It’s general policy around these parts not to review Australian acts in terms of being “world class” or “able to compete at a global level”, or other such platitudes. Since it is HEAVY’s stance – as well as being a verifiable truth – that Australian bands ARE world class we will proceed to set the quality of international acts as a benchmark is to unjustly separate Aussie acts from the global fold. However, if you were ever in doubt that these shores were home to some of the best acts in the heavy metal game, then please allow the Melbourne stop of the “…almost Halloween …almost a Metal Fest” to lay your concerns to rest.
Opening tonight’s proceedings were melodic thrashers Naberus, who set an impressively high standard for the rest of the night’s acts to follow. The band played to a surprisingly large early turnout and staked their claim to more than a few carry-over followers with their high energy, hook-laden offering. Vocalist, James Ash (going sans-guitar for the night) sounded much more versatile and imposing than he does on record, and the rest of the band were more than able to capitalise on his infectious enthusiasm.
Up next were the artists formerly known as Metal Storm, aka Blackhelm. The band certainly upped the ante, with their thundering, thrash-based, black metal approach. However, vocalist Rob Widowmaker couldn’t quite make the most of this solid foundation. Mr Widowmaker practices the sort of posturing, “mad at the audience” fare that doesn’t always rub your reviewer the right way, and his strained bark did little to accentuate proceedings. Still, Blackhelm is only in their infancy at this point, and I, for one, will certainly be keeping an eye on where they go from here, even if that disposition is based more on their promising recorded output than tonight’s performance.
Conversely, fresh-faced up and comers, Hollow World were about as refined and professional as an extreme metal act can get. The band’s two guitarists, Theo Goslett and Michael Truscott, fed perfectly off each other and, their prominent frontman, Ben Roberts managed to form a similar relationship with the ever-more responsive crowd – dragging them along with him into the band’s hostile and malevolent soundscape, rather than levelling it against them. If there’s one thing, the band still lack it’s solid hooks, both musical and vocal. The newer material they played certainly showed that they were capable of pulling off such feats, and I’m sure we’ll see Hollow World higher up local bills in the years to come.
However, once again, it was Aussie brutalises Hadal Maw who stole the show early on. Two things can be said of the band’s performance, for certain: one, they were very, very loud; two, they were freaking amazing. Newly recruited vocalist, Sam Dillon has hit his stride by now and his command of the stage outstanding – perfectly complimenting both his own physical and vocal theatricalities as much as the rest of the band’s inhuman, other-worldly assault from beyond. However, it’s ex-Alarum/King Parrot drummer Rob Brens who stakes a claim at being the most impressive performer of the night. Besides the already-impressive technicality of his playing, the sheer force and aggression with which he played were both captivating and sublime. Even if the mix may have been loud enough to drive some unfortunate punters from the room, those who endured bore witness to one of the most fantastic feats of musical extremity ever to haunt the halls of the old Hi-Fi Bar.
Orpheus Omega were on next, and if you’ve been to any gigs around Melbourne in the past couple of years, you should know what to expect from these guys by now. The enthusiasm and dedication they bring to the stage are beyond admirable, and they continue to release fantastic records. However, while the Melbourne quartet continues to be well-received by concert-goers at every outing, the fractures in their live performance are becoming ever more apparent with each appearance. Frontman Chris Themelco is a fantastic guitarist, and he’s emerged as quite the producer over the last couple of years. However, although I’ve given him the benefit of having an off-night in the past, it’s becoming harder to deny that he just isn’t that strong a vocalist. The last few times I’ve seen Orpheus Omega – and tonight especially – his voice just doesn’t seem in sync with the rest of the band (tonally), and the cleans are always a far cry from how they sound on record.
Likewise, while their uniforms and rehearsed banter intend to give an air of professionalism and discipline, they’re increasingly coming to substitute for the real thing. The night being somewhat of a Halloween show, things were expected to be more playful than on other occasions, and bassist Nathan Mesiti took full advantage of that premise. His frequent hat changes and stage shenanigans kept the crowd thoroughly entertained. It extended to the point that Mesti appeared on more than one occasion to have knocked his transmission lead out, and could not be heard at all by the end of the set. Keytarist Keswick Gallagher also seemed to be focussed more on stage antics than sonics at times – missing some synth cues throughout the performance – and when multiple guest vocalists invaded the stage at one point, it became cluttered and messy, with each vocalist seemingly competing with each other to be both seen and heard. As I said, the theatrics were well-received and entertaining, but they also detracted from the overall performance more than they elevated it and were rendered all the more damning in light of what came next.
In case you missed the memo: Psycroptic are a thrash band now. This isn’t to say they play thrash metal, per se. However, following on from last year’s self-titled effort, the band’s overall aesthetic now seems to be one which matches the urgency of, latter-era vocalist, Jason Peppiatt’s gruff bark. The Tasmanian’s have become far more reliant on the open, rhythmic sections of their sound to draw the listener in and keep them fixated, and this redirection of focus was openly acknowledged by Peppiatt, who introduced The World Discarded as a “straight down the line thrash song.” Add to this a shirtless Cameron Grant (bass) looking like a young Rex Brown, pulling off spin kicks and windmills at frequent intervals, and what you’ve got is an act that far more readily recalls the stomping thrash of the early ’90s than it does today’s brooding, neo-classically-driven tech-death scene.
It may have taken him some time to properly settle in, but Peppiatt has become the centrepiece of the Tasmanian heavyweights. The band are at their best on the live front (and arguably on record) when they follow Peppiatt’s lead, and he commanded both band and crowd on the night with absolute mastery. Furthermore, the chemistry between him and Grant was electrifying. Contrary to the members of Orpheus Omega distracting minglings, the way these two constantly moved around each other, and occupied different areas of the stage without ever once seeming to interfere with each other was at times mesmerising and consistently exciting, while also providing a strong visual counterpart to, drummer and guitarist, Dave and Joe Haley’s unrelenting atonal assault on the senses.
I must have seen Psycroptic more than ten or so times at this point and, honestly, I’ve never been that big a fan of the band. I had more or less written them off as something I’m just not that into. After catching my attention with last year’s superb self-titled effort, this was the first time I’d actively been looking forward to seeing them, and they couldn’t have offered a more rewarding experience. Even with my personal prejudices aside, the band were just, undeniably, incredible. In all the time’s I’ve seen them, Psycroptic has never been this good. In fact few of the countless other acts I’ve seen in my time were ever as good as they were this night either and, as good as all the other acts were, they left no doubt that they remain the reigning kings of Australian heavy music.