It is the 10th anniversary for Progfest and this, if anywhere, is where I would expect to see some wildly outrageous skill, accompanied by long, sweaty hair and guitars with a ridiculous amount of strings. This year proved to be that and so much more!
Held in the heart of the Brisbane CBD at the cool, funky little venue "The Valley Drive-In", everywhere I turned I was warmly welcomed with flawless stage presence, brilliant stage banter and beautiful, like-minded punters and musicians. Musicians who weren't afraid to mingle with the punters, which I thought was really something special and really cool that I got to hang out with people I genuinely look up to.
I bustled my way in and conformed with the crowd, hustling to make the first act within minutes and to my surprise, I see a man holding a single flute shuffling against the current... Strange.
- Seraphic -
The first act of the day is none other than our own Seraphic held at the indoor Pharaoh stage. They opened with their latest single 'The Monster Within' which certainly got the crowd going!
Due to the loudness of the speakers and the small room, the dynamics were slightly compromised, unfortunately. Though when I blocked my ears it cut the blaring white noise and I could really hear the high end; and boy, was there some incredible high end coming from these guys. Lead vocalist Sam Wolstenholme certainly blew me away, perfect pitch and tone that almost went into the whistle register! Then the drummer came to the keys as Sam stepped away holding only the microphone as bassist Michael Bates grabbed another mic then they killed it with a one-time rendition of the legendary "Bohemian Rhapsody", with Raouf Araji nailing the solo, surely making Brian May proud!
- The Stranger -
I take a step outside and the blistering Brisbane sun simply has no mercy. The second stage is just passed the bar and it unravels into an outdoor area with two umbrellas for shade, but mostly unshaded territory reaching to the front of the stage. Everyone is huddled under the umbrellas as sweet, acoustic folk tracks play over the speakers. The Stranger grace the stage, albeit almost melting, but that doesn't stop them as they give it their all! Lead vocalist Tom Frayne, despite the heat, did remarkably well - it is not easy hitting such high, operatic notes in such immense heat and not to mention his facial expressions were dramatic and full of emotion. There was a moment of silence as the folk sounds took over and the lead singer and guitarist Kalen Austin sang harmonies which built up to explode back into some serious riffage. What a moment!
Their set ends and I make my way back to the Pharaoh stage without a moment to lose.
What is that noise? A flute?
Is that the flute guy again?
- Therein -
Back to the indoor Pharaoh stage, Therein open with some massively monstrous death metal. Cameron Whelan (vocals) has a certain way about addressing the crowd that is extremely engaging, poised and witty. What happened next reached far beyond my expectations as Therein began to infuse Jazz and even Medieval elements; showcasing their wide versatility.
Just before I thought I had seen it all, the man with the flute finally makes his appearance! Gracefully stepping onto the stage, the band goes silent and we hear only the two harmonies of Cameron and the mysterious flute man. The vocal harmonies are akin to traditional Middle Eastern sounds and it creates a totally different sensation with the audience as the sonic frequencies being to resonate so delicately as if they were dancing above us.
Therein were like a whole other world.
- Sum Of Us -
This is where the energy between the punters and the musicians began to shift. There was something in the air and Brisbane supergroup Sum Of Us helped us all ride the wave of this energy.
Maybe it was just the heat causing me to be delusional? Or was there something truly magical happening? The energy was consistent. Flawless vocals, flawless musicianship - just as you would expect.
Dane who also drums for Osaka Punch just effortlessly blasting the kit and in my opinion, he might just be the best drummer in the Southern Hemisphere - prove me wrong, I dare you. Lee Brackenridge was filling in for Bass, though it was not mentioned why Jasper Webb was not, though there was not a single thing that felt out-of-place.
- Mass Sky Raid -
Now, Mass Sky Raid admittedly weren't the most technical band that I had seen that day, alas, this is irrelevant. In my opinion, they gave one of the most captivating performances of the entire experience. The way that Adam Lovas' (vocalist) emotion seeped through his very skin and wrapped the audience up with every single breath was simply enough. Adam was at the edge of the stage the whole time and the crowd drew closer and closer as if he were a magnetic force. This was also notably the first time the crowd actually huddled towards the front of this stage.
Mass Sky Raid, if anything, knew exactly how to translate every bit of emotion from their music back into the crowd.
- Opus Of A Machine -
I scurry along through the venue to catch Opus Of A Machine and when I arrive, I can see the crowd has certainly beefed up a fair bit - people are even standing in the sun!
The sonic frequencies expand over the audience and the vocalist Mitchell Legg lets out a warm, soothing note that pours a certain kind of warmth through us all. All of a sudden, the air thickens and they begin to absolutely rock out! Tearing into us, their energy was astounding and the crowd just lapped it up.
