Although a lot of it tends to be hit-or-miss for me on a personal level, it’s not an understatement to say that Melbourne has probably one of the most vibrant progressive metal scenes in the world. It makes sense, considering that relatively obscure prog metal act Aronora – playing their first show in 10 years along with a great cross-section of Melbourne prog rock/metal bands – could sell out a venue like this.

The crowd packed it in pretty early, with the venue filling up very quickly during the 15-minute interim between doors and the beginning of opening band Geo’s set. Having seen the band play before at smaller, less crowded venues, I had a general idea of what to expect musically – that being, tight musicianship, funk infused progressive rock and a great sense of fun. Geo are Melbourne’s premier funk-prog party band, and I think it’s a testament to this that the large audience really seemed to vibe heavily with them, with every member feeding off the energy of the crowded band-room to deliver one of the funkiest, most passionate and fun sets of the night. Highlights included the launch of their single The Rivers Ran, a cover of Overload by the Sugababes, and the fact that one of their guitarists looks uncannily like Keanu Reeves in John Wick.

Following Geo were Cirrus Crown. It was clear by the immensely crowded band room that this was a band that many people had come to see, and I would assume it was at this point that the show filled to capacity. Having never actually heard of Cirrus Crown before, I had only the name and the line-up to go off, and I later found out that the band is the current project of Pete Borzeta, formerly of Fading Hour and local legends Acolyte. There’s a very specific flavour to a lot of Melbourne prog; a focus on ambience and meter-play, chunky riffage, soaring vocals… Cirrus Crown embodied all of this in the most badass way, coming off to me as the most metal band of the night. Energetically delivering insane riff after insane riff, the energy onstage was immense, with the bassist and drummer in particular working hard to energetically deliver their pummelling rhythms. I had to leave the band room after their set to recover from the sheer intensity.

Following band Sentia were a surprise and a personal highlight of the night. Embodying most of the aspects of Melbourne prog listed above, Sentia turned down the heaviness and ramped up the weirdness, with complex but grooving rhythms, pop hooks, samples, and less harsh and more emotive sound that was more in tune with the quirkier sides of alternative and post-rock than the prog metal bands that preceded them.  There was one particularly bizarre track (Bruisin’) that veered into Stranger Things-sounding 80s synth-pop (complete with cheesy drum machine sample). I was immensely impressed by how tight the band was considering how layered some of their arrangements were, particularly in the vocal and guitar harmonies which sounded amazingly good (I also have to give props to the sound guy, he really did a superb job). Vocalist Amos Phillips was also the most charming frontman out of them all that night, and the dude seemed thrilled to be there and looked right at home on stage. Yeah, I loved this band. They were just an absolute joy to watch, and I can’t wait until I have a chance to see them again.

By the time Aronora came onstage, the crowd had started to peter out. The band room had been slowly emptying since Cirrus Crown, and when Aronora started I began to realise why. Aronora are probably the most outright proggyband in Melbourne, with songs that felt like their own self-contained musical journeys – not exactly as accessible as Geo or Sentia or as easy to headbang to as Cirrus Crown. Among a whole bunch of influences I could pick out, I was reminded most of early Disperse, but I also caught the barest whiffs of Pink Floyd and even Muse in there. The focus of their music being on progression and musicianship more than heavy riffage or impressive solos (there were those too, they just weren’t the main focus). As an ardent prog nerd, I appreciated them immensely.

A 10-year-reunion for the band, it seemed like a bit of a nostalgia trip for them (and more than a few members of the crowd) as guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Ben Cameron explained the origins of some songs, a handful of which hadn’t been played in years, and some of which were completely unreleased. I realised about halfway through the set that I probably wouldn’t have much of a change to hear these songs again anytime soon, and that made the show feel pretty special. Considering the love Melbourne shows most of their prog bands, I feel like Aronora are a bit underrated. Where a lot of Melbourne prog can feel either too bloated or too simple, Aronora strikes the perfect balance. They ended their set with a sarcastic promise to come back in 10 years. I really hope it doesn’t take that long.

And so ended one of the best prog gigs I’ve been to in a while.  It was a great line-up, a great venue, and lots of great people turned up. Definitely a good sample of some of the best progressive music that Melbourne has to offer.