It was December 2015. Nine months had passed since Soundwave rolled through capital cities when the announcement came. Australia’s premier heavy festival was being euthanised due to financial difficulties. Bands, promoters and workers were collectively owed millions. The story has been done to death. But one story about a band that found a positive amid the grief hasn’t been heard. There was a lesser-known group, whose set clashed with Incubus that year, which returned to the UK thousands of dollars in debt. Something happened at that festival that would lead Monuments back to Australia for 2019. “Us going to Soundwave probably helped a lot. It’s actually where I met the promoter for Progfest,” primary songwriter and guitarist John Browne says.
Browne, from his home in Howarth, West Yorkshire, is talking about the annual Australian progressive metal festival Progfest, which marks its 10th year in 2019 and will be the band’s first shows for the year. The outfit, which consists of Browne, New York-based Chris Barretto (vocals, lyrics), Olly Steele (guitar), Adam Swan (bass), and Daniel Lang (drums), will play New Zealand, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane alongside Germany’s The Ocean, India’s Skyharbor and many other talented prog metal bands, and also have sideshows in Adelaide and Perth. Making contact with the Progfest promoter in 2015 was the first step to making their trip four years later feasible. “I think it’s whether or not you can find a promoter that’s willing to work with you,” Browne says. “You’ve got all the big bands that are obviously going to go (to Australia) because promoters know they’re going to sell tickets, they know they’re going to at least make their money back, pay for all the all the internal flights and accommodation and stuff like that. I think the barrier is finding a promoter that is willing to work with you.”
Now that they can put aside financials and logistics, the band, which has fond memories of Aussie crowds, is keen to deliver their new material from third album, ‘Phronesis’, which came out on October 5. “The reception at Soundwave; it just surpassed all expectation, so we’re really excited about coming back and playing our music to people who love it. We clashed with Incubus and all I could think of at the time was, ‘you guys are dumb for not going to watch Incubus’,” he laughs. “Obviously now we’ve got a new record so it makes sense for us to come again.”
Featuring progressive bands of all styles and genres, from prog, post, psychedelic, art rock, metal and everything in between, Progfest touts itself as “showcasing bands that think for themselves; bands who rather than following the latest trends, have decided to challenge themselves musically and create music with depth and vision.” Certainly, one listen to tracks like A.W.O.L., Vanta, Ivory, Leviathan or The Watch and you could rightly think Monuments are on the leading edge of musical virtuosity, vocal superiority and lyrical smarts. Though Browne doesn’t see himself as a virtuoso or part of the musical elite. “Sometimes someone not being good at their instrument doesn’t mean that they don’t have the inspiration to make someone’s life better through music. I don’t really see people as worse than someone else, because when you think about it, the band Oasis, they were absolutely awful at their instruments but look at what they wrote,” Browne says. “To some people, Aerosmith is the heaviest thing in the world – it can’t possibly get any heavier than Aerosmith. That person might be right. Even if they haven’t heard Thy Art Is Murder.”
Browne also views prog metal crowds no differently to death metal punters or nu metal attendees, saying that location has more bearing on crowd interaction. “I think it depends where you are in the world. Some crowds, you’re going to get people going absolutely nuts. Some people just want to watch. You get both sides of the spectrum, even at the same shows. Every single gig is different. Even though you’re playing the same songs, you get your energy from the crowd. If the crowd reacts in an astonishing way, the gig is just phenomenal. I find that in the UK, mostly it’s people wanting to watch prog metal. When you go to America, they want to flail all their arms and legs about, and then when you go to Australia, everyone wants to mosh.” And mosh they will, especially when the Melbourne show falls on a particularly loose day on the calendar – Australia Day. While tempted to indulge in beer bongs and barbecues, the band is resolved to remain somewhat clearheaded due to their schedule. “I’m not sure if it’s a good idea because we have flights everyday,” Browne laughs. “For Soundwave we had a week off, so we had a barbecue with Dead Letter Circus at Surfers Paradise. Being hung over at an airport – you can’t really have a worse feeling than that,” he laughs.
While they might have to tone down the frivolities for the sake of their performances, they still plan to bring the goods for their Aussie fans. The group is quite well versed in the music scene too, having toured with Sleep Makes Waves in 2016, Karnivool in 2015 and Dead Letter Circus in 2013. They’re also big fans of Cog, Thy Art is Murder and Northlane. But enough of the jingoism; time to focus on who’s playing with Monuments for Progfest. “We’ve played with Skyharbor quite a lot,” Browne says. “We played with Skyharbor in Russia with Tesseract and then we played some random shows like Euroblast in Germany, Techfest in the UK, and then we recently just played with The Ocean at Damnation Festival, which is like the unreadable metal band name festival,” he laughs.
Four years on from making the best of a difficult situation, Monuments is ready to unleash their music on watchers, flailers, moshers and anyone who appreciates progressive metal wizardry.
Tickets for Progfest 2019 are available here.