Mitchell had incredible stage banter and the bassist Dale Prinsse was just friggin' hilarious. Those boys really looked like they belonged on stage
Ending up the set they treated us to some songs off of their newest album "Stray Fire" including a personal favourite: "Strength in Stone" which was inconceivably mesmerising. A big shout out to Zachary Greensill and his guitar tones, they were just on-point.
- Flynn Effect -
Flynn Effect had filled up the indoor Pharaoh stage and the crowd stood there, awe-struck the entire time. Aside from the insanely cool light up guitars both the bassist and guitarist were holding instantly catching my eye, I was even MORE impressed by the lead vocalist as she perfected each note WEARING A CORSET - this woman is God.
They did a really cool rendition of a Coldplay classic "Talk" which was incredible and did the song much justice, as expected. Flynn Effect held a lot of integrity with their presence and engagement with the audience. I can see that they've been doing this for some time now.
- James Norbert Ivanyi -
Aah, James Norbert Ivanyi, this might be biased of me to say (as I am a huge fan of his work), but he absolutely slayed - as usual.
Flawless musicianship and a cool, calm and collected presence about him that makes him feel so mysterious and so cool. I absolutely loved his choice of slick black clothing matching with his guitar; minimal in style and speech but extravagant musical weaponry, showcased like no other. Not a single person shifted their energy as the crowd was hanging on to every single note and every movement as if there was a mild gravitational pull emanating from James as he kept us in his magical, musical orbit.
- Magenta -
Magenta were certainly plucked straight out of the seventies - is this psychedelic prog? Am I in love with this sound?
Yes and yes.
Believe it or not kids, these guys are psychedelic prog and OH BOY am I a fan.
Paisley shirts, fluro green kaftans and whispy hair, vocalist Leon Van Lieshout proclaims "We prove to everyone, prog does not need to be metal, to be prog". Thank you Magenta. I am always a big fan of breaking out of those compartmentalisations and when done well, it really is something special. These guys really broke up the energy a little and shook things up; it was very cool. There was even a significant part where a flange effect was added to the vocals and it worked really well.
What a trip.
- Chaos Divine -
I make some friends in the crowd of the second stage and I'm pleased to discover how like-minded we all really are: Super. Fucking. Keen for Chaos Divine and what did they do? Blew the fucking crowd away is what they did.
Treating us to a few songs off each album their presence was so energetic, even without their regular drummer - Ben whom of which Tim was in place off. They played a few songs until a backing track of David Attenborough played and he spoke of the African wildlife, something was happening here... He began to ask the crowd to make animal noises, monkeys, gorillas, tigers, cheetahs... the crowd goes wild with noises, the backing track stops and the begin to play Totos classic hit 'Africa'. It went OFF and I have to hand it to the vocalist for hitting Joseph Williams' range perfectly!
They ended with a newer song off an upcoming album. With the perfect balance of ambient while still laying down some serious riffage I can tell you I am MORE than keen for this album to be dropped.
- Hazards of Swimming Naked -
Hazards of Swimming Naked were so ambient, light and a really nice addition to the line-up. I could feel the energy of the crowd as they sunk into the comfort that they created. Hazards Of Swimming Naked showed some incredible synergy and were just a band who were completely within themselves as a whole as if the crowd didn't exist - this is not a bad thing, it is actually quite a beautiful thing to see and feel the synergy a band like this has. They were really something special.
- City Of Souls -
The energy that was coming out of these New Zealand folk was phenomenal and the all black guitars looked incredibly cool on stage. The lead vocalist Richie Simpson had boundless energy and it was as if he were just a vessel where the music would explosively channel through him. It was insane to watch. His vocals were akin to the great Serj from System of A Down, mystical but very powerful.
They faultlessly jammed through some top songs like 'Wolf' and 'Sleep' which were absolutely amazing live.
- Kodiak Empire -
The original band for vocalist Bryce Carlton who also played for Sum Of Us earlier that day still maintained vocal integrity and you could see that the band was extremely comfortable with themselves.
A lot of groove and a lot of syncopation Kodiak Empire delivered in this set. It was certainly nice to see something a little more groovy and lighter on the ears.
- Circles -
Circles are just fucking fire. An absolute treat they were. The first thing I notice is the missing member Drew Patton but Ben Retcher clarifies that he is just apparently a magical multi-talented musical man who also filled in for several other bands as well. Props to this guy, whoever you are!
I sighted my first mosh pit of the day in the Circles crowd! It was a very exciting time. They played through some bangers like 'Erased' and 'The Undergrounding' (synchronised guitar flipping and all) and despite the missing Drew, nothing was amiss. The crowd absolutely loved them. I have a theory the Bens afro is made of magical hair fibres that make them so great.
- Aerials -
Aerials kept the vibe going with immense amounts of energy and incredible build ups from the drummer who was really carrying the bands energy perfectly - exactly what a drummer should be doing!
