Progfest 2012 @ The Esplanade Hotel, St.Kilda

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‘Progressive’ music has become almost as broad a term, relatively speaking, as rock music itself. The term no longer conjures images purely of old school prog rockers like Yes and King Crimson. It’s an entire world unto itself, ranging from the truly avant-garde to the truly brutal. Such a broad palette was on display at the Espy, and what’s more, it was all Australian.

Glass Empire were very impressive on the main bar stage and put out a very smooth but powerful sound. Soaring lead vocals, titanic drumming and great progressive songs were the order of the evening for this four-piece, and they showed why they are considered the heir to the Karnivool/Dead Letter Circus throne.

Perth’s Chaos Divine are one of Australia’s finest heavy/progressive acts, and their set in the Gershwin Room only enhanced this reputation. Their sound is immense, with very impressive vocals soaring over the top. Their cover of the classic Toto hit ‘Africa’ has just been released, and has obviously already struck a chord with many people, as many people were yelling out for it between songs. When it did come, it was an unforgettable moment. This is one of the better covers of recent times, and the type of thing that can really put a band on the map. However these guys’ original songs are just as good, morphing from adrenaline rush to ambient atmospherics in the blink of an eye.

Branch Arterial never disappoint, they are one of the most consistent bands on the scene. Ever powerful, ever soaring, ever dynamic, ever complex but catchy at the same time. These boys set the front bar alight with their sensational progressive heavy rock tunes. And their brand new songs are a step up again from the already amazing tunes on their debut EP Voices Unknown. They too attempted a tough cover, this time it was U2’s ‘Where the Streets Have no Name’, which was a gutsy move. It’s a tough song, but they made an excellent fist of it.

Circles are Australia’s answer to bands in the current ‘djent’ craze sweeping the planet, but are very much forging their own identity at the same time. Their songs can be just as heavy as many of the bands plyingthat musical territory, but have a slightly more accessible element which should see them finding a broader appeal. They took time out from recording their debut album to play Progfest, and whilst slightly rusty, their superb musicianship and ex cellent tunes carried them through what was still a very impressive set. Virtually every Circles song is a showstopper.

A totally different kettle of fish altogether was The Red Paintings. Very strange, both musically and visually, their songs feature crazy stop-start dynamics with violin and cello, whilst canvasses and semi-naked chicks are painted in the background. Bizarre.

Emphasising the sheer diversity of the lineup yet again was Ne Obliviscaris. This progressive metal outfit’s sound is so immense it’s almost frightening, but also tempered with incredible dynamics, clean

vocals and violin amid the fury. Blending a vast array of heavy music elements, this band’s entire presentation is nothing short of stun

ning, and hopefully their national and international profile will be growing on the back of their incredible album ‘Portal of I’ and their astounding live spectacle.

 

Other bands may have been an anti climax after NeO, but not Jericco. Yet again extremely different to what preceded them, this band play their supercharged middle eastern inspired progressive rock with incredible passion and excellent musicianship. Like Branch Arterial, with whom they have shared the stage many times,

Jericco bring the quality every time and never let you down. Their rabid followers lapped up every groove, riff and melody.

This brought us up to the very rock and roll time of 1.30am. The crowd was dispersing, so the amount of hardy souls sticking around to watch Glasfrosch was disappointing. It appears people just aren’t all that ‘rock’ any more and have to go home to bed, lest they turn into a pumpkin. But it didn’t seem to worry the band overly. Their album of last year, ‘If You Go Far Enough into the Sky You’ll Come Out Underwater’, is as strange as the title suggests, but still a highly unique and listenable work of art. Seeing it played live, the songs came alive even more. This is a heavily underrated Melbourne band, playing quirky but very high quality ambient/progressive music, trying to be heard among the reams of deplorable plastic hip-hop, pop and TV talent show rubbish being pushed into our faces constantly. Of course it’s sad, tragic even, but it’s the way of the world, and bands like this doing their own thing like this in the face of such a climate are to be applauded. Glasfrosch are amazing and you need to discover them.

Rant over. Progfest was a massive, unmitigated success on every level. It was amazing band after amazing band, playing in front of a fantastic crowd of passionate music lovers at one of Australia’s best venues, and the diversity and quality on offer was a joy to behold. What could be better?

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