Gathered in Melbourne, specifically at The Croxton Bandroom on this the 26th of January was a diverse crowd of punters and participants for Progfest 2019 who were about to witness a full line-up and showcase of some of this country’s upcoming and finest representatives of more than just heavy music, but clearly artistry and proficiency and competence of the creation and expansion of music beyond the mind numbing verse/chorus/verse/chorus/lead/end bland structure and mundanity of what pollutes the mainstream musical outlets that we as purveyors of the finer things try to avoid.
Sure, we have to go out of way to find the hidden gems and be floored by what we are hearing, but make no mistake, based on the fifteen or so bands represented by Australia alone for Progfest 2019 we got our fix and fill of djent based complexity and heavy rock musical genius.
This years event celebrates a decade of heavy progressive maturity and featured no less than twenty bands across two stages. The Pharaoh Stage being situated in the front bar for the lesser known contingent of Progfest at The Croxton and The Pyramid Stage being the main arena for the larger well known bands and headliners.
To get to the bones of things, to try and review all twenty bands in this mere space will be an near impossible feat and this “Metal V” will seemingly repeats words, sentences and cliches as descriptors to all the talent showcased for the day/evening. Where one band would finish on the small stage another would momentously captipault and engage our senses immediately on the main stage. I, in no way, want to omit or neglect any one bands performance over another as clearly each had a sonic and enriching gift to give to those of us present. And almost every time a band took over the small stage the front bar was absolutely chock full of punters and fans, shoulder to shoulder listening to talent that is seemingly unknown and obscure but will, hopefully not remain so for very long.
The main Pyramid stage in the band room was the place where things really took flight and the first main band of interest was City Of Souls from Auckland, making their first trip across the Tasman Sea from New Zealand they delivered a powerful and enigmatic set giving us a strong and memorable debut performance of emotionally driven, hook laden, atmospheric heavy rock.
Next on the main stage following on from City Of Souls were Melbourne locals and hometown faves Circles. I’m not gonna lie readers, the second that Circles hit the stage was when gears were definitely shifted from fourth to fifth gear for today’s proceedings. Featuring songs from their latest album The Last One and more, for me the spectacle of the far too short thirty minute set for Circles was the turning point for most of there and we were held in the palms of all four present on stage. Clearly proving why they are well known and now world renowned we heard Circles perfect blend of heavy groove and emotionally charged prog rock all the while their hometown crowd moved, pulsated and gratefully embraced them and from here, the stages were set for a full evening of progressive heavy heaven.
Skyharbor from New Delhi were probably the least heavy of the heavy ensembles we had seen and heard previously. A kind of spawn taking off where Linkin Park (more importantly Chester Bennington) left us wanting, the wonderful thing about Skyharbor is their ability to not over complicate their take on prog groove, atmospheric and emotional soundscapes. Commanding the stage without having to over exaggerate themselves or their music, Skyharbor had a near hypnotic pull on the crowd and were that perfect beautiful interlude of the evening that brought the crowd back down to a blissful moment of harmony and union. It was magic!
So… If Circles kicked Progfest from fourth to fifth gear, Monuments stepped into their Tesla and went from 0 – 100 in a split fucking second and pushed the near packed band room to their absolute limits and beyond! To be honest right here and now, it was very clear that two thirds of this Melbourne audience were at The Croxton to see and hear Monuments and Monuments only. Where Skyharbor were a blissful interlude for Progfest, Monuments were, without question the beast that tore us apart. And we were grateful to be the feast for Monuments to feed upon. It felt truly as though that Monuments takeover of Progfest 2019 was the catalyst for those of us there and that this was the first true angst fueled release for those of us there. Djent fueled armageddon, both Monuments and their adoring fans released a bursting valve and the entirety of The Croxton just went off fucking tap. And it was amazing (to absolutely understate the entire Progfest community!) For a short fleeting hour, the crowd fluently ebbed and flowed rhythmically with every beat, note, chord and vocal chant with vigour and harmony. Monuments set was one of those rare magical gig moments I’ve been to where the band and their audience were bound in unison that only being a part of it can truly encapsulate and describe the experience and words of a review merely serve to do the memory an unsatisfactory injustice.
The end of Monuments set signalled a significant and unfortunate 180⁰ turn for Progfest. A mass exodus of I would speculate of at least two thirds of attendees depart The Croxton, leaving a fraction of those who waited for headliners The Ocean to perform for.
It was to be my fourth time seeing The Ocean live and I couldn’t wait to hear them play material from one of last years undisputable top ten metal releases in Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic not excluding other songs from Pelagial and more. But…unfortunately it seemed as though The Ocean appearing to give everything and more this evening failed to lift the remaining crowd to the heights achieved so easily by bands preceding them. Don’t doubt or assume that The Ocean did not deliver their intentions to the few of us that remained to hear them, through not fault of their own the energy had dissipated the seconds after Monuments ended. This is an absolutely harsh depiction of what transpired but also a reality! As I said having seen The Ocean a few times previously, they had no expectations to live up to, but just sonically mesmerise as only they can do but tonight their best just fell a little short. I can’t pinpoint or adequately summarise those precise moments of why or how The Ocean weren’t as engaging or mesmerising as before. I found it hard to conceptually and sonically connect with them as I had done many times before! And it absolutely pains me to write a negative review for a band I love. The Ocean gave a hundred percent without question, but from a punters point of view, the reaction was barely above seventy five percent. The departure of the audience after Monuments is a disappointing and unfortunate contributing factor yes, and I will solemnly follow and love The Ocean as I have done for many years and apologise for the less than glowing review. Having said that though please buy Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic because it is truly a stunning and amazing album
Overall though, for all the good and not so good, in a quick phrase – Progfest 2019 fucking RULED!
Photography by Dylan Martin