Live Review: PROGFEST 2018, January 20th at The Factory Theatre

One of the great things about being a reviewer is, it provides opportunities to see bands that you normally don’t listen to. Such was the case with the line-up for this year’s instalment of Progfest. With many of the bands on the bill being unfamiliar to me, I’m seeing and hearing the vast majority of them for the first time.

The Factory Theatre in Sydney’s inner west is the venue, with a subaquatic theme assigned to this year’s festival. The main stage of the Factory Theatre has been dubbed “Atlantis”, and the side stage, normally known as Fusebox has been named “Poseidon”.

It’s at the Poseidon Stage where my Progfest adventure begins, with local instrumental prog four-piece, Genetics opening the day. These guys incorporate various elements of progressive metal to make powerful, heavy musical masterpieces blended with spoken word sound samples. The small crowd grew steadily throughout the set, and they were treated to an enthralling twin-guitar assault. New song “Insemination” was well-received. They are about to release a new album, Cynosure, so keep your ears to the ground for that one.

Next up, it was another local outfit, Mercury Sky. An extremely vibrant live band, their songs transition effortlessly from clean and melodic to heavy and aggressive. It was difficult at times to hear some of the vocals, but the crowd crammed into the Poseidon stage didn’t stop moving. Fan favourite “Nausea” was the highlight, and they finished on a high, with guitarist Keiran ending up on his back in the front row with the punters.

With the crowd starting to build, next it was the manic math-rock mayhem of Seims. Clever drum beats, tripping guitars, synth, samples, and a trumpet. It all comes together to form an amazing, ultra-loud aural tsunami that just makes your body move. Seims are one of those bands that you have to see live to truly appreciate. One of the real surprise packages of the day!

Brisbane band Osaka Punch opened the Atlantis Stage and wowed the crowd with their heavy grooves and smooth pop melodies. Cheeky front-man Jack Muzak was at his exuberant best, and even broke into a bit Salt N Peppa’s Push It in the middle of a new song “Activate”.

Then it was back to the Poseidon Stage for one of my favourite bands of the day, Sydney’s own Hemina. These guys have landed some pretty cool support slots in recent times (Queensryche, Apocalyptica, Caligula’s Horse), and after seeing them live, I can see why. This band rips live. Heavy, powerful guitar driven songs with intricate riffs and amazing solos. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who made a beeline straight to the merch stand at the end of their set!

Back to Atlantis for a dose of Breaking Orbit. Bringing their own innovative slant to the progressive genre, they pulled the crowd in with their highly captivating live show. Playing tracks from both of their releases Transcension and The Time Traveller, their intricate musical storytelling is both atmospheric and, at times brutal.

Another band who’ve scored some impressive supports slots is Newcastle instrumental four-piece Majora. Their well-constructed songs ebb and flow between melodic and heavy, each track a mind-blowing trip that builds to a powerful ending.

When Melbourne’s Orsome Welles hit the Atlantis Stage, everything went up a notch. What an amazing live band! Their sound is huge, with every band member contributing to delivering what every rock band craves in the live setting…unbridled raw power. They blew everyone away with tracks such as “Build A World”, “Maestro”, and “Home Sweet Home”. My only complaint was that their set was too short! The Progfest shows are the first leg of a national tour, so if you haven’t seen them yet, now’s your chance.

One of the heavier, more aggressive bands on the bill was Adelaide’s Dyssidia. Combining crunching riffs and mesmerising melodies, they back up their unique studio sound with a killer live show. At times almost operatic, and at others brutally heavy, with Mitch Brackman’s vocals, while a little raw, delivered with tremendous effort that had everyone in the room showing their appreciation. There is a real technical aspect to them as well, and their menacing sound is driven by a big-assed six string bass.

Due to overlapping time slots, I only caught a bit of Sydney instrumental post-rockers Meniscus. For a three-piece band, their sound is huge, and the crowd seemed to really be digging their guitar-driven atmospheric soundscapes.

Closing out the Poseidon Stage was Sydney instrumental guitar prodigy James Norbert Ivanyi. There was very little interaction between the band and the crowd, but James and his band astonished the audience with their technical prowess and musical proficiency.

As the majority of the punters converged on the Atlantis Stage, Melbourne’s astral space core five-piece AlithiA kicked off their set. This band is extremely left of centre, and their music is an exploration of the unlimited possibilities of the mind. Each song is a myriad of complex rhythms and melodies. Highly energetic frontman John Rousvanis barely stood still as he delivered his vocals. He was well supported by percussionist Jeff, and bass player Tibor has an enormous stage presence. Their set built to a huge finale, with the crowd showing their appreciation with a huge cheer.

When it comes to Australian prog metal, they don’t come much bigger than Perth’s Voyager, and they were greeted by an ecstatic cheer from the Atlantis Stage crowd. Like most bands on the bill, they were limited to a thirty-minute time slot but used it to give the fans a taste of new album Ghost Mile. New tracks “Ascension”, “Misery Is Only Company”, “To The Riverside” and title track “Ghost Mile” all sounded amazing. The great thing about Voyager is the way they combine so many different elements into clever, powerful, catchy songs. Hooks and melodies, light and dark, and even some guttural growls. It’s all there, and Daniel Estrin and co. make it all work really well. They closed their set with “The Meaning Of I”, which really got the fans going…and it would be remiss of me not to mention the drumming display from Ashley Doodkorte. Truly amazing!

For the first time in its short history, Progfest had an international headliner in Swedish prog-giants Leprous. Having only recently been introduced to then via new album Malina, I was really keen to see what they brought to the live setting. To be honest, I don’t think Leprous have really captured the energy of their live show with their studio albums. As a live band, they were absolutely mind-blowing.

From the opening note of “Bonneville,” the crowd was into it, and the mix was perfect. Every element, from the bottom end of Baard Kolstad’s bass drum to Einar Solberg’s soaring melodies, perfectly audible. Tracks from the new album such as “Stuck”, “Illuminate” and “Mirage” sounded much bigger live than on the album, and the fans seemed to appreciate the fuller sound on offer. The newer tracks mixed well with some older ones, such as “The Flood” and “The Price” from The Congregation album, and also “Foe” and “The Cloak” from 2013 release Coal.

They had the crowd right where they wanted them, and that catchy synth opening of set closer “From The Flame” got the whole room moving. They then gave in to the cries of “one more song”, delivering an almighty encore in “The Weight Of Disaster”. Prog metal at its finest!

With each instalment, Progfest seems to get bigger and better. I’m already looking forward to the next one!

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Written by Greg Smith

Contributor since 2015. Greg has been a devoted fan of heavy music since he first heard Van Halen as a kid back in the '80s. He 'matured' to the Big Four, survived the Grunge Revolution (and other fads) of the '90s, and has seen some of metal's biggest bands, as well as hundreds of lesser known bands in small venues from Gosford to Wollongong. His passion is supporting local heavy bands.

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