The vocalist had a voice similar to Brian Molka of Placebo which was really interesting, it wasn't the same but very similar so it was still quite unique. I liked the element his tone added to the bands sound. These guys were just rambunctious and full of energy. At one point, the bassist jumped into the crowd and moshed with everyone!
They also paid respect to the indigenous and apologised for anyone who felt pain on this terrible day, which I found to be really beautiful that he mentioned that.
- Skyharbour -
I'm going to address the elephant in the room here - from speaking to the punters, we all expected that the new lead vocalist will never fill the shoes of Dan Tompkins and as a huge fan of his work, I sat and discussed with punters and agreed that it will be very difficult.
Boy, was I wrong. We were all wrong.
Eric Emry was just absolutely astounding in every single way and certainly did Skyharbour the justice they deserved. We were treated to a range of vocals that were executed perfectly; from breathy, angelic notes to powerful, death growls and long extended fry screams. Skyharbour showed the crowd no mercy with Devesh Sayal blowing me away with his exceptionally flawless skills. Aside from that I couldn't see much over the smoke and the purple lights, but that made for an amazing visual performance.
Skyharbour recorded their latest record in Burleigh Heads and treated us to 'Menace' which was just as fierce as it was gentle; Skyharbour certainly showcased their versatility here.
As I step into the pit for Glass Ocean I see the magical multi-talented musical man who filled in for Circles as the bassist wearing a different shirt (disguised maybe?) absolutely shredding the guitar! Note that he was simply filling in again, still not his band!
Glass Ocean were so natural with the crowd and with themselves. Just perpetuating the energetic vibe that swooned over the punters as the sultry sun sunk into the ground. Still warm as fuck but that didn't stop these guys; great riffs, great stage banter; these guys know what they're doing. They gave a special mention to their favourite Prog bands Opus Of a Machine and Kodiak Empire.
- Monuments -
Eagerly waiting for Monuments to start, they were a little over time but that didn't bother anyone too much. From the moment this festival started from the punters to the musicians EVERYONE was plugging Monuments and I was not disappointed.
While Chris Baretto (vocals and saxophone) was sick from the travels and could not perform, that did not change the energy at all. We were even treated to a Circles cameo of Sam nailing the vocals and the magical multi-talented musical man coming in with the screams. It added an amazing element.
I was impressed by Monuments, they were tight and so, so groovy. They got the crowd going without even saying anything at all. They just played their songs and they got the most movement out of everyone the whole night, the crowd was so connected and so energetic and no one in the crowd wanted it to ever end. It was certainly a magical moment for us all.
- Toehider -
Toehider were exceptional, phenomenal and incomparable to anything I have ever seen. Insane three part harmonies between the three members was unlike anything I've ever seen. These guys have a massive sound, with a massive vocal range. With each vocalist hitting notes my eardrums could barely comprehend, belting these alto notes and the lead vocalist even throwing in some insanely precise death growls. They have folk elements infused with a classic style of metal and I can tell by the elder scrolls shirt that the lead vocalists love for gaming was inspiration for many of the medieval themes.
They ended with a song off their new album called 'Millions of Muskateers' which was just an absolute masterpiece in every form. I especially enjoyed when the music stopped and the drummer just screamed as if he were being attacked which I could see took everyone by surprise; then sonic explosions once again as we were thrown around like puppets drawn in and out and back in again to the chaotic order that is: Toehider.
As Progfest closes in, I stand there at the Pharaoh stage, surrounded by my new found amigos as we soak in each others stench and sweat and eagerly await for German Prog Metal overlords: The Ocean, to appear.
Red lights, smoke, and the silhouette of a single man in a collared shirt placed towards the far left towards the back of the stage. Ambient synths and keys with a grand piano tone wraps around the crowd and draws us in, closer and further, into the sonic playground this talented synthist has configured before our very ears. One by one, silhouettes swiftly move across the stage and man their positions. Each member takes form and within seconds, the sound explodes, rupturing our very souls. The stage is completely laden with smoke and lights I see nothing but their outlines - though without needing to see, I can feel and hear just how tight these guys are, they're obviously a unit.
The highlight was the lead singer climbing a wall (half the height of a normal wall, he isn't spiderman or anything) comes to the back of the crowd, crouches down and sings softly to us all. He then begins to beckon the back of the crowd to come forward, towards him. He grabs onto one man and crowd surfed all the way BACK to the front of the stage, maintaining a crisp, raspy fry scream the whole time! He definitely does not miss a day of cardio and it shows in his vocal durability.
The way these guys addressed the crowd was extremely captivating. They maintained the vibe throughout and every single person was hanging on to every word, every note, every breath. These guys knew what they were doing. They were born to be up there on that stage, showing and giving us everything that they have.
I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe the whole set, I was blown away.
These guys were absolutely mental and the perfect way to end an incredible day of intricate, dedicated musicianship. Comparable to no other.
Thank you and happy 10th anniversary, Progfest.