melodic / Progressive Power Metal stylings. Painted beneath stark pinks and purples, vocalist Riccardo Mecchi was dressed like an urban hero from some cyberpunk fantasy; chains hanging and hood up, to deliver his message of salvation. While bassist Evan Harris (who also doubles as bassist for Black Majesty) was a joy to watch with his technical play-style, lead guitarist Kosta Papazoglou and drummer Zain Kimmie were serviceable but not particularly memorable.
The night truly came to a head with the final opener of the evening, Black Majesty. A band I’ve been wanting to see for years, they did not disappoint in any way and I can genuinely say that they stood toe-to-toe with that of Dragonland’s performance. With gallops and drum rolls aplenty, vocalist John Cavaliere evoked the feeling of Ronnie James Dio – not just in his look, but in the aura and poise he held onstage. The man oozes personality and his stage presence held captive an excited and willing audience. Mixing melody with punch, Cavaliere drew you in, his vocals reverberating with a strength that was complemented by the impressive fret and bass work of the other band members. Their song, Stargazer, was a particular highlight. The twin harmonies of guitarists Stevie Janevski and Hanny Mohamed were a joy to watch, with Ben Wignall’s drums the glue holding it all together.
It wasn’t long before Black Majesty announced they would be playing a brand-new song for the first time live tonight for the lucky Melbourne patrons attending. Entitled Dragons Unite, and taken from the band’s forthcoming new album, ‘Children of the Abyss’, it was anthemic and bombastic. Full of emotion and riffs to bite down on, Dragons Unite was a real treat for the ears. Janevski then came forward to deliver a few words, talking about how much of an honour it was to be supporting Dragonland and that Victoria is easily the Metal capital of Australia, assuring Dragonland they had nothing to worry about for their turnout. Black Majesty wrapped up their set with an excellent cover of the Queensrÿche classic, Queen of the Reich.
The time had come. As the curtains closed, it wasn’t long before the crowd was greeted by atmospheric intro music, followed by Shadow of the Mithral Mountains as frontman Jonas Heidgert joined the other five band members onstage. To the sounds of applause and cheering, Dragonland got people pumping their fists into the air from the get-go. And their sound… it was powerful. Whether it was in the cohesion between each of the band members (that still allowed for each member to shine individually and add their own element to the band’s sound) or in the drums that thundered throughout the spacious venue, Dragonland were every bit as amazing – if not more so – as I’d always imagined they would be. Heidgert’s vocals were, to put it plain, phenomenal. He has what must be one of the most diverse vocal ranges I’ve heard from any Power Metal vocalist. Able to hit high octaves, transition to mids and then to harsh vocals with complete ease, Heidgert blew the crowd away at every turn. As the band moved onto Cassiopeia, they managed to take an already incredible song and make it sound even greater live. With so many in the audience singing the chorus to their fullest, you truly felt you were a part of something special.
Turning up the charm, Heidgert announced, “It’s so crazy to be here! We’re now going to play one of our favourite songs,” – to which an audience member joked “Raining Blood!” The crowd laughed and Heidgert smiled and answered, “Yes! Or The Trooper.” What followed was In Perfect Harmony, a song where keyboardist Elias Holmlid really shone.
“We are Dragonland, as you can see,” Heidgert proclaimed, “We come from Sweden, a very mysterious land of polar bears and Eskimos and that shit.” Drawing the crowd in with his light-hearted nature and his expertise as lead vocalist, he was aided by the musical prowess of his band members, particularly guitarist Jesse Lindskog. Though Dragonland’s other guitarist, Olof Mörck, unfortunately, couldn’t make it for the tour, Lindskog had a wonderful moment later himself wherein he came out to an emptied stage, only accompanied by drummer Johan Nunez at his back (of Firewind, Marty Friedman, and Gus G), and beneath a red spotlight performed the emotional track, Hundred Years Have Passed.
One of the night’s best moments came with Dragonland’s performance of their hit, The Black Mare. Heidgert invited up two of his old, close friends from Melbourne to help sing the chorus, and getting all the crowd involved with the song, it went off with a bang as Heidgert demonstrated how dynamic his vocal range truly is. Tolling like apocalyptic bells on the next track, Dûrnir’s Forge, Nunez’s drums rang out across the venue as the low bass notes of Anders Hammer maintained a strong, heroic rhythm. The best moment came near the end of Dûrnir’s Forge when Heidgert stormed about the stage miming the song’s epic speech at the bridge as if he were a distressed deity.
The songs that followed, like Supernova, Antimatter, and the set closer Astronomy all received wondrous amounts of crowd interaction and stellar showmanship from Dragonland. As the band did what every band does and left the stage for a little while, they returned for their encore, which, as I’d personally been hoping for, was their brilliant cover of Limahl’s classic movie theme, The NeverEnding Story. It was the perfect closer to one of the best gigs of the year.
Shadow of the Mithral Mountains
A Thousand Towers White
In Perfect Harmony
The Black Mare
Hundred Years Have Passed
Majesty of the Mithral Mountains
The NeverEnding Story (Limahl cover)
Outro: Ivory Shores